Cleopatra (Vineyard) Cake

Does your mom like wine?  Of course she does.  That is why you should probably make her this cleopatra/vineyard cake for Mother’s Day.

I’ve made my devotion to Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh no secret around here, exhibits: damn cake, tahini cookies and chocolate Krantz cakes.  I recently spent a very enjoyable afternoon going through their book Sweet cover to cover earmarking recipes to try.

Intruiged by a cake with grapes, their cleopatra cake was first on the list.

According to the authors, the recipe came from Mr. Ottonlenghi’s friend who found the original in Gourmet magazine.  Got and Ottonlenghi then adapted it for Valentine’s Day, coronated it Cleopatra cake (on account of the grapes that serve as jewels on this crown of a cake).

The grapes are a lovely addition, but this really is a wine-forward cake.  Like, WINE forward.  The recipe calls for a specific dessert wine called Carte Or Muscat de Beaumes de Venise.  I did a little research before I went hunting for it locally and while it seems well known in Europe (and a favorite of Nigella Lawson), it’s not as common in the U.S.

So, I substituted a nice muscat-based dessert wine.  One word of warning: if you decide to make this cake, be prepared to use the whole bottle.  I did not play close attention to the amount the recipe calls for when I bought the wine and was surprised when called to drain every last drop of the bottle into my measuring cup.

But, come on, your mom is worth it.  As I mentioned, this is a wine forward cake…kind of like your grandmother’s holiday rum cake.  It is rich, fragrant and very indulgent.  As such, a little goes a long way so this would be fantastic to bring to a Mother’s Day brunch.  As a bonus, because this cake is so fortified, it will stay fresh (nay, dare I say even get better) for a few days.

And happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there.  I raise a toast (wine, cake or both) to you all!

Cleopatra (Vineyard) Cake

Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh in Sweet

Ingredients

for cake

  • 4 C (500g) all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 2/3 C (300g) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 C (170g) unsalted butter, at room temp plus extra for greasing
  • 1/2 C (80ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • finely grated zest of 2 lemons (2 tsp)
  • finely grated zest of 1 orang (2 tsp)
  • scraped seeds of 1/2 vanilla pod
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 3/4 C (450ml) Carte Or Muscat de Beaumes de Venise wine (or other dessert wine made from white grapes)
  • 3 1/2 ounces (100g) red grapes washed and halved lengthwise

for sugar crust topping

  • 5 TBS (70g) unsalted butter, room temp
  • 1/3 C (70g) granulated sugar
  • 3 /12 ounces (100g) seedless red grapes, washed and halved lengthwise

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Grease and lightly flour a 10-inch round 4-inch deep angel food cake or chiffon pan, tapping away excess flour.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together into bowl and set aside.
  3. Place the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment.  Add the butter, olive oil, lemon and orange zests and vanilla seeds and beat for two minutes on medium high until smooth and fluffy.  Add the eggs one-at-a-time beating well after each addition.
  4. Turn the speed to low and add a third of the flour mixture followed by half of the wine.  Repeat with the remaining flour and wine, finishing with the final third of flour and continuing to beat on low speed.  Once combined, pour into prepared cake pan and scatter the grapes evenly on the top.
  5. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
  6. To make the sugar topping (while cake is in the oven), place the butter and sugar in a small bowl and beat with a wooden spoon to form a thick paste.  When the cake has been in the oven for 20 minutes, quickly but gently remove it and dot the sugar crust evenly over the top, breaking it into small pieces as you go.  Scatter the grapes evenly over the top and return to oven.
  7. Lower oven temp to 350 degrees F.
  8. Bake cake for another 35-40 or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 30 minutes before removing from the pan.  The cake can either be served strait away or stored in an airtight container.

Red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, the nectar of a sound relationship

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I was a bad food blogger and did not take process pictures of the red velvet cupcakes featured in the previous post. Bad, bad blogger.

My husband is from the midwest. I’m from Southern California. What this means is that while our native tongues may be the same, our cultural icons aren’t always. In our relationship, nowhere is this more present than at the dinner table. When we first started dating, he’d never had a churro and I’d never even heard of a strange concoction he called red velvet cake.

Back at the start of the century, when our courting commenced, red velvet cake hadn’t yet burst onto the trendy LA baking scene. In fact, I doubted its very existence. For months we had to take a stroll down the baking aisle of every grocery store we visited looking for evidence of this mysterious cake variety. Not once did we find any. So set was my husband on proving himself right however that around the holidays he had his dad send a box from Tennessee.

So, it did exist!

Well, one box of red velvet cake is all fine and good until it is gone. So, I womaned up and found a few recipes for red velvet cake. After much experimentation and too much money spent on Schilling red food coloring, I found a winner. Of course, this was just about the time that red velvet cake became the next big thing in Los Angeles. While our local grocery stores now carry the boxed stuff, and every bakery seems to offer it in cake and cupcake form, this recipe is pretty darn easy to make and much better if you ask me.

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes 2 round cakes or about 16 regular size cupcakes.

For cake

2.5 C all purpose flour

1.5 C sugar

1 t. baking soda

1 t. salt

1 t. cocoa powder

1.5 C vegetable oil

1 C buttermilk at room temp.

2 large eggs at room temp.

1 ounce red food coloring (see note)

1 t. white vinegar

For frosting

1 lb light cream cheese, softened (full fat works well too through I like the lightness of the reduced fat)

4 C sifted powdered sugar

1 C unsalted butter, softened

1 t. vanilla extract

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Lightly oil and flour 2 round cake pans (8” or 9”)

Sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder.

In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle (or large bowl) mix together buttermilk, eggs, oil, food coloring, vinegar and vanilla.

With the setting on low, slowly add in dry ingredients until just combined. Batter will be very wet and oily looking.

Divide cake evenly in prepared pans. Bake for about 30 minutes rotating halfway through until the cake pulls away from the side of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Removed cakes from oven, let sit for 5 minutes. Run the edge of a butter knife around the rim of the cakes, loosening them. Invert pans on to cooling racks, let cakes cool completely.

Frosting

In standing mixer fitted with a paddle or a large bowl with a hand mixer, combine all ingredients on low. Once combined, increase speed to high and whip mixture until light and fluffy. Use immediately.

Notes:

Red food coloring: an ounce is a small bottle of the stuff. In our neighborhood, this runs around $4. However, gel food colors such as the ones made by Ateco are less expensive and will get you more bang for the buck. You can find them in restaurant supply stores, suburban cooking shops like Sur La Table or can order them all over the place online (just enter in “Ateco food gel” as the search term).

The cakes don’t rise a whole lot. When I’m making a layer cake, I usually bake two batches and use three of the layers (you can freeze the fourth for later assuming it doesn’t get eaten on the spot like it seems to in our household).

For cupcakes, fill to a generous ¾.