Tag Archives: Cake

Chocolate sour cream bundt cake

This is my absolute number-one favorite chocolate cake. Hands down. And I say that as someone who usually thinks chocolate cake is a waste of chocolate. Oh, it’s tasty, no doubt, but between the flour and the butter and the sugar and the eggs, it’s often hard to taste the chocolate at all.

This cake is different. It’s a sour cream cake, the softest and plushest kind of cake there is. That means it can support a heaping helping of cocoa powder–amounts that would dry out a lesser cake. (I’ve actually increased the amount of cocoa in this cake since I started making it, and if anything I think the texture is better.) It’s also a hot water cake, which makes the texture even moister and helps draw out flavor, coffee-like, from the cocoa. And instead of a sickly-sweet buttercream frosting, it’s covered with dark chocolate ganache. What’s not to love?

In fact, this cake is so soft that I’ve had trouble with it falling apart if I take it out of the pan too soon. Most bundt cake recipes say you should cool the cake in the pan for exactly 10 minutes–no more, no less–before turning them out. When I do that, the cake slumps into a pile of delicious crumbs. I’ve found it’s best to wait a bit longer, until the sides of the cake pan are warm but not hot to the touch. That’s my cue that the cake has cooled enough to hold together, but not enough to cement itself to the pan.

When my family makes this cake, we use a standard-sized bundt pan and a demure drizzle of ganache over the top. The cake in the picture below was for a friend’s 30th birthday party, so I scaled up the recipe to fill my giant bundt pan and shellacked the entire surface with ganache. Honestly, do as you please–I’ve never seen someone turn up their nose at this cake.

chocolate-sour-cream-bundt-cake

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Pink lady cake with lemon cream cheese frosting

Some time over the past few years, I became the kind of person who likes making layer cakes. I still don’t quite understand it. Considering how scattered and slapdash I am in other parts of my life, it seems odd that I’d derive so much satisfaction from stacking cakes on top of each other and painting them with frosting. But I do. I really do.

I think a big part of it is the love. A layer cake might be the purest edible expression of love I know of. There’s absolutely no reason to make one except out of love for (yourself and) others. Layer cakes are celebration food, the thing you make when it’s time to shower love on someone. Even if you make a layer cake to celebrate yourself, you’ll still end up feeding it to people you love. It’s a project–a messy, multi-hour project–the kind of thing you wouldn’t undertake unless you really cared about the person or people whom you’re making it for. But if you like baking, making a layer cake is also a kind of therapy, a way of showing yourself some love while preparing to spread it to others.

This cake is the perfect example. I made it for Audrey’s birthday party, partly at her request and partly of my own initiative. She wanted Smitten Kitchen’s pink lady cake; I know how much she loves lemon, so I decided to give the frosting a lemon kick. It was the perfect cake for Audrey, who loves berries and lemon and gets impatient with chocolate. As it turned out, the strawberry flavor in the cake was incredibly subtle, so that the puckery lemon frosting stole the show. When she sliced into the cake, the layers revealed themselves to be a delicate purple-pink, the perfect color for a non-girly-girl who likes wearing pink.

But there was also some self-care in it for me. The planning of the cake was elaborate and specific, but creating it was a lazy breeze, a perfect excuse to spend the day indoors. I rolled out of bed in the morning, slapped the batter together and threw it in the oven, then went back to bed and did crossword puzzles until the layers were baked. While they cooled, I showered, ate brunch, and watched a nature documentary. I had a little bit of strawberry puree left over from making the cake layers, so I mixed myself a berryoska and sipped it while I frosted the cake. And then I brought it to the party, covered it in sprinkles, and presented it with great affection to the birthday girl.

pink lady cake slices

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Carrot cake with maple cream cheese frosting

I have found my perfect carrot cake.

Let me explain. Ever since I can remember, I’ve adored carrot cake. If someone were cruel enough to make me choose my favorite kind of cake, carrot cake would come out on top. The combination of cinnamon, carrot, and a rich moist crumb just does something to me. It’s homey, old-fashioned, a little retro, smelling of cool weekend afternoons in a warm kitchen with Mom and a mixing bowl. And, of course, there’s the frosting–cream cheese, always cream cheese, sweet and white and just gooey enough to be fun. A good carrot cake can get my juices going like almost nothing else.

