Pumpkin Spice Cake (Garden Spider’s Revenge)

Surprisingly light, pleasantly spicy, and easy to make, this two-layer cake deserves a place on your table from now through Christmas. Brown sugar buttercream frosting complements it perfectly without overwhelming; it allows the flavor of the cake to shine through.

Oh . . . you may have noticed that I decorated this one for Halloween. A little gross,  with a tipped over wheelbarrow that spilled its pumpkins on the ground, next to a trowel and straw hat that have been abandoned because the unlucky gardener—who had obviously gotten on the bad side of a huge garden spider—has been wrapped tightly in the spider’s silk. A lot of webs, a little blood . . . good times! You may not want to decorate your cake like this for Thanksgiving, but it’s a slam-dunk winner for a Halloween party.

This blog is about the cake and frosting, but I’ll also tell you what I used for Halloween decorations at the bottom of the post, in case you want to creep out your family and friends.

Pumpkin Spice Cake
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Makes two 9-inch round layers or 36-38 cupcakes (bake for approximately 18 minutes)
Ingredients
  • 2½ cups cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1¼ cups cooking oil
  • 1 cup solid pack pumpkin
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • FROSTING:
  • 1½ cups butter - room temperature
  • ½ cup shortening
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 6-7 cups powdered sugar
  • Cream or milk (if needed)
Instructions
  1. CAKE: Heat oven to 350 F. Place rounds of parchment in two 9-inch round cake pans. Spray sides and parchment lightly with baking spray (like Baker's Joy). Or grease and flour the pans and place a parchment round in the bottom of each.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the sugar, oil, and pumpkin well.
  4. Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly and scraping the side of the bowl with each addition.
  5. Combine buttermilk and vanilla.
  6. Add half of the flour mixture to the bowl and mix until incorporated. Add half of the buttermilk mixture and mix until incorporated. Scrape the sides of the bowl and repeat. Mix just until the batter is smooth.
  7. Divide evenly between prepared pans. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out cleanly when inserted in the middle of one cake. Don't overbake or cake will be dry.
  8. Cool for a few minutes on rack, then turn out of pans to cool completely.
  9. FROSTING:
  10. In a large bowl, beat the butter and shortening together until smooth. Add brown sugar and vanilla and beat for 2 minutes.
  11. Slowly add powdered sugar until desired consistency, scraping the sides of the bowl often. Beat 2-3 minutes. To achieve a good spreading consistency, add a little cream or milk if too thick, or if mixture is too soft, add a little more powdered sugar. This frosting needs to be soft and easy to spread, because the cake is very light.
  12. Place one cake on serving plate and cover the top with a generous amount of frosting. Place second cake on top (flattest side up) and press gently to level it. Cover entire cake with remaining frosting.
  13. Decorate if desired with finely chopped nuts, sprinkles, or holiday candies.

Sift the dry ingredients and set aside.

Beat sugar, oil, and pumpkin (yes, it was colorful, but maybe not THIS red . . . ) then add eggs – one at a time. Seriously, take your time and beat well after each egg.

Add flour and liquids alternately.

Divide batter between two prepared 9-inch pans and bake.

Bake just until toothpick comes out clean . . . about 25 minutes.

This frosting is so good. Add liquid if necessary so it will spread easily. The cake is very light, and you don’t want to mash it!

There should be plenty of frosting for piping around the bottom. I left it plain because I was adding candy pumpkins. If you’re making this for an occasion other than Halloween, decorate the top with chopped nuts, candy, edible leaves . . . whatever you like.

 

So, stop here if you are making this cake for Thanksgiving or Christmas (or any other festive occasion). If you want to know how I made my Halloween decorations, read on.

The toppings on my cake were a mishmash of ideas.

When I frosted my cake I pressed “dirt” onto the top. (Chocolate and regular graham crackers, finely crushed and blended.)

The wheelbarrow was made from red fondant, with long cinnamon stick handles. The wheel was two candy melt discs stuck flat side together (heat one side briefly on a warm saucepan, then press together). wrapped in a strip of licorice to look like a tire. Use a little melted Isomalt (more about this stuff later) or melted candy melt as glue. If using Isomalt, be careful, and use gloves! A thin piece of cinnamon stick was pushed through the center of the candy melts to act as an axle, then both sides were stuck to the long handles. A little black licorice was also used as a trowel, with a handle made from a Kraft caramel.

I made a small batch of simple shortbread for the fence in the background. I have a fence cookie cutter, but you could just make posts. I also used the cookie dough to create the straw hat.

The poor gardener was made by wrapping cotton candy around a head, two arms, and two feet made from white chocolate. I added a little pink, orange, and brown to get a flesh color, but it could have used a bit more. I poured it into molds. What, doesn’t everyone have body part molds??? If not, you could use candy clay, fondant, or gum paste to create your own. Or just use cotton candy and let everyone imagine there is a person in it. (Oh, and I painted some hair and two eyes on the head with food coloring.)

