Our 3rd Birthday Cake

A cake with chocolate frosting with a sparkly sign reading "happy birthday" in cursive, on a blue glass cake stand

Kitra: Happy birthday to us! Not as people, but to the ritual of biweekly cake days.

Jordan: This was definitely not the Cake Day Birthday we had imagined. Last year we made a lovely towering cake together, and our plan was to do something similar this year while continuing our hunt for the perfect fudge frosting.

But, you know, *gestures vaguely* this.

So instead we made two cakes, each in our respective homes, with Google Hangouts going and whatever assortment of candles/sprinkles/etc. we had in our kitchens.

We’ll *probably* stop offering you takes on yellow cake with fudge frosting after this, but we hadn’t yet shared the one I actually make for birthdays (mine, friends, coworkers, everyone gets this cake). It’s SO CUTE. And fast. And looks great in pans that have their own lids for easy transport on the metro. (Remember the METRO? Jeez it’s been a while.)

It’s from the Smitten Kitchen Every Day party cake builder, which is honestly just so great. If you make a lot of cakes for things—which seems weird as I type it, but Kitra is presumably not the only person who has been appointed Designated Cake Baker in their office—then the book is worth it for that alone.

Jordan originally wrote “Designated Cake Baker in their friend group” and let me tell you, the one true dream that I have in this world is for my friends to let me make them cakes for their parties. Casual housewarming cake? I got you. Brunch cake? Yep. Birthday cake? PLEASE GOD ASK ME TO BRING A BIRTHDAY CAKE TO YOU. I’VE BEEN TRAINING MY WHOLE LIFE FOR THIS AND NO ONE HAS EVER ASKED.

As you can see, Kitra has Many Feelings about cake, and this cake in particular. But let’s talk frosting. We’re still on the hunt for the perfect canned-style fudge frosting. No chocolate frosting either of us has made has ever been as good as eating that straight out of the can on graham crackers.

The frosting I default to is the one we put on our birthday cake last year, and the one I put on mine this year. It’s very easy, and I’ve had half a dozen self-proclaimed frosting haters ask me for the recipe. And since it is a different style from that dense fudgy canned stuff, I don’t find myself comparing them. I’m content.

I wanted something a little different, though, so I tried the one in Dining In, Alison Roman’s first cookbook (and the source of the cake from last year). It’s a bit of a richer chocolate flavor, with some tanginess from the sour cream. If you want a more nuanced frosting, this is a good option. It’s still no canned frosting, but it’s pretty good. It was also very forgiving of my realization that I had no powdered sugar and had to use regular sugar instead.

As we all know, the thing that makes a birthday cake a birthday cake is what goes on the frosting. Silly candles are ideal. Fancy cake toppers are cool. I have been stockpiling all of the above, but really all you need are rainbow sprinkles. Always rainbow sprinkles.

*Ranibow sprimkles.

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Nutella Crepe Cake

A slice of crepe cake filled with Nutella cream on a plate, with the remaining cake in the background

Jordan: This is a tale of two cakes.

Kitra: For the first time in decades, marmalade has wronged someone. And that someone is me.

Our plan here was to offer you two beautiful crepe cake recipes: One Nutella, and one with alternating layers of marmalade and pastry cream. But instead we have a beautiful Nutella crepe cake and… a cautionary tale.

I would like to say, for the record, that my cake was stellar at first. Pastry cream and marmalade taste great together, and it was a tall, ruffled dream. Until I came back after an hour in the fridge and all the marmalade had turned into… water? I still don’t understand what happened.

So as not to scare you off, we’ll start by talking about the good things that are happening here. There’s browned butter. There’s pastry cream. There are 16 or so delicious mini crepes that you can make with any flour you have on hand.

It’s not all wedges of egg, covered in orange water and cream. You, dear reader, will not end up with a pile of wet crepes, where every one of its component parts would be better off in anything else. You will have the cake I could have had if I hadn’t put my trust in marmalade.

