cake

The Unfuck Yourself Cake

This cake scared the shit out of me.

I intended to bring it to board game night, my first time back after returning to the East Coast. This cake was meant to be a yellow cake from my favorite recipe, filled with chocolate mousse and wrapped in chocolate frosting. It was also the first cake in almost five months made with the blog in mind. I thought that as soon as I started baking again I’d start writing again, and once I started writing I could figure out some smart, funny way to explain my move back to DC.

Here’s how that went.

  • I didn’t start baking until 10 at night
  • I realized I forgot to buy cake flour
  • I stood at the kitchen counter for thirty minutes debating whether to go back to the store or just give up
  • I didn’t have a single clever thing to say

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Early Morning Mojito (Cake) (And Also Mojitos)

This cake is the unholy, beautiful love child of mojitos and egg transmutation. The chiffon cake layers, which get their airiness from whipped egg whites, are delicately sweet and intensely lime-flavored; the mint frosting is soft and light under a crisp outer layer. The whole construction is ridiculously airy. Mojitos are made to be drunk when it is impossibly hot outside and milk makes your whole body want to explode. In that spirit, this cake is dairy free and enjoyable even when it is stupidly fucking hot outside.

In an ideal world, I made a beautiful four-layer cake the night before my roommate’s barbeque and greeted the guests with absolutely no flour on my shirt. In this world, I crushed my hand with a flat pack from Ikea and then got distracted by Parks and Rec, so I had to do all my shopping and baking that morning. If you learn one thing from me, learn this: always drink your coffee before going to the grocery store at seven in the morning.

On to the baking!

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Peppermint Patty Cake: The Rise of Eggneto

I love whipping egg whites.  My mixer works way faster than recipes think it will, so I always feel like I’m ahead of the curve. I like motors and going fast. And I get a great deal of joy out of bending eggs into unlikely shapes through by holding my hand in place for a really long time. It makes me feel like Magneto.

MagnetoSketch_Color_200-1024x757(original by Kyle Frink, may he have mercy on my soul)

That’s why this cake is such a joy to make. It requires nine eggs, whipped up to obscene heights and molded into unexpected forms. It’s also a joy to eat. The filling is silky, the icing shines, and the cake itself just dissolves on the tongue. Also, it’s safe for gluten-free and dairy-sensitive people to eat. (There is milk in the chocolate, so it isn’t completely dairy-free.)

A Brief Word on Baking For People With Food Sensitivities

Feel free to skip this part if you are making the cake for non-gluten-sensitive people, or already have a gluten-free kitchen.

I am a lazy, corner-cutting bastard by nature. But food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances are not to be fucked around with. This is how I try to keep my friends and assorted cake-eaters safe. It takes a little work, but so does all baking. You shouldn’t feel obligated to make someone a gluten-free cake, just like you shouldn’t feel obligated to make ANY cake. But if you do say your food is free of an allergen, there isn’t any room for error on your part.

Personally, I am a trash human being. I don’t trust a single thing in my kitchen to be free of gluten or any other allergen. I get so much flour on my countertops that you could probably drop my entire kitchen in a deep fryer and serve it at a county fair. If you are anything like me—and by that I mean, if you have any doubt at all that your implements are not 100% clean and could never have been exposed to gluten since you put them away—wash them again with hot water, soap, and a new sponge. Scrub down the surfaces you’re going to be working on, or at least put a bit of plastic wrap down to rest your equipment on.

Think about your ingredients. Is it possible that you stuck a used measuring cup or spoon in those ingredients? Could you have possibly failed to scrub all the flour out of that jar before storing sugar in it? If so, open up a fresh version. Fortunately, this recipe only calls for two ingredients that could have been cross-contaminated–sugar and cocoa powder–and they’re both pretty cheap to buy new.

ON TO THE BAKING.

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The Cake I Couldn’t Light On Fire

In fantasy novels, peasants with birthmarks are born to fulfill heroic destinies. In critically acclaimed literary sci-fi, children are born in order to provide organ transplants to their siblings. In my kitchen, on my birthday, tiramisu cakes are born to be doused in high-proof liquor and lit on fire.

I made a big announcement. I invited people over. In the end, though, I just couldn’t do it. In part, the cake was too beautiful, too delicious, too wonderfully varied in flavor and texture. Like the huntsman in the Snow White story, I couldn’t stand to rip out the heart of something so innocent.

