Wacky cake is a term I’ve heard for a while now in baking blogs and baking groups. I knew it was a Depression era recipe and that it is a go-to for people with certain dietary restrictions. One of my last bakes in 2019 was my first go at a wacky cake. I had bookmarked a recipe by Kathy P. a while back and dug it up to give it a go. The recipe is originally egg free and dairy free plus she has plenty of recommendations on how to customize the recipe to meet other dietary needs.
For my go, where the recipe calls for oil, I used coconut oil. This added the soy free element to the cake. Note that coconut is sometimes part of a nut allergy and sometimes not. If you need to avoid nuts and soy, go with palm oil instead.
I highly recommend giving this cake a go, even if you aren’t baking for a specific diet. It’s very easy to make, doesn’t require eggs or milk, and, as Kathy P. points out, you can make it in the same pan you bake it in, so there’s very little mess to clean up (see her recipe for the single pan instructions)! And it’s fully of chocolate goodness.
Kathy P.’s Wacky Cake
1 1/2 cups flour
3 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp vinegar
5 Tbsp oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup water
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Combine the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda) in a bowl. Mix thoroughly. Mix wet ingredients (vinegar, oil, vanilla, water) in a separate bowl and stir to combine. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until you get a smooth batter. Do not beat.
Pour into a greased and floured pan (8″ square, 9″ round, 12 cupcakes)
Note: some wacky cake recipes say that no greasing is required. I placed parchment circles at the bottom of my pans (2 6″ rounds) without greasing or flouring and they came out of the pans fine.
Bake in the oven until it tests as done, about 35 mins for cake, 20 for cupcakes.
Matcha, also known as green tea, is a hit or miss flavor for many. Some simply do not enjoy it at all. Some may find it too grassy, a common complaint of strong matcha. Others find it quite pleasant. I enjoy weaker matcha flavor, typically when blended with dairy.
Back in late 2017, I began venturing away from American buttercream frosting and trying both Swiss and Italian meringue buttercreams. I came across a recipe for a honey-sweetened SMBC and had some matcha waiting to be baked with. I had to try a matcha roll cake.
Not only did both recipes turn out well, they worked together perfectly. The buttery flavor and smooth texture of the SMBC was a match with the rich matcha. Not only that, but I managed a pretty nice swirl with the cake. This is still one of my personal favorite bakes.
1 cup (112 g) cake flour 2 Tbsp (14 g) matcha powder 1 tsp baking powder
5 large eggs separated
3/4 cup (156g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup whole milk
Preheat oven to 400°F. Like jelly roll pan with parchment. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together cake flour, matcha powder, and baking powder and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, granulated sugar, and milk until pale in color.
In another clean bowl, whip egg whites to medium-stiff peaks.
Add dry flour mixture to yolk mixture. Fold to combine. Add whipped egg whites in three additions. Gently fold to incorporate egg whites.
Pour batter into prepared baking sheet. Use offset spatula to spread batter into an even layer. Bake for 8-10 mins until cake springs back to touch. Remove from oven and run a mini offset spatula around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake.
Invert the cake onto a clean kitchen towel. Slowly and gently remove the parchment from the cake. Use the towel to roll the cake into a log. Let the cake rest on a wire rack to cool to room temperature.
Once the cake is cooled, unroll the cake. Add generous amounts of filling. Use an offset spatula to spread filling to an even layer.
Use your hands and the towel to gently roll the cake back into a log. Place the seam at the bottom of the cake to prevent it from unraveling. Cover log with plastic wrap and let it chill in the fridge for at least 30 mins to allow the filling to set up. Slice a bit off of each end for a smooth presentation.
4 egg whites, room temperature
3/4 cups honey or maple syrup (or half of each)
1 3/4 cups butter, softened
3 tsp vanilla extract (I only needed 1 tsp for flavor)
Notes: Make sure your bowls are very clean. Do not get yolks in the egg whites.
Combine sweeteners (honey/syrup) and egg whites together in a heat-safe bowl (top part of a double-boiler). Place it over a pot of boiling water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Heat for 4-5 mins or until the thermometer reads 150-160°F, stirring often. If your mixture ends up lumpy, strain it before beating.
Use whisk attachment on a stand mixer and begin beating the egg mixture on high speed until it is thoroughly cooled, fluffy, and holds its shape well (beat to stiff peaks, can take 8-15 mins, mine took less time).
Switch to the paddles attachment and begin adding butter little by little (I sliced my butter and added 1 Tbsp at a time). The mixture can become curdled (it did), but it will come back together after you beat it for several minutes (it did). Turn the mixer to high speed and beat for several minutes to incorporate lots of air and make the buttercream fluffy. When it is nice and fluffy, mix in the vanilla. If your buttercream is warm, stick it in the fridge for 30-60 mins and then beat again for a few minutes. Use right away or store in an airtight container in the fridge.
*see original posted recipe for instructions on using arrowroot or cornstarch to lighten the SMBC
If you follow Casual Confections on social media, you’ve seen a lot of chatter leading up to the Muggles Market and Geek Gala which both took place last Saturday. Both events were a huge success!
