Sports, sports, sport-ity sports… this past weekend I watched you, live and in person, on Saturday. Then I watched you, live and in color, on Sunday.
And since hockey season is back in full effect, I’ll likely be watching you every night this week.
We must be in love!
Watching you live was the business of fun in the sun with friends, cheering on record-setting greatness, and returning home perfumed by the lovely aroma of eau de hot dog. Watching you on TV was, well, you know what it was: commercials to the left, commercials to the right, and a performance by Beyoncé so stellar that it apparently took down several electrical grids.
I think there may have been some football involved, too…
In order to combat all of this sports juice in which I’m currently covered, I decided that I needed to make a light and lovely little vanilla cake. Spend my week hanging out with a dessert that’s a little more Baby Spice to the Sporty Spice that was this past weekend.
(I will never stop expressing myself through ’90s references. And you can’t make me!)
I have recently made some changes to my baking regimen, namely to the ingredients that I use most frequently. I have started using Blue Bird flour exclusively for all of my baked goods and Mexican vanilla extract whenever a vanilla extract is needed. The point of me telling you this is not necessarily to endorse these particular products, but rather to share some thoughts with you on pantry development, which can be most important when engaging in the science (and art) of baking.
I began using Blue Bird flour in my fry bread dough, and quickly fell in love with its extremely powdery texture and the crumb that I found it yielded when I worked it into cakes and other breads. Blue Bird is milled by Cortez Milling Co., which uses a special proprietary sifting process to produce a finished flour that feels and bakes unlike any other; its high gluten content also makes it the flour of choice for preparing Navajo Fry Bread. Isn’t all-purpose flour simply all-purpose flour? The lesson I learned from Blue Bird is, in a word, no. Taking a moment to look at gluten and protein contents, as well as production processes (especially for small-batch flours) now helps me to select the most appropriate grain for my baking project du jour.
I began using Mexican vanilla for the same reason that I now only use Mexican canela, as opposed to store-bought Mexican cinnamon: it’s taste is simply less aggressive, richer, sweeter, and in the case of the vanilla, slightly floral, which I personally enjoy. How would you describe the difference between dark chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate? You may prefer snacking on semi-sweet chocolate, but dark chocolate has a stronger taste of pure cacao, don’t you think? This is how I think of Mexican vanilla when compared to its vanilla cousins. A simple Google search will yield tons of information about vanilla selection and shopping; whichever you choose, vanilla will likely be one of the more expensive ingredients in your pantry. But tailoring your vanilla to your palate and project is an expense of both time and money that I think is well worth your while.
Again, these thoughts are not intended to serve as product endorsements, but rather as a way of thinking about shopping for and picking out ingredients for your baked goods, as I have found that making these few minor adjustments have yielded finished products that are far and away more advanced in terms of quality and flavor.
But enough about that, let’s put some cake in our faces!
As you can see, this dessert is pretty messy, but I felt very feminine and dainty while I ate it: the cake is lightly flavored with vanilla and honey, while the glaze boasts just a bit of canela and cardmom. Very ladylike.
And who am I kidding anyway? I’m going to have to rinse all of this sports juice off in a few days, I might as well cover myself in some sweet cake and glaze too.
Glazed Mexican Vanilla Cake
recipe adapted from Everyday With Rachel Ray magazine
For the cake:
1 1/2 c. dark brown sugar, tightly packed
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/2 c. buttermilk
2 tbsp. honey
1 tsp. vanilla extract (As mentioned above, I used an extract of Mexican vanilla here, but you may use any type of vanilla that you have on hand.)
For the glaze:
2 c. confectioners’ sugar
5 tbsp. whole milk
1 tsp. canela, ground (ground cinnamon may be substituted)
1/2 tsp. cardamom, ground
Preheat oven to 350°.
Whisk the sugar, flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Add the eggs, oil, buttermilk, honey and vanilla, and slowly whisk together until smooth. Carefully transfer the batter to a parchment-lined 8″ x 8″ baking pan and bake for approximately 45 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Meanwhile, wash out your cake batter bowl and fill with the confectioners’ sugar for the glaze (yes, this is a one bowl recipe, but you do have to use the bowl twice), whisking slightly just to aerate. Whisk in the canela and cardamom, then slowly whisk in the milk, mixing until the glaze is completely smooth.
Once the cake is baked, remove and set aside to cool for ten minutes before unmolding, topping with the glaze, slicing and serving.
YIELD: 9 large generously glazed pieces