My kids have been sick for more than a month. Since school resumed after winter break, my kids have yet to go to school for a full week. This means that I am behind, having had to miss days of work myself, and tired.
My daughter's 8th birthday was this week. She wasn't at school a full hour before I received a call from the school nurse saying my daughter had a fever, and I had to come pick her up. She was home the rest of the week, which means we had to cancel her birthday plans.
I have already made cake twice this week - red velvet Oreo cupcakes for her party, and a banana cake with chocolate frosting for her actual birthday. I was up early this morning for a five-mile run, followed by grocery shopping. To be honest, all I wanted to do was relax, not bake. Moreover, I was not enthused by any of the cake options for this month. We continue to bake from Roger Pizey's World Class Cakes. The choices for this month:
1. Victoria Sponge Cake - the cake looked lovely but had a jam and Chantilly filling - not my cup of tea.
2. Almond Tart with Honey - I really don't care for the taste of honey except for in things like Honey Nut Cheerios and honey mustard dressing. (I understand how lame that is.)
3. Chocolate Cheesecake - This sounded great to me until I read the recipe. It was basically a mix of gelatin, chocolate, and cream cheese that didn't get baked. Yuck.
4. Red Velvet Cake - by default, this is what I made. I already have a go-to red velvet recipe from Southern Cakes, a former Cake Slice Bakers selection, but I decided to give this one a go.
Because I didn't feel like baking today, I decided that a Bundt cake with a cream cheese glaze would be more manageable than a layer cake. The batter looked good - a really pretty shade of red.
Unfortunately, the cake came out horribly. It stuck to the pan despite adequate greasing (I've never had a cake stick to this pan), and the cake was dry. I am not even going to bother to make any sort of glaze for it, as it's probably going in the trash.
The moral of the story is one that applies to both cakes and hair stylists: if you have a good one, there's no reason to try out another one.
The title of this post, which is a riff off of the Van Halen song "Runnin' with the Devil," gives you a hint about this month's cake. Indeed, this month's bake with the Cake Slice Bakers is a chocoholic's dream - Devils Food cake. It's also the cake featured on the cover of our cookbook selection, World Class Cakes by Roger Pizey. I used dark cocoa powder in both the cake and the frosting, which made it extra rich but not too sweet.
The kids and I had the day off from school and work in observance of Martin Luther King Day, so I figured we could kill some time by baking this cake together. It all started out great. The kids were cooperating, taking turns adding ingredients.
But that cooperative spirit quickly turned into the kids fighting over who was going to stand on the stool. Par for the course when baking with kids, right?
After one kid pushed the other off of the stool, I kicked them out of the kitchen and finished the baking myself. The house smelled wonderful while the cake was baking. Right out of the oven, I could see how delicious it would be.
While the cake cooled, I made the frosting. The recipe calls for a frosting that involves eggs, and I'm just not a fan of that style of frosting. Instead, I went with a basic chocolate buttercream. Apparently I had lost my focus while making the frosting and accidentally began to sift the cocoa powder into the powdered sugar canister. Oops!
The cake turned out perfectly. It was magnificently tall at three layers. It was moist but fluffy. My husband, who is typically not a fan of buttercream frosting, loved this frosting recipe. While the cookbook author decorated his cake with large chocolate shavings, I felt that that would have been too much; instead, I went with a light dusting of chocolate shavings. It was just right.
Devil's Food Cake
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup boiling water
3/4 cup whole milk
1 1/3 cup butter, softened
2 1/3 cups sugar
1 T vanilla extract
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter, softened
4½ to 5 cups powdered sugar
4 Tablespoon cocoa
1 teaspoons vanilla
5 Tablespoons heavy cream or milk, I prefer heavy cream
¼ teaspoon salt
The Cake Slice Bakers strive to post their cake reveal on the 20th of each month. As a college professor, mid-December is a busy time; not only are there all of the typical December goings-on (Christmas shopping, wrapping presents, kids' holiday shows), but the end of the semester brings with it tons of papers and projects to grade and final grades to calculate. And it seems that this time every year, I get sick. It's as if my body know that the semester has come to a close, so it can finally let down its guard and welcome the bug it has been fighting off! With all of this, a December 20th cake reveal wasn't happening.
We were invited to a holiday party at the home of some of my colleague-friends, and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to make my December cake - just a few days late. We had four options this month, all from Roger Pizey's World Class Cakes:
1. Coffee and Walnut Cake
2. Paul A. Young's Torta Gianduja
3. Caribbean Coconut Cake with Rum
I immediately ruled out the coconut cake, as I am not a fan of coconut. I like gingerbread, but it's not something I would go out of my way for. The torta looked delicious, but it contains hazelnuts, and that's not one of my favorite flavors. That left the coffee and walnut cake. While I love coffee, I don't tend to enjoy it in things. For example, I don't really care for coffee ice cream. My husband voted for the coffee and walnut cake, so that's what I went with.
