My friend Angie celebrated her birthday recently and I offered to make something for her party. Her menu included lots of Thai food and so I was thinking fresh spring rolls or something like that. Instead, she asked me to make her cake.
Ordinarily, that wouldn't be a problem. I like to bake. And I really like to bake cakes. But she usually bakes her own birthday cakes and she's known for choosing really complicated (I would call them tiresome) recipes that take a week to make, what with all the steps and the candying of grapefruit and such. That is not my style of baking or cooking. At all. I am all about the simple. I find that lengthy and tiresome recipes rarely yield something that tastes any better than something you just toss together.
And so it was with trepidation that I accepted her request, on the condition that she not choose anything TOO tiresome. I am not an unconditional friend. I have expectations. It was like that time my brother's fiancée Mariah -- now my sister-in-law -- asked me if I wanted to be a bridesmaid in their wedding. I told her maybe. It would depend on the dress. She chose well and I was a member of the wedding party.
Angie selected a recipe from this one cookbook, Vintage Cakes, that she and Mariah and I are all currently OBSESSED with. It's a collection of time-tested vintage recipes, updated for the modern kitchen and baker. I saw it first in the book section of the Anthropologie's website, one of my favorite haunts for reading recommendations. I like pretty much everything they offer, especially the cookbooks. I can't afford to buy all of them though, so every now and then I'll sit down and cross-reference what Anthropologie recommends with what my local libraries have on their shelves and I'll 'order' myself up a bunch of books. The University of Alaska in Anchorage has a good culinary program and they have all the cool cookbooks in the university library. It's a delight and I love them for it.
I enjoy flipping through all the latest and most popular cookbooks. I'll sample a few recipes from each book. Sometimes I'll borrow a book multiple times because I liked it so much. But I rarely make the leap and buy a copy of my own. I'm cheap that way. Vintage Cakes was different. I read the first few pages, flipped through the first few recipes, admired the photos of the first few lovely-looking cakes, set the book down, and ordered three copies from Amazon. One for me, one for Angie, and one for Mariah. It's kind of risky buying a cookbook for someone else but I needn't have worried. The three of us have been making one cake after another after another...
For her birthday, Angie selected the Butterscotch roll-up cake pictured above. At first glance, I was horrified and thought to myself: this is her idea of easy? Pshaw. But I plastered a smile on my face, nodded in agreement, and soldiered on. It was a pretty nerve-wracking cake to bake, what with the making of butterscotch and the whipping of egg whites into stiff peaks. I kept wanting to cut corners and disregard bits and pieces of the recipe -- my usual M.O. in the kitchen -- but I kept reminding myself to play this one by the book.
The batter is really fluffy and light and you spread it in a cake roll pan so that it comes out nice and flat and an inch thick or so, perfect for rolling. But while it was baking in the oven, mine was doing things that gave me fits. Rising in places, not rising in other, so that the surface of it had big... I can only call them: cake batter goiters. It was the first time I've ever hoped one of my cakes would fall when I took it out of the oven.
I needn't have worried though. The cake did indeed fall into place so that it was perfectly flat and it rolled like a dream. The butterscotch turned out amazing, even though the butter and brown sugar were like molten lava in the pot and they spat molten lava bits at me when I stirred in the heavy cream. Once it was done, I wanted to eat it by the spoonful. It calls for a tablespoon or two of whiskey. At the liquor store, I surveyed the shooter bottles of whiskey on offer and I settled on Fireball cinnamon whiskey. Heh. I was worried it would be too sweet but I added a little. Sipped a little. Then added a little more to the butterscotch. I think it adds a certain something.
Follow the directions to a tee and this cake turns out perfectly. There are lots of steps and you dirty alot of pots and pans in the making of it. But in the end it's all worth it.
I won't post the recipe here -- mostly because I'm too lazy to type it up but also because I don't want to run afoul of copyright laws. It's posted on lots of other blogs though. I'll let those people take the risk of running afoul. Also: I think you should buy your own copy of this cookbook. Then, offer to bake someone a cake for their birthday. Hand them this book. Walk away. You won't hear from them for an hour or so, they'll be so busy deciding on a cake. When you see them again, the book will be flagged with a dozen post-its marking cake possibilities. It really gets a party started.
