As you know, I’ve always had a thing for cute desserts, particularly if they’re tiny and pastel-colored. When considering what kind of sweet to make for this year’s historical picnic, I came across a recipe for strawberry lamingtons, and suddenly couldn’t get them out of my mind.
I admit I’d never actually had lamingtons before, much less made them, but they looked easy enough– cubes of sponge cake dipped in glaze and coated in finely shredded coconut. Traditionally the glaze is chocolate, but apparently strawberry is a common variation– and it’s made with jello!
After a recent trip to Montreal I wanted to bake something as a thank-you for our catsitter– after spending time surrounded by images of maple leaves, a maple cake seemed like the perfect gift!
I wanted to be mindful of potential nut allergies, so I looked for a recipe without pecans or walnuts, both of which were very common pairings with maple syrup. I ended up with a recipe from King Arthur Flour that was billed as a pound cake, but which was ultimately too light and delicate to really count as a pound cake in my opinion. That being said, the texture of the cake was perfect for a layer cake, and I will absolutely be trying to figure out how to replicate it (without the use of maple syrup) for future adventures! Can I just note that the batter smelled amazing while baking? I’d be tempted to make this just to make my house smell good… and the finished cake was buttery and maple-y, very reminiscent of pancakes with syrup (in a good way). I sprinkled a touch of kosher salt on top, just to emphasize the sweet-salty combination.
I wanted to make a pretty bundt cake, but also wanted to make another cake to eat at home since I can never give something away without taste-testing first! I doubled the recipe to make an 8-cup bundt as well as a loaf cake. (quantities below are for a single recipe) Sadly, the bundt cake refused to release cleanly from the pan and it literally fell apart on me, so it was in no condition for gifting– we’ve been eating it out of the pan with a spoon, and it’s delicious that way too! Luckily I’d lined my loaf pan with a parchment sling, so the loaf was much easier to lift out in one piece!
So this was one of the treats I brought with me to my casting session for The Great American Baking Show. Given the timeframe I really only had a day or two to come up with the idea, but the flavor profile had been marinating in my head for a while, so it only remained to figure out how to implement it!
After some experiments with flavoring I concluded that rose-flavored cake was only mediocre and the pepper didn’t come through all that well in the frosting, so I used crushed pink peppercorns (which are really not peppercorns but are an unrelated berry) in the cake batter and made a buttercream flavored with rosewater to set it off. The floral notes really complement each other well (pink peppercorn cake may be a new favorite of mine), and adding fresh raspberries really added a punch of flavor to make it light and refreshing. I really, really like this cake as a whole, and will totally be making it again at some point.
I confess that out of paranoia over flavor and texture, I eventually made no fewer than four different versions of my cake layers for the big day, deciding at the last minute which one to use (the first one– go figure). And then my favorite cooked-flour frosting was too loose to properly frost the outside of my cake, so I had to make a second batch of frosting, this time with powdered sugar, for the outside. And while I made my initial batch of meringues with freeze-dried raspberry powder, the resulting grayish-purple color was very unattractive, so I made a second batch that was plain vanilla. So to summarize, there was a LOT of stuff leftover from making this perfect-looking cake!
Sorry for the delay in posting, everyone, but I promise I had a good reason– I was attending casting interviews/tasting sessions for the latest season of The Great American Baking Show!
I submitted an online application near the end of May, not really expecting to get any response, but a few days later I got a call from a producer saying that they’d loved my application (and accompanying personal video) and wanted to ask me more questions! The following interview was basically me talking about my baking background, what my experience was in certain types of baking, and then a 12-question quiz on some baking techniques to make sure I knew my stuff. Turns out I did, because after sending in more photos of my bakes (most of which have been featured on this blog!) I got invited to New York to bring some treats for a tasting!
After making a double batch of white cake for my daughter’s Rainbow Galaxy birthday cake, I had eight egg yolks left over, plus a bunch of zested lemons, a block of cream cheese, and most of a can of sweetened condensed milk left from other party treats. Always loath to waste things, I decided to use the leftovers to make a dessert the following weekend. Fortuitously, the ingredients all worked out reasonably well.
The tough part was the egg yolks– ordinarily I’d consider a creme brulée, but I wanted something more portable and shareable, so I managed to find a sponge cake recipe that calls for all yolks rather than all whites. I was skeptical, but it came out okay. A little dry, I thought, though I don’t believe it was overbaked– I think a little oil or butter would’ve helped it retain more moisture. However, it had a nice flavor, a lovely golden color due to all the yolks, and it split easily after cooling to make two layers.
To use up the lemons, cream cheese, and sweetened condensed milk, it was easy to find a recipe for lemon icebox pie using those ingredients. I figured that if I made the filling and let it thicken most of the way before spreading it between my cake layers, it would work out. Oddly enough, it stayed pretty loose– more like regular pudding than like a firmer pie filling– but it tasted good. Not very lemony (likely due to the lack of lemon zest) but good. More like a cheesecake with a hint of lemon.
So after baking up the six layers of my galaxy rainbow cake (and seeing how short they were) I was unaccountably struck with the fear that there might not be enough cake for all of the guests. (Spoiler: there was tons of cake left over) I decided to make some extra treats for the party, just in case– cake pops. I hadn’t made them in a while, but a little internet research turned up some new techniques for making them look fantastic, so I thought I’d give them a shot, using an extra box of cake mix and some leftover buttercream, plus candy melts.
Step 1: making perfectly smooth, round balls for dipping.
In the past I’ve crumbled up my cake and mixed it with cream cheese or frosting by hand, just because it was easier. However, the results have been somewhat lumpy, probably because the crumbs weren’t quite fine enough and the mixing was uneven. I think I’ve been trying to avoid making the mixture too gooey from overmixing, but it really wasn’t a problem. Solution: use the stand mixer to completely mix the cake and frosting into a smooth, homogenous dough. Add frosting sparingly to avoid your mixture being too soft.
Once you’ve got the dough set, portion it into balls and hand-roll them to a generally round shape. If you want them to be even more perfectly round, you can do this:
(though 14 seconds is way longer than you need)
When they’re shaped, stick them in the freezer for a few minutes while you prep your candy melts.
For my daughter’s seventh birthday she declared that she wanted a Parry Gripp-themed party. Who is Parry Gripp? Try typing it in as a search term on YouTube and go down the rabbit hole of playlists…
The short answer is that he writes weird songs, most of which appear to be aimed at kids, with accompanying bizarre animated music videos. Current favorites in this house include “Neon Pegasus,” “Space Unicorn,” and “Pancake Robot.” There are actually a ton of food-related songs, which we used as inspiration for our party menu, but one thing my kid was adamant about was that she wanted a galaxy-mirror-glazed cake, which would relate to both Neon Pegasus and Space Unicorn. I’m not sure where she even found out about mirror-glazed cakes, but hey, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!