Recently in Cakes
Sunday, June 7, 2009

winning hearts and minds cake

winning hearts & minds cake

Let me clear here – I have never, not for a minute, in my life, planned any aspect of my future wedding, should I find that perfect guy and tie the knot. I know there are women who’ve been planning that day from the time when they were five and I think that’s lovely and wonderful. It’s just that I never did that. What I did do, as a child, was draw elaborate and to-scale plans of my dream kitchen. But then again, I was always hanging around kitchens, watching my mother and my grandmother cook – trying to get some small job, however, minuscule it was. There was this one time, my mother gave me scraps of dough and I tried to mold a little person out of it with raisins for eyes and a cinnamon mouth. I was doing well, until I decided to put a peppercorn for the nose, and was so insistent upon it that nothing my mother said made a difference. Eating it, of course, was a different matter altogether – and while certainly a curious flavor combination, six year olds rarely appreciate peppercorns in their baked goods.

winning hearts & minds cakewinning hearts & minds cake

In any case, I was never the girl who thought of the dress I’d wear to the wedding, and what the first dance song would be, or whom I’d have in my bridal party. As a child, I simply didn’t care. As an adult, I figured I’ll get to it when I really had to. But what I did think about (ok, so I guess I did think about it, I lied) was what I was going to feed people. And whenI did think about feeding my guests, I thought the most about cake. What kind of cake, what flavor and look. For awhile I wanted a pyramid of Krispy Kreme doughnuts – an idea my mother showed little enthusiasm for. Then there was the obsession with wedding cupcakes. Which I still think is cute. But ultimately, I wanted to feed people cake. Good cake at that.

winning hearts & minds cake

People, I must say that I love cake. Cake is one of those things I just don’t turn down. Ever. I don’t care that refined sugar is bad for me, I’m going to eat cake if it’s put in front of me. And if you give me a cold glass of milk to chase it down, I’m your friend forever. But despite my deep cake love, I sure am picky – I eat most cake and I’m left, well, not totally fulfilled. Either I find there is too much frosting (yes, there is such a thing), or it’s overly sweet, or the cake feels too dense, or that pesky baking soda taste dominates (by far my biggest gripe!). But sometimes, you find a cake that is just right, perfect in fact, and you wind up making it not once but twice in one week.

winning hearts & minds cake

It’s the kind of cake you make to take with you as a hostess gift for your hosts in the North Fork, or the kind of cake you make for a friend who comes over to dinner. The kind of cake, that after you send said friend home to bring a piece to her sister, makes her sister proclaim each time friend returns from my place back, “Well, do you have some cake for me?” The kind of cake that wins, hearts, minds and stomachs.

winning hearts & minds cake

And the kind of cake that makes you decide upon tasting it, that this is the cake you want to serve your guests at your future wedding, the way the original cake creator, Molly, did. All you’ve got to do now, is find the lucky guy – but clearly your biggest dilemmas are already solved. This guy part is just a technicality.

Continue reading winning hearts and minds cake.

Friday, March 13, 2009

chocolate guiness and whiskey cupcakes with baileys frosting

irish car bomb cupcakes

The second I spied these cupcakes on Smitten Kitchen, I was obsessed. And it took me oh, just 24 hours to get to my obsession and actually materialize it. Sometimes when you’re inspired – you’re inspired. And if you show me a baked good that has not one but three types of alcohol in it, well, I’m completely defenseless. And if it happens to have an Irish theme to it, that pretty much settles it – I’ll be making the dessert in question that very evening. Not to mention, Deb made her cupcakes so pretty (when does she not make dessert pretty?) that I went home, muttering under my breath something about finally getting my cake decorating kit out and it was about bloomin’ time (thank you Paul and Sharon!)

not at all ocdbest. beer. ever.
boozy ganachethe tiniest bailey's bottle EVER!!

