Well, here’s another first: the first layer cake recipe of the blog (also the first cake recipe period if you don’t count the poundcake from a few years ago)!
I used to not really like cake or cupcakes (can you believe it?) I’m still not a fan of chocolate cake or strawberry cupcakes (but I am in the process of preparing some Independence Day cupcakes, and also learning to make jam, so that’s about to change.) There was a time when the only cakes I would deign to eat were angel food, lemon, and vanilla. I was so-so about frosting most of the time, but hand me a container of grocery-store chocolate frosting and a glass of soy milk, and I’ll be an elated camper.
Just keep the strawberry frosting to yourself.
I can’t remember a time when I was younger when I was enticed by cupcakes, either. They aren’t easy to eat, to be honest. Even when I moved to Los Angeles and was introduced to the world of Sprinkles, I was still a bit underwhelmed.
But everything changed when the fire nation attacked…I mean, when I had my first bakery experience doing an internship at a now-closed bakery in Durham. Not to imply anything about Sprinkles. It’s not their fault I only changed my tastes five years ago. Though, to be fair, I was still in Los Angeles four years ago, and Sprinkles was still there, too, so essentially, I had a second cupcake-ing before I graduated.
This former bakery started out as a cupcake food truck and cake catering business, and opened a store front bakery/cafe downtown, which closed its doors a few years later. I went into that internship knowing I wasn’t the biggest fan of cake, but I wanted to be there anyway.
It only took one day for them to change my mind. Not only were the cupcakes that good, but the vegan and gluten-free versions were simple. They tasted just like their dairy-full, gluten-ous counterparts, and didn’t require any strange ingredients! I was in love. They let me take home a few pastries each day, and I did just that: I filled my fridge and my guts up with cupcakes, cake, brownies, cookies, tarts, turnovers, and anything else I could get my grubby hands on.
I have since made cupcakes a few times myself, and I’ve experimented with alternative diet versions (but don’t hold your breath for any of those this year.) Last summer, I even tried to make red-white-and-blue cupcakes for Independence Day, but those didn’t turn out so well (also I didn’t start early enough…and I twisted my neck on July 3rd, so really everything didn’t happen.) I wanted them to be naturally colored, instead of dyed, and it’s more difficult than I realized to come up with something that’s actually blue, easy to find, and edible. I will not give up, though. I learned how to make strawberry puree a few weeks ago, I’m practicing jam as soon as my book arrives in the mail, and this July, I will have my cake and eat it with the side of Freedom that it deserves.
But before we get too caught up in American-ess, here’s a British-y cake that looks as interesting as it tastes good: earl grey cake with ginger-turmeric frosting (American buttercream-style.) The frosting recipe makes more frosting than you need for a modest coating, so frost liberally or keep the extra in the fridge in a sealed container (and use it for the crumb coat the next time you make the cake!)
This cake recipe uses less butter than usual and makes up for the wet ingredients with milk, producing a slightly thinner batter, and a lighter, airier final product.
I described below, as detailed as possible, how to frost a layer cake, but personally, I learned from watching YouTube videos, so here are some videos to help you visualize what to do:
earl grey cake with ginger-turmeric frosting
makes two 6″ layers, with more than enough frosting for the whole cake
120 g (1 c) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
dash of salt
2 bags of black tea, cut open (4 grams of tea leaves)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
150 g (3/4 c) granulated sugar
4 Tbsp (2 oz, 1/4 c) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs (2 ounces each), at room temperature
4 oz (1/2 c) milk, at room temperature
8 Tbsp (4 oz, 1/2 c) unsalted butter, softened
340 g (2 1/2 c) powdered sugar
dash of salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger or galangal
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 tsp fresh grated turmeric or galangal
milk, as needed, for texture (2-4 Tbsp)
making the cake
Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C. Grease and line two 6″ cake pans with parchment paper (the paper is so you can easily pull the cake out, but it doesn’t need to cover the entire surface.)
In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, tea leaves, and cinnamon.
In a large bowl or stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar, beating for about 3-5 minutes or until light, pale, and fluffy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula.
Beat the eggs into the butter/sugar mixture, one at a time, mixing for 3-5 minutes after each one, until the batter fluffs up. Scrap down the sides and bottom of the bowl occasionally.
Starting and ending with the dry ingredients, alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk to the batter (1/3 of the flour, 1/2 of the milk, 1/3 of the flour, 1/2 of the milk, and finally the last third of the flour), mixing constantly and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl occasionally with the rubber spatula.
The batter will be a little thinner than expected, but the final product will be light and airy.
Fill the cake pans evenly with the batter and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean, the sides are shrinking away from the pan, and the cake is plump like a foam ball when pressed lightly with a finger.
Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool in their pans for about 5 minutes, until you can handle the pans. Then, remove the cakes from their pans and let cool on a wire rack (with no parchment underneath them, so that the bottoms don’t get damp) until room temperature (or cooler) and ready to frost.
making the frosting
Cream the butter and a small amount (1/4 c, 30 g) of the powdered sugar until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Gradually add in the powdered sugar, about 1/4-1/2 c (30 – 60 g) at a time, beating until it returns to smooth frosting consistency after each addition and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl each time.
After all of the sugar has been mixed in, beat in the rest of the ingredients until the mixture becomes smooth and frosting-like again. Taste and add either more powdered sugar, spice, or milk for texture. The frosting should have gained a significant amount of volume and be a little bit firm.
You want the frosting to be spreadable but if there isn’t enough sugar, the frosting breaks (the butter breaks or melts.) If you plan to add more wet ingredients (ie., fresh ginger and turmeric like I did), you need more sugar to compensate. Err on the side of too much powdered sugar. Besides, if you don’t have enough powdered sugar, your frosting will just taste like compound butter (not that compound butter is a bad thing but we’re making cake today, not steak.)
frosting the cake
**Usually, you would use a lazy susan or some type of cake stand for frosting, but you can also put the bottom layer of the cake on a square of parchment paper and spin that around as needed (I do. I find I don’t need a wheel to do the frosting.) Just make sure you cover the entire surface of your cake with frosting.**
Slice off the domed top of one cake layer. This will become the bottom layer. You can also slice off the top of the other layer, if you want.
Coat the top of this bottom layer with a thin layer of frosting, the crumb coat that helps you add more frosting without the cake crumbling into it. Let the crumb coat dry for a few minutes. Optionally, you can chill the cake after adding the crumb coat, so the frosting solidifies.
Add a thicker layer of frosting on top of the crumb coat, and place the upper layer of the cake on top. You now have two layers of cake with a thick center of the ginger-turmeric frosting.
Using an offset spatula, liberally frost the sides and top of the cake, and fill in the crevice where the cake layers meet. Smooth down the frosting periodically with the side of the offset spatula, the back of a knife, or the straight side of a bowl/bench scraper (angle the flat of the spatula, knife, or scraper towards the cake and run it around the perimeter, so that the frosting is distributed evenly, rather than removed entirely.) You can either chill the cake every once in a while or let the frosting dry out to make adding the rest of the frosting easier.
Continue adding layers and smoothing them down until all of the frosting is used up. Alternately, save some frosting to decorate the cake with a piping bag and tip.
Cut with a long slicing knife and enjoy!
Cake keeps for up to a week wrapped in plastic in the fridge. Theoretically, you only need to cover the cut surfaces of the cake and not the frosting, but better safe than sorry!
I’ll let y’all eat cake,
Nic le P’
previous monthly muffins
Herbert’s first birthday was already three weeks ago, but the celebration never stops with him. He’s a little party starter.
My farmor (paternal grandma) used to send us massive boxes full of english muffins, in about a dozen different flavors. There were so many of them, we have to keep the muffins in the freezer. Regardless, they never lasted long (they were damn good, and also my dad eats a lot of english muffins.)
We would have the traditional unflavored variety, whole wheat muffins, and the popular cinnamon raisin, but there were also jalapeño muffins, herb muffins, and other fruit flavors. When I started making my own english muffins a year ago, I wanted to be able to compete with the ones we used to have (I’m still lagging in second place, I think), and work through all the flavors I could remember.
To be honest, though, I can only remember four, so after I’ve mastered jalapeño english muffins, I’ll just have to start making up my own flavor combinations (anchovy asparagus muffins, perhaps?)
The recipe here is adapted from my other two recipes and it turns out best with plenty of milk and butter in the dough. More fat means a softer muffin, but like any bread, they’re still amazing without the fat and without the dairy. I always err on the side of not enough flour, because too much flour makes the muffins dense like bricks.
cinnamon raisin english muffins
adapted from my whole wheat english muffins
makes 12 medium-sized muffins
*vegan substitutions included
200 g sourdough starter**
150 g buttermilk, yogurt, or water
110 g water
90 g whole wheat flour
350 g all-purpose flour, plus extra for shaping the dough
dash of salt
40 g dark brown sugar
56 g oil or melted butter (2 oz/4 Tbsp)
2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 c raisins
vegetable oil or butter for frying
cornmeal for dusting
**If you’d rather use active baker’s yeast, then substitute 7 g of yeast, 100 g all-purpose flour, and 100 g water.
In a large bowl or stand mixer, combine starter, buttermilk, water, flours, salt, sugar, cinnamon, and oil/melted butter.
Using a dough hook, wooden spoon, or your hands, beat/knead the dough until it forms a slightly sticky, cohesive mass, about 5 minutes.
Lightly grease another large bowl, and transfer the dough, flipping it over once to oil the entire surface.
Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough proof/rise until doubled, at least 6 hours (2 if using baker’s yeast.) You can let the dough rise in a warm oven (100 F/ C), on the counter at room temperature, or in the refrigerator. If using sourdough starter, the proofing will take a lot longer than if you’re using baker’s yeast.
When in doubt, let it double. The size is really the indication that it’s ready.
When the dough is done proofing, turn it out onto a clean, lightly floured surface (the countertop, a pastry board, or a bread cloth, for example.) Divide the dough into 12 equal portions, using a scale for consistency, if desired, and roll each portion into a ball.
Dust a baking sheet liberally with cornmeal and arrange the dough on top, leaving an inch or so between each piece. Gently press down on each muffin with the palm of your hand to flatten it into a disc. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and let proof/rise another half an hour, until puffy.
While the muffins are proofing again, preheat the oven to 350 F/ C.
When the muffins are ready, heat a skillet or griddle over medium heat, and add about 1-2 Tbsp of oil/butter. Once the pan and oil are hot, sear/brown the muffins on each side, working in batches and leaving space between the muffins on the stove. Let the muffins brown for about 3 – 5 minutes on each side, and rearrange on the cookie sheet.
Dust the muffins one more time with cornmeal, and bake for 15 – 20 minutes, until puffed up and plump.
Let the muffins cool on a wire rack, then store at room temperature in an airtight container or wrapped in plastic. Muffins last about a week stored correctly.
Chop, chop, y’all!