I only ended up making one person on the cake, but had plenty of body parts to choose from 😀

They all looked a little too jolly to be victims, so I wrapped the cotton candy up over their mouths. Silenced!

There was some trial and error (and possibly some foul language) when it came to that spiderweb. I played with spun sugar with very limited success, and finally broke down and used Isomalt. If you’ve never used Isomalt, it’s similar to sugar but stays clear when heated, instead of amber, and is a little more forgiving. It’s hot hot HOT, so if you play with it, please be careful. I like to use it for windows in my gingerbread houses, so had some on hand. (I order the crystals through Amazon.) There are some wonderful videos online, but basically I just heated it until it melted, cooled it briefly, and when it thickened slightly I used a fork to drizzle/whisk it over the entire garden scene (not too much, just a hint of webbing) and then on a large piece of parchment. First I aimed at making “spokes”, then went in circles around and around. Dip, whisk. Once it cooled, I trimmed it to size carefully with scissors and placed it over my garden scene.

I used black fondant to shape the spider. (Hint: stick those legs on with a little water. They tend to drop off at inopportune times, otherwise.)

I bought the candy pumpkins. (I do have limits to my patience!) For the blood oozing out of the man’s mouth and down the side of the cake, I remelted the remaining isomalt and added a little red food coloring. Powdered food coloring is best, but I didn’t have any, so used paste. It thickens really quickly when you do that, so I had to work fast. Drizzle! (Or just buy a tube of red cake gel.)

That’s it. Gross cake accomplished!

Happy Halloween. (Sweet dreams . . . bwa ha ha.)

Lorinda

 

 

 

 

Autumn Apple Layer Cake

This is over the top, even for me! Two moist layers of apple cake are baked with a graham cracker crust, sandwiched with spicy apple filling, and covered with cinnamon-cream cheese frosting. Because I love mixing textures, this cake also sports a crunchy streusel topping. I guess you could consider this part pie, part cake . . . and the essence of fall.

My first attempt at this recipe yielded a lovely cake that was so sweet I could barely eat a small piece. And you must not underestimate my tolerance for sweet things. The flavor was just what I had hoped for, but . . . wow. Really, really sweet.

So I went back and reduced sugar in the crust and the filling, and switched the buttercream frosting with cream cheese frosting. Now it’s just right!

Most homemade cakes involve a cake, filling, and frosting. But I’ve added two additional steps: the graham cracker crust and the streusel. In for a penny, in for a pound, as far as I’m concerned, but if you’re strapped for time, feel free to:

  • Eliminate the streusel. Place the top layer so the graham crust is at the top, then just pipe around the edge.Still pretty!
  • Skip the graham crust. No one will know. (My daughter would be aghast at this suggestion. We both love this crust on cakes.)
  • Use canned apple pie filling.

Autumn Apple Layer Cake
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Two 8-inch layers of apple cake, apple pie filling, graham cracker crust, and streusel topping create a fall classic.
Ingredients
  • CAKE:
  • 2 cups (about 15 whole) crushed graham crackers
  • ¼ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • ½ cup butter, melted
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • ⅓ cup oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • ⅓ cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1½ cups coarsely grated apple (peeled and cored)
  • FILLING:
  • 2 cups chopped apples (peeled and cored)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • STREUSEL:
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon (more for a darker color)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • ICING:
  • ½ cup butter, softened (if using unsalted butter, add ⅛ teaspoon salt)
  • 8 ounces full-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon (more to taste)
  • 1 pound powdered sugar (about 4½ cups)
Instructions
  1. CAKE: Heat oven to 350 F. Lightly spray two 8-inch (2 inch deep) round pans with baking spray (or grease and flour them). Place a round of parchment in the bottom of each pan.
  2. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, ¼ cup brown sugar, and ½ cup melted butter. Divide between the two pans and press evenly, using a straight-edged measuring cup to pack the mixture very firmly. Set aside.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, beat the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar for 1 minute. Scrape sides of bowl. Continue to beat as you drizzle in the oil. Beat for 3 minutes, scraping occasionally.
  5. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well between additions.
  6. Stirring by hand (or on low speed) add half the flour mixture and mix just until combined.
  7. Add half of the buttermilk and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Mix just until combined.
  8. Stir in remaining flour, then remaining buttermilk. Do not overmix.
  9. Gently fold in grated apples. Divide batter between the two pans and spread evenly.
  10. Bake for approximately 40 minutes, or until the top of the cake springs back when touched lightly. If in doubt, give it a few more minutes; an underbaked cake will sink in the middle.
  11. Move cakes to cooling racks. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then turn out to cool completely.
  12. FILLING:In a medium pan over low heat, combine chopped apples, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Stir often until apples begin to release liquid, then turn heat up to medium low and bring to a low boil. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  13. Whisk together cornstarch, lemon juice, and water. Add to boiling mixture. Stir and cook until mixture thickens, about 3 minutes. Apples vary in juiciness and you may need to add a little more water or a little more cornstarch slurry to achieve a spreadable filling. Allow filling to cool completely..
  14. STREUSEL: heat oven to 375 F. Combine white sugar, flour, cinnamon, and butter. Crumble onto a small parchment-covered baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven when streusel begins to brown. Allow to cool on baking sheet.
  15. ICING:Beat butter and cream cheese together well, scraping bowl often. Add vanilla and cinnamon and beat until combined. Add powdered sugar 1 cup at a time. Beat well after each addition. For easy handling, chill for 30 minutes before using.
  16. ASSEMBLY:Place one cake layer, graham crust side down, on serving plate. Pipe a line of icing around the top, near the edge, creating a dam. Fill with apple filling and top with second layer, crust side down. Ice the sides of the cake, and lightly ice the top, then cover top with streusel, pressing firmly into icing. Pipe around top and bottom if desired.

