Believe it or not, these pretty little buttercream roses were piped by yours truly. For someone who is all thumbs and, at best, has a passing knowledge of how to decorate a cake, this is a feat indeed–and it’s all thanks to a dynamo of a friend and her marvelous book, Coco Cake Land, which is coming out today! I truly cannot be more excited.
For as long as I can remember, hazelnut coffee has been my dad’s way to start the day. Almost every day of my childhood and every day that I’m back home now, I’ve come downstairs in the morning to find him sitting in our sunny breakfast nook, already up for hours, with an oversized mug of coffee in his hand and a newspaper spread out on the table, his glasses beside it. His coffee is always the same, a spoonful of sugar and a heavy-handed pour of hazelnut Coffeemate that he stirs in with a chopstick until his coffee turns a creamy, tawny beige.
My dad’s love for cheesecake has been equally constant: In the summers that I spent tagging along with him to his oncology lab, we almost always came back from lunch in the hospital cafeteria with a narrow slice of cheesecake, perched in a plastic clamshell with a small dollop of cherry sauce on top, which we’d share in his office before he went back to work (and I went back to drawing pictures on his whiteboard or whatever it was that I did to pass the time).
My first introduction to this cake came on a brisk evening last April, in the form of a cheerful crowd of teeny baby Bundts at the launch party for Sweeter Off the Vine, the cookbook it comes from. The spread there, all baked by the inimitable Yossy herself, might have been one of the most delicious arrays of baked goods I’ve ever been privy to, from saffron lime bars and rich brown butter blondies to moist cornmeal cakes with dainty pink glaze and flaky rhubarb galettes. Yet these little Bundts, almost like pound cake in their heft but still brightly tart from a citrus glaze, still stood out so much that — shh — I squirreled away a baby cake or two to take back to friends on the way home, unable to help myself. I’ve been waiting to share it here ever since.
I think I read awhile back (while in the throes of grief that the closest Crumbs shop to me was closing down) that cupcakes have been on a little bit of a roller coaster in the last few years, embarking on a wild ascent from supermarket-only to trendy to out-of-your-mind popular before being ousted from their throne by donuts. Something like that? In this little world of mine, they’ve been on a steady trajectory of adoration only — for me, they have that nostalgic timelessness of Funfetti box mix and frosting out of a can, and even at their most gourmet they’re stout and cheerful and low-maintenance, ready to be lined up on vinyl tablecloths at birthday parties and eaten with utensil-less abandon (or, in my case, eyed carefully to see which one is a little bit fatter than the others, and then eaten with abandon). I’m pretty sure I will always love them. Which makes it all the more astonishing to me that there are hardly any recipes for cupcakes to be found in this space, and none at all since around 2013! With work kicking my butt lately, and in the mood for an easy but buoyantly happy recipe to disrupt that monotony, I thought this was a perfect time to change that.
Early mornings in the summer are my favorite. That cool, crisp sheen over everything, a dewy freshness that heat and humidity haven’t quashed yet. I used to dog-sit for our neighbors back in the 7th or 8th grade, and while you couldn’t find me up before 11 any other morning, on those days I’d roll out of bed and pad across the driveway in the rosy dawn to let Buddy out and feed him breakfast. Those mornings I sat and waited on the stoop for him to come back in, dew from the grass clinging to the tops of my feet, I’d feel buoyed by the thought of a whole day stretching long and open ahead of me — a wide world of dense, lazy, baking-hot summer to come. For that moment, though, it was just stillness. Sleepy anticipation on a misty summer morning.
It’s been a happy couple of weeks in the Bowl household. We’re as susceptible to worries and stress and anxieties as the next people (okay, probably more), but in the worst of it we’ll still look at each other, tucked under a gigantically fluffy comforter in the soft weeknight darkness, and say, but you know … we have it so good. It’s so tempting to forget, but we do. Family, friends, good food, each other. These past few weeks have seen a couple snags — a nasty stomach bug, lingering springtime sniffles — but they’ve been packed with so many happy things that we’ve barely noticed. B2 gave me the biggest surprise of my life when he flew my brother in to visit for the weekend (I was so shocked, guys, I opened the door and didn’t recognize my little bro for like ten seconds) and we’ve been seeing our fair share of his side of the family too, cousins with gleeful toddlers and gummy-smile’d babies, aunts and uncles in town for Easter, brunches and laugh-filled dinners galore. I love it. I’m the sappiest, but family always makes me so happy.
2015 is in two days.
That’s weird. In my mind, it’s still barely 2014, we still just got engaged, I’m still just a few months in to this new job and I’m still less than a year in to this world of food and food blogs. But in reality, it’s just a few more sleeps until a brand-new year. A year when we’ll get married. What.
Anyway, even if my brain is in denial, my hands made you this little cake and put together a few snaps from 2014 to commemorate our last trip around the sun! There are plenty of grainy iPhone gems thrown in, and a few shots from our engagement shoot (!) and our trip to Hawaii in September that I meant to share earlier. As for the cake, it’s a moist, rich (but vegan!) chocolate cake that last made an appearance in this even teenier version, and it’s bedecked with bubbly-infused festivities in honor of New Year’s — a crisp cranberry-champagne jam and a lightly tart champagne buttercream. (Plus edible sparkles. Of course.)
