Sherry cake will leave you warm and satisﬁed
Vail CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
A sip of sherry … such a lovely indulgence on a cool fall or winter evening. If you agree, you’ll like this sherry-flavored cake, which is fashioned after those that were common in Colonial America, when this fortified wine was as popular as beer is today.
It’s a one-layer cake with a firm crumb and a pleasing interplay between the sherry-soaked raisins, orange zest, brown sugar and pecans. The rich and velvety sauce complements it perfectly … a match made in taste-bud heaven. The sherry is subtle in the cake, definite in the sauce, but, overall, leaves you warm and satisfied, not overwhelmed.
Don’t even consider making this dessert with cooking sherry; only use one that you enjoy drinking. I usually make it with Amontillado Sherry.
Make the cake the day before you plan to serve it, cover it well and let it rest in the refrigerator. The flavors deepen after it sits for a while. Remove it from the fridge, slice it, warm the individual pieces and top with warm sauce just before serving. The sauce can also be made a day ahead and re-warmed.
(Adjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet; make in a 9-inch round cake pan)
1⁄2 cup of golden raisins
1⁄4 cup of good sherry (the kind you drink)
11⁄4 cups plus 2 tablespoons of flour (gently spoon into measuring container and level; don’t pack the flour)
1⁄4 teaspoon plus 1⁄8 teaspoon of baking soda
1⁄4 teaspoon of salt
6 tablespoons of unsalted butter at room temperature
1⁄4 cup of brown sugar
1⁄2 cup of granulated sugar
11⁄2 large eggs*, at room temperature (Save the other half egg to use in the sauce)
1 teaspoon of vanilla
The zest of half an orange
3⁄4 cup of buttermilk
1⁄4 cup of chopped pecans
Confectioners’ sugar (optional)
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter (half of a stick)
1⁄2 cup of granulated sugar
3 tablespoons of Sherry (the good stuff; NOT cooking sherry)
1⁄8 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
A pinch of salt
1⁄2 large egg (To get half an egg, crack 1 egg into a small bowl or measuring cup and whisk to combine the white and the yolk. Measure out about 11⁄2 tablespoons of the egg mixture (most large eggs contain about three tablespoons of liquid). This equals half an egg.)
Combine the golden raisins and the sherry in a small bowl and soak overnight or warm in the microwave until the raisins absorb some of the sherry and are soft but not cooked. If you microwaved them, set them aside to cool. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Grease and flour the pan very well. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl and whisk until airy and thoroughly combined.
Cut the room-temperature butter into several pieces and combine them with the brown and granulated sugars in a mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat them until creamy, fluffy, and lightened in color. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Take your time with this step; it assures a tender cake with a nice crumb. Add the egg and beat well. Add the half egg and repeat. Beat in the vanilla and the orange zest.
Add the flour mixture, alternating it with the buttermilk (three additions of flour, two of buttermilk), beating well after each addition and beating an additional minute after the last addition. Stir in the chopped pecans, the raisins, and the sherry. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the cake springs back when touched lightly in the center and the sides start to pull away from the pan. This takes about 35 to 41 minutes in my oven. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool for about 10 to 15 minutes on a rack. Run a knife around the edges of the cake, invert the pan onto the rack, and gently remove the pan. Let the cake cool completely.
Make the sherry sauce: Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Using a wooden spoon or heatproof rubber spatula, stir in the sugar, sherry, nutmeg and salt. Cook, stirring, until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is blended.
Remove the pan from the heat. Whisk the half-egg until it is frothy and light, and then vigorously whisk it into the butter-sherry mixture. Return the pan to the heat, turn it up to medium, and bring to it a simmer, stirring gently, Simmer the sauce for several minutes, until it is thickened. You can serve it immediately or cool it, refrigerate it covered for up to two days, and gently reheat it when you are ready to use it. If it separates when you reheat it, take it off the heat and whisk in a little warm water.
Sprinkle the top of the cake with confectioners’ sugar (if you plan to use it), warm the pieces you’ll be serving, and drizzle the warm sauce over them just before serving.
The cake is inspired by one in “The Silver Palate.” The sauce is a variation of one in “The Joy of Cooking.”
Vera Dawson lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact Dawson with your comments about this column and/or your cooking questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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