 

Press graham cracker mixture firmly into pans. Really pack it down!

Spread the cake batter over the graham cracker crust, as evenly as possible.

Hot and fragrant from the oven.

Filling should hold its shape. If it’s too thick, add a little water. If it’s too thin, you may need to make a little more cornstarch mixture. (Some apples are juicier than others.)

Stir the streusel once or twice during bake time. It will feel soft, but trust me – it hardens once it cools! Don’t let it get too dark.

Spread the filling right up to the frosting dam on the first layer. If you have extra, it’s great on vanilla ice cream!

Frost it, decorate it, and fill the top with crumbled streusel. SERVE!

And because I really love this next photo I’m going to leave it right here. I had it at the top of the page but took it down because several people on a cooking website said it looked like taco meat on top. And now all I can see is taco meat, when I know it is just a lot of cinnamon (and perhaps a minute or two too long in the oven). Taco meat. Pffft. Hey! Love me, love my streusel!

If you made it to the bottom of this post, I salute you! And I promise something easy for next time.

Lorinda

Sweet Violets Cake

Luscious lemon cake is layered with violet flavored icing for a unique dessert that is perfect for Mother’s Day or a spring tea. Violet flavoring can be purchased online, or a substitution can be made by soaking violet candy in heavy cream overnight. Top the cake with sugared violets for a simple, stunning presentation. For fun I made petits fours, too. The recipe is just a bit different, since a denser cake is called for; if you’re interested in making them I’ll give you instructions at the bottom of the post.

Sweet Violets Cake
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The recipe will make two 9-inch cakes (split to make 4 layers) or three 6-inch cakes (split to make 5 or 6 layers).
Ingredients
  • 2¼ cups cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup shortening (or coconut oil), room temperature
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • grated lemon peel from 2 lemons
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup milk
  • yellow food coloring if desired
  • 5 egg whites
  • ICING:
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • 4-5 drops violet flavoring
  • violet food coloring
  • SUGARED VIOLETS
  • Fresh violets (violas, Johnny Jump-ups). Make sure they haven't been treated with any chemicals! Grow them, find them wild, or order online.
  • 1 teaspoon meringue powder (found in cake decorating section of large stores)
  • 4 teaspoons warm water
  • Superfine sugar
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 F.
  2. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans or three 6-inch cake pans. I like to put a circle of parchment in the bottom of each pan. (If you only have two 6-inch pans, bake two cakes and then clean one pan and bake the other cake. The batter will be fine on the counter while the first cakes bake.)
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, cream together the shortening and sugar. Add the grated lemon peel and mix well.
  5. In a small bowl combine the buttermilk, lemon juice, and milk.
  6. To the large bowl with the shortening and sugar mixture, alternately add the dry ingredients and milk mixture, beginning with the flour and ending with the milk mixture, adding about a third of each at a time.
  7. Beat for one minute at medium speed.
  8. In a medium bowl, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold gently but thoroughly into cake mixture.
  9. Divide between the cake pans. Bake for approximately 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle. Allow to cool for 10 minutes on a rack and then turn out of the pan to finish cooling completely.
  10. For easiest slicing, wrap and freeze cakes for several hours.
  11. ICING: Beat butter and shortening well. Add powdered sugar 1 cup at a time. If mixture gets too stiff for your mixer, add a little of the whipping cream. Once all powdered sugar is incorporated, add the whipping cream and beat well until smooth and fluffy. Add the flavoring and a tiny amount of coloring. Beat until combined.
  12. Slice cake into layers. If making the 6-inch cake, you may want to just use 5 layers. Stack the layers with icing in between, making sure to get the icing all the way to the edge of each layer. For easiest handling, spread a thin layer around the outside of the cake and freeze for at least 1 hour. Ice the outside and top of cake and top with sugared violets.
  13. VIOLETS: Place a piece of waxed paper or parchment on a cooling rack. With a toothpick, poke holes every few inches. This will allow airflow as the flowers dry.
  14. Combine meringue powder and warm water in small dish. Whisk well. Place flower face-down on your hand, and with a soft paintbrush, brush a layer of meringue mixture on the back. Flip the flower over and brush the front. Sprinkle back and front with superfine sugar. Pinch off stem and place flower, stem down, on prepared cooling rack. Let the flowers dry for at least 24 hours. In the oven with the light on is great - the slight warmth from the light helps the flowers dry quickly.

