Almond Cupcakes with Raspberry Filling and Marzipan Buttercream

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Can I start with a rant about Valentine’s Day?

The floor is yours, m’lady.

I’ve long been a supporter of Valentine’s Day, even—or especially—for people who aren’t in a relationship. We as a society put so much emphasis on ~romance~ and finding “The One” and the idea that if you’re not coupled up, you’re somehow less than a full person. Which is, frankly, ridiculous. There are SO MANY WAYS to be a person and only some of them involve finding a single partner, falling in love with them, and spending the rest of your life together.

I suggested cupcakes this week because I think Valentine’s Day should be about all kinds of love. Love for your friends. Love for your family. Love for your cheerful next-door neighbor and for your coworker who shares memes with you on bad days and for your dog. (Just don’t give your dog cupcakes.)

When we were growing up, for Valentine’s Day the THING in our house was to make candy  to bring to school and share with your friends/teachers/whoever you wanted. And as the sister who has been single for literally every Valentine’s Day of her life, that’s my primary association with the day.

(Except that I tend to forget about actual Valentine’s Day, because February 14th is also the day that Oregon became a state and I’m very pumped about that every year. Happy Birthday Oregon!)

To me—and, I suspect, to Kitra too—there aren’t many better ways to show you care than by making something. I loved making handmade Valentines in elementary school, and when I was in college I would send Kitra Valentine’s Day care packages covered in stickers and filled with silly things.

And I love making cookies shaped like Oregon, and a banner… shaped like Oregon. But also yes, bringing food for my friends and laughing at whatever Jordan came up with that year.

These cupcakes are made to be shared, both because it’s Valentine’s Day and it’s nice to share things, but also because they’re delicious. We made this almond cake as a sheet cake back in the pre-blog days, and it’s just as good in a smaller form.

And because we love a good themed decoration, we added raspberries for taste and color. Even though nothing says love like sprinkles—the glitter of the food world—we went with crushed raspberries stenciled into hearts on top because hot damn it’s cute. And tasty.

The frosting is an almond buttercream, and it all works very well together. Make these cupcakes for whoever you love this week, or any week.

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Almond Cupcakes with Raspberry Filling and Marzipan Buttercream

Adapted from Food52, Genius Kitchen, and Molly Yeh

Makes 18 cupcakes

Notes

If you’re looking for a specific cupcake height, we recommend doing a test cupcake to figure out just how much batter you need in each. We filled these about ⅔ full for a relatively flat cake or ¾ full for a slightly domed cake.

We found that the frosting could be made entirely in a food processor, which is what we did here. If you think your food processor might be overheating, or if you have a very small one, you can follow Molly Yeh’s original directions and move to a mixer after you make the nut butter. If you don’t have a food processor at all (or if yours isn’t very powerful), you can try using store-bought almond butter (or, to keep the light color and cleaner taste, almond paste and a smaller amount of powdered sugar) and doing the whole thing in an electric mixer.

The frosting recipe will make more than you need (unless you are a VERY enthusiastic cupcake-froster) but a standard-sized food processor will have trouble making nut butter out of a smaller batch. If you have a small food processor, or are doing the whole thing in a mixer, feel free to make a two-thirds batch.

If you want to stencil hearts like we did, just cut a heart out of a piece of cardboard. Frost each cupcake with a very smooth layer of frosting, place the stencil on top, and dust crushed raspberries over top in as even a layer as possible. Remove the stencil very carefully so that you don’t dump the excess powder back on the cupcake.

Cupcakes

2 ¼ cups (270g) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup (1 stick, 4 oz) butter, at room temperature
1 ⅓ cups (267g) sugar
3 eggs
½ teaspoon almond extract
¾ cup milk
⅓ cup (35g) almond flour or meal

Preheat your oven to 350° and line a muffin pan with paper or foil liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour and baking powder and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl with a handheld mixer, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well, followed by the almond extract.

Add ¼ cup of milk and mix to combine, followed by a third of the flour mixture; repeat until you’ve added all of the milk and flour and the batter is cohesive. Mix in the almond flour.

Fill each cupcake liner ⅔ to ¾ of the way with batter, smoothing the top of each with the back of a spoon. Bake cupcakes 20-22 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Once they are cool enough to handle, move cupcakes to a cooling rack to cool completely before filling and frosting.

