You won’t always,
get what you need –
And try as you will,
you won’t always succeed –
And sometimes you’ll struggle,
And sometimes you’ll doubt –
And sometimes you’ll work,
But it just won’t work out.
It’s toil and it’s trouble,
This troubling life –
It’s juggling stress,
And it’s struggle and strife –
It’s bearing the bad times,
And riding the rough –
It’s knowing you tried,
But it wasn’t enough.
But try all the same,
With a hope in your heart –
Be sad but be strong,
And be ready to start –
The bad times will hurt,
And the dreadful times too –
You have to survive them.
“You see, he was going for the Holy Grail. The boys all took a flier at the Holy Grail now and then. It was a several years’ cruise. They always put in the long absence snooping around, in the most conscientious way, though none of them had any idea where the Holy Grail really was, and I don’t think any of them actually expected to find it, or would have known what to do with it if he had run across it.”
― Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
I love you also means I love you more than anyone loves you, or has loved you, or will love you,
and also, I love you in a way that no one loves you, or has loved you, or will love you,
and also, I love you in a way that I love no one else, and never have loved anyone else,
and never will love anyone else.
I FOUND you and I lost you,
All on a gleaming day.
The day was filled with sunshine,
And the land was full of May.
A golden bird was singing
Its melody divine,
I found you and I loved you,
And all the world was mine.
I found you and I lost you,
All on a golden day,
But when I dream of you, dear,
It is always brimming May.
Paul Laurence Dunbar
LONG TIME NO TALK.
I never expect to be gone as long as I am… I do find that sometimes it’s hard to sit down and write, as much as I want to. Gone are the days of free-flowing writing. They have been gone for a good, long while, actually.
I used to write poetry, jotting down notes every time a line or two came to me. Now, it all feels forced and terribly childish. I can’t bear to let myself alone with a thesaurus, for fear of everything reading like a middle schooler’s first essay.
In fact, the more I try to write, the more likely that the words won’t come, an inverse relationship that leaves me staring at a blinking cursor between pictures of cake.
Still, might as well give it my best shot.
May is quite the mixed month in my life.
Every year, a new, complicated layer seems to be spread over the top. It is hopeless to try to keep up with all of the different dates, but the whole month is permeated with emotions from each event.
May is (one of) my brother’s birthday month.
It is the month when a close family friend passed from here to the infinite.
It was my last class as a college student.
It was an anniversary, and now it isn’t.
It brims with spring and the promise of warmth.
It marks another year of this blog.
This is the first May in all my 22 years that does not demarcate a major change in scenery and activity for me. That is to say, I will keep working, I will stay in the same apartment, etc., etc., just in shorter skirts and fewer jackets.
There are no internships nor summer vacation for adults. I won’t be graduating or going to camp or home for an extended stay.
It is curious to feel static and still sense summer swelling.
Anyways. Abrupt change to cake because there’s nothing that really connects it to ~musings of May~.
This cake. I mean, dang. Couldn’t you just faceplant into those swoops and swirls of Nutella buttercream (because I could)?
It’s a banana snack cake, super moist with the addition of sour cream. The edges are slightly crisp from the high fat content, and the center is comfortingly squidgey and dense.
A great pile of Nutella buttercream, fluffy and heavily salted to cut the sweetness, is spread on top, without overmuch worry about it being perfectly smooth.
A pinch (or two) of sprinkles, and you have a happy snacking cake, easy to make, transport, and eat.
This is a good one to keep in your back pocket, folks.
Banana and Nutella are both total crowd pleasers, and for good reason.
(And now I am thinking about banana and Nutella crepes…)
Banana Snack Cake with Nutella Frosting
cake portion adapted from Food52/ButterYum
makes 1 8″x8″ or 9″x9″ cake
for the cake:
130 grams (2/3 cup) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
120 grams (1/2 cup) sour cream
30 grams (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup (about 3 small or 2 large) overripe bananas, mashed
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
120 grams (1 cup) flour
for the frosting:
113 grams (8 tablespoons, 1/2 cup) butter, softened
75 grams (1/2 cup) Nutella
30 grams (1/4 cup) cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
350 grams (2.5 cups) powdered sugar, as needed
30-60 grams (2-4 tablespoons) half-and-half or milk, as needed
sprinkles, if desired
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and flour an 8″x8″ or 9×9″ pan liberally.
