Tuesday, December 27, 2011

12 Days of Recipes ~ Day 7: Molasses Cookies

These cookies are delicious!  Clearly, I'm not going to post a recipe that isn't good, but these cookies really are one of best!  My co-worker brought some to work a few weeks ago, and I have made two batches since then!

They taste similar to ginger snaps, but with a more pleasant spice taste, not quite so sharp.  The texture is soft and chewy and they will stay soft for several days too. 

 Molasses Cookies

6 oz. softened butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1 c. light brown sugar
1/4 c. molasses (not black strap)
1 egg
2 c. flour
1/2 t. cloves
1/2 t. ginger
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda
Granulated sugar for rolling

Sift together flour, spices, salt and soda.
Cream butter, sugar and molasses (I usually do this by hand, if the butter is soft enough, just until thoroughly incorporated - if you beat the batter too light I think the cookies spread more).
Add egg and mix until incorporated.
Stir in flour mixture.

Refrigerate the batter - an hour to overnight. 

Scoop and roll in sugar.  Bake at 350 for 9-11 minutes.

Monday, December 26, 2011

12 Days of Recipes ~ Day 6: Gluten-Free Quiche

I've been experimenting lately with gluten-free recipes as there seems to be increasing interest and need for GF recipes.  Quiche is usually eggs, cream/milk, cheese, and meat or veggies baked in a pie crust.  Since the filling was naturally GF, I needed to come up with a way to make a crust without using any kind of grain.

After several tries, I decided on an almond flour, butter, and cheese crust.  It has the texture of a graham cracker crust, and the nuttiness of the almond meal pairs really well with the cheesy filling.

Gluten-Free Quiche Lorraine

1 cup almond flour
2 tbsp melted butter
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
8 ounces bacon (about 8 slices) cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
pinch fresh grated nutmeg
4 ounces shredded cheese, about 1 cup (cheddar and swiss both work well)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Combine almond flour, melted butter, and 1/2 cup cheese and mix very well.  Firmly press into the bottom of a 9" pie pan.  

Bake for 20 minutes until gold brown and cheese looks toasty.  Set aside.

Fry bacon in skillet over medium heat until crisp and brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer with slotted spoon to paper towel-lined plate. Meanwhile, whisk all remaining ingredients except cheese in medium bowl.

Spread cheese and bacon evenly over bottom of warm pie shell and set shell on oven rack. Pour in custard mixture to 1/2-inch below crust rim. Bake until lightly golden brown and a knife blade inserted about one inch from the edge comes out clean, and center feels set but soft like gelatin, 32 to 35 minutes. 

Quiche, fruit, and coffee with homemade eggnog....a delicious Christmas morning breakfast!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

12 Days of Recipes ~ Day 5: Holiday Eggnog

Merry Christmas Eve! 

Eggnog is the quintessential Christmas party drink.  It usually makes an apperance at every Christmas party.  My grandmother still makes it every holiday season and it is delicious, but her recipe calls for uncooked eggs.  I'm not really that picky about the whole raw egg thing, but I definitely felt better when I found an excellent version that thoroughly cooks the eggs.  It takes a little more time to make because of the cooking and chilling time, but you'll definitely be rewarded for your efforts!

I usually make the recipe without the "nog" and let each person doctor it to their liking.  My sister likes hers minus the alcohol, while my uncle prefers "Nog-egg"! :)

6 large eggs
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
1/4 teaspoon  salt
4 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg, plus extra for garnish
1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks

Whisk eggs, yolks, sugar, and salt in a saucepan. Stir in milk, one-half cup at a time, blending well after each addition. Heat slowly over low heat, stirring constantly, until custard registers 160 degrees on instant read thermometer, thickens, and coats the back of a spoon, 25 to 30 minutes.

It will look like this:

Pour custard through sieve into large bowl; stir in vanilla and grated nutmeg. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, at least three hours and up to three days.

Just before serving, whip cream in medium bowl to very soft peaks and gently fold into custard mixture until incorporated.


I'll be back on Monday with recipe #6.  I'm taking a break tomorrow to spend time with my family.   Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, December 23, 2011

12 Days of Recipes ~ Day 4: Spinach Artichoke Dip

Spinach artichoke dip is one of my favorite appetizers!  I have tried several versions, but I really like this version I adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe.  It is a little more complicated to put together than some recipes but it is worth it in the end.   

