Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The UT Recipes: Strawberry Graham Cracker Cake

Back in March I shared my discovery of an old recipe book at an Austin vintage store. In the first post, I made Pistachio Swirl cake (huge hit) and Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies (good but maybe not something I make again right away). I asked for votes as to which recipe I would make next. Since there was no clear winner, I've decided to make all of the other recipes over the course of the next few months. April's recipe: Strawberry Graham Cracker Cake.

This is one of those recipes I assumed would be easy to make. When I first glanced at the recipe, it looked like everything was in order and it would be quick and simple to knock this one out. Upon closer inspection, several "challenges" immediately presented themselves:
  1. In the cake recipe, there is an ingredient missing. It says (in very neat handwriting) "1 teaspoon" but then it's blank. 
  2. The frosting recipe is missing measurements.
  3. There are no strawberries anywhere but in the title of the recipe. They're not listed as ingredients nor are they listed in the instructions of the either the cake or frosting recipe.
Since I bake cakes often enough, I'm pretty sure that I know the solutions to these challenges: the mystery ingredient is probably vanilla, the measurements are cups, and the strawberries are meant to be decorative. Since I like baking for its preciseness, I decided to do some research to confirm my solutions before starting the cake. Graham cracker cakes were a popular dessert in the late 1960s/early 1970s so I was able to find references to recipes that might have inspired the one in the UT Book. Several graham cracker cake recipes (after shifting through hundreds of no-bake and pie recipes) supported my thought that the missing cake ingredient was either vanilla. This recipe is closest to the UT Book recipe so I've decided vanilla is my mystery ingredient. My mother also shared my grandmother's recipe with me; it's her favorite cake but I don't believe I've ever tried it before. It's different from the UT Book recipe since there's flour and shortening in it. It does include vanilla so even though it's not similar it does support my vanilla theory. Now that I have it, I plan to try it at some point in the future too.

As for the frosting, I found lots of whipped cream frosting recipes including one from my own recipe book and they're all pretty similar; ultimately it depends on how "sturdy" you want your frosting. Whipped cream frosting is fairly light and airy (like whipped cream) but it melts quickly and has to be refrigerated until the point of serving. I decided to combine the UT Book recipe with a recipe I found online for a sturdier frosting since I took the cake into work. I like cream cheese based frostings; they're easier to work with and add a layer of flavor that I find complimentary to most cakes.

Final challenge: the strawberries. In looking through recipes for no-bake and pies that use graham crackers, it's pretty clear that the strawberries are for decoration or layering. I decided to incorporate the strawberries into the frosting and use sliced strawberries for the decoration. I'm not a huge improviser when it comes to baking (that's why I like it so much) but I think my choices with the strawberries were the correct ones to make.

Recipe-wise, this one is pretty easy. The "hardest" part of it was crushing the graham crackers; I could have used my food processor to complete this task but crushing them with a meat tenderizer was way more satisfying. Rage baking is a thing after all. I opted to make the cake into two 8 inch pans versus the 4 the UT recipes called four. I don't think such thin cakes would have held up. This created a denser cake but was more in line with the "modern" interpretations of the recipe I found online. The frosting was a breeze to make and delicious. It would be great over angel food cake or something equally as light. I don't know that the vanilla made a difference. There was a hint of vanilla flavor in the finished product but it's difficult to say if that was the extract or the vanilla used in the graham crackers themselves.

My co-workers had pretty consistent reactions to the cake: it's not bad but it's not something they'd think to make or request again. One suggested more graham crackers; she didn't feel it was graham-y enough. Several commented on how dense the cake was but also how airy it actually tasted so that's kind of fun. Jordana would like me to make it again but as a s'mores cake - the filling would be marshmallow fluff and the icing would be chocolate or fudge. This is definitely a possibility. A few people were not pleased with the inclusion of cream cheese in the frosting BUT admitted they really couldn't tell once they tried it. The strawberries were a hit both in the frosting and as decoration. We're all still trying to figure out why the name of the recipe included strawberries but there were zero strawberries in the actual recipe. Somethings will remain a mystery with these recipes.

Overall score for this recipe: B+

I'd make it again but not in the current format and probably only if someone requested it. I'm more inclined to try my grandmother's recipe than return to this one. However, if you want to get out some aggression beat up some graham crackers with a meat tenderizer. You'll feel better when you're done.

May's UT Recipe post will feature a pretty controversial ingredient: tomato soup. In a cake. I have no idea how this one will go but I can't wait to find out. Coming to the Island in mid-May!

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