Cream butter, sugar, salt, and egg together until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
Stir in the sour cream and mashed bananas until about halfway incorporated.
Add the flour and baking soda and stir well to combine, scraping the sides of the bowl.
Spread batter into prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool completely.
To make the frosting: whip butter on high speed for 3 minutes, or until very fluffy and light.
Add in Nutella and salt and whip for another 2 minutes.
Add in the powdered sugar 1/4 cup at a time, stirring slowly and increasing speed after each addition.
Add in the milk or half-and-half 1 tablespoon at a time; whip frosting between additions until the spreadability and consistency of the frosting are to your liking (this can vary enormously depending on the humidity and heat of your kitchen).
Spread frosting thickly over cooled cake, and top with sprinkles as desired. SaveSave
“I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package.
I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances.
To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment.”
This blog is five (count them, five) years old. I don’t quite know how, but it has survived through my last years of high school and all the way through college.
I will take LPF with me out into the real world now, I suppose. Daunting, but comforting, in some ways, to always find a steady refuge in my own creative space.
Blogging has been occasionally sporadic, but always a constant presence in my mind and being.
I don’t know what shape it will take in the future, but I hope it will retain its shape and I will retain my drive, inspiration, and desire.
I didn’t predict or envision my fifth blogiversary coming the day before my last final as a student of the University of Chicago; by tomorrow at 10:20am, I will be irreversibly set on the path of becoming an alumnae.
I have to spend all day today studying—but I also want to fit in the new Sherlock episode, because duh!
This quarter went by so quickly; it’s strange to think that I’ve been taking this class for ten weeks. I already had my last class ever. Craziness.
The five years of writing this blog—half a decade!—have also gone by quickly. I started writing this blog when I was 16. I had recently gotten my driver’s license. Now, I’m 21 and about to graduate university and move to NYC.
Lots of milestones have been celebrated on this blog.
I want to share some places, people, and things that help me retain my inspiration for baking/photographing/learning/creating.
Nicole Franzen is a photographer I follow on ig; she’s in Míkonos right now and has been in Italy and every time she posts, I am filled with longing and wanderlust.
Courtney’s cookie study. Because I deeply respect this is the kind of dedication to the improvement of the finest thing humanity has arguably ever produced (chocolate chip cookies, duh).
Siddhartha Mukherjee (author of Emperor of All Maladies), wrote a fascinating piece on epigenetics in the New Yorker last year that I only recently discovered. Worth the read if you’re at all scientifically or medically inclined or interested.
“You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.” Toni Morrison doles out wisdom from her father in her most recent piece for the New Yorker (if you’re going to read the above piece, might as well give this one a peek too—it’s short).
This vanilla rhubarb pound cake from the Herriott Grace blog (Nikole Herriott adapted a Tartine recipe) is the single most beautiful rhubarb cake I have ever seen. Seriously.
Deb’s strawberry graham icebox cake has me dreaming of summery treats, and plotting what other types of thin, many layered cakes I can create, because they sound amazing.
This is a celebration cake, make no mistake, but it is very simple and not intimidating at all. It is 100% doable in an afternoon, or as a last-minute offering the night before a birthday.
The cake itself is my perfected chocolate cake recipe. It bakes up flat (no leveling needed), moist, and not-too-sweet. It’s not overly fudgy—it has a relatively delicate crumb, and it saves like a dream.
It’s covered in a classic American buttercream tinted the palest pink and given an extra dose of salt to balance the buttery sweetness.
A generous drizzle of white chocolate and a smattering of marshmallows and sprinkles gives it the happiest of vibes.