I think it’s creamy and cheesy without being to rich.  You can serve it with tortilla chips, toasted baguettes, or crackers.

Spinach Artichoke Dip
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus more for baking dish
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pkg frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup milk
6 ounces cream cheese
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
3 dashes hot sauce, such as Tabasco
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella
Coarse salt and ground pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.   In a Dutch oven or large pot, heat oil over medium. Add onion and cook until lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes.  Add garlic and heat for 30 seconds.  Remove onions and garlic from pan and set aside.

In the same pot, warm milk over medium heat. Whisk in cream cheese until melted, about 3 minutes. Add onions and garlic, artichokes, spinach, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and 1/4 cup mozzarella; stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into a lightly oiled 1 1/2-quart shallow baking dish; sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella.
Bake until bubbly and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve hot.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

12 Days of Recipes ~ Day 3: Party Meatballs

I promised some non-baking recipes, so today I thought I'd post a great appetizer!  I have made the recipe several times over the last few weeks and it is always a huge hit!  

I catered an anniversary party last night and made two large pans of meatballs and every single one was eaten.  I didn't get a picture because they were gone so fast!

Party Meatballs
2 lbs prepared meatballs
12 oz chili sauce
16 oz can cranberry sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp red wine vinegar

Combine all ingredients and cook until heated through and bubbly.  This can be done in a crockpot, on the stove, or in the oven.  I like to cook them in a 9x13 pan for about 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

12 Days of Recipes ~ Day 2: Chocolate Peppermint Crackle Cookies

Chocolate peppermint crackle cookies for me were always those cookies that sounded so appealing in theory – dark chocolaty cookies with just a hint of peppermint, perfectly crackled snow white tops, crisp on the outside, cake-like in the middle.  

But, mine never tasted or looked that good in reality and I tried several versions.  I hated being disappointed in the result, so I stopped making them,

Until…….I found this recipe.  (On a side note, Simply Scratch is a GREAT blog for any kind of recipe!  She has some of the best step by step pictures.)  

Anyway, back to chocolate peppermint cookies....these are truly the perfect one!  I simplified the recipe just slightly as I didn't have fresh mint available, but I can’t wait to try it again this summer when my mint plant is booming. 

Another unique part of this recipe is rolling the cookie dough in granulated sugar before rolling it in powdered sugar.  It keeps the cookie from absorbing the powdered sugar so they stay perfectly white.  Since the dough does have to rolled into balls, then rolled in sugar twice, it’s a great one to make with friends or family so you can get a few helpers!

Dark Chocolate Peppermint Crackle Cookies
1-1/2 cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 cup Sugar
1/4 cup Unsweetened Dark Chocolate Cocoa Powder
1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
7 ounces Semi-Sweet Chocolate, broken into pieces
3 whole Eggs, lightly beaten
6 tablespoon Unsalted Butter
1 teaspoon Real Vanilla Extract
½ - 1 tsp peppermint extract
1/2 cup (or more) granulated sugar, for rolling the cookie dough
1/2 cup (or more) powdered sugar, for rolling the cookie dough

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place rack in the middle of your oven.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a sauce pan over the lowest setting melt the chocolate and butter. Stir often to avoid scorching and remove when only a few lumps remain. Stir until completely melted then pour into a large bowl. Add the sugar to the chocolate and stir. When the chocolate has cooled a tad, gradually add eggs and vanilla and stir.

Add a third of the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture, mix by hand. Repeat until all the dry ingredients are incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Using a tablespoon or small ice cream scoop, measure and roll into uniform balls. Roll the cookie balls in granulated sugar and then powdered sugar, then place the cookie balls an inch apart on a lined or greased, rimmed baking sheet. Slide into oven and bake for 10-12 minutes depending on your oven. Remove and let cool on the pan for 5 minutes then remove to cooling rack to finish.  Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Try to avoid eating them all off the cookie sheet!  They are even better while still warm.  I suggest taking a break from your holiday baking for a glass of milk and a cookie or two. :)

Monday, December 19, 2011

12 Days of Recipes ~ Day 1: Chocolate Pecan Pie

Introducing The 12 Days of Recipes!  As I was listening to Christmas carols over the weekend and baking five pies and six red velvet cakes (at times like this I wish I had two ovens) and thinking about which recipe to blog about, it occurred to me: why not share all of them!  Everyone is always looking for good dishes to make for parties or when company comes over.

