Archive for the ‘Birthday Cake’ Category

It’s not the work, it’s the stairs.

Birthday cake

Again?

I recently had an epiphany.

Epiphanies usually come to me when crisis strikes.  You know those moments:  when the dog bites, when the bee stings, when the cable goes out just as they’re about to announce the next couple to be cut from “Dancing with the Stars”.

This epiphany occurred during a moment of looming claustrophobia.  Claustrophobia usually only looms when I’ve been pushed to the back of a crowded elevator, but in this case I was sequestered in a conference room with a young woman—seconds out of her twenties—whose bloated sense of self-importance was matched only by her avoirdupois.  As she thumbed through her BlackBerry she bleated, “Bob is going to get back to me at any moment; we’re in the middle of something important.” (Translation: “YOU’RE not.”)

What followed was a monologue devoid of irony but tinted by a rather virulent strain of work martyrdom that concluded with the words, “When you get to be my age you expect these things.”

The lack of a “tell” on the part of the other folks in the room only betrayed that this crowd would have made a tough Poker circle.  But I’d wager that we were all thinking the same thing: “MY AGE?”

After escaping from this “Poseidon Adventure” of meetings, I repaired to my local Starbucks to ponder the wisdom of overstating one’s age.  I’ve been answering the age question with a coy “twenty-nine, again, ha, ha” for so long that it has become a bit precious. Clearly a new approach is needed.

So as the steam from my cup of Komodo Dragon Blend softened my pores, I resolved that forevermore I will be answering the age question with a resolute, “Five hundred and two. Again.” I will omit the “ha ha” so people will think I’m serious, but will be prepared to admit that I remember the strip mall they tore down to build Stonehenge, that my Social Security number is 1, and that when I was a kid and they said you were green around the gills it was because you were green and had gills.

LOL. YOLO.

Here’s how this works: if I were to tell you that I was twenty-nine you’d look at me and think, “Whoo…hard life.”  But if I were to tell you that I am five hundred and two you’d say, “Damn, you look amazing” because—and I can say this without boasting—for five hundred and two I am a total hottie.

I decided that this hypothesis required a bit of real world testing, so, like any good sociologist I headed off to Duane Reade for research.

As I purchased the candles on the cake seen in the picture that accompanies this story, the cashier asked if someone was turning 205. I explained that I was turning 502. She said, “Son, you look good for 502, but you cray-cray” which I’m just going to assume confirms my hypothesis. Thank you again Duane Reade.

Methuselah lived to be 969. He was Noah’s grandfather. (Fine old family. I believe they got into the shipping business.)  502 is a good round number, has a lovely symmetry, and gives me a bit of a “cushion” until I turn 969 and watch the big boat sail away.

In the meantime I have at least 467 more birthday cakes to eat…

Habit-forming

"Icebox" cake

“Icebox” cake

I think I may be clinging too closely to a routine. Perhaps this is unhealthy?

Here’s the problem. My Sundays are programmed and scheduled to the point that they make some weekdays look relaxed. I will admit a great reluctance to making any adjustments to this schedule as it consists of activities that I enjoy and look forward to. Just one example: every Sunday I make pizza. I’m not giving that up. This activity is so deeply ingrained that if civilization as we know it ever disappears, I will still be found every Sunday trying to bake pizza over whatever source of heat I can find.

Slightly earlier in the day you’ll find me dutifully sprawled on my sofa watching America’s Test Kitchen, the TV show produced by the Boston-based folks who publish Cook’s Illustrated Magazine.

I’ll admit to a certain love / hate relationship with the show and magazine. Some of their recipes can be a bit labor intense, with certain individual ingredients requiring their own multiple steps of pre-prep. But everything they prepare really does look good, and I am convinced that they know their stuff and produce the show with a minimum of TV trickery. None of this really matters. I sit motionless, as transfixed to the screen as I used to be when Captain Kangaroo would weave his magic with construction paper.

