Tag Archives: cake

Love in the Time of Cupid Cake

13 Feb

As a baker, there are certain, and many, occasions when one is expected to deliver.  Birthdays and religious holidays are obvious baking domain.  I’ll never forget the Passover in which I appeared empty handed, distracted by the hours I had spent that day filling out college applications.  I arrived at the Seder, prepared to relax and enjoy the food that had been cooked by my hosts.  But no, my dear, expectant family and friends were horrified when their token baker appeared macaroon-less.  Never again will I attend a holiday function without some appropriately themed dessert in tow.  Even smaller, routine dinner parties require a confectionary contribution.  I was recently invited to a “wine and baking” party, in which everyone enjoyed a delicious spread of cheeses, meats, and baguette, while I was relegated to the kitchen to bake the apple pie.  I rolled out the pie dough and cursed them all under my breath as I bitterly swigged down my wine.

Therefore, despite my lack of interest in this upcoming fictitious holiday, I was forced to brainstorm Valentine’s Day dessert ideas.  First, as I envisioned the impending “holiday” which so far, includes a 3 o’clock dentist appointment followed by my plan to lure my parents into joining me for a brooding happy hour, I could think only of baking Lolita-inspired bittersweet chocolate tarts, Romeo and Juliet-themed poison pastries, and broken-heart shaped cookies.

But really, I’m not that cynical.  And although, on a daily basis, I surround myself with little more than a good novel, my Dorie Greenspan baking bible, my brand new Cuisinart electric mixer, my parents, and a handful of lesbians, I really can’t complain.  Plus, if I ever do get depressed enough about my boyfriend-less existence to sit around eating bonbons and watching sappy Romantic comedies, at least I know I can make my own, delicious homemade bonbons.

And so, after ruling out the clichéd chocolate, heart-shaped, and red hued Valentine treats, I went to my dad for literary inspiration.  We considered “Finnegan’s Cake”—a Joyce’s “Ulysses” inspired cake of lemon soap.  But again, this seemed a bit too cynical, far too obscure, and way too tricky to successfully accomplish… and plus (although I hate to admit it), I haven’t even read the epic novel.

So we went with simplicity: Cupid and Pysche.  The myth tells of Cupid’s adoring pursuit of beautiful, mortal Psyche, and of her subsequent hunt for him (this spoke to my twenty-first century, girl-powered, egalitarian sensibility that women, too, should have to do a little bit of work in the courting process).  In the tale, Cupid disguises himself as mortal and claims Psyche as his wife, visiting her only in the night.  Promising her a happy future, he warns her only to refrain from attempting to see him or discover his identity.  So, Psyche agrees, and begins to love him deeply, despite having never laid eyes on him.  But Psyche’s jealous sisters terrify her into believing that her mysterious husband could turn into a serpent, creep into her womb, and devour her and her child.  Consumed by paranoia and fear, Psyche retires to their bed with a lantern and a dagger.  Cupid awakens to find the lamp held to his face and his wife raising a dagger to his chest.  But, Cupid’s beauty startles Psyche and she stops herself, letting Cupid escape.

Psyche, in despair, searches everywhere for her lost love.  After lengthy trials that lead her to the Underworld and back, Psyche still cannot find him.

Finally, Cupid realizes that he desperately misses Psyche, and pleads to Jupiter that he rescue her from this (for lack of a better phrase) wild goose chase.  Jupiter agrees to stop the madness and lawfully wed Cupid and Psyche.  But, of course, it can’t be that easy; and as Psyche journeys back from the Underworld, she falls into a deathly sleep.  Cupid gallantly rescues her, bringing her back to life, and carrying her back to Olympus, where they finally wed.  Jupiter presents Psyche with a drink of sweet nectar, which immortalizes her, allowing her to forever be united to her love.

Okay, so long story not so short (but it never is with those Greek myths), Cupid and Psyche are finally joined by this sweet drink of nectar and ambrosia, the food of the gods.  And what is more romantic than unrequited love?— practically murdering your husband, performing tedious and demeaning tasks to reclaim him, and traveling to the Underworld all for the sake of love.  It melts my cynical little heart.  So, of course, I had to bake a Cupid and Psyche inspired cake, honoring the flavors of ambrosia—oranges, coconut, and sugar.

