Dessert table for the party, including Martha Washington’s Great Cake

Dessert table for the party, including Martha Washington’s Great Cake

Classic Cupcakes: Golden Yellow with Chocolate Icing

Every year before my birthday my mom would ask what kind of cake I wanted. The answer was almost always yellow cake with chocolate icing. Such a classic combination and crowd pleaser. For me, there is something special about the flavor combo, however since my mom always used a box cake mix and tub frosting, I was worried that a ‘from-scratch’ version would not be the same. After making these cupcakes, I proved myself wrong. The cakes have a better flavor, and the chocolate icing has a deeper flavor and richer texture (plus there are no preservatives or chemicals!) 

Ingredients

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups granulated sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt 

3/4 cup butter, softened

1 cup whole milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp almond extract

4 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare muffin tins with paper liners, or grease each well with butter. Combine all dry ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer. Add the butter and combine until the mixture looks sandy.

Stir the flavorings into the milk, and add all at once. Beat at medium speed for 30 seconds and scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.

Add the first egg, then beat at medium speed for 30 seconds. Repeat with the remaining 3 eggs. Divide the batter among the pans (about 1/4 cup batter). The recipe usually yields 28 cupcakes. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until slightly golden on top. Cool completely on racks.

Chocolate Icing

3 cups powdered sugar

1 cup unsweetened cocoa

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 tsp almond (or vanilla) extract

1/3 cup heavy cream

Cream the butter with the extract. Sift together the sugar and the cocoa. Add to the butter and combine until dry and crumbly. Keep the mixer on the slowest setting and slowly add the heavy cream.

 Increase the speed to medium-high and beat for 1 minute.

Scoop the icing into a pastry bag fitted with the tip of your choice. Pipe onto the cooled cupcakes. This recipe makes enough icing for 16-18 cakes. I made 2 batches, one using milk chocolate cocoa powder and one with dark chocolate. 

I wanted to give my cupcakes a bit of pretty, so I purchased some pre-made fondant (Wilton brand, available at craft stores). I rolled out a small circle and punched out little flowers using a mini fondant plunger cutter (also available at craft stores). 

After cutting each flower, the plunger pops the flower out where you want it placed. It also leaves a small indentation for a pearl sprinkle. 

All done! It took some time, but the flowers give the cupcake something extra special. 

I have a giant 12x18 sheet cake, iced in white. I have ‘bakers block’…any suggestions for decorating? (Taken with Instagram)

I have a giant 12x18 sheet cake, iced in white. I have ‘bakers block’…any suggestions for decorating? (Taken with Instagram)

Grapefruit Upside-Down Cake


Recently I ate my first grapefruit. Yes, I am in my 30s, but I never attempted to eat a grapefruit after the one time I tasted one as a kid. To a child, the flavor was overpoweringly bitter and acidic. I had sworn them off until a couple weeks ago, until a friend urged me to try a slice of his, and now I can’t get enough. The flavor is bright, tart, and so refreshing and delicious…it’s like my taste buds dance. I had to stop bringing them to work because no matter how careful I was, there would always be little spots of pink juice on my clothes. Grapefruit - it’s my new food obsession. So to fuel my obsession, I had to bake with it. You would think there would be lots of great recipes out there that feature grapefruit, but there are not many, and this is one of the few that I will attempt. This recipe is for a grapefruit upside-down cake, similar to the pineapple version, however the cake is a deeper flavored spice cake which balances out the grapefruit. 

Ingredients

10 tablespoons unsalted butter

¾ cup packed light-brown sugar

2 small pink grapefruit

1 ½ cups flour

1 ½ tsp baking powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon

¾ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp ground allspice

½ cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

½ cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put 4 tablespoons butter in a 9-inch pan, and place in the oven just long enough to melt the butter. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle 1/2 cup brown sugar evenly in the pan. Peel and remove as much rind as possible from the grapefruit. Layer the slices and pieces over the sugar. 

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking power, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, and allspice. In the stand mixer, beat the remaining butter until creamy. Add sugars and beat until well combined. Add eggs, one at a time, then add vanilla.  

Alternately add dry ingredients and milk to butter mixture, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Pour batter over grapefruit.  

Bake for 40 minutes, cool for 5 minutes and turn out onto serving plate. Serve warm or cool. Whipped cream is a great garnish too for this cake.  

The spice cake is moist and flavorful, the grapefruit zing is very punchy and, well, zingy. The kid me would not have liked this cake, but the adult me loved it!

Recipe courtesy www.marthastewart.com

Red Velvet Cake

What is Red Velvet Cake? Is it chocolate? or vanilla? And what does the color red taste like? I discovered that it’s actually a version of devil’s food cake, the cocoa power and the acid in the buttermilk react and give the cake a natural red tint. For more drama and flair, bakers have added red food color. Back in the day, women used to use beet juice color their red velvets, due to the scarcity of red food dye. Beet flavored cake just sounds terrible, so I opted for the dye. This version has a medium chocolate flavor, not to rich and not too light, perfect with cream cheese frosting. 

Ingredients

2 sticks butter, softened

1 ¼ cups sugar

1 ¼ cups brown sugar

6 large eggs

2 tsp vanilla

3 cups all-purpose flour

¼ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

¼ cup Dutch-process cocoa

1 cup buttermilk

½ oz red food color

Grease and flour 3 8” or 9” pans (I used 9”) and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. 

Cream the butter in the mixer on medium speed. Gradually add both sugars and beat well. 

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat until blended. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder. 

Alternate 1 cup of the flour and 1/3 cup buttermilk to the batter, beating well between each addition. Remember to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl. 

Here is the potentially messy part. Slowly and carefully add the red food color to the batter. I was so careful, but I still ended up staining my wood counter top. Luckily, a little sandpaper took care of the spots. 

Pour the batter into the 3 pans. I used a kitchen scale to ensure my layers were even. Bake the cakes for 35-40 minutes. Cool completely on racks before assembling. 

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 stick butter, softened

16 oz cream cheese, softened

4 cups confectioner’s sugar

1 tsp vanilla 

Cream the butter and the cream cheese on medium speed. Gradually add all the sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Stir in the vanilla just until blended. 

Now for the fun and pretty part - assemble and frost the cake. There is plenty of frosting, so no need to skimp on the filling in between the layers. 

This cake is HUGE and heavy, just to warn you. I carried mine to the bus stop and then into my office. I was a bit concerned that the handle on my carrier would break. It was still devoured in just under 2 hours by my office mates, the size stopped no one. 

Buttered Rum Cake

It’s July, so why not make a Christmas cake? Well, it’s the tradition for the Caribbean, but this recipe is not exactly traditional. A real Caribbean Rum cake is dark and includes fruits and nuts, similar to a fruitcake. This cake is more of a light yellow cake with the rich flavor of buttery rum - a summer version of a winter cake. 

This recipe is a ‘from-scratch’ recipe, unlike most of the recipes found on the internet that use box cake mixes. You may also get creative and add coconut flakes or nuts to the glaze on top of the cake (not the underbelly). 

Ingredients 

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 cup light brown sugar

4 large eggs

1 Tbs light rum

3 cups cake flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

1 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, and grease a 12-cup bundt pan.

With your mixer set on low speed, cream the butter. Gradually add both the sugars and beat until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, and beat well after each addition, 1 to 2 minutes is ideal.

Add the rum and beat well to incorporate. You may use light rum or rum extract, I went for the good stuff and used real rum. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set the mixer on low and add one cup of flour, beat well. Then add 1/3 cup of buttermilk, beat well. Repeat until all flour and milk are incorporated. HINT - remember this technique, most cake recipes use this method for adding the flour and liquids. 

Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan. I just bought this beautiful NordicWare 60th Anniversary bundt pan. Many happy times are ahead for us :)

Bake the cake in the center of the oven for 1 hour. In the last 5 minutes of bake time, prepare the butter rum glaze.

Ingredients

1/3 cup butter

3/4 cup sugar

3 Tbs light rum

2 tsp water

Over medium-low heat, melt the butter completely. Then add the sugar, rum, and water. Stir until smooth and remove from heat.

Remove the cake from the oven. Use a toothpick or skewer to pierce the cake all over. This will allow saturation of the glaze on the underbelly of the cake (YUM). 

Drizzle 3/4 of the glaze directly in the pan. Allow the cake to soak up the rum for 10 minutes. Turn out the cake onto a rack to finish cooling. Drizzle the remaining glaze over the top of the cake. 

This is a simple, light, and pretty cake. I prefer my rum cakes to be a higher proof than this one, however this rum cake is perfect for everyone. Just enough rum for a balanced flavor, and not too much to catch a buzz.

Recipe is courtesy of Melissa Gray’s book All Cakes Considered. 

