Friday, September 17, 2010

Project Food Blog Challenge #1, Vanilla Bean Vanilla Bean Layer Cake: "I'm coming home"

For all of my amazing readers, who try my recipes, give me feedback and keep encouraging me to write.  Thank you.  

I never intended to be a food blogger; I am one by accident. About two years ago, before I started Week of Menus, I was just doing my own thing, minding my business, cooking food for my family and friends. At first Week of Menus was just an email with meal ideas and recipes that I sent to my close friends, so that they could cook for their families without feeling overwhelmed. As maintaining the email and continually adding friends of friends became more cumbersome and less effective, my good friend suggested I try blogging as a way to continue.

Two years later, here I am entering a blog competition, created by Foodbuzz. It is the first such competition of its kind and I'm nervous and excited.

This is the first challenge: For the very first Project Food Blog Challenge, we're asking you to create a blog post that defines you as a food blogger and makes it clear why you think you have what it takes to be the next food blog star. Consider what makes your blog unique and sets you apart from other food blog brands: is it your foolproof recipes, your mouthwatering photos, or your perspective on family meals? Write a post that comes from the heart and is true to you and your blog.

My intent since the beginning of the blog has been this - make cooking accessible to the busiest person, so that they will get into the kitchen and cook. I never thought Week of Menus would be read by strangers, and instead just wanted to help my closest friends with meal ideas. I provide mostly simple, easy and straightforward recipes, some Korean, some not, but all with my own twist to make delicious food.

As time has passed, Week of Menus has slowly evolved to become an outlet for how I feel about cooking and my life at any given moment. Sometimes a post expresses frustration with child-rearing and has a recipe inspired by that feeling. Other times I focus on joy and happiness and the recipe reflects that emotion. Through the sharing of my personal life, I've discovered that sometimes my words and stories impact people beyond the simple enjoyment of the recipe; my words can sometimes leave a fingerprint on another person's life. However small or faint, it still amazes me when I learn that something that I've written about has left some small impression on people that may not know me personally.

This is Week of Menus, an expression of my life in food.

"I'm coming home," my father would say into the telephone and suddenly there would be quick click and a dial tone.  Those few simple syllables would start a flurry of activity.  I would report to my mother that my father had called and suddenly my mother would go into overdrive, putting final touches on food that she had been preparing for a good part of the day.  I would be ordered to set the table, transfer finished dishes onto the table, and although Brothers and I might be starving, we were not allowed to eat anything without our father.

After he walked into the house, we would all sit down together, pray, then eat and enjoy food expertly prepared by my mother.  Much of my attitude about cooking for my family comes from the experience of eating my mother's cooking. Food is to be prepared at home with lots of love; family is there to enjoy the food and together we enjoy one another's company.  The words, "I'm coming home" always remind me of that sweet time of my family eating together at a round table.

The same words, "I'm coming home" were recently said to me, again over the phone, but this time by Husband.  The circumstances, however, were slightly different as Husband was informing me that after four months of being separated from us, Son, Daughters and Me, he was finally coming home, literally four months after his departure.  "I'm coming home" suddenly took on a whole different meaning.

It meant that after months of being solo on the frontlines of child rearing, disciplining, and homework supervision, I would finally have some backup.  Perhaps even relief.  Maybe someone else could be in the frontlines while I took a nap.  In addition, I would have someone to be bad cop to my good cop or good cop to my bad cop.  For weeks I had been playing both roles, which basically rendered me completely ineffective when trying to convince Son and Daughters to do anything.  They were continually disoriented when I would come off hard and strict, only to turn around a few minutes later to soften the blow.  Son and Daughters couldn't really ever figure out what I wanted, and truthfully neither could I.

I would have someone to help me with the minutiae of life, like brushing three sets of teeth, wiping three different butts, and reading three different bedtime stories.  My life and the responsibilities could be cut down and I was so looking forward to having Husband home to be by my side, helping me to stay sane.