Paint flowers with meringue mixture, then sprinkle with superfine sugar.

Sugared and drying.

Violet everything. If you can’t get the flavoring, drop 12 violet pastille candies into 1/4 cup heavy cream. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Strain and use in the icing.

I graduated the colored icing – but really not necessary.

To make a denser cake for petits fours, increase flour to 2 1/2 cups, decrease baking powder to 1 teaspoon, add 1/2 cup softened butter (in addition to the shortening), and instead of 5 egg whites, add two whole eggs (one at a time, scraping the bowl between each egg) to the creamed butter and sugar mixture, beating well. The remaining three egg whites will be beaten and folded in at the end. Put batter in a greased and floured 9x13x2-inch pan. Bake until a toothpick comes out cleanly when inserted in the middle. Once cool, cut into 1 inch squares. Remember – the freezer is your best friend! For help with icing and technique, here are instructions for Petits Fours

Note: one of my testers suggested a layer of lemon curd in the petits fours. What a great idea! I’ll do that next time, for sure.

I loved listening to this song on YouTube. It says Dinah Shore sang it, but the pictures in the video are of Doris Day. Meh. Whoever sang it, it was a clever little ditty.

Sweet violets, sweeter than the roses,
Covered all over from head to toe,
Covered all over with sweet violets.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Lorinda

Bourbon Praline King Cake

How fun is this? I’d never made or eaten a King Cake before I tackled this project, but was very glad I finally succumbed to Mardi Gras madness. It took a few tries before I was satisfied that the resulting King Cake matched the picture in my head, but you can learn from my trials and nail it on your first try.

I did learn two things that I’d like to pass along:

My first piece of wisdom: buy a little plastic baby to hide in the cake. (I can’t get on board with baking anything plastic in my cake, so I’d go with the “tuck it in from the bottom after the cake is baked and cooled” method.) I tried to make my babies out of pink gum paste, and I think I can say with great confidence that shaping little babies is not my calling. They didn’t look like babies at all. One looked like a little old man (eeeuw, a NAKED old man) and the other looked like a monkey. Buy them! Or go the old-fashioned route and hide an uncooked bean in the cake instead.

See how the filling is rolled in this version? To do that, leave the nuts out of the cooked praline mixture. Spread it on the dough and sprinkle with the nuts. I just really wanted a core of molten praline goo, so I went with the praline log method.

My second piece of wisdom: don’t expect cake. After a whole lot of Googling I have come to the conclusion that King Cakes are different things to different people, but the majority agree that it is a sugared-up yeast bread baked in a ring shape. Think of a cinnamon roll that wasn’t cut into slices.

I, of course, had to add booze. You don’t have to. I tried Southern Comfort and Bourbon. Each was wonderful. I didn’t use much, just enough to give a hint of flavor. Use a little vanilla instead if you prefer.

