Big and Tall Cheesecake

A close-up of tall cheesecake with a slice cut out

Kitra: It has been well established that we like cheesecake.

Jordan: And this is quite a beautiful specimen, I must say.

Sometimes, you just want an extremely cheesecake cheesecake (sometimes=almost always).

This one is smooth but not heavy, sweet but not cloying, and gloriously tall. This is a cheesecake that shops in the Big and Tall section, hence the title.

Despite the fact that it is an absolute unit, I frequently cut a slice, ate it and then cut another, which is a rarity for cheesecake since a slice often feels like a meal.

I ate almost all of my leftovers for breakfast straight out of the container, standing at the kitchen counter like the lead in a rom-com.

And I was going the breakfast/lunch/dinner/dessert route with mine because I kind of didn’t want to eat anything else.

Some people don’t like making cheesecake because they think it’s fussy, but we promise it’s not that bad. Kitra is the Queen of Cheesecakes and has learned from all of the mistakes so that the rest of us don’t have to.

I mean, if you pick a good and trustworthy recipe and follow it, there shouldn’t be much room for error. But really, just stick an instant thermometer in your cream cheese to make sure it is actually room temperature. (You don’t have to be prepared either, we usually warm it in the microwave.)

That’s my eternal mistake. If your butter is too cold in a cake, it’ll be fine once you beat it up a little. If your cream cheese is too cold, you’re out of luck. Your cheesecake will be lumpy and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Those lumps are the cockroaches of the cake world: they will outlive us all.

Thanks, I hate that analogy.

You’re welcome. All the more incentive to warm that cheese up to a nice 70ish degrees.

You know what I don’t hate, though? This cheesecake. It’s an Erin McDowell recipe and she adds some sour cream, which gives it a little more lightness and nuance.

All hail Erin.

It’s great with macerated fruit, but it’s also completely, 100% perfect on its own.

A cheesecake with a slice removed and resting on a plate, with blackberries on top.
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Black Bottom Cupcakes

Four chocolate cupcakes with sour cream topping; one is sliced in half to reveal a cheesecake center

Kitra: It feels like a shower outside, so if I’m turning on my oven it’s going to be for a short time and for something I really want to eat.

Jordan: This is the first cake we’ve made in a while that was just an easy decision. Kitra wanted black bottom cupcakes, and so we made black bottom cupcakes.

If you, like me, really want to eat cheesecake most of the time but don’t have cheesecake-making energy, may I suggest black bottom cupcakes?

These are a mild chocolate cake (think devil’s food cake) with a beautiful center of cheesecake. The name is a little misleading; the chocolate will fully surround the cheesecake center.

Like it’s cheesecake wearing a chocolate skin suit.

Creepy, but I was going to use the word “swaddling,” which is not necessarily better.

[Here we had a long conversation about whether or not one can use a skin suit to swaddle something, which we will mercifully spare you from.]

And because I wanted them to feel even more like cheesecake, we added a sour cream topping which also makes them less sweet.

These are delicious at room temperature, but even better cold. A dessert you can keep in the fridge when it’s a million degrees outside? Perfect!

It’s too hot to eat room-temperature foods.

And keep in mind that because these are cupcakes, they bake quickly and cool quickly. You can go from start to finish in under an hour if you’re efficient.

And you can eat them with your hands. Peak cheesecake efficiency.

Swaddle away, friends.

Four chocolate cupcakes with sour cream topping; one is sliced in half to reveal a cheesecake center, and a hand is reaching to grab one.
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Crispy-Fluffy Cardamom Cake

An almond-topped cake on a stand, with a slice cut out. The slice is on a plate with strawberries next to the stand.

Jordan: This cake is so fluffy I could die.

Kitra: I think it’s fascinating that the adjective you chose to describe it is fluffy because while that’s true, I don’t think it’s in the top 10 I would’ve come up with.

Ten adjectives, go.

1. Crackly

This is true. The top has a layer of sugar and almonds that gives it a nice bit of texture—though it’s not as crackly as, say, this caramelized almond cake, and the almonds stay a little on the chewy side.

2. Lacy

Also true, very similar.

3. Spiced

The only spice is cardamom, but hoo boy does it come through. Not in a bad way! In a delicious way, assuming you like cardamom.

4. Light

We’re getting close to fluffy, but carry on.

5. Crisp

The sides of the cake do have a beautiful crispness, like the edges of a crepe or an incredibly thin fortune cookie.

6. Dreamy

…Sure.

7. Versatile

This is a breakfast cake, or a dessert cake, or a snacking cake. This is an anytime cake.

