Today we are talking about CAKE!!
Now. Don’t get me wrong — there is something to be said for all kind of baked goods. But in my opinion, being able to make a fabulous cake is invaluable.
Cakes are delicious, versatile, impressive, and always necessary. A homemade birthday cake ALWAYS blows a store bought cake right out of the water.
So if you are cake challenged, this post is for you. Let’s go over a few basics!
1. PRACTICE. A LOT.
I took cake decorating classes for several months, and it STILL took a long time to learn to frost a cake nice and smooth. No matter WHAT you learn, or how many tutorials you watch, it’s something you just have to get a feel for. Nowadays, I can practically frost a cake with my eyes shut but that’s because I’ve done it a zillionty times.A turntable like THIS (it tilts, which I LOVE), a spatula like THIS, and a scraper like THIS are always on hand when I frost a cake. They make things much easier!!
The consistency of your frosting is key. If it’s too thick, it won’t spread well. Think of it like spreading butter on a piece of bread…colder, thicker butter tears the bread, but softened butter spreads nice and smooth. The same applies to frosting. Test a small bit of it on the side of your cake. If it’s not spreading nicely, add a bit of milk or water to your frosting (1 tsp or so at a time) until it does.
3. CHILL CHILL CHILL.
The most important step of all is CHILLING YOUR CAKE!! I cannot stress this enough. If at all possible, I bake my cakes a day ahead, wrap them in plastic and chill overnight before leveling and frosting. Not only does it drastically improve flavor (it increases the moistness of the cake like crazy), but it also makes it WAAAAY easier to level and frost. A chilled cake is very firm, so it’s not delicate and crumby. If you want to cut your cake into extra layers, a serrated knife goes right through a cold cake without tearing or breaking it. If baking your cake the day before isn’t possible, wrap it and stick it in the freezer for a few hours. It’s not quite the same, but good enough.
4. KEEP IT CLEAN.
I firmly believe that appearance greatly contributes to the flavor of a cake. Pretty things are much more appetizing, aren’t they? So keep your frosting neat, and clean up any stray frosting that may have gotten around the edge of your platter. If your frosting looks sloppy, add some extra and give it fluffy texture instead of going for the smooth look. Even a simple cake looks gorgeous if you level it nicely (that dome in the center has GOT to go) frost it, and stick it on a pretty plate. If you aren’t comfortable with leveling your cake with a knife (I couldn’t do it for a long time), use a leveler like this. It’s inexpensive and worth every penny!! I also used to use a small picture hanging level to make sure my cake wasn’t leaning. Gotta do what you’ve gotta do.
5. AIN’T NOTHIN’ WRONG WITH A CAKE MIX — BUT HAVE A COUPLE GOOD HOMEMADE RECIPES IN YOUR ARSENAL.
I’ve used cake mixes for years — some of the biggest compliments I’ve gotten on my cakes are the ones I just use a mix for (again — it comes down to chilling the cake) BUT….there is just something about telling someone you made them a cake from scratch. The America’s Test Kitchen white cake recipe is phenomenal, and you can’t go wrong with the chocolate cake on the back of the Hershey’s Cocoa Box. It’s that easy.
6. LAST BUT NOT LEAST — EXPERIMENT WITH BUTTERCREAM!!!
The recipe I use for buttercream is very standard — 2 sticks butter, 4 cups powdered sugar, 1 tsp vanilla and a few TBS of milk, depending on how thin I need the frosting to be. This is the EASIEST part of your cake to adapt. The frosting can change the whole flavor of the cake!! I’ve added mint extract and chopped chocolate for Mint Chocolate Chip Cake, subbed cherry juice for the milk and folded in chopped cherries for Cherry Garcia Cake, and subbed peanut butter for some of the butter and folded in chopped Butterfinger bars for Peanut Butter Butterfinger Cake. Cinnamon, pureed strawberries, cocoa powder, crushed candy…all are great additions to frosting.
Now that we’ve graduated Cake School (yaaaaayyyy), here is a seriously fabulous recipe.
Unless you don’t like chocolate. IN which case, we can still be friends, buuuuutttt…we are on thin ice. Just saying.
The cookies and cream filling has a whipped cream base, which keeps it from being too heavy or sweet. And the fudge frosting is just right (and the perfect consistency for spreading). Give this a whirl ASAP!!!
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup Dutch process cocoa powder (I use Hershey's Special Dark)
- 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup boiling water
- 2 cups heavy cream, COLD
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 15 chocolate sandwich cookies, crushed
- 1 tsp vanilla
- Fudge frosting:
- 2 sticks butter, slightly softened
- 1/2 cup Special Dark cocoa powder
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 4 TBS hot water
- Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour two (8 or 9 inch) round cake pans and set aside.
- In the bowl of your mixer, stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water. Pour batter into prepared pans.
- Bake for about 30 minutes, or until tops of cake spring back when lightly touched in the center. Let cool in pans for about 5 minutes, then remove to cool completely on wire racks. Once cakes are room temperature, wrap and chill (preferably overnight).
- Prepare filling:
- Place the metal bowl of your mixer, along with whisk attachment, in the freezer for 5 minutes. Remove from freezer and add heavy cream, vanilla, and powdered sugar. Beat on high until you have whipped cream that forms stiff peaks (keep an eye on it....it can turn to butter if you let it go too long). Fold in crushed cookies.
- Level your chilled cakes, then split each layer in half. Fill each layer generously with cookies and cream filling. If possible, stick in the freezer for about an hour, so the filling will firm up and not make it difficult to frost.
- Prepare frosting: In the bowl of your mixer, beat butter and vanilla on medium speed until smooth. With the mixer on low, add powdered sugar and cocoa powder slowly until just barely mixed in. Add water and beat on high speed for about 2 minutes. Frost cake and serve.
Cake portion adapted from Hershey
This cake is seriously impressive…I really hope you enjoy it. It tastes every bit as good as it looks!!
Have a great Monday!