And more than anything, I would have back at my side, my partner, my mate, my friend.  He laughs at my jokes like no other, understands that when I'm mad it usually means that I'm tired, and loves me wholly, despite my numerous shortcomings and weaknesses.  Husband was to be back with me, to provide hugs, kisses, and the support I had so desperately missed during his absence.

"I'm coming home" were some of the sweetest words I had heard in a long time and to celebrate the sweetness of those words, I decided to bake a cake to reflect the joy and happiness overflowing in my heart.  A cake, a beautiful layer cake, homemade and made with my two hands, I knew would be a way to express what was inside of me.  Husband's arrival also happened to coincide on the day of his birthday, an additional reason to bake cake.  I wanted to welcome Husband back to the family, and also sweeten him up a bit so that he'd be ready and able to provide me with a bit of relief.  The cake served lots of different purposes.

I have been working on my layer cakes for a while now, but haven't posted a recipe, mainly because I was never fully satisfied with the final appearance of the cake.  However, best friend JEL told me that a homemade cake SHOULD look homemade and taste homemade.  She asked me why I wanted my cake to look anything but homemade, and I took those words to heart. I want my readers to also feel that way as well.  A layer cake doesn't have to be perfectly round or perfectly formed to be delicious because it is the effort and a great recipe that helps you make something that just tastes special.

So try.  Experiment.  Get yourself ready to try and bake something slightly challenging but not overwhelming.  You'll probably make a few mistakes on the way, so practice a few times before a key occasion.  But, if you get one great vanilla cake recipe under your belt, you will have at your disposal so many other variations once you master this one.  It will be a truly lovely treat for your family, one that I know they will not forget.  Do set aside a bit of time to make this, but the recipe itself is straightforward enough that you can make it without too much stress.

** Preparation note - I use my mini chopper (making sure it has been washed in the dishwasher thoroughly if I am going to grind sugar after having chopped garlic) to make the sugar fine.  I enlist the help of one Daughter to help make the super fine sugar.  I do it one cup at a time, and Daughter enjoys doing it.
Vanilla Bean Vanilla Bean Layer Cake
Makes one 9 inch layer cake (you can also make cupcakes with this recipe - 24 regular cupcakes or 48 mini cupcakes)

Vanilla Bean Cake
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups super fine sugar, or regular sugar that has been put through a food processor and made fine
3 large eggs (taken out of the fridge the same time as the butter)
1/2 cup sour cream (taken out of the fridge the same time as the butter and eggs)
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out (for a video how-to, here)
3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup warm milk

Preheat oven to 350. Spray two 9 inch cake pans with cooking spray. Cut out parchment sheets the same size as the pans and line pans and spray once again. Set aside until needed.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, blend softened butter and super fine sugar until thoroughly combined.

 Add eggs, one at a time and beat until well mixed, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl to ensure that everything is well blended. Add sour cream and scraped out insides of vanilla bean, mixing until blended.

Add half of flour mixture and mix until just combined. and add half of milk and mix until just combined. Scrape down sides of the bowl. Add remaining half of flour mixture, mix until just combined and then add remaining milk. Mix until just combined.again. At this stage, the less you mix the better for your cake. (Too much mixing makes for a tough cake.)

Divide cake into prepared pans. Bake for 40 minutes, or until cake springs back when gently pressed with fingertips. Cool slightly, then remove cake from pans and cool on wire racks until completely cool.

Vanilla Bean Frosting
1 cup of butter, softened
8 oz of cream cheese, softened
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out (for a video how-to, here)
5-6 cups of confectioners sugar

In a large mixing bowl, mix butter until it is softened and uniform. Add cream cheese and beat together until it is uniform. Add 3 cups of sugar to the mixture and mix. Add scraped out vanilla bean seeds and 2 more cups of sugar. Mix again until mixture is creamy and spreadable. Add more sugar if necessary, otherwise prepare to frost cake.

