“Everyone’s Favorite Celebration Cake” from “Dining In”

Writer’s note: Hilariously, this American paused after spelling “favorite” the American way in the headline above, as it appears in the book. I’ve been here too long. It looks wrong without the U.

Much like Kirstin will always test the roast chicken recipes in a cookbook we are reviewing, often I will test the cake recipes. It’s called playing to your strengths.

Luckily for me, it was a good friend’s birthday, so I had the perfect excuse to make it. Though, I should say for the record that I never need an excuse to make cake, and you don’t either. Any day is a good day for cake.

So what of this cake? It was delicious, but oh my goodness is it HUGE– and as American saying that [see above], that’s really a statement. The birthday party we attended had more than a dozen people there, and we still only managed to get through half of the cake. So that’s good if you like cake leftovers– no bad thing– but bad if you don’t live with a few always-hungry teenagers who will finish it off a few days later.

It’s a well-written recipe, too. She clearly explains how to do things and why do them, which is especially helpful when making cake, as it makes some people nervous. I learned years ago that if you’ve got the time, a crumb coat on a cake is always worth doing, and she repeats that advice here.

However, I’m not sure it would be this family’s favourite. It’s good, to be sure, but our favourite? Probably not. It was still excellent cake, though.

Want to try to make this cake? Alison wrote it up for BuzzFeed (though she made one substitution in the icing, though I don’t think you’ll notice). Click through here to see it.

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“Everyone’s Favorite Celebration Cake” from “Dining In”

“The Party Cake Builder” from “Smitten Kitchen Every Day”

Given that my dad’s life philosophy is, “Any excuse for a party,” I’ve got to say that I was initially attracted to the name of this recipe. Who wouldn’t want to know how to build a party cake? Count. Me. In.

The basic premise behind this recipe is that Deb gives you a foundation recipe that’s pretty simple and requires no unusual ingredients or multiple bowls. You then scale it up following the directions in the book depending on how big a cake and/or party you’re having. Absolute genius.

So we weren’t having a party on the day I made this cake, but following my dad’s life philosophy, I made it anyway. It went down a storm. Sure, it wasn’t the most exciting cake I’ve ever made, but it was really good and really easy. I’m fairly adept at making cakes, but I can imagine this would be the perfect recipe for someone who was a bit nervous about making a whole cake. (I feel your pain. The first cake I made [when I was 12, but still] was an utter disaster.) This would be a good place to start. It’s also a perfect recipe for when you need a lot of cake, like cupcakes for a school bake sale or a large sheet cake for a pot-luck dinner.

Everyone in this family loved it. It was really moist and the chocolate icing I made to go with it was lovely. I even pushed the boat out and used my American sprinkles (twice in one month! I KNOW), which made it look even prettier.

Party builder cake? Let’s do this.

“The Party Cake Builder” from “Smitten Kitchen Every Day”

“Honey Bundt Cake” from “Flavour”

Regular readers of this blog will know that I frequently test out the cake/tart/sweet treat recipes on my book club. They are willing guinea pigs and *usually* we end up with something delicious. (Aside from the one time I had to throw out an entire cake once it emerged from the oven because I could tell by looking at it that it was going to be disgusting. But we don’t talk about that.)

I wasn’t so sure about this once I had made the batter. Ruby tells you in the introduction that the quantity makes “a smaller, more manageable cake” but it looked like very little batter to me. But I persevered, and also used the bundt pan where it wouldn’t have mattered how much batter filled the pan– unlike this one.

I’m glad I did so. While it did make a much smaller bundt cake than the one I’m used to producing, it made a very reasonable sized cake and small slices too. This meant that nearly everyone went for a second slice, which we ate while we drank our coffee or tea. It’s the perfect cake for hot drinks.

This was a triumph. So much so that two of the book club members, who have endured tested many a cake for me said it was by far their most favourite book club cake ever.

High praise indeed.

If you’d like to impress your own book club, or indeed your own family, Google Books has indexed Flavour and you can find the recipe by clicking through this link.

“Honey Bundt Cake” from “Flavour”

“Easy Chocolate Birthday Cake” from “Flavour”

It seems appropriate to start a month of cooking with a Great British Bake Off runner up with a cake. Also, I have found in life there is always a good reason to have some chocolate cake. Those truly are words to live by.

Using the word “Easy”, however, gave me pause. Baking a cake isn’t easy for everyone. I distinctly remember the first time I tried to make a chocolate cake. It was almost exactly 15 years ago and I wanted to make a cake for Tim’s birthday. I dutifully went off to John Lewis to buy the cake pans and other bits I needed to make it. The cake part went fine, but when it was time to make the icing, it was an UTTER DISASTER. The icing just poured down the sides of the cake and pooled around the cake on the cake dish. It was laughably bad.

