This challenge couldn’t have come at a better time! July is my birthday month. Having to bake a special cake for the Daring Bakers was the perfect excuse to bake myself a birthday cake. For the July Daring Baker’s Challenge, Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to bake a cake. But not just any cake; she asked us to add in a special surprise for our eyes as well as our taste buds! When I saw this challenge I immediately got on Amazon and bought the Surprise Inside Cakes cookbook, which is amazing. But after looking through it I decided I couldn’t commit to one of her cakes right now. I figured I’d fail at the first attempt and have to try again (or a dozen times) to get it right. And I just couldn’t justify taking the time and energy to make multiple cakes when most of my time and energy has to go toward my kids. So I opted to make something a little simpler, and something I’d seen before and been anxious to try. This checkerboard cake is impressive without being quite as involved as something like this. Amazing, right?! And something I’d like to try someday, just not today. A lot of these kinds of cakes involve baking cake, crumbling it up and mixing it with icing, carving into other baked cake layers and then filling to space with the cake-frosting mixture. I wasn’t even going to pretend I was brave enough to try that. This cake just involves some cutting and layering. I could handle that. I used cake mix for this challenge because if it didn’t turn out I did not want to throw a scratch cake away, and, let’s face it, scratch cake is easier and always reliable. Start by baking two boxes of cake mix into 8-inch rounds. I used a dark chocolate and funfetti cause it’s my birthday! Wrap them in plastic and chill them in the fridge for at least a couple hours or overnight. Now you want to level them to all the same height. I used one of these. It’s a favorite cake tool of mine. You can also use a serrated knife. Now cut each layer using a 5-inch circle and a 3-inch circle. I tried to center them perfectly but they weren’t quite perfect. It turned out fine. Also, as you can see below, I had my knife at a slight angle when I cut the first circle. Try to keep it straight, but know that if you have the same problem as I did, it will still work out. Then do the same with the chocolate layers. Be very careful when moving the rings! They become very fragile. Now would be a good time to chill or freeze the layers. I didn’t and wish I had. They would’ve been easier to move if they were cold. Whip up a batch of frosting, I used this one. Place one large vanilla ring on a cake plate. Spread some frosting around the inside of the ring. Place a chocolate ring inside of this one. Frost the inside of this ring and then place a small vanilla circle in the center. NOTE: Your icing is going to get full of chocolate crumbs. Try to keep the big bowl of frosting relatively crumb free. I scooped frosting into a smaller bowl as I needed it. Top this layer with frosting. Then repeat with the rest of the cake layers, alternating chocolate, vanilla, chocolate. Frost the entire cake with a crumb coat and put in the fridge to set, at least a couple hours. Now you may need to make another batch of frosting, depending on how much you made the first time around. Finish off the cake with the final coat of frosting. Place the cake in the fridge until you’re ready to cut in to it. These kinds of cakes cut more cleanly when cold. Stick some candles in and celebrate!
This buttermilk chess pie is declared “the easiest pie to prepare in this chapter” in the America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. And it truly is simple. It’s also quite delicious, creamy, smooth, rich and downright heavenly.
After making this strawberry rhubarb pie and finishing off the last of it recently I was seriously craving more pie. I’ve typically reserved pie for the holiday baking season, making cobblers more often in the summer. But that’s just silly. Pie can easily be a year round food and should be embraced as much now, when the weather is warm, as when it’s chilly out. While some pies are better for cool weather and some for warmer days, this one can be enjoyed any time of year. Pairing it with some fresh seasonal berries during the coming months will make it a great summer dessert.
You can serve this custard pie warm, room temperature, or chilled. The flavors shine through best when it’s warm or room temp, though.
The crust in this pie, as with most if not all pie, is important and can really make the dessert special. If you use a store bought crust the dessert will be fine, but if you have the time to make your own it will be extra delicious. I’ve used this all butter pie crust recipe from Smitten Kitchen the last couple of times I’ve made pie and I really like it. The recipe makes enough for 2 crusts, so just stash one away for another time.
The ingredient list is simple and straightforward, you probably have everything in your kitchen right this very moment. Once you make the crust all you have to do is whisk everything else together, pour it into the pie crust and bake. So, what are you waiting for?!
Buttermilk Chess Pie
From America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
- 1 pie crust, fit into a pie plate, chilled and unbaked
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 eggs + 2 egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon fine-ground cornmeal
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Berries for garnish
- Whipped cream for garnish
- Prepare pie crust by fitting it into a pie plate and placing the plate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
- Place a rimmed baking sheet into the oven and preheat to 375°F.
- Whisk all of the ingredients together and pour into pie shell.
- Place onto heated cookie sheet and bake for 40-45 minutes. Top of the pie should be golden brown and center should be just set.
- Let cool on a wire rack until just warm or all the way to room temp.
- Garnish with fresh berries and/or whipped cream.
