Friday, May 31, 2013

hummingbird cake with cream cheese icing

when it comes to southern desserts, red velvet cake and chess pie are popular choices.  let's not forget banana pudding, it is always on that list too.  and it wasn't until i moved to nashville that i even heard of a hummingbird cake.  since learning to make one, i must say, it is one of my favorite cakes.  

when describing a hummingbird cake to someone unfamiliar with it, i always compare it to a carrot cake.  the two cakes have an oil base with lots of raw produce and nuts in them.  a carrot cake is a blend of raw carrots, pineapple, shredded coconut and walnuts while a hummingbird cake is a combination of bananas and pineapple with pecans.  both cakes have a generous amount of cinnamon in the batter and they are both decorated with cream cheese frosting.  but honestly, they don't taste anything alike except that they are both mouth watering good!

since i was taking this cake to a pot luck dinner, i decided to make it easier on everyone; i baked it in a tube pan rather than the traditional 3 round cake pans.  the result was a huge cake that fed our large group easily.  

so here are a few hints.  do grease and flour the pan-you will be sorry otherwise!  the bananas should be ripe but not mushy.  the perfect state of ripeness; a few black freckles and an obvious banana scent before you actually open the skin.  ripe pineapple will give the best flavor but you can use a small 8 ounce can of crushed in a pinch, just realize it will not add the same amount of flavor as the fresh.  whether you use fresh or canned pineapple, make sure you add the juice too-don't drain it or the cake will be on the dry side.

hummingbird party cake
serves 16 or more

2 cups pecan pieces
2-3 bananas, ripe
1 1/2 cups fresh pineapple chunks, about 1/2 pound
2 cups light brown sugar, packed
1 cup canola oil 
3 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 recipe of cream chess frosting

preheat the oven to 350.  grease a large tube pan and dust it with flour.  place the pecans on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant, about 5-7 minutes.  measure out 1 cup for the cake batter and reserve the rest for the garnish.

place the bananas and pineapple into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the fruit is chopped to the size of peas.  pour into to a mixing bowl.  add the 1 cup of pecans, brown sugar, oil, eggs, vanilla and salt.  whisk until blended.  place the flour, baking soda and cinnamon into a sifter and sift over the batter in the bowl.  fold this all together and pour it into the prepared pan.  

bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes.  allow the cake to cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before taking it out of the pan.  to remove the cake, place a cooling rack over the top of the cake and invert.  set the rack down and remove the cake pan carefully.  allow it to cool completely before frosting.

cream cheese frosting
4 ounces of regular cream cheese
2 cups powdered sugar, sift after measuring
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup toasted pecans (from the cake recipe-not additional)
cream the cheese with the sugar and vanilla.  spread it over the sides and top of the cake using a spoon to create swirls.  sprinkle the nuts over the top of the cake.  can be refrigerated but let it come to room temp before serving.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

orange-date walnut loaf

sometimes, you just have to do something different.  generally, when i go out to the garden, i take a cake with me.  nine out of ten cakes are some configuration of a bundt; they are baked in one of the many fluted/tube pans on my kitchen shelf.  not this time.  this cake was baked in a large loaf pan.

over the years, i have baked date-nut bread many times.  it is a favorite of my husband and me for that matter.  when i realized that i had a large tub of dates in the fridge, hidden there by my husband so that he could snack on them secretly, i knew i had to make a loaf of bread.

orange date-walnut loaf 
1 (9x5x3) loaf
(a little shameless self promotion, can't help it...)

1 cup walnut pieces
6 ounces unsalted butter, soft
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup good quality wildflower honey
1 orange-zested
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup chopped dates
2/3 cup sour cream

preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour a 9x5x3 loaf pan and set it aside.  place the walnuts into a baking dish and toast them until fragrant, about 5 minutes.

in a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, sugar, honey, orange zest and salt until fluffy, about 3 minutes.  add the eggs, one at a time and continue to beat until once again light and fluffy-another 2 minutes or so.  scrape the bowl well.