Angie's party was delightful. Her mom made her these awesome fabric fortune cookies:
I met her chickens:
This one's called Crazy Eyes. For obvious reasons:
He (she?) pecked dried worms out of my hand until I got freaked out and threw the worms remaining in my hand at the chickens and ran away. I'm brave that way.
My bundt pan has really been getting a workout lately after years of sitting solemnly on the top shelf of my pantry. First there was a rum cake. Then I spotted the recipe for this Mexican Chocolate Cake here and had to make it pronto. Kelli is one of my favorite bloggers. I've been following her adventures for years.
You take a chocolate cake mix (I used the one in the blue box - Pillsbury, I think? - the devil's food chocolate one) and add some extra fixin's like sour cream and cayenne. We had ours with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of either caramel or dark chocolate syrup (okay, one of us - ahem! - had both) and it was delicious. Highly recommended if you need a quick and easy cake.
Here are Kelli's instructions:
Take one chocolate cake mix (I like Betty Crocker triple fudge)
Add 3 eggs, 1 cup of sour cream, 1 teaspoon of cayenne, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, 1 teaspoon of cardamom, 1/2 cup of oil and 1/4 cup of water. Mix thoroughly. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes in a well greased bundt pan. Serve with ice cream, or alone. Watch guests inhale.
This cake is slightly spicy, earthy and incredibly moist. It is absolutely delicious and a super simple answer when entertaining.
It's a rum cake that's been a cult favorite at my office for years. This gal named Megan made it for us a couple of times a year, usually around the holidays, but she left our office awhile back for other employment. No more rum cake for us.
I was reminiscing to another co-worker Angie about this cake, how much I'll miss it, and how we should have gotten the recipe from Megan before she left, but it's probably one of those secret recipes that people take to their graves with them...
Angie GOT the recipe from Megan years ago and had it tucked away for safekeeping. SQUUeeeeeee!
I made it recently for the first time for a party that I hosted and posted about awhile back. The party had a tropical theme and I figured rum went along with that theme nicely. Plus, I really had a hankering for this cake.
It's so wrong. And yet so right.
Okay. Here's how it goes... you take a yellow cake mix, some vanilla pudding mix (stay with me here), some eggs, add rum, bake it in a bundt pan. Then take it out of the oven and pour ALOT MORE rum over the top of it and let it sit for a few days. Legend has it that Megan would sometimes let her cakes sit for a week. You could usually smell the rum down the hall before you spotted her cakes.
Here are photos of the process...
Sprinkle chopped pecans in the bottom of the bundt pan then pour the batter over the top. You will be overwhelmed at this point by the scent of a) rum and b) that sweetly faux-vanilla smell of a yellow cake mix. It's heavenly.
Here it is fresh from the oven.
You make a glaze with MORE RUM, butter, and sugar. Then poke holes in the cake with a wooden skewer or whatever else you have in the way of a poker. And pour the glaze over the cake. All of it. Warning: it will seem like too much rum glaze and you will begin to doubt the recipe.
Do not doubt the recipe.
Here it is with all the glaze pooled on top:
Angie was with me while I made this. We were cooking up a storm for the party. We both stopped what we were doing at this point and stood over the cake and giggled over the pool of rum glaze.
The cake soaks it all up like a sponge:
Then you let it sit. The recipe recommends 'a day or so.' Like I said, Megan sometimes let hers sit for a week. I let mine sit overnight and it turned out just dandy.
It's moist and melt-in-your-mouthy and rummy and delicious. I think it would be lovely with some grilled pineapple on the side to make it more summer-y. It fits right in with Christmas-y holiday food. Be sure to send the leftovers home with your guests though because you can't have this sitting around the house without nibbling away at it, fingerful by fingerful.
As I was mixing up the batter, I told Angie this is a recipe that only a Southern woman could come up with. She said, oh, I think it might be a Paula Deen recipe (this conversation took place back before Paula had her 'troubles'). To which I replied: "Exactly."
I searched online for this recipe to see if I could copy and paste it into this post rather than type it out by hand. I found it on allrecipes.com and was amused to see that Megan had upped the amounts of rum in her version. That's my girl.
Golden Rum Cake
Makes one bundt cake
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 (18.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix
1 (3.4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup dark rum (you'll need one and a half cups total - half for the cake batter and half for the glaze)
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup water
1 cup white sugar
3/4 cup dark rum
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease and flour a 10 inch Bundt pan. Sprinkle chopped nuts evenly over the bottom of the pan.
In a large bowl, combine cake mix and pudding mix. Mix in the eggs, 1/2 cup water, oil and 3/4 cup rum. Blend well. Pour batter over chopped nuts in the pan.
Bake in the preheated oven for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Let sit and cool for a bit in the pan while you make the glaze.
To make the glaze: in a saucepan, combine butter, 1/4 cup water and 1 cup sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat and continue to boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in 3/4 cup rum.
Poke holes in cake with a wooden skewer and pour the glaze over the cake while it's still in the pan. When cool, cover the cake with plastic wrap and let it sit for a day or two. Or more. I kept mine in the fridge.
It was my sister-in-law Mariah's birthday recently. Moose's Tooth pizza was eaten after a trip to our favorite nail salon for pedicures... Kate Spade earrings were given as a gift... earlier that week, an offer was made to bake her a cake of her choice... she emailed me back to say that she wanted either THE banana raspberry cake (everyone loves the dickens out of that cake) or a chocolate-y peanut butter cake. It was my choice. Because I made the raspberry cake recently for her baby shower, I decided to branch out and try something new and so I whipped up this recipe.
Peanut butter frosting in the works:
I had peanut butter everywhere and all over everything by time I finished this cake.
A favorite thrift store plate... it's perfect for building cakes on if the cake has to travel because this plate fits just right inside my cake carrier with no room for jostling or sliding around.
Making the chocolate peanut butter ganache for drizzling over the top of the peanut butter frosting:
My finished cake, of course, did not turn out looking as beautiful as the one at the Sugar and Spice blog, but I expected that would be the case. I'm more of a sloppy-cake-baker rather than a seeker of perfection. I can assure you though that it tasted divine. The chocolate cake layers are super-moist and chocolate-y and they made the entire house smell amazing.
A funny thing about decorating the cake: I spotted this photo on pinterest awhile back and pinned it for future reference. Pretty, yeah? It's a Martha Stewart thing. I was really excited to decorate this cake up using that photo as inspiration. I got some tiny balloons and some bamboo skewers, I blew up a balloon and tied it to the end of the skewer, just as instructed by Martha's minions. It seemed like such a simple thing, a slam-dunk, but mine ended up not looking anything like a balloon on a string, as in the photo. The balloon refused to stand up straight like a helium-filled balloon would. It just flopped over and dangled there limply like... well, like a little balloon knotted to the end of a wooden skewer. I tried everything I could think of to get those balloons to stand up straight. I thought about just going with it and submitting my sad cake photos to Nailed It!
Trust me on this: if you're ever feeling a little blue, scroll through that pinterest board and you will be laughing in no time.
I ended up using some pretty striped paper straws instead of skewers and just shoved the balloon knots inside the straw. It ended up looking pretty dorky but I was committed to using those balloons for this cake.
To add insult to injury, as my brother was lighting the candles I stood off to the side thinking, huh, it seems like the heat from the candles will... and then BAM! BAM BAM BAM! all the balloons popped one right after the other really! loudly! and bits of balloon rubber shot all over the room. Damn you, Martha.
If nothing else, we all had a good laugh about it.
There were only four of us gathered around this cake and we soon discovered it was way too much cake for us. We pondered slicing it up and leaving it on neighbors' doorsteps, ringing their doorbells and running away. In the end, we selfishly decided to keep it all to ourselves and we sliced it up, wrapped each slice in wax paper, and put them in the freezer for later.
