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This lunar rhubarb cake is a thing – do you know of it? It has made the rounds of Canadian kitchens for decades and generations, far before the internet and Pinterest made it easier to share, back when great aunts and neighbours scribbled down the formula for that cake they always make that’s so good. Everyone seems to remember this. It’s called lunar cake because its surface resembles the pocked surface of the moon, only in this case it becomes irregular and uneven because of the fruit and buttery brown sugar that sinks into the top. (Any fruit will work here – I love these recipes that you can use no matter what’s in season. I already can’t wait for plums.) I’d heard of it but never made one, thinking it was the same sort of fruit-topped cake I’d made dozens of versions of, but when it popped up in the new cookbook by Lindsay Anderson and Dana VanVeller, whose lives I would quickly adoptContinue reading

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When I was a kid, maybe 9, I had a cupcake company. (I know, I was way ahead of myself.) I took out a $20 loan from my mom, bought ingredients and labeled them, and made the One Egg Cake out of The Joy of Cooking, and turned the batter into cupcakes to sell to neighbours on our street. After my loan was paid back, I think I made $7. (Most of the profits were eaten up.) I still have a soft spot (OK, many) for homemade cupcakes with straight-up buttercream frosting, applied in no particularly fancy order, just spread on with a knife. I think of the one-egg cake often, but have never revisited it – until late this afternoon, when I really really just needed some cake. And a short distraction from the computer. I stood and stared at the mixer beating butter, sugar, eggs, flour, milk – this is as basic a formula as they get – then poured the batter intoContinue reading

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Ever wonder what would happen if dense gingerbread and dark fruitcake got together? This. It was called coffee fruitcake in a 2005 issue of Gourmet, but doesn’t taste like coffee – you could swap orange juice, or grape juice, which is what my mom used when she made fruitcake decades ago. Or anything, really – but the coffee really does intensify the deep, slightly bitter gingerbread, which contrasts well with the loads of dried currants and raisins. You could, of course, stir in some other dried fruit – I was tempted to add slivered dried apricots, figs and cherries, and may next time, but it is tempting to stick with the ease of just raisins.

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Yes, it’s time. I decided that Tuesday night was as good as any to take on a large baking project – and particularly one that required me to strongarm copious quantities of batter from bowls to pans, and plenty of chopping. My family has been making this dark fruitcake for years; it’s a low-maintenance fruitcake, not requiring aging or brushing with liquor, loaded with dried fruit and nuts – apricots, figs, cherries, dates, citron – not a green glacé candied cherry in sight. Adapted from The Joy of Cooking, the 1997 edition – the edition is important, as there are completely different dark fruitcakes in different editions. (And no, it doesn’t call for eggs.)

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It’s nice when things that don’t take much time accidentally turn out awesome, isn’t it? When apples are in season, they make me want to bake – pies are nice in theory, but I’m not always in the mood to make one. An apple cake is a lovely thing, especially when it’s more apple than cake, and when you have a buttery dough you can stir together in a few minutes and know by heart, so that in spring it can be berry or rhubarb cake, in summer it can be a peach or plum cake. This is the sort of cake I like best – I think most days I’d choose this over a fancy chocolate tower held together with ganache.

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If we were to compile a book of family recipes, this upside down pear gingerbread may just be on the cover. We have it every Thanksgiving – it’s our pumpkin pie – and although gingerbread in general is not my favourite, this cake is. It’s special but not fancy, with a soft interior and chewy, caramelly edge, and is one of the very best vehicles for whipped cream there is. One of the biggest selling points of an upside-down cake is the fact that it needs no decorating. When you invert the cake the pear slices end up on top, making it look gratifyingly complete with no need for frosting. It does, however, scream for ice cream or whipped cream – provide a bowl of it alongside for people to serve themselves, or put a dollop on each slice. Pear gingerbread is also perfectly suitable for breakfast – in wedges with hot coffee, or smothered in thick Greek yogurt.

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I am blessed with a son who doesn’t ask for elaborate cakes on his birthday. He did once, when he turned 5 and requested a How to Train Your Dragon cake. Mike and I worked all night to piece together whatever specific kind of dragon he wanted made out of cake and frosting. We were proud – but it looked like a five year old made it. When we presented it in all its green glory to the table full of kindergarteners, one (having not touched or tasted it) said, “it tastes like toothpaste”. They collectively recoiled in horror over the suggestion of a mint-flavoured cake, and despite our protests that it was just green, it didn’t taste like mint, none of them would take a bite. W goes for substance over appearance, which I hope translates to other things in life, which is a relief because I have very little patience for cake decorating. Also – his birthday falls on the August long weekend,Continue reading

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I impulsively made my mom’s chocolate pudding cake for dinner tonight. My dad was coming by to eat with us, and his presence triggered a memory of my mom cobbling together some sort of dessert at the last minute when there wasn’t a little something sweet in the house, as he opened all the cupboards in search of a square of chocolate. She had a few standbys and this was one of them. Since chocolate is his thing, I mixed it together and slid it into the oven alongside the pork tenderloin. (At the table, W asked me how long it had taken me to make it. About ten minutes, I said. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I absolutely must have this recipe!’) This request was followed by a handful of others on twitter, so I thought I’d post it. Partly in order to bookmark it myself.

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I love this old photo of a birthday cake I’ve been making for years – my mom and sister share a birthday, which was this week, and for as long as I can remember (since my mom was a kid, so far before that) they’ve had this spice cake with penuche icing. They’re the only ones in our family with a standard cake that cannot be strayed from – the rest of us jump from chocolate to cheesecake to ice cream cake to croquembouche – but they’re never even asked what kind of cake they want. I personally am a fan of the old-school wobbly layer cake slathered with buttercream. (We also have a tradition of making money cakes – with foil-wrapped coins between the layers. Is this a thing where you are?)

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