Recently in Cakes
Monday, June 14, 2010

carrot cake

carrot cake

Today, I have cake for you. Not just any cake – carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. I know, it’s been all cake and sorbet and more cake around here lately, but we are entering picnic and barbecue season, and doesn’t carrot cake just makes you want to take a picnic blanket to the park along with lemonade and potato salad and slaw, and just sit under a tree for hours with friends, feasting and lounging away. My favorite weekend days is when your biggest accomplishment for the day is eating. There is nothing, and I mean, nothing wrong with that.

carrots!walnuts
dry ingredients mise

Saturday was that lovely kind of a day: my biggest accomplishment consisted of cooking some supper that involved a roast chicken, some guacamole and some pasta with tomato sauce and sausage – I know, lots of random things, but food had to be rescued and cooked. I also found excellent use for these plates – sliced kiwi looks amazing on them. When you start the day around noon, have brunch at 2pm and then for the rest of the day you resolve – no plans, no obligations – it is, I will tell you, an amazing day. Weekends like these are my favorite.

eggs

But this post isn’t so much about lazy weekends, as it’s about carrot cake. A carrot cake for my friend Bill’s birthday. The very same Bill of the mascarpone cake fame, except this time, I’m not a year behind in writing about it.

cake battercream cheese frosting

For Bill’s cake, I looked through every baking book I had (surprisingly few feature carrot cake, actually) until I came across a recipe that made me do a double-take. The recipe was called “Big Bill’s Carrot Cake” – it was as if cake fates have led me straight to it. Now, Bill isn’t particularly big per se, but the title sounded so commanding and the recipe was so perfect, that I decided then and there that this was going to be the cake. Besides, with the recipe coming from the one and only Dorie Greenspan – how could you go wrong?

carrot cakecarrot cake

If you’re like me and believe in the universe speaking to you via baked goods (because when you’re looking for a cake for your friend Bill and you find a recipe with his name in the title – is that not the universe sending you a sign?), then you will put to rest all the other recipes. Dorie knows her cakes, and after you read through any book by her, you feel like she’s your fairy godmother of baking. You know her. You trust her. You’ve had conversations with her while you baked from her books. She has never steered you in the wrong direction. She has never, ever, let you down. Her recipes are detailed, exact, certain, full of the kind of instructions you want to have in so many other books. Few baking personas are as universally adored and revered as Dorie – perhaps because she makes us all feel competent, even if a recipe looks intimidating. She whispers softly to us, “You can do it.

carrot cake
i was tempted to reverse the candle order

Well, friends – meet my new favorite cake. It even outpaces the peanut-butter chocolate one I’ve been so enamoured of. This is a cake that’s got it all – spice, nuts, raisins, a tangy cream-cheese frosting. It’s not too sweet, the frosting doesn’t overpower. It’s a perfect picnic cake, after-dinner cake, Mad Men themed birthday cake. It is, despite that long list of ingredients and preparation instructions, is manageable and unfussy. And it’s a cake that is going to be made a few times over in my kitchen this summer season – and I hope in yours as well.

bill's piece

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

chocolate espresso cake with chocolate mascarpone frosting

chocolate espresso cake with chocolate mascarpone frosting

This cake was frosted while standing on one foot. With the other foot held in the air. Lest you think I am an acrobatic baker, let me get right to the point: I had to hold the other foot off the ground because I couldn’t put any weight on it due to two stress fractures. But I didn’t know it at the time. I was just in a lot of pain, but there was an unfrosted cake staring me in the face and a birthday party an hour away. What’s a girl to do?

chocolate espresso cake with chocolate mascarpone frostingchocolate espresso cake with chocolate mascarpone frosting

Let me make no apologies here – this is a post a year in the making. Somehow, this cake, this lovely offering of espresso, chocolate and mascarpone, got left behind and I found the pictures while organizing the digital mess on my laptop. What’s even more embarrassing, is that this cake was made for my friend Bill’s birthday last year, and guess what is rolling around in a few days? Funny how birthday return every year on the exact same day. And guess who is making Bill this year’s birthday cake? That’s right – this lady over here! I promise not to take a full year to get around to it. In fact, I already started writing about it, so there’s more cake coming your way. Thrilling stuff, I know.