Filling

6 oz (about 1 ½ cups) frozen raspberries
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup sugar

In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring and crushing raspberries with the back of your spoon or spatula to help them break them down. Cook until the sauce has thickened; it should thickly coat the back of a spoon, and when you scrape down the middle of the pan, you should see the bottom of the pan for a second or so before the sauce has a chance to fill back in. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature before filling cupcakes.

Frosting

1 cup (128g) blanched almonds
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 cups (480g) powdered sugar
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoons almond extract
¼ cup heavy cream

Add almonds to a food processor and process on high until they become a soft, creamy nut butter, about 5 minutes. You’ll need to stop and scrape down the sides every so often.

Add butter to food processor and blend until the butter and almonds are smooth and well combined. Add powdered sugar in two batches, processing until smooth and creamy. Add salt, vanilla and almond extracts, and heavy cream and continue blending until the frosting is light and fluffy. You may need to but the frosting in the fridge for a few minutes at this point if it’s too soft to handle, but we didn’t find it to be unmanageable.

Assembly

Using a sharp paring knife, carefully cut a circle out of the top of each cupcake and set it aside. Use a small spoon (we used a ¾ teaspoon) to scoop out a bit of the center. You want the hole to go about halfway down and be about ¾ of an inch wide.

Use a small spoon or piping bag to fill the hole most of the way with raspberry filling and replace the cake circle you removed earlier. (This gives you an even surface to frost on.) Top with frosting and crushed freeze-dried raspberries, if desired.

Classic Cake Day: Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Black Currant Whipped Cream

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[Classic Cake Day revisits some of our favorite cakes from the first year or so, before the blog. We made this cake for Valentine’s Day 2018.]

Jordan: This cake was delicious. Kitra also broke a chair taking pictures of it.

Kitra: I forgot that a screw was loose and wanted to get this cake from all the angles because it’s. just. so. pretty.

When we were in New York to see a musical a while back (Come From Away, go see it, it’s amazing), we stopped by Kalustyan’s to browse the truly absurd amount of spices, herbs, and miscellaneous flavorings they have there.

We picked up a couple of things, but the first one to see use was the black currant juice powder, because it is truly the most remarkable color and tastes great.

Plus it’s the king of berries!

Or so they said. I buy it.

Literally. We bought it. And it was delicious—bright and fruity, and when folded into whipped cream made a delightful replacement for the heavy buttercream you might expect from a Valentine’s Day cake.

While we’d hoped it would stay hot pink in the cream, it turned into a lovely shade of purple and we’re not mad about it.

We paired it here with a vanilla buttermilk cake, which was moist and dense in the best senses of both of those words.

When we looked back to write this post, the first though both of us had was “my coworkers loved this cake,” so it’s clearly also a crowd-pleaser. Which is good, because this makes a lot of cake.

You could easily scale down the recipe and do this as a single layer cake with a thick layer of frosting and it would be a great afternoon snack… But if you make the full thing, we don’t think your coworkers will mind.

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Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Black Currant Whipped Cream

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Sky High

Notes

We recognize that black currant juice powder is kind of a niche product, so don’t feel obliged to track it down. This cake would also pair well with any fruit whipped cream made with freeze-dried berries, like the blueberry one we made over the summer. Strawberries or raspberries would be nice and festive for Valentine’s Day.

Since this is a whipped cream topping, be sure to keep the cake in the fridge once frosted.

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake

Ingredients

3 3/4 cups (450g) cake flour
2 1/2 cups (500g) sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups plus 1/3 cup buttermilk (divided)
5 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat oven to 325°. Butter three 8- or 9-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment.

Combine dry ingredients, including sugar, in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the butter and 1¼ cup buttermilk and beat on low until blended, then increase speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, vanilla, and remaining ⅓ cup buttermilk. In three additions, fold the egg mixture into the rest of the batter.

Divide batter into pans; there should be about 3 cups of batter per pan.

Bake 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out free of batter. Allow to cool fully before frosting with black currant whipped cream between each layer and on top. If desired, dust top of frosted cake with additional black currant powder.