Want to try your hand at making any of the goodies Casual Confections sold or donated to the events? Go for it! These are the recipes I started with and tweaked to end up with the current versions on my menu:
Topping – same fluff recipe as above, just add ground freeze dried strawberries, strawberry flavor oil, or strawberry Jell-O mix in place of the vanilla extract. Start with a small amount and add more to taste. Sprinkle with ground freeze dried strawberries.
It’s mid-August. The school buses are back out and rush hour is back to its full capacity. It’s still hot outside and summer will be around for a few more weeks, but visions of pumpkin flavored goods have started to dance in our heads.
This year I decided to join in the pumpkin fun. A pumpkin roll is the first of two planned pumpkin treats that are new additions to the menu! For my first pumpkin roll attempt, I started with a recipe for the infamous Libby’s pumpkin roll (recipe is available on the label of the can of pumpkin).
2/3 cup (5.3 oz) pumpkin (I used an entire 15 oz can for my first experiment and the cake held together mostly fine)
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 package cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
6 Tbsp butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 375ºF. Grease and line a 15×10 inch jellyroll pan with parchment paper. Grease and flour paper. Sprinkle a thin, cotton kitchen towel with powdered sugar.
Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and cloves in a small bowl.
Beat eggs and granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl until thick. Beat in pumpkin. Stir in flour mixture. Spread evenly into pan. Sprinkle with nuts. Bake for 13-15 mins or until top of the cake springs back when touched. Immediate turn cake onto towel. Carefully peel off paper. Roll cake and towel. Cool on wire rack.
Beat cream cheese, 1 cup of powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla in a small bowl until smooth. Carefully unroll cooled cake. Spread mixture over cake. Reroll, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
CCK is back with another bake designed and executed by an almost-four-year-old. It all started with his grandfather’s birthday.
“Oh, it’s GP’s birthday! We need to make him a cake!”
“What kind of cake do you want to make for him?”
“A chocolate chip cake!”
As I showed him different photos for inspiration on what we could do with the chocolate chip cake idea, he spotted a set of colorful popsicles.
“Let’s make those!”
“We can do that. Those are cake.”
The kid was hooked. We ordered two mini cakesicle molds and some small popsicle sticks.
After a few more discussions about what flavor the cake and icing would be, we landed on chocolate cake with chocolate chips and chocolate icing. Perfect! The birthday boy loves chocolate and this would be far from chocolate overload.
Since we only had two molds, we used half a box of Devil’s Food cake mix and applied my usual modifications (butter for oil and double the amount, milk for water). Note: when making half of a box mix, be sure to half the wet ingredients. Store the rest of your dry mix in a sealed baggie and be sure to mark what type of mix it is, the expiration date, and any instructions you still need from the box. (These can easily be made with cake made from scratch, too.)
The small baker excitedly put on an orange apron and chef’s hat and got to work using the hand mixer. He did need some help after a while as the mixer is still big for his small hands, but he did a great job for his first solo mixer run! The junior baker wanted to also make this a mint cake, so we added some peppermint extract to the batter.
When the batter was ready, we greased a 9″ x 13″ cake pan, poured in the batter, and got ready to put it in the oven.
“WAIT! We forgot the chocolate chips!”
Indeed we had! Instead of scraping the batter back into the bowl, we poured a layer of chocolate chips on top of the batter in the pan, knowing the cake would rise over them (especially since I did not coat them). The pan then went into the oven, following the box instructions for time and temp.
Meanwhile, I had taken some leftover chocolate-flavored black American buttercream out of the freezer to thaw overnight. While the cake was in the oven, we let the buttercream sit out on the counter to further soften up. Since we were going to be mixing it directly into the cake, we did not re-whip it.
After the cake came out of the oven and cooled on a rack, we dug our hands in. This was a fun part for the junior baker. You crumble the cake into small bits in a bowl using your hands. This is great for kids because they can just go wild. After crumbling our cake to pieces (the chocolate chips had become melted chocolate at this point), we added two tablespoons (cereal spoons, not measuring spoons) of buttercream to the bowl. Now, we got really messy! We used our hands to blend the buttercream with the cake until it was one wet cakey mixture.
Now it was time to see how this mixture went into the molds. Since this was my first go, I greased the molds. The quality of the molds is so good, though, that they do not require greasing. My molds will be ungreased next time.
We continued to use our hands and pressed the mixture into the molds. Each cavity holds a surprising amount of cake mixture! After filling our eight molds, we slid a popsicle stick into each one. The design of the molds makes this step super easy as there is a rest for the stick and a slot for it to slide into. You still need to be a bit careful so you’re not pointing the stick up or down when sliding it in as this may cause the stick to pop out of the cake.
We hand plenty of mixture left and decided to make some cakepops. We took a small handful of mixture and rolled it between our palms until we had circles. Then we carefully pushed a lollypop stick into the center. We lined a baking sheet with wax paper and placed the cakepops and cakesicle molds on it. Once everything was shaped and molded, the entire sheet was popped into the freezer to set overnight.
