Did you ever want a cake to be both a parade float and a fluffy cloud? Hi. Welcome. Fantasy awaits.
This is the Platonic ideal of a white cake – this is the kind of cake you dream of every wedding cake being, but wedding cake universally sucks (except for the people whose weddings I’ve been to – yours was great obviously.)
This cake is everything – soft and tender, sweet but not too sweet, rich but light, heady and flavorful without being overpowering, with just a HINT of tartness to take it into the stratosphere. I love this cake.
For those of you not in the know, raspberry ripple is one of the basic UK ice cream flavors that you don’t really see in the US. In its finest form it’s just beautiful fresh cream with a light streak of raspberry jam running through it – not too sweet, but perfectly balanced between the creamy smoothness of dairy and bright, tart berries.
You can always make a cake and slap some jam between the layers and call it a day – it’s delicious and you should. But there’s something about this buttercream that makes everything Fancy and Deluxe.
At its best, cooking is a magic trick. Clearly you can make something amazing with a beautiful, organic, lovingly massaged pork butt, but using fancy raw materials means everyone expects mind-blowing results. It’s so much more satisfying when you start with something unprepossessing. If you’re a magician making a tiger jump through a flaming hoop, it’s way better if you know that tiger started life as two raw, jelloid egg whites in a metal bowl.
Luckily for all of us, two egg whites and half a cup of sugar will net you almost two dozen startlingly chic little pure-white light-as-air cookies with all of the natural architectural sophistication of the majestic iceberg. You don’t even have to pipe anything.
What can I say about cupcakes: They are small cups of cake. By now everyone knows that cupcakes, like donuts, have been absolutely done to death: filled, topped, swirled, glazed, drizzled, sprinkled.
I, for one, am over it. They’re only small cakes, Darryl, they can’t be expected to carry all that extra foofaraw and still taste good. If you want to make six caramels, a streusel, and a swirled marshmallow filling, you totally should do that, but you should do it Somewhere Else.
What I want is a small buttery cake with a lively, fresh icing, about the size of the cup of very good tea. That’s it. Make Cupcakes About Cake Again 2021.
Were you ever kind of jealous of the boy in Matilda who had to eat an entire chocolate cake with his hands in front of the whole school as a punishment? I know I was.
I used to take every chocolate option at the sundae bar – ice cream, sauce, M&Ms, even chocolate sprinkles. Chocolate sprinkles: what sadist thought those up? You’re just gonna make these things brown and pretend it’s chocolate? Are you kidding me?
Making Stuff Brown and Pretending it’s Chocolate: The Story of All Chocolate Cake Everywhere. You can’t stop me now, I’m already up on my soapbox.
The dominant cultural narrative is that chocolate cake is the best, the richest, the most decadent. Restaurants are selling huge slabs of Seven-Layer Death By Chocolate Devil’s Food Indulgence cake, with ganache filling the approximate taste and texture of brown shoe polish. I have seen grown adults take dry little square nubs of brownie from the spread in the breakroom, just to feel something during an all-day meeting, even if that “something” is disappointment. (It was me, I took the Sadness Brownie.) Red velvet cake was a trend: that only happens in a culture deeply divorced from what actual chocolate should taste like.*
Think about the chocolate cakes that you like best. Answers on the board, please, Family Feud style:
Flourless chocolate cake
Chocolate lava cake
Some kind of cream cheese brownie situation?
Flourless chocolate cake is just a mousse on steroids, and I’m not mad at that, but it doesn’t count. My grandad makes a chocolate whiskey gateau that’s essentially a large creamy slab of alcoholic truffle filling, with ladies’ fingers stuck on the outside for modesty’s sake. Is it perfect? Yes. Is it cake? Uhhhh…
Chocolate lava cakes – or fondant cakes as they’re called here – only work because you get the tender comfort of cake wrapped around the gooey richness of a chocolate fudge sauce. They’re hot, they’re tasty, and they’re disqualified: you can’t defend chocolate cake when your favorite kind is 70% sauce.
Cream cheese brownies are amazing, but 1. Brownies aren’t cake and 2. They’re good because of the contrast (we’ll be coming back to that).
It makes sense! The essence of chocolate, which is rich, luxurious intensity, is diluted by the essence of cake, which is light, tender delicacy. This relationship is just doomed to fail. These two love each other too hard and their child… sucks. There’s a reason the best brownie recipe in the world only calls for ¼ cup of flour.
But why were we promised a perfect chocolate cake that just doesn’t exist? Where does that leave us? Where is the rich, dark, soil-damp chocolate cake of our Augustus Gloop dreams?
Well. Are we having fun yet? This week I feel, more than usual, like a bug smashed on the windshield of world events.
Usually the cure for stress is to take a bath or read a book on the couch. But sometimes all you want to do is whip your phone at the wall like a dodgeball, which is when you have to get up and take a walk.
Kierkegaard says there’s no bad mood a long walk can’t cure, and I also say this. Some weeks, though, you can’t go anywhere. Some weeks you get bee-booped by the government on your COVID app and you have to self-isolate for 14 days (I’m fine, we’re fine, everything’s fine.)
So you find yourself wearing an apron over a nightgown over a hoodie over a different nightgown and thinking, “Yeah! This is what people wear! Let’s make some brioche.”
Sometimes you freak yourself out, and you don’t even know you’re doing it. You’re going along, doing all the right things, going for walks and doing yoga and eating vegetables and it’s all fine, and then you go into a crowded corner store (that WASN’T crowded when you went in but then like 8 people showed up out of nowhere and the owner guy isn’t wearing a mask and oh God) and your whole equilibrium is fucked.
Other times, there’s a violent insurrection/coup attempt in the city where your sister lives and works and which is also the seat of your government. Cool.
There is a particular cake I turn to when everything is fucked, when your plans aren’t going according to plan. When you need both a pick-me-up and a sit-me-down. Meet coffee walnut cake.
I got this recipe from a dear family friend who I think might be trying to kill us. This pie is a towering monument to peanut butter in its most decadent form: rich, fluffy mousse dotted with chopped roasted peanuts and topped with a dark, intense chocolate ganache. The original recipe was written, presumably, by demons:
This is an all-killer no-filler situation. There are no eggs or flour, no fig leaf of pretense that this is anything other than a full whipped-cream fantasy tethered just barely to this plane of reality by cream cheese and a prayer. This dream team of creams came here to make your tastebuds an offer they can’t refuse, when you were just trying to have a peaceful, relaxing afternoon in the steam room/at the bocce courts/wherever old mob guys hang out nowadays.
This recipe creates a substance whose ideal unit of consumption is the finger-swipe, and I’m giving you three ways to make it because most of us are not strong enough to absorb it in larger quantities, as its original form dictates. If you dive straight into what would usually be a normal slice of pie it’ll melt your face right off like the Ark of the Covenant. But, I don’t know, maybe some of you are into that.