Black Currant Whipped Cream

Ingredients

2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
black currant powder, to taste

Directions

Using an electric mixer, whip cream and sugar together until thick and fluffy. Use a rubber spatula to fold in black currant powder, tasting as you go, until the flavor is to your liking.

Poppy Seed Orange Cake

Poppy seed cake with whipped cream and blood orangesJordan: Happy New Year!

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.

Thanksgiving (and pre-Thanksgiving) pies: Garam Masala Pear Pie, Sweet Potato Pie, and Orange Maple Walnut and Apple Chai pies, both from A Year of Pies.

Poppy seed orange cake, brown sugar bundt cake, three pies, and Hanukkah cake

Poppy Seed Orange Cake

Adapted, just slightly, from Food52

If you like poppy seeds, this cake has a lot going for it! It’s moist and light, gluten-free, and is interesting enough to serve for dessert but not so sweet that it can’t be breakfast or an afternoon snack. If you don’t like poppy seeds, then this is really not your cake.

We used orange in the batter, in keeping with the theme, but you could also use lemon (as in the original recipe). We top it here with a lightly sweetened whipped cream and fresh blood oranges, but it would also be good on its own or with a light icing.

We used a very small blood orange but have adjusted it here to use a regular one and increase the amount of orange flavor in the cake itself. We strongly recommend doing the almonds and poppy seeds by weight, so convert those to cups at your own risk.

Ingredients

¾ cup (150g) sugar
1 orange
5 eggs
1 tart apple, peeled and coarsely grated
7 oz (200g) almond flour/meal or an equal weight blanched almonds, processed until fine
7 oz (200g) poppy seeds
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
Lightly sweetened whipped cream and sliced oranges, for serving

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease an 8- or 9-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Add sugar to a large bowl and zest the orange over top of the sugar. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar to help release the orange flavor.

Once you’ve zested it, cut your orange in half and juice one half into a small bowl. Toss the grated apple with the juice and set it all aside.

Separate your eggs. The whites should go into a clean large bowl, while the yolks can go on top of the orange sugar. Using an electric mixer, beat the whites until they reach soft peaks. Without bothering to wash the beaters, beat the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy.

Add the almond flour and poppy seeds to the egg yolk/sugar mixture and mix until well-combined. Mix in the grated apple (along with any juices in the bottom of the bowl), then the baking powder. Using a spatula, gently fold in the egg whites.

Bake for 40 minutes, until the top is golden and set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool fully before serving with whipped cream and sliced oranges.

Election Cake

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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.

Slice of rather squishy cake, with raisins
Our experimental late-1800s election cake.

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.

Sliced election cake, with butter

 

Election Cake

Adapted slightly from Food52, where it was in turn adapted from I Hear America Cooking by Betty Fussell and American Cookery by Amelia Simmons

While we didn’t discuss it much, this version is a pretty good cake! (It’s the one in the first and last pictures in this post.) It’s closer to a bread, which makes it an excellent breakfast cake or afternoon snack. It’s great on its own or with a bit of butter. Fair warning that the alcohol doesn’t cook all the way off, which also makes it a good way to drown any election-related sorrows you might have without looking like an alcoholic.

Our only real change was to use brown sugar instead of white, because “brown sugar is much better than white for this kind of cake.” This recipe is supposed to be made in two smaller 8”x3” loaf pans; we used foil 8”x4” pans. A 9”x5” pan would likely just hold it, maybe with a couple of muffins or a mini-loaf left over. We also found that the recommended 2-3 hour rise time was longer than necessary and have shortened it here.

Ingredients

½ cup warm milk (100° to 115°)
1 packet (2 ¼ tsp) active dry yeast
1 cup (120g) flour
1 T molasses
1 ½ c (8 oz) raisins; we used a mix of golden and regular
¼ c sweet fortified wine; the original recipe calls for Madeira or sweet sherry, but we used white port
¼ c brandy
2 ½ c (300g)flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp salt
1 c (100g) toasted and chopped pecans
1 c (2 sticks, 8 oz) unsalted butter, softened
⅔ c brown sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature

Directions

Combine the raisins, wine, and brandy in a bowl and let soak while you make the rest of the cake.

