Thumbnail image for HappyHousewife.jpgToday was supposed to be a cleaning day, not a baking day. I'd planned to tackle the next room on my list--either the dining room or the living room. But I failed to clean anything, and I really wanted to bake. Since I'm self-indulgent, that's what I did.

I bake quite a bit. Lately, I have both a reason to bake more and a reason to bake less: I'm watching what I eat (not dieting, not a life style change, just trying to pay attention). One of the things I'm focusing on is only eating food that is made of food--i.e. no processed junk. That means that if I want something baked, I have to make it myself. However, I'm a glutton, so making something myself can be dangerous--I end up eating it all. (Truly, I do--I recently demolished an entire pan of lemon bars in two days.) So baking can be an issue. The solution I've found is to bake, have a slice of cake or a few cookies, and then send the rest to lab with Mark. Makes him popular, I get both my junk fix and the process of baking, which I enjoy, and I don't end up pounding down tons of unnecessary calories. Win-win.

So, tonight I set out to make Mark's favorite cake. It's not something I make often, because it calls for sour cream, which we don't keep in the house as a staple. However, I recently have been buying sour cream to satiate my nacho needs, and I accidentally bought one when we already had one. Knowing there was no way I would finish both of them before they expired (or at least that I really shouldn't), I decided to make this cake to use up some of the excess.

This recipe is from an issue of Cooks Illustrated from 2002. It's possibly the first Cooks Illustrated I ever bought for Mark--certainly one of the first. The pages are stuck together and gross--I should really copy the recipe down somewhere else. Traditionally, I make the cake exactly as directed, except that I use a Bundt pan instead of the recommended 10-inch tube pan, which I don't have. This is the recipe:

Thumbnail image for grace making cake.JPGStreusel
*3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
* 3/4 cup granulated sugar
* 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar (I actually use light brown most of the time, since it's what I tend to have)
* 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
* 2 tablespoons unsalted butter , cold, cut into 2 pieces
* 1 cup pecans , chopped

* 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened but still cool, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus 2 tablespoons softened butter for greasing pan
* 4 large eggs
* 1 1/2 cups sour cream
* 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
* 2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
* 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
* 1 tablespoon baking powder
* ¾ teaspoon baking soda
* ¾ teaspoon table salt

1. For the streusel: In food processor, process flour, granulated sugar, ¼ cup dark brown sugar, and cinnamon until combined, about 15 seconds. Transfer 1 ¼ cups of flour/sugar mixture to small bowl; stir in remaining ¼ cup brown sugar and set aside to use for streusel filling. Add butter and pecans to mixture in food processor; pulse until nuts and butter resemble small pebbly pieces, about ten 1-second pulses. Set aside to use as streusel topping.

2. For the cake: Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 10-inch tube pan with 2 tablespoons softened butter. Whisk eggs, 1 cup sour cream, and vanilla in medium bowl until combined.

3. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in bowl of standing mixer; mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add butter and remaining ½ cup sour cream; mix on low speed until dry ingredients are moistened and mixture resembles wet sand, with few large butter pieces remaining, about 1 ½ minutes. Increase to medium speed and beat until batter comes together, about 10 seconds; scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula. Lower speed to medium-low and gradually add egg mixture in 3 additions, beating for 20 seconds after each and scraping down sides of bowl. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until batter is light and fluffy, about 1 minute.

4. Using rubber spatula, spread 2 cups batter in bottom of prepared pan, smoothing surface. Sprinkle evenly with ¾ cup streusel filling (without butter or nuts). Repeat with another 2 cups batter and remaining ¾ cup streusel filling (without butter or nuts). Spread remaining batter over, then sprinkle with streusel topping (with butter and nuts).

5. Bake until cake feels firm to touch and long toothpick or skewer inserted into center comes out clean (bits of sugar from streusel may cling to tester), 50 to 60 minutes. Cool cake in pan on wire rack 30 minutes. Invert cake onto rimmed baking sheet (cake will be streusel-side down); remove tube pan, place wire rack on top of cake, and reinvert cake streusel-side up. Cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. Cut into wedges and serve. (Cake can be wrapped in foil and stored at room temperature for up to 5 days.

This round, I had a few issues. To begin with, my brown sugar was a solid. Ick. I covered it with wet paper towels and microwaved it and it softened up enough to use. Then, when I had the batter all ready to go, I re-organized an entire cupboard looking for my Bundt pan. Which I never found. Apparently it didn't make the move with us? I don't know why I wouldn't have packed it, but it's not anywhere here I can see. So, I made the cake in a 9"x9" square cake pan. I don't think it will be quite as good--probably a bit denser with not as nice a crumb--but I bet it will still be good.

If you decide to make this cake (and you should, it's really really good), the batter layers are going to look puny compared to the streusel layers in the pan, but don't worry about it, it bakes up fine. Also, don't even think about using fake butter. Really. Don't try to replace it with applesauce or anything ridiculous like that. This is not supposed to be good for you.

Today's apron is a new one--the VERY reasonably priced classic full apron from mamie l. designs. I'm falling behind on the vintage inspired outfits, though--I'm wearing a Yogi maxi dress from Nordstrom Rack underneath.


You can almost always substitute plain yogurt for sour cream.

Even on nachos. :-)

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