In the next few days, I learned that these cupcakes (which were a smashing success at a friends’ game night party – for whom I have this message – please do not stop making such strong margaritas else our Coyote Ugly rendition will be nowhere as fierce) – contained the trifecta of beverages used to make a cocktail with a rather sensitive name – The Irish Carbomb. The cupcake offers you Guinness beer in the cupcake batter, Jameson in the chocolate ganache and Baileys liqueur in the frosting.

waiting to be bakedboozy cupcakes
making a little well for the ganacheempty

According to some folks, ordering this particular drink at an Irish pub will get you a black eye or a missing tooth. My Irish friends all confessed to me to have ordered it on more than one occasion and their eyes/teeth remained intact and don’t see what the big deal is about the name. Still, I can see why some might not appreciate the drink name – given it’s not my invention, I suppose it is what it is. It is a name with a not such glittery connotation.

irish car bomb cupcakes

In any case, these were terribly fun and easy to make and I know they look a little much and complicated. And it was my first time ever piping the frosting, so you see that even for a beginner, this was not such an ordeal. In any event, I thought they were nowhere near as difficult as the Sweet & Salty Cake, which gave a few gray hairs here and there (don’t worry, I got highlights and no one can tell anymore!)

irish car bomb cupcakes

And because Deb wrote about how sweet and strong the frosting was, I decided to make the frosting even more sparse omitting it from the center and thus creating little cupcake flowers. There. Pretty, right? I kind of liked them that way and my friends did too. Some people wound up having two, in fact. For me, one was more than enough as, while I liked them, they were quite powerful and sweet.

irish car bomb cupcakes

If you’re thinking of an Irish-themed dessert for St. Patrick’s Day, think no further than this! These cupcakes are a true homage to the Irish bar offering (not entire Irish bar offering though) – and will add a festive touch to any way you choose to celebrate, be it a home-cooked meal or a bar crawl in your local town.

irish car bomb cupcakes

Continue reading chocolate guiness and whiskey cupcakes with baileys frosting.

Monday, March 2, 2009

sweet and salty cake

sweet and salty cake

Sometimes a cake is just a cake. You bake it, frost it and then serve it forth to your friends. Everyone loves the cake, of course, and within half an hour you have an empty serving platter with a few loose crumbs; everyone content and grateful for your homemade creation. Sometimes however, a cake turns into a test of your will and persistence and creativity and sheer reluctance to quit. This is such a cake. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

In this particular case, I had promised to bake a cake for a friend. But I also promised to wow and impress. I’ve long been waxing poetic about salted caramel and so I knew exactly the cake I wanted to make. To me, salted caramel is one of the most seductive foods. I am certain I can be wooed with very modest offerings of salted caramel, herring and cilantro – some things just make a girl weak in the knees. I’m convinced there’s not a soul out there who doesn’t love salted caramel. And if loving salted caramel is wrong, I don’t ever wanna be right.

sweet and salty cake

As some of you know, I’m fairly new to this cake-making business. My first foray was earlier this year with the peanut butter chocolate cake, soon after followed by the chocolate dulce de leche cake. And both were fairly straightforward and simple. I had few issues and little to complain about and the end product, in both cases, was a stunner. So I had few concerns going into this recipe. Hoo boy! Was I in for an experience. My quiet humming (something I often do when I am cooking) was soon switched out for the kind of language that typically graces Tarantino films. Let’s just say I’m pleased no children were present in the vicinity to hear my unladylike language.

sweet and salty cake

And as irony would have it, for someone who was asked in her chemistry class to skip lab in order to pass (let’s just say I was a bit of a hazard with beakers and Bunsen burners), I marvel at my fascination with baking and being exacting and thorough. Sometimes it’s a breeze and everything comes together beautifully. And sometimes, when you think you’ve done everything right, something doesn’t quite work and you try to figure out what specifically went wrong (this is the part I’m particularly bad at). This cake was a kind of experience when many a thing didn’t quite go according to plan, but I am better and wiser now for it, but there was a moment when I was tempted to dump the whole thing in the trash can and call up my friend and say, “Screw cake. I’m bringing pizza”

sweet and salty cake

I am tempted to rename this cake as “I’m Going to Tear Hair Out of My Head and Curse Like a Sailor Cake”, but I think that would be too long a title. I’ll keep the original and instead include a few notes that might help you have a less stressful experience than the one I had. Isn’t that nice now, you get a recipe AND some pointers in how to avoid the insanity? I will add my notes to the recipe in italics – so when you see that you will know this is my commentary.