So…..Every day for the next 12 days I’ll post a holiday recipe.  All of these will be recipes that I have made, so I have tested them out for you!   I’m going to do an assortment: some baking, some brunch ideas, some dinner ideas…all perfect for your Christmas/New Year’s parties!

Day  1: Ooey Gooey Chocolate Pecan Pie

This recipe is adapted from one I found in Taste of Home and it is fabulous!   The chocolate adds a dark richness to the usual sweetness of a pecan pie.  This pie takes a while to bake, longer than the average pecan pie, but the center still stays soft and gooey while the edges taste like a moist brownie.

Next time you need a crowd-leasing dessert, try out this fudgy, nutty, buttery pie! 

Chocolate Pecan Pie
1 refrigerated pie crust
1/2 cup butter
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1-1/4 cups packed brown sugar
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp light corn syrup
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups finely chopped pecans

Unroll pie crust and ease into a 9” pie pan.  Trim pastry to 1/2 in. beyond edge of plate; flute edges.  For filling, melt butter and chocolate in a microwave; stir until smooth. In a large bowl, combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, eggs, vanilla and salt. Stir in chopped pecans and butter mixture. Pour into pastry.   Bake at 350° for 55-65 minutes or until center seems set. Cover edges with foil during the last 15 minutes to prevent overbrowning if necessary. Cool on a wire rack.

I actually finished up the last little bit as I was typing….perfect with a cup of coffee!  

Happy Baking!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Football ... and music?

Happy Sunday!  This week’s feature cake was made for my friend’s husband, Adam, for his birthday.  He is man of few interests: family, music, and Notre Dame football!  This presented a challenge – how to combine music and football into one cake!

His wife, Stefanie, came up with the coolest idea!  A football-shaped cake with a musical score on the laces, and a set of piano keys and a guitar fret instead of the usually white lines on the ends of the football.  I thought it was a fantastic idea…just wish I had thought of it :)

I started by carving the basic shape of the football…very basic at this point!  

Then I went back and trimmed it until I got the shape just right.  Next, I frosted it with chocolate buttercream….oh so yummy!  It takes a little while to get the frosting so smooth.  But, if there are any imperfections in the buttercream, they will show through the fondant.

I covered the cake with a reddish-brownish colored fondant.  I usually use crumbled aluminum foil to add texture to the fondant so it looks more like a football.  Unfortunately, I was completely out of aluminum foil, so I searched around the kitchen for something to add texture.  In the back of my cooking utensil drawer, I found my meat tenderizer…it created the perfect look!  Necessity is the mother of invention :)

Next, I cut out a guitar fret and piano keys from white fondant... 

 Then laid them on cake...

 After painting on some details, the cake was done!

The notes on the laces are actually from the Notre Dame fight song! 

Adam and Stefanie were both thrilled with the cake!  It is always so much fun making cakes for my friends!

I've been baking cookies like crazy this week, so next week I'll share several recipes...Molasses cookies, Raspberry almond thumbprints, Chocolate-dipped butter cookies with toasted coconut, and Chocolate peppermint crackle cookies.  Happy baking!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Recipe of the Month: Cinnamon Streusel Pumpkin Pie

Happy Sunday!  Thanksgiving is coming up this week, so I thought I’d share a fall-themed recipe this month - Cinnamon Streusel Pumpkin Pie.

I absolutely love Thanksgiving!  It’s a whole day of spending time with family and cooking together celebrating all our blessings.

I actually combined two recipes…one from Cook’s Illustrated for their pumpkin pie and one for Cinnamon Streusel.

I started by pre-baking the pie crust slightly.  This keeps the crust from getting soggy.

Then I combined the heavy cream, milk, eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla.  This recipe uses heavy cream and milk instead of the standard evaporated milk which gives the filling a smoother, richer flavor.

The Cook’s Illustrated Pumpkin Pie recipe also calls for precooking the pumpkin with sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon, gingers, nutmeg, and a slightly unusual ingredient: canned yams.

