Category Archives: Cakes

The Nice List


Every year for the past many years of my adult life, I have made grand plans to send out cards (!) and bake holiday treats (!) for friends and family. In January 2004 I stockpiled Christmas cards to be prepared for Next Christmas. Oh,  Next Christmas… I would buy special baking molds to make little cakes from family recipes! I would be ready to tuck the dainty goodies into cellophane wrappers and tie them up with festive ribbon! I would buy Mason jars and fill them with homemade, triple-chocolate hot cocoa mix and (also homemade!) peppermint marshmallows! LOTS of exclamation points!!!!!!!!!

It’s 2010—Next Christmas, Part VI. Those cards are still in my stationery drawer. Next to some Mr.-&-Mrs. Sacasa stationery which I am pretty sure were meant to be used for wedding present thank-you-notes in 2003. Hhhmmm.

But, wait. What’s that? Do I hear sleigh bells? Are you about to witness a Christmas miracle? I finally made Next Christmas happen!

And there’s still time to squeeze into my Nice List.

This delicately orange-scented cake was a constant at our breakfast table. I don’t know who Mary (pronounced “Meh-ri” at home) was or is, but we love her recipe.  I’ve added cranberry sauce to this version for some Christmas zhoozh—feel free to use Thanksgiving leftovers, make your favorite family recipe, or leave it out altogether.

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1½ cups sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange zest, plus 3 tablespoons orange juice
3 large eggs
2½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
4 teaspoons baking powder
*Optional: 2 cups homemade cranberry sauce

– Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter (or spray with Pam) a Bundt pan.

– Cream the butter and sugar (use the paddle attachment if using a stand mixer) in a large bowl on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the orange zest and mix until incorporated, about 10 seconds. Add the eggs, one by one, beating about 30 seconds after each egg is added to ensure incorporation. Stop the mixer and, with a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

– With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the flour and salt, alternating with the milk. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl once more, and mix just until the batter is smooth, about 30 more seconds.

– In a small bowl, mix together the orange juice and baking powder (it will foam). With the rubber spatula, fold the orange juice mixture into the batter. *If using, fold in the cranberry sauce.

– Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake the cake until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted, 45 to 60 minutes. Transfer the cake to a cooling rack and let sit for 10 minutes. Using oven mitts, invert the cake onto a platter and let cool completely—at least 2 hours—before serving.

I used individual, 6- by 4- by 2-inch baking containers.

A Slice of Heaven

I heart Nigella Lawson. The gusto and relish with which she eats are contagious—like laughter. The recipe that follows is an adaptation of “Lemon Meringue Cake” from Nigella’s Feast. I was looking through the book a few weekends ago while visiting family in D.C. and swooned when I saw the photo: a gold-tinged cloud of cake oozing bright yellow silk. The cake is baked and assembled in this manner: two cake pans get a layer of cake batter and a layer of French meringue spread on top. Once baked and cooled, lemon curd and whipped cream are sandwiched between the cake layers for a cake, custard, cream, and meringue miracle. Perfect for me, as I continue having my crush on all things whippy and white,but, also, what dreamier than a big, fluffy, sticky cake sandwich?

As you know, I recently posted a pastel de limón recipe and, wanting to avoid repetition and bore you, I settled on a filling of goat’s milk dulce de leche, toasted and chopped pecans, and a sprinkle of Maldon salt. Having no guests handy, the leftover cake would have to be refrigerated for a few days, so the whipped cream needed to be stabilized to avoid it becoming a sad, weeping mess. A bit of gelatin and cream cheese will keep this dessert fresh and pretty for about 3 days (probably longer, but you’ll surely have eaten the whole thing by then).

An announcement to Future Dinner Party Guests: this was so intensely, close-your-eyes-at-first-bite delicious that you will be seeing it more than once. However, I do intend to vary the fillings…Nutella and strawberries, dark chocolate ice cream and cherries, banana pudding and toffee, poached figs and custard, etc.

Originally published as Lemon Meringue Cake

Very Important Notes: You can replace the goat’s milk dulce de leche with regular dulce de leche or fillings of your choice—see some of my suggestions above.
– Gelatin needs to be dissolved in warm water, but if you add warm water to your chilled whipped cream, you’ll defeat the purpose of the chilled cream, no? Be sure to cool the gelatin to room temperature, and don’t be tempted to pop it in the refrigerator or freezer because it’ll turn boing-y and won’t mix into your cream, capisce?

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened, for greasing the cake pans
4 large eggs, separated
1½ cups plus 1 teaspoon sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces and softened
¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon table salt
Grated zest of 1 lemon plus 4 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
½ goat’s milk dulce de leche
½ cup toasted and chopped pecans
½ teaspoon Maldon salt

– Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Line and grease the bottoms of 2 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and 1 tablespoon butter.

– Place the egg yolks, ½ cup of the sugar, butter, flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and lemon zest in food processor and pulse until combined. Add the lemon juice and milk and process once again until combined.

– Divide the batter equally between the prepared pans. It is a skimpy amount of batter, but that’s how it’s supposed to be. Simply spread as evenly as possible with a rubber spatula.