Kitra put all of her photos in a folder and titled it “Tall stack egg bois.” Her cake slice fell apart when she tried to eat it, so when she took a bite all I heard her say was “mmm, triangles.” Meanwhile I was over here shaving chocolate and trying not to flaunt my lovely, not-sad cake. You can do this, reader. You can make a crepe cake and not be disappointed.

I may have brought this upon myself by being VERY showy about how perfect and easy my crepes were. Not a single bad crepe, just the 19 most beautiful crepes I’ve ever made.

Don’t say that, Kitra. No one deserves that mess. Not even a crepe show-off.

Y’all, I have this cake on a paper towel in the fridge to soak up all the marmalade runoff. Just make it with Nutella. (I would have been better off with even the vaguely chocolate peanut butter that I got at the store when there were no Nutella-adjacent options.) If you’re like me, and you think flavoring a pastry cream is a waste of mankind’s greatest creation—pastry cream—let me tell you: It is not. But a wet marmalade egg puddle sure is. Add the Nutella.

We’ll also give you some other options too, if Nutella isn’t your thing but pastry cream is.

I’m going to go stick my finger in the jar of leftover pastry cream now.

We just have so many questions about what happened here. Was Kitra’s particular brand of marmalade the problem? Would this have happened with any jam we tried because crepes aren’t really absorbent? Is marmalade just that much thinner than other jams? If you’re a marmalade-ologist, please call us. We need answers.

A crepe cake filled with Nutella cream with one slice missing
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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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Gluten-Free Chocolate Raspberry Ice Cream Cake

A chocolate layer cake with ice cream and raspberries between the two layers

Kitra: Sometimes, most of the time, it’s really unbearably hot in DC. And nothing is okay unless it’s made of ice cream.

Jordan: However, I didn’t grow up eating (so-called) ice cream cakes. You know, the kind that are just layers of ice cream and some crumbly bits and sub-standard frosting on top. I don’t know that I’d ever had one of those before a few years ago. If so, I’ve completely erased it from my memory.

I recall a period where we had a lot of Dairy Queen ice cream cakes in the freezer, but it seems like that may have been after Jordan went to college.

I don’t believe in cakeless ice cream cake. Kitra, meanwhile, just googled pictures of DQ cakes and whispered “Yeah, these guys” to herself. But because this is a cake blog and not an “ice cream shaped like cake” blog, we went with something that involved actual cake.

And since our dad was in town, we made it gluten-free. Which, may I add, is one of the true gifts of ice cream. The cake part is harder, but not that hard.

If you do gluten-free baking with any regularity, we highly recommend the America’s Test Kitchen How Can It Be Gluten-Free cookbook, which we purchased a while after our dad was diagnosed with celiac.

That cookbook was a lifesaver. WAFFLES THAT TASTE LIKE REGULAR WAFFLES Y’ALL. It had been a long time since we had eaten regular tasting desserts. And their cakes are so genuinely good that I made them regularly for events in high school.

A lot of the time we prefer gluten-free foods that taste like an improvement on their regular counterparts—we both own a copy of Alice Medrich’s Flavor Flours for this reason. However, if you want a gluten-free chocolate cake that tastes exactly like a regular chocolate cake, ATK is where it’s at. That’s what we did here.

Also, if you’re making an ice cream cake, you should use ice cream that you actually like. We used Tillamook, since they recently started distributing in DC and as an Oregonian I feel it is my responsibility to single-handedly uphold that market.

We’ve included directions here that will make your life easier, but I want to emphasize this up front: do not let this cake break you. It will be fine. I promise.

And whatever you do, don’t think “eh, this will be fine without a mold.” Put the ice cream in the damn pan and save yourself.

(Kitra might have had to leave the room for a bit while we were assembling.)

(It was so horrifying. Be better than us.)

I feel like we’ve done a terrible job of selling this so far, but it really is a delicious cake.

It’s also ice cream cake. It sells itself.

Go, make ice cream cake and make the best of the last terrible bit of summer.

Chocolate ganache sliding over the edges of an ice cream cake
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Slab Pavlova with Roasted Cherries, Berries, and Earl Grey Whipped Cream

Pavlova topped with whipped cream, roasted cherries, and blueberries

Kitra: This post comes to you from the great state of Oregon (est. 1859) and also from the past. More specifically, the Fourth of July.