According to their recipe, “Simmering the filling for pumpkin pie is an unusual step, but its benefits are threefold. First, cooking the pumpkin and sweet potatoes drives off moisture and concentrates their taste. Second, cooking the spices along with the pumpkin allows their flavors to bloom. Third, heating the filling allows it to firm up quickly in the oven, rather than soaking into the pastry and causing the crust to become soggy.”

So, I cooked everything together until it became smooth and shiny.

Then I mixed the pumpkin with the custard and poured it into the crust.

While the pie was baking, I prepared the cinnamon streusel topping.  From a failed attempt at making a similar pie last Thanksgiving, I found out that it’s best to let the pie cook for about 10 minutes before adding the streusel.  Otherwise, the streusel sinks to the bottom….still tasty but not nearly as pretty.

I topped the semi-set pie with the streusel and put it back in the oven for another 40 minutes or so.  The recipe called for baking it an additional 20-25 minutes, but mine took about 15 more minutes before the center was set.

But once it came out, it was beautiful!  And did I mention it smelled so good!

Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers!  I hope you have a blessed day!

Cinnamon Streusel Pumpkin Pie

1 refrigerated pie crust

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3 large eggs plus 2 large yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 cup drained candied yams from 15-ounce can (see note)
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup maple syrup
¾ teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon table salt

1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup regular oats
1/4 cup chopped pecans
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
2 to 3 teaspoons water

 To prepare crust, roll dough to an 11-inch circle. Fit dough into a 9-inch pie plate coated with cooking spray. Fold edges under; flute.  Line crust with foil, and fill with pie weights or pennies. Bake on rimmed baking sheet 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights, rotate plate, and bake 5 to 10 additional minutes until crust is golden brown and crisp. Remove pie plate and baking sheet from oven.

While pie shell is baking, whisk cream, milk, eggs, yolks, and vanilla together in medium bowl. Combine pumpkin puree, yams, sugar, maple syrup, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in large heavy-bottomed saucepan; bring to sputtering simmer over medium heat, 5 to 7 minutes. Continue to simmer pumpkin mixture, stirring constantly and mashing yams against sides of pot, until thick and shiny, 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove pan from heat and whisk in cream mixture until fully incorporated. Strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl, using back of ladle or spatula to press solids through strainer. Re-whisk mixture and transfer to warm prebaked pie shell. Return pie plate with baking sheet to oven and bake pie for 10 minutes.

While pie is baking, prepare streusel.  Combine all ingredients and cut in butter with a fork or fingertips until crumbly.   Remove pie from oven and sprinkle with streusel. Reduce oven temperature to 300 and bake for an additional 25-35 minutes or until pie is set, but still slightly soft in the center.

Transfer pie to wire rack and cool to room temperature. Serve with whipped cream if desired.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Catering a Wedding

Happy Sunday!  This week I’m deviating from my usually cake features to share some pictures from a recent wedding I catered.  I mainly enjoy decorating cakes, but I occasionally get to prepare the food for events too!  It’s a nice change of pace from just baking and decorating.

I had such a great time working with Michelle Street and her parents!  They were absolutely the sweetest family and the event was a huge success.  The wedding ceremony was held at Scarritt Bennett and the reception was at Crieve Hall Church of Christ.  The bride’s colors were deep purple, burnt orange, and celery green – a beautiful combination for an early fall wedding.

 The delicious menu also had an autumn feel to it as well:

Pork Tenderloin with Yeast Rolls and Poppyseed Mustard

Apple and Red Cabbage Salad

Stuffed Zucchini Bites, Spinach Puffs, and Roasted Red Pepper Dip with Tortilla Chips

The Roasted Red Pepper dip was so popular!  So, just as a bonus, here’s the recipe!
7 ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and diced
6 oz shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 cups mayonnaise
1 tbsp minced onion
1 head garlic, roasted

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a small baking dish, mix the roasted red peppers, Monterey Jack cheese, cream cheese, mayonnaise, onion, garlic and Dijon-style mustard.
3. Bake in the preheated oven 25 minutes, or until bubbly and lightly browned. Serve warm.

In addition to tea and water, the bride’s family also chose Spiced Apple Cider … oh so yummy!

