Happiness is a warm double chocolate banana cake

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Chocolate banana cake, vanilla ice cream and salted caramel sauceUsually when spring arrives I like to shelve my cozy fall and winter desserts until heavy sweater season comes back. However, here in Toronto, the snow just doesn’t want to let up, so this weekend I prepared one of my favourite winter dessert combinations: warm double chocolate banana cake topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and finished off with a heavy-handed drizzle of salted caramel sauce.

I originally prepared this dessert for the fifth wedding anniversary of my brother and sister-in-law, whose wedding cake was chocolate and banana flavoured. Although mine isn’t nearly as pretty as their cake was, it’s awfully tasty and it’s become one of my go-to recipes when I need a humble Sunday afternoon or weeknight dessert.

I used three ripe bananas for this cake (which yielded about one cup, mashed) and a cup of chocolate chips, but you could definitely go heavier on the bananas for a gooier, denser cake. I find banana cake is one of those rare desserts where you don’t have to be quite as concerned with measurements (at least not with the bananas and chocolate chips).

Double chocolate banana cake

  • 3 large ripe bananas, mashed (yields 1 cup or so)
  • 2 tsp lemon juice (the bottled kind)
  • 2 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • ½ cup cocoa
  • 1 ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1 ½ cups buttermilk at room temperature
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Directions

  • Butter and flour a 10” bundt pan and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F
  • Mash bananas with lemon juice and set aside
  • Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom and salt, and set aside
  • In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, blend the oil at medium speed for two minutes
  • Add the eggs, one at a time, and blend at low speed until just incorporated
  • Add in vanilla and blend at low speed until incorporated
  • Blend in the flour mixture at low speed alternately with the buttermilk, starting and ending with the flour mixture (i.e. 3 additions flour, 2 additions buttermilk) until just incorporated
  • Fold in the bananas and chocolate chips
  • Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan and bake for 50-55 minutes
  • Remove from oven and let it cool in the pan for about 20 minutes, then turn it out

Salted caramel sauce

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup whipping cream, at room temperature
  • 140 g unsalted butter, cut into slices, at room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt (or more if you want it saltier)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Directions

  • In a medium saucepan, melt sugar at medium/high, stirring constantly with a spoon or whisk. This always takes me about 8 minutes. You need to start stirring immediately because things happen quickly with salted caramel sauce.
  • Once all the sugar has melted and all the lumps and bumps are gone, let it sit on the stove without stirring for about 30 seconds
  • Remove the saucepan from the stove and let it sit for another 30 seconds – it always bubbles up on me at this point, which is why it’s so important that there’s a lot of room at the top of your saucepan
  • Stir in the butter, one slice at a time, until each slice melts in. Again, the caramel will bubble up, so be cautious.
  • Once all the butter is incorporated, slowly pour in the cream and stir until incorporated.
  • Finally, stir in the salt and the vanilla extract and then pour it into a glass container to cool (I like using a Mason jar). The sauce will seem quite thin but once it comes to room temperature it will thicken up.
  • Resist the urge to taste your sauce until it cools – it’s still extremely hot after you add in the butter and cream.

Vanilla ice cream

For now I’m just using store-bought ice cream, but I’m hoping to try making my own someday soon.

Some assembly required …

  • Place a slice of the warm banana cake onto a plate. Top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and then drizzle the salted caramel sauce overtop.

 

 

A matcha made in heaven

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Matcha almond layer cake

Matcha almond layer cake

I’m back from my extended leave of absence from Lopsided Cakes, which started when I experimented with veganism during and after Lent last year. It was an adventure, and I discovered some delicious savoury and sweet recipes that may some day make it to the “other kitchen adventures” portion of this blog. It was also a challenge, as it took some time to build up my vegan pantry and didn’t leave much time for blogging. But overall, it was rewarding to introduce more plant-based foods into my diet and to find alternatives to some of my favourite foods and beverages.

Today, my diet once again includes all the food groups outlined in Canada’s Food Guide, but with more plant-based foods than before. This also means that I’ve returned to baking more traditional desserts, much to the relief of my friends, coworkers and family.