chocolate espresso cake with chocolate mascarpone frosting

You might be wondering how I came to be frosting a cake with a broken foot. Well, the day of Bill’s birthday party, I ran a race. Not a huge race, mind you, but a race nonetheless – a 10k. I had baked the cake the night before, froze the layers for easier frosting and set up my frosting mise en place for the following morning, knowing that I will have to rush home after my 10k, shower, change, grab the cake and dash to make the birthday brunch. Except, I managed to injure myself in the process (did not anticipate that happening!) What I knew was this: somewhere around the third mile, my foot began to throb every time I applied any kind of pressure on it, which, if you’re running, you’re doing quite a bit. If any of you out there reading this are runners, you also know that runners possess the “must-finish-the-race-at-all-costs” mentality and also brush of whatever possible injuries might be occurring as a simple “muscle spasm”. “It’s no big deal,” I told myself, “stop being a wimp and just finish the race already!” I hobbled the rest of the race, but I finished.

chocolate espresso cake with chocolate mascarpone frosting

By the time I met up with the rest of my team, I couldn’t walk. And since no one suspected this could be a stress fracture (and I had never sustained one before) I thought this was a sprain that would dissipate in a couple of days. I decided that if I ice my foot as much as possible, and stay off it – it’s as good as problem solved. So I hobbled home, showered and changed, frosted and boxed the cake and hobbled to brunch, cake in tow. The cake was met with wild enthusiasm and I went home after to ice my foot and rest.

chocolate espresso cake with chocolate mascarpone frostingchocolate espresso cake with chocolate mascarpone frosting
chocolate espresso cake with chocolate mascarpone frostingchocolate espresso cake with chocolate mascarpone frosting

The next day, in horrible pain, I took myself to the ER where they cold me I had not one but two (!) stress fractures from overuse (I guess running those three half marathons in a month and a half was a bit much). I was told to stay off my feet as much as possible, given crutches and sent home. Being on crutches put a damper in my cooking routine, and then shortly after the injury, I moved to Brooklyn and then promptly got distracted with cooking things like ice cream and pies and meatballs and cupcakes. You know how I am by now: show me shiny and I am all distracted!

chocolate espresso cake with chocolate mascarpone frosting

Better late than never, though, right? If you like mascarpone, coffee and chocolate – a cakier version of tiramisu, so to speak, then this cake is for you. I was slightly confused by the picture that the magazine (and online link) showed. Dark, glossy frosting is not what I wound up with, and it makes sense too. When you add mascrapone to your dark chocolate, the resulting color is not dark chocolate (comments in the link reflect the same dilemma!) – but something lighter, milk-chocolate-like. So if you do make the cake and find your frosting lighter than the picture – do not despair, as you are not alone in this. But should you really want to challenge yourself, you may want to frost this cake, standing on one foot, trying to keep your balance. You can lick the spatula at the end as your reward.

chocolate espresso cake with chocolate mascarpone frosting

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

mascarpone-filled cake with sherried berries

buttermilk cake with mascarpone frosting and berries

I’m torn whether to write to you about my thoughts on cake or spring. Both are tempting. Both are presently on my mind. Both are worthy of discussion. And both are things I love and can’t get enough of.

pour some sugar on me...in the oven!

I mean, who doesn’t like cake or spring? Especially a well-made cake and spring that arrives after a seemingly endless and bitterly cold winter. Almost overnight flowers are blooming and trees are covered in green fuzz and I’m wearing a sun dress. And I kinda like it. I could easily get used to this. Now, cake… Cake is big in my book. People who don’t like cake, or say they don’t like cake (do they even exist?) – I have to do a double-take because, come on, really? Cake? It’s like saying you hate puppies. Or rainbows.

cooling

I think the concept of cake is a marvelous, beautiful thing. It’s the kind of thing that just sounds festive, even if it’s an everyday kind of a cake. In fact, I think the word “cake” should come with a mandatory exclamation point. Like this – cake! There, doesn’t that sound so much more celebratory and decadent? Of course, when you are dealing with things like heavy cream, mascarpone, berries and sherry – decadent is really the only way to describe it. I like to be decadent before a somber mood sets in – like a Sunday supper before Monday morning sets in and it’s business as usual.

buttermilk cake waiting to be frostedgiant dollop of frosting

I’ve been trying to do this Sunday suppers thing with a few friends, and they’re kind of getting used to it and ask what’s on the menu next week. They come over with their kids and we eat and laugh and drink wine and then the kids have a dance-off like you wouldn’t believe. I think it’s partly because they’re so hopped up on sugar and that wee-bit of sherry in the cake, but whatever it is, they have some moves, people! They even try to trash the room like rock stars!