I topped it off with candles, but a cake topper or some extra piping would also look great!
for the cake:
330 grams (1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cornstarch
180 grams (1 1/2 cups) AP flour
65 grams (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon) extra dark cocoa powder
2 tablespoons instant coffee or espresso
120 grams (1/2 cup) boiling water
85 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) vegetable/canola oil
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
160 grams (2/3 cup) buttermilk OR 145 grams (2/3 cup less 1 tablespoon) milk plus 15 grams (1 tablespoon) apple cider vinegar
for the frosting:
225 grams (1 cup, 2 sticks) butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
460 grams (4 cups) powdered sugar
45-90 grams (3-6 tablespoons) cream, as needed
1 drop pink food coloring
lucky charms, if desired
60 grams (2 ounces) white chocolate, chopped
60 grams (1/4 cup) heavy cream
white food coloring, if desired
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and flour 3 6×2 inch pans.
Place sugar in a large bowl, followed by salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cornstarch; whisk together briefly.
Add the flour on top of the mixture, then the cocoa powder, then the instant espresso on top of that.
Slowly stream the boiling water over the cocoa powder; once it’s all added, whisk vigorously while you add in the oil.
Add in both of the eggs and the vanilla extract, then stream in the buttermilk while whisking.
Scrape the bowl to ensure homogeneity, then portion evenly into the three pans.
Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a tester comes out with a few crumbs and the tops are springy.
Allow to cool completely before frosting.
To make the frosting, beat the softened butter for 3 minutes, until light, fluffy, and doubled in volume.
Add in the salt and sugar and mix on low speed until combined; add cream slowly (spoonful by spoonful, mixing after each one) if the frosting is too thick.
Tint to your desired color; here, I used only the tiniest drop to create an extremely pale pink frosting.
To decorate the cake, place one layer on a cake stand and top with 1/2 cup frosting.
Repeat until all 3 layers are stacked.
Crumb coat the cake and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Top with the remaining frosting and smooth with a large, warmed spatula.
Once smooth, place in the fridge to chill.
Melt the white chocolate and cream very gently in the microwave (about 45 seconds to 1 minute on medium power); pour or pipe over the edges of the chilled cake.
Finish the cake with lucky charms marshmallows (crush a few for powder), sprinkles, and candles, if desired.
My blood is a rushing river.
My heart is a burning bridge.
February, how did you come so quickly?
And how is it so warm? It is freaking everyone out. I don’t want to enjoy too much, given that we’re supposedly guaranteed another six weeks of winter (although we haven’t truly had any winter here in the Windy City).
Today, it’s 50 degrees and raining, and all I wanted this grey morning, what with the soft patter of rain on my windows, was the pull the covers back over my head and sleep for the entire day.
I am going to keep is short here, today.
My theme of the month is humble and grateful love.
I want to share it with those who matter the most to me, but also with everyone in the orbit of my life.
We could all do with more widespread love. Share some with your partner, your neighbor, your friends and your frenemies.
Show someone that you are thankful for everything they have given you—their energy, their attention, their love and affection—and give it back in kind.
Put some effort into an unexpected act of kindness. No need to brag or tell anyone about it.
It will make you feel amazing too.
Humble. Grateful. Love.
Today’s treats are these simple mocha and vanilla bean cupcakes.
They’re cheekily festive, with their pastel pink frosting and bright sprinkles on top, but you could leave out the food coloring and come away with a very elegant black and white cupcake.
The base of the cupcakes is my go-to: one bowl, one whisk, comes together in 15 minutes and bakes in just 10. The cake is moist and fluffy, and it is the perfect base for a big swirl of frosting.
The frosting is an Italian meringue buttercream: like a cloud of light, whipped buttery goodness. Its flecked with the seeds of two full vanilla bean pods and a big pinch of salt—dreamy.
These cupcakes are simple but adaptable—swirl different flavors into the frosting to customize it, and top with whatever sprinkles or chopped bits you so desire.
“You have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”
Mocha and Vanilla Bean Cupcakes cake portion lightly adapted from Sweetapolita
for the cupcakes:
95 grams (3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
150 grams (3/4 cup) superfine sugar
60 grams (1/2 cup) dark Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
120 grams (1/2 cup) buttermilk, room temperature
80 grams (1/3 cup) coffee, hot
42 grams (3 tablespoons) vegetable oil
for the frosting:
3 egg whites
150 grams (3/4 cup) sugar
45 grams (3 tablespoons) water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
335 grams (3 sticks, 1 1/2 cups) butter, softened
scrapings of 2 vanilla beans
few drops pink food coloring
Make the cupcakes: line 1 cupcake tin with liners and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Whisk flour, sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl.