As a nod to my vegan adventures and to the beverage that got me through my deep cravings for Starbucks’ flat white latte, I want to share possibly the most heavenly cake I’ve ever made and tasted. This matcha almond layer cake is inspired by the soy latte that I would often order at Starbucks and Aroma Espresso Bar to get me through my milk cravings. If you’re not familiar with matcha, it’s a green tea powder, which I find to be softer on the palate than plain green tea – learn more about matcha here.

My mom, who joined me on my vegan adventure without any hesitation, also inspired this dessert. For her last birthday, I pulled this creation together, which includes one layer of almond cake sandwiched by delectable layers of matcha cake. Matcha Swiss buttercream icing (who ever would have thought of this?) fills the layers and covers the cake, which is then topped with white chocolate matcha ganache. The cake definitely tasted of tea, but it was fragrant, not overbearing and, to my surprise, it had universal appeal. A warning though: matcha is quite costly. I used the grand cru matcha from David’s Tea at $19.98 (CAD) for just 50g (which is sufficient for this recipe).

Matcha cake layers

Adapted from a recipe posted by TIRAMISUKI on AllRecipes.com.

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons matcha
  • 1¼ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • 1 cup plain yogurt at room temperature
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  • Butter two 9” round cake pans and line with parchment paper.
  • In a medium bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking soda, salt and matcha.
  • In a stand mixer, beat together sugar, oil and eggs until smooth.
  • Stir in 1½ teaspoons vanilla.
  • Mix in the flour mixture alternately with the yogurt, starting and ending with the flour mixture, until just incorporated (i.e. 3 additions flour mixture, 2 additions yogurt).
  • Pour batter into prepared pans.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and let sit for 30 minutes before releasing from the pans.

Almond cake layer

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 1½ cups cake flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ cup homogenized milk
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 egg whites minus 1 teaspoon

Directions

  • Butter a 9″ round cake pan and line with parchment paper.
  • Combine the milk and almond extract in a measuring cup and set aside.
  • In a stand mixture, beat the egg whites until they are stiff (but still moist) and form peaks. Set aside.
  • Cream the butter in a stand mixer until it is white (2-3 minutes).
  • Add the sugar and beat until fluffy (5-7 minutes).
  • In a small bowl, whisk together flour, salt and baking powder.
  • Beat the flour mixture into the butter mixture alternately with the milk mixture, ending with the flour mixture (i.e. 3 additions of flour mixture, 2 additions of milk mixture). Do not over beat!
  • Gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter and then pour the batter into the cake pan.
  • Bake at 350 degrees F for 27-30 minutes or until the top bounces back when you touch it.
  • Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes, then release it to a wire rack to cool completely.

Matcha buttercream icing

Adapted from two different recipes (see the Sprinkle Bakes blog and the Cake Merchant blog)

  • 6 large egg whites
  • 1¼ cups granulated sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1¼ pounds unsalted butter, cut into cubes, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons matcha powder dissolved in 1 ½ tablespoons hot water

Directions

  • Combine the egg whites, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer.
  • Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water (at medium-high heat, but make sure it doesn’t boil. The bowl should not touch the water).
  • Heat the egg white mixture until it reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit, whisking continuously but gently. This process takes quite a while (15 minutes or so).
  • Remove the bowl from the heat and place it back on the base of the stand mixer. Immediately start whipping the egg whites on medium-high using the whisk attachment.
  • Whip the egg whites until they become fluffy and double in volume. This usually takes a while (10-15 minutes) and even then it isn’t cool. I tend to stop whipping after 15 minutes and let the bowl cool for a few minutes longer.
  • Switch to the paddle attachment. With the speed on medium-low, add the butter chunks one at a time, making sure the butter is blended after each addition.
  • Once all the butter is blended in, beat the mixture on high speed for several minutes longer, until the mixture is thick and smooth.
  • Add the vanilla extract and matcha mixture and beat until incorporated and the colour is consistent.

White chocolate matcha ganache

Adapted from the my name is yeh blog.

