[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.
Jordan: This is a coffee cake, which means you can eat it for breakfast. It also uses a pound of butter, so you probably shouldn’t, but that’s not going to stop us.
Kitra: I eat ice cream for breakfast about 40% of the time, so this seems perfectly reasonable.
That’s sad and we’re not going to comment on it.
I mean, that percentage is lower in the winter. I eat a lot of Girl Scout Cookies for breakfast instead.
So if you’re looking for a cake that is better for you than Kitra’s usual breakfast fare but still feels like a comforting plate of carbs and chocolate, you’ve come to the right place!
If there’s one thing we know, it’s how to provide you with healthy breakfast options.
This is supposed to be a coffee cake (that’s cake to have with coffee, not cake made with coffee) mashed up with a loaf of chocolate babka. Call it babka-inspired: It has chocolate filling and swirly layers, but no one is going to mistake it for the real thing.
And that’s fine, because it’s “breakfast” and mostly chocolate. This cake is moist and pretty, so what’s not to love.
We both brought leftovers to work (it’s a LOT of cake) and both sets of coworkers demolished it, which is the sign of a successful cake in our book.
Kitra: 2018 happened. It’s over. We’re moving on with cake.
Specifically, a lucky cake. Poppy seeds are considered lucky in Hungary, especially around New Year’s.
And when we briefly lived there, the holidays were marked by a Black Friday-esque battle for oranges at the grocery store.
Imagine, if you will, dozens of middle-aged eastern Europeans, swarming the aisles of Tesco to fill their carts to the brim with boxes and bags of oranges. We’re not exaggerating here; people would buy literal cartloads.
Every person you passed in the store had nothing but oranges in their cart.
To this day, all of my Googling has been unable to come up with an explanation for this surreal phenomenon. We’ll blame it on the Soviet Union, just like all of the rest of Hungary’s idiosyncrasies.
So we paired a documented Hungarian tradition with one we’re only mostly sure we didn’t dream.
Here’s hoping this cake brings you a bright, lucky, and only mildly perplexing 2019.
We also did some other things since we last posted!
While we may revisit some of these in later posts, we’ll share the links here now as a belated Christmas/Hanukkah gift to you and an apology for being gone so long.
Spiced Brown Sugar Pound Cake | We’ve had this bookmarked since it first went up on Shutterbean more than a year ago and recommend that you don’t wait nearly as long as we did to make it. It’s from Julia Turshen’s Feed the Resistance and it’s truly excellent.
Olive Oil Cake with Farmer’s Cheese Filling | We made this, as Alice Medrich suggests, as a Hanukkah cake but it was delicious and would be welcome all year round. We swapped farmer’s cheese for the creme fraiche in the filling, but suspect it would be great either way.
Kitra: Election Cakes are part of the largely forgotten American tradition of bribing people to participate in democracy. First it was politicians offering free booze outside of polling locations, then the country turned to cake. Women made massive batches of election cake and offered them as incentives to come to vote. And we’re not the only ones who did this. In Australia, it’s still a common practice to serve “democracy sausages” outside of polling sites.
Jordan: Kitra vaguely remembered that one of the early presidents once won an election by providing free booze at the polls. Turns out it was George Washington, who lost his first election in Virginia but won the second by spending his entire campaign budget on alcohol.
Speaking of presidents, our election cake inspiration came from an 1887 White House cookbook full of poison antidotes and cake recipes that seem to be missing most of their ingredients and all of their directions.
The full recipe for Election Cake:
Three cups milk, two cups sugar, one cup yeast; stir to a batter, and let stand over night; in the morning add two cups sugar, two cups butter, three eggs, half a nutmeg, one tablespoonful cinnamon, one pound raisins, a gill of brandy.
Brown sugar is much better than white for this kind of cake, and it is improved by dissolving a half-teaspoonful of soda in a tablespoonful of milk in the morning. It should stand in the greased pans and rise some time until quite light before baking.
That’s it. That’s the entire recipe.
Notice, no flour.
Four cups of sugar.
ONE CUP OF YEAST. YEAST!
How long does it bake for? What kind of pan? No one knows!
So obviously we had to make it. And also a safety cake with flour, instructions, and a very reasonable amount of yeast.
To reconstruct this cake, we started by assuming that it was wrong. Four cups of sugar and no flour sounded like a disaster, but two cups of flour and two of sugar might work. We decided that the first mention of sugar must have been a mistake and swapped it for flour. We also reduced the yeast significantly. We cut it in half to account for using active dry yeast rather than fresh yeast, then again for the advances in yeast effectiveness that have probably happened since 1887, then reduced it a bit more for good measure.
I just thought it should be a living buzoozle of yeast.
That felt like a bad idea. Also like a cup of yeast would be kind of expensive.
I wasn’t thinking a cup, but like, maybe a ¼ cup.