Next, make the sponge. In a small bowl or glass measuring cup, combine the yeast and milk. Add 1 cup flour to a medium bowl and pour the milk/yeast mixture over top. Add the molasses and stir with a silicone spatula until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap until doubled, 1 to 2 hours.

Once the sponge has doubled, preheat your oven to 350° and line two 8″x3″ pans with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, mix together flour, cinnamon, coriander, allspice, salt, and pecans.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to cream butter and brown sugar until light and fairly fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating to combine between each. Scrape down the bowl, then add the sponge (the yeast mixture) and mix until fully combined.

Add the flour mixture and mix on low until just roughly combined, then add the raisins and any alcohol they haven’t soaked up and mix until fully combined. (This last step may be easier with a spatula.)

Divide dough into prepared pans and bake for approximately 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before removing from the pan. Serve warm, with butter.


“Election Cake”

Adapted, liberally, from the 1887 edition of the White House Cookbook

1.5 packets (just over a tablespoon) active dry yeast
1 ½ cup milk, warm (100° to 115°)
1 cup (120g) flour
1 cup (200g) brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks, 8 oz.) butter, softened
2 eggs
¼ of a whole nutmeg, grated (or 1 tsp ground nutmeg, if you must)
½ T cinnamon
½ cup (60g) flour
¼ cup brandy
1 ½ cups (8 oz) raisins; we used a mix of golden and regular
1 cup (100g) toasted and chopped pecans, walnuts, or a mix

First, make the sponge. In a medium bowl, whisk together yeast, milk, and 1 cup flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for about 2 hours.

Once 2 hours have passed, preheat the oven to 350°.

In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter and sugar until combined and creamy. Add eggs one at a time and beat until combined. Add the nutmeg and cinnamon.

Add the brandy, sponge, and flour and stir as best as possible using a silicone spatula. Stir in nuts and raisins, and pour into a 9”x5” loaf pan. It will come fairly close to the top, but don’t worry, as it doesn’t rise much in the oven.

Bake for approximately 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out free of batter. Let cool most of the way in the pan before serving.

Classic Cake Day: Red Velvet Ghost Cake

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

Jordan: Last year’s Halloween cake was probably going to be a cake covered entirely in candy eyes, like a sprinkle cake (but eyes).

Kitra: Which we should still do.

Agreed. But it was worth postponing because: ghost pretzels. Ghost. Pretzels. They look like the poor unfortunate souls from The Little Mermaid! You can’t not love them.

We had way too much fun making ghosts. Also just saying the word “ghosts”.

Imagine Kitra saying “ghosts” with a Minnesotan accent over and over and you’ll get the idea.

Ghoosts.

Rather than just covering any old cake in ghosts, we went for the most disturbingly blood-like of cakes: red velvet.

I’ve used Alton Brown’s recipe before, and it’s lovely. Except where it looks like the inside of our meat suits.

That was gross. I’m sorry. This cake is delicious, but be warned that between the cake, cream cheese frosting, and a solid coating of yogurt-covered pretzels, it’s VERY sweet.

And also your fingers will be a weird color for days unless you’re very careful.

Recommended order of operations for this:

  1. Make the cakes so that they can cool
  2. Make frosting
  3. Make a million tiny ghosts
  4. Start thinking of puns that combine both ghosts and cake
  5. Assemble the cake
  6. Make a really bad video
  7. Profit???

 

 

I was really insistent about the video. I also love it. In fact, I showed it to someone this month for no particular reason other than I feel it is a work of ART.

In summary, we’re not really inventing the wheel here on red velvet cake, but we are making it a lot spookier.

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Red Velvet Cake with Pretzel Ghosts

Cake from Alton Brown, ghosts inspired by Dessert Now Dinner Later

Alton Brown stubbornly insists that you use weights when baking, and while he’s correct that it’s better that way, it’s not convenient if you don’t have a baking scale. You can convert your ingredients here if you like.

Two bags of pretzels will likely give you more than you need, but it’s good to have extra so that you can discard (aka eat) the broken ones.

Cake

Ingredients

5 1/2 oz all-purpose flour
4 oz cake flour
1/2 oz cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup low-fat buttermilk, room temperature
2 T red liquid food coloring
1 T white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
10 1/2 oz brown sugar
4 oz. (1 stick, 4 T) unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350°. Line two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and coat with nonstick spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together both flours, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together buttermilk, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla. Set both dry and wet ingredients aside while you do the next step.

