Tag Archives: cake

Gooey Butter Cake Bars

So I don’t often bake in my own kitchen. I adore my apartment, and the kitchen is perfect for every-day cooking, but when it comes to baking three-layer cakes, it just doesn’t have the counter space.

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Or a dishwasher for that matter (but note the love of my life my Kitchenaid 600 series in red, 6 quart bowl, 590 horsepower… Perfect).

I do most of my baking at the home of a close-friend who has graciously offered me the use of her two (yes TWO!!) ovens, and giant kitchen island whenever I need it. In exchange I leave her house smelling like cake, and occasionally bake for her family as well (ok, it isn’t so occasional, it’s like a weekly thing…)

But last week I went to a friend’s for dinner, and casually offered to bake dessert, without planning ahead, or thinking about the actual amount of time I had that afternoon. Turns out, it wasn’t enough time for me to drive to and from my friend’s, workout, shower, change, and drive over to the east bay where my friend’s dinner was. Especially in rush hour traffic.

I know, I know. First-world-problems.

So I scoured the internet for easy, quick, delicious bar recipes, and stumbled across a recipe that’s been on my to-bake list for over a year.

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Gooey butter-cake bars. I believe this recipe has southern origins in St. Louis, Missouri. I’m also fairly certain Paula Dean originally made it famous. It’s called butter cake after all. This particular version comes from the Momofuku Milk Bar book, which tweaks the original a bit to make the centre a touch gooey-er. It’s a good thing. Trust me.

It’s a recipe that I wouldn’t normally make. The base is boxed yellow cake, and I don’t typically believe in using boxed mixes. Half the joy of baking for me comes from carefully measuring ingredients and knowing that I made it from scratch. But I was afraid to mess with what everyone else seemed to say was perfection. Furthermore I was running out of time, and fast. So I ran to the store and bought a box of yellow cake mix, a bag of powdered sugar, and a block of cream cheese. I didn’t need to buy butter because my fridge currently looks like this:

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Send help, in the form of butter-heavy recipes please. Except I’m not sure I need that much help finding recipes that overuse butter. Please note the name of this blog.

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To the cake mix I added a single egg and a melted stick of butter, then I pressed it into the bottom of a parchment lined 8 by 8 baking dish.

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The powered sugar was beaten with the block of cream cheese, two more eggs, and a teaspoon of vanilla until smooth, then poured on top of the base.

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The whole thing was in the oven within 15 minutes, and baked for 52. The recipe said 40-45, but my oven is a gas oven and while I do have an oven thermometer I think it tends to run a bit cold. Regardless, 52 minutes was perfect. The centre was a touch jiggly but it set beautifully so that when I cut into it later that evening it held together yet remained perfectly gooey. The edges were golden brown and slightly crispy on top. We spent some time debating which was better: the centre pieces or the edge pieces. The results were unconclusive. I’ll probably have to make it again so we can come to some kind of agreement…

The top was slightly flakey, the bottom just soft enough to differentiate from the filling. I may be a convert to boxed cake mix in certain situations.

I would’ve taken a picture of the inside… But I forgot to pull out my camera. It was one of those great nights with lots of friends, some wine, some beer, laughter, and great food. So you’ll have to trust me: these were outstanding.

Gooey Butter Cake Bars

Makes about 64 1-inch squares, feeds much fewer than 64 people, good luck stopping at one square.

Ingredients:

1 Box yellow cake mix

3 Eggs

1 stick (1/2 cup, 4 ounces) of unsalted butter, melted

1 block (8 ounces) of cream cheese, softened

1lb (one bag) of powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line an 8 by 8 pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang. This will make the bars a snap to remove and cut.

2. In a medium bowl melt the butter in the microwave. Then mix, using a wooden spoon with cake mix, and one egg until mixture is uniform. Press into bottom of prepared pan.

3. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat together powdered sugar, remaining two eggs, cream cheese and vanilla until smooth and uniform. Pour over the base and spread to the edge using a rubber spatula.

4. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the edges are golden brown and the centre is lightly brown and still slightly jiggly – similar to a cheesecake. Let cool COMPLETELY before slicing into 1inch squares using a sharp knife.

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Pistachio Cake with Honey-Vanilla Frosting

I disappeared for a while. I know. But I have the best excuse ever. No really. I spent the month of January in Paris and Dusseldorf, working for my old company and running around Europe with a good friend.

Fortunately there was a lot of eating. We enjoyed croissants, house-made bratwurst, German style red-cabbage, fondue… the list goes on. Of course, me being me, most of it went un-pictured. I adore food, but I’m not exactly great about documenting my adventures in pictures. I generally leave that to everyone else.

What I am good at however, is baking. So when, a few weeks after my return, my friends and I decided to throw a surprise birthday party for my closest and oldest friend’s 25th birthday party, I knew I was making cake.

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And after a month in Europe, eating pistachio macaroons like it was my job (which it unfortunately was not) I made pistachio cake with a cooked honey-vanilla buttercream. It was my first time attempting this kind of frosting, but I’m pleased to say it came out perfectly. Not to sweet, soft, fluffy, and lacking that grit that tends to come from the traditional, powdered-sugar structured butter-creams. My favourite remains my beloved swiss-meringue buttercream, but this certainly takes less time and the frosting is less finicky.

The cake recipe comes from one of my favourite cookbooks, BAKED Explorations, which I have talked about before. I love their maple cupcake recipe, and I loved this recipe. I made a slight adjustment to the original, subbing an extra stick of butter in for the 1/2 cup of shortening it asked for. I have nothing against shortening per-say, but I believe natural ingredients are best, and butter is natural.

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This cake whipped up easily. I baked the layers on Friday evening, froze them overnight, and assembled the cake Saturday morning before heading up to Sacramento for the aforementioned surprise party.

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Please tell me I’m not the only one who’s idea of a perfect Saturday morning is crumb-coating at 8:00am.

And if it isn’t, then make this cake, it may just change your mind about Saturday morning activities.

Pistachio Cake with Honey Vanilla Buttercream (makes one three-layer 8-inch round cake)

Lightly adapted from BAKED: Explorations

For the Cake:

1 cup shelled pistachios

2 1/2 cups of cake flour

3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoons of salt

1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 3/4 cups of sugar

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (TJ’s makes a Mexican vanilla extract that is really good and really reasonably priced)

1 large egg

3 large egg whites

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Process:

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans, flour and tap out the excess. Then line with parchment circles cut to fit the bottom of the pans.

2. In a food processor, process the pistachios until coarsely chopped. Stop the food processor and remove roughly 2 tablespoons worth of pistachios, place in a medium sized bowl. Process the rest until they are almost powder-like. Add to the coarsely chopped pistachios. Sift both flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into the same bowl as the pistachios. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment cream beat the butter until creamy. This should take 3-4 minutes. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, roughly 3 minutes.

4. Scrape down the bowl, and add the whole egg, beating until just combined, turn the mixer to low.

5. Place a few ice-cubs in a measuring cup, then add cold water until just below the 1 1/2 cup mark. Wait a few minutes for the ice to melt and then measure water to 1 1/2 cups.

6. Add the flour mixture to the mixer in three additions, alternating with the ice-water in three additions. Begin and end with the flour. When adding turn the mixer to low to add the ingredients and then kick the speed up to medium for a few seconds to thoroughly incorporate. When done scrape down the bowl, and mix on low speed for a few more seconds.

7. In a medium bowl whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Believe it or not, you can do this by hand. It takes about 3 minutes and is a GREAT workout for your biceps and forearms. Do not over-beat (when I say soft-peaks I do mean soft) and then gently fold the egg-whites into the batter.

8. Divide batter into the three prepared pans, and smooth the tops with an offset-spatula. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 20 minutes before turning the cakes out onto the rack to cool completely.

