In her book CookWise (William Morrow, 1997), Shirley O. Corriher has a chapter called “how rich it is!” which focuses on recipes where fat is a major ingredient.
If you’re not a food chemist but someone who likes to bake cakes, you’ll probably enjoy reading the section on cakes where Corriher explains what makes the liquidy mass of ingredients that goes into the pan come out of the oven as cake. Unlike soups and stews, where ingredients and amounts can be tinkered to customize a recipe, there is only so much tweaking you can do with cakes. Most batters, for instance, are a combination of “tenderizers” (sugar and fat) and “tougheners” (flour, eggs and milk). When the amount of one ingredient is changed, adjustments have to be made in others to restore the balance.
Pastry chefs use formulas and know how much leeway they have when making changes in a recipe. They know when buttermilk can be added to a batter to lighten a cake or oil to make it moister.
“A balanced recipe creates a successful cake,” writes Corriher.
If you’re like us, you leave the balancing to the professionals and concentrate on changes you know will work. For example, whenever we make pound cake we glaze the top with a sugary lemon syrup, and when we bake pumpkin cupcakes, we cover them with spicy cream cheese frosting. That’s kind of mixing and matching we used for this chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting.
Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water
5 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons, powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2 to 5 tablespoons 2 percent reduced-fat milk
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan.
2. To make cake, combine sugars, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; whisk vigorously until smooth. Stir in boiling water. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool.
3. To make frosting, mix butter, powdered sugar and vanilla with a mixer; beat well. Add peanut butter. Add 2 tablespoons milk slowly, beating until very creamy. Add up to 3 additional tablespoons milk if necessary to achieve desired consistency. When cake has cooled, frost top. Serves 20.
Per serving: 310 calories, 16g fat, 25mg chol., 6g prot., 38mg carbs., 2g fiber, 360mg sodium
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Photo credit: Mark Boughton Photography; styling by Teresa Blackburn