So . . . are you officially pepperminted? Me too. But it was lovely and delicious.
And, wow, the last day of the year? Eek! Maybe. Hooray! I’m not sure. I do know that 2015 will be a much different one for me, and I think it will be bigger and better for all of us. Some years just come bearing more than other years, which seem to come and go with minimal change or impact. But one thing I do know for certain, is that we will still all be baking ourselves happy. It’s just what we do.
And, of course this past month I’ve been baking even more than usual, which may have something to do with recently receiving my copy of Matt Lewis & Renato Poliafito’s latest book, Baked Occasions: Desserts for Leisure Activities, Holidays, and Informal Celebrations. You probably know by now that I am a big fan of the “Baked” boys, and for good reason–they rock. And while I cherish their first three books (Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented, and Baked Elements: The Importance of Being Baked in 10 Favorite Ingredients), I have to say that this one is my favourite.
First off, I love that the book is organized by occasions and holidays (and not just the predictable ones–think Julia Child’s Birthday, Gay Pride, Dolly Parton’s Birthday, and more). It’s kind of brilliant. Secondly, I feel as though the boys have kicked the whole game up a notch. Sure, this book is quintessential “Baked” with its decadence and approachability, but I feel the recipes are even more inventive and irresistible. Heavy hits of sprinkles, colour, and creativity don’t hurt either. This book has it all.
So I decided to dive in and bake their “Gonzo” cake, which is Purple Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting created in honor of Hunter S. Thompson’s Birthday. I can’t help but think of an old high school writer boyfriend who was rather enchanted by the antics of one crazed Hunter S. Thompson and his “Gonzo” style journalism. Who knew that memory would come back upon opening a fabulous baking book? See, you just never know what can be when you bake. ;)
Anyway, when it comes to cake, I’m a sucker for anything “velvet,” and, well, you know how I feel about colour and sprinkles. I decided to celebrate the “purple” with a medley of my favourite purple-and-such sprinkles, which is fun hint of what’s to come when the cake is sliced and served (and in my house where there is purple, there is turquoise–Frozen much? #cakelets #frozenfever).
And don’t let the purple cake and sprinkles fool you–this cake is so much more than just a dose of dazzling dye. While the purple is enhanced by a few drops of soft gel paste (or you could use regular food colouring), the main source of the rich purple hue is the purple yam powder–a unique ingredient that lends to a moist cake with, as the boys says, a wine-like taste and texture similar to red velvet cake. The dominant flavour of the cake is not “yam-ish” but rather a sweet (but not too sweet) earthy taste that is hard to describe.
The flavour and texture of the purple yam cake and lends beautifully to the classic, tangy cream cheese frosting although, much like red velvet, I think it would also pair well with a classic sweet cake frosting. What I love that is colour and flavour of the cake are so unexpected and distinct, and that after the first bite I wanted to keep tasting more so that I could, aside from eat more cake, solve the mystery that is purple yam powder. Odd and delightful all at once.
Hooray for purple cake and sprinkles! And for Baked Occasions, of course.
And the awesomeness doesn’t end with the Gonzo Cake. I have a long to-bake list from this book, and I almost don’t know where to start. Some of the recipes calling my name are the Rainbow Icebox Cake with Homemade Chocolate Cookies, Tricolor Cake (Italian Christmas Cookie Cake), Orange Buttermilk Picnic Cake with Chocolate Chips, and I could go on and on . . .
So before we embark upon those, or all of the other awesomeness in the book, let’s bake the Gonzo Cake!
Gonzo Cake from the book Baked Occasions. Moist purple velvet cake filled and frosted with classic cream cheese frosting and topped with a medley of sprinkles.
- 1 (4-ounce/115 g) package purple yam powder (about 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons; see Note)
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) canola oil or other vegetable oil
- 2 1/4 cups (285 g) cake flour
- 3/4 cup (90 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 ounces (1 stick/115 g) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pans
- 1/4 cup (50 g) vegetable shortening, at room temperature
- 2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- Blue and red food dyes or gels
- 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 3 cups (340 g) confectioners' sugar
- 8 ounces (2 sticks/225 g) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 (8-ounce/226-g) packages cream cheese, softened
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Preheat the oven to 325˚F (165˚C). Butter three 8-inch (20-cm) cake pans, line them with parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Dust with flour and knock out the excess.