In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), use an electric mixer on low and cream butter and brown sugar about 2 minutes, until it is lighter in color. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until fully combined.

Add one third of the flour mixture and mix on medium speed mostly combined. Add half of the buttermilk mixture and mix until mostly combined. Repeat with another third of the flour, the other half of the buttermilk, and the last of the flour. Mix until the batter is fully smooth.

Divide the batter between the two prepared pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10-15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool fully.

To Decorate

Ingredients

2 12-oz bags of yogurt-covered pretzels
2 packages of candy eyes
cream cheese frosting of your choice (we made ours up as we went, but Alton’s original recipe includes one)
food coloring (if desired)

Directions

Scoop about half a cup of frosting into a small bowl and set aside. If desired, add food coloring to the remaining frosting until it reaches your desired shade. Set the tinted frosting aside.

Using a butter knife, dab a small amount of the reserved white frosting onto the back of a candy eye and place it on a pretzel, over one of the two upper holes. This is usually easiest if you place it toward the top or bottom of the hole, so that the candy eye has as much surface area covering meeting the pretzel as possible. Eyes at the top make them more ghoulish; eyes at the bottom make them more adorable. Set ghost aside to firm up. Repeat until you run out of pretzels, eyes, or time.

Frost your cake and arrange pretzel ghosts to your liking. While a two-layer cake will neatly fit two rows of ghosts if you stagger them (think like the pattern of bricks), know that this makes the cake very hard to slice and we don’t recommend it.

Black Sesame Orange Layer Cake

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Kitra: Jordan loves Halloween. I love… cake.

Jordan: It’s my fault. I ruined Halloween for Kitra by forcing her to have Halloween birthday parties throughout her childhood.

I maintain that there is no such thing as a “seasonally appropriate theme party” and that if my birthday was near any other holiday we would not do that.

I always thought she was wrong about this, but no. It has taken me almost twenty-six years to realize that I would have a New Year’s/Fourth of July/Halloween themed birthday, but normal people would not. Clearly I was always an event planner at heart.

Anyway, this is why we always make a Halloween cake and I don’t even make myself cake for my actual birthday. #TeamEatonMess

Halloween cakes are great because you get to be ridiculous with them. Hence the way this looks a little like a Halloween carnival threw up on a cake plate.

Even though it looks like circus peanuts, I promise it doesn’t taste like them. For one thing, it’s not stale. Yet.

The cake itself is black sesame, which has a nice mild nuttiness

–same–

and we included a slick of marmalade in between each layer, which gives it a little bitterness.

Also same.

The frosting is fairly sweet, but it’s also light. We discovered this bizarre cooked frosting a while back—you start by basically making a bechamel, which seems so, so wrong—that provides a nice neutral base for a little bit of orange flavor. (Side note: I now want to make a cheese frosting using this base.)

I don’t buy the idea that this would be anything other than horrifying. And I LOVE cheese.

This cake is also the culmination of two long-held food dreams.

Back in… 2013? I got a tube of sweet black sesame paste, which I mostly ate with a spoon and a glass of orange juice. I always said I would start a food blog only if I could come up with a good black sesame/orange cookie.

For me, I’ve been holding onto this recipe for probably five years and finally got an opportunity to make it, or at least something like it. Considering that half the point of Cake Day was to use up my many bookmarks, I’m pretty happy with that.

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Black Sesame Orange Layer Cake

Adapted from Sprinkle Bakes

This cake would also be good scaled down into something of an afternoon tea cake, with a thin orange icing and/or a simple layer of marmalade, no frosting.

The first part of this recipe walks you through making a sweet sesame paste; if you have access to a good Asian grocery where you can find the pre-made stuff, it would likely work with that too. Make sure you find one that is sweetened, not just plain black sesame paste. The recipe will make more than you need; you’ll need about 2 cups total, whether homemade or store-bought.

Glutinous rice flour is the kind used to make mochi and other gloopy treats; it is not the same as regular rice flour. It’s sometimes sold as sweet rice flour or mochiko.

