Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cheating Cake

For a couple years I worked at a place full of wonderful persons, and I was in charge of cakes the last year I worked there. I left without anger, or on bad terms, as I was simply seeking to do something else. This blog is for them.

Making a cake is so simple. I can, and have made cakes from scratch, and these are simply divine. The best I ever made was a vanilla cupcake with vanilla bean in the batter and a milk chocolate frosting. Don't over think it, vanilla cake with chocolate frosting is a classic for a reason.

I often look at cake books and they have recipes in them, but I rarely buy them. I don't need someone to tell me how to make a lavender cake. I know how to do that, you flavor it like lavender. Der. When I purchase cooking magazines I go through and cut out recipes to put in my three ring binders for later use. Often when I come to a dessert recipe I just cut out the picture, especially if it's a cookie or cake. I make these brownies at Christmas that are orange chocolate brownies. The original recipe said to make these brownies such and such a way and then makes these two frostings and the actual recipe didn't sound good, but the name and picture made me think of a great brownie. I have a picture of a light purple cake, and it's actually for a 'wedding' cake, just champagne flavored, but when I look at it I think lavender cake. I have saved that picture because I don't want to forget about this cake that I thought of. I'm not sure how to do it, but I'm sure it would be good. Maybe a goat cheese filling.

I know that many people's minds don't work like mine, and I have given out cake recipes before, and I don't begrudge them to anyone. I do have a few things that I do that are a bit out of the norm. One: I almost always use a box mix. You can get them dirt cheap around the holidays. You need to stock up, I often find them for a buck or less, and buy around 4 or 5 to get me through the year (more when you owe cake to the ladies at work!) Really, how many cakes do you eat in a year? How many are you going to make? Two? It's cake, it's not a staple. You only need to buy two flavors: chocolate and vanilla.

Oh wait, I have a soap box moment. Who came up with the term 'snack cake'? I'm going to punch that person. You don't eat cake as a snack. Cake is something you eat on occasion, it's a treat. It's incredibly bad for you, and then you cover it in a mixture of butter and sugar. It's not something you can 'snack on' and remain an average size. This brings me to the horrifying observation that candy bars come in 'snack sizes' too! Who are these people? They out to be kicked. All right, soap box over.

The second thing I do to my cake mix: when the box says oil, they really mean melted and cooled butter. I'm not kidding, it's so much better. Third: they are telling you to cook that cake wrong. Cakes need to be cooked at a lower temperature, 350 is way to high to cook a cake properly. What will happen is you will end up with rubbery dry cake. This means you'll need frosting and ice cream to make that cake palatable. Turn down the heat to 325. They also tell you to cook the cake for too long. Start testing the cake at the least amount of time called for you preferred pan. I usually find that my cakes are just done at this time. This is what you want, just done cake. Don't give it a chance to dry out!

Fourth: Don't put water in your cake, if at all possible you should be using sour milk. Don't get all whiny about sour milk, sour milk is great for baking with. If you drink milk and have a bunch that's gone sour (now I mean sour, not chunky and obviously bad) you can use that to bake with. It makes great bread pudding. It's similar in flavor to buttermilk or yogurt, but more economical, as you were gonna throw that out anyhow.

Oh, I always sift my box mix, otherwise it doesn't mix up so well, and I never beat them as long as they tell you too. The reason for this is, when you beat flour you are making gluten, and this can make your cake hard, or stiff and rubbery. Use a whisk and beat just till smooth. Do NOT use a hand mixer, you will over mix that cake.

I will be telling you to put in flavorings that you might think are already in the cake mix, however, those boxes are designed to bring in maximum profit, so the flavorings used aren't the best. Let's talk vanilla for a minute. Don't buy imitation vanilla. Really you shouldn't buy imitation flavors at all. They don't taste very good. If you want something to taste like rum, put rum in it. If you want a butter flavor, use butter. Otherwise buy high quality flavors, it makes all the difference.

Now I only use Mexican vanilla. The last time we were there I almost died because I left my vanilla in the fridge at our hotel. You cannot just go pick one up at the air port. The one that I buy is called D' Lis, and it is the best. It has a sweet, floral vanilla flavor, and you can drink it straight from the bottle. It's unsweetened, and strongly flavored. It's very, very pure, and one of the more expensive vanillas. When choosing your vanilla you must be careful. Talk to the shop owner, find out how they care for that vanilla. Has it been exposed to the light? Has it been kept in a cooler place? When they sell it to you, it should be wrapped in brown paper and then put into a refrigerator as soon as possible, to protect the flavor. Look at the expatriation date. Don't buy expired vanilla. You might have to pay a bit more, for the same brand and bottle, for well treated vanilla. Calm down, it's only like a buck or two.