sift the flour and baking soda over the batter in the bowl.  fold it in by hand a few times.  add the walnuts, dates and sour cream and fold the batter until it is evenly mixed.  scrape the batter into the loaf pan.  bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about an hour.  immediately turn the loaf out onto a rack and allow it to cool completely, if you can.  serve slices with soft butter if you like.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

almond poppyseed bundt cake

poppy seeds are often overlooked when it comes to sweets.  they add a mild, nutty flavor and a wonderful crunch to cakes and scones.  and of course, a little chuckle when you realize that you have just spent the last 15 minutes talking to people with the tiny little black seeds wedged between your teeth.

honestly, i love to add poppy seeds to a cake flavored with almond paste and lemon zest.  it adds a nice crunchy surprise to the texture of the cake.  lemon zest also serves to brighten the flavor a bit too.  this is the perfect solution to the "what can i make" dilemma when fresh fruit is still out of season or you just want to try something different.

almond paste is another great staple to stock in the "larder".  it adds nice flavor, a little richness and moisture.  to purchase some, look for the little cans in the baking aisle of the supermarket.  they will be mixed in with the cans of pie fillings.  open the can at both ends and push the cylinder of paste out.  cut it in half and then cut each half into 4 equal pieces and wrap each one separately. store the pieces in the freezer and anytime you need some, you will have pre-measured 1 ounce pieces that will thaw quickly.

almond poppy seed bundt cake
makes 1 large bundt cake serving about 16

6 ounces unsalted butter, softened
3 ounces almond paste
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest.
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
3 1/3 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 1/2 cups sour cream
glaze, recipe follows

preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour a bundt pan and set it aside. place the butter into the bowl of a food processor.  crumble the almond paste up and add the pieces to the food processor with sugar, lemon zest and salt.  pulse to combine the mixture.  process until smooth and then add the eggs, one at a time scraping the bowl as you go.  dump this mixture into a large bowl. sift the flour and baking powder over the top of the batter.  sprinkle the poppy seeds over the flour mixture.  fold it in a few times.  add the sour cream and fold until no streaks remain.  scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about an hour.  cool the cake in the pan for at least 15-20 minutes.  invert the cake onto a rack and allow it to cool completely before decorating.  glaze and serve!

lemon glaze
2-3 tablespoons sliced almonds
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds

while the cake is baking, place the almonds in a bake proof dish and toast them in the oven.  such a small amount will toast quickly so keep an eye on them-takes 5 minutes or less.  place the sugar in a sifter or a mesh strainer and sift to remove the lumps.  add the lemon juice and whisk until smooth.  place the cake on a serving plate and drizzle the glaze over the cake.  sprinkle the almonds and poppy seeds over the top of the cake.  allow the glaze to set before serving, at least 30 minutes. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

fresh apple cake with dried figs

you have to love a cake that mixes up quickly and easily.  especially nice is a recipe that can be manipulated to include many different flavors.  don't like apples? use pears.  not a fig fan, fine, use dried cranberries.  not sure what to use that can of roasted hazelnut oil for? bake this cake with it.  just use what you've got.  think outside the box; carrots or zucchini could also stand in for the apples.  the only caution, stay away from something that will add a lot of liquid or acid.  that means fresh strawberries and pineapple chunks may not give desirable results.

fresh apple cake with dried figs
makes one bundt cake serving about 12

2 medium granny smith apples, peeled and chopped 
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1 cup oil-any kind suitable for a cake
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla (because it blends well with figs, can be omitted)
2 teaspoons lemon zest
3/4 cup diced, dried figs-i used mission
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour the bundt pan and set aside.  place the walnuts in a baking dish and bake until fragrant, about 5-7 minutes.  set them aside to cool.  in a large mixing bowl, whisk the oil with the sugar and the eggs.  add the vanilla and lemon zest and whisk to combine.  add the apples, walnuts and figs and stir to combine.  place the flour, baking soda and cardamom in a sifter or a mesh strainer and sift over the batter in the bowl.  fold the batter together and scraped it into the prepared pan.  bake until firm on top and a tester comes out clean, about an hour.  allow the cake to cool in the pan for 20-30 minutes.  carefully invert onto a rack or serving plate to cool.  this is a tender cake so try not to handle it while it is hot.  due to the moisture of the apples, it is best if served within a day or two; any longer and it becomes a bit sticky and soggy at room temperature.  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

for the love of bees

we have a colony of bees in our front yard.  to say it is a conversation starter is an understatement.  it stops people as they drive by the house.  to hear someone ask about honey for sale is not surprising.  we started the colony last year in april and after wintering, they have built up an amazingly strong hive.  we found lots of honey both above and below the queen excluder.  we also found larvae, capped brood and drone brood.  
the girls are filling the comb with honey

look at them go...

drone brood

larvae being cared for by the girls-they will be capping them soon so that they can pupate.

yes, there is honey in our future...