Jordan: We were visiting our dad in our hometown and wanted something that was gluten-free for him but was also festive, because when you have a cake blog you’re not allowed to let Independence Day pass without doing something red-and-blue. It’s a rule.

We’ve been looking at pavlovas for a while, because Jordan found a technicality that says they count as cake.

It’s not a technicality, it’s Wikipedia! The title of the article is Pavlova (cake). It counts..

And since my favorite dessert is an Eaton mess, which is basically the same thing (albeit less pretty and with wildly different ingredient ratios) I’m an easy sell.

Pavlova, if you’re not familiar with it, is essentially a giant meringue, generally topped with fruit and whipped cream. You can make it in elegant shapes, or you can just go rustic and free-form it.

And when I saw Erin McDowell had a recipe for a slablova, it was so fun to pronounce that we had to go with it.

It’s like slab pie, only instead of rolling out pie crust you’re just throwing a bunch of egg whites and sugar together and forgetting about them in the oven.

Everyone loves a slab pie.

We were also making a roasted cherry sorbet (which we also recommend, so we doubled the cherries and used those as a topping along with blueberries. We also added an Earl Grey whipped cream, because Kitra will never pass up a chance to add tea to something.

And I have no regrets about it. It brings another flavor to the dish, and allows you to cut the sweetness of the Pavlova.

I did find the pavlova itself to be a bit on the sweet side, but I also topped my portion with weird store-bought almond whipped cream. (Don’t ask.) If you’re going with a store-bought whipped cream, first of all don’t do that, but second of all, you’ll want to make sure you use some unsweetened fruit to keep it from being overwhelmingly sweet.

But really, don’t do that. Even an infused whipped cream is so, so easy.

Overall, a nice change of pace and a good dessert for a lazy summer evening in the backyard.

Pavlova topped with whipped cream, roasted cherries, and blueberries
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Pecan Browned Butter Cake

Pecan browned butter cake, topped with whipped cream and strawberries and missing a slice

Jordan: Let’s start by saying that this cake was delicious.

Kitra: It tastes like pralines, and that wasn’t even the intent. It’s that lovely.

Think nutty, buttery, and lightly caramelly. We ate more than half the cake in one sitting.

Added bonus: no wheat! Which generally is… not a bonus. But it’s good here.

That said, we failed at one part of this cake. Or rather, I failed at it. (Kitra was just along for the ride.) The original cake included cornmeal, but in an attempt to make it kosher for Passover, we swapped that out. We also swapped out the small amount of all-purpose flour (which also makes it gluten-free)… Unfortunately, I remembered too late that rice flour, which we used, is still kitniyot, just like corn is.

It’s totally doable to make this work though if that’s your goal. Just don’t arbitrarily pick rice flour like we did.

It wasn’t arbitrary! It was recommended by the people in the comments as a gluten-free swap, and I already had it in my pantry. It was, however, not fully thought-out. Fun side story: I’ve also done this in the other direction. I once used a kosher for Passover recipe to make cookies for a gluten-free friend and realized as they were going in the oven that matzo meal is, you know, decidedly not gluten-free. Cookies were good though.

I enjoyed them.

I’ll also note that this cake is kosher for Passover if you eat kitniyot (corn, rice, legumes, etc.), which as far as I can tell is mostly a matter of how strong your feelings are about tradition, unless you’re Orthodox.

Jordan has done a lot of research and needs more outlets for it. I just like cake and know I should eat less wheat because it doesn’t always make me feel great but I’m in denial.

In my defense, there are a lot of topics I have done unnecessary research on but this is not one of them. It just comes from being the only non-Jew at my boyfriend’s mother’s Passover seders. Ask me about World War I facial surgery and then we’ll get into some unnecessary research.

We should end on something other than facial surgery. So: this cake is great and you should eat over half of it in 20ish minutes. No regrets.

Pecan browned butter cake topped with whipped cream and a pile of sliced strawberries Read More