Brown Sugar Pound Cake

A Brown Sugar pound cake? Immediately I thought back to my childhood, of my little sister sitting on the countertop eating brown sugar right out of the bag. If she loved it enough to eat straight, why not make it the main flavor in a cake? After all, what is brown sugar anyway? It’s just white granulated sugar with added molasses. And I love the flavor of molasses, it gives cookies and cakes a distinct old-fashioned flavor. I had to give this recipe a try, and I am so glad I did.

Ingredients

1 cup butter, softened

½ cup shortening

2 ¼ cups brown sugar (light or dark)

½ cup sugar

5 large eggs

3 cups All Purpose flour

½ tsp baking powder

1 cup milk

2 Tbs vanilla extract

1 cup chopped pecans

For this recipe, you will need a 10-inch tube pan or Angel Food cake pan. I lined the bottom of the pan with parchment paper to make removal easier, but that is not mandatory as long as the pan is well greased. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Begin by creaming the butter and shortening on medium speed. Mix the 2 sugars in a separate bowl, then add the sugar to the butter mix 1/2 cup at a time, beating 1-2 minutes between additions. 

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating 1-2 minutes between additions. (Note: there is a lot of “add then wait” time in this recipe. Do your best not to rush through, all the beating will develop the structure of the cake.)

In another separate bowl, whisk the flour and baking powder. Adjust the mixer speed to low and add the flour and the milk, alternating 1/3 cup milk to 1 cup flour. Beat well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract (2 Tbs seems like a lot, but trust me, it is perfect for this cake) and beat for 1 minute. Stir in the pecans. 

Pour the batter into the tube pan. Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake for 70 minutes. 

My oven is a bit slow, so after 80 minutes, the cake looked and smelled perfectly done. Cool the cake in the pan for the first 15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely. 

Here is my cake, unfrosted in all it’s glory. You can enjoy the cake as-is, or you can go for the gold and frost it with a delicious (and easy to make) cream cheese frosting.

Ingredients

½ cup butter, softened

8 oz cream cheese, softened

2 tsp vanilla extract

16 oz confectioner’s sugar

Cream the butter and the cream cheese. Add vanilla. Incorporate all the sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, scraping the bowl every so often. That’s it, so easy. 

I frosted my cake on a very hot day, it was about 90 degrees in my kitchen. As you could imagine, frosting a cake using a butter (and cream cheese) based frosting was difficult to say the least. It was weeping all over the place. I had to keep refrigerating it to keep it on the cake. I also added an additional 1/2 chopped pecans for extra crunch and prettiness. 

I ate this whole piece after I took the picture. I was in HEAVEN. This one’s for you Stephanie, if you still have your brown sugar sweet tooth!

(Recipe is from Melissa Gray’s book, All Cakes Considered)

My sister Stephanie made me a ‘Welcome Home’ cake for my visit. She just finished a cake decorating class, and her roses are perfect! 

My sister Stephanie made me a ‘Welcome Home’ cake for my visit. She just finished a cake decorating class, and her roses are perfect! 

7 Minute Frosting

It’s called “7-Minute Frosting” but it somehow took me an hour and a half to make. I have seen this recipe in many of my cookbooks, but usually use my go-to butter cream frosting instead. The reviews were compelling “sweet”, “indulgent”, “light-as-air”, and even one “oh la-la”, I had to give it a try.

The Recipe:

2 large egg whites

1 ½ cups granulated white sugar

¼ cup cold water

1 Tbs corn syrup

1 tsp vanilla extract

In a stainless steel bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, place the egg whites, sugar, water, and corn syrup. With a handheld electric mixer, beat the mixture for 3 to 4 minutes on low speed. Increase the speed to high and continue to beat for another 3 to 4 minutes or until the icing is shiny and satiny with soft peaks.

Remove from heat, add the vanilla extract, and continue to beat on high speed for another 1 to 2 minutes or until the frosting is thick. Use immediately.

I knew there would be issues, mainly because I did not own a handheld mixer.

Attempt #1

I used my bowl from the stand mixer and placed it over simmering water, just as instructed. I swirled the ingredients for a bit and then alternated mixing on the stand mixer, and placing it on the heat. 

It seemed to work; the mix got fluffy and resembled frosting. On closer inspection, I could see little lumps. I tested it, and there they were, sugar crystals, all lumped together and crunchy. In the trash it went.

