Monday, January 15, 2007

Lime Cake

It's been a while since I posted anything. Granted, it's only been about a week, but I always get edgy after a couple of days. The problem is, I don't have much to report. It's not that I haven't been baking. In fact, I've been baking a lot. Unfortunately, my successes have been few.

What have I been doing? Even before I got a wild hair and started making ice cream, I was playing with cake. I can't help but think that before I become a world-class pastry chef, I need to have at least one cake recipe that I can call my own. It doesn't need to be completely new, of course. If it was, I don't think I could call it cake, because cake itself isn't completely new. I've been reading a plethora of cake recipes, trying to work out the physics of the ingredients so that I can get a basic understanding of cake itself.

My first idea was lime cake. I like lime. In fact, I really like key lime. But being in Utah, I don't see a whole lot of key limes at my local grocery store, or even the not so local gourmet grocery stores an hour away from me. So I decided to stick with regular old limes, which are generally available fresh in my local produce section. Of course, the morning after I successfully baked my lime cake recipe, I found a basket full of fresh key limes at 20 for a dollar at my local grocery store. You can't win 'em all, I guess.

This cake ended up being based on various butter cake recipes, which are in turn based on pound cake recipes. A classic pound cake is a simple concept, and no, it didn't get its name because it weighs a pound. The name comes from the ingredients: a pound of butter, a pound of eggs, a pound of sugar and a pound of flour. Tweak the recipe just a little and you come up with what bakers call a butter cake. Play with that a little more, and you have my lime cake.

Lime Cake

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 whole chicken eggs
1 cup heavy cream
the zest and juice of 2 limes
2 2/3 cups cake flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat your oven to 350F. Before you start mixing anything together, sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and whisk to combine. With that done, go ahead and beat the butter, sugar and lime zest together until light and fluffy. Mix the eggs, cream and lime juice together, and then slowly mix in half of it. Then slowly mix in half of the flour mixture. Repeat with the other half of the wet stuff, and then the other half of the dry stuff.

This will form more of a paste than a batter, and that's okay. Use a rubber spatula to get it into a greased and floured 10-inch round cake pan, making sure to flatten it out a little, and then get it into the oven for 40 to 50 minutes. Test for doneness with a toothpick, especially in the center. Let it cool for 10 minutes, and then turn out onto a cooling rack to finish cooling.

This results in a very limey cake indeed. In fact, you probably want to serve it with something that can counter that lime flavor, or perhaps compliment it. Chocolate frosting would be nice, but orange ganache is awesome with it.

Of course, it wasn't all sunbeams and daisies. Those of you who came for a lime cake recipe, you can safely stop here. For those who follow my inane antics, read on.

It was about this point that my friend Susan and I decided to try our hand at some cake decorating. We spent a couple of days working over the phone and email on a design (which you will see shortly), and ended up deciding upon a strawberry cake for the inside. I was confident that my lime cake recipe would serve as an excellent base for just about any other flavor, especially strawberry.

I was oh, so wrong.

Strawberries, like limes, need sugar to really show themselves off in desserts. But since strawberries don't have that acidic punch that citrus fruits have, I knew I needed more. I replaced the lime zest and juice with a cup of crushed strawberries and tossed my cake in the oven. I knew that because of the added moisture, it would probably take a little longer than my lime cake. But I never expected it to take close to two hours!

The resulting cake had a huge, ugly, cracked dome on top. Worse, it really didn't have enough strawberry flavor in it. I went back and took another look at my recipe. According to the USDA, strawberries contain about 91% water. Cream is closer to 40% water. But there was something else in my brain. When I did my externship for cooking school, I had a fellow employee tell me that in any baking recipe that called for oil or melted butter, you could replace it with applesauce, cup for cup. Apparently that's some old Weight Watchers trick. Ignoring the fact that cream is not the same thing as melted butter, and that the water ratios between cream and strawberries were way off, I tried the recipe again, minus the lime, and replacing the cup of cream with a cup of crushed strawberries. I figured the flavor of the cream was fighting with the flavor of the strawberries, and this might help the flavor battle and the physics battle.

Well, I think I won the physics battle. I ended up pulling the cake probably about five to ten minutes too early, because the center of the cooled cake was doughy. But I suspect that with the extra baking time, the cake would have been perfect. Well, physically, at least. The flavor of the strawberry was stronger, but still not enough.

I finally broke down and bought a box of strawberry cake mix. You may laugh, but try as one may, it is darn hard to bake a cake from scratch that is as flavorful and moist as a box cake. I wasn't going to use the box mix for Susan's and my design, of course. But I had to know what kind of flavor they managed to pull off.

The flavor was everything I imagined it would be. It tasted like fresh strawberries, while mine tasted vaguely like cooked strawberries. The texture was softer, probably in part because I used all-purpose flour in my second cake instead of cake flour like I should have. One very interesting thing that I noticed was that my box mix seemed to have dehydrated strawberries in it, in addition to whatever strawberry flavoring they added.

I know you would love for me to tell you that I used this as a basis for another strawberry cake recipe, but I'm not that far in the story yet. I just baked the box mix, and still need to consider how it might have been done. But I thought that I should probably post now, to keep my brain from getting nervous about not posting. Besides, blogging isn't always about the happy life, is it?

With luck, my next post will involve a strawberry cake recipe.


  1. Hey Joseph,
    If you like lime, try zesting a whack of it into your best buttercreme recipe. It's the most popular flavour of buttercreme with my brides. It's also done quite a bit by lots of people (likely because it's so delish, I could eat it for breakfast on a big fat spoon).
    Your lime cake sounds divine. I think the best thing about your culinary choices is that you think about what you would really like to eat and then DO IT! Fabulous!

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  3. I need a strawberry cake recipe, do you have one now?


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