To say this cake was delicious, would be inaccurate. It was quite possibly the most heart-stoppingly amazing cake I’ve had in awhile. And if your heart doesn’t skip a beat because the cake is decadent and rich, it might do so simply because the chocolate caramel whipped ganache contains four (4!) sticks of butter. I cannot tell you enough how fussy and time-consuming this was and how much, in the middle of this project I didn’t regret it. But looking back if I was asked to make this cake all over again, I absolutely would, hopefully this time with less anxiety and curveballs if only because I’m going to use a few of my own learned pointers, which I hope will help you as well, in case you are feeling particularly self-punishing and want to recreate the magic in your own kitchens.

sweet and salty cake

Serve this cake in the tiniest of slivers as it is quite intense and filling. A glass of milk will not only enhance the cake, but for a moment, make you forget about all the pain and suffering you’ve endured at the hands of this towering confection – which will be exactly what you need to enjoy the rest of your night.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that something was decidedly in the air when I was making this cake. The only pictures I had on my photo card were the ones of the already-made cake – the others have mysteriously vanished. Gone. As if they never existed in the first place. So all I have for you are these mediocre finished product shots. You get none of the in-process pictures, which were not half bad. And because I quickly sensed this cake was tricky, I took very detailed step-by-step photographs to walk you though this recipe carefully. But somehow the gods of cake-making must have decided against to play a practical joke on me because I should be really presenting you with “I made this cake, but all I have to show you are these pictures.” T-shirt. Yes, I know, I’d feel cheated too. I owe you one.

Continue reading sweet and salty cake.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

chocolate cola cake with toasted coconut-pecan frosting

Chocolate Cola Cake with Toasted Coconut-Pecan Frosting (16)

How did this happen again? A full week has gone by since I posted last and it’s been almost two weeks that this recipe has been sitting comfortably in my MT system waiting for me to click publish. And publish it, I did not. A whirlwind of a long weekend in Boston, and then a crazy week left me no time to string two words together, never mind sentences. And boy, was I excited to tell you about this cake! Does the phrase “dulce de leche” grab your attention? See, even now, I just stared a good five minutes at the last sentence thinking, “Now where was I?”

Chocolate Cola Cake with Toasted Coconut-Pecan Frosting (1)Chocolate Cola Cake with Toasted Coconut-Pecan Frosting (2)

This cake was made for a surprise engagement brunch for two of my best friends, Paul and Sharon who have recently returned from their trip to South Africa, where Paul proposed and Sharon accepted, making them officially engaged (yay!). I was in on the whole thing and kept it so well from Sharon that she totally bought my let’s-celebrate-the -New- Year-belatedly-since-you-were-in- South-Africa-and-we-didn’t-celebrate-together excuse. In reality, Paul, who is very sneaky in the most delightful ways, was planning a surprise brunch for Sharon with the nearest and dearest friends. And the surprise worked – she had no idea.

Chocolate Cola Cake with Toasted Coconut-Pecan Frosting (3)Chocolate Cola Cake with Toasted Coconut-Pecan Frosting (8)
Chocolate Cola Cake with Toasted Coconut-Pecan Frosting (7)Chocolate Cola Cake with Toasted Coconut-Pecan Frosting (10)

Of course, as soon as Paul let me in on this devious plan, I offered to bake a cake for the occasion. Paul’s only requirement was that the cake would have chocolate – never a poor request. But chocolate cake still left me with so many options. Do I go for the triple threat and make a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, and some more chocolate tucked somewhere in the middle? Do I maybe opt to have a raspberry filling to accent the dark chocolate batter?

Chocolate Cola Cake with Toasted Coconut-Pecan Frosting (12)

Since I had just made a chocolate peanut butter cake and there was an FDA warning on peanut butter, I thought carefully about my options and decided to go with a chocolate cola cake with a dulce de leche frosting. The recipe, from my new favorite cake book, taunted me for weeks with whispers of decadent things to come and since I leaf through this book practically every night before I turn the lights off and go to bed, it takes Herculean strength not get out of bed and have a piece of toast with Nutella. With will power like this, state secrets will never leave my lips!

Chocolate Cola Cake with Toasted Coconut-Pecan Frosting (13)

Well, for those of you who like a good nostalgic, Southern-themed dessert, this cake is for you! Flavored with cherry cola, frosted with a dulce du leche frosting with pecans and coconut, this is a rich, chocolatey, powerful cake. It’s intense and decadent and were it not for the fiercely cold temperatures outside, it would make me feel like I’m lounging in Charleston somewhere sipping on sweet tea and fanning myself.