Bourbon Praline King Cake
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Makes 2 King Cakes. Can be baked on baking sheets or in bundt pans.
Ingredients
  • CAKE:
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • ¼ cup oil (anything lightly flavored, like canola or peanut oil)
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom
  • ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup very warm water
  • 1 package active-dry yeast
  • pinch of sugar
  • 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks
  • 4½ cups flour (either bread flour or all-purpose)
  • FILLING:
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup cream
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ¼ cup corn syrup
  • 1½ cups finely chopped pecans (I use toasted for extra flavor)
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon or Southern Comfort
  • ICING:
  • 1 pound powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon or Southern Comfort
  • milk
  • Colored sprinkles. You'll need green, dark yellow, and purple
  • 2 plastic babies to hide in cakes!
Instructions
  1. CAKE: In a small pan on medium heat, combine butter, milk, oil, ⅓ cup sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and salt. Heat until butter is melted and the mixture is just beginning to bubble around the edge of the pan. Pour into large bowl and allow to cool slightly.
  2. In a small bowl, combine very warm water, yeast, and a pinch of sugar. Allow it to sit until bubbly, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add yeast mixture to bowl. Add eggs and 4 cups of flour. If using a stand mixer, use a dough hook and beat well. Slowly add remaining flour until dough pulls away from the side of the bowl. Knead by machine for 5 minutes, or drop dough onto generously floured surface and knead by hand for 8 minutes. Dough will be slightly sticky, but if it is very sticky, add a little more flour.
  4. Place dough in greased bowl and allow it to rise until double. This is a rich dough and may take 1½ hours to rise. While dough is rising, make filling so it will have time to cool and set.
  5. FILLING: In a large pan on medium heat, combined white sugar, brown sugar, cream, butter, and corn syrup. Bring mixture to a boil and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
  6. Add chopped nuts. Cook for an additional 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add the bourbon. Stir well and set aside to cool. By the time the dough has risen, the filling should be firm.
  7. Divide filling in half and roll each into a 21-inch log on floured parchment.
  8. Prepare pans for the cakes. You can bake rings on parchment covered baking sheets or in lightly greased bundt pans. (I spray my bundt pan with an oil/flour baking spray.)
  9. Punch down dough and divide into two equal parts. Working with one piece at a time, use hands to press into a long rectangle on floured surface. Roll into a 22" by 7" rectangle.
  10. Place one praline log on the long edge and roll. Fold over the ends and pinch firmly. Pinch firmly all along the long seam.
  11. If you are using baking sheets, lift the roll onto the sheet and form a circle. Overlap the ends and pinch well. If you are using bundt pans, drop the dough into the prepared pan. It will be a little long, but overlap the ends, pinch well, and ease the dough around the bottom. It will settle in nicely.
  12. Cover with towels or plastic wrap and let rise for about an hour. The rings won't double in size, but they should be light and puffy.
  13. Heat oven to 350 F. Bake until golden brown, 30-40 minutes. The bottom should be a rich brown. Remove from pans to a cooling rack. Tuck a plastic baby in the bottom of each cake. Brush the top with butter, if desired. Once cakes are cool, make icing.
  14. ICING: Place powdered sugar in a large bowl. Add bourbon (or a teaspoon of vanilla) and while beating, trickle in milk until the icing is just thin enough to pour.
  15. Pour over the tops of the cakes, letting the icing drip down the sides. Sprinkle with colored sugar.

Once hot m.ilk/spice mixture has cooled a bit, add bubbly yeast

Mix in eggs and flour. Knead well and place dough in greased bowl to rise.

Add pecans to the boiled praline mixture. Cook it some more, then add booze.

Okay. It looks gross. I know, I know. But this praline log will be the center of your King Cake.

Working with half of the dough, press into a long rectangle shape.

Position praline log on long edge.

Roll

Pinch it like you mean it! You don’t want to let any of that praline goodness ooze out.

Make a ring with seam at the bottom. (It can be tricky and twist. You’re the boss!) Overlap ends and PINCH.

Or use a bundt pan. I put the seam down, and of course it showed because the bottom becomes the top. You can try it with the seam up or . . . use lots of icing.

The cake on top was done in a bundt pan. The one on bottom on a baking sheet. The bundt was puffier, but it was probably because I only baked one at a time and it had a little longer rise time.

 

 

Spiced Pumpkin Cupcakes

Seductively soft and spicy, impossibly light and fluffy, these elegant cupcakes will look beautiful on your Thanksgiving table this year. Whipped cream cheese buttercream icing is piled high and dusted with cinnamon. Irresistible!

Did you know that there are people who don’t like pie? Honest! (Shaking my head sadly.) Hard-to-please guests will enjoy the simplicity of this dessert and appreciate being given an alternative to traditional pies.

When I first created this recipe it was huge, making 48 cupcakes. I’ve cut it in half for you, but if you are expecting a big crowd (or just big eaters) you can easily double it. I’m all about making 48 at a time and freezing some as soon as they’re cool for later in the holiday season. You can ice them in holiday colors or even with stabilized whipped cream.

I’ve never been too tempted by cake batter . . . until now. (Cookie dough? I’m all over it.) This batter tastes just like pumpkin pie. I know, raw eggs and even raw flour can be risky; it’s a risk I’ll take for this guilty pleasure.

Velvety Spiced Pumpkin Cupcakes
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Author:
Makes approximately 24 cupcakes. Recipe can be doubled.
Ingredients
  • CAKE:
  • ¼ cup oil (canola or peanut oil are good)
  • ¼ cup butter, room temperature
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated, room temperature
  • ¼ cup solid-pack pumpkin
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1¼ cups cake flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt (add another pinch if you're using unsalted butter)
  • 1½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ICING:
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon (plus more for dusting over the top)
  • ⅓-1/2 cup heavy cream
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 F. Prepare two cupcake pans by adding 24 paper liners.
  2. In a large bowl, beat together the oil, butter, white sugar, and brown sugar until light - at least 2 minutes.
  3. Add egg yolks one a time, mixing until well blended and scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition.
  4. Add pumpkin and vanilla. Beat until incorporated.
  5. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and pumpkin pie spice.
  6. Add dry ingredients and buttermilk alternately, one-third of each at a time, beginning with the flour mixture and ending with the buttermilk.
  7. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold thoroughly into the batter. (It's fine if you see a few white fluffy spots.)
  8. Divide between the 24 liners, approximately ⅔ full.
  9. Bake 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle of a cupcake. Cool completely on a baking rack before icing.
  10. ICING:
  11. In a large bowl, combine the butter, cream cheese, shortening and vanilla. Beat well.
  12. Add salt and cinnamon. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating on medium speed. Add a little of the cream if mixture gets too thick.
  13. Begin with ⅓ cup cream. Add one tablespoon at a time until incorporated. Beat at high speed until light and fluffy; 1-2 minutes. If icing is too thick, drizzle in remaining cream a little at a time.
  14. Pipe onto cupcakes and dust lightly with cinnamon.

