Saturday, August 31, 2013

Perfect Moist Yellow Cake

My husband is a self-professed lover of berry pies, as is my son. (It must be a guy thing.) Moi? Cake, for sure. A moist slice of cake (or a good cupcake)  is one of my guilty pleasures.  My excuse reasoning is, if I'm going to indulge in this carb and sugar laden confection, I want to make the fat grams count.  That translates to "it has to be really, really good".  I've had my share of dry cakes, and I won't bother finishing them. Oh, and canned frosting? Won't happen, with me.  You can blindfold me, and I'll pick out chemical-laden, artificially flavored frosting every single time. Not for me, especially when homemade frosting is easy to make, and fun!

I'm still searching for the "Ultimate Moist White Cake".  I've already found my favorite chocolate cake recipe, that is moist and my go-to recipe.  If you check my recipe index, you'll see that I've posted several towering cake recipes, from Coconut to Strawberry to Cherry to a Guinness Chocolate Cake.   What's missing is a recipe for yellow cake.  Until now...

Sure cake mixes are always on sale, and they're generally pretty good.  But making a cake, from scratch, isn't that difficult to do-- and it gives me a sense of gratification that I was in control of what ingredients I used.   I hear that White Lily flour is popular, but I've never seen it in my part of California. I've recently become a fan of self-rising flour, ever since King Arthur Flour introduced their unbleached version.  (I still can't find it at my grocery store, but I buy it online.)

This recipe is very easy to make, and I've made it more than once.  I can assure you that it's going to become my trusty recipe, and it's very versatile.  It's a non-fussy recipe that doesn't involve a lot of sifting, folding of egg whites or anything like that. It's pretty basic-- self-rising flour, eggs, whole milk, sugar and butter flavor.  Let's talk about "butter flavor".  I have grown fond of LorAnn Buttery Sweet Dough Bakery Emulsion, which I use in most of my baked goods, so that's the ingredient that I keep on hand.

The first time I made this recipe, I adapted it to bake cupcakes. 

As you can see, I overfilled the cupcake liners and I got "mushroom cupcakes". Whoops!  I made a note to fill the cupcake liners to only halfway, so the second batch came out just right.  I had plenty of dough to make almost 24 cupcakes!

TASTING NOTES:  The baking time was about 13 minutes-- just until a toothpick, inserted into the center, came out with just a few crumbs stuck to it.  I made a traditional buttercream frosting (I don't use a recipe. I simply use one stick of softened butter, and add powdered sugar until it has the right consistency, then add a little light cream and vanilla extract).

The cupcakes were very moist, with a beautiful tender crumb.  I'm telling you, Self-Rising flour makes baking cakes, scones or biscuits very user friendly!

Strawberry season begins in Spring, but lasts well through August, in my part of the Salinas Valley.  I just purchased a new mini bundt cake pan, and decided to use the same yellow cake recipe for strawberry shortcake.
I love this pan, but it's important to use a really good baking spray.  The mini bundts popped right out of the pan-- whew!  The baking time was about 15 minutes; I used the toothpick method to check for doneness.

The cake recipe delivered all that I had hoped it would-- this is much better than those pre-fab shortcakes that you buy, all sealed in plastic wrap.  The cake is moist, with just the right amount of sweetness. There are butter notes of flavor, and did I already mention that it's tender?

The recipe source/credit goes to Bakerella.  A printable recipe card is at the end of this post.

NOTE: I have been very scarce, since June. Most of my regular readers/followers know that I had a total knee replacement. My recovery has been more difficult than I anticipated. The good news is that I'm continuing with physical therapy, and that all the surgery pain and discomfort is gone.  I'm still not walking at 100% (meaning, I've still got a limp), but I have enough strength to stand long enough to cook simple recipes.  It'll be a few more weeks before I can make recipes that requires more work/time-- but it's coming! Thank you for all of your encouragement.

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Vanilla Bean Scones

Did anyone watch Ball Canning's Can-It-Forward webcast, today? I sure did, and enjoyed it. If you missed the webcast, the recorded demonstrations and recipes will be uploaded onto their website sometime this week.

I taught myself how to make my own homemade jam a few years ago, and I was relieved to learn that canning isn't hard to do.  The days of using wax seals are in our grandparent's past.  Today, the jar lids are self-sealing.  The bonus of making my own jam (besides it being fun) is I know what's in the jar (like no high fructose corn syrup).  I also find homemade jam to be cost-effective and they make great gifts! Who doesn't love receiving a jar of homemade jam?  My advice to anyone who has always wanted to learn how to can is to go to the Ball Canning Website.  There is so much information for all levels of "canners"-- from beginners to the experienced.