  • 8 oz/240g white chocolate, cut into small pieces
  • 2 teaspoons matcha
  • ½ cup heavy cream

Directions

  • Place the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl.
  • Place the matcha in a small saucepan and incorporate the cream slowly, with a whisk, until there are no lumps.
  • Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it starts to boil.
  • Immediately pour the hot mixture over the chocolate chips. Let stand for a couple of minutes until the chocolate has softened, and then mix it together until the colour is consistent.

Some assembly required … 

You will have two green matcha tiers and one white almond tier. Make sure the tiers are level. Place a matcha tier on your serving plate and ice it with the buttercream. Place the almond layer on top and ice it with the buttercream. Top it with the second matcha tier and cover the entire cake with the remaining buttercream. Then drizzle the ganache over it and enjoy.

A twist on red velvet for Valentine’s Day

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One of my favourite treats growing up was Vachon cakes, which my nonna had in full supply in her pink kitchen cupboards each time we visited. My favourites were the Ah Caramel, the Flaky and the Jos Louis. As Valentine’s Day approached this year, I had visions of red velvet cake … and then I thought to do a twist by adapting it into a large scale Jos Louis. I created this in four steps:

  • For the layers of cake, I used the Joy of Baking’s red velvet cake recipe
  • For the filling, I prepared half a recipe of Vanilla Buttercream Frosting mixed with about 2/3 of a cup store-bought marshmallow fluff. More or less can be added depending on your taste. I find a little extra salt goes a long way with this type of filling, so I doubled the amount. But again, always taste as you go.
  • I iced it with a simple chocolate fudge recipe I found on allrecipes.com, but I modified it by using 4 oz semisweet chocolate and just half a cup of homogenized/whole milk. I wouldn’t recommend this icing for piping/decorating, as it starts off quite runny and begins to set after a few minutes. But it’s perfect for just covering a cake with a silky smooth texture. This recipe yielded more than enough to ice my cake – I had about a cup left over.
  • I finished it off with a “hard” chocolate glaze, also from allrecipes.com. However, the recipe only hardened when I refrigerated my cake. At room temperature it was pretty soft.

The finished cake was pretty …

Image of Jos Louis cake from above

And I was sad but excited to cut into it … Slice of Jos Louis cake

I’d never glazed a cake before, but a video by savannahcustomcakes gave me the instruction I needed to finish my product. One note about this process is that you need a lot of glaze to start with, and a lot of it ends up falling through your wire rack with cake crumbs attached. You can use a sieve to salvage it, but it is a bit painstaking. It’s worth the final result, in my opinion, but you just need to be prepared to invest the time and trouble. The good news is that chocolate glaze freezes well, so it doesn’t have to go to waste. (Is it true that the world is running out of chocolate?)

I made the pink hearts myself using Wilton candy melts and a heart mold, and I sprinkled them before they set with some Valentine’s Day themed decorations. Candy molds are quite easy to use, and Wilton’s provides good directions on the package. I’m not a natural born cake decorator, and candy molds have helped me through a couple of decorating challenges in the past.

Frozen-themed cake

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I always say that baking should be substance over style … but every so often I achieve a wonderful marriage of both.

My niece turned three this year, which of course called for a Frozen-themed birthday cake. I originally had an idea to try my first fondant covered cake, and the plan was to decorate the cake with snowflake cutouts using coloured fondant and topping the cake with store-bought figures from the movie. But after pounding the pavement and searching online, I couldn’t get my hands on a snowflake shaped cutter.

Onto plan B … which I had to hatch while walking the aisles of Michael’s. My eyes landed on a castle cake set, which I’d considered buying a couple of years ago for a beach-themed cake. I picked it up and was once again scared off by the number of pieces. Also, the two-tiered cake on the cover was much bigger than I needed for a gathering of just over 10 people. But then I realized I could keep it to one tier and use just some of the pieces to produce a more modest but impressive cake that could serve as Anna’s (or is it Elsa’s?) castle. Luckily, I bumped into a mother who was also seeking ideas for a Frozen cake. She was familiar with the castle set and fully supported my plan.