Sift the dry ingredients! This is a light, airy cake – you’ve got to jump through some hoops.

Cream the butter, oil, and sugars. Add yolks one at a time.

See how fluffy the batter is now? Time to add the pumpkin.

Fold in the stiffly-beaten egg whites.

Fill about 2/3 full.

Pipe on the icing and sprinkle with cinnamon

Haunted House Cake

If you have a surplus of patience and a little spare time, have I got a Halloween cake for you! This is a lovely orange-flavored cake, enough for two deep 8-inch pans and one 6-inch pan, which will create the base for the houses and the top for the moon and witch.

There is a lot going on here if you make it the way I did. The cake, Italian buttercream icing, black fondant cutouts, and a hollow moon made of candy melts.

Let’s see how much of that we can dispense with, for your sake.

  • The cake can be a boxed mix. You’ll need two boxes of yellow cake mix.
  • For icing, use a standard buttercream recipe, but double it so you don’t have to be stingy with the icing. I wouldn’t use canned frosting; it would take a lot of cans to do it right, and it’s pretty soft. You don’t want your houses sliding off the cake! I used Italian buttercream, but it’s a lot of work. I hadn’t made it in a long time and just felt like messing with it.
  • That moon! I really did it the hard way and made it out of candy melts, formed in a bowl. Two large cookies (bought at a grocery store bakery) would be the easiest way to go. Simply coat them with melted yellow candy melts and stick them together.
  • When you cut out the printed silhouettes for the houses, bats, and witches, leave a little white border around the silhouettes so you’ll be able to see what you’re doing when you cut the fondant. I learned this the hard way.
  • Buy black fondant. Even I wasn’t nuts enough to make it and try to color it a true black. Nope. Buy it! (If I’d given you more time you could have had edible designs custom printed. Maybe next year?) I tried a new brand this year and am a real fan: Fondarific. I ordered it online, but you may be able to find it in craft stores.

Create black fondant decorations. Do this first; it’s going to take you a while. This can be done a day or two ahead. I printed out clip art silhouettes and cut each one out. Haunted houses, bats, and a witch (or two if you want one on each side of the moon). Working with small pieces of fondant at a time, roll very thin. Use a dusting of cornstarch if necessary to prevent sticking. Rolling between parchment helps too. Lay a template on the fondant and carefully cut around the outside edge with a sharp blade. Remove the template and cut out windows and doors. I used a large straw for round windows. I found it was easier for me to cut out the whole window and then replace the cross pieces, smoothing the edges than trying to cut out those itty bitty squares. Layer the completed pieces between sheets of parchment or plastic wrap. I did the trees free form when decorating the cake. Just rolled and twisted. I also cut long strips that were flat on the bottom and curved on the top to place around the cake bottom.

Lay paper templates on thinly rolled fondant. Cut out carefully, then peel off the paper. A toothpick is a great tool for straightening the little windows!

Bake the cake. Here’s the recipe I used.

Orange Cake (for Haunted House Cake)
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Ingredients
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2⅔ cups sugar
  • 5 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon orange extract or zest from 1 large orange
  • 4 cups cake flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter, add an additional ¼ teaspoon of salt)
  • 1½ cups whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons frozen concentrated orange juice
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 F. Place parchment rounds in the bottom of two 8-inch (2 inches deep) round cake pans and one 6-inch (2 inches deep) round cake pan. Spray parchment and the sides of the pan with a flour/oil baking spray. Or grease and flour pans. (I'd still use the parchment rounds to ensure the cakes release easily.)
  2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add eggs, one a time, beating thoroughly after the addition of each egg and scraping the bowl often.
  4. Add vanilla and orange extract (or zest).
  5. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  6. In a small bowl combine the milk and concentrated orange juice.
  7. Add approximately ⅓ of the flour to the butter and sugar mixture. Beat just until combined. Add ⅓ of the liquids and beat just until combined. Repeat two more times, scraping the bowl often.
  8. Spoon 3 generous cups of batter into each of the large pans. Drop each pan several times on a hard surface to level. Add remaining batter (about 2 cups) into the smaller pan. Drop to level.
  9. Bake 35-40 minutes. Don't open the oven door while the cakes are baking. At 35 minutes carefully check. If a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle of a cake, they're done. If not, let the cakes bake a little longer.
  10. Move to a cooling rack for 10 minutes before turning out the cakes. Let the cakes cool completely before icing.

