Kitchen Call: Cakes — not just for birthdays
“There will be cake!” When we are invited to any kind of celebration, we expect it will end with cake – and sometimes song.
Who doesn’t remember birthday parties marked with a two-layer circle of white frosting decorated with pink sugar roses or a crowned with rainbow-striped carousel?
Over a lifetime of invitations, we discover significant towering wedding cakes, castles of cupcakes, sophisticated chocolate layer cakes spread with chocolate mousse under a coat of chocolate ganache. Tiny teacakes paired with tiny cups for mothers and daughter after a special shopping trip. Dump cake, its name resonates with little boys. Strawberry shortcake in June; pumpkin cake in October; fruitcake in December.
Some cakes start out unassuming but end with a bang, or a memory, or a hole in the center. An unfrosted chocolate cake, the darling of steakhouses, holds a hot, molten chocolate center, a voluptuous round of applause. Cornmeal or hoe cakes, once baked on a farm implement over an open fire, recall our Colonial history. Modern gluten-free, the brainchild of pastry chefs willing to bring happiness to customers allergic to wheat, lets everyone have their cake and eat it too. Bundt cake, cheese cake and Bible cake fill volumes of cookbooks dedicated just to their production.
At breakfast, a cake can be flat — as a pancake! (Last weekend, the dessert menu at The White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine, featured tiny pancakes drizzled with a deep chocolate sauce.) Pancakes, to my surprise as a teenager, don’t originate from a box or come from the kitchen of a “house” bearing their name. One day I found that we can make the batter in our own kitchens and it can include soft, creamy cheeses and bits of citrus.
And cakes aren’t always sweet. A savory cake works as cocktail fare when formed in one bite; as an appetizer when 2-inches or smaller in diameter and plated in threes; or a main course, large enough for lunch or dinner. Made from rice or corn kernels, a side dish.
Fish cake can be formed of lobster or shrimp or salmon, can stand alone with a dipping sauce or in the center of a bowl, surrounded by elegant, hot soup.
ORANGE RICOTTA PANCAKES
This is a “scratch” recipe, an invention of the Sorrento Cheese Company. If you, as many cooks, have always used a packaged mix, you can still do so. Just skip the eggs, vanilla, sugar, oil and flour. Follow the directions on the box, remembering to whip the ricotta until smooth before adding it to the batter.
Choose from the garnishes listed, or set up a “garnish bar” and let everyone choose their own as if building a pancake sundae. Add more of your own garnishes to the list.
2 cups ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons orange zest
3 cups flour
A choice of chocolate chips, fresh orange slices, maple syrup, butter, powdered sugar for garnish
1. Whisk together the eggs, vanilla, sugar, oil, zest and ricotta. Add the flour, one cup at a time, whisking the batter until smooth. If needed, add a little cold water, by the tablespoon to thin batter, if needed.
2. Heat the griddle (or a large skillet) and spray with nonstick butter-flavored spray. Using a ladle, drop the batter gently, so it does not splash, onto griddle. Cook until it starts to bubble, then flip to the other side, cooking until golden. Repeat this process until the batter is used.
3. Plate and top with chocolate chips and sliced fresh oranges. Add any of the garnishes listed with the ingredients above.
POTATO, SALMON, SPINACH CAKES WITH DILL CREAM
Makes 12 patties
Some cooks feel that garlic adds to this cake. Garlic is included optionally in the dipping sauce.
10 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 cups mashed potatoes, chilled
6 ounces cooked salmon fillet, flaked
2-1/2 cups bread crumbs or panko
4 large eggs
3/4 cup flour
oil, for frying
1. Squeeze as much water as possible from the spinach with the hands. Transfer to bowl; add potatoes, salmon, bread crumbs, 2 eggs, salt, pepper. Mix well.
2. Set up a standard breading procedure of flour, eggs, and bread crumbs in separate bowls.
3. Form spinach-salmon mixture into 3-inch patties, about 3/4-inch thick. Dip each patty into flour, eggs, bread crumbs, in that order, shaking off any excess after each one. Transfer to baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes up to 4 hours.
4. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the patties in batches, turning once, until golden and cooked through, 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Keep warm on a sheet pan in the oven. Serve hot with dill cream that follows.
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped (optional)
salt & pepper, to taste
1 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
Mash garlic and salt together until it forms a paste. Stir the paste into sour cream. Stir in the chopped dill. Season with salt and ground black pepper. Chill until serving time.
Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, read her blog at LindABCooks.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter at @Kitchencall.