Almond Sponge Cake

A slice of almond cake with whipped cream sitting on a plate next to the full cake.

Kitra: Hello to everyone from our separate homes which we do not intend to leave any time soon! I hope there’s cake where you are.

Jordan: It’s been a weird couple of weeks, huh? Kitra and I are both working from home and have been for about two weeks now. DC recently shut down all non-essential businesses, so there’s a lot of not leaving our apartments going on, and that’s about it.

So it’s like every Friday night in my house, but lasting for weeks on end.

Was that a… self-own?

Nope! I love being at my house alone. It’s my ideal day.

Not all of us are quite as thrilled, but we’re both pretty lucky that we’re getting paid and aren’t also trying to homeschool children or ignore terrible roommates or take care of high-risk relatives.

And we’re not really struggling to find food in our areas. We’ve got basics in the pantry, options to get fresh produce, and neighborhood favorite restaurants that are delivering.

So this is our recognition that we’re both in a pretty good place, all things considered. But we’d be lying if we said this wasn’t also a little bit terrible. Like, you know that crushing anxiety about the world that you sometimes get? It’s a little more crushing than usual, and I think everyone feels that right now.

Also, it feels like I’m doing dishes every second of the day somehow.

So many dishes.

Also, there is nowhere that isn’t out of flour. Sure, I’ve got some, but not much. So I’m looking to keep myself entertained by baking, and by not using the 6 cups of all-purpose flour I have left.

We picked this cake today because it fits most of our needs for being home all day in this situation. First, no flour (which also means it’s gluten-free, and Passover friendly if you’re looking ahead to that). Second, it doesn’t take all that long to make. Third—and perhaps most importantly—it’s the kind of cake you can eat whenever. Breakfast? Afternoon snack? Dessert? Yep!

Added bonus: While we both used the almond flour that lurks in our respective freezers, you can use whatever nut you discovered a ton of in the pantry when cleaning it out. (I have 5 kinds of almonds, and a ton of all of them, somehow? I don’t remember buying any of them.)

The one downside is that it requires two bowls to make, but we promise it’s worth it. And I hate doing anything involving egg whites and Kitra hates doing dishes, so if we tell you it’s worthwhile, you know it’s true.

True. It’s also pretty infinitely adaptable, so whatever taste you’re hoping for you can probably get. Add a zest! Add spices! (I added many, many spices.) Add an extract! Mix it up. You can also top it however. It’s a blank slate of a cake. Chocolate glaze! Fruit! Whipped cream! Yogurt for breakfast! Jam!

But to be clear, it’s also great plain. I didn’t add anything fancy to mine, and while I did put whipped cream on top, I would happily eat it on its own. It’s got the texture of a standard sponge cake but a beautiful almond flavor if you leave it unspiced.

All in all: great cake to eat in its entirety, alone in your house.

So here’s a cake for you—whatever situation you’re in right now. We hope it makes things a little less terrible.

Two slices of almond cake on a small plate
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Elementary School-Style Spice Cake

A square spice cake with white frosting and star-shaped sprinkles. Several pieces have been cut from the cake to be served.

Jordan: The elementary school Kitra and I went to had one, and only one, variety of celebratory cake: spice cake. I always found this to be completely inexplicable.

Kitra: I don’t know, it makes sense to me for an elementary school. It has applesauce in it! It is the most wholesome of the cakes! Chocolate feels too over-the top. Vanilla feels too overtly like sugar. Spice cake is a middle ground. And it’s no one’s favorite, so you can serve it to children without them losing their minds.

The thing is, I have almost never encountered spice cake outside of my elementary school cafeteria. I know, vaguely, that it exists, but it doesn’t show up on restaurant menus or in cupcake shops or anywhere else. No one actually eats it. It’s not that they dislike it; it’s just that the opportunity is never there.

I feel like spice cake just… is. But in the same way the place that you put mail when you walk in the door just is. You’re aware that it exists if you think about it, but you don’t really think about it. You’re never surprised to find it, because it makes perfect sense.

Kitra and I are struggling to properly express the conundrum that is spice cake, but the point is this: of all the basic cakes, spice cake is the most underrated, and that should change.

But, because spice cake is some sort of cryptid, I only ever understand its presence on or around March 2nd.

