Monday, April 12, 2010

space cake

Milk in the batter! Milk in the batter! We bake cake and nothing’s the matter! – ‘In the Night Kitchen’ by Maurice Sendak


My husband calls me ‘space cake’.   He moved to the United States from Holland, ten years ago, but even with near perfect English, some of our common expressions remain foreign to him.  Once after I made a particularly absentminded remark, he replied, “You are such a space cake!”  For a moment, I thought he had cleverly invented a new expression and I was about to congratulate him on his wit when it dawned on me that he really thought I was a space cake, not a space case.  It sounded so much nicer and given my affinity for dessert, I considered myself aptly named.


I have a thing for cake.  And by cake I mean frosting.  I was not the kid who ate the frosting first.  I was the kid who ate the cake to get to the frosting.  It was advance atonement for the sugar to butter ratio I was about to consume.  It was my cake logic, which I equated to eating dinner before dessert.   At birthday parties, I would strategize, waiting in the wings until a corner piece was cut.  As a rule,  the first corner was a casualty, automatically given to the birthday girl or boy.  That meant that I was in the fray for one of the remaining three.  If the corners proved elusive, I could be wooed by a side piece or perhaps one with a big fondant rose.  Last resort was a dreaded middle piece.  I loathed those forlorn squares of near naked cake with their meager veneer of frosting, usually bearing a fragment of someone else’s happy birthday greeting.  I have since surmised that round cakes are the most diplomatic.  With their fine balance of frosting and cake, everybody wins. 

Photo0025Photo0028Photo Photo0027 (2) Photo0017 Photo0032  Photo0035Photo0039 Photo0033  

I was ten years old when I baked my first cake.  My mom was bedridden following major surgery and I decided to bake a cake to cheer her up.  It was with newfound independence that I entered the kitchen.  With mom incapacitated, I was feeling a bit like the lady of the manor.  I settled on a recipe for a white cake with buttercream frosting and got to work.  I followed the directions and was pleased when the cake came out of oven smelling warm, sweet and vanilla-laced.  It was miraculous to place pans full of pale yellow liquid into the oven and have them emerge as perfect golden rounds of oven-baked goodness.  While the cake cooled, I made the frosting.  The consistency seemed all wrong and I had no idea whether I should fix it or start over; so I did neither.  Rather, I attempted to frost the cake with pathetic, drippy frosting that was so runny, it refused to stick.  It just pooled like a moat around the base of the cake.  The end result was reminiscent of the scene in Sleeping Beauty when the three good fairies attempt to bake a cake without using their magic wands.   I have baked a good many cakes since and my conclusion is that magic wands and lots of practice are synonymous.

cakes I’ve made

I baked this cake for my husband’s birthday, nine years ago.  I found the recipe on the internet.  It is chocolate genoise cake with mocha buttercream frosting and chocolate ganache accents.  It looks much better than it tasted, which was a lot like a kitchen sponge iced with butter. 

A few years ago, I requested that my husband and daughter bake this cake for my birthday.  I ended up making it for myself when he panicked at the prospect of separating eggs.  The recipe is from Tasha Tudor and has a sweet story to go along with it.  It is white cake with boiled white frosting, tinted pink.  The roses are real.  The cake itself was quite airy, like biting into a pink sugar cloud.

When my daughter Annabelle turned four, she asked for a blue cake with pink flowers.  I used a recipe for hot milk cake.  I felt that the frosting needed work but everyone’s plates were empty, so it must have tasted alright.  I like to use the same hot milk cake recipe for berry shortcakes.  It is a very simple but delicious cake that works just as well, god forbid, without frosting.

If my omnivorous tendencies were ever in question, this cake proclaims the definitive answer.  Our friends had us over for dinner and barbequed pork shoulder was on the menu.  I baked this spice cake with penuche (maple fudge) frosting and added an homage to the tasty pig we ate that night.  The pork was delicious.  The cake was good but very sweet.  I get a toothache just thinking about it.  As is the case with many cakes, it tasted better the next day.  It is not easy to ice a cake with fudgy frosting.  You have to work fast.  The recipe is from a very cool cookbook called Birthday Cakes, published by Chronicle Books. 

