My birthday is less than a month away, so I’m in the process of conducting my annual cake audition. I got in the habit of making my own celebratory cake some years back as a way to try out intriguing recipes and to stretch my baking skills a little. In the weeks before my big day, I make a few new-to-me cakes, in the hopes of finding something fun and tasty to serve.
Three years ago, I made lavender-infused cupcakes to take to a party in a friend’s garden. Two years ago, I layered and frosted my way to a triple-decker chocolate cake. Last May, I mixed things up with a strawberry-rhubarb pie. It didn’t hold candles well, but it received raves from my friends.
Recently, I’ve had cheesecake on the brain, so I decided to tackle a few different versions in the hopes of finding a worthy candidate. I started with Bobby Deen’s recipe for Ricotta Cheesecake. I was attracted by the fact that it’s lighter than traditional cheesecake — and it’s easy to put together. It can be made in a single bowl and doesn’t require a water bath to keep it tender.
My tasters and I came to the conclusion that while it’s not indulgent enough for a birthday, it may be the perfect spur-of-the-moment cake for casual gatherings. That makes it just perfect for The Weekender!
Before you start baking, read these tips
My cousin Amy starts planning for Passover in January. The save-the-date email comes first, with the time and location in bold (though they’re the same every year). A few weeks later, dinner assignments follow. Later there are email reminders and carpool arrangements.
It used to be that I willingly accepted whatever meal assignment was handed to me. In recent years, however, I’ve gotten more strategic. As soon as the first Seder planning email goes out, I reply with an offer of what I’d like to bring. This way, I can ensure there will be something on the table that my picky husband will eat, and I get to play to my strengths as a cook.
On Monday (and for the second year running), I’m bringing brisket and a flourless chocolate cake. I bring the brisket because I make a good one, and I do the cake, well, because nothing finishes a meal like a good chocolate cake.
Before you start baking, read these tips
I am the designated birthday dessert baker for my circle of close friends and dear family members. Every year, I make a dozen or more cakes, pies, tarts and meringue concoctions for parties, picnics and small family dinners.
It starts in January with my dad’s birthday. Tradition dictates that he gets a thing called Pinch Pie (though it’s neither pinched, nor is it a pie). It’s a meringue shell filled with ice cream, strawberries, whipped cream and toasted almonds. It’s a sugar bomb, but it’s beloved in my family.
In February, both my sister and my husband celebrate. When she was younger, Raina was into ice cream cakes, but these days she prefers something dense and chocolatey. Scott, on the other hand, hasn’t shifted his preferences since childhood. He likes to celebrate with a Funfetti cake made from a boxed mix. Though it violates my from-scratch sensibilities, that’s what he gets.
As we head into March, I start thinking about baking for my friend Shay’s big day. She doesn’t have a standard cake, instead preferring to try something new. Last time I did a carrot cake, and this year I’ve been planning something layered and featuring chocolate.
Before you start baking, read these tips
Food Network Magazine is kicking off 2013 with a year’s worth of birthday cakes and this week’s Most Popular Pin of the Week shines a spotlight on the month of May with a Cookies-and-Cream Cake. The crushed cookies on the outside of this cake are a hint at what’s inside: The cake layers are filled with crushed cookies and white chocolate frosting.
For more recipe inspiration for desserts that impress, visit Food Network’s Let’s Bake Board on Pinterest.
Get the recipe: Food Network Magazine’s Cookies-and-Cream Cake
As far as I’m concerned, summer continues until the squash varieties on the tables at the greenmarket outweigh the piles of tomatoes and corn. In an effort to prolong summer, I revert to the classics — the recipes that make me close my eyes and feel it can’t be any day other than the Fourth of July. This recipe for Blueberry Coffee Cake does that more than any other. It tastes even better as leftovers or warmed with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. You can substitute with other fruits like plums, nectarines and peaches, but it’s best with good ol’ blueberries.
Blueberry Coffee Cake
My mother is a New England gal and I always marveled at the way she ate this dish. While my father and I have been known to eat this as-is or pile on whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, she would put a slice of this cake into a bowl and pour some heavy cream (like a moat around a castle) on it. The unsweetened cream, in its purest state, really highlights the spices and blueberries themselves — try it!