Pizey's blurb about the recipe begins: "Every family has a recipe for this classic cake and who can blame them?" I had never heard of this cake, and I was sure my family did not have a recipe for it. I wondered if my friends' families had a go-to recipe for this confection. I did some crowdsourcing on Facebook to find out.
The comments ranged from simply "nope" to confusion about coffee cake, which is a common brunch cake, often with some sort of streusel topping. I also reached out to my friend Greg who went to pastry school and has worked in bakeries. He has never heard of this cake either. Bottom line - no one has heard of this cake nor has a family recipe for it.
So then I figured I needed to research the origins of this cake. Celebrity chef Nigella Lawson tells us, "This is a subtle cake: the coffee tempers the sweetness, and the buttery sweetness keeps it all mellow." Nigel Slater, chef, food writer, and cookbook author, declares that this cake would be his choice for his last meal. Further Googling gave me my answer: this cake's origin is the United Kingdom. And the author of World Class Cakes is a Brit. So perhaps every British family has a recipe for this cake.
I baked this cake while my kids were napping, so it was peaceful and quiet. I noted the small details in the process: the wrinkles of the walnuts, the swirl of the filling as the mascarpone and coffee combined.
The cake was easy to make and turned out nicely. I had just a bite of it at the party. As someone who is not a big fan of coffee-flavored things, this cake didn't do it for me. With that being said, it had a lovely crumb, and the frosting was not too sweet. I could distinctly taste both the coffee and walnuts. It seemed to be a hit at the party, as most of the cake was gone when I left.
By the way, no one at the party had ever heard of this cake, and none of their families had a recipe for it.
Coffee and Walnut Cake
(from World Class Cakes by Roger Pizey, Race Point Publishing, 2013)
About six years ago, I had joined an online baking group known as The Cake Slice Bakers (CSB). This group is comprised of bakers all over the world. Each year, the group selects a cake-focused cookbook, and each member bakes a selected cake from the book each month. The year I participated, our book was "Cake Keeper Cakes." One of the cakes from this book, an apple cake with a caramel topping, is still one of my all-time favorites, especially when served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
In 2011, I was accepted into a doctoral program in Adult Education at Penn State. That summer, I found out I was pregnant with our second child. I realized that being a mom, full-time professor, and doctoral student meant that I needed to consider what "extras" I could take off of my plate; sadly, regular baking, something I very much enjoyed, had to go. With that decision, I left the CSB group. Through the years, I baked here and there. I completed my doctorate in May, but I still had not returned to regular baking. Recently, I came across an old blog post; remembering the CSB, I did a google search and found that not only did the group still exist, but they were accepting new members! Maybe this is just what I needed to get back into baking. I sent an email to the group moderator, Anabel, and was invited back! They had just selected their new book, "World Class Cakes," and I had joined just in time to participate for November.
We had four choices for this month's cake:
I got up early and did my grocery shopping for the week, including all of the necessities for our dinner party with friends and for Thanksgiving. When I got home, my husband and kids were at their gymnastics class, so I had a quiet house to myself. I put on Eric Clapton's Unplugged album and started the baking festivities.
As the oven preheated, I toasted the pecans. I have found that the cheapest way to purchase nuts, particularly in smaller quantities for a specific recipe, is in the bulk section of the grocery store. Wegmans has a fantastic section of bulk nuts and grains. I bought about a cup of pecans for just a couple of bucks.
One thing that surprised me about this recipe is that it has no eggs. I don't know that I've ever baked a cake without eggs (or whites or yolks). I reread the ingredients multiple times to make sure I wasn't missing something. I was nervous that the consistency wouldn't be right, but I figured that someone who writes an entire book on cakes must know what they're doing!
Although the recipe called for a buttercream, I went with a cream cheese frosting, which is a favorite of one of my friends who was coming for dinner. My daughter helped with beating the cream cheese, butter, and shortening for the frosting.
This cake turned out great! I was relieved that an egg-free cake had such a light, fluffy consistency and a nice crumb. The cake wasn't too sweet, and the sweet and tangy cream cheese frosting was the perfect accompaniment.
I'm glad to be baking again with The Cake Slice Bakers!
Maple Syrup and Pecan Layer Cake
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 cup superfine sugar
2/3 cup soft brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
7 tbsp butter, melted
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and grease two 8-inch round cake pans.
2. Mix together the sifted flour, sugars, baking soda, and salt.
3. Separately mix together the buttermilk, melted butter, syrup, and vanilla extract and then stir into the dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in the chopped pecans.
4. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and bake in a preheated oven for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
5. Remove from the oven, let cool for 10 minutes in the pan, and then turn out onto a wire rack.
6. Frost with your choice of frosting.