Cakes are a mainstay during the holidays. Not only do we make them for ourselves, they also make wonderful gifts. Nothing impresses more than a cake dressed in Christmas finery - coconut "snow," colorful sugars, crushed candies. The list is endless.
What is it about the popularity of cakes this time of year?
"Holidays revolve around food, and they are traditionally a time to indulge ourselves and our families with foods we don't eat on a regular basis," says Dianne Cosper, owner of Blue Ribbon Cafe in Soddy-Daisy, an old service station-turned-cafe where delicious cakes are baked and devoured on a daily basis.
"Nothing makes our mouths water more than seeing a gorgeous cake on the sideboard in our dining rooms."
Jeanelle Ainsworth, owner of Federal Bake Shop in Hixson, says her cake sales pick up nearly 60 percent in the weeks before Christmas.
"Everyone's in a festive mood, and they say they need a cake for their celebrations," she says.
Monte Carlo is the top-selling cake at Federal; it's a two-layer confection - one chocolate, the other vanilla. It's covered with the bakery's signature buttercream frosting, then drizzled with chocolate fudge and topped with a buttercream star and big red cherry.
Here are some other favorites at Chattanooga-area bakeries:
• Jackson Bakery in Brainerd Village: Vanilla cake with lemon curd frosting, covered with shredded coconut and decorated for Christmas.
• Rembrandt's in the Bluff View Art District: Buche de Noel, a traditional yule log in either yellow cake with hazelnut buttercream or chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream. Both are adorned with decorative meringue, mushrooms and fondant leaves, then finished with chocolate bark shavings. They come in 8-inch and 12-inch sizes.
• Vine Street Market and Bakery in Riverview: The red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. Owner Sharon Skinner says the combination of cocoa, vinegar and baking soda blend together to heighten the flavor of this cake served in the restaurant as well as made to order for home gatherings.
• Blue Ribbon Cafe in Soddy-Daisy: The red velvet cake tops the list. Cosper makes them for her restaurant, but also takes orders for cakes to go. "This time of year, I am inundated with orders."
And since she bakes them from scratch by herself, she's limited to the number of cakes that she can make. In fact, her cakes are so popular, folks started placing orders in the summer to make sure they could secure a place on her list.
So if you wait till the last minute, you're out of luck ... that is, unless you make one of Cosper's cakes yourself. Red velvet is a Christmas classic, and Cosper takes it one step further by making hers with a peppermint frosting, bringing a favorite holiday flavor into the mix. The three-layer confection will look stunning on your buffet table this year.
In an added note, she says: "The one cup of cocoa is not an error. The extra cocoa and vanilla makes this cake wonderful."
2-1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cocoa, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup butter flavored oil
1/2 cup Crisco oil
1 teaspoon vinegar
2 ounces red food coloring
10 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
2-3 teaspoons peppermint extract
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Heavily spray 3 (9-inch) round pans with nonstick cooking spray.
Cream sugar, oil and cocoa. Add eggs, one at a time. Mix vinegar and food coloring. Add to oil mixture. Add vanilla. Mix well. Sift flour, soda and salt together. Add to oil mixture, alternating with buttermilk. Divide batter between pans and bake 20 to 25 minutes or until cakes test done. This is a dense cake so be patient with baking. The time will vary between ovens.
Cool cakes before frosting.
For the peppermint frosting, blend cream cheese and butter. Add sugar a cup at a time. You may end up needing more sugar for thicker frosting. Add peppermint extract to taste. Beat or stir until fluffy. Frost sides of cake and between layers.
From cakes to pies. Mrs. Smith's recently launched a new line of pies featuring real butter in the crust rather than imitation. The box touts that the change makes the pies have the flakiest crust ever, so I picked up a couple to give them a try. They come in peach, pumpkin, sweet potato, apple, Dutch apple and cherry; I chose to the latter two.
I'll have to say that I was quite surprised with the flavors. The cherry had a nice tart flavor that was exactly like the pies I make from scratch. The Dutch apple was also quite good with a crunchy caramel-laden streusel topping. But what I was after was a really flaky crust and that I did not find. The crust had a good flavor, but it's just not the same that you get from a made-from-scratch crust. In a pinch for the holidays, though? I wouldn't hesitate to serve one of these pies if time didn't permit making one from scratch. They're a good idea to keep on hand. And with all the talk about trans fats lately, there are none in these pies.
Contact Anne Braly at email@example.com.