Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Last Minute Valentine's Day Gift Idea and Quick Bundt Cake Recipe!

Yeah, I know. It's going to be a little late by the time you probably read this. I admit, I had a great Valentine's Day article planned, and I got a little sidetracked by other things. So that's why I 'm going to share with you a last minute, and I mean REALLY last minute, gift idea that include a bundt cake. I'm also giving you some quick and easy cake recipes that start with cake mixes but include some from-scratch ingredients so your sweetheart will think you slaved for hours near your Kitchen Aid and stove!

Would it be naive of me to think everyone knows that one of the most coveted Valentine's Day gifts is chocolates?  It seems like you can cover ANYTHING in chocolate and gift it to someone, and it's perfectly acceptable and admired. I've even seen chocolate-coated spoons for stirring your coffee.  Clever marketing.  One of my favorite chocolate-covered sweets just so happens to be strawberries.  There is something impossibly romantic about red strawberries, dripping in velvety chocolate glaze and paired with some champagne or Spanish red wine.  Probably all the subliminal messaging from romantic comedies of fantasies that could never be.  While chocolate-covered pretzels are my ABSOLUTE favorite, they are more of a Christmas thing for me. So when it comes to Valentine's Day, I get super excited when I see the long-stem strawberries in the grocery stores that are so brilliantly encased in various assortments of chocolate, ranging from deep dark to white, and often rolled around in edible d├ęcor such as nuts and sprinkles.

So I was thinking this morning, 'How cool would it be to pile these candy-coated strawberries on top of a scrumptious strawberry cake?!' It's like a double-duty gift, and it's perfect for office parties and your kids' classrooms. For this particular cake I used that fake white 'almond bark' chocolate stuff.  No, definitely not high quality, but it works in this case.  And it's cheap.  Cheap is especially good for last minute gifts.   And guess what? We're going to drizzle that fake, cheap, white chocolate stuff over the cake, too! I don't know why it tastes so good over a strawberry cake, but it just does. I made another strawberry cake about three weeks ago and did the same thing. People at my job (well, former job as of now) went nuts over it!  Some were trying to embarrassingly sneak back for a second piece...

I have kind of a 'top secret' cake recipe that I use for own entertaining purposes and when I do a little business on the side, but you're not getting that one today. :-) Perhaps one day I'll share it in a cookbook, but it's something that I have tested close to a hundred times over the past three years on my long quest for strawberry cake perfection, so it's near and dear to my beating heart. It is truly NOT an easy task to find a made-from-scratch strawberry cake that tastes great and has loads of strawberry flavor with just the right texture. Yes, you can sandwich in strawberry preserves and frosting between layers, but I'm talking about a bundt cake here, folks. Something that doesn't absolutely require a frosting and can stand alone, bursting with Heaven-in-you-mouth goodness in each crumb that passes your lips. BUT....I'm going to give you a tasty alternative. It's a recipe I've greatly modified based on a little something I found in the The Cake Mix Doctor cookbook. In fact, it's really not very close to the original recipe, but my inspiration to create this cake came from Anne's brilliant little book. And if you've never heard of Anne Byrn or any of her clever cake mix creations, do yourself a favor and head on over to her site as well as Amazon and start loading her books on your wish list. I've made tons of her cakes, both as-is and with my own take on many of the recipes, and they've always turned out great, often amazing. NOBODY can ever tell that I've made these from a cake mix. (But then again, none of my friends are pastry chefs either...) I recommend that you use an all-natural mix, or at least use Duncan Hines, which is about the highest quality, in terms of taste and texture, you can find where mainstream brands are concerned.  I believe that Anne Byrn is now selling her own brand of Cake Mix Doctor mixes as well that thankfully do not contain all the icky stuff in them like the commercial brands.   Please don't mess with that pudding-in-the-mix crap. It just makes the cake taste fake and all chemical like, and often the cake will shrink or sink while it's baking, especially in a bundt pan.  And then it just ain't pretty. 


The secret to this cake tasting like it was made from scratch while still retaining tons of flavor and color is the inclusion of these two ingredients:  fresh strawberries and strawberry-flavored Jello. Yep, that's right, people! J-E-LL-Oh! But not an entire box like Anne suggests. I tried this the first time around, and it was sickeningly sweet and tasted like a grocery store-bought strawberry cake.  Bleh.  A little goes a very long way in this recipe, so a few tablespoons of the red stuff is all you need to amplify the color and intensify that strawberry flavor that is otherwise tricky to achieve in the world of cakes.

If you are planning going with the dipped strawberry idea on top of this cake, you'll first want to dip your strawberries and allow the chocolate to harden. Or you can simply purchase them from a grocery store or flower shop/specialty store if available. If you are making your own covered berries, all you need really need to do is place about 4-6 oz. of white chocolate in a heavy-bottom saucepan and melt slowly over LOW heat, stirring frequently.  My package of the almond bark white chocolate was already divided into 1/2 oz. squares for me, so it was easy to measure (no weighing) and very easy to just plop into my saucepan.  No chopping required.  Once the chocolate is completely melted, hold the strawberries by the stem or leaves and swirl around in the melted chocolate.  I didn't count how many berries I piled on top of my cake, but it was at least 10 and still had quite a few leftover. Allow the excess coating to drip off, and then either place immediately onto a parchment lined baking sheet or dip your berries into nuts, coconut, or other candy coating of your choice. I dipped mine in crushed peanuts, coconut, and crushed M&M candies because that's what I had on hand. And the combinations looked yummy! 