Pour in the buttermilk, coffee, and vegetable oil and whisk until half incorporated; add in the egg and whisk until the batter is all combined.
Portion out into the liners (about 1/4-1/3 cup per cupcake), and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs.
Meanwhile, make the frosting: place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Place sugar, salt, and water in a small pot.
Begin to heat the sugar mixture on high as you whip the whites on medium speed.
When the syrup reaches 245 degrees F, your egg whites should be at firm soft peaks (almost hard peaks, but not dry).
Drizzle the syrup into the meringue with the mixer running; whip on high until cooled to body temperature.
Beat in butter one or two tablespoons at a time.
Beat buttercream on high speed until thick, glossy, and fluffy, about 4 minutes, then beat in vanilla bean and pink food coloring until tint is as desired.
If buttercream is too soft, refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Decorate cupcakes as desired, and top with sprinkles!
Did you think I was a city big enough for a weekend getaway?
I am the town surrounding it, the one you’ve never heard of but always pass through
There are no neon lights here, no skyscrapers or statues
but there is thunder, for I make bridges tremble
I am not street meat, I am homemade jam thick enough to cut the sweetest thing your lips will touch
I am not police sirens, I am the crackle in a fireplace
I’d burn you and you wouldnt take your eyes off me
I am not a hotel room, I am home
I am not the whiskey you want. I’m the water you need
Don’t come here with expectations and try to make a vacation out of me.
Since we last connected, I escaped Chicago to warm, sunny California for the best spring break ever with my parents.
We first went to LA and stayed in Venice Beach for a few days—right on the ocean. It was beautiful, and the food we had was generally spectacular.
It’s much easier to find fresh produce and food when you live in California, where essentially everything grows!
We managed to go to Gjelina twice, once for brunch and the other for our last dinner in Cali. It is (mostly) as amazing as everyone says it is. I had 1 (one) disappointing squash blossom scramble that had too much mint for my taste, but that being said, my parents liked it.
The goat and cow labneh on toast with jam, olive oil, and sea salt was an absolute knockout of a dish: creamy, fatty, crunchy, salty, sweet, fruity etc. etc.
The lemon ricotta pancakes with blueberry compote are another must.
My favorite from dinner was the charcoal gemelli, which was outstanding and incredibly well balanced despite being quite rich.
We also went to the Rose Café and tried boba from a few different places. Even the mediocre places were leagues above any Hyde Park slushie impostors.
(On that note, my wonderful boyfriend just bought me some dried boba and stainless steel straws so that I can make my own at home… Dangerous!)
We had a rented grey Mustang convertible, which we drove to the Coachella Valley. We stayed in Palm Springs, at the Saguaro, which is a fabulously retro motel-turned-hotel painted in all neon hues.
Our favorite breakfast place was definitely Cheeky’s, which seemingly always has a very long queue, but is totally worth it. The crispy buttermilk waffle tasted just like an ice cream cone and the cheddar scones were more like biscuits, with buttery, flaky layers that easily soaked up runny egg yolks.
We had date shakes at Great Shakes, because I was dying to try a date shake (the California desert has lots of date farms). Talk about dangerous—each shake comes with a mini cake donut on the straw, and the store front is filled with retro candies for just a few quarters each.
We headed back to LA the day before our departure.
I got to have lunch with lovely Courtney from Fork to Belly at Mendocino Farms, which has dooope sandwiches.
She’s in Iceland right now! I feel like Iceland is so photogenic, with all I’ve seen from Linda and Betty and Ashlae. I’m looking forward to seeing her photos, for sure.
Anyways, she’s the first blog friend I’ve met in person, and it was so fun! In a weird sense, it’s a novel way of interacting with people whom I already respect and in whom I take interest and, often, laugh along with weekly as I read their writing.
Definitely a great part of the trip.
