French Vanilla Trifle Cake

Yesterday, I turned 29.

I am now in the last year of my twenties, and it feels odd. I’m not sure how old I feel exactly, but it isn’t one year shy of 30. But regardless of how I feel, this is where I’m at. My birthday usually passes without much celebration or fanfare and I’m fine with that. There is however, one celebratory act that since I learned to cook/bake, does happen every year without fail.

I bake myself a cake.

*Could* I just buy some cake from a bakery or a store? Sure. *Could* I ask a relative or friend to bake one for me? Of course.

But see, here’s the thing: nowhere I could buy it from and nobody I could ask (with the exception of my grandma) could bake me a better cake than the one that EYE would bake. I’m not even bragging. Those are just facts.

So, I do it myself. And I must say, I don’t disappoint.

These are some of the cakes I’ve made for my birthdays over the past few years on the blog: there’s this one. And this one. This one was *especially* good. And I still fantasize about this one.

I’m just good at birthday cakes. And this year was no exception.

The very first cake that I fell in love with as a kid was a plain old vanilla cake. When it’s done well, there’s just nothing like it in the world. I had a lot of options for this year, but ultimately I decided to just go with that: a really, really good grown up vanilla layer cake.

How do you guys think I did?

The cake itself is flavored with both vanilla AND almond extract. The almond may seem like a surprise addition, but trust me: that’s what’s going to give it that little extra ‘something’ that would make you swear it was made in a bakery and not your own kitchen.

To make the cake more ‘grown up’ and to cut down on the sweetness of the vanilla buttercream, I decided to include a tart fruit filling. I had a jar of ligonberry preserves from IKEA that I was itching to try and as ligonberries remind me of a very sweet cranberry, I thought they would pair very well with strawberries. I was right.

This cake was so good. It was a delicious birthday present to myself & I guarantee that it will make a delicious present to anyone you decide to make it for–yourself included.

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French Vanilla Trifle Cake

Recipe Adapted from Southern Living

Ingredients

For Cake

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoons almond extract
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk

For Filling

  • 1/2 cup ligonberry preserves (You can find them at IKEA. You can use strawberry or raspberry preserves as well.)
  • 2 quarts fresh strawberries, diced

For Buttercream Frosting

  • 1 1/2 cups butter, softened
  • 48 oz. powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 to 5 tablespoons milk

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour four 2 inch cake pans and set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour with the baking powder, and salt. Stir with a fork and set aside. In a small bowl combine the buttermilk with the vanilla extract and set aside.

Using the paddle attachment of a standing mixer (or a handheld one) cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating just until blended after each addition. Alternate between adding the dry ingredients to the butter mixture with the wet ingredients. Start and end with the flour mixture, and make sure you use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing.

Divide evenly between the two cake pans on the middle rack of the oven for 32 to 36 minutes. (Cake is done at an inner temp of 190-195 degrees Fahrenheit). Cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and to wire rack and cool completely (about 1 hour).

For Buttercream Frosting: Beat together the butter, vanilla and salt until creamy. Gradually add the powdered sugar, alternating with the milk 1 tablespoon at a time, beating at a low speed until blended and smooth after each addition until it reaches your desired consistency.

To assemble: Level the tops of each cake. Line the edges of a cake platter with strips of parchment paper to keep the platter clean while you assemble the cake. Place one cake layer on the platter. Pipe a border of frosting around the edges of the cake. Spread the layer with about 2/3 cup of buttercream. Top with first the sliced strawberries, then spread the preserves on top of that with the spatula. Top with the remaining cake layer. Spread entire cake with just enough frosting over the top and sides to make a crumb coat. (It should be thin).  Refrigerate cake for one hour until the crumb coat is firm. Finish spreading the remainder of the frosting on the cake. Refrigerate for an additional hour, just to let buttercream firm up. Remove the parchment strips from the platter before serving.

Linking to this week’s Fiesta Friday #243, co-hosted this week by Catherine @ Kunstkitchen’s Blog and Becky @ Bubbly Bee.

Vanilla Wafers

This week’s episode of the Cooking is My Sport show is entitled “But Jess…Is It Really Worth It, Though?”

Thank you for tuning in. It’s going to be a good one.

Over the past few years on the blog, I’ve shared recipes for things that many of us could, theoretically buy from elsewhere rather than make ourselves. It is easier and more convenient go to our local grocery store and buy something with little to no trouble.

I could buy quite a few of the things that I post here–if not from a grocery store, then from a bakery or something. And though even EYE I am not going to go to the trouble of making something like, puff pastry, for the most part, I really do cook or bake most of what we eat. Why do I do this?

Because I believe it’s worth it. I really do.

If you ask, “But Jess, is it REALLY worth it, though?” to bake Christmas cookies rather than just buying some in a store, I’m going to say yes. It’s worth it.

Ask “But Jess, is it REALLY worth it, though?” to bake your own cake from scratch, then go to the trouble of making your own buttercream and skip the store bought cake with that greasy, lardy crap, I’m going to say yes. It’s worth it.

Come to me with, “But Jess, is it REALLY worth it, though?” to make biscuits from scratch when they’re available at the local chicken joint, I am DEFINITELY gonna say, yes. It’s worth it.

(My biscuits are better than any others that you can buy anywhere else anyway. Including Popeyes. Yeah, I said it.)

I shared the recipe for my grandma’s banana pudding on the blog years ago. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever made–but up until recently I had always made it with store-bought vanilla wafers. I’ll be honest and admit that is the way that she makes it, and it tastes fantastic. But recently, I decided to see what it would be like if I went the extra mile and made the pudding with vanilla wafers that I made by myself. Any guesses on how it went? Anyone?