Ball Canning Sponsored a Giveaway that I announced on my blog post on how to make Strawberry-Vanilla Jam and Strawberry-Raspberry Vanilla jam.  I'll announce the chosen winner at the end of the post.

The morning after I made these jams in my new Ball Jam & Jelly Maker -- in less than 30 minutes, no less-- I discovered that there was no bread for toast making, in the house!  What to do?

Aha!  Make scones!  Scones are fast and easy to make.  While I'm not the biggest fan of biscuits (except for the Bacon & Cheddar Cheese Scones that I created, with a fabulous chipotle butter), I like scones because they are sweet-- but not cloyingly sweet.

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Fresh & Easy Homemade Strawberry-Vanilla & Strawberry-Raspberry Jam & a Ball Jam & Jelly Maker Review

It's been a long,  seven week hiatus, of not being able to cook (let alone, bake), I finally made strawberry jam! If you've just landed on my blog, for the first time, the reason I'm so excited, is that I had a total knee replacement. I haven't been able to, comfortably, stand in my kitchen. Hence, I've missed not being able to cook for for my family-- and sharing my recipes with you.

Last year, I participated in National Can-It-Forward Day, sponsored by Ball Canning.  I had fun trying out their newest product, the Home Canning Discovery Kit.  

This Home Canning Discovery Kit is a terrific way for beginners to discovery that making your own jam is easy and fun to do!  The kit provides an easy and affordable way to start canning in just three simple steps. This kit is designed to demystify the home canning process and make fresh preserving accessible, for even the most novice canner. Whether a person has limited kitchen space or looks to preserve a handful of fresh produce from the farmer’s market, the kit offers a beginner’s approach to small-batch canning.


August 17th is National Can-It-Forward Day!

Ball Canning  are happy to announce the third annual National Can-It-Forward Day will be on Saturday, August 17th! In addition to our own canning experts, this year's event will star Food Network's Chopped host, two-time Emmy and James Beard award-winning chef and cookbook author, Ted Allen.
This year, Ball Canning will be broadcasting from Union Square Greenmarket in New York City from 10AM to 2PM EST. National Can-It-Forward Day lets everyone share the joy of fresh preserving. Whether you’re new to canning, a Master Canner, or curious to see else you can make with Ball® jars, they'll  have recipes and tips and tricks to help make fresh preserving easy, fun, and creative! 

You can watch a live Webcast, if you won't be in New York City by clicking here.

Last year, I saw their new "Jam & Jelly Maker", and I longed to own one.  Christmas arrived early for me, when Ball Canning sent me one of these to try, along with a supply of their Real Fruit Classic Pectin. Included with the Jam & Jelly Maker is a recipe book, with a selection of jam and jelly recipes to get me started.

My two favorite jams are Apricot-Pineapple and Strawberry.  I'm fortunate to have a produce farm that grows and sells certified organic product for the same price that pesticide-laden produce is sold at most big grocery chains.  We paid $14.00 for six generous pints of juicy, red, strawberries that were picked just that morning.  Since I already have traditional strawberry jam, and a Strawberry-Balsamic on my blog, I decided to make a Strawberry-Vanilla version. What do you know?!  Page 8 of the recipe booklet, that came with the jam maker, has such a recipe.  My husband set up the jam maker, and I washed and hulled 4 pints of berries.  I decided to make the reduced-sugar version (2 cups instead of 3 1/2 cups).

I crushed enough berries to equal 3-1/4 cups (about 4 pints), measured out 3 tablespoons of Ball Real Fruit Classic Pectin, and 1/2 teaspoon of butter.  You turn the machine on, by pressing the "jam" button and the stirrer mixes the pectin and fruit.  Four minutes later, there's a beep that tells you to add your sugar (and, in this case, the vanilla bean paste).  The lid gets placed on, and you can go on to other things-- like cleaning up the kitchen. In my case, I prepared my jars by sterilizing them with the Discovery Kit basket (see below).

Instead of adding 1/4 a vanilla bean, I used my favorite Vanilla Bean Paste.  I have nothing against vanilla beans-- they're fantastic. But, they can be expensive and I don't always have them on hand.

I buy this product at my local Whole Foods, and it's less expensive than vanilla beans.  It has the texture of honey, and you can see flecks of vanilla beans.  The product still imparts that vanilla bean flavor.  One tablespoon of vanilla bean paste = 1 vanilla bean or one tablespoon of pure vanilla extract.

