I used to request a chocolate bundt cake from my mother on every birthday. I have always felt confident about my talent for eating one, but less so about my ability to create one. Some unfortunate jello-mold experiences left me wary of any cakes that could involve potential extraction trouble. But last week I made one for the first time and it was easy as pie. No! Wait, it was…a piece of cake. My mom used to gild the lily with vanilla buttercream on ours but I went for the adult twist of a coffee glaze consisting of about a half cup of sifted powdered sugar, a tablespoon of melted butter, a bit of milk as needed and some instant espresso powder (Starbuck’s instant would work as well because it’s a fine powder).
I decided to try my hand at a bundt because the local author, Jim Lynch, came to talk to my book group about his latest novel, Truth Like the Sun. Since part of the story’s action takes place during the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, I wanted something retro. Indeed, Mr. Lynch, despite being a slender tennis player and a lover of rice cakes, consumed this cake with what I can only call gusto. I recommend the book, by the way, almost as highly as I recommend this cake.
I ended up using my standard chocolate cake recipe – refer to my March 8 posting – so nothing out of the ordinary there. My friend coached me in spraying the bundt pan and I can only say this, Dear Eaters: MORE IS MORE. Spray every crevice twice and say a little prayer. Then when you take the cake out of the oven, give it a full ten minutes of cooling time on the rack. For me this required the utmost discipline since I tend to try wrestling everything out of the pan and into my mouth mere seconds after it is on the counter. But this was my group’s first author visit and I was dying to make a good impression, so I set the timer. Plus, I have noticed that when you come in with an enormous, gorgeous dessert, people sort of fuzz out the rest of the details about you. It covers a multitude of shortcomings, like having large breasts.
This is not the only fancytastic dessert I have made lately. My mom’s birthday was in April and I wanted to present her with something that would take some extra thought and care, so I turned again to the marvelous Katie Quinn Davies’ What Katie Ate. My mother lit up my childhood with homemade desserts, more rustic than fancy and (mince pie I found weird but other than that) always delicious.
I tried Davies’ Carrot Cakes with Cointreau-Soaked Sultanas recipe. The name alone makes me swoon and the only way to revive me is with one of these cakes. I am notoriously cheap when it comes to liquor so I still have no bottle of Cointreau. No matter, I just added extra blood-orange juice. I soaked some dried pineapple with the blood-oranges because my mother and I once possessed a beloved recipe for carrot cake that contained crushed pineapple and WE LOST IT. Oh the pain – the grief! – over a lost recipe! Do you feel it? We adored that recipe and in fact, it was my sister’s wedding cake (sans raisins because she hates them and it was her wedding, I guess). These little cakes were not the same as the super-moist recipe of old but they evoked it and were lovely in and of themselves. I used cardamom in place of ginger because once you get ginger and carrot together you are putting me in the mood for a stir fry, not dessert.
1/2 cup sultanas (golden raisins)
Juice of one blood orange
1 Tablespoon Cointreau (optional)
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil (I used melted butter and coconut oil)
1/2 cup honey (I like maple syrup)
3 large free range eggs
1 vanilla bean (sliced and seeds scraped)
1/2/teaspoon ground ginger (cardamom)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 carrots, shredded
small handful walnuts, roughly chopped (pecans are sweeter)
Place the sultanas, blood orange juice and Cointreau, if using, in a small bowl and leave in the fridge overnight to soften. Go to sleep. Awaken. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the brown sugar, oil, honey, eggs and vanilla seeds in a large bowl. Sift the ginger or cardamom, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into another large bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well to combine. Stir in the grated carrot and soaked sultanas. Pour the mixture into the baking cups, filling each 3/4 full. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean. (CAUTION: Here is where I had a major disagreement with the recipe. I baked my batch for 25 minutes and they were already slightly overdone. I have no idea why she instructs us to bake them this long but you will have carrot hockey pucks if you don’t heed my warning.)
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
3/4 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup cream cheese
1. Tablespoon whipping cream (milk will suffice)
1. teaspoon natural pure vanilla extract
Mix all the frosting ingredients in an electric mixer for about 10 minutes until light and fluffy.
These were as delicious as they were lovely to look at. They did take much more work than I am accustomed to putting into a dessert but that’s what I was going for. These tasty installments were part of my on-going gratitude to my mom for all my past birthday cakes.
Happy Birthday Mom and thanks for all the bundting.