Sarah McClellan-Brandt: It’s the holiday season. Let’s talk cake.
What is your favorite cake memory? Mine is my 8th birthday, when my mom made me a teddy bear cake with cupcakes. It was unlike any cake we’ve ever had and it was perfect. There’s something very special about someone baking a cake for you. It’s a memory you’ll always have and associate with all the flavors that were cooked in it. To this day, when I bite into a perfectly dense, squishy Betty Crocker cupcake, I remember the Barbie doll with a record player I received at my party that day and think of the time I have spent trying to figure out why Barbies are good toys. I never understood that part, but I still enjoy a cupcake with the taste buds of an eight-year-old celebrated by my friends and family.
When it comes to cake, it’s almost always eaten for a party, and there’s nothing quite like the first bite of this spongy sweetness, covered in the pure sugar of frosting or frosting.
After that memory, there’s my wedding cake – a layer of white chocolate with some kind of raspberry cream filling and hot pink fondant. I would give up manicures for a year for another piece of that cake (ok, maybe not a year but at least a few months). When we opened the frosted top of this cake a year later, not only was it perfectly preserved, but the memories of all our friends and family gathered to celebrate came flooding back.
For me, the month of May is very busy on vacation. We have several family birthdays, nieces and nephews graduations, weddings, Mother’s Day and Memorial Day (yes, I have a Memorial Day cake – more on that later). So the cake is always on the mind. Cake is to a party what coffee is to breakfast: essential – and when you don’t have it, you want it.
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There’s the traditional sheet cake, bought at a grocery store and decorated with whipped frosting in any color of the rainbow (or multiple colors of the rainbow). Superheroes, cartoon characters, unicorns, sprinkles, rose frosting, photos printed in frosting and more adorn these cake toppers, much to the delight of the recipient. I’m a big fan of the grocery store sheet cake. They’re consistent, they usually have the perfect amount of moistness and sweetness, and are perfectly nostalgic. I bought one with a Spiderman theme for my son’s fifth birthday this year, and can only say the reaction was pure joy. I wish I had a picture of the cake, which was one of Kroger’s finest works, but if you’ve ever thrown a party for a five-year-old, you understand.
Then there’s the homemade box cake, made with love, and even better if you add an extra egg, replace the oil with butter, replace the water with whole milk, and add a box of pudding mix . Cut out the canned frosting for the house and it’s even better (I recently made the mistake of using canned frosting on a child’s birthday cake and my mom scolded me harshly despite the fact that the teddy bear cake mentioned above was covered in Duncan Hines chocolate). I always make my kids’ birthday cakes with box mix, but I make them extra large and extra…extra, covering them with their favorite candies or drizzling them with chocolate ganache.
This method works for birthdays and other holidays, such as Memorial Day. One of my favorite cakes is a plain white cake covered in homemade whipped cream and decorated with berries in the shape of an American flag. This one is a crowd pleaser and a favorite in my house.
If you fancy a more sophisticated flavor, you can bake an upside-down cake from scratch. This lemon upside-down cake from my blog, ModernHippieKitchen.com, is a favorite with me and is wonderful for “the gram”. Here’s how to do it:
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- 1/2 cup gluten free flour (I used Pillsbury)
- 1/2 cup finely ground almond flour
- 1/8 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup simple syrup (maple syrup will also work)
- 1/4 cup goat cheese
- 4 tablespoons full-fat Greek yogurt
- 1/2 stick of butter (4 tablespoons)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1.5 tsp lemon extract
- 1 C. butter extract
- 1 tbsp. lemon zest
For the caramel
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 6 tablespoons of water
- 4 tablespoons of butter
- 1/8 tsp sea salt
For the citrus filling
- 1 large Cara Cara orange
- 1 large lemon
- Start by beating the eggs with a hand mixer and slowly pour in the simple syrup, beating until creamy. While mixing, add the goat cheese, yogurt and butter (molded).
- Once this mixture is creamy, add the vanilla, lemon and butter extracts.
- Mix all the dry ingredients.
- Gently fold the dry mixture into the wet mixture and stir until just blended.
- Preheat your oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Follow the directions below adding the caramel, lemons and oranges to the skillet before baking for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
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For the caramel
- Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir over medium heat for about ten minutes, or until it thickens slightly and coats a spoon. Remove from heat and add salt and butter, stirring to combine.
To combine it
- Lightly butter an 8-inch round nonstick pan and pour the caramel into the pan. Layer citrus slices as desired. I chose a round pattern, alternating Cara Cara oranges and slices of lemon.
- Pour the cake over the citrus slices. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
- Wait for the pan to cool.
Dress the cake
- Invert the well-chilled sheet onto the cake pan, then turn it over to let it stand out on the sheet.
Last but not least: the fancy cake. The special cake you buy from a special place for a special occasion. I polled a group of friends who easily buy as many cakes as I do (if not more), and in no particular order, here are the results:
- Stir Crazy Bakery’s chocolate almond cake. I have a thing for anything that tastes like almonds, and Stir Crazy’s doesn’t disappoint. Southside mainstay customizes cakes that are beautiful and unique in all flavors. Find them on stircrazybakedgoods.com.
- Chocolate or vanilla cake and cupcakes from Back Home Bakery in Weatherford: The choice of many Aledo, Weatherford and Willow Park residents for birthday parties and more. Order at backhomebakerytx.com.
- from the central market Italian cream cake. It’s the perfect mix of cake and cream cheese frosting. Nothing else needs to be said.
- The lemon cake The best of the best. Really, all the cakes here are amazing. It’s one of the best places to get a wedding cake, but they do all kinds of custom projects. Lemon tartness in a cake perfectly balances the sweetness. Find them on cremedelacremecakecompany.com.
- the Black Forest Cake at Swiss Pastry Shop. I’ve written about this one before, and I’ll write about it again. This gluten-free German delight is a crispy, creamy and delicious treat. You have to order it in advance, because it sells out.
I hope this list helps you choose your next perfect party treat! I love seeing people’s photos of cakes, so if you make one or buy one this month, tag us in your Instagram photos at @ModernHippieKitchen or @FWBusinessPress!