...as does Lev

But cake, dear readers, is a thing either done right or wrong. There’s no such thing as an okay cake. It’s not worth the indulgence unless it really, truly, is fantastic. Either you take a bite and your eyes roll upwards toward the heavens in ecstasy, or you think to yourself, “Eh, cake.” Notice, how lack of the “!” just dampens the whole experience. What you want, what would change everything, of course, is taking that forkful to your mouth and mere seconds later proclaiming, “Mmmm. Cake!

ronya approves of the cake

So many things could make a potentially stunning cake a mediocre one. Either the crumb is too dense, or the frosting too sweet, there’s too much of the frosting on the cake, or something. For me, the danger almost always lies in the amount of sugar that a cake contains. I prefer my cake to be a bit restrained on sweetness. Imagine, if you will, movies that queue dramatic music at particularly poignant parts. That always makes the experience less powerful for me. Letting me figure out that critical moment of heartbreak, without a musical nudge – is where it’s at. Cake and sugar – are sort of equivalent for me analogy-wise.

Which is why I was delighted that this cake had it all – light, moist crumb; delicate and lush frosting; and a tang of berries sweet and full of juice. My friends and their kids loved it as well. And they are very picky dessert people. There was even competition for who gets to lick the mixer whisk – which, in my book, is the highest of praises – no one volunteers for this job if the frosting is bad. In the end, everyone had nothing but praise for cake – even those at the table normally skeptical about dessert. My favorite part – is how simple, unfussy, and unpretentious it is. The cake looks downright messy and that’s part of its charm. I dare anyone not to like it. Especially if flowers are blooming outside. And there are rainbows. And puppies. But even without them – how could you not? After all – it’s not just cake – it’s cake!

buttermilk cake with mascarpone frosting and berries

Continue reading mascarpone-filled cake with sherried berries.

Friday, March 12, 2010

red velvet cupcakes with orange zest

red velvet cupcakes

Red velvet cupcakes leave me on the fence. On the one hand, I’m pretty obsessed with them, unable to turn down one when offered to me. On the other hand, I have massive guilt pangs making them because all that food coloring seems to be the antithesis of what I like to do here. It’s like loving cheesy poofs. You know they’re bad for you, but you just can’t quit them. Or at least I can’t. There, now you know my junk food Achilles heel. I’m sure everyone’s got one.

en attendant

I suppose we all need our “snack of shame”, as I like to refer to my cheesy poof love. And so long as we don’t abuse it, we’re in good standing. So what is it about red velvet cake that makes even the biggest food snobs who eschew artificial everything line up to get a slice? It might be the only time I actually use artificial color (excluding some color experimentation with frosting). And I feel like I should feel ashamed about it, except I don’t. I actually feel ashamed not being ashamed. See my dilemma?

red velvet mise and morning coffee

According to Wikipedia, red velvet cake was a signature dessert at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in the 1920s and that beets were used to color it only for a short period of time. The cake then gained prominence in Canada in the 40s and 50s at the Eaton department stores. And the resurgence of the cake’s popularity is owed in part by its feature in the movie “Steel Magnolias”, where a groom’s cake is a red velvet cake in the shape of an armadillo.

red velvet cupcakes

To me, red velvet cake has always seemed a very Southern dessert: festive, decadent, delicious. I am not sure what is so Southern about it, but I’ve been obsessed with it enough to make as many different iterations of it as possible. The first version was featured here some time ago here. And this is the one that I’m most excited about because this recipe – is definitely a keeper and much better than the earlier version. It comes from the Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook and the addition of orange zest brightens the cake batter up and complements the cream cheese frosting. The buttermilk gives the cake a nice tang and a moist, light crumb, which, when you bite into it, tastes pretty darn heavenly. To me, a dense heavy cake is a total killjoy, so this was a pleasant surprise.

red velvet cupcakes

But most importantly, I got two thumbs up from this guy here, who ate his cupcake with such zeal, it was gone in mere minutes. And then he promptly requested another.

seal of approval

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Friday, December 18, 2009

white chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate buttercream-cream-cheese frosting

white chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate buttercream frosting

I often joke that my friends no longer allow me to attend their parties without baked goods in tow. Cupcakes – to be more specific. Cupcakes topped with frosting generously slathered on, or piped in tiny dots, or with semi-Impressionist-looking flowers. But cupcakes in their most shining glory – a tiny, single-portion cake made just for you. It’s cake – personalized and it doesn’t get better than this. Somehow, in its miniature form is just that much cuter than its bigger cousin, but then again, baby anything is much cuter than its adult version.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

Consider this a lesson in scale. Something no cookbook will really tell you. You won’t see in the notes something like “If multiplying batches, strongly suggesting NOT trying to mix them all in one batch as your kitchen equipment is designed for home-sized batches, not bakery-sized ones”. Pretty obvious, right? And yet it wasn’t to me, until a few days ago. But now I know – when scaling things in multiples, you might want to do a few batches, to save your sanity and your equipment. In any case, this is a cautionary tale, just for you.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frostingpumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

