January 27, 2011
This past weekend I did something I've never done before: I made a cake from scratch. As far as I can remember, I'd never even made a cake from a mix (though I have made brownies from mixes), but recently I found a cake recipe that was accompanied by photos that looked so delicious, I just plain had to make it. In addition, this cake is the first thing I've made from a particular recipe source.
The source in question is Cuisine at Home magazine. We were recently sent a complimentary issue of the magazine as part of a subscription promotion. Before then, we'd picked up one issue of the magazine (October 2010), and honestly hadn't been very impressed. It was a very nice-looking magazine with some nice food photography, but most of the recipes were pretty ordinary and there wasn't a lot in the way of information or techniques I could use to become a better cook. All in all, I didn't see nearly enough in that issue to make me want to follow the magazine. As such, I wasn't expecting much when we received the free promotional issue, so I was really pleasantly surprised when I got around to reading it.
The promotional issue is packed with good stuff, including an article on crusting chicken (complete with a couple different recipes) and a "how-to" article featuring a basic version and a couple interesting variants on creme brulee. Across a total of 52 pages, this issue has more than a dozen recipes (plus a few variant options) that I will likely be using at some point in time, plus the one I decided to try out.
The recipe in question was for Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake, billed as being "the kind of cake grandma used to make" and including an icing recipe. The recipe is presented in a very straight-forward manner, which is typical of the recipes in this issue. There are a few cooking tips and some brief discussions of technique, but the vast majority of the issue is recipes illustrated with great color photographs. There's not much in the way of food science, and nothing about how a given recipe was developed. The basic model is more or less 180 degrees from the Cook's Illustrated model, and as much as I love CI, I find Cuisine at Home's format has its own appeal, and is effective in its own way.
The cake recipe was easy to follow. The only challenging part was stuff not even covered in the recipe itself: The process of icing the cake. Like I said above, I'd never made a cake before, so naturally I didn't really have a clue how to ice one. Juli had done it before, though, so she was able to give me some pointers, and it worked out fine.
The cake itself turned out really, really excellent...a moist cake with rich chocolate flavor and smooth, tasty icing. Juli and I had a couple slices, but we weren't up to trying to finish off a whole cake ourselves (and didn't really need that many calories in any case), so I brought it to work to share with my colleagues. The cake was a huge hit, and I don't mind saying the compliments I got on it were pretty gratifying. Juli suggested maybe I might want to do a weekly cake, and I have to admit the idea is an attractive one... though I might alternate with pies or cookies or whatever. But having done my first cake, I'm definitely up for doing more. Maybe I'll make a German Chocolate Cake next.
As to Cuisine at Home... well, the complimentary issue was really good, and the promotional offer was a good bargain, so I decided to subscribe. I don't expect the regular issues of the magazine to be quite as wonderful as the promotional issue - I'm assuming it features some of the best of what Cuisine at Home has to offer - but I figured they'd have enough to make it worth the cost. Besides, there's more than enough good in the promo issue to keep me busy for a bit.
The other thing I noticed after reading the issue was that Cuisine at Home was centered in Des Moines, Iowa. That makes me wonder... do they allow guests in their test kitchen?