High Country Baking: Brown butter brings torte to life (column)
High Country Baking
High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
Easy to make, pleasing to eat and versatile — those are the notes I scribbled on this recipe the first time I made it. With a rich brown-butter flavor, hint of butterscotch and a moist, chewy texture, this simple, one-layer cake appeals to a wide audience. It’s a nice addition to almost any meal from a picnic to a dinner party.
The optional glaze fancies it up, adding a bit of sophistication and a second dose of brown sugar. The torte is just as good if you omit it and serve warmed slices topped with a scoop of ice cream, drizzles of chocolate and/or caramel sauce and a generous sprinkle of toffee bits or chopped toasted pecans.
Be sure to lightly spoon the flour into its measuring cup (don’t compress it at all or you’ll get too much, making the torte dry) before sweeping the blade of a knife across the cup’s top to level it. Use brown sugar that is soft and completely free of lumps, don’t overmix the batter, and remove the torte from the oven as soon as it’s done.
Brown Butter Torte
Make in an 8-inch shiny metal round cake pan
Adjusted for altitudes of 7,900 feet and above
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup (3 ounces) plus 1 tablespoon whole-wheat flour, spoon and level
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour, spoon and level
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup packed fresh, lump-free dark brown sugar
¼ cup canola oil
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
3 ½ tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center. Grease the pan with a vegetable oil-flour baking spray, line the bottom with a circle of parchment or waxed paper, and grease the paper liner. Set aside.
2. Cut the butter into 5 pieces, bring them to a simmer/slow boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Continue to cook the melted butter, swirling the pan, until the color changes from yellow to light brown, 2-4 minutes (watch closely; this can happen quickly). Transfer the browned butter to a mixing bowl and cool it for about 15 minutes. While it cools, whisk both flours, the baking powder and salt in a 2-cup measure or small bowl to blend well. Set aside.
3. To the cooled butter, add the brown sugar, oil, vanilla and eggs and whisk/stir until fully combined. Gently stir in the flour mixture, stopping as soon as the dry ingredients are incorporated and evenly distributed.
4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth and level it. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Remove to a rack and cool completely. Invert the pan onto a plate or cardboard cake circle and gently remove the paper liner. It can now be glazed, served or stored in the fridge, wrapped airtight, for up to three days. Serve slices at room temperature or warm. After the first day, warm the slices to restore the torte’s moist texture.
5. To make the optional glaze, combine the butter, brown sugar, heavy cream and corn syrup in a saucepan over low heat. Stir constantly while the butter melts, the sugar dissolves completely and the mixture simmers/low boils for a minute or two. Watch it carefully, it will bubble up. Remove it from the heat, stir in the vanilla and cool until it’s warm. Whisk in ½ cup of sugar and the salt, then add more sugar, a little at a time, whisking vigorously until smooth and thick, but still pourable. Pour over the top and sides of the cooled torte, spreading it as needed, decorate with pecans, and let the glaze set.
The unglazed torte recipe is a variation of one published in Cooking Light Magazine.
Vera Dawson teaches high-altitude baking classes and is the author of two high-altitude cookbooks, Cookies in the Clouds and Baking Above It All (available at The Bookworm in Edwards and Next Page Bookstore in Frisco). Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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