It’s a wonder that I ever tried to make a cake again. But I persevered, and in fact, it was only two years later that I made a wedding cake– or actually should be CAKES– to feed 250 people.

While I did find this easy, I also know that I’m much better at making cakes than I used to be. So I honestly don’t know if it would be easy for everyone. It definitely was easier than the cake I made last month, the Devil’s Food Cake with Buttercream Meringue. The directions for this cake are clear and straightforward, so if you want to try your first cake, this might be a good place to start.

Most importantly, it is delicious. It is an unfussy, moist and delectable specimen of a cake. It is the type of cake that sits happily on a counter and you just take small slivers off of it every time you’re a bit peckish until suddenly there’s nothing left. I wouldn’t just limit making this cake for birthdays, either. We had no birthdays to celebrate here and yet we managed to force it down. Again to reiterate: There’s always a good reason to have chocolate cake.

Highly recommended. (Though I still don’t know if it’s easy or not.)

Try this recipe! Ruby helpfully also wrote it up for her column in the Guardian, which you can find if you click through this link. 

 

“Easy Chocolate Birthday Cake” from “Flavour”

“Soft Spiced Apple Cake” from “Flavour”

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Kirstin: Soft spiced apple cake. What could be more perfect on a winter’s evening with friends? Or come to that, on a Monday morning while doing chores? Or on a Sunday afternoon while tackling a puzzle in front of a fire? It turns out that THIS is the perfect cake for ALL of those activities. And more. If lasts that long in your house, that is! Do not be put off by the long list of spices; they are there for a reason. This is beautifully perfumed and heavenly. Super easy to make, THIS is the recipe I will come back to again and again. Epic. And for a non-baker, I have to admit I am VERY curious about her previous book now.

“Soft Spiced Apple Cake” from “Flavour”

“Devil’s Food Cake with Coffee Meringue Buttercream” from “Cooking for Jeffrey”

Ordinarily I wouldn’t include the title of the icing of this cake, but given the time and the effort involved to make what was probably the best cake icing I’ve ever made*, it would be remiss of me to leave it out.

*Not a typo. Truly. THE BEST CAKE ICING I’VE EVER MADE.

But the distinction of having been the best icing I’ve ever made– and I’ve made A LOT, believe me– comes with this caveat: it also took the longest amount of time and the most equipment.

For this is no ordinary buttercream, but MERINGUE buttercream. This involved me using my candy thermometer to create sugar syrup, beating said syrup into the egg white meringues for ONE HOUR (again, not a typo) and then beating in the butter and the flavourings. For the “Great British Bake Off” fans among you, this is the Italian meringue buttercream that some bakers have made in the past. If I ever try out for the show again**, I will make this.

**A story for another time.

So sure, it was a total pain to make. But honestly I can’t overstate how good and delicious this was. It also was super-easy to pipe with, because it was so light.

Barefoot Contessa advises you in the introduction of the icing that it’s a bit complicated to make and you may want to do a test run first before doing it for real. I didn’t follow this advice. Life is too short. If my skills were lacking in making this for the first time and it proved to be a disaster, I would have just made one of my tried-and-true buttercreams instead. To be fair, this does require some skill (not to mention a candy thermometer), but if you follow the directions, you should be fine.

This cake, which is the big stonking slice of cake that the Barefoot Contessa holds on the cover of the cookbook, is also good. It’s a good basic Devil’s Food Cake. The recipe was straightforward and it’s delicious.

Would I make this again? I would. I doubt very much that I would make Italian meringue buttercream for every cake I make in the future, as I’m pretty sure I’m going to reserve it for special occasion cakes only. But honestly, it was worth the time and the effort.

To reiterate: It was the best icing I’ve ever made in my life. Yum. Yum. Yum.

If you’d like to make this yourself, click through this paragraph to find the recipe on Food52.

“Devil’s Food Cake with Coffee Meringue Buttercream” from “Cooking for Jeffrey”

“Sticky Toffee Pudding” from “Bread Street Kitchen”

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Kirstin: I made this for Guy Fawkes Night, England’s annual celebration of the Houses of Parliament not being blown up. I’ve never made sticky toffee pudding, but I knew that it would have some fans as Ella always orders it off a menu. This version has added dates which add a particularly lovely sticky and deep texture. And even though I vowed I wouldn’t try any after seeing the quantity of sugar that went into the sauce, it smelled so lovely I couldn’t resist trying a piece. It was divine. Would I make it again? Heck yes! My family have already requested it!

“Sticky Toffee Pudding” from “Bread Street Kitchen”