Allow me to present the five stages of weeknight baking.
1. Perfection 2. Concern 3. Disaster 4. Compromise 5. I’m gonna finish this thing right but oh my god I don’t care anymore can I please go to sleep now
My workplace had a bake sale to support a breast cancer charity. I have some feelings about the pinkification of October. But I’m only mortal. When someone says CAKE, I say, HOW MANY AND CAN I PLEASE MAKE THEM TINY.
The reasonable response to baking something pink on a Tuesday night is to go to the friendly neighborhood grocery store, get a box of Funfetti, and pour in some food coloring. Or even to make a bigass red velvet cake and call it a day. But I didn’t want funfetti, and I didn’t want red velvet. I wanted raspberries and cream cheese frosting and the perfection of Smitten Kitchen’s birthday cake recipe. Plus, I had just bought the world’s most adorable four inch springform.
I only have myself to blame for what followed.
Disclaimer: The cake was really, really good. But making six tiny cakes took forever, and I started at 8 PM. My failures can be avoided by acting like a reasonable adult-type person.
The cake has three parts: the layers, the raspberry glaze, and the cream cheese frosting.
This recipe is straight from Smitten Kitchen. She calls it the Best Birthday Cake, and it lives up to the name. Her two-layer birthday cake translated to seven 4-inch rounds and one eight-inch layer (because I got tired and gave up on tiny cakes). Don’t ask me how that math works.
4 cups and 2 tablespoons cake flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs
2 cups buttermilk
4” round cake pan, or 4” glass Pyrex-type thing
Two mixing bowls
Fork/toothpick for testing
Preheat your oven to 350F. If you, like me, are congenitally incapable of remembering to leave butter out on the counter to soften, you can cheat by putting the cold hard sticks on the stovetop while your oven warms up. While you’re at it, throw the cream cheese for the frosting on there too.
You didn’t really think I would clean my stovetop before baking, did you?
Grab your butter, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and smaller mixing bowl. If you are the dedicated type, you can sift them together into the bowl. Or you can throw them all in and mix them up with a fork, like I did. Put your butter and sugar in the bigger mixing bowl. Beat them on medium speed until they are pale and fluffy, or as close as a mortal being can get them.
Up until this point, I was doing great. All my wet and dry ingredients were ready. My butter was softened. My bowls were out on the counter. And then I couldn’t find my second beater
Because that’s not pathetic.
And you know what? It worked just fine.
Everyone I know tells me that baking is a science. And I agree. Baking, like science, looks incredibly precise from the outside, but primarily consists of people adapting to incomplete materials, unrealistic deadlines, and massive underfunding. Try to keep your ratios of flour to baking soda to baking powder right. Mix your wet and dry ingredients separately. Follow the instructions to the best of your abilities. But you can make a great fucking cake without doing everything perfectly.
Add the eggs one at a time to your wet ingredients, beating after each egg. Pour in the buttermilk and mix that in on low speed. Your wet ingredients are going to look curdled and funky at this point. Just get everything combined together. Add the flour mixture in three portions, mixing until combined between each batch of flour.
Now! We have a tiny pan to deal with. The instructions say to butter the pan and line it with a round of parchment paper. I am not that fucking patient, so I used nonstick spray. Follow your heart, etc. Then plop about half a inch of batter in the bottom of the pan.
I’m really just looking for excuses to show you my tiny pan.
Then raise your pan a few inches above the counter and drop it. Do it again. Bless your neighbors for their patience in dealing with your racket. The goal is to get out any air bubbles, but making noise is fun too.
Each tiny layers needed 15 minutes in the oven to bake. My oven runs unpredictably hot, so your cakes might need more time than that. Just test to make sure a fork or toothpick comes out clean before pulling them out of the oven. Let the pan cool until you can pick it up without burning the fuck out of your fingers. Because I am a heartless, tired baker, I did not give them time to rest before taking them out of that little Springform. They plopped out just fine. And because no, seriously, why the hell am I doing this on a weeknight, I pressed one of my tiny Pirexes into service as well.
Now that you have your batter made and your oven established, I recommend continuing the Cake Cycle while working on the glaze and the frosting.
12 oz frozen raspberries, or fresh for fancy people
¼ cup sugar
Juice of ½ lemon
Dump all the ingredients into pot and put them on the stove over low heat. Squish the ingredients around with your whisk until the raspberries are mush. Pretend your whisk is coated in the blood of your enemies.
Pictured: the blood of my enemies.
This is called the crime scene cake because raspberry juice is going to get everywhere. Sorry. Just try and wipe it up before it dries. Cover the pot and leave it on low heat for about 5 minutes, or until everything is liquid and maybe starting to bubble a little.
Pour the contents of the pot through a strainer into your bowl to take out the raspberry seeds. I used a tiny, tiny strainer, so I needed to empty out the seeds in the middle. Proceed appropriately.
There was a sale on tiny baking implements, and I am weak.
Put your bowl of raspberry syrup in the fridge so it doesn’t melt the fuck out of everything once you’re ready to use it.
I used Smitten Kitchen’s recipe, here.
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup of butter, softened
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Put the cream cheese and the butter in the bowl and beat them together for about 2 minutes. Pour the sugar and vanilla on top and try to get everything mixed together. This part was hard. I don’t know if my lonely beater made it harder. My strategy ended up being: stick beater through sugar layer and deep into cream cheese/butter mixture; turn on mixer; gather large ball of cream cheese/butter; mush that ball around until it picked up some more sugar; blend the ball together. Repeat until everything is combined. If you want to be extra-fancy, pour a little of the raspberry syrup in and mix until the frosting is pink all over.
So now you have somewhere between one and six tiny cakes, a bowl of raspberry syrup, and a bowl of cream cheese frosting. Time to get serious. I found it helpful to have a staging plate in addition to my serving tray. What we’re going for are six two-layer cakes. Each mini cake is going to be sliced into two layers and then done up with syrup and frosting.
The tops of the cakes are gonna be puffy. If you care about getting the cake flat, or just want to try your creation, then go ahead and take a bread knife and chop off that top bit. The cuttings are a suitable sacrifice to you, the Cake God.
Your god is sleepy and demands sacrifice.
Grab that raspberry juice and baste the sides of your rounds. I found that basting the sides of the full round first, then cutting it in half, was easier than cutting it in half and then trying to baste the two tiny discs.
I forgot to take a picture of the easier method.
Once your round is cut, basted, and cut again, move the one of the two layers to your serving tray. Baste the top of it. Then spread a layer of cream cheese frosting on top and pop that second layer on. One more round of basting, and then the final layer of frosting. I had sprinkles on hand, so those went over top.
The first tiny cake went really well. Remember: step one is perfection.
The second time around, I got complacent. I thought, maybe I should be more careful. And then… the third cake happened.
I was right. I should have been more careful.
Step 4 is compromise. So instead of cutting the third cake into layers, I just… dumped raspberry sauce on top.
At this point, it was eleven o’clock. My staging plate was a fucking charnel house. I had raspberry sauce all over myself, the kitchen table, and my floor. But there was more cake to be fixed, and I felt a deep sense of shame in my cheat-cake. So the last two rounds were done properly, in a frenzy of exhaustion and red spatters.
Is cake spatter analyst a job?
And finally, at midnight, I was done. Except for the dishes. Which I left until the next day. That was a problem for future-me.
This combination was really, really good. My coworkers approved. It was also a pain in my ass. I love tiny baked goods. But next time, I’ll make them on the weekend.
The Mess Report
Fuck me right in the eye.
Next time: Apple Oat Death Stars