Friday, May 23, 2008

Rainy day doldrums? Piece of cake

Here's reason No. 964 on why I don't like cake mixes: Relying on them removes the possibility of random acts of cake.

Case in point. It's a rainy Saturday (for the past year, this hasn't been a problem around here, but it's been moist this spring). Everyone's cooped up. Nerves are getting frayed. You have no money to go shopping or to the movies or anywhere else, for that matter. You don't want to get out in the rain and burn that liquid gold called gasoline.

Got flour? Got some eggs? Rummage a little deeper in the cabinet and find baking soda or baking powder, and you've got the bones for a cake.

Nothing brightens a day like a spontaneous baking project. It's not hard to make a cake from scratch. In last week's food section, there was a story on the art of old-fashioned cakes; they were easy. A real cake is denser than those pre-fab, chemically enhanced crumb puddings that come from cake mixes. They stand up to icing, decorating, and a smaller piece goes along way, because the dominant feature in the real, homemade cake isn't chemical leavener and... air.

Here's one of the recipes we ran last week. Give it a go.

Aunt Nettie's Orange-Nut Cake
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Yield: 12 servings

1 unpeeled orange, washed, coarsely chopped
1 cup raisins or dried cranberries
1/4 cup hot water
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
2 eggs
3/4 cup each: buttermilk, chopped nutsConfectioners’ sugar

Heat the oven to 350 . Combine the orange and raisins in a food processor; pulse until the mixture is finely ground. Pour 1/4 cup hot water over the mixture; set aside.Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.
Combine the sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk to the sugar-butter mixture, beating until smooth with each addition. Stir in the reserved orange-raisin mixture and the nuts.
Pour batter into a greased and floured 12-cup Bundt pan.Bake 40-50 minutes. Let cake cool in pan 10 minutes. Invert it onto a wire rack; cool completely. Dust with confectioners’ sugar.