It’s a holiday birthday cake!
One of my dearest friends and future bridesmaids (!) had her birthday over Thanksgiving a few weeks ago. As hallmates in law school, we bonded over a mutual love for Waffle House and thick-skinned potstickers. Instead of heated civil rights debates, we discussed the finer points of chicken versus pork ramen broths. (Best law students ever.) Then we both came to New York for work! We ended up just one serendipitous floor apart in the same building. She was one of the first “real life” people I ever told about this little space of mine, and somehow she never gets tired of discussing what I should make next or when I should post what. (Our work situation also means she’s usually the one who gets leftovers from blog shoots on Mondays — I hand them off to her in our shared elevator bank like hot potatoes or illicit contraband and then we run into our separate elevators like be cool, man, be cool!)
It’s another baby-cake! Last week, I wrote a little bit about my wedding cake fantasies and how I spent a weekend baking the mini versions of the cakes I’d like to bake if I made my own cake. One was a tiny hummingbird cake, and the other is this one. It’s one of my favorite cakes ever, and one that I really meant to share a lot sooner. It started all the way in September of last year, when I caught a glimpse of this gorgeous cake by MBakes and was so instantly smitten that I spent the next week holed up in the kitchen recreating a mini version. It was one of my first real attempts at mini-fying cakes — and I think it involved enough dense, fallen, gummy mini failures to make up a full-sized cake — but the result was a recipe that I’ve used as a guide to a ton of other mini cakes since then. It was the basis for last week’s hummingbird cake, plus this carrot cake I shared back in February, and like I mentioned then, it’s become my go-to for birthdays, going-away parties, random face-stuffing extravaganzas, you name it.
So after talking about it (throwback alert!) and talking about it and talking about it some more, here’s the little mini-zucchini (doesn’t that seem like it should rhyme?) cake that gave way to all the others! The cake has all the moist decadence I love from zucchini bread, but with a lighter, more delicate crumb, and the frosting is (in my humble opinion) incredible. The lime juice is the perfect lively balance to the cream cheese, and the basil was a recent addition that I’m equally crazy about. It might have been a little odd as a real wedding cake layer, but in my hypothetical wedding world, I love it.
I hope you’re all having fantastic Wednesdays! And such a huge hug and thank-you to everyone who commented on the hummingbird cake and shared your thoughts and experiences with me! I love hearing about weddings of all kinds, so it was super fun — and the advice is much appreciated. As far as blog-weddings go, you’re all totally invited and welcome to unlimited imaginary slices of an impeccably frosted, towering three-tiered wedding cake with a green tea layer, a hummingbird layer, and a zucchini layer. And all kinds of frostings. (In the blog-world, none of it clashes.)
So, this wedding planning thing, huh?
As it turns out, I’m not the most decisive person in the world. (Bowl #2, who is now diametrically opposed to the phrase “It’s up to you,” is probably laughing right now.) I like things, and I like some things more than other things, but when it comes to actually making a decision — especially a decision for something like a wedding! — sometimes all I can think about is whether the other thing might be better. OK, let’s do a DJ during the ceremony. (But what about live music?) Sure, let’s do a fish option. (But what about chicken?!) Yeah, you’re right, it’d be crazy for me to make my own cake. (But … cake!) I’ve treated everyone I’ve worked with so far to a symphony of really long, really drawn-out “umm”s, which I’m guessing is super enjoyable for all involved.
Happily, we’ve now finalized a lot of our decisions — and signed the contracts, when is when I finally stop thinking about the what-about‘s. But we haven’t decided on cake yet! So far, I’ve impulsively declared about four times that I’m just going to make it, and then about four more times realized I have no idea where I would freeze the layers or where I would store the finished cake or how I would transport it or … how to make a tiered cake to begin with. So as much as I fear the what-about of cold, dry wedding cake with chalky buttercream and styrofoam insides, I’ve shelved that idea for now. (There are a lot of deep messages in there about how it’s not the details that are important on the big day, or how it’s healthy to learn to relinquish control over the things that don’t matter, which are all totally true — but it’s mostly that I was stumped when it came to finding freezer space.)
To assuage my cake-making urges, the other weekend I spent a few quiet hours making the cakes I think I would have liked to make if I actually did it. (You know, except for two people, instead of a hundred.) They were the moistest cakes I knew how to make, obviously — one was a zucchini cake that is one of my all-time favorites, which I’m excited to share soon, and the other is this hummingbird cake. There are so many things I love about this teeny cake. It’s quaintly symbolic, given that it’s a quintessentially Southern cake, sweet and decadent and emblematic of where I grew up, but it’s also packed with all the tropical things that remind me of Bowl #2’s home in Hawaii. (If only I’d added some haupia!) The toasted coconut on top is unreal (how did I never toast coconut before this?), and the mashed banana and crushed pineapple make it so moist that it drives away any thoughts of frozen, crumbly-dry wedding cake. For now, that’s good enough for me!
Have you ever made a wedding cake or considered making your own? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences if you have! (Also, if you’re mulling it over too, check out this uncannily well-timed series Food52 is doing. So excited for this. F52, I love you all beyond words!)