**Many cake recipes call for you to cut even layers...this is not one of them, mainly because I have not the tools nor the patience to make two perfectly even layers.  As I said, this is a homemade cake, so if it's slightly lopsided, it's all right.  You CAN cut layers, and there are special knives that allow you to do this, so you can invest in one if you like.  Some reasons that layers come out unevenly include uneven heat in the oven, uneven mixing the batter, over mixing the batter.  I know mine has to do with an unevenly heated oven, but it's not SO bad that I can't just sort of even out my layers with good construction.

Carefully line your cake plate with a few strips of parchment. This allows you to be slightly messy with the frosting but prevents your cake plate from being completely messed up.

 Place one layer on top. Place about one cup of frosting on top, and spread evenly over the cake.

 Top with another layer. Plop another cup of frosting on the middle and work from the middle outward, spreading frosting towards the edge of the cake. Slowly frost the sides by applying a thin layer of frosting with a knife, spinning around the cake. Add another larger amount of frosting, once again working round the cake to fully frost the sides.

Printable recipe
Garnish with fresh red raspberries. They make homemade cake look extra special!

Welcome home and Happy Birthday to my one true love.


Me, the hubby, plus 3 said...

beautifully written! i love it! and now i'm craving cake! need to get some vanilla beans.... but it's 11:30 pm.

heartburn @ 2am said...

so honest and heartfelt. My circumstances are different but I've felt that similar ache..thank you for putting into words.

sophia said...

Such a poignant story. I loved it. It reminds me of my younger days too. When my dad would call to say "I'm coming home" from his month-long mission trip.

You're a beautiful writer, and a talented baker.

Kim said...

Hi, I'm just a follower of your blog. My sister recently turned me on to your blog... specifically for the Korean recipes that I desperately need help with. But your last entry brought tears to my eyes.

Linda said...

What a BEAUTIFUL blog!! And PRAISE GOD for such a beautiful reunion. May each moment together be sweet, restful, and blessed.

Joy said...

That looks heavenly.

Mommy Lim said...

u made me cry. i hate to bake, but now i wanna make this cake for my hubby...for no reason at all!

hudson umma said...

that was sooo sweet. made me totally well up :). what a perfectly sweet story from the heart! i would love to make this cake esp since my hubby's bday is coming up too!

jacobskitchen said...

Great post! Love all of your step by step photos. And the cake looks amazing. I voted for you! =)

Good luck!

Check out my PFB post:

Letizia Golosa said...

Nice blog! You have my vote!
Check mine out if you have a moment

riceandwheat said...

That is such a lovely story - I'm loving how many amazing storytellers I've been discovering through PFB. You've got my vote and good luck in PFB!

Butter said...

What a great entry. I really loved the memories you have shared here and "I'm coming home" - beautiful. That cake looks incredible, my mouth is watering just looking at the pictures. I will definitely vote for you. Good luck!
- Butter
(from runningonbutter)

Nesrine said...

this is my kinda cake :)
if you wanna check my entry here it is..

Lick My Spoon said...

you have a lovely blog. it is great to see the evolution of this site from an "accident". thank you for amazing pictures and clear explanations. you got my vote!

Lick My Spoon

luhh said...

I never comment on blogs, but... I made this cake today and it's the best vanilla cake I've ever had, not even joking. Thanks for sharing the recipe :)

luhh said...

I never comment on blogs, but... I made this cake today and it's the best vanilla cake I've ever had, not even joking. Thanks for sharing the recipe :)

muebles en toledo said...

Oh my god, there's so much useful material in this post!

Jackie said...

Hi Joanne

Warm Milk, is that room temperature milk or warm it up in a saucepan or microwave the milk.

B's mommy said...

Beautifully written and beautifully baked!!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I was looking for a simple but moist vanilla cake. My nephew wanted me to teach him how to bake his first cake (I've been taking baking classes for over 4 years) and he wanted vanilla. What! - vanilla is not my favorite and it took me a while to find a cake that would not be dry and have some flavour. Yours hit the mark. We made the Cake on Saturday for Easter dessert - all the family was there. I taught him a little piping; he did not bad for his first attempt. I had some Mango curd that we put in the middle- I made your cream cheese icing as well which was well matched with the cake. Thanks for the recipe. Maybe we will have another kid interested in baking :)


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