Can't wait to dig into a piece of frozen cake the next time I'm at my mom's house!
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup neutral vegetable oil, such as canola, soybean or vegetable blend
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tbsp distilled white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the frosting:
2 cups creamy peanut butter
4 cups powdered sugar
1 cup plus 2 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tbsp plus 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
For the chocolate-peanut butter ganache:
8 oz semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 tbsp smooth peanut butter
2 tbsp light corn syrup
1/2 cup half-and-half
To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease (no flour is needed here) three 8-inch round cake pans with butter or baking spray. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper and lightly grease the paper.
In a very large bowl, sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine them well. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water – splashing may occur if you add it too quickly (trust me). Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and be sure the batter is well-mixed and no flour bits remain. Divide among the 3 prepared cake pans – using a kitchen scale really helps to ensure the layers will be equal in size.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes on the same rack, if possible, without the cake pans touching each other, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely.
To make the frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, place the peanut butter and butter. Sift the sugar into the bowl. Add the vanilla extract and salt. Starting on low and gradually increasing (to prevent the sugar from covering your kitchen) the speed to medium-high, beat the ingredients until light and fluffy, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed, about 3-4 minutes. Beat in the heavy whipping cream.
To frost the cake: Place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand, cardboard cake round, or large serving plate. Spread 2/3 cup of the peanut butter frosting evenly over the top. Repeat with the next layer. Place the last layer on top and frost the top and sides of the cake with a scant amount of frosting to make a crumb coat to keep the crumbs from popping through the final frosting. You’ll need just enough to lightly cover the cake – there’s no need to be neat here. Let the cake chill for 15 to 30 minutes until firm, then use the remainder of the frosting to create a smooth final coating. Once the cake is fully frosted, chill the cake again and let it firm up before covering it with the ganache.
To make the ganache: In the in a medium bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, combine the chocolate, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Use while still warm. (I put the ganache in the fridge for a very short time, just to help it firm up a bit before adding it to the cake. I didn't want it to be too "drippy".)
To decorate with the ganache: Gently pour the ganache over the top of the cake, and using an offset spatula, spread it evenly over the top just to the edges so that it runs down the sides of the cake in long drips. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes to allow the ganache to set completely. Take the cake out of the fridge about 1 hour before serving – it will be difficult to cut through the ganache if it is too cold.
Not too long ago, I threw a baby shower for my brother and sister-in-law. They're expecting their first baby in a month or so and we're all very excited. When I asked to be in charge of the shower and my sister-in-law agreed, I promised her that everything would be totally tasteful except for the cake. The cake would have to be totally trashy and tacky. She whole-heartedly agreed with this plan. And so my search for a bad baby cake began.
I think I came through with flying colors:
More on that cake later...
Confession: I've never been to a baby shower before. I know! How is that even possible? Having no practical experience at such things, I was relieved when they said they didn't want it to be too "baby-shower-y" and so it was co-ed, guys and gals and kids all welcome, come one come all, with beer and burgers on the grill. Excellent. That's my kind of party, no matter what the occasion.
Here are a few of my favorite things that I whipped up for it.
There was a yellow and gray color scheme.
There was the requisite baby shower diaper cake:
It turned out pretty good, yes? Well, honestly, it was kind of a pain in the ass to build. I bought a case of newborn diapers and I am now a total pro at rolling them into somewhat uniform bundles. We set about building the cake and were 99% done when we discovered that we were missing the dozen or so additional diapers we needed to complete the layers. So we took it all apart and re-built it differently. And that time we found we had a dozen or so leftover diapers. We were confounded, but definitely not in the mood to go back to the store for more diapers... so don't tell anyone but inside each layer is a bowl taking up space. We wanted lots of layers to make it especially impressive. Then when I wrapped the ribbon around each layer, I discovered I was a mere inch-and-a-half short on ribbon, so back to the store I went to get another spool.
