Friday, February 3, 2012

MacKenzie's Lemon-Ginger Birthday Cake and my flavor obsession..

I tend to obsess over flavors. I will fixate on a flavor or a vegetable or fruit and then my mind starts spinning. I will  try out lots of combinations and recipes on my quest to quench the fires of my fixation until I find another.

Such was the case one Fall. I had been obsessing on ginger and trying ginger in varieties of combinations when my friend Mackenzie (Mac) called. She wanted to have her birthday party at the bistro and wanted to know if I would make her a cake. "Of course," I said . "What kind?" We talked about some and then she said..."I have sort of been thinking about lemon or maybe ginger....."  AHA! my brain said. "I've got it! Mac, the perfect thing. I will see you at the party." I was off. I found a recipe for a buttermilk cake that was the perfect base for my idea of a fluffy sort of spice cake and thus was born Lemon-Ginger Cake, otherwise known as MacKenzie's birthday cake.
Rosie and Paloma Chester. The girls set up this shot themselves and the photographer was our amazing Katie Rivers.

Mac and her husband Randy are superb musicians and even better parents. Their little troupe includes first born, Rosie, my favorite, red-headed beauty, Paloma and the newest addition, Mr. Kells. Mac's blog is a great read about her life called The Seven Year Itch, Love is the best glue, and you can read it here. For their music, listen here, and  Randy is hard at work on their first album and I am pushing for a children's album.

But I digress, as usual. So on to the recipe!

First the ingredients:
 2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 sticks butter
zest of a lemon (more about this further down)
1 tsp vanilla
1 TBS ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Mix the 7 ingredients together and add the baking powder and soda to the buttermilk. I don't want to go all Alton Brown and explain the chemistry of buttermilk and the leavening ingredients so just trust me on the buttermilk addition or google Alton and read about it. He is brilliant at explaining food chemistry. Alternate adding the flour and the buttermilk mixture to the mixer and blend it all until you have a fairly soupy batter. Pour into 2 very well greased cake pans.Cook at 350 for 45 minutes. Let the cake layers cool.

While the cakes cool, I will explain a little about lemon zest. Most people use lemon juice for lemon flavor but the truth is that most of the flavor is in the skin of the lemon. There are several ways to get at the flavor in the lemon peel. My preferred method is to use a microplane. A microplane is the grater that looks likethe photo at right.This is the easiest method of getting the peel and not the pith which is most important part of using the peel. The pith is the white part under the beautiful yellow skin. You can also use a knife, which is trickier, but I had to do it for the recipe since I can't find my microplane. You need a really sharp knife. My Mom gave me this ceramic knife for my birthday one year and I have not put it down since. It helps me get the peel and very little of the pith. I can then take the knife and sort of shave off the remaining white and then finely chop up the fragrant, colorful peel.

So since the layers are cool, let's ice it. I love cream cheese icing, particularly for spicy cakes like this one or carrot cake types. For the lemon-ginger, I made a lemon cream cheese icing that is just so simple and so delicious. Take a package of cream cheese, a pound of powdered sugar and a soft stick of butter. Blend the butter and cream cheese in a mixer until well blended. Zest a lemon and also squeeze the juice out of the lemon as well. Add to the mixer. You are then going to put about 2/3 of the powered sugar in the mixer and blend well. I like the less sweet icing but some like the sweeter version. The good news is that YOU control the sweetness and can make it as you like. Simply taste and add the sugar, blending and tasting until it reaches the flavor you like.Spread over the cake layers.
I usually make a double batch of the icing so that I don't have to make anymore and I usually end up with a lot leftover ............nothing like a little spoon of the icing every now and then when you need a little sweetness.......Enjoy!