Finally, we highly recommend finding pre-ground black sesame seeds (sometimes called black sesame powder) if possible, but you can also try lightly toasting and then grinding them as finely as possible in a blender or food processor. Be sure to toast them first, as the raw seeds will have a lot more bitterness. For best results, measure the seeds by weight and grind them along with the rice flour and sugar–the extra volume will help.

Ingredients

1 cup (85g) ground black sesame seeds
½ cup (80g) glutinous rice flour
½ cup (100g) sugar
2 cups cold water, plus more as needed
½ tsp sesame oil
1 cup (8oz, 227g, 2 sticks) butter, softened
2c (400g) sugar
4 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla
3½ cups (440g) all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
orange frosting (see below)
2 tbsp orange marmalade, stirred so that it is easily spreadable
black sesame seeds, for topping

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°. Line the bottoms of three 8-inch round pans with parchment and lightly grease the insides of the pans.

In a medium saucepan, combine ground sesame, ½ cup sugar, rice flour, and 1 cup of cold water. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a flexible spatula, until the mixture is fully combined and starts to thicken. Add the second cup of water and continue stirring.

Let sesame paste cook, stirring consistently, until it is the consistency of warm pudding: it should be able to ooze off the spatula when you scoop it up, but it shouldn’t be runny. The mixture may come to a very slow boil at some point, which is fine. If you find that your paste has thickened up too much, add a little more water and stir until it thins back down.

Stir in the sesame oil, then remove pot from heat and set sesame paste aside to cool to room temperature. (You can move it to a separate bowl and/or put it in the fridge/freezer to hurry this along.)

In a large bowl, cream butter and 2 cups sugar together with an electric beater until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating until combined, then add vanilla.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Once the sesame paste has cooled, add a third of the flour mixture to the butter and sugar, beating until mostly combined. Beat in one cup of sesame paste until mostly combined. Repeat with two more portions of flour and one additional cup of sesame paste (for two cups total) and mix batter until fully combined. The batter will be very thick.

Divide batter into three prepared pans and bake 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cakes cool in their pans for about 10 minutes, then remove onto a rack to cool fully.

To assemble cake, spread a thin layer of frosting onto the top of one cake layer, followed by a very thin layer of marmalade. Don’t spread the marmalade all the way to the edges, as it can make for a messier frosting job on the outside. Repeat with second layer and top with the final layer (no marmalade needed here). Frost the outside of your cake and top with sesame seeds as desired.

Orange Frosting

Adapted from Food52

Ingredients

slightly full ¼ cup (35g) flour
1½ c milk
¾ tsp salt
1½ c (300g) sugar
zest of 1 orange
1½ c (12 oz, 340g, 3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
½ tsp orange extract
food coloring (optional)

Directions

In a small saucepan, combine milk, flour, and salt. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, for about 5 minutes, until the mixture just comes to a boil. It will thicken significantly as it does so. Remove from heat and set aside to cool for about 15 minutes, until it is a little warmer than room temperature.

In a large bowl, combine the sugar and orange zest. Use your fingers to rub the orange zest into the sugar; this helps release the flavor. Add butter and beat using an electric mixer until very light and fluffy.

Once the milk mixture is cool enough that it won’t melt the butter, add it one spoonful at a time to the butter and sugar, beating throughout. As you add more, the frosting will become light and fluffy; continue beating until you’ve added all of the milk mixture. Add orange extract and food coloring, if using.

Flag Cake

flag cake
Jordan: This week’s cake involved a lot of indecision. I wanted something fresh and fruity; Kitra… did not.

Kitra: It had been a long hard week and I want to eat my feelings, which is why I was thinking s’mores.

Which is fair. But I made the point that we could make s’mores cake any time, and opportunities for holiday-themed cakes only come around every so often.

Hey, flag cake was my suggestion. Nothing says USA like a sheet cake the size of a toddler.

I wanted red-white-and-blue cheesecake, which we could also make any time. I guess I just didn’t want s’mores cake. It’s 90 degrees outside and I want fruit, so sue me.

I think we missed an opportunity to toast marshmallows on my porch using nothing but the sun. Sky demon.

The sky demon will be here until October.

Fair point. So we made America a birthday cake. Even though she’s had a rough week month year always. Even bad people deserve birthday cakes.

Do they really?

No. But we deserve their cakes.

We made you a birthday cake, but you don’t get to eat it, you bitch.

#USAUSAUSA

Anyway, Kitra had made this cake before, and her recommendation held up. This is a good fluffy vanilla cake, nothing fancy. Cream cheese frosting. Fruit. All of the best things in life.

Any tips for making this?

The very tiny containers of berries you find at the farmer’s market are half-pints, not full pints. You can make it work, but you really need at least a pint and a half (3 cups) of raspberries for low-stress flag-making. Learn from my mistakes.

The original recipe recommends a tiny tea strainer to coat your berries in powdered sugar (insert Boston Tea Party joke here). Any tea strainer will do in a pinch. Ours was shaped like a duck.

Improvising: the American way.

Flag Cake

Flag Cake

Adapted, very slightly, from Smitten Kitchen. See Instagram for some behind-the-scenes shots.

Tips for making this:

  1. You can add more powdered sugar to the frosting if you like it sweeter; we prefer it less sweet, plus we only had two cups of powdered sugar left. The cake is fairly sweet, though, so a tangier frosting is good here.
  2. We used white raspberries for the stripes, but you can also use regular raspberries and coat them in powdered sugar, as we did for the blueberry stars. Alternately, if you have white raspberries, you can use them for the stars too and skip the powdered sugar altogether. If you use powdered sugar, dry your berries very thoroughly to ensure good color.
  3. If you don’t have cake flour, the original recipe suggests 2/3 cups (460 grams) all-purpose flour plus 1/3 cup (45 grams) cornstarch.

Ingredients

Cake
2 sticks (1 cup, 1/2 pound or 225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups (400 grams) sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
4 cups (465 grams) cake flour (see note)
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking soda
1 teaspoon (6 grams) table salt
2 cups buttermilk (475 ml)

Frosting
8-ounce (225 gram) block cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick or 1/4 pound) butter, softened
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
2 cups (240 grams) powdered sugar

Decoration
Powdered sugar (see note)
1 cup blueberries
2-3 cups raspberries

Directions

Cake

Preheat oven to 350°. Line the bottom of a 9×13″ pan with parchment paper (or, if your pan is gross and rusty, line the entire thing) and coat lightly with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes), then add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla extract.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and sift half over the butter-sugar-egg mixture. We combined these directly in a sifter, but unless you have a particularly large sifter, we recommend combining them in a bowl and then transferring them to a sifter or wire mesh sieve. Mix until just combined. Slowly add buttermilk and mix until combined, then add the remaining dry ingredients. Mix until combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan, smooth top, and bake 40-50 minutes. When done, the cake should be golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle should come out free of batter. Remove from oven and cool completely before decorating.

Frosting

While the cake is cooling, make your frosting. Using an electric beater, beat the cream cheese and butter together until fluffy and smooth, then mix in the vanilla. Add powdered sugar and beat until combined. As noted above, you can add more powdered sugar if your frosting is especially thin or you like a very sweet frosting.

Decorations

If you like, use a serrated knife to level the top of your cake a bit. This is really up to you; we leveled ours slightly, but the frosting will hide any unevenness unless your cake is very well-domed.

Once the cake is cool, spread frosting over the top and smooth it out. No need to be finicky here, as the berries will hide most imperfections.

Outline the blue square with blueberries; the edges should fall about halfway down the short side of the cake, and about a third of the way along the long side. Scatter a handful of blueberries in the center; these will be your stars. Using a tea strainer or small mesh strainer/sifter, dust the center blueberries with powdered sugar. Fill in the rest of the square with plain blueberries.

An accurate flag cake would have 13 stripes, but as long as you start and end with a red stripe, no one will care. (That means you’ll have one more red stripe than you do white stripes.) If you’re going to powder your raspberries, lay down the white stripes first, coat them in powdered sugar, and then fill in the unpowdered berries. (Smitten Kitchen recommends just eyeballing the space you’ll need to leave for the red stripes, but we found that a few lightly placed raspberries were easy to remove without damaging the cake if needed.) If you’re using white raspberries, it’s easiest to start with the red stripes at the top and bottom and then go from there. If you bought enough berries to start with, you can go at it freestyle; we had a shortage so carefully spaced the berries out, but this is not the recommended route. Again: learn from our mistakes.