Get Alex’s recipe
For the last 10 years of their life, my grandparents ate at the same restaurant nearly every night. It was located across the street from their apartment building and served as the de facto dining room for many of their neighbors as well. My grandmother liked it because the waitresses all knew her by name and would bring her a glass of iced tea the moment she sat down. My grandfather kept going back because it appealed to his frugal side.
When you ordered off the dinner menu, in addition to being served your entrée, you also got bread, a cup of soup, a salad, two sides, dessert and coffee. All told, it was enough food for two or even three meals and Grandpa Sid saw that as a great bargain.
Each night, they’d eat their soups and salads, poke at the entrée and sides a bit and then move on to the real showpiece of the meal: dessert. Little Pete’s always had at least a dozen pies, cakes, custards and pastries on offer, along with four flavors of ice cream. When I was young, I thought it was paradise.
Before you start sifting flour, read these tips
Father’s Day is all about chocolate and letting Dad watch whatever TV he wants that day. At least it is in my family. You see, in our family of four, there is only one guy, my dad. We out number him in everything. He wants to watch football? Too bad, we’ve got the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy to watch. Game seven of the playoffs? Nope, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills just started. So you see, the girls win almost all of the time. But not on Father’s Day. We’ll let Dad watch just about whatever he wants and we promise to only complain a few times.
My dad is a chocolate fanatic. I don’t know how he manages to stay so fit when he always has a constant supply of homemade chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cheesecake, chocolate brownies, chocolate layered cake etc., stocked in the freezer in case of a sweet tooth “emergency.” So when Father’s Day rolls around, it’s a no-brainer that we’re going to make him something that’s going to satisfy his chocolate sweet tooth.
This year’s Father’s Day treat is The Pioneer Woman’s Chocolate Sheet Cake.
It’s decadent to say the least and it’s exactly what Dad needs this coming Sunday. Plus, it makes a boatload of cake that you could share with your neighbors or fellow dads celebrating this special day.
Get the recipe
When I think angel food cake, the words “light” and “airy” come to mind; when I made angel food cake, “shrunken” and “dense” were my results. I share this kitchen collapse not to deter you from making the recipe, but to share the lessons I learned. What follows is the sad yet hopeful story of the Fallen Angel Food Cake.
Last weekend, I decided to bake dessert for my boyfriend’s family since they were graciously hosting me for the holidays. Angel food cake is a classic in their household. So the choice was easy, but the pressure was high. I had never made an angel food cake before, and after skimming through various blogs and recipes, I was less than confident. I read the instructions thoroughly and measured the ingredients properly, but I didn’t bring the eggs to room temperature and I pulled the cake out too early. As I’m sure other first-timers can relate, my worst fear came true: The cake fell. I stuck it back in the oven in a desperate attempt to puff it up again, but there was no going back.
Luckily, the poor souls for whom the cake was intended have a great sense of humor and were forgiving of my failed attempt. They also happen to love 7-Minute Frosting. And if anything can save the day, it’s a homemade fluffy, marshmallow-y frosting.
Here’s what I learned after my first angel food cake attempt
While St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday geared toward adults, I think it’s fun to make sure that what I make is also kid friendly.
This cake is a perfect compromise for adults and kids alike. Big people get a decadent piece of cake, while little people take part in a scavenger hunt.
What’s the best part about this cake? Wondering who will get the “lucky” piece or the piece with a four-leaf clover on it.
Learn how to make this simple cake
Though I’m known as something of a baker in my circle of friends, it wasn’t until very recently that I tried my hand at homemade coffee cake. You see, for most of my life, I didn’t really think it was something one could make at home. My experience had taught me that coffee cake was something you bought, packaged in a square white box that was emblazoned with the word “Entenmann’s.”
Part of the reason for this is that I didn’t grow up in a coffee cake household. On those rare occasions that we had a sweet morning baked good, it would be hearty, whole-wheat banana bread or a dense, barely sugared scone. My mother did not approve of cake for breakfast.
The only time I experienced this thing called coffee cake was when we’d visit my grandparents. They bought them regularly and kept them tucked into the space on top of the toaster oven. My grandfather’s habit was to have a small square around 10am, with a second cup of coffee and whatever scientific journal he was reading at the moment. As a perpetual dieter, my grandmother rarely sat down to a full slice, instead picking at the edges and crumbs each time she passed through the kitchen.
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