But also? I saw some horrifying shit while making this cake. My guests only saw it in its perfect, mousse-filled final form. But I witnessed what happened when I strayed from the recipe. The cloudburst-frosted facade cracked, and when I looked beyond it, I saw the abyss. It’s my personal policy never to provoke the powers of evil. So instead of opening a fiery gate to hell, I cut the cake into sixteen pieces and enjoyed it in its sweet, idealistic form.

My birthday cake was four layers of yellow cake brushed with coffee syrup, filled with alternating chocolate mousse and diplomat creme, and frosted with a brandy-vanilla cloudburst frosting. My birthday cake was possibly a portal to hell. My birthday cake was absolutely worth the risk.

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The Rubble Cake, or, What To Do When You Fuck Up

Shit happens. Has shit happened to you recently? Have you been the shit that happened to your kitchen?

Did your overly ambitious chocolate layer cake unravel in a dramatic lesson about man’s hubris?

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Did your attempts at making tiny sandwich snack cakes in charming winter patterns end up looking more like mayonnaise sandwiches on Wonder bread?

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Are you, like your cake, crumbling with feelings of inadequacy due to an inability to meet self-imposed deadlines?

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Are you, like me, asking a series of questions in the second person to reassure yourself that you aren’t alone in the universe?

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You aren’t alone. It’s going to be okay. In a world with butter, sugar, and brandy, all things are possible. Here’s how we fix it.

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Hubris Cake Part One: The Layers

I have a problem with chocolate cake.

This problem goes against all my Tenets Of Cake: the best cake is the one that makes the baker happy; shortcuts are awesome; sweat and suffering doesn’t actually make a cake taste better. But as soon as chocolate is involved, all my goodwill goes out the window. People go fucking crazy over anything with chocolate in it. Nobody has to work for chocolate flavor! A bar of Ghirardelli overshadows any citrus chiffon cake, paprika-spiced apples, or spice oil infusion that I can conjure. And it isn’t fair.

I am a whiny pissbaby about chocolate pastries. I’m not proud. That’s just how it is.

But people love their chocolate, and sometimes I am dumb enough to take cake requests. A friend at the comic book shop needed a going-away cake. Another friend had a birthday that same week. They both love chocolate. I conceded and, with no grace at all, decided to make two cakes at once with the most complicated fucking chocolate cake in the Joy of Cooking.

This went beyond pride to straight-up hubris. Hubris is arrogance on steroids, and it never ends well. Think Ariadne declaring that she’s a better weaver than Athena, or Odysseus deciding that he isn’t going to listen to a single goddamn piece of advice anyone gives him on the way home from Troy. When mortals decide they’re on the level of gods, the gods proceed to fuck their shit up. On this blog, I occasionally declare myself a God of Cake. I took it to far. I forgot that I am still subject to the unknowable forces of Oven, Ingredients, and Insufficiently Prepared Pans. I was punished.

Cake One was planned as a big three-layer chocolate cake with bourbon buttercream icing. Cake Two was planned as a single-layer cake with a hidden reservoir of caramel sauce and a coating of caramel, dark chocolate, and crushed pretzels. This did not go as planned.

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Tiny Chocolate Wine Cakes

I would like to take a moment to thank all of my friends for having birthdays. They enable my cake-related megalomania, and I love them for it. My friend Sarah likes red wine. She likes chocolate. And she had a birthday last week. These tiny cakes were the result, and they’re fucking magical. Rounds of rich red wine chocolate cake perch on thin discs of solid bittersweet chocolate, topped off with a dusting of powdered sugar and a swirl of cream cheese icing.

That sounds fancy as shit. And it is. But this base cake recipe is very, very forgiving.  The equipment used is a reward in and of itself. Through the magic of the holiday season, I received a number of tiny baking implements. And through the magic of this recipe, I got to use them all.

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This construction is also really tasty. When I’m putting together a new recipe, I aim for an initial punch of introductory flavor, a mellower but more satisfying mid-taste, and a lingering aftertaste. If my flavors trip all over each other, I haven’t made a dish. I’ve made a mess. This time, I got it right. The bittersweet crunch of the solid chocolate base is followed by the sweet tang of the icing, and rounded out by rich cocoa and red wine cake.

In short, this stuff is incredible. Grab hold of your tiny bakeware and follow me.

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