For the Frosting:

1 1/2 cups of sugar

1/3 cup of all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups of whole milk

1/3 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cubed and room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 tablespoons of honey

Process:

1. In a medium-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together.

2. Add milk and cream to the saucepan and cook it over medium heat, whisking initially to combine and then every few minutes as it comes to a boil. After about 10-15 minutes it will have thickened to a glue-like consistency. Pull it off the heat and transfer into a mixing bowl fitted with a paddle attachment.

3. Beat on high speed until the outside of the bowl is cool to touch. This takes about 7-9 minutes.

4. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter gradually. Ensure it is fully mixed in and then bring the speed up to medium-high and mix until the frosting goes fluffy and light.

5. Add the vanilla and honey to the frosting and mix until uniform.

Assembly:

1. Lay the first layer onto a cake stand or serving platter and trim the top to level the cake. Place a heaping cup of frosting over the top and smooth it out. Repeat with the next layer before placing the final layer on top.

2. Coat the outside of the cake with a thin layer of frosting – the crumb coat, and then place in the fridge for 15-30 minutes to set.

3. Pull out of the fridge and then spread the sides and top of the cake with remaining frosting. Garnish with crushed pistachios.

– Note: the cake keeps great in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days. If you’re worried though it keeps well in the fridge as well.

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Sweet Potato Cake

This is the best cake I have ever made.

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Seriously.

I know I say it every post, but seriously, this cake is a bit of a miracle. I mean there’s a lot going on.

The cake is sweet-potato, with a generous amount of cinnamon and ground ginger, and finely chopped crystallized ginger.

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The filling is toasted marshmallow. Yes. Toasted marshmallow. I don’t think I need to elaborate any further.

The frosting? Brown-sugar-cinnamon Swiss Meringue Buttercream. The amazing thing is that swapping brown sugar in for the white sugar usually used in SMB makes a massive difference in the flavour. It adds a certain sense of warmth, and the addition of cinnamon just takes it to the next level.

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To finish it all off, there are the candied pecans. Sprinkled over the top of the cake, they add a crunch and nuttiness that just finishes the whole thing off.

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As I said, there’s a lot going on in this cake and the miracle is that all the different elements don’t just work together, they literally sing.

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Yes, I went there. I referred to food as singing. But it’s appropriate. Think of the flavours as different harmonies, and when they come together it’s pretty amazing.

Ok, I took it too far. I’ll stop with the bad analogies.

Now.

So I served four desserts at Thanksgiving, and this is the one that was finished off first. This cake earned me more compliments than anything else I made. The cake itself is light, moist, sweet, lightly-spiced, and unique. The toasted marshmallow filling is reminiscent of campfires, and the mildness compliments the cake’s complexity. And the frosting… Well it’s Swiss Meringue Buttercream. Lightly, floaty, not too sweet, with a depth and complexity that comes from the use of brown-sugar and the addition of cinnamon which ties it to the rest of the cake. The pecans just take the entire thing over the top, from outstanding to life changing.

As I said, this was the best cake I’ve ever made.

This cake takes a while. I baked it on Tuesday and froze it wrapped tightly in two layers of plastic wrap. I made the frosting on Wednesday, and made the filling and completed the assembly on Thursday (Thanksgiving day) morning.

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And yes, you have to split the cake layers. Yes, it’s terrifying, but as you can tell from the picture above I didn’t do a perfect job and I still pulled off an awesome cake. So don’t stress it too much. Frosting can cover up all kinds of mistakes.

But it was worth it. Absolutely, 100% worth it.

Once again, I made no changes to Sweetapolita’s outstanding recipe, so the next time you need a show-stopping cake to make, make this one.

There will be miraculous music, I promise.

I lied when I said I was done with bad analogies. I’m sorry. Ok, that’s a lie too.

Just make the cake, it’s a really, really good idea.

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Vanilla Bean White Cake with Whipped Vanilla Frosting

I would apologize for the fact that all the photos for this post come off my iphone camera, but this cake needs to be talked about. Badly. And when I turned on my DSLR this morning as I pulled the eggs and butter out of the fridge, it flashed that terrible ‘low battery’ warning and then died. So I turned to my phone because waiting to bake until the battery charged just wasn’t going to happen.