OHMYGODGAMECHANGER.

From the beginning, I had two major concerns for the recipe as a whole: the short, crisp texture of store-bought wafers and the intense vanilla flavor. If I wasn’t going to get a comparable or superior result to the store-bought version, it just wouldn’t be worth it in the long run to make them. I’m pleased to report that this recipe delivers on both. They are crisp, but the butter keeps them from being too crunchy or crumbly. They’re not too sweet, and that vanilla flavor is spot on. Even if I had no intention of making banana pudding at all, I still would’ve considered this time well spent–it’s that tasty a cookie.

Go ahead and ask me: “But Jess…is it REALLY worth it, though?”

Yes. It’s worth it.

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Vanilla Wafers

Recipe Adapted from Williams Sonoma

Ingredients

  • 1 Cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 Tbs. vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Directions

In a small bowl, combine the flour with the salt, stir together with a fork and set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer (or using a hand-held one) cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the egg yolks, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you mix. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Stir the flour into the butter mixture, just until blended. (If it’s a little dry, you can add a few tablespoons of milk, one at a time, just until it holds together.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Sprinkle a rolling pin and clean work surface (like a pastry mat, wax paper) with powdered sugar.

Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Keep the other 3 in the fridge while you roll out the 1 portion to about 1/4 inch thick. Use a small (1 1/2 inch), round cookie cutter to cut out rounds. Place the rounds on the sheet pans.

Refrigerate the cookies on the pans for about 20 minutes. Sprinkle each one with white sugar, then bake the cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until the edges and bottoms are golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer them to wire racks and let cool completely.

(Sharing at this week’s Fiesta Friday #242, co-hosted this week by Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook and Jen @ Apply To Face Blog.)

Cornmeal Biscuits and Honey Butter

 

Hi, y’all. Sorry that it’s been a bit quiet around here for a while. I had company visiting and didn’t get around to getting up last week’s post. But things should be getting back to normal and on schedule now. I’ve got some recipes coming that I’m really excited to share in the coming week’s and today’s is one of them, so let’s just jump right into it.

Surprise!

Yet another biscuit post. You excited yet? You should be. Biscuits alone are exciting to me, but these especially since they feature one of my favorite ingredients to both bake and cook with: cornmeal.

I’ve said before that I have a mild obsession with cornmeal and the proof is in the amount of baked goods I’ve shared already on the blog. Take your pick, really. Cornbread. Yeast bread. Scones. Crackers. Some of it’s savory, some of it sweet. It’s a versatile ingredient and if you’re not familiar with it, allow me to strongly recommend you try to incorporate it into your baking routine. I think there are very few things that can’t be improved with a bit of cornmeal added to them.

I’ve shared a recipe for cornmeal biscuits on the blog before, but that one was also flavored with ginger and Chinese Five Spice to pair with some fried chicken that I also flavored with five spice. This time around, I decided to go with more ordinary, traditional flavors that would produce a biscuit that could go with any kind of meal.

So what’s the role that cornmeal plays in a biscuit? I’ve found that cornmeal (yellow cornmeal, that is) does two things to a biscuit: first it’s going to provide a contrast of texture that wouldn’t necessarily be in a biscuit made with just white flour. Don’t worry: it’s not at all going to be tough, but yellow cornmeal will make it slightly more grainy and chewy. Sounds weird, but I promise it’s marvelous. Second, yellow cornmeal has a natural savory flavor of its own. In the case of these biscuits, the cornmeal helps to further bring out the flavors of the salt and pepper in the dough.

Although these biscuits do lean on the savory side, I paired them with a smooth, honey butter spread that comes together in seconds. The butter brings a great balance between the savory & sweet of these biscuits as a dish and honestly, I could eat them all on their own without even needing to add them to a meal. If you try them yourself some time, you’ll understand why. Have a good week, everyone.

Sharing at this week’s Fiesta Friday #241, co-hosted this week by Zeba @ Food For The Soul and Debanita @ Canvassed Recipes.

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Cornmeal Biscuits and Honey Butter

Recipe Adapted from Country Living

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Ingredients

For Biscuits

  • 3 1/4 cups cake flour, spooned and level
  • 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup frozen butter
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk

For Honey Butter

  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup honey

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pepper.

Using the large holes on a box grater, grate the butter into the dry ingredients and stir a few times to combine. Make a well in the center of the bowl.

Pour the buttermilk into the well and use a large rubber spatula to stir the mixture together. If it seems a little dry you may add additional buttermilk until it forms a shaggy dough.Sprinkle a pastry mat, wooden cutting board or wax paper with flour. Turn the dough out onto the surface and pat a few times with your hands until it loosely holds together. (Don’t knead it too much or the warmth in your palms will melt the butter and cause the biscuits to be tough.)

Pat and roll the dough into a rectangle. Take the two opposite ends and fold them together like a business letter into thirds. Flip it upside down and pat & roll it into another rectangle, sprinkling the surface with flour if it gets too sticky. Repeat the folding process two to three more times before patting it into one final rectangle.

Use a bench scraper or very sharp knife to trim the edges of the rectangle. Use a 2 1/2-inch round cutter to cut biscuits, pressing and rolling the scraps together to make more biscuits two additional times. Discard the rest of the dough.  Place biscuits, slightly touching, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Chill 15 minutes in the freezer.

Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. (You may have to cover the biscuits with foil if they begin to brown too quickly.

For the Honey Butter: Use a fork to briskly stir the honey into the butter until it’s smooth. Store in the fridge.