As a total aside, I often wonder how various people cook under pressure. Like when you realize that what you’re doing might not work out, or that you missed a crucial step in the process (not that it’s ever happened to me; goodness, no!) and are trying to add this step later, and you get all focused and tense, or maybe you just remain completely cool as a cucumber, or maybe you hum? Me, I become sullen, focused, quiet. I want to be left alone; I don’t want to converse. I just want to get through the bump in the road and get beyond it. I tend to scrunch up my nose and purse my lips and squint a lot. Did you envision that lovely visage? Yes, that’s me, trying to focus. Stunning, I know.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

So, back to scaling and home kitchens and fun with all that. If you’re ever asked to do a larger-scale baking job, you should consider a thing or two. Like, the fact that you have a kitchen for home use. Or the concept of batches. Or the fact that perhaps even though you have a “Professional” strength mixer, your 5 quart bowl is anything but a professional size. Because you know, if you were um, say, a bakery, you’d be making dozens of cupcakes, not a mere dozen. And perhaps, you, dear readers, would have the foresight to consider all that, but lately, I’ve been in a whirl of work and travel I think my brain is full. I ought to sit down and think for a minute, but I don’t have that minute. Sigh.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

The other thing you want to make sure you’re good at, if you’re scaling a project like this, is multiplication and fractions. Now, fractions – I got this. In fact, I’m all over fractions, being that I work in finance. But if fractions ain’t your bag, get some help from a math-inclined friend, because when you are looking at 5/8 of a teaspoon measure of something and have to multiply it by three, that’s when you wish you really did pay attention in your math class.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

So how did I get to baking four dozen cupcakes in one sitting? Well, last weekend my friends Bill and Josey tied the knot, and I think my friends and I set some kind of a record for non-stop dancing at a wedding because that is pretty much all we did. And a few weeks prior to the wedding itself, Josey and Bill sheepishly asked me if I would make cupcakes for their rehearsal dinner. In response, I enthusiastically started to jump up and down. They took that as a yes.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

Because fall is full of amazing flavors and smells, I wanted to make cupcakes that would celebrate the season. And when I think of fall, I first think of pumpkin. I can’t go a block without seeing them displayed in stores, at farmers’ markets, on steps of brownstones (albeit the decorative pumpkins aren’t the ones you eat). I decided that I wanted to do a spiced pumpkin cupcake with a cream cheese frosting sweetened with some maple syrup, and thought (what naivete!) that I was being original and genius at creating something new. But when I excitedly wrote a friend about my new baking project, she responded, sounding a bit been-there-done-that “Oh like the cake David Leite made and Smitten refashioned into cupcakes?”

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

A few google searches later, I realized that my ideas were hardly original. And not only did Deb go ahead and make cupcakes, she piped the most beautiful roses on them as well. I’ve never piped any flower onto any cake or cupcake, so I watched the “how to” videos on YouTube ad infinitum. Please note: watching how to pipe roses and making them are two very different things. Which would explain for why my roses look out of shape and so, um, deconstructionist looking. I found that the cream cheese frosting was soft and was difficult to pipe, and my hand wasn’t used to making rose petals. If anyone can think of any tips as to perfect the matter (other than “practice, practice, practice”) I am all ears. But I do fear that I may just have to beg a bakery to take me under their wing for a week where all I do is play with frosting.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

A word or two about batches. They are (or seem to me) key in home baking where you are working with smaller bowls and containers. If you were to take this particular recipes, I recommend the following: take the ingredients below, multiply them by 3 and then divide by 2 to get your 2 batches. That way you measure everything out exactly, and not eyeball it (like, ahem, some people here) which then necessitates a few Hail-Marys in hopes that your eyeballing was good enough not to wreck a batch of cupcakes. You can also weigh your ingredients and do batches that way, as Lisa brilliantly suggested to me last night.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

Also, for cookware, I seriously recommend having 2 muffin trays. I think 2 is not an unreasonable number to have and you will certainly need it at one point or another, so stock up accordingly. The ones I like you can buy either here or here. I generally shy away from dark colored non-stick bake ware and find this non-descript light metal work best.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

In the end, this is all non-tricky stuff. The cake batter isn’t finicky. The frosting comes together like a dream. It’s sort of an easy process, but if you do wind up making four dozen cupcakes, be sure to give yourself a day to do it. Piping flowers takes time and is much trickier than it looks. But if you know what you’re going in for, you are prepared, you remain calm and you emerge triumphant, with boxes of cupcakes whisked away to a rehearsal dinner or whatever event you’re making them for. Your forehead will remain uncreased; your nose – unscrunched; and instead of pursing your lips, you might even be smiling to yourself as you lick the frosting off your fingers.

Continue reading pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting.