This post is several months late, but you know, it’s a spice cake and those are very winter appropriate (not to mention Thanksgiving appropriate if you want an alternative to pumpkin pie!) so here it is nonetheless. This past summer was the 11th year of my annual reread of Lord of the Rings, and this time my friend Katie joined me. To make it a truly immersive Middle Earth experience, every time we finished one of the books, we’d prepare a themed meal and watch the corresponding movie. For Fellowship of the Ring, we had a dinner of mushrooms that even Farmer Maggot would envy. But for The Two Towers, we wanted something sweet.
Birthday cake, round two: weekend edition. To drag my birthday week out and end it on a high note, my friends and I had a great meal at Oddfellows on Saturday night. I highly recommend that place for any gathering — the service was great and the food and drinks were delicious!
Hello, party people!
I used to go there just for casual lunches and snacks when I still lived in that neighborhood, and it doesn’t hurt that Oddfellows is next to my favorite bookstore in the city, either. Work up an appetite browsing and purchasing new lovely things to read, then pop over next door for a meal — that’s the ideal weekend activity, if you ask me.
But I’m still of the mindset that anything calling itself a birthday celebration is incomplete without cake, so I made something I’ve been meaning to make for a long time: an intensely chocolate cake.
My birthday is today and true to form, I’ve made my own birthday cake. Or rather, I made one to “celebrate all the April birthdays in my office” but who are we kidding, I made this cake for me.
My birthday cake for the last few years has been varying iterations of a fruit and custard cake because it is the best kind of cake in existence and if you disagree you are wrong, but that’s a post for another time. This post is about a different kind of cake, because this is a different kind of birthday. This year, I’m turning 30.
Annnnd we’re back to cakes. Did you really think I’d stay away for very long? Of course you didn’t, because you know how I am by now.
A friend was celebrating her birthday, and all celebrations of surviving another year /slash/ shaking your fist at mortality should involve a cake of some sort. So I set out to make one for her, and remembered that a few months ago, she had told me in passing that she loved chocolate cake with vanilla icing.
…or was it vanilla cake with chocolate icing?
Wait, what’s all this then?? Didn’t I just say one post ago that one of my resolutions was to be healthier? And now there is a goddamn cake recipe here?!
You caught me. I did say that. But then I also decided that healthier doesn’t have to necessarily mean “devoid of cake” because quite simply, a good cake makes me happy. And what’s the point of being “healthy” if I’m just bummed out all the time from the distinct lack of cake in my life? I don’t want to get hit by a bus and have my dying thought be “goddamnit I should’ve eaten that cake, why did I endure six weeks of endless grain bowls.”
So to kick off a year of being healthier and happier, here is a cake. It is not a healthy cake because there is no such thing. A good cake will contain butter and sugar and flour (or some kind of flour alternative at the very least), so might as well just let it be what it is. But if you’re going to treat yourself, why not go big, like with a fun cake studded with Fruity Pebbles “funfetti.” This thing can be part of your very unbalanced complete breakfast once in a while.
An old coworker gave me Tessa Huff’s beautiful book Layered for Christmas, and so this is a riff on the strawberry confetti cake inside. Something I didn’t do for this particular cake (but that I included in my recipe below) is steeping some Fruity Pebbles in the milk before baking with it. I imagine that’d only bump up the cereal flavor by a delicious percent (whatever percentage that might be).
Are you ready for a long, rambling tangent? I have made far more cakes than I have posted here. It’s because cakes take me all day to put together; I typically bake and assemble when I get home from work (so it’s 90% done before I go to bed), and then do the last bit of work on it the next morning before I head into the office.
All of this leaves no time for meticulous staging and photographing, which involves clearing my usually cluttered dining table (which doubles as my desk), messing with the blinds and some bent white cardboard, and standing on stools or chairs, or stools on chairs. But I don’t have time for any of that when it comes to weekday cakes. That’s why most of the cakes you see on this site are poorly photographed, all done in a rush and usually with my iPhone tilted at some bizarre angle. In fact, sometimes I have to actually make a cake twice for two separate occasions to get one decent set of photos out of it. #FoodBloggerProblems, right?
All of this is to say that yes, the photos of this mint chocolate cake are bad. The composition is weird and so is the coloring, but that’s what happens when I’m trying to snap pictures in 3 minutes on a dreary Seattle morning. But trust me, it’s worth making.
This may just be the most warmly received cake I have ever made (hopefully just “so far” and not “ever” because what a bummer it’d be if I have already peaked).
Here’s your obligatory description: summer blueberries suspended in a rich cake, with silky lemon filling sandwiched in between, and the entire thing is smothered in a light whipped cream frosting. Who wouldn’t like that? People you can’t trust, that’s who.
The downstairs apartment is apparently undergoing renovation, so as I write this, my floors and walls are shuddering from all the banging, thumping, and mysterious mechanical sounds that make me think maybe a Transformer is trying to build boat with its fists in good ol’ #203. Good grief.
Anyway, that has nothing to do with cornbread. I don’t even have a clever segue planned. Speaking of boats… No. Nothing of the sort.
But cornbread! You’d think having grown up in Texas that I’d wax poetic about how Southern cornbread is unbeatable and that these Northerners just don’t get it right, and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. But you’d be wrong. I grew up eating a lot of the stuff when I lived in Houston, and I loved it then as much as I love it now. But up until recently, the best cornbread I have ever had was from a barbecue joint in Seattle. I mean, the actual barbecue was… not exciting. But the cornbread! Holy shit!
And now that experience has been dethroned by the little slices of cornbread heaven I had in… Vancouver, Canada. I know. But I had another Texan with me and we both agreed that this was the best cornbread, A+ cornbread, 5 stars, 10 thumbs up. So obviously, this is now a true fact: delicious cornbread can be found anywhere. Even in your own home!
Okay, that title is only there because it’s almost Halloween. This isn’t that spooky, but what you see here is a green cake, made without dyes or magic spells or any other kind of tomfoolery. That pallor is all natural, baby, thanks to the pandan leaf.
Pandan, also called screwpine, is a common “flavoring agent” (meaning it infuses things, but you don’t really eat the leaf itself — kind of like a bay leaf) in Southeast Asian cuisine, and one of my favorite pandan employments is in pandan chiffon cake. It’s fragrant in the way that excellent Jasmine rice is fragrant, and just a little coconut-y. In fact, cooks often bump up the coconut-ish flavor with additional coconut milk, which I definitely did here.
Cooking with whole pandan can be kind of an ordeal, but it is absolutely worth the effort if you’re always looking for a barely-sweet, light, almost angel food-like cake to have in the mornings with your coffee or tea. If your city has a big Asian grocery store — preferably a Chinese or Vietnamese one because my Japanese supermarket didn’t have this, but the Chinese one did — go there and look around the frozen vegetables section; that’s where I found the frozen pandan leaves I used here. With whole pandan, you can get that beautiful green hue without food coloring! Pandan extract can also work when whole pandan isn’t available, but be warned that it can also be a bit cloying and artificial-tasting. Bummer.
The trick is cut your pandan leaves up into half-inch pieces, then blitz it all in a blender with some water. The recipe I followed (linked below) said to only use a few tablespoons of water, but my blender pitched a fit over that so I ended up using about a cup of water for the entire thing and still got plenty of pandan flavor and green coloring.
When I was in my third year at Boston University, I worked part time at the now-defunct Pie Bakery in Newton. It was there that I learned that the city is wonderfully calm during pre-dawn hours, that some people are very mean before they get their first cup of coffee, and that ricotta and peaches go together like Chris Evans and my bed, heyooooooooo hahaha sorry I’ll show myself out it’s been a long (short?) week.
Allspice grinding because I forgot I had run out of pre-ground allspice.
Peach season is winding down now that summer is coming to an end, and while I usually bake a massive peach pie to give everyone’s favorite stone fruit one last hurrah, this year I decided to do a light chiffon cake filled with creamy ricotta and sweet peaches instead. Gotta shake things up a bit, you know?