The next day, we took the sheet out of the freezer. The cakepops stayed sitting where they were. We took the cakesicle molds and popped the cakesicles out. This was super easy! Start at the top and slowly push the cakesicle up and out. We placed the unmolded cakesicles onto the wax paper with the cakepops. While these sat out, we melted a bag and a half of dark chocolate candy melts in a double boiler. They melted fairly quickly. We poured our candy melts into a large red Solo cup for easy dipping since the cakesicles are tall. We took turns dipping our cakesicles first, since we’d need our melts to be higher up in the cup. While dipping the cakesicle, be sure to slowly turn the treat to get a good coating, especially around the area of the stick. Slowly pull the treat out of the melts and turn your treat right-side-up so that any chocolate on the top falls down onto to cakesicle or cakepop. The melts started to cool down and get a bit harder to work with as we went on, but that is easily fixed by reheating or adding newly melted candy melts to the mix to get it a bit more runny again.
After each dip, we added colorful sprinkles. Junior baker had his choice of sprinkles and made his own mix.
The first couple cakepops we tried rolling them in the sprinkle mix, but the melts were still too warm and the sprinkles carried them right off the pop in dollops. The cakesicles did not have that issue as much because we did not roll them, we just pressed them into the sprinkles. After a few attempts with pressing and rolling, we both decided to use our fingers to sprinkle the sprinkles onto the pops and cakesicles. Instead of setting the cake pops in a stand so they were upright, we placed them right back on the wax paper, resulting in flat sides. This was fine by us as the pops were extras and were just for fun.
The candy melt coating set very quickly and letting the cakesicles and pops set on the wax paper worked out perfectly. Since junior baker wasn’t going to see GP for a few days, we needed to sore the cakesicles. Once they were completely set, we lined an airtight container with wax paper and placed the cakesicles inside. Each layer of cakesicles was topped with a piece of wax paper to keep them separated. The candy melt coating does lock in the moisture of the cake and help keep it preserved, but popping these guys in the freezer if you don’t need them for a while helps to extend their shelf life.
Now it was time to sample our work. The junior baker and I each took a cake pop and bit in. They were delicious! The various chocolate flavors (dark chocolate candy melts, Devil’s food cake, black chocolate buttercream, chocolate chips) combined with the peppermint extract resulted in a very tasty bite. The sprinkles, especially, gave the pop an extra crunch that really tied the treat together.
I highly recommend cakesicles as a bake to do with kids, especially smaller kids. They can have a lot of freedom in making them without you needing to make sure they’re not over-mixing or adding the wrong thing or doing something unsafe. Everything they get their hands into can be licked off immediately (the cake is baked, the buttercream is made, the candy melts can be tried as long as they’re not too hot) without worry. Doing them in two parts (baking and molding one day, dipping and decorating the second) means that each part does not take long, making it easy to keep the kids engaged before they reach the end of their attention spans. Plus, they get to eat what they created. Seeing their faces when they taste just how good the treat is and your remind them that they made that themselves, is priceless. It’s a great exercise and confidence boost for them.
So order at least four molds (I immediately ordered more after we were done) for a half cake (eight for a whole) and start planning your flavors with your favorite junior baker.
Have you tried one of our CCK bakes? If so, post your pictures in the comments, on our Facebook page, on Instagram, or on Twitter! Be sure to use the hashtags #CasualConfectionsKids #CasualConfections and #WeKeepItMessy!
The elusive black buttercream. This has been my main experiment for the past month. Along the way, I made some awesome slate grey colors, some more bitter flavored icing, many many many cakes to use as vehicles for eating the experiments, and used lots and lots of gel coloring.
In April, I took a cake order that was going to be mostly black. The client gave the option of using fondant or buttercream and I opted for buttercream because guests would be more likely to eat and enjoy it. Having read several posts on blogs and in baking groups about working on black buttercream, I figured I would get it in only a couple of trials.
Trial 1 – Italian meringue buttercream (IMBC) is my current go-to for cakes. It isn’t very sweet, has great flavors, takes spices and colors well, and holds up well through various temperatures.
For this first run, melted milk chocolate, a small amount of black cocoa and some drops of Wilton black gel coloring were added to white IMBC. The chocolate flavor was delicious! The initial color result was a slate grey. Leaving the buttercream out overnight to darken only yielded a very slight change in shade. “Ok,” I thought, “maybe I didn’t add enough black.”
Trial 2 – another run with IMBC.
Trial 2 had a lot more black cocoa, no milk chocolate, and more black gel color (this time I tried Americolor) than last time, but it still was not enough as I achieved exactly the same shade as I had in trial 1. The chocolate flavor in batch 2 was still good despite lacking the smoothness the melted milk chocolate added.
There were many issues with the IMBC: the texture was getting thinner as I added more chocolate and gel and I was not satisfied with it, the flavor was very bitter and I was adding a lot of powered sugar in to compensate, and it was taking hours to mess with the color. If I was going to add so much powdered sugar, why not start with something very sweet, like American buttercream (ABC)? During my research, a recipe from Chelsweets kept coming up and I decided to give it a go.
Trial 3 – American buttercream via Chelsweets.com
VICTORY! Not only had I achieved black, but it came together really quickly and the flavor was very good! I had found my black buttercream.