8. Surprising

Yes. I was very pleasantly surprised by how nuanced this cake was, and even more by how incredibly fluffy it was.

9. Fun

Sure, why not.

10. Unassuming

I would argue that this is similar to “surprising,” but you’re right—it doesn’t look like much, but it’s very delicious.

Point is, the two things that really stick out to me about this cake are the awesome crispy crackly edges which make it way more fun to eat than most cake, and the big pop of cardamom, my favorite always. But I guess it’s also fluffy, sure.

You did describe it as similar to angel food cake, despite being nowhere near as dry, as sweet, or as boring as angel food cake often is. (The last part is my editorializing.)

I would never say those things about angel food cake, which can be very flavorful and (as I know from making a crapton of them) a little too wet. Sticky, at least. This one has a similar vibe though in terms of flavor (minus the cardamom) and doesn’t require a whole bunch of egg yolks to sit around in your fridge unused until they dry out and you forget what they were.

It’s truly such a simple cake, especially if you have a stand mixer. You throw together your sugar and eggs, beat the crap out of them, and then add some cardamom seeds, melted butter, and flour. The most time-consuming part is cracking open a handful of cardamom pods to get the seeds out, but it’s worth it for the delightful little pops of cardamom scattered throughout the cake.

And you can, technically, buy cardamom seeds out there in the world. (But why would you, when cardamom like the stuff at Diaspora exists?)

Kitra and I may not agree on how to describe this cake—or on angel food cake—but we both ate our first slices of this cake in contented silence because it was just excellent.

A top-down view of an almond-topped cake on a stand.
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No-Bake Rhubarb Cheesecake Bars

Two tall slices of rhubarb-swirled cheesecake on a plate alongside the remaining cake on a cutting board.

Kitra: I saw Erin Clarkson of Cloudy Kitchen post a “coming soon” photo of rhubarb cheesecake, and sent it to Jordan immediately. But soon isn’t ever soon enough for rhubarb cheesecake so we made it up. Sorry, and please go check out Erin’s version when it’s up!

Jordan: I have no doubts that hers will be excellent, given that we shamelessly stole her idea and used her cheesecake base and ours was also excellent, not to brag or anything.

Rhubarb is extremely underrated, so there’s no such thing as too much.

I have questions about why we cultivate it in the first place—the leaves are literal poison?? and the stalks don’t taste great unless you cook them with sugar?—but I’m glad we do, since there’s just something delicious about rhubarb.

And it doesn’t need to be cut with strawberries, or anything else. Rhubarb is GOOD. We had a plant in our front yard growing up and the start of rhubarb season was so exciting.

Rhubarb’s unique flavor really shines when it’s paired with something simple, which makes it a great candidate for a cheesecake topping.

And we love cheesecake. You do too, I assume. Because you should. It’s great.

This, however, is not a normal cheesecake. This is a no-bake cheesecake, which—per Erin’s blog posts—is common in New Zealand but which we had never made. It’s much lighter than a typical dense, rich, egg-based cheesecake.

Plus, it was hot as hell in DC last weekend when we made this, and will be for most of the rest of eternity (thanks climate change, for the sweat) so losing the oven was good. And would be even better for my kitchen where there is no AC.

If you’re not a fan of traditional cheesecake—either making or eating it—this one might be worth a try. My partner, who usually doesn’t like cheesecake, was a fan of it because the filling is so light and fluffy, almost like a cream cheese mousse.

Which also means it’s a way better breakfast/snack/just because cheesecake since you don’t feel like you’ve eaten all your food for the day after a few bites.

Fair warning, though, that it is extremely easy to eat directly out of the container with a fork while standing at your kitchen counter. Not that I have experience with this.

Seconded. Also, can we talk about how thick (thicc even?) it is???

An absolute unit, as the kids say. A chonk.

Yes, we used the wrong size pan and that was a problem, but even in the right size pan it’s a sturdy crust and a nice thick layer of everything. Bless.

I would call this roughly a 2:1 filling-to-crust ratio, which is the right ratio. Crumb crusts are the best crusts and I will die on this hill of graham crackers.

So, with further apologies but also thanks and a lot of credit to Erin, please cheesecake.

A whole cheesecake with rhubarb topping swirled beautifully through the top layer.
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The Quest for the Right Chocolate Frosting

Four chocolate-frosted cupcakes with candles that read "YAY!" and a #4 candle with a balloon on it.

Kitra: What better time to go deep into our lifelong quest for a recipe that mimics canned chocolate frosting than our 4th birthday!

Jordan: Last year we had to make birthday cakes from our separate homes, which was much more of a bummer. But this year, Kitra is fully vaccinated and I’m halfway there, so we swung in the opposite direction and gathered for a frosting-making extravaganza.