Eloise’s Cupid and Psyche Cake
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Clementine Cake


  • 3 oranges
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 1/3 cups ground almonds
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut


Place the oranges in a large pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and cook for about two hours until they are tender all the way through and pierce easily with a knife.  Cut the fruit into quarters and fish out any white bits and seeds.  Put the fruit (skin and all) into a food processor and puree.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Add the eggs to the food processor with the pureed oranges and pulse until combined.  Add the dry ingredients and mix well (you can do this all in the food processor, if it fits, or mix it in a large bowl).  Pour into a buttered and parchment lined 8 or 9-inch springform pan.

Bake for about an hour, when a toothpick inserted comes out relatively clean (it’s a very moist cake).  Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan.

Unmold the cake and serve with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.


You can make this cake ahead.  It tastes best after a day or two and keeps for up to four days—you know, in case you have to go chasing your fiancé to the ends of the earth.  Although, in that case, you may want to freeze it.

I actually think this cake is better with clementines, in which case use about 5 boiled clementines.  It is also amazing with a dark chocolate ganache, which I left out purely because I am stubborn and wanted to be contrary about Valentine’s Day.  Do yourself a favor, and melt some semi-sweet chocolate with butter to spread over the top of the cake.


Someone Left the Cake out in the Rain

10 Feb

Dublin weather is relentless.   My American friends and family constantly questioned how I, a southern California girl, born and raised in seventy degree sunshine, could handle a year of Irish rain.  ‘Didn’t you freeze?’ I constantly heard.  ‘Wasn’t it miserable?’

The fact is, yes, it’s pretty wretched.  Damp socks and limp hair were an expected part of daily life.  And not only was it always raining, but the rain seemed to be accompanied by perpetual gusts of wind, blowing the torrents down at awkward angles, which made it impossible to shield oneself with an umbrella.  They worked mere seconds before being blown inside out, catching puddles of water rather than deflecting them.  So instead, we Dubliners braved the downpours, protected by nothing more than our Guinness-induced stupors.

The thing is, the rain became a bonding experience. ‘That damned Irish gloom’ created instant camaraderie.  Ducking into the nearest pub when your clothes began to soak through, the annoyance would immediately abate, as the gregarious, pint-drinking Dubliners would bond over the foul weather.  How could anyone stay cranky in a cozy pub, drying off with a fresh pint of Guinness in one hand and a warm ham and cheese toastie in the other?

It was one of those gray days.  I stayed inside, baking a masterpiece of a birthday cake for the friend’s party I would be attending that evening. This cake was indulgence at its finest: three, yes, three, tiers of chocolate Guinness cake, choc-full of butter, eggs, and stout, sandwiched between layers of dark chocolate ganache, which encased the whole thing.  It must have been a foot and a half tall, weighing at least thirty pounds.  It was enough to feed a small army, and, due to my imprecision, uncannily resembled the leaning tower of Pisa.  I finished the tilted masterpiece just in time for the party, a twenty-five or so minute walk from my flat.  Realizing I didn’t own a platter large enough to transport this monster of a cake, I let my creative juices flow.  Propped in the corner of my tiny living room was a box my mother had used to ship extra clothes to me for Dublin’s winter.  I grabbed the box, cut it apart, and fashioned a tray out of the cardboard and duct tape.  Precariously constructed, it wasn’t glamorous but it would do.

I grabbed my coat and an umbrella, just in case, and embarked on the usually brief walk up the Liffey to Smithfield.  I say usually brief because, let me tell you, minutes seem like hours when you’re carrying a thirty pound confection of  questionable structural integrity on a tray of even less structural integrity.

And of course, it began to rain.  Just my luck.  There I am, a wisp of a thing carrying a cake half my size through the Dublin streets… and it starts raining.  What am I supposed to do?  I couldn’t take the usual approach of seeking refuge in a pub until the rain abated— not only would I be late for the party, but there was no way a room full of drunken Irishmen would leave me or my cake unconsumed.

So, I opened my umbrella and trudged on.  The rain came in sheets, and so came the wind.  One arm gripping my umbrella, trying desperately to keep it right-side-in, and the other holding onto the cake for dear life, I marched on.