It took about a month, but I was ready to tackle the cake order. This cake order was big for a few reasons:
First cake order for Casual Confections
First bake in the bakery I’m renting space from, Baked Well
First cake where I was trying to match a design
Only my second decorated cake (you may remember the uterus babies as the first)
The order was for a Death Note cake: red velvet cake, vanilla IMBC for the pages and lettering, and black chocolate ABC for the icing.
I did not stage any of the photos, just grabbed a few quick shots on the work table after a few hours of working without a/c, around the repair guy, and running into a few issues with the bake and decorating, I was very tired and needed to clean and close up. The black buttercream turned out really well. As it crusted, I was able to use a wet paper towel to smooth out the buttercream and achieve a leather cover look, which was perfect for the look of a well-worn journal.
Achieving black buttercream was definitely more of an adventure than I expected it to be, but I learned a lot of lessons along the way and now I can whip it up in almost no time!
Black American Buttercream via Chelsweets* (makes 4-5 cups)
1 cup (217 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp + 2 tsp (37.5 gram) heavy cream
1/2 tsp (2 grams) vanilla extract
1/4 cup (25 grams) black cocoa, sifted (I always ended up adding a bit more to get a deeper black)
1/2 tsp black gel food coloring (add more if the color isn’t quite the black you’re looking to achieve)
Beat the butter on a medium speed for 30 seconds with a paddle attachment until smooth. Reduce the speed to low and add the vanilla.
Add in the sifted black cocoa and mix on low speed until incorporated (scrape down the sides and mix).
Alternate between the powdered sugar and cream, adding each slowly (the powdered sugar, one cup at a time, and the cream, a splash a a time). Beat on low until the ingredients are fully incorporated and the desired consistency is reached (add more cream for a wetter, looser buttercream, add more powdered sugar for a drier, thicker buttercream).
Once the frosting is fully made, add in a generous squirt of black gel buttercream and mix by hand with a rubber spatula until the frosting is evenly colored.
To allow the shade to deepen, place in sealed piping bags or an airtight container. Leave out overnight at room temperature or place in the fridge for several days.
*Check out the link for additional tips and nutrition information.
A number of gluten-free recipes have been gathering dust in my books and binders. Gluten-free baking can be expensive and cumbersome since you need various flours and xanthum gum to create a suitable blend that can sub for all purpose flour. Several companies have worked to take the hassle out of gf baking by offering prepackaged flour blends. After learning about these blends, I decided to use King Arthur Flour‘s Gluten-Free Measure for Measure flour blend. This blend includes rice flour, whole grain brown rice flour, a couple starches, and xanthum gum. What does this all mean? It means that this is the only thing you need to buy when adapting a non-yeast recipe to be gf (Note: always check your other ingredients to ensure that they are also gf).
For my first adapted recipe, I went with the lemon blueberry pound cake, which you may remember from the Portal cakes post. The only substitution was the gf flour instead of the ap flour.
The good news first: The flour swap was great! I’m really happy with how the cake turned out with the gf flour.
The bad news: The cake was 90% inedible. Why? I forgot about my blueberries until I started pouring the batter into the pan. In my scramble, I completely forgot (once again) to dry them and toss them in some of the gf flour. This resulted in a lot of extra moisture in the cake. The blueberries all gathered in the same section of cake and those sections did not bake fully. I had already glazed the cake before slicing, so I wasn’t able to toss the slices back into the oven to finish them up.
Fortunately, there were some parts that were baked that I was able to taste. I’m now chomping at the bit to try another recipe using the gf flour. While I have not tried any other brands, I do recommend King Arthur Flour’s gluten free blend, as do many others (shout out to those who commented on Facebook and Instagram!).
My second Passover bake this year is an apple cake. Instead of regular flour and baking soda, this cake utilizes potato starch and matzoh cake meal. The recipe for this bake came from ReformJudaism.org.
2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup sugar
Juice of 1 lemon (or 2 Tbsp lemon juice)
5 large Granny Smith and/or Braeburn apples, peeled and diced
1/4 cup sugar
1-2 tsp cinnamon
Grease a 9″ spring form pan. Place parchment on the bottom of the pan. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Beat eggs with sugar until blended. Add oil and beat. Sift together potato starch and cake meal. Add sifted items to the egg mixture.
For the filling, mix together the cinnamon, sugar, and lemon juice. Mix in the apples.
Put two cups of dough (or half the total amount of dough) into the pan. Spread evenly. Add the apple filling using a slotted spoon, leaving the accumulated liquid behind. Make sure filling is distributed evenly.
Put in the remaining two cups of dough. Spread evenly. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar topping (you won’t see this in my photo as I forgot this step and dusted the top after the cake was baked).
Place the pan on a cookie sheet since liquid may seep out.
Bake for one hour.
Let cool in the pan before releasing.
Unbaked Passover apple cake (sans cinnamon sugar topping)
Baking with kids can be a lot of fun and very educational. It can also be a test in patience for the head baker. Finding the right terms and ways to explain measuring ingredients, why things need to be mixed a certain way, and what happens in the oven can be a challenge, but it is a great mental exercise and kids are typically fascinated to learn how things work. The absolute best part of baking with kids is seeing the look of pride, surprise, and satisfaction on their faces when they get to eat what they created.
