Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Red, White, and Blue "Poke" Cake

My mother, when she worked, usually had jobs that had something to do with food. Mostly as a waitress, back in the days before we called them waitresses instead of servers.

One of her last jobs was as a cook in an elderly facility. That's where she learned how to make "Poke Cake."

The funny thing is that she never, ever, ever baked cakes when I was a kid. But when she discovered this poke cake, you'd think they gave her the recipe to everlasting life. She was absolutely giddy about it.

Recently, I've been thinking about making a poke cake, but without the boxed cake mix. I thought a Fourth of July themed cake would be nice, with red and blue stripes. And then I thought it would be great if I could make those stripes with something other than Jello. Like fruit jelly.

No problem with red. Cherry, strawberry or red raspberry would work just fine. But what about blue? Not so much. Everything I thought of was more purple than blue. And that's not what I wanted. I mean, I love the color purple, but my goal was red and blue stripes.

So I finally gave in and went to the store for some blue Jello. And while I was there my willpower crumbled entirely and I picked up a package of black cherry jello as well. I mean, I already crossed that line with the blue Jello. Might as well go with nostalgia all the way.

I made the cake from scratch, though. And then it all went sideways, because I have the patience of a gnat. Oh, the cake tasted just fine. But my dramatic blue and red stripes ended up looking more like tie-dye. Which is fine with me, really. It speaks to my inner hippie.

See, I could have lied to you and told you it was my intention all along to have tie-dyed cake. But I'm honest.  I was trying for stripes, but got splorts and splotches instead.

Tie-Dye Poke Cake
Based on Elegant White Cake in The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion

1 stick (1/4 pound) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
5 large egg whites
2 3/4 cups (11 ounces) cake flour
1 cup milk
1 small box blue Jello (mine was a berry flavor)
1 small box red Jello (I used black cherry)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9x13 inch baking pan with baking spray.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, shortening, baking powder, sugar, and salt until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Seriously fluffy. You can also do this in a bowl with a hand mixer. Whatever you've got.

Add the vanilla extract. Add the egg whites in 4-5 additions, beating well after each addition (the book suggests adding them one egg at a time, but I had separated all of them and the whites were all in one bowl).

Mix about 1/3 of the flour into the mixture, followed by half of the milk, then another third of the flour, then the remaining milk, and finally the remaining flour, mixing well (but not beating like crazy) after each addition and scraping the bowl as needed. I have a scraper-style paddle for the mixer, so it doesn't require much scraping.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees until the cake springs back when gently touched in the center, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.

Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool, in the pan, on a rack, for at least 20 minutes.

When you're ready to get artsy, use a skewer or fork, or a similar implement to poke holes in the top of the cake. Lots of holes. But leave space between them, too. you want to see white cake with blue designs, not a blue cake with a little white.

Mix the first package of Jello with 1 cup of boiling water. Pour this mixture over the top of the cake.

I think this would have worked a tad better if I had let the Jello cool just a little bit. Or, heck, if the cake was cool, maybe. I'll probably experiment later with other techniques.

Let the cake cool for a while. I gave it a whopping 15 minutes or so. Then poke more holes in the cake, between the others. Mix the second package of Jello with 1 cup of boiling water. Pour over the top of the cake, as you did before.

Refrigerate the cake until it is fully chilled. Cut in squares and serve right out of the pan. If you like, you can top it with a little whipped cream to hide all those holes you poked in the top of it.

Next time I do a tie-dye cake, I might use red, yellow, and blue jello, but only 1/2 of each package.