It took a lot of baking, icing, piping and dowelling to achieve my final product, but my money didn’t go to waste:

FrozenThemedCake

The cake

My niece was absolutely adamant about blowing out her candle over an all-vanilla cake. While I was sad to abandon the nutella cake that she’d first requested, the silver lining was that white cake, filling and icing would be more compatible with the Frozen theme … But I still hadn’t found the perfect vanilla cake recipe.

I decided to try the Joy of Baking’s White Butter Cake. I was attracted by the direction to separate the eggs and fold beaten egg whites into the batter as a last step – correctly assuming that it would achieve a lighter, fluffier cake. I doubled the recipe to make three 9” cakes. It turned out well.

The filling

Last summer I made the most amazing Campfire Delight cake for my nephew’s birthday, recipe courtesy of Sweetapolita. I thought the toasted marshmallow frosting portion of this recipe would be perfect for my all-vanilla cake. It kind of reminds me of Twinkie filling.

I didn’t have a jar of marshmallow fluff, so I made it myself from a recipe I found on Confessions of a Bright-Eyed Baker. This yielded at least double the marshmallow cream that was needed. To the frosting recipe, I added maybe half a teaspoon of salt. I also toasted and threw in an extra marshmallow, just for kicks.

This recipe yields enough for two generous layers of filling (for a 9” cake).

Layer of vanilla cake topped with toasted marshmallow frosting

The first generous layer of toasted marshmallow frosting

The icing

I’ve come to love making meringue buttercreams, so I used Sweetapolita’s Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue Buttercream for this one (scroll down in the entry for the Millionaire’s Layer Cake). This recipe yielded more than enough to generously cover a very tall three-layered 9” cake.

The birthday girl loved her cake as much for the decoration as the taste. And I was finally satisfied with myself for producing a satisfying vanilla cake with a variety of textures and subtle nuances in the vanilla flavour.

Christmas Review

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It’s been quite a month of the January blahs, and before it ends, I thought I might provide a review of my Christmas baking. My love of freshly baked treats sometimes hampers my ability to deliver the goods according to my original plan. Several items I meant to make were dropped. And then a nasty cold had me bedridden (or couch ridden, watching made-for-TV Christmas movies) right after Christmas and lasting all through the season.

You know when people say, “my eyes are bigger than my stomach?” In my case, my eyes are bigger than my ability to bake, and I returned from the bulk and grocery stores with enough ingredients to make any dessert you can imagine. By the end of it all, I had five unused packages of cream cheese, a large carton of whipping cream, several pounds of butter and a pound of dates … not to mention the glass cherries … the shelled pistachios … the walnut halves, etc. etc.

I made four types of cookies/squares, a cheesecake and a pound cake, which I mentioned in an earlier post. It was more than enough baking from our small holiday gathering (including seven adults and two children), yielding enough to send people home with a good plate of desserts, plus leftovers in my kitchen that lasted well beyond the new year.

Cookies and squares

Melt-in-your-mouth shortbread, Pecan squares, Rugelach, Lemon thumbprint cookies

Cookies/squares (clockwise from top left): Melt-in-your-mouth shortbread, Pecan squares, Rugelach, Lemon thumbprint cookies

Melt-in-your-mouth shortbread

Okay, just to be clear, this is not an alternative to shortbread, but it’s an amazingly light and satisfying butter cookie. I turned this into a vanilla butter cookie so that I could showcase homemade vanilla, courtesy of my brother following his travels to Mauritius. I made several variations to this recipe:

  • I added some salt (½ teaspoon) because I love a salty edge on anything that wants to call itself shortbread
  • I added a teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • I followed one reviewer’s advice and beat the butter for 15 minutes – this is what makes them melt in your mouth
  • I drizzled a vanilla glaze over the cookies:
    • ¾ cup icing sugar
    • 1 tablespoon milk
    • ½ teaspoon of vanilla

Pecan squares

I had a delicious pecan square one evening at Rooster Coffee House and wanted to replicate it. I figured I’d give this recipe on the Joy of Baking site a try. I was a bit put off by the lack of butter in the filling, so I did some research and found that in fact most recipes don’t contain butter. So I modified this recipe by adding some softened butter (about ¼ cup). The result was okay, but they definitely didn’t match up to the ooey and gooey squares at Rooster. My filling didn’t exactly ooze out. It was altogether a very neat and tidy bar once I sliced it, which isn’t exactly what I’d envisioned. I think the addition of butter was probably a big mistake.

