You never know, when you set your sail, just how the winds will blow, so I’m continuing to learn and grow and be surprised by all manner of reactions to this blog, almost universally positive, and perhaps the most unexpected response, so far, is the wide appreciation I’m getting for the recipes I’ve been posting from our Fire Island kitchen, largely drawn from Saturday dinners around our communal table.
That said, this week’s recipe comes from the dessert I made for Friday night’s simpler meal which included our usual pre-cooked Costco rotisserie chickens (they really are stunningly good for store-bought, and we’ve come to depend on them – accompanied by a starch, vegetable dish and dessert – for flexible Friday night meals that can be enjoyed regardless of when our housemates arrive from the city). This past Friday the meal also included steamed broccoli, baked onion rice and, for dessert, an old Southern favorite, a “1,2,3,4 Cake” – a basic vanilla cake that was one of my mother’s personal “go-to” choices – with caramel frosting. It’s called a “1,2,3,4 Cake” because it includes 1 cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour and 4 eggs, which also makes it a very easy recipe to remember. Mama usually made it in sheet cake form for serving at church suppers and such, but with a little adjusting of time and temperature (and a smidgen more baking powder), you can turn it into a silky Bundt cake that looks scrumptious with icing running down the valleys.
Note that the Quick Caramel Icing recipe also works beautifully, with a few tweaks, as a fresh-fruit glaze – something I did a couple of weeks ago when Richard showed up with some ultra-ripe white peaches that needed eating – so I’m also including instructions for that, as well. Enjoy!
1,2,3,4 Bundt Cake
Preheat oven to 350° (the recipe calls for 375° for the sheet cake, but I find that in a Bundt pan it cooks the outside too much before the center is done at that temperature.)
Prepare Bundt pan with good smearing of butter in all the crevasses.
1 cup unsalted butter (two sticks)
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs (separated)
1 Tbls vanilla extract
3 cups flour
2 ¼ tsps. Baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup milk
Few drops of lemon juice or crème of tartar
Separate eggs. Set egg whites aside for the moment.
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
Cream butter and sugar in large mixer bowl using blade attachment until it is light, fluffy and no longer looks grainy from the sugar. I’m a big fan of doing this longer than you think necessary since it seems to make a lighter cake.
Add egg yolks one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Add vanilla, mix thoroughly.
Add flour mixture one-fourth at a time, alternating with 1/3 of the milk, so that you begin and end with the flour. Note that while eggs are masochists that enjoy a good beating, flour is definitely a softy and bruises easily, so you can beat the heck out of your batter before adding the flour, but only mix as much as required to fully integrate each dry addition, and be sure to scrape down the sides a couple of times along the way.
Set aside batter mixture and change mixer attachment to whisk for beating egg whites. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form, adding a few drops of lemon juice once it gets frothy (or ½ teaspoon of crème of tartar) to stabilize.
Gently fold batter mixture into beaten egg whites until thoroughly mixed. Pour batter into pan. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes (until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean).
Quick Caramel Frosting
It would be impossible to overstate just how popular this cake has proven to be, and the best part is just how easy it is to make this icing. Note that instructions for turning it into a fresh-fruit based glaze are given following the regular recipe. Also, note that for this Bundt cake recipe, I’ve cut the recipe for the icing in half, since it takes far less to pour over the Bundt’s peaks and valleys than you would need to fully cover the top and sides of a 9” x 13” sheet cake.
¼ cup butter (half a stick)
½ cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup heavy cream
2 tsps vanilla
½ box of confectioner’s sugar
In small, heavy saucepan over medium heat melt butter and mix in cream and sugar until smooth and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Once boiling strongly, remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Whisk in powdered sugar fast and hard. (To ensure absolutely smooth icing with no lumps of sugar, you may want to use a hand mixer if you have one, or even pour ingredients into your stand-mixer bowl to mix. I generally just whisk it in the saucepan as hard as I can till the lumps disappear, but that takes some energy.)
As soon as it is mixed, pour icing over the cake as you turn it to allow the icing to run down the valleys of the cake.
Quick Fruit-Glace Frosting
This is really the same technique except that you substitute ½ cup of boiled down fresh fruit syrup for the brown sugar. Here’s how:
1 to 2 cups of fresh fruit (the more you use, the longer you’ll have to reduce to get to ½ cup, but the more intense will be the resulting flavor. For subtly flavored fruits, like pears, for example, you should start with more fruit and reduce it for a longer time)
¼ cup water for each cup of fruit
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup butter (half a stick)
¼ cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
Half a box of confectioner’s sugar
Place fruit, water and granulated sugar in small, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Continue cooking at medium heat until syrup is reduced to ½ cup of liquid.
Add butter and cream to reduced mixture and mix thoroughly as it comes to a full boil.
Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Add confectioner’s sugar with quick whisking motion until thoroughly blended (note that the fruit glaze is easier to mix without lumps than the caramel frosting, so an electric appliance is unlikely to be needed to prevent lumps).
Artfully pour warm glaze over cake.