Cake birthdays have escalated from “we made a birthday cake for the concept of making cake, what an absurd thing to do” to “let’s make a half dozen frostings and do a semi-scientific taste test to see what we like best.” Just wait for what we’ve got in store for our 5th birthday…

We started this experiment with some criteria. The goal here is not to make the best chocolate frosting, necessarily, but to make one as close to canned frosting as possible. (Some might argue that canned frosting is in fact the best frosting; that’s another conversation entirely.)

As the last few birthday cakes show, I already have a favorite chocolate frosting, but it’s just not the same thing.

Our ideal frosting needed to be dark brown and aesthetically pleasing. It needed to be nicely spreadable and sturdy enough that you would eat a leftover room-temperature cupcake the next day without a second thought.

And the taste, the taste should be just a little alarmingly fake. We’re not looking for a rich dark chocolate or anything. We’re looking for something that tastes a little mass-produced, and is mild enough to satisfy a child but interesting enough for us to eat on a graham cracker over and over again.

Finally, while this is not a dark chocolate frosting—we have ganache for that—it needs to be fudgy and a little dense. That’s why Kitra’s go-to chocolate frosting doesn’t work here; it’s too fluffy and a little more “chocolate-inspired” than fudge-flavored.

We condensed all of these ideas into the following categories, which we rated on a 1-5 scale: Appearance, Spreadability, Stability, Taste, Crackerability, and Similarity to Canned Frosting.

“Crackerability” is how likely we are to just eat this on graham crackers as a snack, which is the primary way both of us interact with canned frosting.

It’s also the name of our jam band.

The Contenders

A plate with eight numbered chocolate frostings arranged in a circle and a stack of graham crackers in the center.
  1. A recipe from Maida Heatter’s Cakes. Not her chocolate buttercream, which involves seven egg yolks(??) and a double boiler, but one that still looked promising.
  2. The fudge frosting from Vintage Cakes, which includes brown sugar in an otherwise ganache-like base.
  3. A whipped ganache with mixed milk and dark chocolate.
  4. A recipe our mom sent us, which she claims is the closest she’s found to canned frosting.
  5. Joy the Baker’s best chocolate buttercream, which includes a substantial amount of chocolate Ovaltine.
  6. Hummingbird High’s “THE Chocolate Frosting,” which similarly has a bit of malt powder in it.

We also had a can of Duncan Hines chocolate frosting on hand for comparison (#7 above). The plate shown here was one we assembled for Jordan’s partner, so he also had #8, which was a frankenfrosting made of some of our favorites after the initial tests.

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Lemon Snack Cake

A slice of lemon raspberry cake with icing over top

Jordan: Kitra has been all in on Julia Turshen’s cookbooks recently, so that’s obviously where our next cake needed to come from.

Kitra: I’m always all in on Julia Turshen, but especially since her new book came out a few weeks ago, because it is perfect in every way (beautifully written, great food, easy to make things, gay, so many dogs, and have I mentioned beautifully written???) and I’ve eaten from it about 4 times a week since I got it.

This cake is… not from that book.

But it is conveniently from another of her books, which both of us happen to own. (Okay, I got Jordan’s copy for her but it was on her wishlist!)

It’s titled “afternoon cake” in the book, but this is really an anytime cake—which, to be fair, is the best kind of afternoon cake.

And since we both planned to bring cake to outdoor afternoon gatherings on the same day, it seemed like a sign that this was the cake to go with.

It’s also something of a choose-your-own adventure cake. The original uses orange zest and juice; we both used lemon instead, though we took it in different directions.

I went with the lemon poppyseed variation offered in the book, because I will use any excuse to add poppyseeds to something. Muffin-esque cakes > other cakes.

I swirled in some jam—with limited success, to be fair, but that may have been user error rather than the recipe’s fault. Both of us added a simple lemon glaze as well.

I ate 65% of this cake in one afternoon in my front yard, and my only regret is not just eating all of it.

And mine got good reviews at the farewell picnic I went to, despite my having overbaked it. Fortunately there’s almond flour in the batter, which keeps it from getting too dry and crumbly if you make the same mistake.

We’re both pretty tired while writing this, but the real takeaway is cake = good, make some and revel.

A round lemon-poppyseed cake on a cake stand, with a small pitcher of glaze and a stack of plates next to it
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Chocolate Raspberry Fluff Cake

A chocolate cake with pink whipped cream on top and between the layers; a slice has been cut out and is sitting on a green plate next to the cake stand.

Jordan: We made this cake a week ago and picked it largely because it was Passover-friendly. However, we forgot to write the actual blog post so as we type this, there are approximately two hours left before the end of Passover 2021. Whoops.