 

 

Ready for the oven.

Make icing. Use your favorite buttercream recipe, and make lots. Cakes are much easier to ice neatly when you can be generous with the icing. Save at least a cup of white out for the clouds, color a couple of cups of icing blue/gray for the top layer (black food coloring adds a nice tone) and color the rest a pretty yellow/orange.

Most of the icing will be orange, the rest is a blue/gray. Save some white too, for clouds.

Ice the cakes. I didn’t bother cutting layers because I wanted the final cake to be as straight as possible, and I’ve learned from experience that the more layers I make, the more chance I have of having a wonky cake. (I know. I need to work on that!) Put the two large cakes together with a generous amount of the orange icing, then ice the outside as smoothly as you can.  Ice the small cake with the blue/gray. I found it easiest to ice the small cake first and then lift it onto the large cake with two spatulas. Combine the reserved white icing with streaks of the blue/gray to make clouds. I piped it on with a large round piping tip, at the base of the small cake. (Save a small amount for attaching the moon to the top.)

You can add the silhouettes immediately, or wait until the icing has dried a bit. Your call! Melt a few yellow candy melts and place in a disposable pastry bag or zipper-type bag with a tiny bit of the tip cut off. Pipe into windows and doors to create the appearance of light inside the houses.

Make the moon. Whether you use two cookies or go with the hollow candy melt option, you’ll still need to do some melting and coloring. I used a heaping cup of candy melts, found with cake decorating supplies. Unless you have colors specially meant for chocolate (regular food coloring may react with the melts and cause them to seize into a hard blob) I’d stick with yellow. I wanted a pale yellow, so used mostly white with a few yellow melts. Let your artistic side take over and get the color you want.

White and yellow candy melts are used to make the moon.

If you’re using cookies for your moon, spread the melted yellow chocolate on the rounded sides and lay them, flat side down, on a piece of parchment. Melt a few discs of white, yellow and orange with a tablespoon of chocolate chips to get a contrasting color for the moon’s details. Using a photo from the internet, make a stab at realism by creating craters. Brush or dab color on both cookies so it will look like the moon on either side of the cake.

I mixed white, yellow, orange, and red for my moon accents.

If you want to make a hollow moon, line two small bowls with plastic wrap. The sticky kind works best because you can get most of the little creases out and the plastic won’t budge. Using the darker accent color, dab designs on the plastic on the bottom of the bowl. Here’s the tricky part: you have to do it the opposite of the picture you’re looking at because otherwise, once you turn it out, the craters that you just painstakingly painted from left to right will actually be right to left. I have no spatial abilities. NONE. So I had to flip that bowl over a whole bunch of times to convince myself of this fact.

Line bowls with plastic wrap. (The sticky kind, if you have it.) Smooth out as many wrinkles as possible.

Bowl on the right has the crater design painted in it. Bowl on the left shows the next step – adding the yellow. Then chill!

Once the accent colors have dried, pour melted yellow chocolate into each bowl, swirling as you go. Try to keep the top line even, about 1 inch from the bottom of the bowl. For ease in assembling later, let this dry and then spread on a second layer. Pop them in the fridge to harden quickly. Once firm, gently ease the plastic away from the sides of the bowl, lifting carefully. Take your time. It may help to warm the bottom of the bowl with your hands. Remove plastic from chocolate. “Glue” the two pieces together with melted yellow chocolate and place on top of the cake.

So . . . that’s it. Easy, huh! Hello? Hello?

I don’t really expect anyone to make this, but if you do I’d sure love to see a picture! Just leave it on my Rowdy Baker Facebook Page!

Lorinda

Maple Crown Cake

This sinfully rich pound cake is dense and moist and grows more flavorful as it ages. It gets its subtle maple taste from the addition of Maple Crown Royal whiskey. (No, I’m not getting a kickback from them, and yes, I’ll give you non-alcohol alternatives.) It has a delicate crispy crust from coating the pan with sugar before adding the batter, and I kicked the sweet maple flavor up a notch by using maple sugar— but that’s just me; I can never get enough maple!

I played with the icing on this cake. On my first attempt, I made a ganache from maple morsels (something new on the market) and was less than impressed. So I went back to my trusty brown sugar icing and spiked it with maple whiskey. Much better!

If you have a little of this icing left, and you haven’t just eaten it with a spoon, try adding a spoonful to a cup of hot coffee. I like my coffee strong and black, but I’ve got to say, this was delightful. Go ahead and refrigerate it if you want; it’ll cool the coffee down a bit when you add it. You may even want to double the recipe!

