I’m sure you’ve noticed Valentine’s Day is upon us. It seems we just took down the lights, packed away the tree, the stockings and whatnot, and it’s already time to think pink and red! Santa with his reindeer crew departed back to the North Pole and all of a sudden love is in the air and there will be a two week buildup of expectations in anticipation of the most romantic day of the year. We ladies dream of nice dinner by the candlelight, jewelry, flowers, and chocolate. The guys? I’m sure most of them haven’t even registered yet that the world became shrouded in pink haze, much less to infer what it means and what their women might be thinking about. And then on the 14th they’ll be like, “Drat! Is it Valentine’s Day already?!”, and on their way home from work they’ll be hastily stopping at the grocery store and buying limp bouquets and broken chocolates.
Those darn expectations versus the reality 🙂
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t care for Valentine’s Day much. To me it’s just too sweet, too artificial, too fake of a holiday. I refuse to get dragged into the hype, or measure the quality of a relationship by the actions of one day. Sure, Valentine’s Day is nice in theory; I mean, who wouldn’t want to feel special, loved, and appreciated? But way too often our mutual expectations clash and what was supposed to be a special evening only ends up with disappointment. Couldn’t he put in a little bit of effort for once? Couldn’t she just appreciate all that I do for her? Sounds familiar? The Hallmark industry would want us to believe Valentine’s Day is a huge deal – a once a year opportunity to show our partners how much they truly mean to us. But it’s just a huge pink bubble, really. In fact it’s just one single day in February. One day out of the whole year. And to be honest, I’d much rather feel my man’s love in gazillion small things throughout the year than see him trying to “prove” his love by something big on Valentine’s day. I don’t care for too many roses, too many kisses, and too many hearts.
I just want one. And I want it every day.
So even though people might call it Valentine’s Day, to me it’ll be just another Sunday. And in our home, Sundays are made for baking. I already know how I’m going to spend this years’ Valentine’s. With my guy, in the kitchen, doing what we both love: combining food and photography. And because there are many ways to show love to someone, in these three weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day all my baking will be gluten-free.
The first one of the Valentine-themed creations is punch cake, made per Mr. Photographer’s request. Punch cake is another cake we grew up with, readily sold in Slovak coffee shops. Even though it is Hungarian in origin, you’ll find it not only in Budapest, but also in Vienna, Prague, and Bratislava. It’s basically a layered vanilla cake with a punch soaked color contrasting middle layer. Punch – fruity liquid made of rum, lemon, orange, fruit syrup, water, and tea – is what gives the cake its name, and it’s also what makes it very moist. The process is a little time-consuming, mostly because you need to let the cake sit overnight to soak up all the punch goodness. You can make the punch as little or as much boozy as you like – just sub part of the water with alcohol if you wish. Thanks to the orange/lemon juice and zest the cake has a pronounced citrusy flavor, and the pink hue added to the glaze makes it very love-fest appropriate!
Punch Cake (Punčové rezy)
Each of the two yellow cake layers:
- 3 eggs, room temperature, separated
- 135 g (5 oz.) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons mild tasting oil (I used grapeseed oil)
- 2 tablespoons hot water
- 180 g (6 oz.) all-purpose flour/ 150 g (5 oz.) gluten-free flour mix; see Note
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Middle punch layer:
- 4 eggs, room temperature, separated
- 150 g (5 oz.) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons mild tasting oil
- 4 tablespoons hot water
- 220 g (7.5 oz.) all-purpose flour/ 200 g (7 oz.) gluten-free flour mix
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- couple drops of red food coloring, see Note
Punch soaking syrup:
- 100 ml (3.3 fl. oz.) water
- 240 g (8.5 oz.) granulated sugar
- 1 bag of strong black tea
- 50 ml (1.5 fl. oz.) seedless raspberry jam (or thick syrup)
- 2 organic lemons, zest and juice
- 2 organic oranges, zest and juice
- 100 ml (3.3 oz.) dark rum
- 250 g (8 oz.) powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons hot water
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon raspberry juice/syrup
+ 400 g (14 oz.) thick apricot jam; additional rum for soaking the vanilla cake layers
- To make the vanilla cake layer: Line the bottom of a 33 x 23 cm (13 x 9 inch) baking pan with parchment paper; butter and flour the sides. Preheat the oven to 350 F (176 C).