Known and beloved by millions of children as Read Across America Day, or Dr. Seuss’s birthday. The day when you wear pajamas to school, wear silly hats, and most importantly for us, eat spice cake at lunch. (Even if you brought your own lunch—what a glorious day!)

I forgot almost all of that stuff (I only remember our beloved local news anchor wearing fun ties for it [moment of silence to remember Ron Brown]), but I. Remember. The. Spice. Cake. Damn. It.

Consider this our nostalgic contribution to bringing spice cake back into the birthday cake rotation. It’s a simple, no-frills cake that is still far more interesting than your standard vanilla or chocolate.

Plus, when you’re not endeavoring to recreate an elementary school experience, it’s a great opportunity for a straight up cream cheese frosting. And those rock. (If you are endeavoring to recreate an elementary school experience, then we’ve got you covered here with good old fashioned shortening.)

Put on your pajamas, grab a book to read while the cake is baking, and get ready for some good old-fashioned cafeteria cake, in the best possible way. Sprinkles optional, but strongly encouraged.

A square spice cake with white frosting and star-shaped sprinkles.
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Black Forest Cake

A chocolate cake with black cherry whipped cream, with a slice cut out and sitting on a plate with two forks.

Jordan: Let’s start by talking about what this cake is not. This cake is NOT made of beans.

Kitra: This cake does NOT taste like beans beans and nothing but beans.

Gif of James Corden and Emily Blunt in "Into the Woods" saying "Beans?" and looking concerned

BEANS.

BEANS.

This is all to say that we started our last Cake Day by trying to make a white bean cake, which we will not link because a) we don’t want you to even think about attempting it, and b) I kind of feel bad for it? Someone loved it! There was at least one enthusiastic comment! It’s not the cake’s fault that we thought it tasted like warm sweet bean dip.

It… kind of is though. It was a pile of beans trying to be something it had no right to be, and I resent it for that.

I think you mean “no right to beans.”

I DO.

Anyway. Once we’d thrown out the bean cake, we felt like we ought to make something of the day (other than 150 groundhogs, which we cannot share here because it is Kitra’s one sacred secret recipe), so we turned to Julia Turshen.

I finally got a copy of Now & Again, and I love it so much. I read every word, cover to cover, and also I want to eat my way through the whole thing. (Not literally though, because paper is probably almost as hard to eat as solidified sweet bean mush.)

This is her take on a black forest cake, which checked a lot of the boxes we were looking for. Relatively simple! Gluten-free! Not too sweet! Kitra refused my modifications that would have made it a one-bowl process, which is probably for the best.

If we failed at two cakes in one day, we’d have to rename this blog “Meh Cake Trash.”

Fortunately, I listened to Kitra and this cake was not! trash!

AND, I had the brilliant idea to flavor the topping when our black cherry juice powder turned out to taste like pretty much nothing. While Jello is terrible in general (Watery! Gross texture! Slimy! Transparent in a way that is TROUBLING for a food! WATERY!), it is great for 2 things. 1.) Stabilizing whipped cream and 2.) Drinking hot like cocoa. Seriously. Try it.

(Let it be known that Kitra’s attitude toward all other forms of Jello is not endorsed by all members of the Yay Cake Day editorial board.)

I have some fancy cherries in my fridge right now, but let’s be honest, Jello is easier to find and it allows this topping to do two things at once. I will accept my Nobel prize now, thank you.

As for the cake itself, it is a very chocolatey chocolate cake. The phrase “not for the faint of heart” is overused in food writing, but seriously, start with a small piece and work your way up.

The whole situation is so cute, also. I love a cake that slouches, and it’s wearing a pink hat! What a good little cake!

This is a lovely cake for a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner, or to bring to the office for platonic Valentine’s Day, or to make for yourself and eat in small slices while binge-watching something on Netflix this weekend. Or just for a random day when you feel like you could use some cake.

A chocolate cake with black cherry whipped cream, and some cute string lights in the background.
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Classic Cake Day: Caramelized Almond Cake with Spiced Poached Pears

almond-pear-1.jpg

[Classic Cake Day revisits some of our favorite cakes from the first year or so, before the blog. We made this cake in November 2017.]

Jordan: We spent the entire process of making this cake convinced that it was going to be terrible.

Kitra: The process of this cake is a little bonkers to start with, and then you bake it until done, up the temperature, and bake it for another 10 minutes so it should be dry and sad. But it’s not.

