Saturday, May 24, 2014

Another Take on Sweet Potato Cake

My Valentine Cupcakes
Back in February for Valentine's Day, I made some spectacular Sweet Potato Cardamom Cupcakes and filled them with Pistachio Cream and topped them with Strawberry Rosewater Frosting, left. The cake itself was moist and delicious, and I went on to  make it again as a layer cake, below. While it was really a wonderful, moist and flavorful cake, I was not 100% happy with its texture. I'd been thinking about this for a while, wishing to get to a point where  I could get back to this concept and try again. 

Sweet Potato Cardamom Cake with Pistachio Filling & Strawberry Rosewater Frosting
A few days ago, amid making breads and starter doughs, I finally got to the cake. I'd had a couple of sweet potatoes in the fridge for a while, waiting to be used either for this cake or for sweet potato fries (whichever desire came first). I sat down with my recipe and pondered the way I had made it last time and what could be done differently. I looked up other recipes online to see what others did differently. I made a decision to try a few things such as using a melted butter and oil combination rather than creaming butter and sugar. More eggs and more sugar went in along with more sweet potato. There is little I didn't tweak. 

When creating a recipe this way, there is no way to be completely sure of the outcome unless you know the chemistry of combining ingredients (which I don't). Will the batter be too wet or too dry? Will it need more flour? Is there too much sugar? Will the combination and ratios of flour and other ingredients to leavening ingredients work? I like using buttermilk in cakes, as I feel it gives a tender moistness, but this time I opted for liquids in the form of the melted butter and oil and left the buttermilk, or any milk, out completely. Rather than cardamom, I went with coriander and some ginger. Coriander is not a spice I think about often enough when making cakes or other desserts, though I do empirically know that it has a lovely citrus-y note. The other thing I decided on was using nuts in the cake batter, where I had not in the previous recipe. I went to work and whipped up the cake; as far as the batter went it worked perfectly, and in the oven it went. Forty minutes later, I was rewarded with most perfect layers; not too domed, perfectly baked. Still, looking at the two cakes, the difference between them make it hard to think they are both sweet potato cakes!

Sweet Potato Walnut Cake

Sweet Potato Walnut Cake

makes one (2-layer) 8-inch cake

2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potato
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander seed
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup ground walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (325 if on Convection). Grease two 8-inch round baking pans, then line the pans with parchment circles. Grease the parchment. Set aside. 

In a mixer bowl, beat together the cooled sweet potato with the butter, oil and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time until they are completely incorporated, then the vanilla.

In a separate bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, ground coriander, baking powder and soda, salt and ginger. Add these ingredients to the sweet potato mixture in three parts, beating just until combined. Fold in the nuts. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans. Bake the cakes for about 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Now I had to wait till the cakes cooled and meanwhile decide on a flavor for the frosting. My mind wandered through all my spice cabinets in search of a flavor or combination of flavors that would suit the "feeling" in my mind. After consideration, I decided on Chai.

Chai means "tea" in many languages, but it has become synonymous with a highly spiced tea with a milk product. I love chai. I have always been interested in spices, and have loved tea since childhood so this was no stretch. I used to get the Herb Companion magazine many years back when I was more actively gardening, and they once had a wonderful chai a recipe. For some time that was my go-to recipe. Then Starbucks and other places started featuring chai and I got hooked. We met a wonderful Indian couple in Louisiana and when we visited them, Priti would serve us her version of chai.

Masala Chai

Masala Chai

Serves 2

4 whole cloves
2 whole cardamom pods
1 (2-inch) piece cinnamon stick, preferably “true
cinnamon”: i.e. Ceylon, or Saigon cinnamon
1 tablespoon dried lemongrass leaves
1 star anise, whole
1 cups water
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
½ cup half & half, or milk
2 tablespoons black tea (Darjeeling is great)

In a mortar, crush the cloves, cardamom and cinnamon. Transfer crushed spices to a small saucepan, add the water, ginger and pepper (and lemongrass and star anise, if used) and bring to a boil. Remove pan from heat, cover and steep for 5 minutes. Add milk and sugar to pan and bring to the boil. Remove from heat and add tea. Cover and steep for 3 minutes. Stir, then strain into a warmed teapot.

The use of tea in foods seems to be the latest flavor sensation. Watching TV shows or reading magazines, I see ground black or green tea used in recipes, or the tea is made and used as the liquid in a recipe, or a fruit is soaked in tea and added to a recipe. It was no stretch to use tea in the frosting and add in a small amount of spices, though far less than for chai. The use of cream cheese in the frosting took care of the milk part of the equation. Once I mixed the icing, I realized I must have done something wrong in the basic ingredients. My frosting was far softer than I meant for it to be. Still, it held the piped star decoration just fine so it worked. The flavor is really marvelous; creamy with that bit of chai spice.
Dried Lemongrass Leaves

I always use whole spices where possible and grind them myself in a little coffee grinder used only for spices. I used whole leaf Darjeeling black tea, a small chunk of true cinnamon quills, whole black peppercorns, whole cloves, cardamom seeds. Ginger is far harder to grate when dried, so I opt for pre-ground ginger. Lemongrass leaves are a part of my chai tea recipe and I had some in a little jar. Unfortunately, it left tiny, fine stem centers in the final grind which no amount of time seemed to touch. They are not noticeable in the icing itself, nor do I feel them in my mouth. My only concern would be trying to use an icing tip for decorating and having these little fibers clog the tip. I did use a piping bag to decorate the top, but the tip was a large, open star, so nothing would clog that.

Chai Cream Cheese Frosting

Chai Cream Cheese Frosting

makes enough to frost an 8-inch layer cake

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
7 - 8 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (about 2 pounds)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon whole leaf black tea, ground, OR
(1 1/2 teaspoons black tea from a tea bag)
1/2 teaspoon ground true cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
4 black peppercorns
1 teaspoon finely ground dried lemongrass leaves, optional

Place butter and cream cheese in a heavy duty stand mixer bowl and beat for 6 to 8 minutes, until very light and fluffy. Sift 4 cups of the confectioners' sugar with the salt and remaining ingredients and add these ingredients to the creamed mixture. On lowest speed, combine these dry ingredients. Sift the remaining 3 - 4 cups of confectioners' sugar and add about 2 cups more to the bowl, combining slowly. At medium speed, whip the frosting for another 5 or 6 minutes, stopping to add more confectioners' sugar if the frosting seems too soft.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.