Monday, May 20, 2013

semolina bundt cake with lemon and thyme

when it comes to bundt cakes, the ones with a pound cake texture are always the easiest to unmold and slice.  if they are scented with lemon and herbs, as this one is, they also seem to be favorites among my fellow garden volunteers.  right now, the herb garden is bursting with thyme in bloom which made adding a few sprigs to this cake the obvious choice.

since i bring a cake whenever i go to the garden, i have to keep it interesting.  that stands to reason for the people eating it as much as it does for me, the person baking it.  while looking through the larder in search of inspiration, i came across my container of semolina flour.  then i stumbled upon the bag of almond flour in the freezer.  semolina flour and almond flour both add to the texture without changing it  visibly.  the color of the semolina and the almond flour after it is toasted accentuate the golden hue of the cake.  freshly grated lemon zest and thyme leaves give it a wonderful aroma as well as flavor and make this a great cake for a picnic.  if you want to go a little crazy, try using slabs of this cake in place of a biscuit or angelfood cake cups for a wonderful shortcake dessert; the cake flavor would blend beautifully with fresh berries.

semolina bundt cake with lemon and thyme
one 10-12 cup bundt serving 12-16

1/2 cup almond flour
1 3/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 cup semolina flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons freshly picked thyme leaves
4 eggs
1 1/4 cup buttermilk

preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour the bundt pan and set it aside.  in a small ovenproof dish or pan, spread the almond flour out and bake it until golden, about 5 minutes.  set aside to cool.  place all of the dry ingredients into a bowl and whisk it together to remove any lumps in the flour.  add the cooled almond flour and stir it in.

in a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with the sugar, lemon zest and thyme leaves until fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.  add the eggs, one at a time and scrape the bowl as you go.  add the dry ingredients to the bowl and by hand using a spatula or spoon, fold them in a few times.  sprinkle the buttermilk over the mixture and continue folding the batter together by hand until no streaks remain.  scape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted, about 45-50 minutes.  allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes and then invert it onto a rack to finish cooling.  to serve the cake, give it a light dusting of powdered sugar.  

this cake recipe is very versatile; try substituting different citrus fruits or herbs as well as nut flours.  orange, rosemary, lime, thyme, lavender, basil, pecan meal-you get the idea!  the list goes on and on...and one more thing, have i mentioned how much i love the herb garden?  best kitchen "tool" ever!

Friday, May 17, 2013

currant-rosemary bread

the rosemary put on quite a show in the herb garden.  not only was it about 4 feet tall, it was covered in blooms.  the honeybees were working those flowers like crazy too.  not one person walked through without noticing the shrub, yes shrub-it is that big now.  hard to believe that just two years ago, it was in a tiny little plastic pot from the nursery.  we only placed it in the bed to fill a hole.  if only i had this much luck with everything i plant!

with the bumper crop of rosemary, i decided to make a yeast bread rather than a cake to take to the garden.  then, while skimming through some of my cookbooks, i found an interesting recipe in a book that has been living on my shelf but has seen very little use.  i cannot remember when i bought this copy of beth hensperger's "bread for all seasons" but the recipe for rosemary raisin bread was the perfect compromise; a yeast raised coffee cake that is both bread and cake.  brilliant, just brilliant i say!  best part, very little kneading!!!  best part, the bread toasts nicely so don't worry about it getting stale, just slice it and toast it.

