Saturday, October 11, 2014

Vanilla Cake with Chantilly Cream

The Cloister Designed by Addison Mizner

For a few years during the 1990's, every summer my friends Carolyn and John rented a house for a month at Sea Island, a barrier island that sits off the coast of Georgia. The charming Cloister had not yet been torn down and replaced by the modern hotel it is today; it was still the beautiful building designed by Addison Mizner, and the resort - if you could call it something as mundane as that - was populated mostly by gracious Southern people with their well-behaved children. You could sit on the beach reading Ah, Wilderness! just yards from Cottage 57, where Eugene O'Neil wrote it and imagine him emerging from his library, built to resemble the captain's quarters of a ship, to stroll down the beach.

On Sea Island Drive

The house Carolyn and John rented for one month was filled with them, their daughters Jane and Amy, their growing families, and lucky me. The young husbands, Lamar and Wright, came and went as their jobs in Atlanta allowed, but the girls and their children were there for the duration. There were at least six of us for dinner during the week and usually nine on the weekends. During the day everyone did whatever he or she wanted - sit by the pool, swim in the ocean, walk on the beach, ride horses, play golf - but starting at 4:00 p.m. Jane, Amy, and I would start cooking together. At 5:00 p.m. we would drink gin and tonics, and at 6:00 p.m. we sat down to family dinner. Most nights after we finished eating, everyone but me would pile into the car and head to Sweet Mama's on St. Simon's Island for ice cream, and in the sudden - almost startling - peace and quiet, I would clean up the kitchen, a solitary job I enjoyed.

Clarke, Lamar, John, Carolyn, Wright, Amy, Jane holding John

Janet, Jane, and Lamar Visiting Sea Island in Winter

Now Jane is gone, and the next time we go to Sea Island, we will sprinkle some of her ashes on the beach she so loved, in the place she always longed to be. We will sit down together and toast Jane with a glass of her favorite prosecco. Instead of going to Sweet Mama's, I will make a little cake in Jane's honor. 

I went through Lady Jane's recipe box looking for her signature cake recipe with no luck, so I turned to FOOD52, a reliable place to go for all kinds of tips on baking, cooking, and nicely curated products.
The recipe I found  was for what looks like a very plain cake, but it turns out to be one packed with flavor, served with a luxurious, fragrant whipped cream. 


I prefer cooking and baking using metric measurements.  I think it is particularly important with baking, which requires precision in order to be repeatable. When I find myself confronted with a recipe that does not have ingredients listed in metric, I use Dorie Greenspan's formula - 1 cup of flour is 136 grams, and 1 cup of sugar is 200 grams. So far, I haven't had any problems using those measurements, but, of course, except for a Dorie Greenspan recipe, it won't necessarily be the way the original recipe was made.

Posie Harwood says you can use a hand-held electric mixer for this recipe, but I would not make it without a stand mixer because beating the eggs and sugar until they are light and fluffy is a crucial step, and while I am an enthusiastic baker, I would not say I am an accomplished one. 

When you get to the step of folding the melted butter into the batter, it is important that you be scrupulous to ensure that the melted butter is completely incorporated.

My favorite cake pans are Parrish Magic Line aluminum. They are well-made; the square and rectangular ones have actual square borders.

Vanilla Cake with Chantilly Cream
Adapted from Posie Harwood Brien on FOOD52

Ingredients for the Cake

198 grams (14 tablespoons) butter melted and cooled - do this first (I like Kerrygold butter.)
200 grams granulated sugar (I like Domino Golden Sugar.)
Extra sugar for coating the bottom and sides of the cake pan
3 eggs at room temperature or, better yet, warmed for a short time in a bowl of warm water
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (This is what really packs that vanilla wallop.)
¼ teaspoon salt (I use fine sea salt.)
136 grams flour
Extra butter for coating the bottom and sides of the cake pan

Instructions for the Cake

Preheat the oven to 350°F; do not use convection.

Line an 8-inch round cake pan with parchment. Before you put the parchment down, put a thin dot of butter in the middle of the bottom of the cake pan. This will secure the parchment and hold it in place while you are buttering it. Butter the bottom and sides of the cake pan, and coat with granulated sugar.

Using your stand mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar for 5 minutes or a little more until he mixture doubles in size  Add the vanilla bean paste, vanilla extract, and salt, and mix gently.

Remove the bowl from the mixer, and sift flour over the egg mixture. I do this using a hand-held strainer rather than a flour sifter. Gently fold the flour into the batter with a spatula. Try not to deflate the batter.

Add the melted butter to the batter and fold in thoroughly using a spatula. Again, try not to deflate the batter, but be sure to incorporate the butter completely, leaving no streaks behind.

Pour the batter into the cake pan, and bake until the cake starts to pull away slightly from the sides. This takes 35 minutes in my oven.

Remove the cake from the oven, and immediately run a knife or small spatula around the sides to loosen the cake from the sugar coating. Let the cake cool for 5 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack to finish cooking.

Ingredients for the Chantilly Cream

1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

Beat the cream with the vanilla bean paste and the sugar until stiff peaks form. I use a hand-held electric mixer and a small metal bowl and beaters (an extra set) that I always keep in my freezer especially for whipping cream. You do want the whipped cream to be stable, but be sure not to overbeat the cream or else it will get grainy.

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