Also during this trip, I found out that my Shamrock Shake Cake was chosen as a finalist in @feedfeed ‘s Bob’s Red Mill best home baker contest!
I didn’t end up winning, sadly, but I want to give a huge thank you to everyone who took the time to vote for me, and, of course, all of you who support me here by reading my blog!
Amazingly, the picture I shared on Instagram of these cupcakes to encourage my followers to vote for that contest garnered 735+ likes… Like, whoa.
Not that Insta is the best—really, it’s actually among the worst—metric of happiness, but that’s never happened to me before, so I was pretty excited.
I guess people still like cupcakes, even though they’ve been out of vogue for some time now.
The cupcakes shown are a sampling of the 200 I made for my sorority’s annual fundraiser for our sister charity, CASA (just like I did last year).
Lord, having done it once before did not make it that much easier this year—except that I had the foresight to buy an extra cupcake tin so I could make 24 at once.
Other tips if you ever want or agree to make an obscene number of cupcakes or baked goods for an event:
First of all, numbers are everything. Type or write out everything you need to make in recipe form, exactly how you’re going to make it (i.e. some of my recipes were for 12 cupcakes, I doubled them and wrote down the doubled recipe for 24).
Next, multiply each recipe by however many times you need to make it (I had to make 3×24 vanilla cupcakes) to calculate how much of each ingredient you’ll need for that particular flavor/recipe.
Doing this for all your recipes gives you the exact amount of flour/butter/sugar etc. you’ll need in total, so you can purchase just the right amount—not too much and not too little!
For example: I needed 64 ounces of buttermilk/sour cream/yogurt for the cupcakes, so I purchased a 64 ounce container of plain yogurt. I scraped it to the last gram on my last batch of cupcakes. So satisfying!
Secondly, plan ahead. When are you going to make everything? What can be made ahead? When does butter need to come out of the fridge to soften?
When things are made, where will I store them prior to the event or while other components are prepared?
How will I transport all these goodies?
I rely on my trusty plastic cupcake containers: they have very high domes, so no frosting ever gets mussed up in travel. They also seal very tightly, so cakes don’t dry out if made ahead.
They also are washable, so you don’t have to dispose of them after one use. Instead, you can use them over and over (they come in handy when gifting cupcakes!).
When they have reached the end of their lifecycle, you can recycle them. Perfect.
Third, make like a Top Chef and do your mise en place. Take out the flour, sugar, vanilla, salt, baking powder and soda before you start making your recipe.
If you’re using a scale, keep it out and turned on. Don’t bother putting away any of your ingredients until you’re done cooking for the day—fumbling in cabinets wastes time.
The flavors I chose to make were as follows:
banana cream cheese,
(Not pictured: lemon and caramel.)
I’m sharing the vanilla chocolate recipe today, because it’s my own perfected version (I’ve made a lot of vanilla cupcakes in my short time here on Earth) and I felt as though these came out the best out of all. I’m picky, though.
Recipes/references for some of the other flavors will follow.
The caramel cupcakes were the vanilla base with a vanilla frosting that had half of this caramel recipe mixed in, and more drizzled over top.
I used this recipe for red velvet cupcakes (doubled).
I used this recipe, which is perfect, for the chocolate cupcakes. These banana cupcakes are wonderfully moist and save well, to boot—so they’re my recipe of choice.
The mint frosting was similar to this cake.
The cream cheese frosting I used on the red velvet, banana, and lemon cupcakes was similar to this cake or this one.
So I made these cupcakes for the pre-event, which leads up to the actual Mr. University talent show that we host; it’s meant to heat up interest and donations the week before.
Nati kindly drove me, chattering and sweating and shaking with nerves—the cupcakes carefully laid out in the trunk of the car—to the event, where I unloaded box after box with mounting relief. Not a single smashed cake or a single errant swipe of frosting.
The event itself was hilariously fun, as always, and was more successful than ever: two years ago, Theta raised 40K for CASA of Cook County. Last year, 46K.
This year, we raised an astonishing 65,000 dollars in two and a half short, frenzied weeks.
