Saturday, October 20, 2012

Baking The (Almost) Perfect Buttercake

Buttercake. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Some of my earliest childhood memories of baked goods include my mom's Christmas-cookie-baking marathons, pretzels (duh!), and good-ole' Holmesburg buttercake. What I didn't know before moving to Stuttgart was that buttercake, or as it's called here, Butterkuchen, comes from Hamburg, up in northern Germany. I've eaten a fair amount of the stuff in the last seven-or-so months but nothing's really come close to my Holmesburg bakery favorite. Combine that with not getting back to Philadelphia often enough, and you've got a recipe (too punny!) for disaster.

My sister's stepped in to save the day, though, with her own version of our favorite. It's not exactly the same but it does the trick when I'm not back in the "hood". I've used her recipe maybe like ten times in the last few months and enough people have asked so I figured I'd make it available here. Coincidentally (or "ironically" if you're grammatically challenged like Alanis Morissette), the cake's based partly on Philadelphia cream cheese, which doesn't actually have anything to do with Philadelphia...

As the name implies, there's quite a bit of butter in the recipe as well as lots of sugar and a few eggs.

I've taken my sister's recipe and modified it through repeated testing in my high-tech lab (my kitchen). The goal, as with Holmesburg's version, is to have a runny top while the crust is properly cooked. The prepped crust and topping still living separate lives:

The first time I made the recipe, I followed it exactly as my sister had sent it to me but it turned out way over cooked. It still tasted pretty good, for a cookie, but it wasn't what I was shooting for.

I found out that my sister wasn't even following what she had sent me. She just "knows" what to do while she's making them. After learning this, my next attempt resulted in a much better cake. Five minutes less in the oven and about 2/3's of the sugar the recipe called for made it look and taste better...but it was still "too cooked":

I was even closer the next time. For that one, I first cooked the crust without the topping for about 15 minutes, then added the topping, and cooked the whole cake for another 15 minutes. It tasted even better and this time it was a little bit gooey...but, alas, still not right:

It was time to call in the expert, my sister, again, and ask for advice. She told me that she cooks her buttercake like she cooks her brownies. If you've ever had steak in France, you'll have a pretty good idea what that's like. Not wanting to get Salmonella poisoning, I cut the initial cooking time to 13 minutes and the second to 12 minutes. The result was even better but I still wasn't happy.

By the way, not one person complained about the quality of any of the prototypes but I knew I could do better!

Finally, on try #6, I got what I was looking for but using a way-too-complicated method. First, I cook the crust at 300F for 13 minutes, add the liquid topping, and then cook the whole thing again at 350F for another 10 minutes. The result was a base that was cooked, but not too much, and a topping that was slightly crusty but still liquidy on the inside:

So, you want to try it? It's really good. Your family and friends will love you (again)! The recipe is below but you can also download the pdf file from this link. Let me know in the comments below if you try it and what you thought. Enjoy!

Darren's Butterkuchen

4 ounces (115g) butter + small quantity for greasing pan
1 box of plain yellow (or white) cake mix (~517g – less is okay)
3 eggs
8 ounces (230g) cream cheese
½ teaspoon (2.5ml) almond extract
2 ½ cups (325g) confectioners’ (powered) sugar

1. Heat oven to 300f (150c) – you many have to adjust this up/down
2. Butter (grease) a 9”x13” (~229x330mm) cake pan
3. Melt butter. Make sure to not “cook” the butter.
4. Stir melted butter and 1 egg into the boxed cake mix and mix into dough.
5. Press dough evenly into bottom of buttered pan.
6. Bake crust for 13 minutes at 300f (150c) then remove from oven.
7. Optional: Change oven temp. to 350f (175c) after removing crust.
8. While baking crust, mix cream cheese, almond extract, confectioners’ sugar, and the remaining 2 eggs in a large bowl. Beat for 3 minutes with an electric mixer set on medium-high speed.
9. Spread liquid mixture over top of partially-baked crust.
10. Continue to bake for 10 more minutes at 350f (175c) - 13 minutes if 300f (150c). The goal is to have a somewhat runny/liquidy center remain after the cake cools.
11. Allow cake to cool before cutting and serving.
12. Send my sister a note thanking her!

Oh buttercake, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways!

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