Kitra: But it is also delicious, and accidentally very good for the Cherry Blossom Festival here in DC, which is going on for another week! Take that, concept of time.

Kitra has made the chocolate base of this cake before, and it comes to us via Smitten Kitchen, ever a reliable source of excellent cakes. It was new to me, though, and I was quite pleasantly surprised by how light it is.

I think we made our way here because I first wanted to make a mousse cake, but the time required to chill one made it not ideal for the weekend we had. This cake is basically as close as you can get while still being actual cake.

The method is actually rather similar to the chocolate pudding cake we made at the start of the year. The difference is that you beat the crap out of the egg yolks here—to use a technical term—and bake it in thinner layers until it fully sets up, which means that instead of a delicious scoopable cake you get… well, a delicious sliceable cake.

And, since I mostly wanted to eat whipped cream, we threw in a metric craptonalso the technical termof that in the middle and on top. The original recipe calls for plain whipped cream, but everything is pink and beautiful outside and so I’m making everything raspberry.

Kitra’s favorite thing lately is throwing freeze-dried raspberries into recipes. (See the matcha almond tart and the raspberry-glazed cake doughnut cake.) But whipped cream is truly one of freeze-dried fruit’s highest callings; it somehow makes it that much richer and fluffier. You could happily eat this whipped cream with a spoon, and the only reason I don’t recommend it is that you should use as much as possible in between the layers of this cake.

Partially because the cake sinks a fair bit once it comes out of the oven, which creates a cake bowl ready to be filled, but also because it is adorable and tasty.

As you can see from the photos, this is basically equal parts cake and whipped cream. Don’t shy away from that!

Since they’re pretty much the same texture, the whole thing is like a bite of creamy, chocolatey, fruity fluff.

It’s a great dessert to serve after a heavy meal (which I will keep in mind for next Passover) but truly, you can’t go wrong with this at any time.

A whole chocolate cake with pink whipped cream on top and between the layers. There are fake flowers in the background.
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Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake

Two slices of iced chocolate cake sitting on plates alongside a pan of cake

Kitra: If I had to pick the defining cake of my childhood, it’s this one.

Jordan: We should note that we are not from Texas.

But we did grow up in a household with many, many editions of Taste of Home.

Our grandmother would send us the annual “best of” cookbook each year and while there are some questionable recipes in there, there are also some gems.

Those books were pretty hit and miss, but our copies fell right open to the hits (usually one or two in each book). I think the Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake pages eventually fell out of the book due to overuse.

Not that you can actually over-use this recipe, because it is a perfect cake. If I had to pick only cake that I could ever eat again—some sort of bargain with a demented wizard or something—it would probably be this one. It’s that good.

It is also hideous, often a trademark of very good cakes. (Thanks, stovetop icing that somehow sets both too fast and too slow but tastes so good no one cares that the whole thing looks like a crumpled paper bag.)

You can make the whole thing (cake and icing both) in a single saucepan with a whisk and a spatula. It takes longer to cool than it does to mix and bake, which is unfortunate because you’ll want to eat it immediately.

It’s a chocolate cake that isn’t too chocolatey, it’s a sheet cake that is thin enough that the size doesn’t feel overwhelming, it can serve a crowd or one, it keeps for days on the counter, etc. There is no end to the upsides of this very understated cake.

The only thing I’d disagree with there is Kitra’s contention that it keeps for days on the counter. It could keep for days on the counter, probably, but it never lasts that long. Especially not if you happen to cut slivers off of the edge every time you walk by, which you will.

There are people who make this with pecans, but those people are just uncomfortable with the idea of an ugly but good cake, which makes them wrong. Let it be what it is and don’t try to fix it. Especially because they do not even make it less ugly.

Some of you may be coming to this recipe already believing that it’s not right if it doesn’t have pecans, and you’re welcome to add them. However, if you’re new to Texas sheet cake, we really recommend doing it without because this cake needs nothing. No added crunch, no whipped cream or ice cream, no powdered sugar. It’s perfect exactly as it is.

Let the slicing commence! *waves race flag*

A square or iced chocolate cake with a forkful taken out
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Cake Doughnut Cake

A chocolate-glazed cake with pink sprinkles on top and two forks resting next to it

Kitra: I wanted to make a pink cake, because even though Valentine’s Day means nothing to me (I celebrate Oregon’s Birthday instead, hence the decoration on mine) I love a pink cake. Hot damn, I love a pink cake.

Jordan: Meanwhile, this week turned my brain to mush so I wanted something easy and, beyond that, was happy to let Kitra make all the choices.