Honestly, this is possibly my favorite cake we’ve ever made. Definitely in the top few. I did not share.

Neither did I. This makes a great dessert, snack, breakfast, lunch, etc. It’s a perfect cake for every occasion except for a nut allergy convention.

The cake is light and pleasant, but the real star here is the topping. Don’t be afraid of the caramel—you’re not actually caramelizing anything on the stove, just heating it all up and letting the oven do the work.

Because this is a fairly simple cake, we also decided to add some fruit! Poached pears make your apartment smell great, and they taste even better. One note though: if you try to decorate the cake with just two pears, they look like a butt. This was a really hard cake to photograph.

The cake and pears are both great on their own, but together they’re even better. If the words “caramelized almonds” didn’t sell you from the start, though, I’m not sure what else we can say.

almond-pear-collage.jpg
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White Cake with Rich Chocolate Frosting

A  slice of white cake with chocolate frosting in front of the remaining cake

Jordan: This cake is a New Year’s Eve cake, but we hope it will set the stage for 2020. It’s a simple black-and-white cake, which fits perfectly with a great goal for the new year: Do less.

Kitra: For many of us, I think I can safely say that in 2019 we did TOO MUCH. Tried too hard, worked too hard, and didn’t enjoy the small stuff enough. Like a really good frosting and a moist cake. (Or like cancelling plans, which is the true meaning of Christmas.)

This is not to say that doing and caring about things doesn’t matter, but that it’s important to actually consider the things you’re doing and caring about. Some things, for example, that are not worth giving your time and energy:

  • Having your oven clock be correct down to the second
  • What the people who work at Sephora think about you when you’re not wearing makeup
  • The right exact shade of purple you want that thing to be
  • “Detoxing”
  • That pile of unopened mail that you carefully hide whenever someone is coming over
  • Plastic straws, both the use and disuse thereof
  • Wearing 2 different colors of denim
  • Trying to sell the clothes that have been in the “to get rid of” pile for years when you could just donate them
  • If you’re “allowed” to wear hats
  • What your ex’s new girlfriend will think if she sees you across the room at a party
  • Whether that stranger’s dog likes you (maybe, that dog is a dick. It’s rare, but happens.)
  • “Guilty pleasure” music, unless it’s made by actual criminals/terrible people
  • Hanging up that clean laundry tonight, because it’s midnight and you want to sleep
  • How other people organize their books
  • How white your teeth are
  • Whether other people give enough/too much attention, in your view, to sports, celebrities, and/or astrology
  • The heat death of the universe. You’ll be here or you (presumably) won’t. Who cares! Unless you work for NASA, chill out buddy.

And, for our purposes here: Making every cake a beautiful three-tier masterpiece.

If you put enough candles in it, or sprinkles on it, any cake can look astonishingly festive. In 2020, just throw some sprinkles on a sheet cake and call it a day. (Or don’t throw them, because I constantly remind Jordan that they don’t magically stick 90% of the time. But use them.)

(Sprinkles are just edible confetti, throw them if you want to throw them. But be aware they do bounce off of cake sides, just FYI.)

If you’re looking for a cake to sprinkle, this is a good one!

IT’S SO FLUFFY.

This is truly an answer to the boxed white cakes of everyone’s childhoods.

It’s like the crappy sheet cake you get at a second-grader’s birthday party, but delicious. I don’t think I realized that white cake could taste this good.

We were both pretty surprised. It looks amazing, tastes amazing, and cuts BEAUTIFULLY. You know how sometimes it’s just hard to get perfect slices? Not here, Buster.

We used Black Onyx cocoa powder, which makes the frosting taste like an Oreo and makes it extra-dark. Even with regular cocoa, however, it will still be deliciously chocolatey and not too overwhelmingly sweet.

This cake is simple, but it looks so regal. It’s black-tie ready. So white and fluffy! So black and fluffy! It’s the feather boa of cakes, but awesome and not constantly flying into your mouth when you aren’t prepared! Only when you are prepared. Because you’re eating.

Basically, it’s a cake that will make people happy without you having to slave away in the kitchen. Which is exactly the kind of cake 2020 needs.

A cake with chocolate frosting, large white sprinkles, and many glittery star-shaped candles
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Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake

Maple buttermilk pie, pumpkin chocolate cheesecake, and spiced pear pie

Jordan: Pie Month is technically over, but with Thanksgiving so late in November, we didn’t have a chance to share our holiday desserts with you, and it seems a shame to hold onto these for a full year.

