It is hard to beat a really good cake. Whether you are celebrating a milestone such as a birthday or you are just having a no-good-very-bad-day, a slice of really delicious cake has the ability to make your bad day a little less awful and can take a celebration and elevate it to a party. Cakes have been used in this manner for centuries and as the science behind baking improved as well as the availability of baking ingredients, they went from what was basically sweetened bread to the cakes we know today. Initially used in religious ceremonies dating back to ancient Egypt, cakes really began to be prominent fixture at many celebrations over the past 300 years. Now a days, it seems we look for almost any excuse for a cake. Getting your braces off? Better pick up a cake! Your best friend’s divorce is finalized? Perfect opportunity to bake a cake! The dog finally peed outside consistently? A cake only makes sense!
Anyway I am not here to discuss the history of cakes (although it is seemingly extensive), I am here to talk about how easy baking a cake can be. People are intimidated by cakes but honestly, it is easier than putting together Ikea furniture. You just have to have a decent recipe, you have to follow it correctly and it helps to use fresh, quality ingredients. If your baking powder is ancient, your cake may not rise. If your cocoa powder is old and of poor quality, your cake may not be quite as rich as you hoped. In all honesty, the hardest part of baking a cake is frosting it. Making the frosting is easy, but getting it on there and to look like you didn’t apply it with your hands while wearing old woollen mittens is the most difficult part. Luckily, rustic is in these days when it comes to baked goods and everyone loves a sheet cake with a thick layer of frosting slapped on haphazardly. It is hard to screw up something made with sugar, butter and eggs. Even if it looks like it was baked by a three year old while they were blindfolded, it will taste good and when it comes to cake, taste is ultimately what matters.
I am going to share a basically fool proof chocolate cake recipe that uses the addition of sour cream and espresso powder to help create a moist and tender cake with an elevated degree of chocolatey goodness. I am also going to share a recipe for swiss meringue butter cream. Yes, it sounds a little scary and most definitely a little intimidating but if you have a hand mixer or stand mixer, you can’t screw it up. It’s light, not too sweet and this frosting holds its shape/height beautifully. Even when un-fridgerated for long periods of time, even in the summer. It is one of the best frostings I have ever made and I keep coming back to it again and again. It is the only frosting I truly trust for big events such as weddings! When you add espresso powder and good quality vanilla, you may have the best frosting in the world.
Happy baking all. Have faith in yourself, the science of baking and your oven. You will likely wish you baked a cake sooner and you may even start looking for excuses to bake one again and again.
Very Chocolatey, Chocolate Cake (adapted from Baking A Moment )
You will need:
- 1.5 c white sugar
- 1 c all purpose flour
- 1/2 c of cake flour (or all purpose if you don’t have cake)
- 1c unsweetened cocoa powder (Costco has some great high quality cocoa)
- 2 Tbs of espresso powder
- 1.5 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1c softened butter, cut into cubes
- 4 large eggs
- 1c sour cream
- 2 tsp vanilla
Preheat your oven to 325. Butter and flour three 8 inch cake pans (you can use a sheet pan likely, just adjust baking time accordingly) and line bottom with parchment paper.
Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and mix with a whisk to incorporate them and to get rid of the lumps! Add butter and mix on low until butter and dry ingredients are the texture of damp sand. Add eggs one at a time and once they are fully incorporated add the sour cream and vanilla. Beat on med speed for 2 minutes and then divide batter between pans. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely, then frost or glaze as desired!
Swiss Meringue Butter Cream
The recipe I love best (and I have tried several) is adapted from Martha Stewart. Find it here. Tips….
- Don’t get any yolks in the egg whites, they will never form stiff peaks if you do…
- Use beaters- hand held or stand mixer. I think this would almost be impossible by hand unless you are a professional arm wrestler.
- Make sure your butter is room temperature.
- If it looks like it is curdling when you add the butter just keep going. It will come together I promise.
- If you want to make it espresso flavoured, add 2 TBS of espresso powder (not instant coffee) when you add the vanilla. I always use this one when I bake.