This past week, a 3.5-year-old designed a cake with me. It started with a simple question: “Do you want to bake cookies this weekend?” After excitedly answering “yes,” I asked which type of cookie he wanted to bake. It was no surprise it was chocolate chip. They are his favorite to make. It escalated quickly from there. When all was said and done, the final design ended up being a devil’s food cake with orange-colored icing that has pieces of chocolate chip cookies in it. It typically takes me no time to whip each of these parts together, so I figured it would take a few hours, tops.
We compiled our grocery list and went to the store to get what we needed. We talked about why we were getting the smaller bag of sugar instead of the larger bag of sugar (storage), why we didn’t need marshmallows for this bake (any excuse to eat marshmallows is a good one), and the ways we need to be careful when handling a carton of eggs. After getting back to the kitchen, we prepped our ingredients, set out our tools, and selected our aprons (having at least two kid-size aprons around is great as it gives them a choice and they get to dress like you do in the kitchen). After selecting his apron, the young baker got a quick introduction on how to tie it around his waist. It will take some practice, but he loved seeing how easy it could be to tie something.
Chocolate chip cookies are a great first-bake for kids. The ingredients are easy and safe to work with, it’s more than four steps, and, for most kids, it’s a treat they love to eat. Flour and sugar are easy for kids to use to measure out ingredients and are easy to clean up if it results in a mess. While putting the dry ingredients together, it’s easy to talk to the young baker about ingredients that are safe to taste and ones that are not. For example, cookie dough that is just butter and sugars mixed together is safe to taste. Once the flour and/or eggs are added, however, the dough is not safe to taste. The flour and eggs can be unsafe to eat before they are baked or cooked. Speaking of safe to taste, a tradition I have when baking chocolate chip cookies with anyone is to pour out a few chips to eat before we dump the bag into the dough. It’s a special treat since the baker has not had a chance to sample anything in a bit while the dough was coming together and it’s a few small bites of chocolate. Yum!
This junior baker did everything for the cookies except for cracking the eggs (he decided it was too messy for him to do that day) and dealing with the oven (he’s not quite tall enough or his arms long enough to do that, yet).
For most cookies, and especially the soft batch, it’s a good idea to roll the dough into balls or mounds for them to bake properly. Some kids, however, struggle to roll a ball between their hands when they’re younger. This young baker decided that he was going to roll logs instead of balls. We did one full tray of logs and one full tray of balls so that we could gauge the baking time for the logs and have everything cook evenly. When we took the tray of logs out of the oven, we were excited to find that the logs had baked down to perfect dipping bars!
While the cookies cooled on our cooling racks, we did a quick clean up of the area and of the tools we’d need to use for our cake. At this point, the junior baker needed a break.
After a break watching some videos on his iPad and having lunch, we got back to work on part 2.
Part 2 – Devil’s food cake
For this bake, we kept it simple. We grabbed a box of Duncan Hines mix and doctored it. Doctoring a box cake mix can range from very simple to more complex. I like to keep it simple. Use the same measurements that are on the box but use milk in place of water and use butter in place of oil. Typically, I melt the butter to add to the mix, but this time, I tried creaming the butter first and then adding the other ingredients to the butter. Making a cake using a box mix is another great first-bake for kids, though it can be disappointing as there aren’t too many steps and it’s over quickly.
We poured our batter into two 9″ rounds greased with Baker’s Joy (this is my favorite non-stick baking tool outside of parchment paper). Once baked, we let the cakes cool in the pans before flipping them out onto the cooling racks.
After another round of clean up and preparing tools and ingredients, it was time for the junior baker to take a good long break and for me to make the buttercream. This junior baker does not enjoy American buttercream as it is too sweet, so for him to really enjoy his creation, we decided to go with Italian meringue buttercream (IMBC). It’s less sweet, very creamy, and is easy to work with. Since the IMBC is basically boiling a syrup and whipping egg whites, there wasn’t much for this junior chef to help out with at this stage.
For this cake, I halved the recipe I used in the pull apart cupcake cake (link above). It ended up being a nearly perfect portion! After adding the butter to the mixture, my buttercream wasn’t coming together. Having made this several times now, I was a big confused and just kept whipping. It took about 10 minutes for me to realize that I had only prepared and added half the amount of butter I needed! I quickly grab a stick from the fridge, throw it on a plate, and send it spinning in the microwave for a couple of 10-second rounds to soften it. After adding the second stick of butter, the buttercream came together quickly and beautifully! Phew!
The junior baker wanted the buttercream to be orange. I did not have orange color (on purpose) and asked him which two colors we could combine to make orange. This is an easy way to work color lessons into baking. As he excitedly stated “yellow and red,” we grabbed the correct bottles of gel coloring and decided which order to add them to the buttercream. Once the colors were added, we set the mixer to run and watched as the yellow and red streaks started to combine into a light orange. Bouncing up and down with excitement, the junior baker proclaimed the color to be perfect so we stopped the mixer and grabbed our cookies. This was the moment the junior baker was waiting for. We crumbled the cookies into the buttercream. As we crumbled, we talked about the differences in adding big pieces vs. smaller pieces vs. crumbs. He decided for chunks instead of pieces. We added 3-4 cookie logs to the batter and folded the chunks into the buttercream.