A few weeks ago they did something that literally made me sit up from my sprawl, point at the screen, and say out loud, “That’s a great idea!” with an enthusiasm so ripe that, had you been there, you likely would have heard the exclamation mark too.

After this huge buildup I’m sure it will be a huge letdown to tell you that all they did was cut a sheet cake into four pieces.

Layering a cake has always been a tricky proposition for me. I love height, and I love cakes with more than two layers. I just think they are fun and a bit dramatic. I usually bake cakes for special occasions like birthdays, so a little drama isn’t unwelcome. I think it is safe to say that any time you hand something to someone that is on fire there is already a bit of drama afoot, but when the cake has been cut and is being passed on a sagging paper plate, awaiting decimation, a bit of “Wow” should still remain.

The America’s Test Kitchen folks were baking carrot cake that day. Instead of baking the cake in the usual round layer pans, they baked one sheet cake, cut it into four pieces, and ended up with a handsome, square, four layer cake. The advantage to that recipe was that they could better control the cake-to-cream cheese frosting ratio.

I like carrot cake, but given a choice I’ll always go for chocolate cake with white “boiled” frosting, a combination I grew up on in New England. The frosting was called “boiled” but was really a meringue, usually Swiss or Italian. The difference is how the sugar is cooked, with Italian Meringue being the sturdier of the two. (I never fail to be entertained by whipping egg whites into fluff. Yes, I am easily amused.)

I’ve tried various chocolate cake recipes for years but have recently settled on a doctored version of the Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate” chocolate cake recipe found on the back of their cocoa powder cans.

Apologies to the folks at Hershey…the doctoring includes not using powdered cocoa, but melted, unsweetened chocolate. (Hershey makes that too, so the ingredients stay “in the family” so to speak.) The other doctoring is simple: brown sugar instead of white, and the addition of instant espresso powder. The recipe is easy, and there’s no butter—canola oil is used instead, which I think makes it a better, moister, cake. Kind of fudgy, but still definitely cake.

The first thing I noticed about baking the recipe in one sheet pan was that I didn’t have to worry about dividing the batter evenly amongst several pans. The cake baked in one even layer, so cutting off the crown as is often necessary with round layers, was eliminated.

I made a minor change to the Americas Test Kitchen technique: instead of cutting the cake into four quadrants (two cuts, north to south and east to west), I cut it into four long strips (three cuts, all north to south—get it?) The change in geometry made my cake come out more like a squared log than just a square.

Stacking the layers with a thin veneer of meringue between each was simple, and the first cut inspired my name for this cake: “Icebox” cake.

If you are unfamiliar with Icebox Cake, this was a simple “no bake” dessert made from Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafer cookies (addictive, and hard to find) and whipped cream. You stacked layers of the cookies and whipped cream into a log, refrigerated it, then served it in slices.

My personal preference is to serve it not quite chilled, so if you store it in the fridge let it sit out for a while. Each slice is a combination of fluffy meringue and fudgy cake. Looks particularly fetching aflame with candles, but stash this recipe away and think of it when barbecue season rolls around too.

Hey look: we put the cake in Icebox Cake.

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Click here for the Icebox Cake recipe

Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

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Happy Small Birthday

Chocolate Peanut Birthday Cake

Chocolate Peanut Birthday Cake

I recently had the pleasure of celebrating yet another birthday. I turned thirty-three, an age I chose because I enjoy the alliteration. (I received multiple Hallmark birthday greetings exhorting me to “do” whatever I want, after all, “…it’s your birthday!” I’m “doing” thirty-three. Thank you to Hallmark for the de facto permission slips.)

If you detect the slightest note of bitterness in my tone I will confess that I am not a big birthday guy. I don’t go around crowing, “Next Wednesday is my birthday! Yaaaay!” Just not my style. For me, birthdays help to tick the box on the following tasks: 1. Eat chocolate. 2. Check my surroundings and the overhead compartment to make sure I am still vertical, a/k/a breathing, a/k/a alive. Check. Double check.

The great thing about these reduced expectations is that I enjoy other peoples’ birthdays in a proportion equal to my own if not more—again, if there’s chocolate, and I’m still breathing, and they’re older.

On the surface it would seem ironic that I enjoy baking birthday cakes for my friends, but again, that simply ensures a socially acceptable source of chocolate consumption. Furtive chocolate consumption can be so…dreary. (Dreary is such a great word, but hard to use without sounding, well, dreary.)

Speaking of cake, a few months ago I got together with four or five friends to celebrate one of their birthdays. Someone had stopped by Magnolia Bakery and bought an enormous chocolate cake with frosting the color of a yellow highlighter. It was absolutely delicious. But the cake was so big that even after we all had seconds there was still enough left over for many, many more birthday boys and girls. I love birthday cake, but even a glutton like me has limits.

This is a scene repeated at birthday celebrations around the globe. Birthday revelers circled around a table, pointy hats perched jauntily on their heads, playing a game of, “Have another piece!”/ “No you have another piece.”/ “PLEASE, I’m just going to throw the rest away!”

Well, I’m here to end this game once and for all.

Here’s my proposal: I insist that it is easier to bake a little birthday cake than it is to bake a big birthday cake. Big cakes make you think of big metal pans, drums of frosting, and an endlessly whirling stand mixer.

But my little birthday cake concept is much more relaxed. Let’s break it down, shall we?

This is one time when baking from scratch has a clear advantage over a mix. When you bake from scratch you actually can scale down a recipe to make a smaller cake. Using a mix you are locked in to one or two pan sizes. While you could perhaps bake half a box of mix, the question would remain what to do with the other half? My easy chocolate cake recipe can be made with a big bowl and a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.

Paper Panetone Molds

Paper Panetone Molds

Okay let’s talk pans shall we? I don’t have the nerve to insist that you should go out and buy five inch cake pans. (Martha would, but she and I run in different circles.) Instead, I recommend paper Panetone molds which will break the bank at approximately fifty cents a piece. Admittedly this is not a green solution. You use them once then toss them. But you won’t have to worry about your cake sticking to the pan.

So, the cake is done, but what about the frosting? For that thick, creamy, sugary frosting don’t you need a mixer? Fear not mixer-less folk! I have a magic ingredient. Sweetened Condensed Milk is a worthy short cut—yes, you may think I am taking a page from Sandra Lee, but the end result is too noble, and…uh, addictive for it to be offensive. It is a bit wholesome, and will pull together and smooth out the few other ingredients you’ll need to make frosting. (Like a Kitchen Aid in a can!)

I toyed with this concept for a while. Too much sugar? Too much fat? Then it dawned on me: this is cake frosting we’re talking about. It’ll never be health food.

As it happens, peanut butter is one of my favorite foods, and combining it with chocolate makes my heart sing. My Chocolate Peanut Butter frosting is worthy of the most important birthday on your list. It also tastes like something from an old-fashioned ice cream and confectionary shop, so if cake isn’t on your mind, warm it a bit and pour it over some ice cream.

Finally, don’t be afraid of decorating the cake. Just spread half the frosting between the layers and spread half the frosting on top. Don’t fret about getting the sides just right; Leave the sides naked to the breeze. Even cake maven Rose Levy Beranbaum endorses this concept for its relaxing informality.

But don’t forget the candles. Thirty three. Yes. That’s all.

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Here’s the Chocolate Peanut Butter frosting recipe.

And here’s the All Occasion Chocolate Cake recipe.

And here’s more information about the paper Panetone molds. (Available at Sur La Table.)

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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The first tweet of spring!

Who?

Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes

No special occasion needed...

Some years ago I was invited to a party at the home of a close friend. When I arrived I made the usual and expected round of “Hellos” to all the people I knew at the party. My greetings included those to one who would best be described as a friend of a friend. She extended a disinterested hand and introduced herself as one would to someone you’d never met. Polite.

Unfortunately we’d played this little charade more times than I am comfortable mentioning. I had met this individual for the “first time” enough times that I don’t have enough fingers to keep count. I was seemingly purged from her memory after each meeting like the contents of your computer’s recycle bin. No recollection at all. Yet, I knew her name, both of her husbands’ names, how many kids she had, and a vague idea of their ages.

After another friend who witnessed this scene picked her jaw up from the floor we recovered nicely and had a nice party.

The next day I called the close friend who had proffered the invitation to thank him for his hospitality and in a moment of fed up candor let fly with the opinion that his friend was a dope. (Yes, I may have used a more explicit compound word.)

He offered some weak excuses for his friend that mainly revealed an acknowledgement and acceptance of her social shortcomings…her “problem” as he called it. He’s simply not a judgmental person. Rather than feeling slighted by this, I actually ended up wishing that I could be less judgmental.

Through the years the same scenario has happened to me a couple of other times with a couple of other people. I may be getting to the age that I just don’t care anymore. Wait. No. I’m not quite there yet. It still rankles and still doesn’t answer the question: if I remember you, why don’t you remember me?

Conversely, a few years ago I was at the theater seeing an awful play. I stepped outside to the street to use my phone. After I finished my conversation I turned to head back into the theater and was stopped by a smiling man who looked at me and yelled, “Bobby!” It took a moment to register that he was talking to me because my name is not Bobby. (Never has been.)

I shrugged, “Sorry, I think you have the wrong guy” and continued into the theater. But he persisted and followed me. In the brighter light of the lobby I could see he wasn’t some unhinged homeless man on a chemically induced field trip. He was nicely dressed, clean, and looked more than a little bit insulted.

“Are you sure you’re not Bobby Smith?”

Taking refuge amongst the theater’s front-of-house staff, I avowed, “Oh, yeah” but the man remained unconvinced—skeptical perhaps that a long lost friend was either playing a joke on him, or had entered the witness protection program.

It was at this point that one of us entered “The Twilight Zone” because he asked me to prove my identity by showing him my driver’s license. Luckily the gentleman was otherwise persuaded that I was, indeed, not Bobby, and departed.

(Actually, I think in part he was intimidated by one of the tougher looking ushers who was giving him the evil eye. I wouldn’t have wanted to mess with her either.)

Tall, bald, bespectacled, and what my grandmother used to call “hamish”: here in New York we are a rather interchangeable, dime-a-dozen crowd. Legions of us swarm the city taking each other’s Bar exams, drug tests, and marriage vows when the real guy is unavoidably detained or just off fishing. Will the real Bobby Smith please stand up?

And what of my insistent pursuer of mistaken identities? One could make a few guesses about him: unacknowledged poor eyesight…unobservant…perhaps he assembles the “no fly” lists for the TSA? Poor Bobby Smith (or is it Smythe?). With friends like that…

The ironic soundtrack to this little documentary is Nat King Cole singing “Unforgettable.” (Use the version where they superimposed his daughter’s voice to create a duet. It’ll be easier to cross cut the film.)

It seems to me that the world may be divided into two groups: the first group looks at you, remembers you, and files you away in the appropriate area of their cortex to be recalled at will by the human brain’s amazing face recognition system. The other, much smaller, group lacks the ability to retain this information. It is to those poor, sad, souls that we must extend a hand to help them through the lunar landscape of social interaction.

Advertising copywriters have been addressing this problem for years in perfume ads. There’s even a perfume named “Unforgettable.” This is all based on the theory that the whiff of a perfume will implant itself in the cortex along with other memories of you. If the proximity is close enough, sometimes it really does work.

Some of us just aren’t the perfume type. That’s why they invented the chocolate cupcake. While we cannot wear cupcakes, we can bring them to work or to friends. There’s no need for a special occasion—we’ll create memories nonetheless. Someone will always remember you. Just play it very cool. “Oh, those? I had a few minutes so I threw them together.”

You won’t be lying. The recipe is part of my Bowl & Spoon program. No mixer is needed, even for the ganache frosting. They mix together quickly, and to frost them you only need to dip the tops in the ganache: no frosting technique is needed. If you can dunk, you’re in.

BTW: if you know Bobby Smith tell him that some guy who looks like the actor Kevin Pollack was looking for him.

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Click here for the recipe for Bowl & Spoon All-Occasion Chocolate Cupcakes.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Another Bowl and Spoon “thing”

Tiger-Stripe Brownies

Tiger-Stripe Brownies

I come from a long line of politically incorrect folk, on both sides. Maybe it’s my whole Massachusetts liberal “thing” that makes me, perhaps, a bit too acutely aware of these transgressions? But there’s no escaping it. I had an aunt whose cleaning woman was named “Brownie.” But “Brownie” was white, so go figure that one out. Auntie is long gone so I can’t ask her why her white cleaning woman was named “Brownie”, and I can’t ask my Mother; she just rolls her eyes at the mention of Auntie. (I think that has to do with a sister-in-law “thing”.)

(Oh, my. Another Aunt had one of those lawn jockey sculptures in front of her house. During the civil rights movement in the ‘60’s she painted his face white. That Aunt is long gone too, but for all I know the lawn jockey is still there holding his lamp up to his blushing pale face. )

(I could ask my Mother about that too, but I know her answer would be something along the lines of, “She did? My goodness, what a memory you have…”)

Seems to me that the Brownie—and by that I mean the fudgy, chocolate bar cookie— has been teetering on the edge of all sorts of moral decrepitude for ages now. Freud said, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” but the foul whiff of bathroom humor has also hung over Brownies for me ever since I went to summer camp as a kid. You fill in the blanks on that one. I don’t write that kind of humor. (That would be caused by an uptight liberal “thing”.)

Yet, what are we going to call the Brownie instead? The Chocolate Bar cookie? I think not. It is neither a chocolate bar, nor a cookie.

We liberals have passed this way before. Seinfeld devoted an entire monologue to the racial harmony represented by the Black and White cookie.

I’ll have to go blindly with Freud on this one: sometimes a brownie is just there to satisfy chocolate cravings.

Now, to change the subject slightly (and at this point wouldn’t you?), I recently decided that I needed to unchain myself from what seemed to be an addiction to making things with my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer. I think things had gotten out of hand.

How much marshmallow and whipped cream does one person need to make? I make this claim with only half an apology. Making whipped cream in a Kitchen-Aid mixer is a rush, man. Fast? Let’s just say don’t walk away from the mixer.

Pulling back from this technological addiction seemed a bit limiting at first, but as you can see from the previous paragraph, well advised. Then I reminded myself that my great grandmother came into the kitchen armed only with a bowl and a spoon. (I have skipped a generation. Neither grandmother was a baker. I swear one thought cookies grew in boxes.)

I’ve written about my great grandmother’s kitchen exploits before; she serves as an acute reminder that I can give my Kitchen-Aid a rest and still make some really great stuff. Blueberry Crunch Cake? Done.

In addition to being morally questionable, Brownies are one of the all time great comfort foods. Do you have a friend who just went through a big break up? Nothing fixes a broken heart better than a brownie. (Well, okay, a brownie and some ice cream.) Brownies also make a great birthday cake. To paraphrase a friend, if they don’t like brownies, they must be communist. (Wow. Liberals, communists, Freud, foul whiffs. Happy summer!)

The great unacknowledged truth about brownies is that they are a simple one bowl cookie. Yes, I also know that they say that the best brownies come from a mix, but with all due respect, I disagree on many levels. Shall we break this down?

Cost? The average mix costs about $2.50 per box. To that you must still add your own eggs and oil. Mine? See “quality of cocoa used” below. Cocoa powder is the biggest expense here.

Time? I dunno. Mine are pretty darn fast. And you still have some measuring to do with a mix.

Quality of cocoa used: I know where my cocoa comes from. Betty or Duncan’s? I’m sure it is excellent. (Yes, I’m being condescending.) The truth is, you just don’t know where Betty or Duncan’s cocoa comes from.

Okay, okay, I’ll cave on one area: if you are not much of a baker perhaps the mix is your best bet. I bake a lot, so I have flour and all the other ingredients already. If you don’t bake much you’ll have to buy all that stuff.

But perhaps if you invest in a bag of flour and a tin of excellent cocoa powder you will be encouraged to bake more often? I hear you: a debatable point.

There is one other little nagging item. The mixes contain partially hydrogenated oil, an unhealthy fat. In addition, you need to add your own oil and eggs. My recipe? No partially hydrogenated oil and you can control the quality of all the ingredients, even making the whole thing organic if you wish. No debate there.

What’s the score so far? (Oh, a draw. Darn.)

Okay then, I have one last trick up my (chocolately) sleeve. Tiger stripes. You can’t do these if you make brownies from a mix. These are not to be confused with peanut butter or sour cream which some people—me included—enjoy adding to brownies. The stripes in this recipe don’t introduce any other flavors or ingredients; they are purely for looks. I used to work with a very sweet woman who enjoyed wearing animal prints. These are a toast to her. Make these for someone and they are sure to remember.

You’ll notice that the recipe uses canola oil instead of butter. While there are some health benefits to this choice I must admit I had an ulterior motive. I like my brownies with just a touch of chill on them. I just think the chocolate tastes better that way. If you refrigerate brownies made with butter they aren’t as chewy straight out of the fridge.

The stripes are, of course, optional. If you prefer your brownies monochromatic simply skip that step in the recipe.

That’s a choice “thing.”

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Click here for the recipe for Tiger-Stripe Brownies.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Holiday On Ice

Chocolate Red Velvet Cupcakes

Chocolate Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Meringue

Like many New Yorkers, my kitchen is air conditioned only on special occasions. As luck would have it, I have several friends and family members whose birthdays fall during the summer. I grew up in a house where birthdays were always marked by a cake, so as an adult I feel compelled to extend the courtesy by baking birthday cakes for my friends. Those are the special occasions when I crank the kitchen a/c to its chilliest setting, which, to my liking, is just short of snowfall.

This weekend as our nation celebrates its birthday (“234?? You don’t look a day over…”) I’m lucky enough to have a friend who has invited me to watch the big fireworks display from her rooftop aerie. I’m using the description “rooftop aerie” more for fun than for accuracy. The truth is, her apartment is relatively modest, although she does have a postcard view of the Empire State Building and shared use of the roof. I’m not sure if her kitchen is air conditioned, even on special occasions. I’m too shy to ask. The question “Is your kitchen air conditioned?” seems a tad too close to “Is your refrigerator running?” for my comfort. I’m a little long in the tooth for what we used to refer to as “chicken calls.”

(You don’t remember “chicken calls?” When we were kids we’d pick folks at random from the phone book, call them, ask, “Is your refrigerator running?” and when they’d say, “Yes” we’d say, “Well you better run and catch it!” and then hang up.)

(Yes, I know it’s not funny. But I was – what – 8 or 9 years old? Where I grew up this was practically considered gang warfare.)

(No, I didn’t learn to cook at the reformatory.)

My second favorite modern convenience, after air conditioning – caller ID – has all but eliminated the scourge of chicken calls.

I am worried about the relative coolness of her kitchen because of the all American menu that has been planned — take out Chinese food and my cupcakes. The Chinese food can take care of itself: I’m worried about the cupcakes. If her kitchen is hot I’ll worry about them sitting out on the counter too long (The frosting will melt.) I also have what they refer to as a scheduling problem, that is, I don’t really have time Saturday or Sunday to bake and frost cupcakes. My only choice is to make them a few days ahead, and then stare fear in the eye by calling ahead to reserve fridge space.

Unlike Mrs. Weasley in the “Harry Potter” books, I don’t have the skills to wave a magic wand and make food appear. So, instead of magic, I’ll let chemistry do the work. I know that many folks insist that you can only bake cookies and cakes with butter. I, however, do not subscribe to such absolutes in baking (or in much else, to be honest.)

Bakers down south have agreed with this tenet for years. True Southern Red Velvet Cake is made with oil, not butter. Aside from making a lighter, springier, cake, oil has the further advantage of solidifying at a lower temperature than butter. What this means for me and you is that we can bake cakes with oil, store them in the refrigerator, and they’ll be light and springy right out of the fridge, unlike butter cakes which need some time to come up to room temperature. In addition, cakes made with oil freeze and thaw beautifully.

All of this got me to thinking about my sister-in-law. One of the “givens” of any chocolate cake made within my family is that it must be large enough for left-overs. After the stress of a long day’s work my sister-in-law eats forks-full right out the box without even removing it from the refrigerator. (And she’s what my Auntie used to refer to as a “mere slip of a thing.”) The point is, sometimes chocolate cake tastes better on the cool side.

On a warm summer Fourth of July night under the stars a nice cool piece of cake would be yummy. Frosting and fireworks. That’s my kind of holiday. Chocolate frosting is okay cold, although I admit it is better when the chill is off. There must be a frosting that tastes good and is the perfect consistency right from the fridge. (Not to mention saving me the round trip down stairs from my friend’s rooftop aerie to take the cupcakes out of the fridge to warm up.) Clearly it was time to get to work in the Butter Flour Eggs Frosting Lab.

I had already decided to bake Chocolate Red Velvet Cupcakes, an oil-based recipe. Red Velvet Cake is usually frosted with a cream cheese frosting but I usually frost Chocolate Cake with Italian Buttercream, which is a cooked meringue beaten with butter. It is smooth and fluffy. Splitting the difference seemed to be the obvious answer, as in Cream Cheese Meringue. I made the meringue as usual, and then beat in the cream cheese. The result was a bit loose, but the advantage of that was that instead of standing frosting cupcakes I merely dipped the tops of the cupcakes in the frosting. Each one came out smooth and perfect, with a little “Dairy Queen” swirly top that drooped as the cupcakes sat a while which lessened the cupcakes’ appeal not a bit.

Yes, yes, I know, Italian Meringue requires you to cook sugar to a specific temperature, and by extension requires the use of a candy thermometer. Never fear. You can substitute a jar or two of Marshmallow Fluff and beat that together with the cream cheese. The result will be a bit sweeter, and perhaps slightly overpower the delicate Chocolate Red Velvet cake, but that fear may be a reflection of my own preference for making things from scratch. Short of a blind side-by-side taste test who’s gonna know?

Either way, they’re Yankee Doodle dandy.

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Click here for the recipe for Chocolate Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Meringue.

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Why is this woman smiling?

Chocolate cake makes people smile.

Chocolate cake makes people smile.

Well, a good old fashioned chocolate fudge cake will do that to you. You can tell from the candles that this one was a birthday cake–my mom’s birthday–and you can tell from the picture that we decimated about half of a pretty big cake. I made the cake.

There’s actually a fun story about what happened to the rest of the cake: my sister-in-law finished it over the course of several days in her usual manner: fork-full by fork-full, her entire upper body in the fridge. And yes, she left her fork in the box between sessions. I always find that a huge compliment: the cake was too good to bother taking the time to slice it and put it on a plate. Who needs all that ceremony? Just dive in!

I made the same cake for a friend’s 50th birthday party a couple of years ago. He threw himself a huge party, and I did not know most of the people there. The waiter he’d hired for the night assessed the crowd and sniffed, “These people won’t eat much of it.” (I wasn’t insulted. I looked at the crowd and thought the same thing. Lots of tight shirts.) Turns out we were both wrong. The cake evaporated. One guest, on finding out I’d baked the cake proposed marriage. Sort of. (He was already married.)

I don’t want you to think I’m boasting. The cake is good, yes, but that’s not what I’m all about. I’m more about what the cake (or any, uh, “celebratory pastry”) stands for. It says, “I love you. You are worth celebrating.” Isn’t that what everybody wants to hear as the years tick by?

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