This vanilla cake was one of the many sweet treats we had at Betsy’s 1st birthday party, but the only one I made from scratch. I am a sucker for cake mixes a lot of the time. They’re easy, reliable, and pretty tasty. But there’s something about a scratch cake that is just special. And if there’s a time to have a special cake, it’s at a birthday party!
This vanilla cake is from The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook. I picked the cookbook up after a trip to visit my sister in New York where I went on a cupcake tasting tour (guided by yours truly with only one participant…myself). I tried Magnolia Bakery, Cupcake Cafe and Billy’s Bakery. I think there was one other? I don’t remember. I’ve had 2 kids since then. But Magnolia is one of the best and the shop is darling and wonderful. It’s definitely a fun place to visit…unless you end up fighting someone for a cupcake after waiting in line for hours. The first time I went there was hardly a soul in the place and so it was a very pleasant experience for me. Another time I was going to go with my sister and as we approached the store and saw the line we turned around and returned empty handed. Workdays are probably a good bet, but I’m not making any promises since I don’t have enough experience. I do think it’s safe to say that weekends will always be crazy.
To make this cake a little special I dyed the layers in shades of purple. It didn’t turn out as “ombre” as I would’ve liked. The colors are too close to the same shade, so if you decide to try the ombre cake make sure that the batters are very different from each other.
The vanilla buttercream is from the same cookbook and is tremendously delicious. I love frosting. This one comes out beautifully white, especially if you use this vanilla. This clear vanilla has a nostalgic flavor for me and is different than pure natural vanilla. In most cases I prefer natural vanilla, and often I use this vanilla paste because I love the vanilla bean flecks. But with a classic vanilla birthday cake I think the clear vanilla is the way to go. Use what you have, but do give the clear vanilla a try if you see it somewhere!
This is definitely a cake I’ll come back to and recommend others try when they want to bake a cake from scratch. It’s really not terribly difficult or time consuming and it’s a nice change from a box cake. Eat up and enjoy!
Vanilla Birthday Cake
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups white sugar
- 4 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 cup whole milk, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Grease three 9-inch cake pans, line the bottoms with a parchment circle, grease parchment and flour the pans. Set aside.
- Combine the flours in a small bowl and set aside.
- In a large bowl, cream the butter until light, then gradually pour in the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each. Scrape the bottom of the bowl and beat again to combine.
- Alternate adding the flour and milk in 5 parts, beginning and ending with the flour, beating until just combined in between additions. Fold the batter a few times with a large spatula to make sure it is mixed well.
- Now you can either dye your layers or divide the batter between the pans and bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
- Remove from the oven and let cool on racks for 15 minutes. Run a butter knife around the edges and remove the cakes from the pans. Peel off the parchment and let cool completely.
To Dye the Cake Layers
- 4 small bowls
- 4 small spatulas or spoons
- purple (or any color) gel color
- Take about 1/2 cup of batter and put it into a small bowl.
- Dye the cup of batter by scooping some gel color out of the pot and mixing it in very well. You want this to be dark, a little darker shade than you want your darkest layer. Adjust by adding more batter or more color.
- Divide the rest of the batter evenly into three small bowls.
- Take your dyed batter and add one spoonful to the first bowl, 3 spoonfuls to the second bowl and 5 spoonfuls to the third bowl. Divide any remaining colored batter among the bowls to achieve shades that are very distinct. Fold gently until the color is evenly distributed. Be careful to not overmix.
- Transfer the batter to the prepared pans and bake as above.
*If you’re analyzing these instructions you’ll realize that after adding the colored batter your bowls of batter won’t be divided equally anymore. You’ll have more batter in the darkest layer. So just go with it and accept that they won’t be exactly the same OR you can divide the batter a little unevenly to begin with and then even it out with the colored batter. That method would involve too much brain power for me. The reason I did not add the color directly to the batter is that you have to do more mixing to get a solid and even color, and overmixed cake batter can lead to a heavier cake texture. This less precise method led to better overall color in my cakes and the cake was still light.
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 8 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 2 teaspoons clear vanilla
- pinch of salt
- Beat the butter until creamy.
- Beat in 4 cups of the powdered sugar, the milk, salt and vanilla until very smooth and creamy.
- Add the remaining sugar, one cup at a time, beating well, until it reaches the desired consistency.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! And happy birthday to my sweet niece Maren who is having a great 2nd birthday party in Brooklyn today that we are sadly not attending. My parents will be there to help celebrate the big day with my sister’s family. Happy Birthday, Maren!
We don’t really do St. Patrick’s Day, but I was seeing so many fun rainbow and pot o’ gold crafts, snacks and baked goods on blogs and on Pinterest that I just had to make this rainbow cake. I’d originally seen rainbow cakes in layers, which I think is so beautiful and orderly. But I do not have enough cake pans of the same size, nor do I have the patience and willingness to make 3 cakes, then wash and dry the pans and make 3 more. So I found this rainbow cake on Hostess with the Mostess who links to Omnomicon’s tutorial for making this fun and easy rainbow cake that only requires you to have 2 cake pans of the same size! Perfect.