Boy, did heads turn.  One could only imagine what I was doing hauling an uncovered, three-tiered, chocolate cake through the streets of Dublin. My hair was soaked, my clothes were drenched, but the cake, damnit, the cake would be kept dry.

And so it was.  I finally made it to Jonathan’s flat up the Liffey.  Soaking wet and obviously perturbed, I shoved the miraculously dry cake into his arms, the weight of it taking him by surprise, and pushed past him into the shelter of the apartment.

But, in keeping with the inescapable Dublin cheer, it wasn’t long before my anger was soothed by a full glass of wine, the company of friends, and a large slice of this sinfully delicious and decadent Guinness chocolate cake.

Chocolate Guinness Cake
From Bon Appétit

For Cake:

  • 2 cups stout (I used Guinness, obviously, and would wince at the suggestion of using anything else)
  • 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups sour cream

For icing:

  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 1 pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped


For cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and parchment line three 8-inch round cake pans with 2-inch-high sides.  Bring 2 cups stout and 2 cups butter to a simmer in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat.  At this point, the aroma may cause you to feel the urge to crack open a Guinness for yourself.  Follow this instinct.  Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth.  Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl to blend.  Using an electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using a rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter equally among prepared pans. Bake cakes about 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer cakes to rack and allow to cool completely.

For icing:
Bring cream to a simmer in heavy medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chopped chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Refrigerate until icing is spreadable, stirring frequently, about 2 hours. This is also when that extra Guinness may come in handy (purely for indulgent and time-passing purposes).

Place 1 cake layer on plate. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with second cake layer. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with third cake layer. Spread remaining icing over top and sides of cake. When you realize it looks like a lopsided mound of chocolate, garnish it with whatever colorful fruit you have on hand, and console yourself with the knowledge that once your guests take a bite, they won’t care what the damn thing looks like.

The Whiskey Diary

7 Feb

It was 1999. I was eleven years old and I decided I wanted to bake.  Thanksgiving was approaching and I thought this the perfect time to unveil the culinary talents that I was convinced had long been hiding, just waiting to be unleashed on an unknowing world.

As I meekly voiced my newest endeavor, my mother immediately whipped out a file-box collection of her mother’s old recipes that lay untouched on top of our antique fridge (as she politely referred to the yellowed, humming unit).  My mother loves a good dessert.  The skinny, tennis-playing, exercise-loving, moderate-eating woman can’t get enough of her pastries.  Over the years, she has become my biggest fan, placing orders for my pies like I was working on commission.  So it’s no wonder that the moment I expressed an interest in baking, there she was, climbing precariously on a kitchen chair to scour her recipe box for the exact cake she had in mind.

“Your grandmother’s Whiskey Cake!” she shouted as she enthusiastically pulled out an old note card, which uncannily resembled the color of our antiquated refrigerator.

This cake had apparently been famous amongst the Rosenbergs, baked for every holiday, birthday, and dinner party.  And it’s no wonder.  The thing is drenched in a thick whiskey glaze, which soaks into the cake, rendering it exceedingly moist and reeking of booze.  This isn’t your usual whiskey cake, in which a moderate amount of alcohol is baked into the cake, burning off any alcoholic content it may have had, along with its strong boozey kick.  Rather, it’s the obvious creation of a tipsy, bored housewife, who, while polishing off her third glass of brandy, figures she might as well drench the cake she plans to serve at tonight’s dinner party in a refreshing coat of whiskey, butter, and sugar.

So there I am, an eager eleven year old, testing out my first foray into the world of baking, with ingredients I can’t (neither legally nor physically) even consume.

But my well-meaning, enthusiastic mother is already regaling me with stories of her childhood—her mother in the kitchen baking the famous whiskey cake, while aunts and uncles sit in the living room, watching little Janie twirl and frolic in her tutu.

And so I agreed to humor my mother and bake this cake, which, as it turns out, is the perfect recipe for a novice baker, constructed primarily from store-bought cake mix, pudding, and a few extraneous additions.  I opened boxes, tipping the mixes, nuts, and eggs into a large bowl, gave it a few haphazard stirs, and poured the batter into a rusty bundt pan, probably last used by my grandmother to bake this same cake.  I eagerly waited by the oven as the kitchen began to take on the pleasant aroma of a freshly baked cake.