But. As with so many other things I love, I’ve found myself getting picky over the years. There are a lot of mediocre carrot cakes out there. I don’t want a cake that tastes like a muffin, with big floppy crumbs and intermittent airy pockets. I don’t want health food carrot cake, heavy and dense and aggressive with the carrots. I don’t want raisins, or walnuts, or canned pineapple, or coconut flakes (coconut flakes? really?). And I definitely don’t want any of your “it’s just a delivery system for frosting” nonsense. If I wanted frosting, I’d eat frosting.

So what do I want? I want this cake, the one I made for my birthday last week. It’s fluffy and plush and almost melts away on the tongue. At the same time, it’s sturdy and spongy enough to stand up to the tip of a knife or the side of a fork. It’s beautifully fragrant, with cinnamon and orange and just the quietest, shyest whisper of olive oil. It’s that magic medium, sweet-but-not-too-sweet, with just enough brown sugar to make it unmistakably a dessert. It’s unbelievably moist, the kind of dewy moisture that only comes from brown sugar and olive oil working in tandem. And it’s first and foremost a carrot cake, with tiny orange strands threaded delicately through the brown batter.

Oh, and that frosting. That frosting. It’s a cream cheese frosting, all right–not even a slip of butter to fatten up the proceedings. Just cream cheese and powdered sugar, whipped until light and lush. I added a drizzle of dark maple syrup, too, for a boost of resiny sweetness. This is my favorite frosting I’ve ever made: just the right kind of sweet, thicker and tangier than its butter-based cousins, but no less creamy and wonderful when it’s clinging to a mass of cake.

carrot cake with maple cream cheese frosting

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Vanilla pudding cakes

It’s not often that I’m led astray by a recipe. This one was delicious, but misleading as all get-out.

The idea was so neat: for the vanilla-loving boyfriend’s birthday, make him a white version of a chocolate lava cake. The New York Times even had a recipe waiting to be tried–the accompanying article promised “a puddinglike center, weeping white chocolate.” But somewhere along the line, something went cattywompus.

The cake was delicious, all right–wobbling and bourbon-fragrant and almost flan-like in the middle–but it took weird turns at several points down the line. The batter was stretchy–like, bread dough stretchy–and there was way more than would yield the 10 mini-cakes the recipe said I would get. I fit it all into 12 cups in a muffin tin, but just barely, and even then they puffed unattractively over the edge. I suspect the intended effect was for the center to be more goo than flan, but I didn’t end up getting there, and for once I don’t think my incompetence was to blame.

I think I’ve figured out part of what went wrong: the batter was chilled too long, the recipe lied about the number of servings it made, and the baking time overshot the gushy-center sweet spot. I’ve tried to remedy some of this in the written recipe below. Whatever the case, these cakes are tasty: sweet and soft and unmistakably vanilla. Just don’t expect a lava cake, because this (sadly) isn’t one.

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A milestone, and a cake

Well, look at that.  It’s my 100th post.

I can’t believe I’ve already jabbered here a hundred separate times.  I feel like a real blogger now.  I’ve finally gotten my wings.  It’s strange; I’m going to have to get used to this flying thing.

When I started here a year and change ago, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted this blog to be.  I figured I’d use this as a space to let off steam, put up some photos of things I cooked, and let the rest sort itself out.  But slowly, it’s becoming clear that when I take the time to write from the heart, people listen.  I’ve now written two posts, in particular, that have struck a nerve in ways I never expected.  So many people have reached out with their responses and stories; even when I don’t agree with everyone, it amazes me that people took the time to read and respond to little old me.  I’m touched, and I’m honored, and I’m humbled.

I’m also thinking.

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Lemon olive oil cake with honey buttercream

So.  Lemon curd straight from the spoon is nice.  But you know what’s even better?  Putting it in a cake.

Oh, I’m sorry.  Make that a lemon olive oil cake filled with lemon curd and frosted with honey buttercream.

I know, right?

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Red(dish) velvet cake

And the cakes just keep on coming.  Don’t judge; it was my birthday this weekend.

I had a conundrum when planning my birthday cake this year.  I was throwing a Communist Party–vodka drinks, red paper plates, Russian snacks and a 1960’s Cold War movie–and wanted to make a red velvet cake.  (Get it? Get it?) But the red in red velvet cake almost always comes from food coloring, and the quantity of red food coloring used tends to make cake taste metallic and sharp, like licking the side of a flagpole.  At least, it does to me.

So I wanted to try a dye-free cake.  I poked around for an alternative, and found a recipe for a cake infused with red wine.  Yum.

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