We are so grateful for everyone who donated. More importantly, though, the kids whom this will benefit will be grateful, and more will have the chance to have an advocate in the court system, as they search for a forever home.
Everyone needs a measure of stability and warmth and love in their lives, especially in chaotic, lonely times like moving through the foster system. CASA provides this. And I’m proud to have been part of an event that supported such a fantastic organization.
This post has been lengthy, so I’ll leave you with the recipe.
These cupcakes are moist from the yogurt, bake up without any domes or uneven surfaces, are a one-bowl affair, and are just plain dependable. It’s hard to beat a good yellow cupcake with sweet and a little salty chocolate frosting.
The frosting has a generous amount of dark chocolate and cocoa powder in it; you can add up to 1/2 a cup of Nutella to it if you want to amp up the flavor even further.
These are simple but well-loved.
The recipe is tried and true—I hope you like and use it as much as I have!
P.S. The sprinkles are, IMHO, a necessity.
Perfect Vanilla and Chocolate Cupcakes
makes 24 cupcakes
for the frosting:
560 grams (2 1/2 sticks, 10 ounces) butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
15 grams (2 tablespoons) cocoa powder
112 grams (8 ounces) bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
400 grams (3 cups) powdered sugar
30-60 grams (2-4 tablespoons) half-and-half or milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Make the cupcakes: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line 2 cupcake tins with cupcake papers.
Whisk the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and vegetable oil together.
Add in the yogurt and whisk to combine.
Add the flour, baking powder, and salt on top and carefully stir until homogeneous.
Portion out in 1/3 cup scoops into the papers and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until a tester comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.
Allow to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the frosting: place the butter and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Beat on high for 3 full minutes.
Add in the cocoa powder and beat for another minute, until no lumps remain.
With the mixer beating on high, stream in the melted and cooled chocolate; when incorporated, start slowly adding in the powdered sugar (turn down the mixer if the sugar is flying out).
Add the vanilla extract when the sugar is incorporated.
If the frosting is too thick, add in the half-and-half one tablespoon at a time until it is the appropriate thickness.
Frost cupcakes as desired (add sprinkles)!
The second law of thermodynamics… states that the amount of disorder in the universe will always increase.
“If we see alien science someday, they will have the equivalent equation,” Tufte said.
“That’s real elegance.”
(Tom Stoppard, in his play “Arcadia,” summarized this law as
“You cannot stir things apart.”)
—Patrick House, “What is Elegance in Science?” from the New Yorker
“That kind of self-respect is a discipline,
a habit of mind that can never be faked but can be developed, trained, coaxed forth.
It was once suggested to me that, as an antidote to crying, I put my head in a paper bag.
As it happens, there is a sound physiological reason, something to do with oxygen, for doing exactly that,
but the psychological effect alone is incalculable:
it is difficult in the extreme to continue fancying oneself Cathy in Wuthering Heights with one’s head in a Food Fair bag.
There is a similar case for all the small disciplines, unimportant in themselves;
imagine maintaining any kind of swoon, commiserative or carnal,
in a cold shower.”
Balance, ever sought—ever fickle.
It seems—often in autumn—that I bite off a hunk that is, for the most part, far too tough to chew.
I gnaw my way through, tired, weak, cranky, and overwhelmed, drawn forward really only by the inevitability of Thanksgiving, of winter break;
by the measly promise of three full days outside of the library.
The majority of November has escaped me (and this blog)—and it’s long overdue that I stop back in to share some treats.
(It’s been three weeks of radio silence—cruel and longer than usual to be sure!)
Chicago has already had our first snow storm (the past two days have been quite the wintry mix), and UChicago’s fall quarter is only 2 weeks from done.
Which means autumn is well on its way out.
And no pies to show for it…!
Honestly, I’m not even sure where the time has gone, which is woefully typical of this quarter.
Last autumn, I went for about a month without a post because of school stress and Pinterest-related issues.
With the holidays approaching (I’ve already written my yearly Thanksgiving Manifesto, which usually rounds out at about 10 pages of recipes, lists, schedules, etc.), rest assure that I’ll be around far more often.
Gift-worthy cookies and cakes are on the way, from a sorry and guilty resident blogger.
For now, this is a birthday cake!
This cake was from mid-October, AKA Alexa’s birthday.
It appeared in the kitchen at a busy time, when there were other treats and people were busy.
As a result, it sat for an entire day, perfectly cased in smooth frosting and drippy caramel, before being sliced into.
I swear, you guys, this cake got better on the second and third days. It was miraculous.
I made the cakes and caramel a week before, and froze/refrigerated them.
The cakes retained an incredible amount of moisture, and thawed into lusciously dense, tightly-crumbed specimens.
The layers are comprised of dense almond cake, buttery and subtly almond-esque.
The frosting is white chocolate and vanilla bean cream cheese buttercream, which crusts ever-so-slightly, creating a soft and creamy inside with a sugary, crunchy coat. Lashings of salted caramel are poured over the top and allowed to drip all the way down (only to be swiped away by greedy fingers!), and covered with a dusting of gold luster dust and glitter stars and a few of my tallest candles.
Seriously, can you see those vanilla bean flecks?!
The flavor combination here—almond, white chocolate, vanilla, caramel, and cream cheese—is rich but far more interesting than a vanilla on vanilla cake.
I get asked fairly often what the trick to drippy caramel cakes is.
My most foolproof caramel drip is the result of completely cool caramel.
It’s best to make your caramel a full day ahead and leave it covered on your counter overnight.
This way, you ensure that it’s really at room temperature—it takes a long time, and it’s easy to try to cut corners.
But even slightly warm caramel will not give you the same result.
And if you are super worried about overly melty caramel, just decrease the cream by 1 or 2 tablespoons.
Happily, like I said, the cake and caramel here can be made up to a week ahead and frozen/refrigerated, respectively.
The frosting takes 15 minutes to whip together and once frosted, the cake is good to go for up to two days.
So you can assemble the cake the day before and stay cool as a cucumber, no matter what your party day looks like!
That’s what I call a celebration cake!
White Chocolate Almond and Caramel Cake
makes 1 3×6-inch cake
cake portion adapted from Sky High
for the white chocolate vanilla bean cream cheese buttercream:
225 grams (2 sticks, 16 tablespoons) butter, softened
225 grams (8 ounces) cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
scrapings of 1 vanilla bean
460 grams (4 cups) powdered sugar
1 tablespoon heavy cream, or as needed
4 ounces white chocolate, melted and cooled slightly
for the salted caramel:
100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
30 grams (2 tablespoons) water
1 tablespoon corn syrup
90 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
gold luster dust, optional
edible gold stars, optional
Make the salted caramel up to a week in advance: place sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt in a small pot over medium heat.
Cook until the temperature reaches 245 degrees F.
Remove from heat and quickly stir in butter and heavy cream.
Keep whisking until the caramel comes together fully.
Pour into a bowl and allow to cool to room temperature; cover with plastic wrap touching the surface and refrigerate until use.
Make the almond cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 3 6-inch round pans well.
Place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on high for 2 minutes, until fluffy and softened.
Add in crumbled almond paste, sugar, and salt.
Beat on high for 5 full minutes.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add in the vanilla extract, egg whites, and milk.
Mix on low speed until halfway combined; the batter may look curdled at this point.
Add in the flour and baking powder on top of the battler and mix on low until homogeneous.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and beat on high speed for 15 seconds to ensure even mixing.
Portion the batter out evenly into the 3 prepared pans and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a tester comes out with only a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack.
To make the frosting, place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment and whip on high for 4 minutes.
Add in the cream cheese, vanilla bean, and salt and whip for 2 more minutes.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add in the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, making sure all is incorporated before adding more.
Add heavy cream as needed; once all the powdered sugar has been incorporated, drizzle in the cooled white chocolate while whipping on high.
To assemble the cake, place 1 layer on a cake stand. Frost with 1/3 cup frosting, then drizzle some salted caramel over top.
Add the next layer and repeat.
Crumb coat very well, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before finishing the frosting.
Smooth the icing with a hot knife.
Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before drizzling the cooled caramel around the edges.
Top with gold luster dust, edible gold stars, and candles.