I received such a sweet note from the bride and groom after the wedding,
Where do I start?!?  The food was incredibly delicious!  I only got a few bites, but it so SO good!  We received so many complements!  We really appreciate your hard work, and for helping us making our day special! Thank you!
~ Michelle and Chris"

And that is why I do what I do!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Blue Polka Dot Birthday Cake

Happy Sunday!  This week, I worked on a cute cake for my boyfriend’s niece.  She just turned 13!  She loves blue so the only request was “make it blue”…..everything else was up to me :)

I love polka dots, so I decided to do blue dots in several shades of blue.   The birthday girl loves chocolate (I mean really, what girl doesn’t?), so I had to make it a chocolate cake.  And wow, is that chocolate cake good.  It’s such a simple recipe, but so moist and chocolately!  I couldn’t stop snacking on the cake trimmings!

Even though I would have loved to do chocolate frosting or even ganache (yum!), I wanted the blue to really pop so I settled for vanilla buttercream so it would be white.

After frosting the cake, I cut out a bunch of circles in four shades of blue.  A little tip: you can use a #10 piping tip to cut out circles too.  The small piping end makes really great small circles and the larger end can be used to make slightly larger circles too.  No need to buy more small cutters!

After I laid on all the dots, I mixed up some blue buttercream to write on the cake.

And ta-da!  The finished product!

 The birthday girl absolutely loved the cake!  Happy Birthday, Emma!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Search Cross Groom's Cake

Happy Sunday!   It definitely felt like fall this week!  I catered another wedding yesterday (pictures to come next week), and it was another gorgeous fall wedding! 

This week, I’m showcasing the “Groom’s cake” that went with last week’s wedding cake.  Brian and Merrill are both very involved with Search, a Catholic youth retreat program, and they used the Search Cross on their invitations, so we decided to integrate that into the cake design as well.

The second cake was just a two tier version of their wedding cake, but without the flowers.

To make the Search Cross, I rolled out dark brown modeling chocolate and cut out the intricate cross pattern.

To make it look bronzed, I gently brushed the chocolate with something called “gold highlighter”.  Gold highlighter is on the really cool cake decorating products out there.  It is an edible dust actually made from 24k gold!  You can dust it on a design, like I did here.  Or you can mix it with alchol or lemon juice and paint it on for a brilliant gold look.  I used that technique on the Grammy Cake to make the Grammy award shiny gold.

Then I added a ribbon just like the wedding cake, and attached the Search Cross with a little bit of icing.  You can also see the dowel rods in the cake that will hold up the next layer.

I stacked this cake on site as well.  It was much quicker to assemble than the lasger four-tiered wedding cake though!

Thanks for reading!  I love sharing my cakes and creations with you.  If you enjoy reading my blog, please follow me…and tell your friends!


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Merrill Moore Wedding Cake

Happy Sunday!  Wow, October is a big month for weddings!  I’m getting ready for another big event next weekend.  This week’s featured cake, from the first of October, was for my friends Brian Lennon and Merrill Moore.

The reception was located on a farm in Franklin and was the most beautiful fall wedding I have ever seen!  The whole theme was country chic - classy and elegant, yet simple and natural.  The food was great southern BBQ.  And the flowers from Phillipe Chadwick were absolutely stunning….circus roses, mums, daliahs, and daisies in reds, oranges, yellows, and greens.  And of course the cake was great! Merrill wanted a simple buttercream cake with fresh flowers to fit with the rest of her d├ęcor. 

This cake was the largest wedding cake I have made so far.  It feed 250 people! 

All in all the cake and frosting took:
4 dozen eggs
7 lbs butter
16 cups of sour cream
12 lbs powdered sugar
18 lbs flour
That’s a lot of ingredients!

Since the bottom layer of the cake was so large (16 inches across), I tried a new technique to help it bake more evenly and more quickly.   I used Wilton flower nails, which are supposed to be used to pipe buttercream roses on to, but I put them in the middle of the cake to conduct the heat into the core of the cake.  

It worked perfectly!  The cakes were much flatter and baked in 10-15 minutes less time than without the flower nails!  I still had to trim the cakes to make them perfectly flat, but not as much as I usually do.

I had to make 6 mixer bowls full of icing to cover all the cakes…which in case you are wondering, is a ton of icing!  I felt like I was frosting cake for hours!  