– Place the egg whites and the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt in a clean, dry mixing bowl. Beat the whites on medium speed with an electric mixer until they loosen, about 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium-high and whisk until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly add the remaining 1 cup sugar and continue to whisk until stiff, glossy peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes more. Add ½ teaspoon of the vanilla and whisk just until incorporated, about 15 seconds more. Dived the stiff, glossy whites between the 2 pans, spreading straight on top of the batter layer. Leave 1 smooth, then, peak the second one.

– Bake 10 to 20 minutes until the meringue tops are golden and a cake tester comes out clean when inserted. Transfer the cake pans to a cooling rack and cool completely, about 1 hour. While the cake is cooling, chill a (metal) mixing bowl and whisk so they’re ready for making the whipped cream. Carefully unmold the flat-topped cake onto a cake stand or plate, meringue-side down.

– Combine the gelatin and water in a small bowl. Microwave until the gelatin dissolves, about 20 seconds. Cool to room temperature, about 5 minutes. Place the cream cheese, ¼ cup of the confectioners’ sugar, remaining ½ teaspoon vanilla, and dissolved gelatin in the chilled bowl and whisk on medium speed until whippy, about 2 minutes. Add the cream and whisk just until thickened, about 2 minutes.

– Drizzle the dulce de leche evenly over the inverted cake and top with pecans and salt. Spread the whipped cream on top, to the edges. Carefully invert the second cake onto the palm of your hand, then, gently turn over so the meringue is facing up, and place it on top of the whipped cream. Sift the remaining ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar over the cake and serve. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days.


Once upon a time, in the faraway land called Matagalpa, my great-grandmother made an upside-down pineapple cake – or pineapple turnover, as she called it. This turnover was subsequently made by my grandmother, then my mother, and a few weeks ago, me. Everyone knows pineapple upside-down cake, but it’s not quite as chic as say, flourless chocolate cake. I suppose its out-of-a-can-pineapple topping and occasional studding with maraschino cherries is a little kitschy and June Cleaver-ish, but why not? Sometimes a piece of cake from memory lane is just the thing.

DSC_0024This recipe calls for a cast iron skillet, but as my skillet is seasoned with bacon and beans, I used my tarte tatin pan, which is about 10 inches in diameter. If memory serves me, my mom has made this in a 9 x 13-inch pan.

1 stick (4 ounces) butter
1 cup milk
1 ½ cups white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs, separated
1 ½ cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups flour
5 slices of pineapple
5 cherries (optional)

-To make batter, cream ½ stick of butter with white sugar. Mix in well with egg yolks. Sift together flour and baking powder, and add alternately with milk. Add vanilla.
-Beat egg whites and fold in batter. Set aside.
-In cast iron skillet, place ½ stick of butter in small dabs, and add brown sugar, pouring evenly over butter. Place 1 slice of pineapple in center of pan and other slices around, centering each with a cherry. Pour batter over this and bake in a slow oven, 300 degrees F. for 1 hour or until done.
-Test by inserting toothpick in center of cake and when toothpick comes out clean it is done!

pineapplesI had leftover pineapple chunks and used them instead of rounds.




I had a rash of bad days recently, and I kept stomping into the kitchen in hopes that food would make me feel better. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? I have a moderate sweet tooth, but my reasoning was that when people feel lousy and turn to food for succor, they don’t go for carrots or lettuce. They go for chocolate. Or ice cream. Or both.

I pulled a recipe for chocolate cake from Food & Wine that’s actually quite fabulous when made in its entirety – it’s very much like a large Snickers or Whatchamacallit candy bar. It’s a bit too tricked out for a weeknight, but would be the perfect thing for a child’s birthday party. Anyway, the cake bit itself is perfection. Please don’t laugh, but in the same way that the Colonel’s KFC biscuits were the role models for my own, so is chocolate cake from a box, be it Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker, the muse for all my chocolate cakes. I’ve tried many a recipe throughout the years, all promising to be The Best. Some had mayo, some had espresso powder, others had full cups of coffee, and yet others combined cocoa powder and melted chocolate. None of them ever tasted like Betty’s or Duncan’s. Until this one.

I made half the amount posted below and divided the batter into cupcakes because it would be easier to freeze the leftovers, but aesthetically, it’s not the best decision. The results are squat with square tops and in dire need of some cover-up (ice cream, anyone?), but looks aside, the cake is moist and dark and quite possibly the very cake that Ole Golly used to make for Harriet.

If I like box cake so much, why don’t I buy it, you wonder? Because it’s full of preservatives and unpronounceable additives, silly. Also, this made-from-scratch cake can be pulled together in the amount of time it takes your oven to preheat. You can’t beat that.

This is the adapted version, but for the whole shebang, visit Food & Wine.

Makes one 9”x13” cake or 24 cupcakes.

2 C. plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 3/4 C. all-purpose flour
3/4 C. plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1 C. whole milk
1/2 C. vegetable oil
1 TBSP. pure vanilla extract
3/4 C. plus 2 TBSP. boiling water

-Preheat the oven to 350°F.

-Butter and flour a 9-by-13-inch cake pan or two 12-tin muffin pans – or line with paper cupcake liners and spray with Pam.

-In a large bowl, whisk together sugar + flour + cocoa + baking powder + baking soda + salt.

-In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs + milk + oil + vanilla.

-Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Whisk in the boiling water. Pour the batter (it will be thin) into the prepared pan or muffin tins and bake for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool.