I will never understand people who say, "I don't like cake." What kind of a statement is that? Who does not like cake? Could it be that they have been deprived of ever eating proper cake in their lifetime? Perhaps they have only had the kind of cake ordered from the local supermarket to be served to large numbers at a ribbon cutting ceremony or someone's 80th birthday party. A huge sheet cake frosted in garish colors with overly sugary, super thick frosting. Then I can at least understand why cake would not be high on that person's list of treats. It's sad but true that even some wedding cakes that cost a pretty penny and are so beautifully decorated they trick the guests into believing that of course, the taste must be outstanding, out of this world, moist and melt in your mouth flavorful are actually quite disappointing once they are cut and served on tiny plates. Upsetting.
I think a lot about cake as icy cold February leads into still icy and still cold March. March is known in my family as the birthday month with now so many people claiming a day that we actually have some overlap and necessary sharing. When I was little, there were only 4 of us that I knew of claiming March as their birthday month. My sister, Karyn and I on the 11th, Val on the17th and my brother, Ethan on the 21st. Since Ethan is the youngest and the last one of the month, a few times, he received a wedge of cake instead of whole one for himself. Val claims we were all sick of cake (can you believe it?) by then and he wasn't supposed to notice since he was likely only a toddler. I tend to think that she might have been tired of baking an average of a cake per week and with our demands for certain decorations ( I recall her making a tiger cake for my 4th birthday) she must have been ready to through in the towel. In later years, she began to switch it up. One of my fondest "cake" memories took place on my 16th birthday. Val surprised me with an elegant dinner: candle light, white table cloth, etc. While my dad drove around town secretly picking my friends up for the soiree, I questioned Val on the number of place settings, but she kept her lips sealed. I was over the top surprised and delighted when my girls came to the door giggling with their overnight bags, cards and gifts. I have to admit I don't recall the meal but I will never forget the cake: a rich chocolate cheesecake with a chocolate crumb crust decorated with dollops of cold whipped cream, each cloud accented with a bittersweet chocolate heart. Although it wasn't a traditional birthday cake, it perfectly represented everything I love: chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate.
There are times other than birthdays that I absolutely crave cake. And I'm not the only one. Recently, I came across a blog post on Smitten Kitchen: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2015/02/the-i-want-chocolate-cake-cake/ The author, Deb Perelman describes a moment where she absolutely must have cake (and a chocolate one at that). I couldn't agree with her more. Like hers, my recipe below is an easy one, too. You can choose to eat it as is, which works great for packing it up easily for lunches. Serve it warm with a dollop of whipped cream to impress your dinner guests. And it always works with a big scoop of melty vanilla ice cream, especially when the soft ice cream gets partially absorbed into the cake...mmmm. In this version, I opted to slice it horizontally and add a layer of buttercream frosting and a skim of raspberry jam. (Frosting it on the inside only keeps the frosting in place and prevents it from sticking to the plastic wrap when you pack it up for lunch. There is almost nothing more disappointing than looking forward all morning to the sweet in your lunchbox only to lose the entire cake frosting to the packaging and having to scrape it off with a fork, or, your tongue. (You know you've done it.)
Here is one of my go-to chocolate cake recipes. Enjoy it, riff on it, share it. And please if I make it to 80, somebody make me a homemade cake!
Chocolate Chocolate Cake
(makes about 9 servings)
1 1/4 cups AP flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
1 tablespoon instant coffee
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup melted butter
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
Buttercream Frosting (see recipe below)
3-4 tablespoons raspberry jam (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9x9 baking pan or round cake pan with cooking spray.
Combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, coffee, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium sized mixing bowl. Whisk together buttermilk, butter, eggs and vanilla in another bowl. Add wet mixture to dry ingredients and stir to combine thoroughly without overmixing. Pour batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top.
Bake for 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the pan on a rack for 5 minutes. Invert cake to remove from pan and allow to cool on rack for a few hours.
Cut cake horizontally into 2 equal slices. Place bottom slice on a plate. Coat top of slice with a layer of buttercream frosting (see recipe below) about 1/4 inch thick. Top frosting with a skim of raspberry jam, if desired. Place top half of cake (with chocolate chips) on top of frosted half. Enjoy!
This frosting is all-purpose. I use it to frost sugar cookies, cupcakes or eat it straight out of the bowl.
(enough for 1/2 layer, double for complete 2 layer cake)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 cup milk, plus more if needed
Place butter in a mixing bowl and beat until creamy. Add sugar and combine well. Mix vanilla into frosting. Add milk slowly until desired consistency is achieved. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.