My most successful cake to date was the one I made for Annabelle’s birthday, this year.  She had hoped for another entirely blue creation but this compromise was more palatable.  Annabelle and everyone else loved it.  The cake is a recipe by Alice Waters, called 1-2-3-4 cake.  Both the cake and the buttercream icing recipes can be found in the Birthday Cakes cookbook, by Chronicle Books.

IMG_4585 These nesting egg cupcakes are a happy springtime treat.  I make Alice Water’s 1-2-3-4 cake batter and then ice the cupcakes with vanilla buttercream before sprinkling coconut, dyed with green food coloring, and nesting chocolate eggs in the center.  Something otherworldly happens when you bring together a moist vanilla cupcake, silky buttercream, flaky coconut and creamy milk chocolate.

IMG_3161  I frequently make these individual molten chocolate cakes when guests come for dinner.  They are very simple to prepare and the batter can be made ahead and refrigerated.  I use Scharffen Berger chocolate and add vanilla bean and a pinch of fleur de sel to the batter. The soufflé style cakes are baked in ramekins, until a nice outer shell forms but the very center remains fluid.  I always serve these with good quality vanilla ice cream and organic raspberries.

best cakes in seattle

I have had my share of cake in Seattle.  Many bakeries offer it by the slice, making it possible to eat cake without the hoopla.  No party required.  If you love the stuff as much as I do, it is both ideal and dangerous to make cake an occasion unto itself.  I took up running a few years ago, and in conjunction with healthful eating, I lost around 65 pounds.  I have managed to stay in shape because I run six days a week, but more importantly, because I eat in moderation.  Thus, I can now have my cake and eat it too.

Lemon Chiffon Cake, B&O Espresso.  This cake is lighter than air, with layers of  lemon sponge cake and tart lemon curd, frosted in lemon buttercream and garnished with candied lemon peel.  It is refreshing and beautifully balanced.  A perfect summer cake.

The Chocolate White Chocolate Cake at Simply Desserts, in Fremont, is easily the best chocolate cake on the planet.  The white chocolate moniker does not accurately describe this cake.   It is moist, rich, full of chunks of chocolate, iced in white chocolate buttercream frosting and generously scattered with chocolate shavings.  A close second is another cake from the same bakery, called Chocolate Caramel Cake.  It is a chocolate cake with a caramel mousse filling, enrobed in chocolate ganache with caramel drizzled over the top.  The bakery is very tiny and has limited seating.  I always take my cake to go.

The white cake with white frosting, at Madison Park Bakery was my cake of choice the year I turned 29.  My birthday fell shortly after we returned from vacationing in Paris, hence the French birthday greeting.  This white cake is nostalgia to the hilt.  Its simplicity is its charm.  The cake is moist and not too sweet, a perfect host for the sugary delicious frosting which has a hint of almond flavor.  I dream about this cake.  Their cake decorator, Hilary, does a great job and can accommodate most requests.

Ten years ago, a coworker told me how much she loved the red velvet cake at Kingfish Cafe.  It was five years before I finally tried it.  Before I tasted it, I doubted how good a cake chock full of red food dye could be.  It is very good.  The cake is dense, moist and mildly sweet with tangy cream cheese icing and butterscotch whipped cream.  One slice is enough for a group of four or more.  It is enormous and decadent.  Occasionally, the Cafe has Pineapple Upside Down Cake with rich and buttery layers of yellow cake and sugary white icing accented by gobs of gooey caramelized pineapple on top.  In addition to their fabulous cakes, Kingfish Cafe is a great place to eat, offering Southern foods like catfish, gumbo and buttermilk fried chicken.  The ambiance is laid back vintage and the service is always friendly.

The cupcakes at Cupcake Royale are so near perfect, it is absurd.  The Dance Party, a straight up vanilla cupcake with dreamy vanilla buttercream, makes me weak in the knees.   Their Salted Caramel cupcake is its sophisticated counterpart, a fudgy chocolate cake with salty sweet caramel buttercream, topped with tiny dark chocolate curls.  Also fun are their seasonal cupcakes, such as Skagit Valley Strawberry, in the summertime.  My favorite location is their newest one, in Capital hill.

1 comment:

  1. I love your new post. I’m salivating over the pictures at work. Time to have the chocolate white chocolate cake soon...