Sometimes I stack the cakes before I transport them to the reception site, but since this one was going about an hour away and I didn’t have anyone to help me lift that cake, I decided to take all the cakes separately and assemble them on site. 

So, once I got to the reception and unloaded all the cakes, I stacked them together and added the fresh flowers.  Since the flowers weren’t pesticide-free, I wrap all the stems so that they don’t come in contact with the cake itself.  Here my brother is wrapping flowers for me.

Once all the flowers were on the cake, the finished product was absolutely beautiful!  It looked so perfect against the barn and red gate on the farm.

Since I had to cut so many slices of cake…250, remember?...I recruited a couple of friends to help me serve.  We cut 200 slices in less than 10 minutes!  Now, that’s a record!

Congratulations to Brian and Merrill!  

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Science of Cake Baking Part 1

Happy Sunday!  I hope you all had a wonderful week!  I have another wedding next weekend, so I’m starting to get organized for that.  It is a large event, so I’ll be doing a lot a baking this week!

There is definitely an art and a science to baking and cake decorating.  I usually share the artistic side, but after talking to a couple of friends, I decided to do a few posts on the science side of things.  Now don’t worry, I’m not about to bore you with a lot facts!  It’s really cool actually!

Every cake recipe is made from basically the same few ingredients and each one serves a specific purpose.  You can’t just go switching things around, leaving things out altogether, or adding new things.  But with a little bit of knowledge you can learn how to make substitutions when necessary or how to successfully add your own twist to a recipe.

                                                     - Butter -
Most cakes call for butter, but oil or shortening are also used sometimes.  I’m definitely a fan of real butter…there isn’t anything better!  Butter (or whatever the fat source is) keep the cake moist and adds flavor.  A cake made without butter would be very crumbly and somewhat bland. 
All fats are not the same though….you can’t just swap one for the other.  Oil and shortening are both 100% fat, butter is about 75% fat and 25% water, and margarine (gasp!  I hate to even mention it!) is 30 – 50% fat and the rest water.   Margarine should NOT be used in baking.  It contains too much water and will produce a very tough cake.

- Sugar -
Obviously sugar provides taste, but it also contributes to the moistness of the cake too.  There really are no substitutes here.  Honey can used, but the cake will be much darker both inside and outside. 

- Eggs -
Eggs mainly provide structure in baked goods, but they also help to bind all the ingredients together.  If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I made an egg-less cake, so you can make substitutions though.  I found that yogurt made a great substitute for eggs, since it provided the missing proteins from the egg.

- Vanilla -
Of all the ingredients in a cake, vanilla is probably the most simple…its serves ones purpose: flavor!

- Flour-
Flour, like eggs, provides structure in cakes.   However, it is very difficult to find a substitute.   The gluten in the flour is what gives a cake its texture; without that, you would have a very dense cake.  That gluten can be a problem though if it’s over mixed.  That can lead to a very chewy texture, which is not desirable in a cake.

If a recipe specifies all purpose flour, cake flour, or bread flour, it is a good idea to use the right kind of flour.  The amount of gluten and protein is different in each one and that can really mess with your finished product.

- Baking powder -
Baking powder is called a “leavening agent” which basically means that it makes the cake rise, which gives it a fluffy texture.   Baking powder is not the same as baking soda.  Baking powder will react with any liquid, whether it acidic or not.  Most baking powders sold in stores in “double acting” which mean it reacts once when it gets wet and once when it is heated.

- Baking Soda -
Baking soda is also a leaving agent.  However, it requires another acidic ingredient like buttermilk or yogurt to make it work.  Baking soda is “single acting” so it only reacts when it get wet.  So, when baking with baking soda, you have to get it in the oven pretty quickly or all the baking soda will react away.

-Salt -
In cakes, salt has just one job: flavor!  If you leave the salt out, your cakes will taste very flat and one-dimensional.  Salt enhances all the other flavors in the cake.

- Milk/Buttermilk -
 The milk or buttermilk (or in some cases, water) obviously add moisture to the cake, but it can also affect the leavening agent.  If the recipe calls for baking soda, make sure you also use buttermilk or there won't be any acid to react with the baking soda.

Stay tuned for Cake Science Part 2....I'll give you a quick overview of the science of mixing all these ingrediants together.  It really is important to cream the butter and sugar together first and alternate the wet and dry ingrediants, and I'll explain why!