Now for the new challenge, spreading the buttercream with large cookie chunks across the cake without ripping up the cake. Junior baker did a great job of spreading and our cake handled it very well.
Once the cake was iced, it was time to enjoy!
We asked the junior baker what he was going to call his cake. He proudly proclaimed “Chocolate chip cookie Halloween cake because it’s orange and black!” and so the dessert earned its name.
The cookie chunks ended up working really well with the icing and the cake for flavor and crunch. The bake ended up taking us all day instead of the few hours I itiniall thought but it was well worth it. This cake design was definitely a success and the junior baker has told everybody who would listen, including a very nice lady at the deli counter in the grocery store, about the cake he designed and baked.
This is a longer post than usual due to all the parts and adventures that came together to make this cake.
If you’ve ever perused the site Cake Wrecks, then you’re likely familiar with the naked mohawk-baby carrot jockeys. A friend and fellow fan of Cake Wrecks only ever had one request if she ever had a baby shower, and that was to have a naked mohawk-baby carrot jockeys cake. When the time came to plan the shower, she didn’t hesitate to ask me to create an homage to this cake for her. Her only direction was to change the carrot decorations to fish. How could I resist such a request?!
This bake presented many challenges for me. This would be my first carrot cake, first cream cheese icing, first time piping on a cake, first time trying to create fish, and first time transporting a decorated cake 2-3 hours away! Why is the transportation a challenge? Cream cheese icing of any type (American, Swiss, or Italian buttercream) is very soft which means that it needs to be kept in the fridge to hold up. Of course, the day I was traveling to the shower was going to be one of the sunniest and warmest days we’ve had in a while. After some quick research on recommendations on transporting cakes, I grabbed two large blue ice packs from the freezer and placed them in baggies to prevent them from getting the cake box wet. I placed each ice pack into an insulated grocery bag and then placed each end of the cake box into a bag. This created a make-shift cooler and it worked! The cake made it to its destination with no melting! Shout out to The Butcher’s Market of Charlotte for their awesome insulated bags!
Back to the cake. I decided to go with one of I Am Baker’s carrot cake recipes as it gets a lot of positive feedback and had a bunch of ingredients I would not have thought to have include in a carrot cake. For the cream cheese icing, I knew I wanted to utilize an Italian meringue buttercream (IMBC) since it holds up well and isn’t too sweet. Frequent contributor to my recipes, Ginger Barragan of Moonlight Bakes Bakery, shared her recipe for incorporating cream cheese into any meringue buttercream.
2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup (250 g) vegetable oil
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 3/4 cups (352 g) all-purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt (I always omit salt)
1 cup raisins
1 cup roughly chopped walnuts
2 1/4 cups finely grated carrots (6-8 medium sized carrots grated)
1/2 cup pineapple, can be from a can (crushed) or freshly diced
Heat the oven to 350°F.
Prepare baking pan(s) by buttering generously or coating with baking spray (I strongly encourage using parchment paper).
Beat the sugar, oil, vanilla, and eggs in a mixer until it is light yellow, about 3 mins.
In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt. Double sifting is recommended.
With the mixer on low speed, slowly and gently add in the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. This can be done by hand.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the raisins, nuts, carrots, and pineapple.
Divide the batter equally between the pans. For 2 7-inch rounds, bake for 55-60 mins or until a toothpick comes out mostly clean. A few crumbs is what you want for a moist cake. All to cool completely on a wire rack.
Some notes: I made a 9 x 13 sheet cake instead of rounds to mimic the original cake and for serving size. A good baking time for the sheet cake was 30-35 mins.
This is how my first cake came out:
So what went wrong? So many things.
I used pre-packaged shredded carrots instead of grated, so the cake did not have the right consistency to stay together.
I cut up pineapple rings into slices instead of using crushed pineapple.
I did not drain my pineapple slices after they had been sitting in my prep bowl, so more liquid was added to the batter, making the cake very moist.
I did not use parchment paper so, despite greasing the pan well, the center of the cake stuck.
I flipped the cake way too early so it was still warm and soft and came apart very easily. I had noticed the edges were sticking and got lost in trying to loosen them. Note to self: just leave the cake alone until it is cooled!
I took the night to think through what went wrong and to decide whether to try a different recipe and whether to do rounds instead of a sheet cake. Not one to let a recipe beat me, I woke up the next morning determined to tackle the same cake. Once a new batch of ingredients were in-hand, it was time to try again. I grated my carrots using both the large and small sides of the grater and did a small portion of diced carrot pieces to incorporate different levels of carrot bites in the cake, I drained my crushed pineapple, and I put down my parchment paper. When I opened the oven to check on whether the cake was done, I could see the difference. The cake had risen more and was no where near as damp as the first bake. I left my cake in the pan on the cooling racks until it was completely cooled. When the cake was ready to be flipped, I placed a large cutting board on top of it. Using a cutting board for the flip gets the cake on a good surface for trimming and moving in and out of the fridge for storage.
