The Happiest Rainbow Cakes—Ever

Baking Spree! 
Day Three
There’s something about a rainbow cake that just makes you smile.

For me, every beautiful layer could tell its own unique story (minus the pain of overlooked toothpicks!).

The first rainbow cake I ever tasted was the signature dessert at Beth Barden’s Succotash in Kansas City, MO.

Then I saw one that two British women made for a special birthday.  The cake had so many differently colored layers (and candles) that they had to serve the cake on its side.

Just recently, Better Homes & Gardens featured a rainbow cake as a way to show off a cake stand.

There’s even a video to guide you through the basic process.

When I started experimenting with rainbow cake, I found that making individual, multi-layered rainbow cakes appealed to me.

Also, thinner rainbow cake layers taste best with a cream cheese frosting that is just a little tangy. Both the frosting and the cake come together better.

I found a large nonstick 6-cup muffin pan from R & M International Corp.
at a cake decorating shop.  The muffin cups measure 3-1/2 inches in diameter.

After the little cakes were baked, I cut each cake in half horizontally, then frosted three little layers together in varying combinations.

I call this photo "Sunlight on Rainbow Cakes." Hope they make you smile.

Rainbow Cakes
Cake flour and sour cream in the batter insure that your cake will be moist and tender, yet firm and sturdy—just what you want for a rainbow cake.  If you like, you could stir about ½ teaspoon flavoring in each tinted batter—lemon zest for yellow, orange zest for orange, lime zest for green, and so on.  

Makes 4 (3-1/2-inch) cakes to serve 8

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
2 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (8-ounce) container dairy sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Food coloring
4 cups frosting of your choice tinted robin’s egg blue

1. Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Butter a 13-1/2 by 10-1/2-inch pan that makes 6 (3-1/2-inch diameter cakes and set aside. In a large bowl, with a hand-held electric mixer on low speed, cream the butter and granulated sugar. 

Beat in the eggs, sour cream, and vanilla. 

Then beat in the flour, baking powder, and salt for 1 minute, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Use a spatula to completely fold the dry ingredients into the batter until smooth and thick.  

2. Set out 5 small bowls.  In each small bowl, place ¾ to 1 cup of the batter and tint with food coloring to your desired color. (I used a toothpick inserted in a bottle of Americolor gel coloring, then dipped the toothpick into the batter.) Keep in mind that the color will somewhat darken during baking.

3. Fill each small cake cup with a tinted batter and smooth with a spatula or knife.

4. Bake for 25 to 28 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cool in the pan. 
5.  Invert the cakes onto a wire rack. 

Using a serrated knife, cut each cake in half horizontally. 

6. Using your prepared frosting, frost and stack three layers, securing the take with toothpicks if necessary. Frost the top and sides of each little rainbow cake. Repeat the process until you have four little three-layer cakes.

The Yum-miest Hot Cross Buns—Ever

Baking Spree! 
Day Two
‘Tis the season once again for this traditional springtime treat.
Hot cross buns—yeasty rolls flavored with spice and dried fruit and marked with a cross on top—have been so popular that we still sing about them in a nursery rhyme hundreds of years old.

“One ha-penny, two ha-penny, hot cross buns.”
Today, they’re mainly baked and eaten at Easter.
What’s new about this traditional bread is that it can now be made with a no-knead dough that lets extra liquid take the place of kneading. You can simply mix the dough together, let it rise, then roll out, cut, and form the dough into balls. When the buns have baked, you can paint on the distinctive cross with white icing, using a clean watercolor brush or a squeeze bottle.

No Knead?  No Worries!
The new trend in bread baking is the no-knead method, which is not new but has been revived now that instant or bread machine yeast is readily available. 
Instant yeast has a small granule that does not have to be “proofed” by sprinkling it over water first before mixing into a dough.  With instant or bread machine yeast, you simply stir the dry yeast into the flour.  By adding more liquid to a dough, you also eliminate the need to knead.  The extra liquid activates the gluten in the flour to do the kneading for you. If you like, you can use a utensil known as a Danish dough whisk to mix the dough easily, but you can also mix with a spoon.