Rugelach

I went back to a Christmas baking magazine for this one, and now I can’t find it. What I’ll say is that the cookies were fine, but a little meh. My mom always complains that the cookies dry out quickly, despite the jam filling, and while they’re good shortly after you pull them out of the oven, they don’t have a lot of staying power.

Lemon thumbprint cookies

This Anna Olson recipe is an all-time favourite, with a few variations:

  • I use lemon curd as the filling instead of marmalade
  • I only use pistachios because the green of the pistachio against the yellow cookie is striking
  • I fill the cookies before putting them in the oven – per one of the variations listed in the original recipe

Cakes

Holiday gift cake

See my previous post on this one.

Holiday gift cake

Holiday gift cake

Italian Cream Cheese and Ricotta Cheesecake

I wanted to try a different type of cheesecake, and I was intrigued by the addition of butter and ricotta into what otherwise looked like a traditional recipe. This produced a slightly lighter cheesecake than others I’ve made. I’ve never done this type of cheesecake without a crust, and I liked the result. My only variation to this was to top it with some brandied cherries.

Italian cream cheese and ricotta cheesecake

Italian cream cheese and ricotta cheesecake

Holiday Gift Cake

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Holiday gift cake

Christmas is just days away and I haven’t started baking. I’m trying apply lessons learned from Christmases past. I remember seasons where I would be up until 2 in the morning, baking double batches of cookies and great varieties of desserts, in the week leading up to Christmas. The kitchen looked like a bakery. My feet and back were sore and my enthusiasm waned. It became an act of labour rather than love. And sure, it was an impressive array of treats, only with all the other food on Christmas, dessert often falls by the wayside. By the end of the big meal, people usually just want a piece of cake and skip the cookies and bars.

The other thing is, I find that I love baking all through the holidays. On Boxing Day, my personal tradition after waking up from a long wintry night’s sleep is to find a new dessert to bake. I love the scent of baked goods wafting through the house long after Christmas.

So right now I’m just planning and trying to ensure that I’ve got recipes lined up to cover a few key categories. As far as ingredients go, I need to be sure I’ve got a variety of desserts that feature nuts, chocolate, spices, dried fruits, cherries and citrus. And the Christmas season is just not complete without shortbread and a cheesecake.

My mom used to make an amazing poundcake that incorporated a few of these elements. She used to have a box of index cards where she collected recipes from friends, ads and newspapers. This particular index card featured a cut out from a newspaper, and I want to preserve this recipe for future. This one is making the cut this year.

Holiday Gift Cake

Cake ingredients

  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup well-drained chopped maraschino cherries
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/4 cups sifted cake flour

Glaze ingredients

  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1 1/2 cups sifted icing sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk

Directions – Cake

  1. Combined softened cream cheese, butter, sugar and vanilla. Mix until well blended.
  2. At eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  3. Sift 2 cups of flour with baking powder. Gradually add to the batter, mixing well after each addition.
  4. Toss remaining flour with cherries and chopped nuts. Fold into batter.
  5. Grease a 10″ fluted or plain tube pan; sprinkle with finely chopped nuts.
  6. Pour batter into pan, bake at 325 F, for one hour and 20 minutes
  7. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pan and cool thoroughly.

Directions – Glaze

  1. mix icing sugar with milk
  2. add pecans

Cake assembly

  • Drizzle glaze over cooled cake.

