In Good Taste – October 2020

By Vera Stewart  |  Photos by Brent Cline and Peter Frank Edwards

Vera’s Best

How do you become the BEST? For many of us, it takes years, perseverance, dedication and hard work. Does luck come into play? My take on luck is that sometimes you have to be in the right place at the right time. 


 

Carrot Cake (image above)

A call from the soon to be launched Cooking Channel® in the summer of 2011 asked if I would consider myself an expert on Carrot Cake.  The answer of course was yes (don’t know that I really was an expert) but it landed me a chance to send a demo reel and be eligible for a new show called Top That Cake.  When taping day came and I was standing in front of a crowd of 100 people, Bobby Flay entered the room.  I knew immediately that I was on The Food Network® and Throwdown with Bobby Flay.  “Give it your best” I kept telling myself to hold down the nerves. It worked: I BEAT BOBBY FLAY.

Ingredients:
• 3⁄4 cup Wesson® vegetable oil
• 2 cups granulated sugar
• 3 large eggs, at room  temperature
• 2 cups cake flour
• 2 teaspoons baking soda
• 1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt
• 1 tablespoon cinnamon
• ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 3⁄4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 2 cups hand-shredded carrots
• 8 ounces crushed pineapple in juice, drained
• 1 1⁄2 cups pecans, chopped
• 1 cup sweetened coconut flakes 

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 325° F. Grease and flour three 9-inch pans lined with parchment paper.
2. Combine the oil and sugar in a mixing bowl. Mix well by hand.
3. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until well blended.
4. Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and mix with a wire whisk.
5. Combine the buttermilk and vanilla in a liquid measuring cup.
6. Alternately add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.
7. Scrape the sides of the bowl and continue to mix.
8. Slowly add the carrots, drained pineapple, pecans, and coconut.
9. Divide the batter evenly between the three prepared pans. Tap the pans on the counter to ensure there are no air bubbles.
10. Bake for 30 minutes. Test doneness by touching a cake top. If it springs back, it is done. If the indentation stays, it needs 2 to 3 minutes longer.
11. Cool the cakes for at least 10 minutes on a cooling rack before removing from the pans.
12. Prepare the cream cheese icing and ice the cooled layers.

Icing:
• 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 16 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
• 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
• 2 pounds confectioners’ sugar

1. Cream the butter and the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer for 3 minutes. at the end of the 3 minutes, scrape the bowl extremely well.
2. Add the vanilla extract and beat for 1 to 2 minutes.
3. Slowly add the confectioners’ sugar, beating on low to ensure the sugar does not fly out of the mixing bowl.
4. After each addition of confectioners’ sugar, scrape the bowl extremely well.
5. Once all the confectioners’ sugar is incorporated, beat on low speed for 3 minutes.
6. Spread icing between the cake layers and then on the top and sides of the stacked layers.


 

 

 

Caramel Layer Cake

Before you could “Google”, an interior design firm in NY was doing a big renovation project for Oscar de la Renta in his Park Avenue address.  They overheard him say his favorite dessert was a Caramel Layer cake.  Someone in the firm had received mine as a gift, so they placed an order to be shipped to him. I will never forget examining that cake over every inch and making sure it was packaged perfectly. What happened? He loved it and ordered 50 cakes to send to his Valentine’s Day list. He did that for several years and even wrote me a thank you note.

Ingredients:
• 1 1⁄3 cups unsalted butter, softened
• 2 2⁄3 cups granulated sugar
• 5 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
• 4 cups cake flour
• 4 teaspoons baking powder
• 3⁄4 teaspoon salt
• 2 cups whole milk, at room temperature
• 1 1⁄3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Icing:
• 1 cup unsalted butter
• 1 pound Dixie Crystals® dark brown sugar
• 1⁄2 cup whole milk
• 3 1⁄2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400° F. Grease and flour three 9-inch pans lined with parchment paper.
2. Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed for 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy.
3. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.
4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
5. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl again.
6. Combine the cake flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and mix with a wire whisk.
7. Combine the milk and vanilla extract in a liquid measuring cup.
8. With the mixer on low, alternately add the flour mixture and the milk mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, beating until well blended.
9. Beat the batter for 7 minutes on medium speed.
10. Divide the batter evenly between the three prepared pans. Tap the pans on the counter to ensure there are no air bubbles.
11. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes. Test doneness by touching a cake top. If it springs back, it is done. If the indentations stays, it needs 2 to 3 minutes longer.
12. Cool the cakes for at least 10 minutes on a cooling rack before removing from the pans.

