(Original post date: Feb 07, 2010)
My mom was one of those mothers that didn’t buy sweets. Ever. Cookies? Cakes? Sugary Cereal? Nope. So I learned at an early age, that if I wanted a sweet treat… I would have to make it myself. I think I was in the second grade when I began my baking adventures.
I climbed up the kitchen cabinets to the very top shelf where a dusty, yet pristine, copy of the “Joy of Cooking” (from the 1960′s) permanently lived. I opened the tiffany blue cover, and began searching. Specifically, I was looking for a recipe for something – anything – that I could make, with the limited ingredients we had in our pantry.
Certain staples that we expect any ordinary American refrigerator to have… were often not present in my house. With a Japanese mother doing the shopping, there was plenty of rice, vegetables, and all kinds of pickled things imaginable… but it was a rare occasion that we had milk. Sometimes there would be one egg left in an empty carton relegated to the back of the shelf. And never would there be any real butter (we usually had big tubs of margarine-like “spread”). Luckily, we did have flour, and an old can of Clabber Girl double-acting baking powder (Why we had it is still a mystery to me to this day.)
On page 636, I found it: the One-Egg cake recipe.
We had flour, sugar, baking powder, a little bit of milk that hadn’t yet gone sour, and the strange buttery spread. We didn’t have vanilla extract. But as a creative and unstoppable 7 year old on a quest for cake, I was not going to let that deter me. I cracked open the (unlocked and ground level) liquor cabinet in search of an acceptable substitute and found a bottle of Tia Maria, a kahlua-like coffee liqueur. “That will work!” I said to my 7 year old self – excited that I now had all my ingredients to begin my baking adventure. Of course, not knowing how to cook or bake, I didn’t really understand or follow the instructions in the recipe – I just dumped everything into one bowl and stirred. And voila! A few hours later, I had a cake cooling on the counter, and even my dad wanted a slice! (Now, I won’t get into why my parents let me dig through the liquor cabinet, or why I was allowed to run amok in the kitchen unsupervised at that age… but that’s how it was in my house. I guess those were simpler times, when no one imagined that a liquor cabinet needed to be locked up, or maybe a 7 year old shouldn’t be using a hot oven.)
Thinking back on that afternoon in my childhood where the love of baking all began, I thought I would come full circle and try my first recipe all over again. My old, stained, and beat-up copy of “Joy of Cooking” is not quite so pristine anymore. The cover fell off, and had to be taped back together many years ago, and the crisp white pages have now oxidized to a yellowy-beige. Reading back, the recipe doesn’t make much sense to me. It calls for mixing the flour, sugar, butter, and some of the milk together first before adding the egg. Knowing what I know now about baking, I wonder if adding the flour in the beginning will develop the gluten too much and create a tougher cake? So I decided that yes, I’m going to make the One-Egg cake again, but I’m going to make it my way instead. Here we go:
The One-Egg Cake:
- 1 3/4 c. flour
- 1 1/4 c. sugar
- 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/3 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 egg
- 1 c. milk
- 1 tsp vanilla
Mocha Frosting Recipe (at end)
1. Before you start, make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature. (If the butter is hard, it will be much harder to cream). If you must use salted butter, omit the extra salt in the recipe.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. (The original recipe calls for a 375 degree oven, but I thought I would go a little lower since I was making cupcakes today.) Place paper liners in your cupcake pan to prepare for the batter.
3. Sift all the dry ingredients together. I normally just dump them all in a bowl as shown, and use a whisk to evenly distribute the salt and baking powder into the flour.
4. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer. I like to use a small handheld mixer, but you can also use a stand mixer, or a wooden spoon and your arm muscles to do the job.
5. Once the butter and sugar have come together evenly, beat in your egg. Then, add the milk and vanilla, and slowly combine.
6. Dump the wet ingredients on top of the sifted dry ingredients, and use a rubber spatula to gently combine them until a uniform batter. It’s important not to over-mix, otherwise the final cake texture will be tough instead of light and fluffy.
7. Pour the batter into a paper-lined muffin pan, approximately 2/3 full. Resist the urge to fill them all the way – if you do this, the cupcakes will rise and spread out while baking, gluing each cupcake top together. (Trust me, I made this mistake before.) Your batter should yield you enough for 12 cupcakes.
(Incidentally, this is the same cupcake pan that my mother bought sometime in the mid 80′s. I’ve been using the same pan ever since. I wonder if she even knows I stole it when I moved out? Probably not…)
8. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown and done. How do you test for done-ness? I’ve never been one to poke cakes with wooden skewers or knives…I usually just push down (gently) on the top of the cake with a clean finger, and see how much it gives. With time, you will develop a sense of what “done” feels like, but a good rule of thumb is that if it is mushy or too soft, it’s not done. The cake should gently spring back when touched lightly.
9. Cool the cupcakes in the pan for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack. Wait until completely cool before frosting and decorating, if desired. I decided to make a mocha frosting (using another “Joy of Cooking” recipe, and dipped the frosted edges in chocolate sprinkles. Even my husband, the die-hard cake-hater (How does anyone learn to hate cake, I wonder?) said, “This is good.”
(Mocha Frosting recipe is below)
- 1 2/3 c. powdered sugar
- 2 T. cocoa powder
- 1/2 c. unsalted butter (1 stick)
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 3 T. strong, hot coffee
- 1 tsp. vanilla (or any coffee liqueur like Kahlua)
1. Assemble your ingredients. The butter should be room temperature.
2. Beat the butter with an electric mixer until soft and creamy. Add in the cocoa powder slowly. When incorporated, begin to add the powdered sugar – in small doses at low speed (to prevent powdered sugar from flying all over your kitchen and up into your face). Alternately add the coffee and powdered sugar to keep the mixture from becoming too stiff. Beat for 1-2 minutes until fluffy. Add in the vanilla, and let the frosting stand for 5 minutes before using.
3. Frost the cool cupcakes, and dip the sides in chocolate sprinkles to decorate.
Baking never feels tedious to me – it’s fun, and it’s always a surprise. When you try a new recipe, you never know how it’s going to go… and the most fun for me comes from taking a so-so recipe, and tweaking it with my own personal touches to make it better. I break my cardinal rule of keeping all books mark-free and as pristine as possible with my cookbooks; I actually write notes in my cookbooks (The Horror!) – usually little comments in the margin that a recipe is too sweet, not sweet enough, too dry, etc. Next time, I try again, with possible revisions in mind. Sometimes the result is better, and a new recipe is born – sometimes not. But it’s always an adventure!
Thanks to all who joined me on my very first blog post!