The actual process for this was pretty concerning. It turns out that adding a very liquidy batter, raisins, and brandy to creamed butter and sugar gives you… very liquidy butter and sugar with raisins and brandy. So we added a little bit of flour, threw it in the oven, and crossed our fingers.
You don’t need to butter this cake. This cake is ALL. BUTTER. My immediate reaction upon turning it out was “So greasy…”
In fact, testing it with a toothpick was very concerning because even though the cake still felt quite soft, the toothpick came out with nothing but butter on it.
A selection of our reactions to this cake upon trying it:
“What the hell is this?”
“It’s like we invented baked oatmeal, but without the oats.”
“It’s like we already made french toast out of the other cake.”
“This is bread pudding.”
And honestly? It’s not bad. It’s pretty good actually, just… not election cake.
It has potential, though. We’ll revisit it next time there’s an election. Until then, here’s a recipe that actually works… and, if you want it, our variation on the 1887 cake. We recommend you make the former.
Kitra: There are two dishes that define summer to me: ratatouille and this cake. What they have in common is that, like in most rural areas, where we grew up zucchini is both a gift and a curse. In trying to use it up as fast as it grows (impossible), people get crafty. Since this cake came into our lives, I’ve looked forward to zucchini season. And then “forgetting to clean up bits of grated zucchini and trying to scrape it off the counter weeks later” season.
I only have a hazy memory of where this cake came from. It’s on a printed ¼ sheet of computer paper, and in my head it came from someone at the school where our mom used to work.
Jordan: I had no idea, so we texted our mom to ask and she said “Somewhere in the back of my head I think someone at Riverside gave me the recipe, but I could be wrong.” At which point Kitra enthusiastically gave herself a high-five, then gave me a high-five.
Self-fiving didn’t work well enough, so I had to high-five the doubters.
Wherever it came from originally, it’s a great cake. It actually doesn’t use a ton of zucchini, but it has the benefit of being a great use for the infant-sized zucchinis we always had around, the ones that aren’t particularly nice to eat on their own.
You know, the ones that are better as weapons than as food.
In this case, the zucchini isn’t really noticeable but helps keep the cake nice and moist. This is a lightly chocolatey cake—light enough that even I, the person who doesn’t like chocolate cake and thinks chocolate chip cookies would be better without chocolate chips, enjoy it.
It’s a cake’s cake. Like a man’s man, but… a cake’s cake.
Kitra: There was a time in my youth(ish) where I lived in a place deep, deep within the archives of Better Homes and Gardens. I made their Rosemary Lemon Cupcakes at least once a month, and everything else I tried came from there. Enter this cake. It was always… Almost right. A dense chocolate cake that tasted barely healthy, with a truly inadequate dollop of blueberry infused Cool Whip. It’s been on my list of things to fix up for a while, so I brought the idea to Jordan.
Jordan: And I had zero opinions on it, but also zero opinions on anything else. The world runs on apathy. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
So we made a cake! Apathy Cake! Or, Whole Wheat Chocolate Blueberry Cake.
Kitra suggested calling it “extra-gluten chocolate cake,” but I was pretty sure that’s not how whole wheat works.
Listen, it’s WHOLE wheat. Not just partial wheat. Extra wheat = extra gluten.
Fun fact: The internet tells me that whole wheat flour actually has less gluten. So.
Fun fact: Shut up. Bonus fact: Jordan calls blueberries “bluebs.” And also corrected my spelling of “bluebs.”
It’s the first part of the word “blueberries”! Of course it’s spelled that way! But also, blame my coworker for me saying “bluebs.” She started doing it and now I can’t stop. It’s so much fun to say. Bluebs. Bluebs. Say it with me.
The original cake is one layer, and generally close to something you’d want to eat while not quite making it. (Can I be mean to this cake?) The first change I wanted to make was modifying it to become a layer cake, which meant making the batch slightly larger. The second thing that I wanted to change was the blueberry layer. In the original recipe, there is hardly any blueberry. In fact, Jordan didn’t even realize it existed in the original recipe until it was pointed out while writing this. This is, however, the best part of the cake, so in this revision I wanted us to focus in on the blueberries labor.
Ah yes, the blueberries’ labor. [Note: Kitra is voice-typing.]
They do do most of the heavy lifting, and we thank them for their service.
Anyway, focusing in on the blueberry flavor. Swapping out the Cool Whip-blueberry concoction for a blueberry whipped cream, we were able to get more into the cake. After making that whipped cream, we decided it wasn’t enough and ran to the store to get blueberry jam. Which is a stand-in for the moisture that the original recipe gets from a “ganache” and adds more fruit notes to the cake.
Side note: This cake was SO EASY. It took 10 minutes and 2 dishes to make the batter, and it is deeply pretty. Plus, it’s got whole wheat so I think you’re good to eat it for every meal today.
Oh good, because that was my plan. The cake itself is fudgy and delicious, and I say that as someone who doesn’t really like chocolate cake. The whipped cream tastes like a milkshake and we ate the leftovers straight from the food processor bowl with our forks while writing this.