Texas Sheet Cake

I’ve got to say, this recipe is perfect for parties. Not fancy dinner parties, but the kind of party where everyone brings a dish and plops it on a big table, and people wander around and occasionally dig in. The kind where kids will sneak extra desserts when they think their parents aren’t watching, then run off to eat them, sans utensils, and come back with their faces covered in tell-tale chocolate smears. And believe me, this Texas Sheet Cake will prompt even the most well-behaved child to do just that.

Texas Sheet Cake is a thin, tender cake, and the boiled frosting– poured over the hot cake and left to set– forms a fudgy layer on top that’s simultaneously firm and gooey, and incredibly addictive. In fact, I only make this for parties, because otherwise it’ll sit in my fridge for days, slowly dwindling as I cut off sliver after sliver… I will actually note that while the cake is a little delicate to eat out of hand when it’s warm or room-temperature, it firms up nicely when refrigerated, and I actually like it best frozen– the chewy texture of the frosting is to die for, and the airiness of the cake makes it easier to bite into than most frozen cakes, so feel free to serve it chilled!

As an added bonus, it can be made with pantry staples and without specialty equipment of any kind. You’ll need a saucepan, a bowl, a whisk, and an 18×13″ half-sheet pan– that’s it. Talk about easy!

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Strawberry Summer Cake

Strawberries are starting to flood the supermarkets, and not just any strawberries– huge strawberries that are actually ripe and delicious! I bought four pounds one day and had finished them before the week was out. And one of the things I used them in was this cake– billed by one of my favorite food bloggers as “tasting like summer.” I had to try it.

The cake is simple to make and rustic to look at, and uses a full pound of strawberries to really pack in the fruit flavor. While I’d prefer if it didn’t require the use of a mixer to cream the butter and sugar together, I’m willing to do it since the rest of the recipe is pretty low-fuss. The crumb is almost shortcake-y, and the sprinkling of sugar on top makes a delightful little crunch when you cut into it– but the fruit is the star. I’m going to try this next with peaches, but I’ll bet blueberries or raspberries would also be excellent.

The recipe takes almost an hour to bake (50 minutes total for me), and Deb insists that it’s even better the second day, so I’m going to start making this the night before as a breakfast cake. I think it would be excellent with a dollop of vanilla yogurt!

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Tahini Jumble Cake

This cake wasn’t so much a project as a thrown-together amalgamation of the leftovers from my sesame/tahini experiments over the past week. I had a bunch of sesame-caramel ganache from my sesame macarons, plus extra sesame seed brittle from the ice cream I made to go with my sesame chess pie, plus extra egg yolks from that same pie, plus a few extra macarons that I hadn’t gotten around to eating yet… what else could I do but make a cake? (I do have a history of doing this, you know)

I looked hard to find a yellow cake recipe that would use my three extra yolks and no more, and I did find one, but honestly I didn’t care for it– it was an oil-based cake rather than a butter-based cake, and while the oil made for a very moist crumb I just think that the recipe called for too much oil. The batter didn’t fully emulsify and I got small tunnels in the finished crumb, plus the cake was so rich that it seemed heavy. I won’t post the cake recipe here– I need to find a better one for when I have extra yolks– but I will post the fabulous tahini buttercream that I made to go with it, which turned out great. The tahini added a wonderful savoriness to the frosting that worked well with the salted caramel ganache and the sugary macarons.

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Flourless Pecan Cake

Pecans are definitely my favorite nuts– they have this wonderfully caramel-y flavor that adds richness to any recipe they’re a part of. Almonds are more versatile, and walnuts are cheaper, but it’s always pecans for me. Which is why, when I saw Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for a cake featuring a full pound of toasted pecans, I had to try it.

The recipe uses finely ground pecans instead of flour, with browned butter to amp up the caramel notes, and boy, is it delicious! It’s soft and moist, and intensely flavorful; the pecans add a somewhat rustic texture, but the complex flavor makes it sophisticated. I served mine with whipped cream and berries, but it would be amazing all by itself– I’ll eat mine with a nice cup of tea, but it would go equally well with a glass of dark beer, I think.

If you want to make this yourself, the two steps to watch out for are the browning of the butter– you need to be careful not to let it burn– and the whipping/folding of the egg whites to avoid deflation. The result is totally worth it.

Thanks again, Deb, for an amazing recipe!

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Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes

I was inspired to make these cupcakes by an episode of Nadiya Bakes, starring one of the winners of the Great British Baking Show, Nadiya Hussain. I enjoyed watching her on the original show, but I’m actually more impressed by her current work! In any event, I didn’t use her actual recipe, but I did use it as a jumping-off point for my own version, which turned out reasonably well. Honestly, I thought they had room for improvement, but multiple people have told me they were great as-is, so I guess you’ll have to decide!