My 'dredging' station...

And the berries, just resting...

White Chocolate Covered Strawberry Cake
  • 1 package white cake mix (I HIGHLY recommend using Duncan Hines)
  • 2 ½ Tbsp. strawberry gelatin
  • 1 C. mashed strawberries with juices (about 1 ½ C. whole berries)**
  • ½ C. canola oil
  • ½ C. sour cream or Greek yogurt (please do not use non-fat stuff)
  • ½ C. buttermilk or whole milk
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • zest of one lemon (optional, but it really brightens the strawberry flavor)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 oz. of white chocolate for almond bark (or whatever your favorite while chocolate happens to be)

**For the mashed strawberries, I suggest cutting up your fruit into slices and adding 1 tsp. of sugar along with a tsp. of fresh lemon juice. Then just allow these ingredients to hang out for a while and get to know each other. This will draw out the juices, making it easier to mash the berries and have a puree-like consistency, still keeping visible chunks of berries in tact.**

1.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Prepare your bundt pan with butter and flour (or Bakers Joy like I do!).
2.  Put everything EXCEPT the strawberries in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix on low for about a minute, just to break of the cake mix and to get everything moving. Be sure to turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
3.  Turn mixer up to medium speed for about 2 minutes.
4.  Now measure add in your one cup of mashed strawberries, with the juice, and turn mixer back on low for about 30 seconds, or just until the strawberries are well combined with the batter.
5.  Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean.
6.  Allow cake to cool for 15 minutes in pan, then invert cake on cooling rack for at least an hour.
7.  Place your white chocolate into bottom-heavy saucepan and melt over LOW heat, stirring frequently.
8.  Once the chocolate is all melted, you can simply pour it into a pastry bag (or a Ziplock bag), fitted inside a drinking cup. Then simply snip the end of the bag off and drizzle the chocolate with back and forth motion over the cooled cake. CAUTION* Your piping bag will be hot. If you wish, you can fill the center of the cake with butter cream or whipped cream, or simply stick a few of your strawberries down the middle and then start piling them up on top of the cake.

So now you can simply place a few of the strawberries in the center of the cake and then pile them up on top—OR--you could pipe some butter cream or some fresh whipped cream in the middle and perhaps pipe some pretty designs as I did and then very carefully arrange the berries atop the frosting. Oh...wait. You want a recipe for the strawberry butter cream I have pictured?? Gosh, you are impossible to satisfy! ;-)

Strawberry Butter Cream (you can cut recipe in half if you do not need very much frosting)
  • 1 lb. butter, room temperature (4 sticks)
  • 2 lbs. powdered sugar, sifted (8 cups, you may not need to use all of it)
  • Strawberry puree (take your leftover mashed berries and run through blender until smooth)
  • 1 tsp. popcorn salt *(it's very finely ground and dissolves well in frosting)
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

**This works best in a Kitchen Aide or other high powered stand mixer.**
1.  Cream the butter and popcorn salt at medium speed until lighter in color and increasingly great in volume, about 4-5 minutes.
2.  Now add the vanilla extract, 2 cups of sugar, and about 2 Tbsp. of the strawberry puree. Start everything off on low and cover the mixer with a towel if you do not have a pouring shield attachment for your mixer. Otherwise your kitchen will be covered in a cloud of powdered sugar, and that powdery mess WILL find the most impossible nooks and cracks to hide...
3.  Keep mixing on low until the mixer starts struggling a bit, then turn up the speed.
4.  Keep adding the remaining ingredients, alternating between the sugar and strawberry puree, until you've reached the desired consistency and taste. I like to do this in 2 cup increments with the sugar, and I add the liquid/puree just a little at a time until I reach the desired consistency. You may find that you only need 7 cups or sugar or less if you aren't using as much liquid. And humidity will play a big role in the final result.

Of COURSE I had to save enough batter and frosting and make my own little V-day treat.  After all, I DO love myself, too!

*Why popcorn salt? Well, mainly because it is so finely ground and dissolves completely in the butter cream. If you use any other type of salt, such as sea salt, cut the amount by half and then work up from there. And yes, you need a FULL teaspoon for this recipe if using popcorn salt. It really helps to cut through the sweetness AND it brings and out balances all of the other flavors. My suggestion with any frosting (and most cakes) is to allow it rest overnight. It will taste SOOOO much better the next day, and the flavors will have mellowed out and balanced out perfectly. If you MUST consume this the same day, as in making it today because you need a gift...like yesterday...at least allow it to hang out for a few hours, giving the salt some time to blend in with all the other ingredients.

Keep a watchful eye. I'm going to post another super quick (and super impressive!) bundt cake recipe and V-day gift idea, although it might be a little late.  Could make a cool February birthday gift, too!  I do not have my own pictures to share with you however as I've never photographed this cake for some reason. But I'll find something entertaining to look and post that instead, k?

                                                                                                        Ooohhh, yeah.