When I realized that I had left my vanilla, I did what any good chef does, I made my own. I had some beans that were getting on the elderly side, and some that were still good and fresh. I took a bunch of them - seven or so, and put them in a cup of vodka. When you do this, you should use as many beans as possible, open them up, shave them and put all that into a clean 8 oz. jar. Now cover it with vodka, a vodka you would drink. Not top shelf, but something decent. I tend to use Sky Vodka for infusions, it's cheap, but not bad. Put a clean lid on your jar of vodka and put that in the fridge and shake it occasionally. In about a month it will be ready to use.

I do need to talk about food coloring for a minute. I have gone the route of the true confectioner and bought thick food colors. It makes a difference when you make frosting. If you use liquid food color your frosting will become more and more thin as you color it. The colors are harder to make vibrant. I did not buy a frosting color for the green and sorely regretted it.

Now that we have covered some basics I will give you three cake recipes. Only because I feel like the social committee posse at VV deserves them.

Peanut Butter Cake


1 vanilla box cake mix
1 tsp. kosher salt
4 farm fresh eggs
1 15 oz. jar smooth peanut butter (like Jiff, not natural)
1 C. sour milk
1/3 C. fair trade dutch process cocoa
1 stick softened butter
5-6 C. powdered sugar


Prepare your pans by greasing and flouring them. Turn the oven on to 325.

Sift the box mix into a bowl, add the salt. Using a whisk mix in the eggs and 1/2 the jar of peanut butter. Add the sour milk and beat just until smooth. Pour into the cake pans and bake just until done. Bake just until done. Remove and cool for 10 minutes on a rack. De-pan and cool completely.

Mix together the remaining peanut butter and 2 C. powdered sugar to make a stiff frosting. If needed add a bit of water 1 tsp. at a time. Frost the middle and top of the cake with this frosting.

Mix together the remaining powdered sugar, cocoa powder and butter to a stiff frosting, use this frosting on the sides and carefully cover the top of the peanut butter frosting on top of the cake.

Note: I know that the recipe says to put oil into the cake, but you have to remember that peanut butter has a lot of oil in it. Don't worry, the cake will come out fine.

Dulce De Leche Cake


3 cans sweetened condensed milk
1 vanilla cake mix
4 farm fresh eggs
1 C. sour milk
2/3 C. melted and cooled butter
4 C. powdered sugar
1 stick softened butter


Prepare your pans by greasing and flouring them. Turn the oven on to 325.

This is not recommended, don't do this. In the largest pot you own, peel the cans of condensed milk and place in the bottom on a rag. Pour water over the cans to cover by 3 inches. Bring to a simmer for 6-8 hours. Do not let the water level get lower than 1 inch over the tops of the cans. Remove from the water and let cool completely. You now have Dulce De Leche. Please taste it.

Sift the cake mix into a bowl. Mix in 1 can dulce de leche, the sour milk, the melted butter and the eggs. Mix just until smooth. Pour into prepared pans.

Bake just until done. Remove and cool for 10 minutes on a rack. De-pan and cool completely.

In a bowl combine the softened butter and 1 can dulce de leche, the softened butter and powdered sugar. Mix to a stiff frosting, add 1 tsp. water at a time if needed.

First 'frost' the cake with the remaining can of dulce de leche in the middle and the top, then use the frosting you made to frost the cake on the top and sides.

Pumpkin Cupcakes


1 vanilla cake mix
2 Tbs. TJ's pumpkin pie spice
7 oz. can organic pumpkin
1/2 C. melted and cooled butter
4 farm fresh eggs
1/2 C. buttermilk
1 8oz. stick cream cheese
5 C. powdered sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon oil
1 Tbs. Vanilla
black food coloring
orange food coloring
green food coloring


Sift the cake mix into a bowl. . Mix in the pumpkin, the buttermilk, the melted butter and the eggs. Mix just until smooth, if needed add a bit of water. Spread into prepared pans. It will be thicker, don't worry, pumpkin has a lot of moisture in it.

Bake just until done. Remove and cool for 10 minutes on a rack. De-pan and cool completely.

In your food processor combine the sugar, cream cheese, cinnamon oil and vanilla. Mix until the mixture comes into a ball. Add 1 Tbs. buttermilk, but no more. Mix by hand and then separate into two small bowls of black and green and one big bowl of orange.

Frost the bases orange with green tops and black faces.

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