- In a small saucepan over very low heat, stir together 2 cups (480 ml) of water with the purple yam powder and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is rehydrated, between 5 and 20 minute depending on the heat. Once the mixture looks and feels like mashed potatoes (or mashed yams) remove it from the heat and whisk in the canola oil.
- In a large bowl, sift both flours, the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until cream, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat on medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low. Add the flour mixture in three equal parts, alternating with the purple yam mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and then mix on low speed for a few more seconds.
- Mix equal drops of red and blue food dyes in a small bowl to make purple, then scrape it into the cake batter and mix until a pale purple color is achieved.
- In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites by hand or in your standing mixer until soft peaks form, do not overbeat. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the batter.
- Divide the batter equally among all three pans. Use your spatula to spread the batter evenly. Bake the cakes, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean, 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and cool for 20 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the rack, remove the pans, and let them cool completely. Remove the parchment.
- Sift the confectioners' sugar into a large bowl and set aside.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until it is completely smooth. Add the cream cheese and beat until combined.
- Add the confectioners' sugar, vanilla, if using, and salt and beat just until smooth; do not overbeat or the frosting will lose structure. Chill the frosting in the refrigerator for about 5 minutes. (The frosting can be made up to 24 hours ahead; cover the bowl tightly, refrigerate, and let the filling soften at room temperature before using.)
- Place one cake layer on a serving platter. Trim the top to create a flat surface and even spread about 1 1/4 cups (330 g) of the frosting on top. Add the next layer, trim and frost it, then add the third layer. Trim the top layer. Spread a very thin layer of frosting over the sides and top of the cake (a crumb coat, which helps to keep loose cake crumbs under control when you frost the outside of the cake) and place it in the refrigerator to firm up, about 15 minutes.
- Remove the cake from the refrigerator. Frost the sides and top with the remaining frosting. Sprinkle the outer edge of the top of the cake with the sprinkles, if you like. Chill the cake in the refrigerator to set the frosting, about 15 minutes. Slice and serve.
- This cake can be covered in a cake saver in a cool room for up to 3 days. If you refrigerate it, make sure to cover it tightly and bring it back to room temperature before serving.
A Note from the Baked Boys about Substituting Sweet Potatoes for Yam Powder:
When you swap out just one ingredient–obscure purple yam powder for standard mashed sweet potatoes–something amazing happens. Essentially you get a whole new cake: entirely different, but entirely delicious on its own. The main difference is the texture. While the texture of the Purple Velvet cake is akin to a red velvet, this potato version has more in common with an apple cake.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Swap the yam powder in the recipe for 2 cups (420 g) roasted, peeled, and mashed sweet potatoes. Ideally use fresh sweet potatoes, though canned puree without any other ingredients should be okay.
2. Bake the mashed sweet potato cake layers slightly longer than the yam powder layers, 5 to 7 more minutes.
Omit the purple food dye. The mashed sweet potato cake is a pretty sherbet-orange color, and the purple dye will just ruin it.
- For the yam powder I ordered and used this Powdered Purple Yam.
- For the purple gel paste, I used Americolor Regal Purple.
- For the purple sprinkle medley, I used a combination of Purple Sixlets (large candy-coated chocolate “sprinkles), Candy Beads in Lavender, Lavender Jimmies, turquoise jimmies + pastel pink jimmies (these were homemade sprinkles I made, but you could use any in these colours for the same effect), and a few Edible Gold Stars. Add equal parts of all of the sprinkles into a plastic zip-top bag and shake to mix. Simply add the sprinkle medley around the other edge of the cake and voila! Purple sprinkles galore!
Wishing you a safe New Year’s Eve filled with utter love and sparkle, friends! xo