Once on the cutting board, I moved the cake to the fridge while I set up to make the buttercream. Cooling the cake makes it easier to cut with fewer crumbs. Once cooled, I trimmed all four edges to get a smoother rectangle shape. Then, back into the fridge it went while the buttercream was made.
8 oz cream cheese at room temperature
8 oz powdered sugar (start with 4 oz and then add to taste. I used all 8 oz.)
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups meringue buttercream (Yolanda Gampp’s recipe makes 6 cups, so you will have extra if that is the one you use)
Blend the cheese slowly with the paddle attachment or hand mixer until soft, scraping the bowl frequently.
Sift sugar and add to the cheese (I did not sift and it came together fine). Blend until smooth.
Blend in vanilla and buttercream.
After making the buttercream, portion it into different bowls if adding color.
Before piping, though, I took the cake out of the fridge, placed a cake board on the top of the cake, and flipped it. After taking the cutting board off the top of the cake slowly (the carrot cake is moist and stuck to the cutting board surface and I didn’t want to rip off the top by moving too fast), I was able to shift the cake around to center in on the board. I used an offset spatula to do a thin layer of icing all over the cake and the sides. This is known as a crumb coat. After coating, the cake went back into the fridge for the crumb coat to set. While it was setting, I colored some of the buttercream.
I added Wilton red no-taste icing color to a portion of the buttercream with the intent of making pink fish. The pink color came out great! The fish, however, did not. Not only did I approach the piping with only a rough idea of how to pipe fish (make one large blob – large enough for the plastic mohawk babies to sit on/in – of icing with a large piping tip and then use the same tip I used to make teeth in the sarlaac cake to make fins and tails) but I did not practice and had no experience in working with cream cheese icing. It gets softer the more it hangs out in the piping bag as you squeeze.
After taking the cake out of the fridge, yet again, it was time to slather on the white cream cheese buttercream. Add as much icing to the cake as you prefer. Some people prefer a larger ration of icing to cake while others prefer a thin layer of icing relative to cake. After smoothing out the edges, corners, and sides, I decided to add a border to the top and bottom just to jazz the cake up a bit. Here is where you start to see where the buttercream began to soften in the piping bag and some of the definition from the piping tip is lost. There are also some obvious areas where the piping was inconsistent. Since this was an homage to a Cake Wreck, the imperfections just made the cake even more perfect.
Then it was time to pipe fish. Oh, the pink fish. Someone described them as Seussical but to me, they ended up looking more like uteri than fish! How perfect for there to be naked mohawk babies popping out of pink uteri? The accidents with this cake really came together to create a more perfect cake for the recipient than I could have planned. Before placing the naked babies in their new homes, I realized I had a lot of white space left in the cake and figured I’d give writing a try. I was pretty pleased with how well I wrote out “Critter.” Critter is the nickname the couple came up with early in their pregnancy and it stuck. Since it was a fun cake, I decided to go with the nickname instead of the baby’s name or the more traditional “It’s a Girl!” or “Congratulations!”
So, with all of the trial, error, mistakes, and happy accidents, the cake was complete and the cake arrived at its destination in perfect condition!
A surprise inside cake looks simple enough. It’s a cake of any flavor with a design or different color cake inside of it. One complaint I’ve seen pop up in a lot of conversation about surprise inside cakes is that the design typically ends up dry since it’s baked twice. Having baked one now, I can see how easily that can happy but I also see room for tweaks to prevent that from happening.
For this experiment, I kept the cake simple so that I could focus on trying my hand at the technique. To figure out my approach, I checked out cakes by i am baker and My Cupcake Addiction. I love the colors in My Cupcake Addiction’s love heart cake and may try that as a rainbow surprise in a future surprise inside cake. For my first try, I opted to use a ghost cookie cutter to make Pinky, one of the Pac-Man ghosts.
Surprise Inside Cake
1 box of white cake mix
1 box of devil’s food cake mix
Prepare one box of white cake mix either by using the instructions on the box or by the modified box method substituting melted butter for oil and milk for water. Add desired color (in this case, I added red with a dab of black to get a muted pink color). Line a cookie sheet or sheet pan with parchment paper and pour batter onto pan. Bake at 350F for 23 mins (or as described on the box).
Place a piece of parchment paper on a cutting board large enough to place the cake on. When the cake comes out of the oven, place the paper and cutting board on top of the cake and flip it so that the cake sits on the board. Lift the pan and peel off the parchment paper that is now on top. Pop the cake on the board into the freezer for 10-30 mins to firm up. This will help prevent the cake from crumbling as much when you use the cutter. Select a cookie cutter for your design and make sure it’s small enough to sit in the cake pan you’re using for the final cake. My ghost cutter ended up being slightly taller than what I needed it to be. Remove the sheet cake from the freezer. Flip the cake over again and remove the parchment paper. Trim the top of the cake with a knife to remove the browned part of the cake and reveal the brighter colors underneath. Use the cutter to cutout shapes from the sheet cake. Cut the shapes close to each other to maximize the number of cutouts. Any extra make tasty snacks.