Chocolate Cola Cake with Toasted Coconut-Pecan Frosting (14)

And though this cake is not difficult at all, a couple of notes I learned along the way to steer you along. First, I know the recipe says “sweetened coconut”, but seriously, rich chocolate cake, dulce de leche and sweetened coconut? I opted for unsweetened and it was lovely. Two, the dulce de leche takes 2 hours to make. And then some time to cool. While not a difficult cake, it’ll take a few hours to make and put together, so give yourself enough time. Three, I flash froze the cakes once they cooled off and then frosted them frozen – and gave the cake enough time to come to room temperature to be eaten. Frosting while the cakes are frozen is a lot easier than fumbling about with sticky frosting such as this and delicate, crumbly textures.

And honestly, this cake is so worth the time and trouble because it is just painfully good. Painfully, because as you are eating it and you realize you are full, you’re all-too-well aware that you simply cannot put your fork down and might even have to force yourself to have a second piece, as one of our friends did. If the rest of Paul and Sharon’s life together is as decadent and lush and sweet, then my work here is done.

Continue reading chocolate cola cake with toasted coconut-pecan frosting.

Friday, January 16, 2009

chocolate peanut butter cake

Chocolate Cake with PB Cream Cheese Frosting & Ganache

So before you roll your eyes and go, didn’t you just tell us you were going to take a break from sweets, I will tell you that Slashfood already (rightly!) chided me and I owe them and you an explanation and an apology. I am sorry to pull you away from tofu and brown rice and egg white. I am. But this was for a birthday, and was shared by about 30 people, so we all had the smallest of the pieces, and, most importantly, I have been meaning to make this for nearly half a year – so it’s kind of retroactive, in a way.

chocolate cake mixcake mise

To say this cake has been long time in the making, would be a terrible understatement. It’s been five months in the making and if you think I’m exaggerating let’s go down the timeline. When I moved into my new neighborhood in mid-August, my lovely new neighbors met me for dinner at this stunner of a place and presented me with a housewarming gift that made my heart skip many a beat – the cake book I’ve been lusting after for what seems like forever after seeing a few of its creations.


Immediately I read the preface and bought all the necessary baking tools that would enable me to start making celebration cakes and then emailed my friends with offers to bake dessert for any and each occasion. But every time someone’s birthday or gathering came up and I would offer up a cake – there was either not much enthusiasm for it or the situation couldn’t really accommodate. Last month I all but baked a cake for a friend’s birthday but the venue where we held it was going to charge us such an inappropriate fee for it, I backed out. And so finally, when my lovely friend Kate was having a birthday party last weekend, and I asked her if I could bake her a cake, her answer was a resounding YES.

peanut butter cream cheese frostingfrosting the cake

I had this cake in mind all along, what with the most perfect combination of chocolate and peanut butter, this was the cake I was most curious to make, but Kate had to approve the flavors – after all, it was her birthday. While not a huge chocolate person, she did like chocolate cake and the peanut butter frosting sounded too good to pass up. It was finally going to happen.

frosting the cake

Deb, on her site, mentions that if you like baking cakes, especially celebration ones – you need to get this book. I cannot agree with her more. The recipes are very doable and have clear instructions; the pictures are stunning; and the variety of unusual flavors makes this for a not-your-average-cake-book experience. It’s probably my favorite cook book at this moment, perhaps because I have a few cakes in the queue that will need to be made fairly soon.

melting the ingredients for the ganacheChocolate Cake with PB Cream Cheese Frosting & Ganache
Chocolate Cake with PB Cream Cheese Frosting & GanacheChocolate Cake with PB Cream Cheese Frosting & Ganache

Oh and since this cake is one-bowl only (for the batter – you will need another bowl to make the frosting) – it’s really really easy. You might not even need a preset mise because things just go in chronological order and voila – batter is made! I like having a mise, because I’m a little OCD about certain things and I like the look of it. But if you’re like me and lack a dishwasher (and loathe doing dishes) – the one bowl aspect of it is very valuable, don’t you think? And while this cake is quite intense and you’ll want the thinnest of slivers on your plate (because a huge piece just might send you into a permanent chocolate and peanut butter coma) it’s hardly fitting for my New Year’s resolve of healthier food. Just think of the hand mixing as a small workout for your forearm and tricep – which cancels out the calories consumed by a slice of this. Or so I’d like to believe.