since i prefer currants, i used them in place of the raisins and i gave them a good soak first.  it is important that you plump up the currants in some hot water or they will dry out the bread.  first, measure the currants while they are small and dry.  place them in a pan and cover them with water.  bring the water to a boil over medium heat.  immediately turn off the heat, remove the pan from the burner and allow the currants to sit in the water until they cool.  drain off any excess liquid before using the currants.  while the recipe calls for 1-2 teaspoons of dried rosemary, i used fresh leaves from the garden.  since the flavor of dried herbs are usually a little stronger, i would generally say to use half but for this recipe, i think using more of the fresh is a good thing.  the fact that it is softer than dry rosemary is also a plus since there aren't any twig like pieces to pick out.  

currant rosemary bread
1 large bundt or tube cake serving 16

2 cups currants
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
pinch of sugar
1 cup warm water, 105-115 degrees
5 1/4 to 5 3/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped a bit
2/3 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 eggs

plump the currants by covering them with water in a sauce pan and bringing them to a boil.  immediately turn off the heat and set the pan aside to cool, 20 minutes or so.  strain them well before using.  in a small bowl, combine the yeast with the pinch of sugar and the warm water.  stir to dissolve and then let it sit until foamy, about 10 minutes.  spray a large bundt or tube pan with grease, or brush it with some oil, set it aside.

in a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine 1 cup of the flour, dry milk, sugar, rosemary, salt, olive oil and the eggs.  beat this mixture until smooth.  add the yeast mixture and 1 1/2 cups more of the flour.  beat for 1 minute and then let it sit for 20-30 minutes.  add the currants, and the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until a soft dough forms that clears the sides of the bowl.  if necessary, mix by had at this point.  the dough is capable of absorbing a lot of flour so add it cautiously-it should not stick to the bowl much and will no longer have a "wet" appearance.

turn out the dough onto a floured work surface and knead until smooth and springy, about 3 minutes.  if needed, add additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time to prevent sticking.  form the dough into a cylinder that will fill the tube pan evenly.  you can place it in the pan and squeeze it and shape it to fit the pan evenly.  brush it with a little oil, cover with plastic and allow it to rise at room temp until double, about 2 hours.  about 20 minutes ahead of baking, preheat the oven to 350.

bake the cake until it has filled the pan, is evenly browned and firm to the touch.  this will take about 45 minutes to an hour, a cake tester can be used to check the interior.  when done, turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool completely.  serve with softened butter and jam if you like.  the leftovers make amazing toast too so none should go to waste!

Monday, May 13, 2013

pear cranberry crumb cake with almonds

the calendar says spring but the weather says fall.  we seem to be having cooler mornings as if it were heading into fall.  why just last night, they issued a frost warning for our area.  if only our last frost date hadn't been a month ago, i might not have minded it so much.  we have been working hard in the garden and beds have been filled with plants that cannot withstand such temperatures.  that said, it should not surprise anyone that i am baked a cake laced with pears and cranberries rather than the typical sour cherries or strawberries found this time of year.  
how can you not love a crumb topped cake?  especially if it is hiding a layer of spiced fruits!  if you take it a step further and add chunks of almonds to the crumb topping and a little almond paste to the cake-you have a heavenly excuse to put down the garden tools and take a cake break!

when cranberries come into season, i always tuck a few bags into the freezer.  it is a nice surprise when i am digging around in search of inspiration for a cake.  keeping a can of almond paste in the closet is a good idea too.  when i purchase a new can, i open both ends, take out the neat cylinder of paste and cut it into 4 equal pieces.  since the can contains 8 ounces of paste, i end up with 4 two ounce pieces.  by wrapping each in plastic and storing them in a container in the freezer, i always have some available.  and that means i always have another tasty inspiration for cake.

pear cranberry crumb cake with almonds
1 (8") square cake serving 12-16

crumb topping
1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter cut into cubes
1/4 cup chopped almonds

fruit filling
1 large, ripe pear-i used a d'anjou
1/2 cup cranberries, fresh or frozen and thawed
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

almond cake
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 ounces almond paste-at room temp
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
2 1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
2 1/4 cup baking powder
1 cup milk

preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour an 8" square baking pan and set it aside.  make the crumb topping by combining the flour, oats, brown sugar and cinnamon.  using your fingers, rub the butter cubes into the dry ingredients until it begins to form crumbs.  take care not to go to far with this step or the crumb layer will be gummy; they should still be somewhat free flowing and a mixture of loose dry ingredients and small to medium clumps with the oats still obvious.  add the almonds and toss it together gently.  set this aside.

