Wednesday, December 06, 2017

A brown butter spice cake, to celebrate

You know what I was celebrating? The fact that my local Whole Foods finally carries Green Valley Organics’ lactose-free butter! The first time that I saw it, I bought two pounds, because why not.

So I made garlic bread first, and then I remembered this recipe from the holiday 2016 issue of the LCBO’s Food and Drink. (This is a timely recipe for the upcoming holidays, though there’s obviously no requirement to wait for holidays in order to have spiced anything.) The original recipe had you add spices to the butter and then brown it, to develop the flavors, but I’m going to absolutely insist that you brown the butter first, then add spices and let them steep a bit, so I’m changing the recipe to reflect this. My reasoning is that if the spices are coloring the butter already, it’s easy to over-brown it and start burning some of the milk solids (ask me how I know). But lactose-free butter is like gold, and wasting it is a tragedy! Brown butter is certainly best, but even if you under-brown the butter, melted butter is still good (whereas burnt butter isn’t). Also, note that I had to refrigerate the frosting a bit to get the proper consistency for piping. Needless to say that this was really, really good (and impressive to behold – I think the Little Prince fell in love with this cake the moment he saw it).

For the spice cake
½ cup lactose-free butter
½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped, both seeds and pod reserved
2 cinnamon sticks, crushed (I used only 1)
1 tsp. whole cloves, crushed
⅛ tsp. nutmeg
⅛ tsp. allspice
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup loosely packed light brown sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 egg yolk, at room temperature
½ cup lactose-free whole milk, at room temperature

For the icing
¾ cup lactose-free butter, at room temperature
1½ cups icing sugar, sifted
2 packages (each 250 g./8 oz.) lactose-free cream cheese, at room temperature
½ tsp. vanilla

For the cake
Place the butter in a small saucepan and place it over medium heat. Cook the butter until it is foamy and a nut-brown color, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and immediately add the vanilla seeds, vanilla pod, crushed cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg and allspice. Cover and let steep for at least 15 minutes (I let it steep for nearly 30 minutes). Strain the butter into a small bowl, pressing on the solids, then chill butter until firm, about 2 hours.

Set the oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350° F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment paper and set aside.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the chilled brown butter on medium speed. Add the brown sugar and continue beating until fluffy and lightened in color, about 5 minutes.

Lightly whisk the eggs and egg yolk then add them gradually to the butter mixture, beating to combine.

On low speed, add the dry ingredients alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry. Stop the mixer before the last addition of flour is fully incorporated. Remove the bowl from the mixer and finish mixing with a rubber spatula. Spread the batter into the pan.

Bake until golden brown on top, and just until the edges are beginning to come away from the sides of the pan, about 35 minutes. Cool the cake on a wire rack.

For the icing
Place the butter and icing sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on low speed to combine. Increase speed to medium and beat until completely smooth.

Add the cream cheese, beat until combined and very smooth, then beat in the vanilla. (I had to refrigerate my icing at this point to get a good consistency.)

Remove the cake from the pan and, if necessary, level the top with a serrated knife. Place on a cake plate. Spread a thin layer of icing over the top and sides to set the crumbs. Transfer the remaining icing to a piping bag fitted with a rose tip (or any other decorative tip) and, beginning in the middle of the cake, pipe the icing in a continuous concentric swirl from the center to the edge. (You can add a layer of icing to the sides before this, or pipe the icing onto them in the same manner; a cake turntable makes this step a little easier. Of course, you can also spread the icing with an offset spatula.)

The cake can be refrigerated, but bring to room temperature (about 1 hour) before serving.

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