November 12, 2012

Baking therapy

Hello!!  Wherever you are reading this, I hope it finds you well and safe!  I am tapping away on my cellphone right now.  Following Hurricane Sandy, our phone, Internet and TV connection have been down and there are no imminent signs of that status changing.  Luckily, we only lost power for 2 days so I dare not sound like I'm even remotely complaining.  

I have so much I'd like to write and post here!  Hopefully, I'll eventually be able to do so once our connection is up and running again.  In the meantime, I just remembered this post I wrote before the drama of the past 2 weeks.  Ironically, I called it "baking therapy"...little did I know I'd be needing plenty of that!  So I leave you with this for now and hope to be back here again soon.

From a couple weeks ago (before Hurricane Sandy):

After a few of my recent baking endeavors that bordered on the adventurous side (for me, anyway), I've been craving the comforts of going back-to-basics.  I wanted to get in the kitchen and make something a little bit more predictable and slip back into my comfort zone.  Trying and doing new things is great but knowing what you like and staying true to that is also important.  I needed a little baking therapy and wanted to get back into a familiar rhythm...
So I turned to Martha.  I grabbed my cup of tea and armed myself with Martha's Baking Handbook for a cozy read.  I felt myself relaxing instantly, and I'm only partially joking.  For my little baking therapy session, I decided on the marble loaf cake.  I always enjoy making cake but I was in the mood for a relatively simple one that doesn't require require any fuss like frosting and layering.  I've never made a marble loaf before so this was a chance to stick close to what I love while trying something new.
I'm not sure this recipe qualifies technically as a pound cake but whatever we call it, you end up with this dense (but tender), buttery cake that's golden on the outside and has a surprisingly nice crunchy crust to it once freshly cooled from the oven. 

For one 9x5 inch loaf, we use 1 stick of butter, a cup of sugar, and 3 eggs in this recipe.  Some of this vanilla cake batter is turned into chocolate with the help of a paste made from cocoa powder and water.  The resulting marble effect is achieved through alternating layers and a few swipes with a knife.  I've always wanted to give the whole swirling and marbling trick a try, and I think it worked out pretty well!
When I was making this marble loaf, I put to use some of the tips I've read about making pound cake (regardless of whether or not this is officially one).  What I remember included making sure your ingredients - butter, eggs, buttermilk - are at room temperature.  I also took my time to mix the butter and sugar together thoroughly enough to incorporate air and lighten the batter.  And when it comes to that actual marbling technique, the trick is not to over-do it, which, as simple as it sounds, can be hard to resist.
I really enjoyed making my "therapy" loaf cake.  It tasted much as I envisioned from readin the recipe: not overly sweet, a great mid afternoon or even morning snack.  I opted out of the chocolate glaze for this marble loaf because I wanted to keep it simple and light(er).  Since the chocolate part of this marble cake comes from unsweetened cocoa powder as opposed to melted chocolate, the flavor is not overly rich.  In fact, I think it could probably use the chocolate glaze if you are looking for a little extra sweetness and flavor but if, like me, you just want a simple midday snack, I think it's perfectly fine unadorned.
But this relatively mild and simple marble loaf does seem to be calling out for a little something.  And as with most things, a scoop of ice cream quickly elevates this little treat.  I highly recommend it. 

Before making the marble loaf, make sure to set your ingredients out well in advance so that they are all at room temperature.  That includes the butter, eggs, and buttermilk.  Having everything at room temperature makes for a fluffier, lighter cake.

Start by whisking together the dry ingredients: cake flour, baking powder, and salt.  Then place the stick of room temperature butter and cup of sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat thoroughly for at least 5 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy.  You don't want to take any shortcuts on this process if, again, you want a lighter texture cake.  I took a couple of breaks to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and beat my butter sugar together for a good 6-7 minutes to make sure I incorporated plenty of air.
Three eggs go in, one at a time, and mixed thoroughly.  Scrape the bowl as needed.  Add a generous teaspoon of vanilla extract and combine.
Next, add the dry ingredients in two batches, alternating with 2/3 cup of room temperature buttermilk in between. Mix on medium speed until just combined.
This vanilla cake batter is now done.  To get to the marble cake, we need to remove 1/3 of the batter and turn that into chocolate.  To do this, make a paste by combining 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon of unsweetened Dutch process (dark) cocoa powder with 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of boiling water.  Then stir this cocoa mixture into the reserved batter.
Notice this recipe uses unsweetened cocoa, not chocolate, and no additional sugar for the chocolate part of this marble cake.  This is partly the reason why this loaf cake isn't particularly sweet or rich, and why the original recipe adds a white chocolate glaze on top (which I omitted).

