By Chef Judi Gallagher.
There is something about presenting a homemade cake that brings joy to your guests because it’s a dramatic demonstration of hospitality; you cared enough to make a special cake from scratch. Walking into a room with a gorgeous cake on a plate or cake stand is one of those culinary “ta-da” moments that every hostess should experience.
My mother often made an applesauce-walnut cake and every time I bake that recipe, I remember the sweet-spicy aromas coming from our oven and I automatically conjure up food memories and happy family memories all in one.
It is not so much how a cake looks. in fact, I am known more for the cracked cheesecake that tastes out of this world or the chocolate ganache layer cake that tilts to one side, than for the immaculately decorated triple layer torte.
Truly, ingredients are the key to a successful cake – that and precise measuring. You want pure vanilla extract, unsalted sweet cream butter, Philadelphia-brand cream cheese and cake flour. Chocolate cake tastes best when made with high-fat buttermilk and when the frosting is poured on warm so that it glazes the moist cake with a blanket of rich fudge. Use high quality chocolate and Danish cocoa powder to enhance the chocolate experience.
When you are making layer cakes and find cracks or the cake is not as moist as you hoped, fill the layers with fresh whipped cream. Luxurious cream makes baking blemishes disappear. Remember to dust the cake pans with cocoa powder instead of flour to keep the bottom of the chocolate cake from turning white.
Decorate your Spring cake with fresh edible flowers such as petunias from your garden. A simple glass cake stand becomes a beautiful platform for your gorgeous dessert. When serving a special cake, I always include sliced fresh seasonal fruits on a glass tray. Not only does this offer an option for someone who prefers to pass on the high-sugar finish, but sliced mangoes, strawberries and kiwis add natural bright color to the table.
Perhaps my favorite cake (and I’ve made it hundreds of times) is a classic carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. Simple to prepare and easy to frost, especially when using a 13 x 9-inch pan, my carrot cake recipe creates beautiful breakfast breads when baked in loaf pans. Or make mini muffins that add lovely bite size treats to dessert tables and brunch buffets.
The Main Street Café’s Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
(The memories of carrot cakes baking and then filling the bakery cases of my first little New England breakfast and lunch café still bring a smile to my face. Of course, grating piles of carrots was not as pleasant as the results. Today we have food processors to do the hard labor. You really can have your cake and eat it to!)
1 ½ c. sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
4 ounces cream cheese
2 cup all purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
3 cups shredded carrots
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts, pecans
1 cup golden raisins
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×13 pan and lightly dust with flour. Cream sugar with vegetable oil. Add softened cream cheese and eggs, one at a time. Sift. Flour with dry ingredients and gently beat into egg and sugar mixture. Add raisins, pecans, and shredded carrots. Pour into pan; bake approx. 40-45 minutes.
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
¼ cup butter, soft
2 teaspoons milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar
Whip soft cream cheese with butter. Add milk and vanilla extract. Slowly blend in powdered sugar. Frost cake, when cake is completely cooled. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving. Serve cold.
Chocolate Buttermilk Fudge Cake with Fudge Frosting
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups white sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9×13 inch pan. In a medium bowl, combine the buttermilk and baking soda. Set aside in a warm place. In a large bowl, mix together 2 cups sugar, eggs, 3 tablespoons cocoa powder, oil and 2 teaspoons vanilla until blended. Stir in the boiling water, then gradually beat in the flour. Stir in the buttermilk mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool.
In a saucepan, combine 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup cocoa powder, milk, butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Using an electric mixer, beat icing for 3 minutes, or until it thickens to spreading consistency. Pour over completely cooled cake. Decorate the edges of the plate with edible flowers from your Spring garden.
Photograph by Rod Millington