Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Using Up Odds and Ends Cake

Egg whites left from making pasta and ice cream, a bag of rhubarb I froze last Spring, the handful of less-than-perfect strawberries at the bottom of the quart, half a package of cream cheese, a few cherries left in a jar-this is more often than not how I decide what to bake. Knowing a few basic recipes can be helpful, particularly when feeling unwell (oh dear god, am I unwell) and faced with an icebox filled with things that need to be used or wasted. I don't care how sick I am, wasting-be it food, energy, egg cartons that can be used for seedlings, drives me absolutely to ranting. As my family prefer not to hear ranting, they humour me, and make sure to keep the compost separate from the rubbish bin. We all have our quirks.

I did not measure to make the strawberry rhubarb filling. I used about 4 cups of fruit and three cups of sugar, with a tablespoon of lemon juice. In a saucepan I brought it to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolved. After that, I increased the heat and cooked it rapidly until it reached the gelling point (more or less) by sheeting off a spoon. I'm less exacting with cake filling than a large batch of jam I plan to preserve. I cooled it at room temperature, then chilled it completely before using it to fill the cake. We still have 1/2 a pint left for toast, pancakes, ice cream or whatever. You can do this sort of thing with most fruit that you are left with a small bit of. I've even used leftover tinned apricots and the syrup it was packed in to make a small bit of apricot jam. If you learn nothing else from my blog, learn how to avoid wasting food.

The cake is from the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook, 1950 edition. I made the one called, Delicious White Cake, which it indeed is. I used all butter, but half shortening would be fine as well. I like this recipe as it used us 1/2 a cup of egg whites, which is about what I have left after making pasta. I like meringues as much as the next baker (no, not a cliche-in fact, I probably like them more than the next baker...OK it is still a cliche, but cut me some slack) but you can only make so many and it was raining the day I made this. An angel food cake would require many more egg whites, and I've already made my cherry egg white breakfast loaf bread a few times this winter. Delicious White Cake it was to be.

The frosting was nothing more than equal amounts of softened cream cheese and butter beat with icing sugar and thinned to a spreading consistency with cream. Easy. Really easy.

For a white cake, this has kept really well. You do need to go to the trouble of beating the egg whites to stiff peaks which is a bit more work than white cakes that work on the "dump it all in a bowl" method, but a moist white cake is sort of a rarity, and one that makes use of exactly what you have on hand is even better. I baked this as a layer cake because I had the filling to use, but it would work just as well in a sheet pan, or a tube pan. It really is moist enough that you could forgo the frosting entirely if you had fresh fruit to use, or what have you. I guess you could do fairy cakes if you felt the need, but then you'd be obligated to ice them or everyone would think you were German. Nein! No frosting for you!

You Will Need:

(for two 9 inch layers or a 9x13 sheet)

2/3 cup butter (or half shortening)
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
3 cups cake flour or 2 2/3 cups plain flour
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups thin milk (half water) (I took this to mean "if using whole milk" I wouldn't bother with 1 % or skim)
2 teaspoons flavouring (I used vanilla)
4 eggs whites (to total 1/2 cup), stiffly beaten

Grease and flour pans. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Set rack in the centre.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light. sift together dry ingredients. Add the extract to the milk/water mixture. Add in alternating additions. Beat egg whites until they hold stiff peaks. Fold into batter.

Pour into pans and bake 30-35 minutes for layers, 35-40 for sheet. Cool 15 minutes in pans on rack, then remove from pan and cool completely on racks. Frost and fill as desired.

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