- Whisk the egg yolks with the granulated sugar until thick and light yellow in color, about 10 minutes. Gradually add in the oil and the hot water.
- Sift flour and baking powder together; set aside.
- Whisk the egg whites with salt and cream of tartar until firm peaks form.
- Carefully fold the flour and the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Pour the batter into the parchment lined pan and bake the cake for about 10 – 15 minutes, until the top springs back to the touch and the toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Invert the cake out of the pan; do not remove the parchment paper for now. Let the cake cool.
- Prepare the second vanilla cake layer the same way; again, do not remove the parchment paper after you take the cake out of the oven.
- To make the red middle layer: Line the bottom of a 33 x 23 cm (13 x 9 inch) baking pan with parchment paper; butter and flour the sides. Preheat the oven to 350 F (176 C).
- Make the cake the same way as the yellow vanilla cake, adding the red food coloring together with oil/water to the egg yolks. Bake the cake for about 10 – 15 minutes until done, invert it out of the pan and let it cool with the parchment paper on.
- While the cakes are cooling, prepare the soaking syrup: Make a strong tea using one tea bag per 100 ml (3.3 fl. oz.) water.
- Combine the tea with rest of the ingredients except rum, and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup thickens a little, about 2 minutes. Add in the rum and mix thoroughly. Set aside.
- Assembling the cake: Place the red cake layer, still on its parchment paper back into the washed baking pan. Carefully but very generously soak the cake with the punch syrup. Go slowly; you don’t want to overdo it with the syrup all at once. Let the syrup soak in for about 30 minutes before proceeding with the recipe.
- Spread one of the vanilla cake layers (still on parchment) with half of the apricot jam and place it, jam side down, on the red cake layer in the pan. Carefully invert the cakes out of the pan on a big cutting board, and remove the parchment paper that is on top of the red punch-soaked layer.
- Spread the second vanilla cake with the rest of the jam and place it, jam side down, on the red cake layer. Place a baking pan on top of the cake, and chill the cake in the refrigerator for two hours. After two hours, weigh the cake down with some heavier books/bags of flour, and let the cake sit in the refrigerator overnight.
- The next day, make the glaze: Combine the boiling water, lemon juice, and raspberry syrup; add in the powdered sugar and make a smooth and spreadable glaze. (You can vary the proportions of the liquids if you prefer a darker/lighter color.)
- Finishing the cake: Take the cake out of the refrigerator, flip it again so the bottom layer Is now on the top, remove the parchment paper, and pour the glaze over the cake. Give the glaze time to set, cut the cake into portions, and serve.
Since I was making the cake gluten free, the process was somewhat more complicated, and I (once again) encountered more than a few surprises along the way. I used Cup-4-Cup gluten-free baking mix, which is a high quality brand. As you can see, I had to reduce the quantities for the gluten-free cake; the cup-for-cup method just wasn’t working. The batter was still very thick, and it was hard to spread it onto the baking sheet; it kind of just sat there as a huge blob, refusing to move. I had to resort to my reliable method of spreading gluten-free batters, and spread/ push the dough around with a wet spatula (eventually even with my fingers, which I kept dipping into water). Since the dough was so thick, I wasn’t able to spread it as evenly as I would have liked. (I didn’t have this problem with gluten cake.) I also had to bake the gluten-free cakes about 5 min. longer than their gluten-full counterparts.
For the food coloring I used the red from India Tree Nature’s Colors Decorating Set, which is beet based. (I avoid chemical food colorings.) It didn’t give me the color I was after, unfortunately, and I ended up supplementing the color with freshly squeezed raspberry juice. For glaze I didn’t bother with coloring and just used raspberry juice.