My mom and I made some great big paper dahlias:
They might not look that big in the photo, but they were the size of family-size pizzas. There's a tutorial here on how to make them. Back when I discovered that tutorial, there weren't many paper dahlias in Google images but they've really gotten popular. There are now photos of dahlias galore. I think I'll make a black one like this one for Halloween this year. Maybe with a spooky skull or something pressed into the center of the flower.
The cake looked even more disturbing after we cut into it. A friend suggested I should have made a red velvet cake to add to the horror when you cut into it.
The red velvet would have been awesome but what I used was this recipe, because it's one of my favorite cakes ever and I'll use any excuse to make it, but also because I needed some solid cake layers that would be strong enough to prop up the baby parts without them slumping. The cake layers in that recipe are more like banana bread than cake, so they're nice and supportive. I attached the doll parts to the cake by inserting wooden chopsticks inside the legs and arms then poked the other end of the sticks into the cake.
I got the baby doll from the thrift store and managed to scare the crap out of a woman at the store. She glanced over at me and I had the naked baby casually clamped by its neck under one of my forearms. She thought for a moment that it was a real baby dangling there and she let out a shriek. Awesome. If she only knew my plans for it. One of the party guests posted a photo of the cake on her facebook page and her grandmother informed her that she did not like the cake. So be forewarned: this cake is not for everyone.
When I got home, my dog Sadie took an instant liking to the doll and kept trying to carry it around the house by one of its arms. But that disturbed my husband so he took it away and hid it until I found the time to dismember it and wash the parts in the dishwasher to get rid of all the kid and shopper and chocolate lab germs:
If you look closely at one of the hands though, you'll see that Sadie managed to chew a few fingers off the doll when I wasn't paying attention. At first, I was thinking I'd have to go back to the thrift store and get another doll but then decided to just go with it.
The cake was a big hit at the party and later on Facebook. So much so that my friend Katie, who now lives in Vermont, asked me for suggestions on how to modify it for her baby's first birthday party. I suggested one of those big "1" wax candles and maybe put a glittery party hat on the doll's head. I mailed her the body parts (I wonder if the post office xrayed the box?) and now they live in Vermont with baby Jaxon:
I searched through about a million cake recipes in search of just the right one to take to a spring-has-sprung potluck party. I wanted something light and summery with berries and lemon.
This one was delicious and I can't wait to make it again.
Love the flecks of lemon zest visible in the frosting. I showed up at the party with a cake and went home with an empty plate, so mission accomplished.
I didn't think there was quite enough frosting. Usually I have the opposite problem and end up with way too much. So I went back and made an extra half-recipe of the frosting. Luckily I had enough ingredients to do that. Also, the frosting was a little soupy and I was worried it would slump down the sides but it firmed up nicely once it was spread.
Banana raspberry cake with lemon frosting
1 T all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
3 large eggs
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 cup mashed ripe banana (about 2 bananas)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup (6 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, chilled
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Dash of salt
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°.
To prepare the cake, coat 2 (8-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray; line bottoms with wax paper. Coat wax paper with cooking spray; dust each pan with 1 1/2 teaspoons flour.
Place granulated sugar and 1/4 cup butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 3 minutes). Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
Lightly spoon 1 3/4 cups flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, stirring well with a whisk.
Combine buttermilk, banana, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add the flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately to the sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture (mix after each addition just until blended). Pour batter into prepared pans.
Bake cake at 350° for 25 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pans. Peel off wax paper. Cool layers completely on wire rack.
To prepare frosting, combine cream cheese, 2 tablespoons butter, rind, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and dash of salt in a large bowl. Beat with a mixer at high speed until fluffy. Gradually add powdered sugar; beat at low speed just until blended (do not overbeat).
Place 1 cake layer on a plate, and spread with 1/3 cup frosting. Arrange raspberries in a single layer over frosting, and top with remaining cake layer. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Store cake loosely covered in refrigerator. Garnish with fresh raspberries, if desired.