Variations

  • pour 2 cups of batter into each of three greased 1 lb coffee cans. Bake 1 hour.
  • Poor 1/2 cup of batter into each of eleven greased 8 oz vegetable cans. Bake 25 minutes
  • Pour1 cup of batter into each of five greased 6″ by 31/2″ loaf pans. Bake 45 minutes.

The very versatile and often asked for Coconut Layer Cake

Coconut Layer Cake adapted into birthday cupcakes

I usually prepare this recipe as a layer cake but discovered it makes great cupcakes as well.

One day during my lunch break I stopped into a book sale and, just feeling like spending money and for no other reason, I picked up a book called Cakes: 1001 Classic Recipes from Around the World. When I brought it home and examined the cover more closely, I was a bit dubious. There was no famous chef’s name endorsing the book. Published by Reader’s Digest, it seemed fairly unassuming. But it had a lot of pictures of the finished products, and it was well laid out, qualities that I always appreciate in any cookbook. I can’t remember which recipe I tried first, but I know that it was beyond successful, and I found myself reaching for the book more and more often. With only one exception, every recipe I’ve tried in this book has been a hit.

The Coconut Layer Cake has become one of my fallback recipes. I’ve made it for birthdays, showers and holidays … I’ve adapted it into cupcakes. No matter what the format or occasion, it never fails to please. Since I’ve shared this recipe so many times, I’m happy to share it again here with my modifications. And if you ever come across this cookbook, I recommend it!

Ingredients – Cake

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup macadamia nuts or almonds, chopped

Ingredients – Filling

  • 1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (sometimes I substitute 1 teaspoon of coconut extract for 1 teaspoon of vanilla)
  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

Ingredients – Icing

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (sometimes I substitute 1 teaspoon of coconut extract)
  • 1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

Directions – Cake

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.
  4. Beat the butter, sugar, vanilla and coconut extract in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until creamy.
  5. Add the eggs, one at a time, until just blended after each addition.
  6. With mixer at low speed, gradually beat in the dry ingredients, alternating with the milk. Make sure to always start and end with dry ingredients (i.e. 3 rounds of dry ingredients interspersed with 2 rounds of milk).
  7. Fold in the nuts.
  8. Spoon half the batter into each of the prepared pans.
  9. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  10. Cool the cakes in the pans for 10 minutes and then turn out onto racks, carefully removing the paper. Let cool completely.

Directions – Filling

  1. With mixer at medium speed, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth.
  2. Stir in the vanilla (and/or coconut extract).
  3. Mix in the icing sugar at a low to medium speed until smooth.
  4. Fold in the shredded coconut.

Directions – Icing

  1. Beat the whipping cream with a whisk attachment in a stand mixer until stiff peaks form.
  2. With a spatula, fold in the icing sugar and vanilla (or coconut extract).
  3. Fold in the shredded coconut.

Directions for assembly

  1. Split each cake layer horizontally.
  2. Place one layer on a serving plate and spread with half the filling.
  3. Repeat step 2 with two more layers.
  4. Place the remaining layer on top.
  5. Spread with the icing.

Notes

  • When I can only find sweetened shredded coconut, I will reduce the amount of icing sugar in the recipes for filling and icing.
  • Usually when I bake this cake, macadamia nuts are out of season. Not to worry, blanched almonds are equally good if not better for this recipe.
  • When I adapted this recipe to cupcakes, I used the recipe for cream cheese filling for my topping, not the icing.

Would you like a side of popcorn with your cake?

November is a big month for birthdays in my family, beginning with my mom’s. She gets bored of chocolate cake, whereas I’d be happy with some sort of chocolate cake for every occasion.

For my friend’s birthday last July, I made fondue (pound cake, fresh fruit, marshmallows and chocolate) with a side of homemade caramel popcorn. It was my first time making caramel popcorn, and I was surprised by how easy it was. Furthermore, people were absolutely thrilled to eat this crunchy treat. It expanded my thoughts on what is dessert.

