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It’s time for some chocolate babka, I think. To celebrate the time of year when you can turn the oven on to warm the house. If you’re only familiar with babka thanks to Seinfeld, it’s a sweet, rich yeasted dough that some call cake—but really it’s a loaf of sweet dough with the texture of a soft cinnamon bun, rippled through with so much chocolate (or cinnamon, which is considered a lesser babka, but it’s on my list to make next—who wouldn’t love a loaf-shaped cinnamon bun?) as to make slicing the rolled log (which you do lengthwise, before twisting it into the pan) a challenge. I took babka for a spin a few times to get a feel for it, in the name of research of course—the soft, rich dough is lovely to handle, and it’s like assembling a cinnamon bun, up until the dough is filled and rolled into a log. Some of the chocolate fillings out there are crumbly, others smooth, whichContinue reading

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Hey, hi. I figured you, like me, might need some chocolate zucchini cake to help get you through the week. The moist, not-too-sweet kind you just stir up in a bowl and bake in a pan and nibble from when you need it – a cake you could get away with having a chunk of with your coffee in the morning, for filling up lunchbags and the after-school gap. And here’s some good news: if you also have far too many zucchini in your kitchen, you can grate a bunch, as if you were going to make brownies or muffins or a loaf or this cake, and just freeze it in ziplock bags, pushed flat to get the air out and so that they barely take up any space, to use in the aforementioned baked goods at a later date.

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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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