wowie cake and buttercream frosting

There are lots of varieties of cakes that have “missing” ingredients. Vegan cakes, depression cakes, cakes that use a can of soda instead of oil and eggs… the list goes on for all the ways you can make that quintessential dessert. Today was another blustery and snowy day in New Hampshire. In other words, it was the perfect weather for baking a cake!

The view out our front door this morning.

The view out our front door this morning. Pretty! And menacing?

Alas, we had no eggs. And no powdered sugar (for frosting!). And I had eaten the last of the chocolate chips. The cupboards, as they say, were a little bare.

No matter! It was my sister Ally, of The Kitchen in Stereo, to the rescue! I had texted her with my dilemma. She said, “Make a wowie cake.” I paused. I furrowed my brow. I had no idea what she was talking about. After a very quick search, it became abundantly clear. A cake you make with stuff that’s definitely in the pantry! A cake that requires no eggs! A cake you could make on wartime rations! A cake that makes you say, “Wowie!” This I could do.

The recipe I used was incredibly simple. Just some sugar, flour, oil, vinegar, baking soda, vanilla, cocoa powder, and cold water. These were all ingredients I had on hand.

Easy, tasty, chocolatey, and egg-free.

Easy, tasty, chocolatey, and egg-free.

But what would I use for frosting? I had no powdered sugar for dusting, and no powdered sugar to make frosting. I felt stuck. I’ve tried using recipes that call for powdered sugar and substituting it with granulated sugar instead, but that has never, ever worked. It’s disgusting and grainy. It’s like putting a big spoonful of sweetened beach sand in your mouth. Perhaps you half expect a cigarette butt (maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t the beach just seem to turn into a giant ashtray?). At any rate, I wasn’t sure what my searching would produce when I typed “frosting with granulated sugar” into my Google search bar.

Turns out there are plenty of frostings without powdered sugar. I was feeling adventurous, so after looking through a couple recipes I landed on this (there are many versions of this same recipe online…the one I used actually called for 3 tbs of flour, but everything else was the same. I couldn’t find the link after I had closed it.). Um, frosting that you cook? On the stove? I was a tad doubtful but decided I had no choice. It was either this or have a plain Jane cake.

Stirring the milk and flour until it bubbled and thickened. It only took a few minutes.

Stirring the milk and flour until it bubbled and thickened. It only took a few minutes.

Let me cut to the chase: it was the perfect compliment to the cake. Perfect amount of sweetness. Light and fluffy and smooth as whipped cream. Not a hint of grainy, sandy granulated sugar (though it contains a whole cup of the stuff). It wasn’t even that hard to make. I think the keys to success are as follows: 1. Do not melt your butter. Just soften it. In fact, just leave it out and let it come to room temperature. You need to cream the butter and sugar together, and the butter just can’t be liquid if you want to do this. 2. Have faith. When you pour that flour/milk mixture into the mixing bowl, it is going to look gross.  The whole things stays wet for quite a few minutes, and it takes a while to combine. Prepare yourself to blend for a good five minutes while you wait for the frosting to get stiff. But it will! Just have patience! And then you will try some and your eyeballs will pop out of your face because you’re so surprised that the granulated sugar virtually disappeared, leaving only a smooth, buttery frosting in its wake.

My parents stopped by for a visit and they agreed it was quite good. Saving this recipe, for sure.

My parents stopped by for a visit and they agreed it was quite good. Saving this recipe, for sure.

Would make both again, and again, and again.

What’s your favorite cake recipe?

apples and spice and everything nice

I’m so happy my parents were able to instill a love of baking into their children; there’s nothing quite like a brownie on a bad day, or piece of apple pie to finish off the perfect week. We three siblings will find any excuse to bake, really, (check out my sister’s music and baking blog at The Kitchen in Stereo) and this cake is no exception.

My brother and I went apple picking last Friday and I ended up with about 12 or 13 pounds of enormous apples. They had been sitting on my counter for a week, so it was high time I made something with them! I’ll probably be making another appley treat today, but two days ago all I really wanted was something sweet that was easy to eat.

When I think of apple desserts, the first thing that comes to mind is, of course, pie. But then there’s making the crust or crumb topping, and the fact that it can be messy eating, and the cutting of all those apples… I just wasn’t into it. I turned to the Betty Crocker cookbook for answers. I have other cookbooks, some of them specific to baking, but Betty Crocker always seems to know where it’s at. This recipe can be found on page 72 of the 1990 edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook. It’s easy and fun (and you only have to cut three apples!).

Laziness at its finest...I can't even be bothered to type out the recipe.

Laziness at its finest…I can’t even be bothered to type out the recipe.

First, my recipe updates/changes: I did not have nutmeg, so I subbed in pumpkin pie spice instead, which includes cinnamon, nutmeg, and a few other things. It was just fine. I also accidentally omitted the baking soda (I confess I was on the phone at the time of baking and got a little sloppy with the recipe). The good news is that even though it didn’t rise much, it still tasted delightful. Just imagine how much prettier it will be when you make it WITH baking soda!

Big apple chunks.

Big apple chunks.

I cut my apples into big chunks for two reasons: 1. I didn’t feel like chopping forever, and 2. I LOVE a nice warm hunk of apple. I’ve been eating pieces of this cake warmed up in the microwave because those apples really shine when they have a little heat.

Le finished product. Could have browned for a few more minutes.

Le finished product. It could have browned for a few more minutes.

Looking back, I kind of wish I’d left it in for maybe 3 or 4 more minutes to get it extra brown on top, but Pete and I were so excited to eat it that we couldn’t wait. It was still tasty, I assure you.

Look at those chunks!

Look at those chunks!

All in all, I’d say it was a successful experience. Two days later and it’s still good. In fact, I just had a piece for breakfast, polished off with a nice cold glass of almond milk.

What’s your favorite thing to bake this season?

the long road to gingerbread day

As some of you may know, my parents host a huge gingerbread house-building party every year. It takes weeks to prepare for the event. All the gingerbread must be baked from scratch. When you’re planning on building 40 or 50 houses, that’s a lot of baking that needs to get done!

Since they began hosting the party (more than 10 years ago!), my dad has taken on the role of gingerbread baker extraordinaire. This year, with two extra parties to worry about (library parties! for the public!), upwards of 80 houses need to be baked. What that really means: 160 roof pieces, 160 wall pieces, 80 back pieces, and 80 front w/door pieces. Since lots of those houses are destined for my place of work, I figured the least I could do was to try and learn the trade to help out.

The humble beginnings of a few beautiful gingiehouses.

Today was my first solo attempt. I still have some things to figure out. My dad uses special rolling pin rings to keep the dough at an even thickness. My rolling pin is much smaller than my pans, so using the rings just kind of cut into the dough I was trying to roll out. I think it’s a matter of practice, really, but I ended up taking the rings off (as a result, a few pieces ended up much too thin, breaking when I tried to remove them from the pan).

A semi-happy accident. It was tasty!

Today’s single batch of dough yielded 8 end pieces, 8 walls, and 2 roofs. That’s not terribly good, but I think next time will definitely be better. Baking gingerbread houses is a lot like working with clay to produce pottery. You have to expect some amount of failure, but the payoff for success is huge. Not only that, but it allows you to work on the disciplines of patience and perseverance.

A sheet of walls: success!

Here’s to continuing the spirit of thanksgiving (and just giving in general) throughout the whole holiday season.

Do you have any favorite holiday traditions? Let me know below!

Happy Sunday!