March 15, 2011

labor of LOVE: a birthday cake!!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!! LOVE LOVE LOVE YOU! I hope you are busy eating your way through a delicious cake, not just a piece, but the entire cake. If you haven't had any cake yet, that's okay, because I've eaten enough cake for an entire birthday bash. Today was a day of cakes. I was intent on making a Gugelhopf, a traditional Austrian sponge cake, and let me tell you it was not easy. I started four different times. I figured that since my mom was in labor for 30 hours with me (!!!) that I could at least make a perfect cake for her. At first I blamed it on not having a standing mixer (the $950 price tag here in Switzerland is a bit crazy and I figure if I mix by hand then it counts as an arm workout), but then I realized that it was the yeast that wasn't cooperating. After three tries with funky yeast, I found a hidden fourth packet, and voila a cake was made!

Birthdays are the best and although it is always better to be with the ones you love on their birthdays, sending a little love via the blogosphere is okay too! We are going to have to get used to celebrating from afar, unless everyone wants to come visit us on their birthdays!
Two inspiring Gugelhopfs that I spotted in the famous Sprungli. The chocolate coated one seems dangerously delicious, but certainly worth a try the next time around. Mom's not a huge chocolate fanatic (crazy I know) so I figured I'd keep it simple. The final Gugelhopf fresh out of the oven! The recipe said to leave it for a couple hours to cool, but that seemed excessive. I cut it the minute after I flipped it out of the mold. Hot cake is always better than cold cake. It certainly was a beautiful day to celebrate a birthday!
Everything I bake these days has lemon zest in it...I wonder if my body craving lemons for some reason.
Yeast is the key ingredient of this cake. If your yeast isn't fresh or is funky for some reason your dough will not rise and you will end up baking a brick instead of a sponge. This is what happened to me, three times. I made the yeast mixture as per David Liebovitz's recipe that I was following, and all three times the yeast mixture failed to rise and bubble. I eventually decided to just try one of the yeast mixtures, because why not I had already mixed all of the ingredients, and I ended up with the dough in the picture on the left. It resembled cookie dough and not a yeast dough. I knew something was wrong when the dough turned out smooth and not sticky as the recipe called for. I put my shoes on ready to go to the store for more yeast, hoping that was my issue, but before I left I peaked in the cupboard and found one last lonely packet of yeast - hooray! Back to the drawing board, and back to the internet for a different recipe. Even with new yeast I didn't want to risk a fourth failed attempt using the same recipe. Instead of mixing the yeast with the hot milk and flour the new recipe called for mixing the yeast with water until it foamed and then adding that to the flour just before the hot milk. All in all it turned out well and resulted in a satisfyingly sticky dough.
the recipe that resulted in a sponge!
- 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
- 2 tbsp warm water
- 1 cup whole milk
- 7 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
- 6 tbsp sugar
- 3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cup golden raisins (many recipes recommend soaking with a couple tbsps of dark rum and then drain them before mixing in)
- 2 tsp lemon zest
- 1/2 cup sliced, blanched almonds

If you have a standing mixer, by all means use it! The dough is incredibly sticky and hard to mix. I had to use my hands to mix it at the end.

Pour warm water into a bowl, followed by the yeast and stir once or twice. Let the yeast sit until it foams, 5-10 minutes. If the yeast does not foam, then toss it out and find some new yeast!

Heat the milk, butter and sugar in a sauce pan until the mixture is about as hot as a hot tub - 105 degrees. I don't have a thermometer so I just had to guess. The butter and sugar should be well dissolved.

Sift together the flour into a large bowl. Make a little well in the middle and pour the yeast mixture in the well. Mix with the flour. Slowly begin to pour in the milk and butter mixture and continue beating throughout (At this point I was using my hands to mix it it was so sticky and hard to mix with a spoon). Add the eggs one at a time (yes still hand mixing - almost like pulling taffy) and mix until well combined. Follow with the raisins, zest and almonds. Continue to mix until the dough is elastic and very sticky.

Butter your gugelhopf pan or bundt pan and scoop the dough evenly into the mold. Cover the top with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let it sit until the dough has risen to the point of almost filling the pan, roughly 2 hours.