The concept is that you take a golden Oreo and put it in the bottom of a cupcake liner, topped with a single whole strawberry. Then you pour vanilla cake batter over it and bake the cupcakes that way. Topped with a strawberry buttercream flavored with freeze-dried strawberries, the fruity flavor really comes through! That being said, I found that the Oreo got very hard after being baked, which was not to my taste– I did overbake the cupcakes a bit, which may have contributed to the issue, but don’t be surprised if your Oreo toasts up and gets extremely crunchy!

I will note that this cake batter must be essentially foolproof, because despite my putting the ingredients together in completely the wrong order, messing up the amount of liquid, and over-baking the batter because I forgot to set a timer, it still turned out well! As for the frosting, it was fabulous and I will add it to my permanent recipe file– it’s that good!

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Blood Orange Polenta Cake

Blood oranges are in season, and I never tire of cutting into them to see that gorgeous inside. When I saw a bag on sale at Trader Joe’s I knew I wanted to bake something that showed off the beautiful color, so I cobbled together some recipe ideas from online to come up with this– a moist, dense cake that emphasizes the oranges themselves.

I’ll start off by admitting that this cake, while impressive to look at and tasty to eat, was not my favorite dessert in the world. It was pleasantly rustic and lasted forever without going stale, but it wasn’t quite sweet enough for me (I think I over-caramelized the sugar, making the caramel a touch bitter) and not as moist as I’d hoped. It did display my blood oranges nicely, though, so props for that! I think this works better as a breakfast-style cake, served with some vanilla yogurt or sweetened ricotta on the side, rather than a real dessert. That being said, it would make a fabulous addition to your brunch table, so feel free to give it a shot if you like bitter orange!

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Aardman’s Orange Jelly Cake

Lately my daughter has been watching the show Shaun the Sheep, by Aardman Animations (of Wallace and Gromit fame). During an episode entitled “The Farmer’s Llamas,” her eye was immediately caught by this cake, which is featured only for a few moments:

She was so interested in it that in a fit of reckless abandon, I promised to make it for her once she’d achieved a specific level of proficiency in one of her school activities. And here we are.

One thing I noticed about the cake was that it’s really not a cake at all– it’s a molded jelly dessert. You can tell that the top tier is pure jelly, the middle one is jelly with orange slices in it, and the bottom one is molded jelly with some kind of cream mixed in to make it more opaque (it can’t be cake, it’s too smooth). However, while we enjoy gelatin desserts we like cake better in our house, so we decided to compromise.

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Apple Pie Cake

So last fall we went apple picking. And you know what happens when you pick apples– you eat a bunch the first week, then the remaining apples just languish in the bag until you can find something to do with them. And since we had a lot of apples, several of them languished for quite a while…

I finally decided that it was time to use up the last few apples, so I went in search of a suitable recipe that I hadn’t tried before– and found this one! It’s apparently a copycat of an apple pie they serve at Disneyworld, and it’s pretty tasty! You start with a pie crust, then fill it with pre-steamed apples (to avoid them getting too juicy during baking) and a thick cake batter. It turns out beautifully golden-brown on top, and the addition of a layer of powdered sugar gives it just the right amount of extra sweetness.

Personally, I cut a corner and used a refrigerated pie crust, but you can make your own if you prefer. I find that using pre-made crusts gets you a thinner layer of crust, which I like in this recipe– too thick and it might end up stodgy-seeming with the extra cake batter in there as well.

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Tres Leches Cake

I can’t believe it’s been years since I first made this cake– I fell in love with it the first time I made it, but like so many recipes, I forgot about it while immersed in the search for new ones! In any event, a tres leches cake is a simple sponge cake that’s soaked in “three milks”– evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and regular milk– to make it ultra-moist despite the lack of fat in the cake itself.

The cake is a basic sponge without any butter or oil in it– just egg yolks for fat, with egg whites and some baking powder for extra lift. Amazingly, despite the large quantities of liquid poured over the cake after baking, it doesn’t get soggy, per se– it’s full of moisture, but the spongy texture of the cake keeps it from softening into mush. Instead, it’s just rich and refreshing all at once, somehow. Topping it with extra whipped cream and just a whisper of cinnamon is just gilding the lily…

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Multilayered Peanut Butter/Chocolate Cheesecake

PBchoc-cheesecakeAs you may have noticed, every year for my husband’s birthday I try out another recipe featuring peanut butter and chocolate– his favorite flavor combination! This year is no exception! Not content with a simple cake with frosting, I decided to go in a slightly different direction and make a chocolate-peanut-butter cheesecake– but not just any cheesecake! A layered cheesecake, with a chocolate wafer crust and a shiny ganache glaze, adapted from my favorite food blogger, Deb at Smitten Kitchen.

Granted, her recipe was a chocolate/coffee cheesecake, but it was simple to adapt by replacing the espresso with a few tablespoons of peanut butter, making for rich and decadent dessert. Annoyingly, my layers tended to separate at one or two spots when sliced– I’m betting my filling was just slightly overbaked, making it too dry to adhere easily– but the finished cake was still very impressive, and very delicious! Warning: the cake looks small on a serving platter, but even very thin slices can be tough to finish due to their richness!

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