A no-knead dough will be spongier-looking (as you can see below), looser to work with, and will not make precise shapes after it has risen. But once you've tried this dough, you'll be hooked on how simple it is to make.

Hot Cross Bun dough made with this no-knead method feels soft—like a baby’s skin—and is a pleasure to form. And the taste?  Yum!

Hot Cross Buns
Makes 14 to 16 hot cross buns
For the Dough:
1 tablespoon instant or bread machine yeast      
2 teaspoons fine kosher salt
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ cup dried currants (or use small raisins or dried cranberries or cherries)
1 cup lukewarm milk, about 100°F
½ cup lukewarm water, about 100°F
1/2 cup granulated sugar   
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted     
1 large egg

For the Egg Wash:
1 large egg, beaten

For the Icing Paint:
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
½ teaspoon  vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons milk

1. Measure. Spoon the flour into a measuring cup, level with a knife or your finger, then dump the flour into a large mixing bowl.
2. Mix. Add the yeast, salt, cinnamon, and currants to the flour. Stir together with a wooden spoon or Danish dough whisk. Combine the warm milk, water, sugar, and melted butter in a 4-cup measuring cup and stir to combine. Using a fork, beat the egg into the milk mixture. Pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture, stir to combine, then beat 40 strokes, scraping the bottom and the sides of the bowl, until the dough forms a lumpy, sticky mass.

3. Rise. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature 72°F  for 2 hours or until the dough has risen about 2 inches under the rim of the bowl and has a sponge-like appearance.
4. Use Right Away or Refrigerate. Use that day or place the bowl, covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days before baking.

 5. Form. To form rolls, transfer the dough to a floured surface and dust very lightly with flour. Flour your hands. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 12 by 8-inch rectangle. If the dough begins to stick to the surface, use the dough scraper to push flour under the dough and scrape it up. Starting with a long end and using your hands, roll the dough into 12 to 14-inch cylinder. Pinch any seams together.  With the dough scraper, slice the cylinder into 1-inch pieces. Roll the pieces into balls.

6. Rest. Line a small cookie sheet with parchment paper. Place the balls, about 1 inch apart, [buns stay moister if they’re touching as they bake] on the prepared sheet.  Cover with a tea towel and let rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

7. Brush with Egg Wash. About 20 minutes before baking, preheat to 350°F. In a small bowl, beat the egg and brush the tops of the rolls with it.
8. Bake. Bake for 30 to 34 minutes or until the rolls have browned. Cool on a wire rack. Paint the rolls when cool.
9. Paint. For the paint, whisk the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and milk together in a bowl until smooth. Using a clean watercolor paint brush, paint a cross on each roll.

The Butter-iest Lemon Bars—Ever

Baking Spree! 
Day One
Hibernation can be good. 
It gives you time to step away from all the frazzle-dazzle and come back refreshed.
After working on a few great projects—like playing around with my new iphone—I have time to blog again.

I’ve missed all of you and I hope you’ve missed Alfresco!

And what better way to get our baking spree kicked off than with these easy, yummy, cookies that have a lot of good things going for them. Sweet, tart, buttery, and tender, these bars can be cut as large or as small as you wish.

Buttery Lemon Bars have a little magic, too. They seem to be able to banish any winter blahs or blahs in general. With a cup of tea or a shot of limoncello, you’re back in business.

Buttery Lemon Bars
With a shortbread cookie crust and a sweet/ tart lemon filling, these bars are addictive.  
Makes 3 dozen  
For the crust:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dusting
For the filling:
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1. Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Line a 9 by 13-inch pan with parchment paper and set aside.
2. For the crust, pulse the flour, salt, butter, and confectioner's sugar in a food processor, just until the dough holds together.  Press the dough onto the bottom and halfway up the sides the prepared pan. Bake the crust for 15 minutes until just set and slightly browned. Remove from the oven and set aside.
3. For the filling, combine the filling ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and beat for 3 minutes with an electric mixer. You want the mixture to be a lighter yellow, thicker than when you started, and with a froth of bubbles. Pour the filling over the hot crust.

4. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes more, or until firm in the middle and lightly browned on top. Cool completely, then dust with additional confectioner's sugar and cut into bars.