Layer the two batter into your buttered loaf pan by spooning alternate batters in a checkerboard patter, in two layers. 
Then take a regular dinner knife or skewer.  Make sure it goes all the way down into the batter and make a couple of swirls in the batter, like "S" shapes.  Don't over-do it or it could look messy or muddy instead of marbled (look at me sounding like I've done this before...I've watched so many cooking shows and read so many cookbooks that sometimes I feel like I have even when it's a first!)
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 40-50 minutes, rotating the pan midway, until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  The top will be golden.  Let cool for about 10-15 minutes, in the pan, on a cooling rack before turning out and letting it cool fully on the rack.  After it's cool, the top crust is crisp (which I didn't expect) and it's ready to eat, with or without a scoop of ice cream.  
Baking therapy session completed.


Marble Loaf Cake

- For one 9-by-5 inch loaf -

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
1 3/4 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup buttermilk, room temperature
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Generously butter a 9-by-5 inch loaf pan (for extra insurance, you could also line the bottom with parchment and grease it as well). 

Whisk the cake flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5-7 minutes (don't skimp on this step if you want a lighter cake).  Add eggs, one at a time, beating until well combined after each addition.  Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed.  Mix in vanilla.  Add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the buttermilk in between.  Mix batter until the dry ingredients are just Incorporated.  Set aside one-third of the batter in a separate bowl.

In a bowl, mix the cocoa with boiling water and stir with a rubber spatula until smooth.  Add the cocoa mixture to the reserved cake batter.  Stir together until combined.

Spoon batter into the prepared pan in 2 layers, alternating spoonfuls of vanilla and chocolate so that it looks like a checkerboard.  To create the marbling, run a table knife or wooden skewer through the batters in a swirling motion.  Make sure the knife is inserted fully down into the batter and do not over swirl.

Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, until a cake tester comes out clean, about 40-50 minutes.  Transfer the pan to a cooling rack for 10-15 minutes.  Turn the cake out from the pan and let cool completely on the rack. 

If using (see below), pour chocolate glaze over the cooled cake, letting it drip down the sides.  Cake can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for about 3 days.

Chocolate Glaze*
From Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook

* This is the suggested glaze for the marble cake.  I omitted it but wanted to include it here because I think it's a great option if you want to make this cake a bit more special and add a little extra sweetness to this not-overly-sweet cake.  Plus, it can be used for other cakes and cupcakes, too.  Martha likes the way white chocolate looks with this recipe but I'd prefer using semisweet.

- Enough for 9-by-5 inch marble loaf cake above -

3/4 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons milk, plus more if needed
2 1/4 ounces semisweet or white chocolate (best quality - look for cocoa butter in the ingredient list), melted and cooled

In a small bowl, whisk the confectioners' sugar and milk together.  The mixture should have the consistency of thin sour cream.  Add melted chocolate and whisk until glaze is smooth.

If the glaze is too thin, add more confectioners' sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time.  If it's too thick, thin the mixture with some milk, just 1 teaspoon at a time.  Use immediately.



  1. This looks fantastic - I am a huge fan of marble cake, so tasty, and cute! :)

  2. Thank you, Sara! It feels like ages since I made this loaf when it was only about two weeks! It was my first time marbling and it really was fun and tasty, like you said! : ). I know you are making amazing food and treats at your end.

  3. This looks yummy! Good tips on how to make it, too. :)

  4. Thank you! Martha is a great teacher. : )

  5. This should not be confused with a blender which uses sharpened blade at higher speeds to chop and liquefy ingredients.baked comfort foods