I removed my rather perfect looking (I must admit) cake from the oven and began on the glaze.  Plugging my nose, I measured out the whiskey, heating it up with butter and sugar.  I watched as the butter melted and the tiny crystals of sugar dissolved into a smooth, dark liquid.  The smell was repugnant to my delicate, eleven-year-old senses, but I followed the instructions and reluctantly poured the glaze over my masterpiece.

A few hours later, we were on our way to the Thanksgiving feast— my mom, holding her green beans and turnips; and me, in the backseat with this booze-ridden cake on my lap.  I was infuriated— the once beautiful cake sank under the pressure of its boozey finish.  Both soggy and wrinkly, it smelled and looked like a bum one would find slumped in some dark alley.  But my mother’s excitement never abated.  She continued yammering on about the Thanksgivings of her past—the turkey, the stuffing, the whiskey cake…

Finally, we arrived.  I trudged glumly to the door, handing our host the hideous concoction I had spent all afternoon on.  Ready to abandon all my prior fantasies about becoming a baker, I had one last vision of the successful cake I had hoped I would present to the party—the first bite everyone would take of my cake, eyes widening with delight as they devoured the entire thing and praised me for a job well done, insisting that I would become a world famous baker one day, and, when I did, please don’t forget all of us little people from your past!  But no, I would just have to resign myself to the dull and unglamorous life of an artist, a writer, or some other commonplace profession my parents would suggest.

The Thanksgiving meal progressed, and I was taunted by the praise each contributor received for his or her dish.

“Roberto! Your stuffing is superb!”

“Jane, I just love those green beans!”

“Claude, how did you ever make those sweet potatoes?”

Don’t even get me started on the turkey.  Even David got applause for his sadistic carving techniques.

I wanted to sneak away to the kitchen, grab my bundt cake, and chuck it into the pool.  But it was too late—the plates were cleared, the food put away, the pants unbuttoned, and the unveiling of dessert began.

Next to the store-bought pumpkin and pecan pies, chocolate fudge, and vanilla ice cream, my pathetic, sunken cake looked pitiful in comparison.  I watched as guests piled their plates high, and nobody seemed to skip over my feeble attempt at dessert.

And then it began.  It started as a low rumble, but got louder and louder with each proceeding bite.  It was, in fact, murmurs of approval! “Yum’s,” “Yummy’s” and “Mmmm’s” echoed in surround sound throughout the room.  And it was all for my cake!  That cake which I still couldn’t be within two feet of, lest the smell of booze knock me straight onto my underage butt.  My head spun from the tiny bite I attempted from my sisters’ plate.  But boy, did those adults love it.  Must just be another one of those things “you’ll understand when you’re older.”

Plates were abandoned with half-eaten pumpkin pies, cookies with one bite mark, and melted ice cream, but nowhere could be found even one leftover spoonful of the Whiskey Cake.

“Phew,” I thought, “Maybe there is hope for me after all.”

Lily’s Whiskey Cake


For cake:

  • 1 pkg yellow cake mix
  • 1 pkg instant vanilla pudding (If the cake mix you buy doesn’t already include the pudding!)
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup Crisco Oil (I use Safflower– this is 2011, after all)
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (I always use walnuts)
  • 1 cup shredded coconut (I use unsweetened, but either would work)

For glaze:

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup whiskey, not Scotch (I always use Canadian whiskey)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine first five ingredients and beat until smooth.  Fold in the nuts and coconut and pour into an ungreased tube pan.  Bake for one hour.

With 5 minutes to go in baking time, melt the stick of butter with 1/2 cup of sugar in a small saucepan over a low heat, careful not to burn the butter.  When the mixture has become smooth, remove from heat and add 1/2 cup of whiskey.  Plug your nose, if underage.

Once the cake has browned and a toothpick inserted comes out clean, remove it from the oven.  Pour the hot glaze slowly over the hot cake.  It will get puddly and soggy.  I usually do this in three or four rounds, allowing the glaze to soak in before adding more.

Cover and let sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours.  Serve with whipped cream and make sure no one will be driving or operating heavy machinery for at least an hour after consuming a slice.