that went well with some milk

More peanut butter and chocolate love: Crispy Peanut Butter Bars

Continue reading chocolate peanut butter cake.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

caramel-pecan bûche de noël

pecan bourbon buche de noel

For the last two weeks I have been playing Christmas music without a pause. I know that Hannukah is right around the corner, but it’s really Christmas that gets me all excited for winter. I think Jews and Christmas are destined to forever share their forbidden love. I, for one, have come clean about it. I’m no longer ashamed.

pecansuse good bourbon

And since I’ve committed to celebrating Christmas with food, what better way to do so than with a traditional Christmas cake – bûche de noël! I searched a variety of cook books for the recipe, and yet, no recipe was to be found. And surprisingly, the internet offered precious little in the ways of a good recipe. But I did find one that caught my eye – not only was it a a bûche de noël, but it was one that evoked flavors of the South – with pecans and bourbon. And how can I say no to bourbon?

whipping the yolks...whipping the whites
GENTLY fold everything togethercake batter evenly spread

Furthermore, the cake came with a bourbon-spiked caramel sauce and I was on a caramel making kick. And since I failed at my first caramel making exercise, I was determined not to let it bog me down. Seriously, how hard is it to boil sugar and water, watch it get to a deep amber color and then stir some cream and butter into it? I learned my lesson in that making caramel requires a pot without a non-stick coating, otherwise the proper caramelization doesn’t occur and you wind up creating thicker syrup that doesn’t much change in color. The result – a failed confection.

frosting/caramel sauce misecaramel working beautifully
butter in cream and sugar.... diet - what?stirring in the chocolate

Growing up, for many of our wintry family gatherings in Russia, my great-aunt, who was a cook and baker par-excellence, made this incredible rolled cake with butter cream, nuts and chocolate shavings. In retrospect, it was a bûche de noël, but somewhere along the line, my secularized family adopted this tradition as a festive holiday treat. The word for this in Russian is poleno, which literally translates as a “log”. Somehow, bûche de noel sounds sexier than log, don’t you think?

pecan bourbon buche de noel

I was really intimidated by this recipe – what with the rolling of the cake to make a log-shaped form. Please note that the cake in this recipe is not a genoise (what?) but a sponge cake with eggs and whites whipped separately and then folded togeter, not mixed (important note on that later) together. A genoise (as I have just learned, being new to cake baking myself) is a sponge cake that doesn’t use any of the leavening agents for the cake to rise, but rather the air bubbles created by whipping the whole eggs (and sometimes adding the extra yolks) together. Having completed this lengthy, though not terribly difficult exercise, I am now curious to experiment with different cake structures and icings.

spreading frostingthinly spread the frosting

A few notes:
1. This is not difficult, but it is very time consuming. Prepare to spend ½ day on this but you can do other stuff in between, but it does take time.

2. The directions tells you to keep the made cake at room temperature. I cannot tell you how much better it tastes cold and how much better it will keep and set.

3. Should you forget to do a step, don’t despair, try to think of a way around it. I failed to butter the parchment paper on which the cake was baking and was too lazy to remake the cake portion of it. I instead took a long frosting spatula and gently went around the edge-to-middle part of the cake, thus loosening it from the paper. And since you are covering that side with frosting all over, no-one will see the “ugly” side so to speak.

4. When you are rolling the cake, you will see the cake crack a little bit. Do not worry, it happened to me and I covered it with frosting just fine. Also, the ridges from the cracks make the cake look more log-like – which is kind of the effect you’re looking for.

5. Use good bourbon.

6. I ran out of pecans and subbed about 1/3 of the nuts with walnuts. The result – delicious. If you don’t have enough of a certain nut, just plug along a different nut – and you should be fine.

7. When you are folding your ingredients together (as the instructions below tell you), make your you fold and not mix. Use a rubber spatula and gently lifting the outer part of the batter, pull it into the center. If you are too aggressive and mix instead, you risk of collapsing your cake and not getting the right sponginess to it.

pecan bourbon buche de noel

If you’re looking for a delicious and stunning way to impress your guests, this is the way to go – it really isn’t difficult and even though it takes time, it is very much manageable and doable. It sure does look impressive. Your reward – sitting back and enjoying a slice of this divine, rich cake with a cup of coffee while your guests oooh and aaah and are generally impressed with your culinary prowess, which, of course, you have no doubt – just don’t tell them it wasn’t that hard. They won’t believe you anyway.

Continue reading caramel-pecan bûche de noël.