Monday, November 5, 2018

4 Cakes to Rule Them All

Baking is for detail oriented people, and I'm not that. I've tried bread, I've tried muffins, I've tried focaccia, and I've tried many a cake. My verdict always seems to be that I can buy one that is better or that home-baker's talents far outstrip mine. BUT, I have discovered 4 cakes that never fail me, and they have several things in common.

First of all, 3 of the 4 are Bundt cakes. A quick Google search gives me the impression that Experts aren't totally sure where the term "Bundt" comes from or what it means, but it's generally German and generally difficult to pronounce. I do have a theory as to why most of my favorite cakes are Bundts, though. A Bundt pan looks like a donut, with a hole in the middle of the pan and curved sides. What I love about these four recipes (besides being of the mix-and-dump variety) is that they're ultra moist. I thinkkkk that the Bundt shape has more surface area so there's no fear of the center of the cake not getting enough heat to cook through while the outer part dries out.

The other thing these 4 cakes have in common is a secret ingredient. Rather, a secret category of ingredients. Sour cream, cream cheese, and pudding mix (dry). Again, I think these components ensure moisture. But they're not for dieters. Sorry Not Sorry.

It's not an exaggeration to say this category of cakes - and these recipes in particular - turned me from a hater-of-baking into a proud cake presenter at parties. And dare I say that a friend or two has been known to call me in a cake crisis. As with all cooking, having a few home-runs under your belt really gives one the confidence to branch out with more difficult, potentially risky recipes too, because it's already been confirmed That You Can Bake. Even in my escapades beyond the world of Bundt, I must say that I come back to these recipes as the most successful, most loved, best tasting of all.

Without further ado...

Coconut Sour Cream Cake
This is probably the most beloved cake of the bunch. My favorite memory about this cake is that an elderly friend from a local organization I'm part of said it was "the best thing he'd eaten in years." Maybe he was just being kind, but it was a treasured compliment. He recently passed away at 96, and so I always think of him when I make this cake!
Notes: We do not add the icing to this cake in our family, as it is sweet and flavorful enough on its own. (Image from original recipe, linked in the title)

Cranberry Cream Cheese Cake
(Perfect during the holidays!)
Notes: Last time I made this, I used frozen cranberries and it was not as successful as using fresh. I think the frozen ones held too much extra moisture. I've also never made the glaze that is supposed to accompany this cake, it's plenty sweet as is. Without the glaze you can kind of talk yourself into eating it as breakfast, too.

Chocolate Chip Pudding Cake (aka Mana's Bundt Cake)
This recipe comes from my grandma, who we call Mana. I am not sure where she got it!
It's very important that you stick to the Duncan Heinz brand for the cake mix, as it's truly the best for this cake. I also find that chocolate pudding mix doesn't come in exactly the sizes the recipe calls for sometimes, so I use a scale or eyeball it based on how big the package I'm starting with is.
I've also made this cake into a layer cake before, but typically it's done in a Bundt pan.
I have not done this in a while either, but I've made a Black Forest Cake variation on this recipe where I mix cherry pie filling and chocolate frosting to put as a layer between already-baked layers of chocolate cake. It gets a bit soggy if you're not careful, but it's worth it. If you want a less-sweet version, use Trader Joe's Morrello cherries (in a glass jar) instead of cherry pie filling, and drain off the liquid before mixing. Reserve the liquid for another use (I recommend pouring over vanilla ice cream).

Cinnamon Nut Crumble Coffee Cake, taken from the 1983 ed. of the Junior League Taste of Oregon cookbook.
This is the one recipe not made in a Bundt pan. But it is how I discovered the secret category of ingredients, so it had to make the list. Because of its presentation (and somewhat the crumble top) it is more of a coffee cake, but as you will see from the ingredients, it's cake in disguise.

I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as I do. If you have any questions, I will do my best to answer them for you. Happy baking! 

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