Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Dessert Can Be as Simple as Counting to 4: Alice Waters' 1-2-3-4 Cake

I am a firm believer that no good meal is complete without dessert. Usually, however, I don't have time to whip up something fantastic for after dinner so I rely on store bought treats. This means that I'm always looking for quick, easy dessert recipes that I can pop in the oven while I'm eating dinner. Alice Waters' 1-2-3-4 Cake is one of those recipes.

I love this cake, not only because it is incredibly easy to make, but because it is so versatile. It's also made from ingredients that I regularly keep stocked in my kitchen. My favorite way to eat it is plain with a little bit of vanilla ice cream on the side. It would also be delicious served with fresh berries. For a party you can ice it or turn it into cupcakes. To add a different flavor, throw in some lemon zest and juice or swirl in some raspberry jam.

1-2-3-4 Cake from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters (the recipe below makes two nine-inch round cakes, however, I took Alice Waters’ suggestion and halved the recipe to just make one 9-inch round):
    •    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
    •    Butter the cake pans and line the bottom of each with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust the pans with flour, tapping the excess. Separate
    •     4 eggs
    •    Measure
    •     1 cup milk
    •    Sift and then measure:
    •     3 cups cake flour**
    •    Stir in:
    • 4 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt (use 1/4 teaspoon if using salted butter)
    •    In another bowl, beat until light and fluffy:
    • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
    •    Add:
    • 2 cups sugar
    •    Cream until light and fluffy. Beat in the 4 egg yolks, one at a time, and:
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    •   When well mixed, add the flour mixture and milk alternately, starting and ending with one third of the flour. Stir just until the flour is incorporated.


In another bowl, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks. Stir one third of the egg whites into the batter, then gently fold in the rest. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes.




To make the cake a little more interesting, Alice Waters suggests adding 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest and 2 teaspoons lemon juice to the batter, and frosting it with equal parts lemon curd and whipped cream folded together.
**A quick note about cake flour: I strongly recommend keeping a box of cake flour stocked in your kitchen, because you never know when a recipe will call for it. However, if you discover, like I did (right in the middle of making the cake!) that you do not have any cake flour, for the 1-2-3-4 cake it is easy to substitute without sacrificing taste.

1 cup of cake flour = 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons of sifted all-purpose flour.
If you are halving the recipe like I did, 1 1/2 cups of cake flour = 1 1/2 cups minus 3 tablespoons of sifted all-purpose flour.

I do not endorse using this substitution in other recipes calling for cake flour, simply because I have not tried it, but do let us know in the comments if you have found other recipes for which this substitution works!

((post by emily))

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