Kitra: Plus, it’s always pie month in our hearts.

And cheesecake is a perfect transition recipe, since no one really knows how to classify it.

I’ve been making pumpkin chocolate cheesecake bars for yearsssssss.

Way way back in the day, Kitra used to get daily Better Homes & Gardens emails to our shared email account, and this came from that phase.

See also that blueberry charmer from a while back.

There were also what must have been monthly batches of lemon rosemary cupcakes… but the pumpkin chocolate cheesecake bars were the highlight.

And it seemed like there was real potential to make them flashier. They’ve already got three layers, but in a bar it’s kind of hard to tell. So why not magnify the whole thing!

Besides, cheesecake bars—while convenient—don’t have that show-stopping Thanksgiving dessert vibe that a full-sized cheesecake does.

Plus, we wanted to keep our forks working their full-tine jobs. (This joke killed me, and Jordan hates it. You decide.)

We also made two other pies for Thanksgiving. (Yes, we only had six people and two of them were children, this is a perfectly acceptable pie-to-person ratio.)

We hit the three categories of Thanksgiving pie: Orange, fruit, wildcard (Nut? Custard? Jello? Whoppers?)

Nothing but a pie tin full of Whoppers. Just like grandma used to make!

That was an autocorrect that we ran with. Anyway.

Our fruit pie was a pear version of Molly Yeh’s hawaij apple pie, which I liked but Kitra found too imperfect to share on the blog. (Though let’s all appreciate the beautiful pie crust braids she did on the top of that one.)

I’d recommend the pie we made last year if you’re looking for a spiced pear pie.

The other pie was a maple buttermilk custard pie from the Four and Twenty Blackbirds cookbook. It reminded me of the period where I ate maple-yogurt overnight oats for breakfast every day, in the best possible way. Mapley and tangy and very simple to put together.

It was delightful, but we just made my ideal custard pie so anything else was going to be a bit of a letdown. Also, I just have something against sour cream.

Still, if you have the cookbook (or want to try any of the versions floating around other blogs), it’s worth making.

If you’re looking for a dessert that pulls out all the stops for your holiday tables though, look no further than the cheesecake.

Slice of pumpkin chocolate cheesecake
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Chai Creme Brulee Pie

Kitra: It’s November, which is when we reveal ourselves to be traitors.

Jordan: The truth is, we both prefer pie to cake in almost all cases.

I feel that way about cake compared to… Most desserts. Ice cream? Hell yes. Flan? Sure. Cookies? Totally. Cake? Eh, depends.

Which is actually part of why this project exists. We’ll make pie on our own, given even the slightest reason to do so. But cake? We really would only make cake for birthdays (of people who don’t like pie), and we had a few go-tos that we didn’t stray far from.

We weren’t developing a massive backlog of unmade pies. But we both had dozens of cake recipes that seemed interesting but we had no occasion for.

However, in November we shake it up. It’s almost Thanksgiving! No one is making cake in November. November belongs to pie.

It’s the perfect excuse for us to unzip these human suits and reveal ourselves to be the pie lizards that we actually are.

This creme brulee pie turned out to be on both of our “to make” lists. I love a good custard pie, and Kitra loves setting things on fire.

That is wildly incorrect.

But it was funny. In reality, Kitra hates fire but puts up with it for the sake of creme brulee.

We made this week’s decision over “breakfast” (it was noon, okay) in my local cafe/spice shop, where the idea of not throwing a handful of spices into an otherwise classic creme brulee seemed like a PROBLEM.

This was the result. Imagine a cross between your favorite chai latte and a perfectly smooth pumpkin pie, and then cover it in not-quite-burnt sugar.

Or, imagine creme brulee, and I guess put some pastry around it so you can pick it up in your hand and get it into your body faster. 10/10.

Kitra’s first words upon taking a bite were “I love this. This is a perfect pie.” And while there is room in this world for many perfect pies, I agree that this is definitely one of them.

If you don’t already have a deep need to be eating creme brulee pie, please reassess your priorities. Because you’re wrong, and probably a bad person. I don’t make the rules.

We’re signing off here before Kitra gets even more aggressive, but we’ll leave you with the recipe. Enjoy.

You know what needs to be done.

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