Recently I’ve been so practical, writing about shopping tips or healthy main courses. But May’s got me thinking celebration, motherhood, and flowers. I think your kids want me to to write about cake. Admit it. You do, too.
Maybe you think you don’t need a cake recipe. You probably keep a box of mix and a can of frosting on hand for birthdays or other cake emergencies. That’s how I grew up, and I learned a lot about baking from Betty Crocker.
But a cloying mix cake pales in comparison to homemade. Besides, you’ll feel powerful and worthy of Mother’s or Father’s Day adulation when you satisfy a midweek craving for something sweet without straying past basic pantry ingredients.
Spring and summer beg for richly flavored cakes that pair beautifully with ripe, luscious fresh fruits. So first, we’ll get in the time machine. When I brought this fresh pineapple upside-down cake to the table, my husband snickered, “It’s the seventies again!” But it felt so good to be back. My kids reveled in the cake’s golden-paved top and deep vanilla flavor. I reveled in the second piece I snuck after they went to bed.
Though I made it with fresh pineapple, you can press any semi-firm fruit — plums or peaches — into the “schmear,” as Thomas Keller calls it in Ad Hoc at Home, the gorgeous cookbook where I found this surprisingly simple recipe. It’s a paste of butter, brown sugar, and a few other flavorings that you spread onto the bottom of a cake pan before adding fruit and batter. The recipe makes enough spread for at least a couple of cakes, so you can freeze the extra till your next family cake crisis.
Even quicker is the cocoa cake from Laurie Colwin’s iconic More Home Cooking. This is the cake with the best effort-to-pleasure ratio. Because it’s so easy, when it comes out of the oven you’ll still have the patience to delight your kids by letting them cut out a big paper stencil, lay it on the finished cake, and drift powdered sugar over it to make a flower. Serve it with whipped cream and just-picked strawberries and I promise, no one will miss the icing.
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from Ad Hoc at Home, by Thomas Keller, 2009Pan Schmear 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature 1½ tablespoons honey ½ teaspoon dark rum 1 cup packed light brown sugar ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract Kosher or sea salt 1 pineappleCake
1 cup cake flour, or 1 cup all-purpose flour plus ⅓ cup cornstarch 2 teaspoons baking powder 1 stick butter at room temperature ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar ½ teaspoon vanilla 2 large eggs 1½ tablespoons milk 1. Grease the sides of a 9-inch pan with butter. Make the schmear by beating all its ingredients together with a mixer till smooth. Spread at least a cup of it (I used twice that much. Shhh!) in the pan’s bottom. Sprinkle it lightly with salt. Refrigerate or freeze the rest for your next cake. 2. Prep the pineapple by cutting off the top and bottom, then the thorny peel. Quarter the fruit, then cut the core from each piece. Cut each segment crosswise into slices. Then lay the fruit in concentric, overlapping rings, with the curved sides facing out, working towards the center of the pan. Let your kid do this; it doesn’t have to look restaurant-perfect. 3. Whisk together dry ingredients in a small bowl 4. Cream together the butter and sugar till light and fluffy, then mix in vanilla, then eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the milk, then the dry ingredients in three batches, stopping when all ingredients are just combined. 5. Scrape the batter into the pan (it will be pretty thick) and spread it gently over the fruit. Bake for about 35 minutes. Cool for 20 minutes, then run a knife around the pan, place a generous serving platter over it, and invert the cake onto the plate. Serve warm.
Nobel Prize Buttermilk Cocoa Cake
adapted from More Home Cooking, Laurie Colwin, 2000 ed. Butter or cooking spray and flour for the pan 1¾ cups flour ¾ cup cocoa powder 1 cup sugar 1 teaspoon baking soda ¼ teaspoon salt 1 cup buttermilk ½ cup vegetable oil or melted butter 2 teaspoons vanilla 1. Preheat oven to 350 and butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan. 2. Whisk together dry ingredients. 3. Add wet ingredients. Stir until just mixed. 4. Pour the batter into the pan and bake about 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let it cool about 5 minutes before running a knife around the pan and turning it onto a plate. Let your kids dust with powdered sugar sifted through a sieve, and serve with fresh fruit and whipped cream.