But enough about cameras, let’s discuss cake.

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This cake is a fluffy, light, yet somehow still moist (yes, I hate the word too) vanilla bean white cake with the smoothest, most delicious whipped vanilla frosting that tastes like ice-cream.

White cakes are interesting. Often they are dry, crumbly, and dense. The batters are temperamental. A high liquid content leaves them prone to curdling and we’ve all accidentally dropped the yolks into the egg whites as we separated them right? Right?? No, just me? Well now you know my secret. I make mistakes too.

But let me assure you that this cake is worth careful egg-separating, and ensuring you don’t add your liquids to the batter too quickly.

This is one of those cakes where you promise yourself you’ll only have a sliver and then the next thing you know, half of it has disappeared. Does that happen to anyone else? Please say yes.

This is one of those cakes people talk about for months. I first served this cake during a dinner party a friend threw in September. Three months later I’m still being reminded that I need to make this very cake for all upcoming birthdays and events. This cake will make you a lot of friends, and isn’t that why everyone bakes? Do me a favour and just agree.

This cake isn’t fancy, and it’s not the most show-stopping of cakes but the flavour and texture are perfect.

The recipe comes from my absolute favourite cake blog – Sweetapolita, and since I made absolutely no changes to her already flawless recipe I’ll let you head over to her blog for the exact details on how to make this cake.

Instead, I want to talk about cake decorating.

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Look, I understand. Really I do. Layer cakes are intimidating. You have to prepare pans with parchment paper, somehow flip out still warm cakes without ripping them in half. Then wait patiently while they cool. Level, mask, frost, pray to the cake gods that you have enough frosting to fill all your layers and cover your entire cake….

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But I’m here to tell you it’s easy. Seriously, if I can do it, you can too. All it takes is a bit of patience, some precision, and the right tools. I like to use a rubber spatula, an offset pallet knife, and a straight pallet knife. A bench scraper is helpful in getting those elusive perfect edges.

It all begins with good pan preparation. I know this seems tedious and a bit excessive, but trust me when I say it makes a world of difference. After you preheat the oven, and before you do anything else you absolutely must, must MUST do the following: generously butter your pans, drop in a tablespoon or so of flour and coat the sides of your pan with flour before tapping out the excess. Now for the fun part. Place the pan on a piece of parchment paper and trace it. Cut out the circle, then place it in the bottom of the pan. This guarantees a perfect release. Every. Single. Time. No more ripped cakes, no more banging, tapping, or prying. Just loosen the edges when they come out of the oven, and then flip them onto a cooling rack.

While your cakes cool, make your frosting.

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Let me take a moment to say, that I love frosting.

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I’m pretty certain I make cake, simply so I can eat frosting. This frosting in particular will change your life. I frequently state that foods will change your life. I know that. But you should know that while I say it often, I don’t say it lightly.

Once your cakes have cooled, grab a turntable (You can find a cheap, ugly, but ultimately functional one at Michael’s for around $20. No it wont last forever, but if you’re like me and cheap, it’ll work), and place a smear of frosting on the turntable. Then plop your cake layer down on top. The frosting keeps it in place, and keeps your cake from sliding off the turntable.

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Then cover the top with a generous layer of frosting, before laying on the second layer. Repeat with any additional layers, though I only used two in this instance.

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Using a rubber spatula, press frosting onto the sides. Then hold the straight pallet knife against the side of the cake and slowly spin the turntable to spread across the sides of the cake. Get a thin layer on there, and then throw the cake into the fridge for about half an hour.

When the frosting has set, pull it out and throw on a thicker layer. This is where I like to hold a bench scraper lightly against the side as I turn the cake to get really smooth edges.

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Decorate as you see fit. Tonight, since this is for a friend’s birthday, I chose sprinkles. You can’t go wrong with sprinkles right?

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Just agree with me. It’ll be easier that way.

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