peel the pear and cut it into cubes.  combine it with the remaining ingredients and set it aside while you prepare the cake layer.

to make the cake, cream the butter with the almond paste, sugar and salt until it is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  add the eggs slowly and scrape the bowl as you go.  place the flour and baking powder into a sifter or a mesh strainer and sift it over the batter.  fold it a couple times and then sprinkle the milk over the top.  fold this together until no streaks remain and then scrape it out of the bowl and into the prepared pan.  spread the batter out in an even layer.  top the cake evenly with the fruit and the sprinkle the crumbs over the fruit so that it is covered but peeks out in spots.  bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, about an hour and 15 minutes.  cool the cake in the pan for 20 minutes.  to remove the cake from the pan, place a baking sheet over the top of the cake and invert it.  the pan should slide right off.  place your serving plate over the bottom of the cake and invert it again.  now go out to the garden and eat cake!

if you need me, i will be out in the garden with cake...

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

floral baby cakes; twd/bwj

this weeks tuesdays with dorie challenge was upside-down baby cakes with rhubarb.  sounds tasty doesn't it?  knowing that i would need fresh rhubarb for the recipe, i went to the grocery store and what they were asking $5.99 per pound for wasn't worth a dime.  generally, "my neighborhood kroger" (as they so like to call themselves) carries frozen, sliced rhubarb but they no longer do so.  the recipe lists a selection of fruits to substitute but nothing sounded interesting.  while looking at the photo for the recipe, i noticed that the cake pictured was topped with sage leaves, that caught my attention.  further reading revealed a paragraph at the end of the recipe on making the cakes with scented geraniums-bingo!  well, kinda sorta.  i do not have any scented geraniums.  but i do have an herb garden that has many plants in bloom: sage, thyme, borage and rosemary are all covered in blooms.  borage won.

to see the recipe, visit the blogpage of our host this week, erin, of when in doubt-leave it at 350.  to see what all of the other participants made, visit the tuesdays with dorie website.

my husband likes to surprise me with food gifts.  for christmas, he tucked a bottle of kewda water, also called kewra water, into my stocking and i have been waiting for a recipe to use it in.  it is very floral, like rosewater on steroids and it was the perfect addition to my little cakes.  if you want to try some, head to an indian market since it is a popular addition to indian pastries and desserts.

the recipe is pretty versatile, the kewda water was an easy 1 to 1 substitution for the suggested rose water.  the recipe also called for creme fraiche or sour cream-i had neither and used buttermilk with perfect results.

once the simple butter cake recipe was mixed, i gently dropped a scoop of batter over each flower in the  cups of the mini muffin pan.  if you use edible flowers, be sure they have not been treated with pesticides.  since the borage flowers came from my garden, that wasn't an issue.  my mini cakes baked up quickly, about 12 minutes at 350 using a heaped #70 scoop per cup.

pretty little cakes, perfect for a trip to the garden-i always bring a cake to share!

Monday, May 6, 2013

guess again cake and the importance of following directions...

there are few scents as intoxicating as the smell of a spice cake in the oven.  immediately, the house feels warm and inviting.  once it comes out of the oven, very few can resist the urge to grab a knife and slice a thick slab.  just be sure to take it out of the pan first...and speaking of that pan, if the directions call for you to grease and flour it, please, for the love of cake, heed the warning.

sad but true, i did not do as the directions instructed and the results were a lovely cake coated pan.  sigh.
doubly sad since not only do i bake for a living, but that recipe was one of my own; i broke my own rule.  my excuse, i was in a hurry.   even worse, i needed the cake for a meeting and there was no way to hide this.  so, off i went, head hanging low and my lame excuse at the ready for anyone who dared to ask.

funny thing is, no one seemed to think much of it.  sure, they were a little surprised that i could have such a mishap, but none were the least bit shocked.  it was if they knew something i didn't and had just realized...regardless, i came home with a tray holding just a few small chunks and some crumbs.  apparently, they liked it.