Preheat your oven to 400. Remove the towel and the plastic wrap and place the gugelhopf in the oven for 15 minutes. After the first 15 minutes, loosely cover the top with tin foil and continue to make for another 20. If you are using a dark pan as I did be sure to check the cake after 10-15 minutes because the darker pan will speed up the baking time. Take the cake out and let it cool for a couple minutes before taking it out of the pan. If you want to dust with confectioner sugar then let it cool, if not then eat right away!
the two different doughs - the one on the left in the gugelhopf pan is what you are after and the one on the right, which I baked anyway just to see, turned into a dense doughy brick.
The Swiss seem to embrace "happy birthday" and even sing the American version of the song. I found these candles at the local Migros and couldn't resist buying them. I lost the "A" in Birthday, only to find it later on the kitchen floor in a couple of pieces.
The cake is moist and spongey and definitely delicious. You would recognize the flavor. It reminds me of the simplest of coffee cakes. Hope you enjoyed celebrating my mom's bday with me!


ps - after sampling a couple more pieces late last night I decided the flavor reminds me of a brioche - soft and light and a bit melt-in-your-mouth.


  1. I am OBSESSED with kugelhopf! I cant believe you made it! I will have to give it a try too! Maybe it said to leave it to cool because you usually make a glazing with it? also re: chocolate chip cookies, I think the issue is the sugar not the butter, but I might be wrong. If you can get real brown sugar (not the Mick Jagger kind), I think it should be ok.

  2. Talley, Oh my goodness! I LOVE LOVE LOVE your birthday wish!! Your cake is a masterpiece. I feel as though I could reach through my computer screen with a fork and take a yummy bite of your glorious creation. Next best thing to your being here with me. Thank you! Can't wait to see you next week. Loads of love, xoxoM

  3. That's a splendid looking cake! xo Polly

  4. Hi Talley, wonderful Orchard Cove photographer Amanda directed me to your blog. Your fotos are beautiful and you, like Amanda, are also a born writer!
    Amanda recently helped me with fotos and a book of my now quite elderly golden retriever dog Willow, which sounds bizarre, EXCEPT it was a one-year-old Willow who helped me acclimate, adjust, and eventually love my three+ years in Barcelona. When I read about your search for chocolate chips, it immediately brought back a similar search. Even the food section of the British Marks & Spencer, housed in the El Cortes Ingles department store, was a bust. So, like you, I chopped chocolate bars.
    What my friends and I came to feel regarding our baking there was that it wasn't the oven's or the butter's or the chocolate's fault, or the wonderful fresh eggs', but was, at least in BCN, the fault of the flour.
    So chocolate chips became a food item we would pack and bring back from the States, along with Sleepy Time Tea (the BCN versions of chamomile were good but weak), peanut butter, Ziploc bags, and cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving. There's nothing like trying to reproduce an American Thanksgiving and winding up with lingenberries as the cranberry substitute! Cans of Ocean Spray filled many of our suitcases, and had we been smart we probably could have made a fortune auctioning them off to the highest bidder the week before Thanksgiving!
    It is wonderful you are connecting with the American women’s club there. It is a relief, isn’t it, to speak English with others once in a while? I served a term as head of the Barcelona Women’s Network, and it was a wonderful experience. Another really fast and rewarding way to pick up the local language is to volunteer in the soup kitchen. The people who ran it and those we fed gave to me so much more than I ever gave them in return. It remains the best and most wonderful part of my years in Barcelona, especially when my then college-age son would visit and join me in the soup kitchen. Another good way is to take a class at a local law school or MBA school--throughout Europe they all seem to have beginning language classes for English speakers.
    I’m at @willowbarcelona on twitter, and Amanda can give you my email if you’re curious about any other “American abroad” tips.
    What makes me particularly appreciate your blog is that my Dad worked for Nestle chocolate, and during the years when I was 9 and 10, we lived in a little village outside of Lausanne, Port de Pully. Sadly in all that time, we never got up to Zurich, but I do remember my 10th birthday party was held in the Bern Zoo with all the BEARS! To this day, whenever I think of my late Dad, I think of his love of Gruyere cheese and hard Swiss cured meats!
    With every happy wish for your beautiful wedding!