I had about a million ideas, but ultimately my desire to make something hella simple and use my fancy new nutmeg (I could not be more excited about it) led me to the Powdered Doughnut cake from Snacking Cakes. I am decidedly not a doughnut person, but I dig a cake doughnut. And, I love a pink, berry glazed doughnut most.

You’ll notice that mine is not pink. That’s because the only doughnut I ever want to eat has a chocolate glaze and sprinkles. I used to intern for a weekly magazine where, every Thursday, they would bring in doughnuts ahead of the publication deadline. Did I work on the print edition? No. Did I still get to the kitchen early so I could steal the chocolate-and-sprinkle doughnut? Yes. Apologies to my former coworkers.

I also really believe in holiday doughnuts? Maybe there’s some memory wedged in the back of my brain of The Jelly Doughnut in Grants Pass using seasonal sprinkles on holidays. Maybe it’s just my love of themed foods. Maybe it’s just cute. Whatever the reason, something felt festive about a doughnut cake.

And it’s a pretty good cake! The nutmeg gives it the little something that keeps it from being completely plain—somehow it ups the “cake doughnut” factor just the right amount.

There’s a good mix of sour cream and butter here too, plus not too much sugar so it seems like an all day cake, and isn’t overwhelmingly sweet. It’s also very fluffy.

It is, as the book promises, a good snacking cake! I’ve already eaten several slivers off of the edge of mine.

I adapted a glaze from the book as well and I will be using this glaze all the time now. It’s tangy and might be the only glaze I know that doesn’t make me immediately want to brush my teeth. The raspberry flavor is extremely strong and that is exactly what I wanted.

It’s also beautiful, truly.

So pretty. Great color, just glossy enough, spread like a dream with enough time to fuss with it before it set.

You can, if you prefer, go with the original powdered variation—we’ll put it in the recipe notes—or another glaze of your choice. (Our mom instantly suggested maple.) Like a box of assorted doughnuts, there’s an option for everyone.

A well-decorated side table with a pink-glazed cake resting on a cake stand. The cake has the shape of the state of Oregon on the top in white sprinkles.
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Chocolate Pudding Cake

A pan of chocolate pudding cake, with a scoop being taken out and a mug of tea nearby.

Kitra: It is snowing in DC today, which means it is the best possible time for a warm bowl of cake.

Jordan: This is a great snow day cake. It’s a great cake in general, but it’s an especially great snow day cake.

Did you stand in line for an hour yesterday to panic-stock your pantry, but now you’re too tired to make a real cake?

Did you avoid the grocery store (hi, us too) and so you have no butter, milk, or flour?

Are you feeling exceptionally cozy and want to maximize the time spent holding something warm and eating things with a spoon while wrapped in an entire duvet?

Have you been sledding, building snowcreatures, or walking a dog who refuses to wear dog boots and now you’re cold and in need of chocolate?

Boy! Have! We! Got! A! Cake! For! You!

We first made this cake a month ago, for a socially distanced gathering/new year’s party/birthday for our mother. Kitra stumbled across it on Joy the Baker and we knew instantly that it was our mom’s birthday cake.

It was gluten-free (which means our dad could eat it), grain-free (which means our mom wanted to eat it), chocolate (which makes everyone happy), warm and requiring minimal work (perfect for an outdoor meal in January), and we could serve it with a giant spoon out onto plates (which makes it great party food).

There were five of us and we were all very full of appetizers, small food, and good cocktails (the ideal dinner party menu), and we still managed to finish the entire thing.

And I have been wanting to make it again every single day since.

It takes about 20 minutes to mix together, 20 minutes to bake, and 5 minutes to cool so that you don’t hurt yourself.

Cake start to finish in less than an hour! And since it’s mostly egg it is technically breakfast if you’re me and forgot to eat anything before jumping into cake day.

And while we love the original flavorings of orange and nutmeg, you could really flavor it however you want—which means that the only required ingredients are eggs, chocolate chips, and sugar. All of which you probably have.

If you’re making it in a half batch like we both did today, you don’t even need much of any of those either. A half batch is a great size to eat on your own over the course of the day, or share with someone if you live with a creature who isn’t a dog (sorry Sophie, no chocolate cake.)

I mean, I can’t promise that there will be any cake left by the time my partner gets home from work. He doesn’t have Instagram so he doesn’t need to know this happened at all.

It really is easy to hide the evidence here. I washed all 3 dishes while the cake was baking, which means even in my tiny kitchen with my even tinier sink there’s really no trace of it except the smell of snow day happiness.

A scoop of chocolate pudding cake and some orange segments in a bowl with a mug of tea alongside.
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