when they learned the cake had a secret ingredient, they went back for a little more.  it was fun making them guess.  spice cakes are easy to hide unusual ingredients in since the spices tend to mask the flavors of the other ingredients.  are you curious about that ingredient?  well, believe it or not, it was a can of crushed tomatoes.  once baked, the tomatoes are not obvious in either appearance or taste.  they do add some wonderful color and lots of moisture.

guess again tomato cake with pecans and raisins
makes 1 (10-12) cup bundt pan serving about 16

3/4 cup golden raisins
3/4 cup pecan pieces
3 cups cake flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 ounces unsalted butter, softened
2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 can (14.5 ounce) crushed tomatoes-make sure they do not contain things like garlic and herbs!

preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour the bundt pan.  place the raisins in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to a gentle boil.  remove from the heat and allow them to cool completely in the water.  drain well.  

toast the pecans on a baking sheet for 5-7 minutes, allow to cool before using.  in a mixing bowl, combine the cake flour, baking soda and the spices.  in a large mixing bowl, beat the butter, brown sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  add the eggs and mix completely, scrape the bowl and mix it in.  place the dry ingredients into a sifter or mesh strainer and sift them over the butter mixture.  fold it a few times by hand.  pour the entire can of tomatoes over the top of the batter and fold it all together.  fold in the raisins and pecans and scrape it into the prepared pan.  bake until a tester comes out clean, about an hour.  cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes.  invert onto a rack and allow it to cool completely.  

Friday, May 3, 2013

buttermilk cake with fudge frosting: my favorite birthday cake

when it comes to birthday cake, i love a homemade cake.  homemade from scratch that is.  people are always scared to bake one for me though.  they think that because i can bake, that anything they do would never be good enough.  then they either make one from a mix or buy one from the grocery store.  4somehow, that is supposed to be better than anything they could make.  i will never understand that logic, and those cakes will never convince me that they couldn't do any better-just that they weren't willing to try.

good cake isn't hard to make.  you just have to follow a some important rules:
1.  use heavy gauge pans for even baking.
2.  preheat the oven for at least 20 minutes and use an oven thermometer to check the temp.
3.  read the entire recipe, twice, and check to make sure you have everything needed before you start.    
4.  room temperature means that the ingredients are about 70 degrees so let the cold stuff sit out for a    
5.  measure properly.
6.  use a timer rather than glancing at the clock and winging it.
7.  test the cake for doneness near the minimum baking time-if it says 40-45 minutes, check it at about    
     38-40 minutes and adjust the additional baking time as needed.
8.  cold cake layers are easier to frost and slice but cakes should always be served at room temp; let it sit
     out before serving if you had it in the fridge.

vanilla buttermilk cake with instant fudge frosting
makes an 8 inch triple layer cake serving 12-16

4 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
3 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces unsalted butter, at room temp
frosting, recipe follows

preheat the oven to 350.  spray 3 (8") heavy gauge metal cake pans, line them with paper(wax or parchment) and spray again.  

whisk the eggs, yolk, vanilla and 1/4 cup of the buttermilk to combine.  set aside.  place the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl.  with the mixer on low speed, blend the ingredients to combine.  with the mixer off, add the soft butter and the remaining buttermilk.  mix on low to blend.  turn the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  add the egg mixture in 3 additions, scraping the bowl well as you go and mixing only to combine thoroughly.  divide the batter between the 3 pans and bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, 28-32 minutes.  allow the cake to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, turn out on to a rack and cool completely before frosting it.

the layers can be wrapped and cooled in the fridge overnight to make frosting easier but serve it at room temperature for the best flavor and texture.

instant fudge frosting
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
4 1/2 cups powdered sugar, no sifting needed!
12 ounces unsalted butter, softened
6 tablespoons half and half
1 tablespoon vanilla

using a large capacity food processor, place all of the ingredients in the bowl and pulse to combine.  allow the machine to run and process the frosting until it is smooth and glossy.  

to frost the cake, place one layer, domed side down, on a cake plate.  top it with 3/4 cup of the frosting and spread it to the edges of the layer.  top it with the next layer and repeat the process.  place the top layer on the cake and using the remaining frosting, frost the sides and top of the cake.  if you would like to pipe a border or other decorations, be sure to set aside about 3/4 cup of frosting to use in a piping bag.  

adapted from my first book, sky high