So when I saw a recipe on Sweetapolita for Peanut Butter & Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Popcorn, I was intrigued. My mom has always been a popcorn fiend – I can remember the days before the microwave packets, when people did stovetop popcorn. There was a product called Jiffy Pop, but my mom has always been one to do everything from scratch (and now, by extension, so am I). Instead of Jiffy Pop, she would take out a great big pot, heat up some oil and then pop up a storm. This typically happened on Friday nights and it was always such a treat. And for her birthday, I decided to give the treat of popcorn back to her.

The cake itself was fantastic – I wasn’t sure how much the flavour of peanut butter would come through, but it definitely had a satisfying peanut butter taste. The texture was also delectable, which I attribute to the inclusion of peanut butter. There was almost a soft, sandy quality to it. And the whole thing assembled was a visual treat and just lots of fun. I asked my five-year-old nephew to mix chocolate chips into the popcorn and to pile the popcorn on top – although it seemed that for every fistful that went onto the cake, another fistful went into his mouth – as evidenced by the smears of chocolate on his cheeks and his round, shiny, guilty eyes. And once the candles were blown out, adults and children alike started picking the popcorn off the cake. It was very interactive.

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Popcorn

A thoroughly fun birthday cake with something for everyone

My modifications

  • I used two 9″ cake pans instead of three 8″ cake pans – I may have overfilled the pans just a bit, but the cakes still turned out perfectly.
  • I somehow missed the step about adding chocolate chips to the cake – I think it would have been even tastier with the chips.
  • I used my tried and true recipe for caramel popcorn from all recipes.ca – I just prepared a half a recipe and I added half a cup of peanuts to it.
  • I didn’t use marshmallows in the popcorn but instead added some chocolate chips. My nephew had a great idea to add M&Ms to the popcorn, which I didn’t have on hand but I will do that next time … because there will definitely be a next time for this recipe, although I think it could be a lot of fun as cupcakes.
  • I used half and half cream in the chocolate icing instead of milk.

Cake for a birthday queen

My sister-in-law, Sandra, said she was never really into cake before she met my brother and started sampling my cakes at family events. Always inspired to delight someone who loves dessert, this year I was trying to come up with the perfect birthday cake for her. I went back to a great website I discovered in the summer, called Sweetapolita, which had already provided me with two memorable dessert creations.

I opted for the Sweet and Salty Millionaire’s Layer Cake … layers of chocolate cake with a triple threat filling of meringue buttercream, salty caramel sauce and crunchy homemade shortbread crumbs, all ensconced within a luxurious chocolate ganache icing.

triple threat filling - buttercream, shortbread crumbs and salted caramel sauce

The filling – a combination of sweet, salty and crunchy – made this a dessert to remember

It was a scrumptious combination of textures and tastes. Everyone loved it and demanded seconds, and Sandra has already put it in as her birthday cake request for next year.

the cake, plated

An extra drizzle of caramel and sprinkling of shortbread crumbs for the birthday girl

So the next birthday cake on my baking agenda is for my niece, who turns three in January. Last month she surprised me by requesting a Nutella cake – she already has a broad palette, and though she may change her mind a few times between now and then, I will honour her original request. And Rosie, the talent behind Sweetapolita, just happens to have one on her site.

But first we need to get through Christmas …

***

My modifications to the Sweet and Salty Millionaire’s Layer Cake:

  • The recipe calls for three 8″ pans, which I don’t have. So I made a tried and true chocolate cake recipe that I found on allrecipes.ca, using two 9″ pans. This chocolate cake is foolproof – it’s called Black Magic Cake.
  • Knowing that the filling would be decadent, I decided on just one layer. (My family as a whole prefers a higher ratio of cake to filling/frosting.)
  • I get stage fright around candy thermometers and am nervous to try new recipes for important occasions, so I relied on my fallback recipe for the salted caramel sauce, also from allrecipes.ca. I modified it by adding more salt and also a teaspoon of vanilla.
  • I cut the recipe for the Swiss meringue buttercream in half, given there was only one layer. And I definitely added more than a pinch of salt. I would suggest to anyone to  salt it to their individual taste.
  • I added about one teaspoon of salt to the shortbread crumb recipe and extra salt to the chocolate ganache.