I used the cake recipe from Omnomicon, which is simply 2 white cake mixes and 3 cups of Diet Sprite. No oil, no eggs, no joke. So I suppose this cake could be considered “good” for you. But then I used a not so good for you buttercream instead of the cool whip and pudding frosting that she uses. The cake in its entirety is kind of like ordering a diet coke along side your big greasy hamburger.
The cake recipe honestly had me a little worried. Was this diet soda thing really going to work? Well, it did! For the most part anyway. The cake took a little longer to bake, about 40 minutes, and even then it was so moist that it fell apart a little after being removed from the pans. One layer split almost totally in half, but I was able to squish it back together with the help of a bit of frosting. It was also stickier than normal cake mix cakes. I let the cakes cool upside down on racks and when I went to take them off I had more breakage because it had stuck to the rack. Again, frosting repair was needed. Here is but one of my frosting repair jobs.
But even with the problems that made cake assembly a little difficult it was oh so very tasty, moist and delicious. I think with cupcakes you could use this cake mix + diet soda method and be quite pleased with the results since you don’t have any layering to do, and there’s less guilt involved. I think you might only get 12-18 cupcakes out of one cake mix and 1 1/2 cups of diet soda. 2 cake mixes and 3 cups gave me what a cake mix with the usual eggs and oil would have. But there might be some deflation due to mixing the batter once all together and then again to make the colors. I don’t know. I am not a scientist.
Dividing and coloring the cake batter was pretty simple. I used a scale to get the same amount in each of my 6 bowls, but you could easily eyeball it and not suffer any serious consequences if you were a little off. You really should use gel colors if you want the lovely bright colors. The food coloring you use for dyeing Easter eggs won’t cut it. I used Wilton gel colors. If you do any cake or cookie decorating at all, you should have some of these.
Grease and flour 2 8-inch cake pans and fill the first pan with red, orange and yellow. Pour the red in first, right in the center of the pan. Follow with the orange, also right in the center and try your best to make it a circular shape (mine was kind of amoeba shaped) and the do the same with the yellow. In the second pan fill with green, blue and violet. If you are a science nerd you noticed that I left out Indigo from ROYGBIV. Feel free to divide your batter into 7 and make yourself some indigo colored batter, but I took a short cut and liked the ease and equality of 3 colors in each pan.
Use your favorite recipe for vanilla frosting or the one below. I love the white frosting against the bright colors of the cake. This cake is a lot of fun. It would be great for a kid’s (or adult’s) birthday party. You can use the same method with cupcakes, just layer the colors with teaspoons of batter. In a 9×13 pan it might be hard to get good layers, so you could just randomly dollop colors for more of a tie-dyed effect. If you do bake in something other than 8-inch cake pans, refer to the baking times and temps on the box of cake mix and then check for doneness, adding more time if needed.
- 2 boxes white cake mix
- 3 cups (24 ounces) diet lemon-lime soda
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Mix cake mixes and soda together until well combined.
- Divide batter evenly into six bowls.
- Color each bowl of batter red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet.
- Grease and flour 2 8-inch cake pans. Pour red, orange and yellow batter into one cake pan, starting with red, yellow on top of that, and then orange. Repeat with green, blue and violet.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes or until tops bounce back when pressed lightly or cake tester inserted into the the center comes out clean.
- Let cool in pans for 10-15 minutes then remove and let cool completely on racks.
- Level cakes if desired, then layer one cake on a plate or cake stand. Frost with vanilla icing, top with second layer of cake and put on a crumb coat of icing. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
- Finish frosting the cake with the remaining icing, chill until ready to serve.
Simple Vanilla Buttercream
- 3 sticks of butter, softened
- 4 1/2 to 6 cups of powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2-4 tablespoons milk or cream
- Beat butter until smooth, then add in powdered sugar. Start with 4 1/2 cups, then add more in 1/2 cup increments to achieve a thick but still spreadable consistency.
- Beat in vanilla and milk, starting with 2 tablespoons and adding more if needed.
- Use to generously frost a layer cake or 24 cupcakes.
Vegetables are so versatile. They can be enjoyed raw, roasted, steamed, fried, sautéed, boiled, and surely a few ways I’ve neglected to mention. One of my favorite things about vegetables is that they can be enjoyed as a savory side dish, an entrée or in a sweet baked good. The butternut squash in this cake adds moisture and texture, and a very subtle flavor of squash that is a nice complement to the tart buttermilk and sweet vanilla and spices.
I used a traditional bundt pan, which I greased and sugared. This is my new favorite way to prep a pan for baked goods. I used this method on a pan of blondies yesterday that came out beautifully. The two batches I tried before stuck like crazy, but this sugaring thing seems to be pretty foolproof.
The batter was smooth and smelled wonderful even before it was baked. I used 3/4 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice in the batter because I was out of ginger. I think it worked well and still provided the fall spice flavor.
This is an easy recipe that can be prepared ahead of time since it needs to cool before applying the glaze.