Arrange the cutouts on the same cutting board and pop the board back in the freezer for at least 30 mins (I did 30 but will let them freeze longer next time to better prevent the moist batter of the second cake from soaking into the cutouts).
Prepare the second box mix as above (either via the box or modified). Using a rubber spatula, place some of the batter on the bottom of a greased and floured bundt cake pan and spread it out to cover the bottom of the pan. My Cupcake Addiction suggests a half inch of batter. Bake this layer of batter at 350F for 7 mins.
Take the pan out of the oven and immediately spread a layer of raw batter on top of the baked layer in the pan. The new batter will thin out quickly since it’s going on top of hot cake. These layers of cake and batter will help to hold the cutouts in place. Take the cutouts out of the freezer and start placing them in the pan. The top of the cutout should be in the bottom of the pan (remember, the cake is upside-down in the pan). The cutouts can be arranged close to each other or with lots of space in between depending on how your want your slices to look. A more spaced out arrangement will result in not knowing whether you’ll get an all devil’s food slice or a slice with a surprise design when the cake is served. If you do a more crowded arrangement, leave some space for batter in between. Don’t press them together too tightly.
Place the rest of the batter into a large piping bag. Cut a wide tip at the bottom. Using the bag helps to get the batter between the cutouts and between the cutouts and the edges of the pan. Pipe the batter into all the sections around the cutouts. After filling the sides and in between, pipe the batter on the top of the cutouts to cover them. Since my ghost cutouts were a bit too tall, my batter did not completely cover them. I used a rubber spatula to try to coat exposed areas of cutouts with batter to encourage the cake to cover them all. When done, tap the pan on the counter a few times to get the batter to fill any gaps. Bake at 350F for 33-35 mins (or as long as directed on the box). Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 mins before flipping it over. The cake should release easily. When ready to serve, cut slices and enjoy the surprise image inside.
Cake scraps and extra cutouts from the white cake. Tasty snacks.
The batter didn’t quite cover the bottom of the ghosts, so my based ended up uneven. Once the cake was flipped, you’d have no idea this is how the bottom looked.
In 2019, I’m taking on some baking challenges with two other bakers in different states. The challenge for January is a pull apart cupcake cake. I opted for a fun but simple design for this, my first cupcake cake. To still make it a challenge, though, I tried my hand at making Italian meringue buttercream (IMBC). I’ve made American (ABC) and Swiss Meringue (SMBC) buttercreams before but not Italian.
The design I selected for the cake was taken from bluprint (formerly Craftsy). My version ended up utilizing 9 regular sized cupcakes and 20 mini cupcakes, all yellow cake. The nice thing about such a simple design is that you end up with plenty of extra cupcakes to snack on. One mistake I made was with the mini cupcakes.
The recipe for the Italian meringue buttercream is by Yolanda Gampps on HowToCakeIt.com. She has an excellent video up if you’re interested in seeing her techniques. Her recipe is easy to follow and should have you whipping up some IMBC in no time. If you haven’t tried IMBC before or aren’t sure if you have, it is less sweet than American buttercream (one of the most common types of buttercream in the U.S.) and a little less buttery than Swiss meringue. It’s a really smooth and light flavor as a base. It also takes coloring and flavorings really well. I added some raspberry extract to the purple portion and it was very good.
After making the buttercream and arranging your cakes, use a piping bag with a wide tip to pipe the outline of your design. Then fill in the shape with more buttercream and smooth it out with an offset spatula. This helps to keep some of the definition in your shape and prevents you from pushing cupcakes around while trying to dollop icing on them.
Lessons learned from my first go at a pull apart cake:
I need to be better about portioning out my buttercream colors. I ended up with far too much leftover blue buttercream and not near enough white buttercream to touch up the tentacles.
I need to bake my mini cupcakes longer. I under-baked them slightly, resulting in them being too moist and the wrappers pulling awkwardly away from the cakes after sitting overnight.
I forgot to put icing on the bottom of the large cupcakes before decorating them. Adding a dot of icing under each cupcake makes it harder for them to slide across the board and helps to hold them in place.
This was only my second time piping anything (the first being the teeth on the sarlacc cake). You can tell I was playing around with one of the piping tips due to the variation in the design of the purple icing on the tentacles.
Overall, the experiment was a success. The expectation of a yummy pull apart cake that resembled a jellyfish was met and now we have a taste for IMBC!
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
8 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into Tbsp-sized pieces, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and 1/2 cup water. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan.
While the sugar syrup is heating, put the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
When the syrup reaches 230°F on the candy thermometer, begin to whip the egg whites on medium/high speed. Whip until the egg whites are stiff.
When the syrup reaches 240°F, immediately remove the pan from the heat and, with the mixer still running, pour the syrup into the egg whites in a very thin stream. Pour the syrup between the sides of the bowl and the whisk.
Whip the meringue at high speed until thick and glossy and the bowl is no longer warm on the outside, about 8-12 mins.
With the mixer running, add the butter, a piece at a time, whipping until each piece is fully incorporated before adding the next. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula occasionally.
After all of the butter has been added, continue to whip the buttercream until it’s thick and smooth, 3-5 mins.
Beat in the vanilla.
Divide the buttercream into different bowls to fold in different colors and flavors.