Devil’s Food Cake (and Chocolate Whipped Cream Frosting)

This spring, I became the last person in America—the last person in the world?—to fall head over heels for The Great British Bake-Off, an utterly charming reality competition about very nice people crafting elaborate pastries in the English countryside. Whoever wins gets nothing more than a quiet sense of self-satisfaction and a tacky glass cake stand. It’s comforting; it’s soothing; it’s an endless font of baking jargon I’d never heard before, and binging it over the course of a few months has given my husband and me an insatiable need to bring up frangipane and choux pastry and Victoria sponges (to say nothing of  joconde or genoise!!) as frequently as possible. But only when we’re alone, I promise.

I won’t say that the series inspired this cake, although there is, apparently, a recipe for devil’s food cake in a cookbook associated with the show. But I will say that our binge gave me a renewed appreciation for idiosyncratic pastries with silly names, the Bakewell tarts and charlotte russes and baba au rhums of the world. Continue reading

Date-Chocolate Cake

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Sing, Muse, of the best reason I’ve found so far to get engaged!

Yes, I’m looking forward to the wedding itself (which is, er, next week, somehow), and to a lifetime of happiness with the man I love, and yada yada yada. But seriously, folks: can we talk about my beautiful new Kitchenaid, a gorgeous piece of equipment that I fall a little more deeply for with every passing day? Never before in my adult life have I had the proper tool to whip cream (see exhibits A and B), or egg whites, or create a perfectly smooth cheesecake filling, or even cream butter, really, without giving my biceps a major workout. This baby will even knead bread for you. Knead! Bread! For! You! When I’m fully recovered from looming wedding self-consciousness—which, in my case, has largely taken the form of “hmm, maybe I shouldn’t have an enormous sandwich for lunch every day, followed by a brownie”—oh, the things we will make together. Continue reading

Cheesecake

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Yes, you’re not seeing things: this is a cheesecake being sliced on top of a paper bag, which is itself perched on top of a blanket, on top of some grass, on top of some dirt, and so on. Because when you think “late-summer afternoon picnic,” you obviously think “dairy-based dessert that must be refrigerated for hours before being served,” right?

You know what, though? Having brought a cheesecake to a picnic (my version of bringing a gun to a knife-fight, I guess), I can say now that the decision really wasn’t that weird—eating it at the park was sort of like eating ice cream, but, you know, ice cream made of cream cheese and bordered by crumbled graham crackers that can only be consumed using a fork or your own dirty fingers. Continue reading

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

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Is anything else as gloriously retro as a pineapple upside-down cake? The very name invokes visions of Betty Draper in an A-line dress, covered by a tiny, impractical apron, proudly brandishing a golden-brown, can-born concoction that she didn’t actually bake herself. (Justice for Carla!)

Even the origins of this cake are kitschy: apparently, it entered the American lexicon only after some genius at Dole figured out a mechanical way to slice the tropical fruit into perfect, even rings. Replace the humble apples of a French tarte tartin with the processed, sugar-soaked slices sold by a capitalist supercorporation, and boom: pineapple upside-down cake. Hell, it may be even more American than apple pie. Continue reading

Cooky Shortcake

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Almost exactly one year ago, I put forth this blog’s very first recipe. It was old-fashioned; it was fairly simple; it was, by all accounts, not much to look at.  But it was also satisfying in a homey, comfort-food sort of way, the way only something that’s homemade (and looks it) could be.

Which brings me to our 52nd (!) recipe: a dessert presented in Nonnie’s cookbook as “Cooky Shortcake,” a name that reveals just about nothing. Is it a cookie? Is it a cake? Is it short? The answers, in order: no, yes, and yes. Continue reading

Chocolate Chip Cake (again)

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I was raised to prize homemade desserts over the grocery store kind, to always choose a slightly misshapen, even over-or-underdone chocolate cookie over a perfectly round, pale yellow circle with impeccably spread, machine-made icing. (Unless we’re talking about an Eat’n Park smiley face cookie, in which case all bets are off.) Desserts made from scratch are just better, my mom always said, and I’m sure she got that from Nonnie before her—they’re less sweet, more complex, filled with the rich, satisfying taste of real butter.

I still believe all this to be true. However: For those awful moments when, whoops, you’re feeling snobby and superior but don’t actually have time to whip up an entire cake from scratch (perish the thought!), there is in fact a decent halfway solution. Continue reading