I haven’t had a real “snow day” since living in NC; back then, the schools would close with the mere mention of snow, or ice, or even “extreme” cold suggesting the remote possibility of either of the above. My first winter in Chicago was a real kicker – I didn’t have an exceptionally warm coat nor a pair of snow/rain boots, and I truthfully didn’t have a clue what to expect. I was just scurred.
Needless to say, I was given a swift kick in the ass by an early December snow, and to make matters worse, I actually had to go to class, which I hadn’t expected. Thanks to my mother-in-law, I was sent an old down coat and after that, things improved with each winter. Now, I have two down coats, rain boots and until last winter, a great pair of snow boots, along with plenty of hats (toboggans, we call them), scarves, and gloves.
On a regular winter day in Chicago, I’d feel well-equipped to bundle up, ready to face the cold, the lake-effect winds, and even a few inches of snow. Seven years in the midwest led me to believe that I’d just about seen, and walked through, it all – until this week. By mid-afternoon on Tuesday, the howling wind began to wrap itself tightly around blankets of fresh snow, blowing violently and constantly causing me to think of all those cartoon movies with blizzards – the ones that seemed so fake, so totally unrealistic.
Almost 24 hours later, a helpless Chicago lay beneath almost 21 inches of snow, victim to what the guy in the airport Monday called “the storm of the century”. Until Wednesday, I would have bet money against thundersnow being a real word, and would have laughed at the thought of walking down the middle of North Avenue at noon, or wandering over to Lake Michigan and thinking the whole damn thing was gone – only to realize that it was covered in snow, making it difficult to determine where the sidewalk ended and the lake began.
It was pretty freakin’ awesome, actually. Of course, if we weren’t rollin’ out of here in a couple of months, maybe I’d feel differently, but something about witnessing the 3rd greatest 24-hour snowfall in Chicago’s history was exciting. It was fun to step into a mound of snow and watch my knees disappear; it was entertaining watching a dog smaller than my cat frollick through it, yipping all the while.
It didn’t hurt that work was canceled, the city practically shutting down, resembling a ghost town or a scene from one of those movies when only 10 people are left in the world, cars broken down and left in the streets. And while we ventured outdoors for a while and watched a couple of movies afterwards, it also would have been a good day for baking that cake I had planned to make this week for my student, only I kept putting it off for fear that work would be canceled yet another day, or two or three, and my cake would have gone to waste (or rather, Chris and I would have eaten it all between the two of us).
I think I’ll make it next week, but meanwhile I figured I may as well share this recipe for one I made sometime around the holidays for one of our Brook/Katherine dinner parties. Imagine a light, fluffy cake covered in caramel, and that’s what this cake is all about. I’d guess it’d be even more perfect with ice cream scooped on top, but if you don’t have it, the cake does just fine on its own, I promise.
And if your caramel icing turns out like mine did, runny, I wouldn’t worry too much about that either – it’s easily swooped up with your index finger.
from Food & Wine, September 2010; makes 1 cake
time commitment: 4 hours; 45 minutes active time
1 c whole milk
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 1/4 t pure vanilla extract
3 c cake flour
1 1/2 c sugar
4 t baking powder
3/4 t salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, softened
3/4 c heavy cream
3 c sugar
3 T light corn syrup
1 1/2 c whole milk
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 t pure vanilla extract
1/2 c heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter three 8-inch cake pans; line the bottoms with parchment paper. Butter the parchment and flour the pans, tapping out the excess.
In a bowl, mix 1/4 cup of the milk with the egg whites and vanilla extract. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle, mix the flour with the sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and the remaining 3/4 cup of milk. Beat at low speed until blended, then beat at medium speed until smooth, 1 minute. Beat in the egg white mixture in 3 batches.
In another bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the cream until soft peaks form. Stir one-third of the whipped cream into the batter, then fold in the rest. Divide the batter between the pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Let the cakes cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Unmold the cakes and peel off the parchment. Invert the cakes and let cool completely.
In a saucepan, stir 2 1/2 cups of the sugar with the corn syrup and milk. Cook over moderate heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Keep warm.
Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in a deep, heavy saucepan. Cook the sugar over moderate heat, swirling occasionally, until an amber caramel forms. Carefully pour the warm milk mixture over the caramel. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until the caramel dissolves. Stop stirring and cook until the caramel registers 235° on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat. Stir in the butter, vanilla and 1/4 cup of the heavy cream. Strain the caramel into the bowl of a standing mixer. Let cool for 15 minutes.
Beat the caramel at medium speed, gradually adding the remaining 1/4 cup of cream, until creamy, about 15 minutes.
Set 1 cake layer on a plate. Pour enough icing over the layer to cover the top. Top with a second cake layer and cover it with icing. Add the final cake layer and pour the rest of the icing over the top of the cake, letting it run down the sides. Working quickly, use an offset spatula to spread the icing gently around the cake. Let the cake stand for 2 hours to set the icing before serving.