I attended a tea party recently– the best kind of tea party, with tiered servers and tiny sandwiches and itty-bitty desserts of all kinds– so of course I had to bring something of my own to contribute. The more elaborate dishes were already taken care of, so I thought it would be nice to have a plateful of relatively simple tea cakes on the table.
I immediately thought of friands and financiers– two traditional French cakes made with almond meal that I’ve always wanted to try– but the guest list included some nut allergies, so those were out. Still, I figured that I could use brown butter (another traditional component of French cakes) for flavor and a high sugar content to get a touch of chewiness, and with a little searching found a recipe that I thought might work as a base.
So remember when I made the three-tiered Pawprint Cake for my daughter’s birthday? At the time I wasn’t sure quite how much cake I would need in each color, so I ended up with extra layers– one 6″ layer and one loaf pan’s worth of pink cake, to be exact. I wrapped them in foil, froze them, and figured I’d find some other use for them eventually. That “eventually” arrived this weekend, when after buying several multi-packs of Pocky in various flavors to use for Valentine’s Day gifts for the kindergarten class, the teacher emailed everyone asking that we not give edible items for the occasion. (sigh)
Great, what was I supposed to do with 20+ packs of Pocky? Other than eat them, of course? But then it occurred to me that I had Pocky, I had cake, and I had Valentine’s Day coming up– of course I could put them all together to make a fabulous dessert!
So remember how last year I let my daughter tell me what she wanted her birthday cake to look like? This year I didn’t even have a chance to ask– she handed me a sketch one day and informed me that this was what I’d be making. It had three tiers (!), was decorated with berries and green icing, and had a fake warning on the outside saying that it most certainly did NOT hide any surprises inside… or did it?
Apparently she decided that what she wanted was a hidden pawprint to surprise her guests. It had to be pink, and it had to show only when the cake was cut into. While I had a general idea as to how to get this done, I turned to the internet and was happy to find a tutorial to give me some details as to how it could be accomplished! Here it is:
I’m not going to bother posting too many step-by-step instructions because honestly, the video is pretty good at explaining what to do.
This frosting really is fantastic– it’s light and creamy, silky and smooth, and it has a nicely chocolate-y flavor without being cloying.
Unlike my favorite Vanilla Frosting, which has a thickened flour/cornstarch base sweetened with granulated sugar, this frosting uses powdered sugar for sweetness; however, it avoids the underlying grittiness of powdered sugar frostings by dissolving the powdered sugar in a cocoa slurry made with boiling water. The result is a perfectly smooth frosting without a trace of grit– plus, the water itself cuts the butteriness of the frosting and allows it to whip up into a light and fluffy mass that’s perfect for spreading over a cake. I really just can’t say enough wonderful things about this frosting, so go ahead and make it for your next cake– I promise you won’t be sorry.
So… about the title. I know, the word “mayonnaise” doesn’t exactly inspire confidence when applied to a cake recipe, but using mayonnaise in cakes is actually pretty common, and makes sense– after all, what is mayonnaise but oil, eggs, and a little acid? And when you’re trying to add richness to a cake without adding dairy (sour cream is my usual go-to for stuff like this), it sounds like a great option.
I made a huge batch of cupcakes– half chocolate, half yellow cake– for a joint birthday party this winter, and when I say “huge” I mean “100+ guests HUGE.” And one of the birthday girls was allergic to dairy, so rather than single her out by making her a few “special” cupcakes, I decided to make the chocolate cupcakes dairy-free in their entirety.
I do have a dairy-free chocolate cake recipe that I use for all of my standard chocolate cakes, but honestly, when it came to making several dozen cupcakes I decided that it would actually be easier (if not cheaper) to start with cake mix. Duncan Hines chocolate fudge cake mix is naturally dairy-free, it was on sale at the grocery store, and I didn’t have to worry about measuring out dry ingredients or buying expensive cocoa. Works for me! All I needed to do was doctor it up!
Every year for Thanksgiving, we go to my aunt’s house for Thanksgiving dinner– and every year, I bring some kind of baked good to share. Over the years, I’ve developed some criteria to maximize people’s enjoyment of my creation: It has to keep well at room temperature, because the fridge is full already. It has to be easy and neat to eat, so people don’t have to get out plates or forks to get a piece. And it has to be a cake or loaf of some kind (rather than individually-portioned cookies, etc.) because while people are sometimes reluctant to grab an entire cookie or cupcake between meals, they’re always happy to slice off just a teeny-weeny bit to snack on as they pass by.
This bundt cake is perfect for the occasion– it’s got a dense, fine crumb that lets it hold together well when people pick up a slice, it’s not so sweet or decadent that people feel guilty about grabbing some, and it’s appropriately festive, being chock-full of cranberries and pecans. And yes, the flavor combination may sound familiar from my Cranberry-Orange Walnut Muffin recipe, but this cake is a lot richer and denser than the light, fluffy muffins, making it just the right dessert for a family event.
You know how sometimes you wake up in the morning, with a long day of doing nothing in front of you, and you feel like having an indulgent breakfast? It doesn’t happen very often for me (at least not the “doing nothing” part), but recently I found myself with just such a day, and decided to take advantage of it. But what to make? Pancakes weren’t special enough, I didn’t have any good bread to make french toast, and we didn’t have any good omelette fillings in the fridge. I scrolled through my list of bookmarked breakfast ideas when I came across a recipe for “breakfast puffs.”
Breakfast puffs (also referred to as “french breakfast puffs” or “doughnut muffins”) are basically nutmeg-scented muffins, dipped in melted butter and rolled in cinnamon-sugar while still warm. They supposedly taste just like warm doughnuts, but without the frying. Sounded perfect.