Monday, May 7, 2012

When a Cake wants to be a Trifle... and a visit to the Denver Botanic Gardens...

Sometimes, a cake decides it wants to be a trifle.  It may know as soon as it's baked that its destiny lies within beautiful layers of fruit, custard and whipped cream instead of as a tall layer cake slathered in buttercream, or it may not realize what it wants to be until it's tried being a layer cake, and realizing that this time, it just wasn't meant to be.  Maybe another cake, another day, another celebration...

With my Dad's 60th Birthday yesterday, and Mother's Day coming up very soon, I invited my parents over for lunch on Saturday, and then we took them to the Denver Botanic Gardens.  My lunch menu was summery and light and healthy with Lemony Shrimp and Goat Cheese Bruschetta, grilled Corn on the Cob, grilled Veggie Kabobs of bell peppers, mushrooms, onions and cherry tomatoes, and Fruit Salad with strawberries, pineapple and grapes, with a drizzle of honey and nutmeg.  And for dessert, what I had envisioned to be a completely spectacular 4-layer cake...  Vanilla Cake, layered with fresh lemon curd, and topped with a whipped raspberry buttercream...

On Friday I baked the cake and cooked the lemon curd, and both turned out just perfect.  The cake was moist but firm enough to stand up to 4 layers, and the lemon curd was creamy, smooth and tart.  But where it all went downhill was the raspberry buttercream...

As much as I prefer to use fresh ingredients whenever possible, I was afraid that fresh raspberries would turn my frosting into soup and I wouldn't be able to thicken it back up again.  For fresh raspberry buttercream, I considered cooking and straining the raspberries, then cooking them down some more to thicken them up as much as possible before adding them to the frosting, but I've heard very mixed reviews on that particular method as sometimes the frosting can remain too thin.  So I came up with what I thought was a genius idea of using raspberry gelatin for the flavor (albeit, artificial) without all the added liquid.  I whipped up the butter until it was light and fluffy then added the raspberry gelatin, powdered sugar and a little milk.  The consistency, color and flavor was exactly what I wanted - fluffy, pink and very raspberry-ish.

But the texture - oh, the texture!  It was completely gritty from the gelatin powder.  I had wrongly assumed that the gelatin would dissolve in the butter, and no matter how long I whipped it, the grittiness wouldn't go away.  It was like the frosting had spent a day playing at the beach and came home full of sand.

I blame myself for making assumptions on an ingredient that I haven't used in 10 years - after all, the last time I ate jello it was in the form of a jello shot.  So now I know better.  But in the meantime, I had a cake to rescue.

I split the two cake layers into four, and began assembling them with the lemon curd, planning to just top it all off with more lemon curd on top, and maybe a little whipped cream.  But I hadn't chilled the lemon curd for very long since cooking it, so it hadn't yet thickened up quite enough - and when I wasn't looking, it all ran off the cake, down the sides and onto the plate.  And not in the artistic way that I would want, but in a huge pool all around the cake.  The raspberries I had placed around the cake looked like they were drowning in a sea of lemon curd.

My mom once told me of the story when she baked a cake for her mother, and ended up with a pile of crumbs when she frosted the cake while it was still warm, which of course made it all fall apart.  She wanted to throw it out, but her mother ate it anyway, telling her how delicious it was and how thoughtful it was of her to make it for her.  I know my parents would still have eaten this cake, but my pride wouldn't allow me to serve it looking so awful...

So at this point, it was time to concede defeat to the layer cake and turn it into a trifle.  A trifle is a wonderful thing, because you can take something like the mess that was my cake and transform it into a really beautiful dessert.  The cake was already nicely soaked with lemon curd, so all I had to do was crumble it up and layer it with freshly whipped cream and raspberries.

And in the end, although it wasn't what I had intended, it tasted as good as it looked, and was, I think, worthy of a celebration.

After all that, a cocktail to reward my efforts seemed just the thing for Friday night, so I blended up a chilly Limoncello Cocktail of ice, club soda, Limoncello creme, vodka, milk, lemon and lime juice, and a little sugar.  It was refreshing and citrusy, and even Jamie drank one in spite of his protests that it was a girly drink.  This cocktail tastes so good that it goes down pretty quickly!