I usually share step-by-step photos on how I make recipes. Instead, I will embed a video that shows you how easy and fast it is to make jam.  In 25 minutes, the jam maker beeped and I had a beautiful thick jam!

There are three ways to store the jam:
  • Ladle the hot jam/jelly into hot jars (never into cold jars, as they could crack), cool to room temperature, then  refrigerate and eat within 3 weeks
  •  Ladle the hot jam into hot jars (or into plastic freezer storage jars) and freeze for up to 1 year
  • Or, my favorite was is to "water can" the jam to preserve the jam/jelly to be stored in a cool, dry place. 
I do have a Ball Water Canning Kit, which is perfect for making large batches of jams, or jellies (and I can usually make 5-6 pints of jam/jelly at a time). It takes a lot of water and the pot is really big!  The Jam & Jelly Maker makes a small batch of product-- 2 pints total. I used 4 1/2-pint jars, which fits perfectly in my Discovery Kit basket, along with  stock pot. I sterilize my jars by bring them to a boil. There is a handle so you can just lift the entire basket out, to drain, but I use my "jar lifter".

 The jars are nice a hot, so I ladled the jam, using a funnel

Once all the jars were filled, I returned them to the "basket" and brought the water to a gentle, steady boil. After 10 minutes, I turned off the heat, removed the lid and let the jars stand for 5 minutes. The lids are self-sealing, and I love hearing that metallic "pop" as each jar is all set for room temperature storage.

The jam maker was so easy to use, and so much fun, that I waited 30 minutes for the machine to cool so I could make another flavor of jam. On a whim, I crushed 2 pints of raspberries and enough strawberries to equal 2 2/3 cups.  This time I used the traditional recipe by adding 3 1/3 cups sugar, and a tablespoon of vanilla bean paste.  25 minutes later, I had four more jars of jam-- with a different flavor. Fun, fun, fun!

TASTING NOTES:  My husband liked the reduced-sugar Strawberry-Vanilla. The notes of vanilla were subtle and a perfect balance. The jam wasn't as sweet as we're used to, but that's not a bad thing.  I absolutely loved the Strawberry-Raspberry Vanilla jam! Craig thought it was a little tart, but I disagree. I don't mind raspberry seeds, but there are some folks who don't like that-- so be forewarned!

JAM MAKER REVIEW:  I found that the jam/jelly maker was really user-friendly. It's important to know that you need to use only the Ball Real Fruit Classic Pectin. Using any other brand can't guarantee perfect results.  Both jams turned out to be thick, and gorgeous in color.   Just know, that you will not get more than 2 pints of jam, per batch.  I don't mind, one bit, because I have so many flavors that I'd love to create.  In fact, I'm anxious to find sugarless fruit juices so I can create some jelly flavors-- starting with traditional grape jelly!  My son asked me if the machine is worth $99.00.  (The last that I looked, it is on sale on Amazon for $74.99)  That's a tricky answer.  I'd say, if it's in your budget, and you've always wanted to make your own jam (or are an experienced canner, and don't mind the small batch yield), go for it!  It's pretty fool-proof.  It cleans up so easily, as the pot has a non-stick coating.

This morning, I baked Vanilla Bean Scones, to enjoy the homemade jam.

If you've always wanted to learn how to make your own homemade jams, but don't want to make a big investment, I'd start with the Home Canning Discovery Kit.   

The Giveaway
Ball Canning has offered to send a Home Canning Discover Kit and coupons for a case of canning jars and some canning suplies.  To enter all you need to do is:

  • Leave a comment below, and tell me what your favorite jam or jelly flavor(s) is/are.
  • Get additional entries by:
  • "Liking"  Ball Canning on their face book, and leave a comment that you have done so.
  • Tweet this giveaway on twitter and mention @ballcanning, and leave a comment that you have done so
  • "Like" my Facebook Fan Page, and leave a comment that you have done so. (If you're already a member, thank you, and just leave a comment here.)

Entries have closed as of Friday, August 16th at 8:00pm PST. The winner will be announced soon.
DISCLOSURE: Though Ball Canning is sponsoring my giveaway, and provided the Jam & Jelly Maker and canning supplies, my opinions are my own. 

Be sure to mark your calendars for National Can It Forward Day .  I watched it, last year, and learned a lot of great tips on canning.

Here's the video on how the Ball Jam & Jelly Maker Works.  The recipe cards, for the jams that I made are below.

I'm so happy to be back in the kitchen again!

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