Attempt #2

So alternating heat and whipping did not work. I need to be sure the sugar dissolves completely. What if I dissolve the sugar in the water first? This might work. In a separate saucepan, I melted the sugar in the water with the corn syrup. I poured the syrup into the bowl with the other ingredients and began the 7-minute whip. Again, this batch looked great, and again there were the sugar crystals. This time, my bowl was a mess. The sugar turned into a cement-like crust that required lots of scrubbing.

Attempt #3

If I boil the water and sugar longer, maybe the sugar will not re-crystallize? WRONG!

I now know how to make hard candy. Unfortunately, this batch was like pouring superglue into egg whites. My bowl was in even worse shape after this disaster.

Attempt #4

I couldn’t give up; I had a cake to frost. There was a temptation to run to the market and buy a 99 cent tub of vanilla frosting, but I overcame. How was I going to make this happen? I googled other 7-minute frosting recipes and they were all about the same as this one. However, one description said that the recipe has been used for over a century…and it came to me – they did not have hand mixers 100 years ago, I can do this!

I placed all the ingredients in the bowl over simmering water, started my timer, and began to slowly whip. One minute…2 minutes…my arm hurts, how am I going to ‘speed up’?…3 minutes. SPEED UP…4 minutes…5 minutes – that’s good, it looks beautiful. I removed it from heat and put the bowl on the stand mixer for the final 2 minutes and added the vanilla. 

Oh la-la, it looks amazing. It’s shiny, thick, soft, and fluffy. It reminded me of marshmallow fluff, and kind of tasted like it too. It was a simple and sweet flavor, perfect for the coconut cake that I was making.

So 4 attempts and almost 2 hours later, I had exactly what the recipe called for. It was worth the effort, I have big plans for this frosting in future baking endeavors. 

Coconut Cake

My co-workers are getting spoiled. Not that I mind, but almost daily I get asked “any goodies today?” and if the answer is no, “how about tomorrow?” It’s actually a great feeling knowing that people enjoy what I bake. The latest request was for a coconut cake. I was even presented this recipe by my friend and cubicle neighbor, Gina.

Surprisingly, I had all the ingredients in my kitchen. That is a good sign that I am building a stock of baking necessities, really – who has buttermilk in their fridge, just in case? 

It’s a good rule of thumb to bring all ingredients to room temperature when making a cake, even the milk and eggs. The cake will have a better rise if the ingredients are warm during mixing. I greased the pans, and sifted the flour, baking powder, soda and salt into a medium bowl. 

I beat the butter for 2 minutes, and then added the sugar until light and fluffy. Then the egg yolks were added, one at a time, followed by the vanilla. 

The batter looks great! A beautiful shade of yellow, with a creamy and fluffy texture. The recipe calls for the buttermilk to be added in 3 additions, alternating with the flour mixture. This recipe is called “Coconut Cake” although the only coconut in this cake is the flaked coconut garnish. So I added ¼ cup of dried coconut milk to the buttermilk before mixing it into the batter. The powder dissolved right into the milk, so it should give the cake a light coconut flavor and add a bit more moisture to the cake, since the power contains some coconut oil. 

I beat the egg whites onto a meringue, and gently folded them into the batter. I used my new kitchen scale to weigh both pans of batter to get even cakes. The cakes baked for 35 minutes in a 350 degree oven. 

After the cakes were completely cooled, I cut them both in half to get 4 even layers. The recipe calls for a home-made lemon curd filling. Instead of using this, I just popped open a jar or pre-made lemon curd. I did not want the strong lemon flavor to drown out the coconut flavor, so I beat ¾ cup of lemon curd with 1 cup of whipped cream. It was a creamy, but not-as-tart version of lemon curd – perfect for this cake. I spread it evenly between the 3 layers along with a sprinkling of coconut.

The recipe called for a ‘7-Minute Frosting’. The ingredients are simple, the process not-so-simple. I had such a hard time with this frosting that I am writing a separate post about it – yes, it was that bad! But, on the 4th try, it came out wonderful, better than I had imagined. 

I spread on a nice thick layer and topped with a layer of coconut. We carved it up for breakfast the next day at work. The cake was moist, a little dense with a hint of coconut flavor. The alternating lemon curd and coconut in the layers was not only attractive, it gave you all the flavors in every bite. The frosting was heavenly – thick, sweet and almost marshmallowy. All together, the cake was delicious. My co-workers would agree, especially one of my biggest supporters, who had 3 pieces!