For another warm-weather non-alcoholic cocktail, I made a big pitcher of raspberry citrus soda for my parents on Saturday to drink with lunch.  The combination of club soda, raspberries, lemon and lime juice and a little simple syrup, with a bottle of Grenadine on the side for sweetener was just beautiful.

And last but not least, mini Key Lime Trifles in Jars.  This was the last of the Key Lime Curd which you all loved so much in last week's Key Lime Pie Cupcakes, and this little layered dessert in a jar was one of the cutest and yummiest treats ever.

After lunch on Saturday, we spent a few hours at the Denver Botanic Gardens, so I've shared some of my favorite photos from the day...

Fruit Salad with Honey and Nutmeg
printable recipe

  • 1 fresh pineapple, peel and core removed, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 2 cups seedless red grapes
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 tablespoon cream or half 'n' half
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all the fruit in a large serving bowl or platter.  In a small bowl, combine the honey, cream and nutmeg until smooth.  Drizzle over the fruit.

Raspberry Lemon Trifle
printable recipe

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup light sour cream
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup milk, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 cups Lemon Curd, room temperature (click for recipe)
  • 12 ounces fresh raspberries (about 2 cups)
  • large glass trifle bowl
Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray a 9x13 pan with non-stick spray.

In a mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, sour cream, oil, granulated sugar, eggs, milk and vanilla.  Mix on low for 30 seconds to combine then on medium speed for 3 minutes until well blended.  Pour into the pan and bake for 28-35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cover with a clean kitchen towel and cool completely.

In a mixing bowl fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the whipping cream and powdered sugar until soft peaks form.  Use a fork to break the cake up into large crumbs.

Assemble the trifle by sprinkling 1/4 of the cake crumbs in the bottom, drizzle 1/4 of the lemon curd over the cake, spread 1/4 of the whipped cream over the lemon curd, then 1/4 of the raspberries.  Repeat 3 more times, ending with whipped cream and raspberries on top.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.  The trifle keeps very well in the fridge for several days.

Key Lime Mini Trifles in Jars
printable recipe

  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 6 ounces low-fat cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon key lime juice
  • 3/4 cup Key Lime Curd (click for previous recipe)
In a bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs and salt; drizzle with the melted butter and toss with a fork to combine.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine the cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla and lime juice until smooth.

Set out 4 half-pint glass jars.  Spoon 1/3 of the crumbs in the bottom of each jar.  Add 1/2 of the cream cheese mixture, then 1/2 of the key lime curd.  Repeat.  Top each with the rest of the crumbs.  Chill until ready to serve.

Yields 4 servings.

Lemony Shrimp and Goat Cheese Bruschetta
printable recipe

  • 1 pound thawed uncooked shrimp, peeled and cleaned
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 baguette, sliced into 1/2 inch slices
  • 4 ounces creamy goat cheese
  • ground thyme and paprika for garnish
In a bowl, combine the shrimp with the cayenne pepper, garlic powder, black pepper and salt.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the shrimp and the lemon juice and cook, turning as needed, until the shrimp is cooked through, about 5-6 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the broiler to low.  Line a baking sheet with foil and place the bread slices in a single layer on the foil.  Drizzle lightly with olive oil, then spread with the goat cheese.  Broil for 3-5 minutes, until the edges of the bread are golden brown - watch it carefully so the bread doesn't burn.

Top each slice with 3 or 4 shrimp; sprinkle lightly with the thyme and paprika.  Serve immediately.

Yields 4-6 servings.

Limoncello Cocktail
printable recipe

  • 2 cups ice
  • 1 cup club soda
  • 1/2 cup Limoncello Creme
  • 1/3 cup Vodka
  • 1/4 cup milk or half 'n' half
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (or more, to taste)
Combine all ingredients in the blender; blend until smooth.  Pour into chilled glasses and serve.

Yields 4 servings

Raspberry and Citrus Cocktail (non-alcoholic)
printable recipe

  • 1 package (6 ounces) raspberries
  • 1 liter club soda
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • juice of 2 limes
  • extra lemons and limes for garnish
  • 1/4 cup sugar or simple syrup
  • Grenadine
Place a few raspberries in the bottom of 4 glasses.  Place the rest of the raspberries in a pitcher.  Add the club soda, lemon and lime juice, sliced lemons and limes, and sugar or simple syrup to the pitcher and stir to combine.  Pour into the glasses, sweetening with a little Grenadine.

Yields 4 servings

All recipes in this post from Curly Girl Kitchen