Thursday, September 04, 2014

La Luna Cooks Mrs. Yoder: Hickory Nut Cake

Another "thank goodness for Google" night in the kitchen! Going to make the cake tonight, I had whipped up a gorgeous meringue, all shining, glossy white, to fold into the dry ingredients. Next, I began to mix the dry ingredients for my cake. But, "where on earth has my baking powder got to?" Hmm. So, I quick looked up a sub for baking powder. Baking soda plus cream of tartar plus cornstarch? Okay, I can definitely do that! I have that big ol' yellow tub of Argo & I know I saw cream of tartar 2 days ago.

Except, the big yellow tub was nowhere to be found. I dismantled the baking shelf. I rummaged through the staples shelf. I scanned the other shelves. I pulled out the cake decorating shelf and the auxiliary spice shelf. I managed to spill most of an opened box of stelline all over the pantry floor. Now, baking powder and cornstarch are things I am never without in my kitchen. When I start to get low, just like I do with garlic or olive oil, I put them on the grocery list right away. However, something has happened. So, I searched "baking powder subs" again and discovered that I could use 1/4 tsp. baking soda and 1 tsp. vinegar for each tsp. of baking powder. Whew! I definitely had those on hand.

The other little funkiness with this recipe, requiring substitution, was that hickory nuts are not so easy to come by for us suburbanites. Had we been at my mama's, it would have been another matter altogether. In fact, she even mentioned on the phone today that I could just put off this cake until she could get some hickory nuts to me. It appears, however, that pecans are a sort of hickory nut. Apparently, hickories are more intensely flavored, with a higher note. My mom mentioned that her friend, Robin, has grafted hickory onto pecan trees (or vice versa) and was interested to know that they are related. I wonder what those nuts are like. Anyway, my hickory nut cake became pecan cake.

And then there was the question of whether to use vanilla or maple flavoring and how much of that? The recipe only calls for an unspecified amount of either vanilla or maple. I chose maple, since it seemed a nice compliment for the nuts. Since I usually toss about 2 tsp. of vanilla into a batter, that's what I chose for the maple. It added a lovely nutty color to the lily white batter. Oh, incidentally, I am very proud of myself for actually using cake flour. I am a lazy baker and usually just use all-purpose flour for everything. It is, after all, "all-purpose." But I happened to have a box of King Arthur cake flour knocking about the kitchen. I had a terrible fear, as I was mixing up the batter, that I would discover that King Arthur really is hands-down much more awesome than any other flour and that cake flour really does make a difference.

Before I could discover whether that was true, however, there was the problem of baking. Mrs. Hershberger does give the baking temp (350), but doesn't specify a time. As for pans, well, you have a couple of options, either loaf or layer pans. How many of each, she doesn't say. So, I greased 2 loaf pans and divided the batter between them. It filled them halfway, which seemed about right. As for baking time, I checked them when Grandma Sadie's kitchen timer told me it had been 25 minutes. The top was beginning to get a pale toasty brown, but I could tell pulling the rack out that it was still a little squidgy. The toothpick test confirmed that, so I slid them back in for another 10 minutes.

My pecan cake turned out to be beautiful, almost the same light brown as pecan shells, with tiny, airy bubbles all over the top. The flavor is light, with a very subtle hint of maple and delicate flecks of nut throughout. The texture, likewise, is fairly delicate. I think it would be perfect with afternoon tea, probably something fairly assertive, like Earl Grey, for contrast.

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