Icing:
1. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
2. Add the brown sugar and stir using a wire whisk until the butter is absorbed into the sugar. You will know the butter is absorbed because there will not be butter pieces floating on the top. Allow the mixture to bubble for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. After 2 minutes, add the milk very carefully to the mixture to avoid splattering. Keep stirring and return the mixture to a full, rolling boil. Remove the mixture from the heat.
4. Add the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer.
5. With the mixer on low speed and using the whisk attachment, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar (1 cup at a time), mixing well after each addition of sugar. Mix until smooth and glossy; the icing should pour easily from the bowl.
6. While the icing is still warm, frost the cooled cake layers: Spread icing between the cake layers and then on the top and sides of the stacked layers. The icing will set up like candy as it cools.
7. If the mixture hardens while frosting the cake, warm the icing in the microwave in 10-second intervals until the smooth, velvety texture has returned.

 


 

In 1997, John Rosselli & Associates was redecorating the Park Avenue address of Oscar de la Renta. Someone overheard him say his favorite dessert was Caramel Layer Cake. John Rosselli’s team knew just what to do and placed the order with VeryVera. To our surprise, a few days later we received a large order from Oscar sending Caramel Layer Cakes to his Valentine’s Day list. He endorsed our cake as his favorite thing in InStyle Magazine in 2006.

 


 

 

 

Strawberry Layer Cake
Making the O List is the best example I have of not giving up! I sent Oprah cakes for 10 years, twice a year just hoping for some sort of recommendation…maybe in her gift guide. When we got the call that we would be featured in their May issue in 2009, it was worth the wait as Oprah shared the cover with Michelle Obama, that magazine sold more copies than any magazine ever. We were at the TOP of the O List in that issue.

Ingredients:
• floured Baking Spray
• 1 package frozen sliced strawberries with sugar added, thawed
• 4 cups Betty Crocker® white cake mix (this will require 2 boxes of cake mix to be purchased)
• 3 ounces strawberry Jell-O® mix
• 4 large eggs, at room temperature
• 1⁄2 cup Vegetable oil
• 1⁄2 cup whole milk, at room temperature
• 1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour

Icing:
• 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 16 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
• 1⁄2 teaspoon strawberry extract
• 2 pounds confectioners’ sugar
• 6 drops red food coloring

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 325° F. Grease and flour three 9-inch pans lined with parchment paper.
2. Place the thawed strawberries in a food processor and pulse to puree (measure 1/2 cup).
3. Combine the cake mix and the Jell-O mix by hand.
4. Add the strawberry puree, eggs, and oil and mix until well blended.
5. Add the milk to the Jell-O mixture and beat vigorously for 2 minutes.
6. Add the flour and mix, just until the batter is smooth.
7. Divide the batter evenly between the three prepared pans. Tap the pans on the counter to ensure there are no air bubbles.
8. Bake for 28 to 30 minutes. Test doneness by touching a cake top. If it springs back, it is done. If the indentation stays, it needs 2 to 3 minutes longer. If needed, use a wooden skewer.
9. Cool the cakes for at least 10 minutes on a cooling rack before removing from the pans.

Icing:
1. Cream the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer for 3 minutes. At the end of the 3 minutes, scrape the bowl extremely well.
2. Add the strawberry extract and beat for 1 to 2 minutes.
3. Slowly add the confectioners’ sugar, beating on low to ensure the sugar does not fly out of the mixing bowl.
4. After each addition of confectioners’ sugar, scrape the bottom of the bowl extremely well.
5. Once all the confectioners’ sugar is incorporated, add red food coloring and beat on the low for 3 minutes.
6. Spread icing between the cake layers and then on the top and sides of the stacked layers.

 


 Costco: 

Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a product in Costco?  First of all, you have to have a broker, you have to do a number of “road shows” and give samples of your products and meet a certain quota.  For VeryVera, the process started with a bogus call from a man posing as a buyer asking for samples.  I investigated and realized he was not legit and wrote a nice letter to the buyer for the Southeast Division of Costco and got a call.  “Thank you so much Vera for alerting us to this, but while I have you on the phone, what is it that you do?”  I sent the samples, did the road shows and managed to get a 10,000 unit purchase order for 3 of our products to be distributed to 27 Southeast Costco stores.

Advice: Come to work expecting the best to happen with your appearance, your attitude, and your quality of work. When it does happen that day, you will be ready. Treat each customer like they are Oprah, Bobby Flay, Oscar de la Renta, or Costco. Show your best side every day and be passionate….it’s contagious.

 

Appears in the October 2020 issue of Augusta Magazine.

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