Maple Crown Cake
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Ingredients
  • CAKE:
  • 2 cups white sugar (plus enough to coat the inside of the pan)
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • 1½ cups (3 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 6 eggs, room temperature
  • ½ cup buttermilk (Bulgarian style, if possible)
  • ½ cup Crown Royal Maple Finished Whiskey*
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter, add an additional ¼ teaspoon)
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • * If preferred, substitute ½ cup buttermilk and 1 teaspoon maple flavoring for whiskey)
  • ICING:
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons maple whiskey
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 F.
  2. Prepare a 10-inch bundt pan by coating it generously with vegetable oil (or coconut oil or shortening - don't use butter!) and then sprinkling thoroughly with sugar.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the white sugar, brown sugar, and butter together for 3-4 minutes. The mixture should lighten in color.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly and scraping the sides of the bowl with each addition. Take your time! It should take you several minutes to add 6 eggs.
  5. Add the liquid and dry ingredients alternately in three additions, beginning with the dry ingredients and ending with the liquids. Beat just enough to combine each time, taking care to scrape the bowl down often.
  6. Spoon into prepared bundt pan carefully so you don't disturb the sugar on the sides. Smooth the top and bake for approximately 1 hour 20 minutes. The top should be rich brown and a long toothpick inserted in the cake should come out clean.
  7. Allow cake to rest on cooling rack for 10 minutes, then flip it over. Wait a few more minutes before lifting off the pan. Let cake cool before making icing.
  8. ICING: Put brown sugar, milk, and butter in a medium saucepan. Turn heat to medium and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Once it boils, let it cook for 2 minutes without stirring.
  9. Remove from heat and add powdered sugar and maple whiskey. Whisk vigorously until the icing is smooth. Pour over cooled cake. If you have a little extra, it can be gently reheated and drizzled over ice cream. (if it's too thick, feel free to add a bit more whiskey!)

It’s important to let the butter and eggs come to room temperature.

Coat a bundt pan with vegetable oil or coconut oil and sprinkle liberally with sugar. I used maple sugar for added flavor, but regular sugar is great; it’ll give a crispier sugar crust to the cake.

Beat butter and sugar well, then add eggs. One.At.A.Time. Don’t be in a hurry here!

Last egg. See how fluffy the batter is?

Combine buttermilk and whiskey

Add dry and liquid ingredients alternately, then spoon into pan. Spread gently and bake.

Cool for 10 minutes, then turn the cake over and let cool a few more minutes before lifting the pan.

Make icing. Add whiskey and powdered sugar to the boiled mixture and whisk it like you mean it!

 

Once the cake has cooled, pour the warm icing over it.

Keep this covered on the counter (don’t refrigerate) and enjoy it slice by slice. It just gets better and better!

Lorinda

 

Caramel Rose Pecan Cupcakes

Celebrate fall with these luscious cupcakes filled with caramel, pecan, and cream cheese. Adding a drizzle of caramel and an elegant caramel rose will create a perfect dessert for the upcoming holidays.

The cupcakes are delicious, but let’s not pretend that they’re the focus here. It’s the rose. It’s all about the rose!

Believe it or not, the roses are very simple to make. All you’ll need is a bag of caramels, a sturdy rolling pin, a small round cutter, and parchment paper. I was blown away by how easy it was to work with caramels. They aren’t sticky, they don’t dry out when you’re playing with them, and they stretch and curl obligingly when you want them to. They stay pliable and . . . well . . . edible, unlike gum paste or candy clay.

And the cake itself is very basic. If your inclination is to reach for a boxed mix, I understand. But if you’d like to try your hand at making a cake from scratch, this would be the recipe to use. You’d have to add eggs, butter, and water to the mix; why not add just a few more ingredients, make the cake from scratch, and avoid the additives that are in packaged mixes?

Compare!

I think the hardest thing about this recipe is unwrapping the caramels, but if I can do it YOU can do it! Speaking of caramels, do you remember when Kraft had chocolate caramels, too? They’re back. Hard to find, but I just ordered some online. I’ll bet they’d make lovely roses too.

An 11-ounce bag will give you about 40 caramels. You’ll use 22 for the roses, and the remaining 18 for the filling. (Good grief, don’t sweat it if you’re short a caramel or two. You have to check to make sure they’re fresh, right?)

So, you’ll start out with the filling, then make the cake batter. You can create the roses while the cupcakes are baking, and make the frosting once they have cooled. And you know the drill: boxed cake, canned frosting, leave out the filling . . . anything goes. Simple chocolate cupcakes with fudge icing would look great with the roses too. Just make sure you make the roses!

First, the cupcake recipe:

Caramel Rose Pecan Cupcakes
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Makes approximately 18 cupcakes.
Ingredients
  • FILLING:
  • 18 unwrapped caramels
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • ½ cup cream cheese, softened
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ½ cup chopped pecans (toasted for the best flavor)
  • CAKE:
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1½ cups cake flour (all-purpose flour may be substituted)
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • Buttercream icing (or icing of your choice)
Instructions
  1. In a small saucepan on low heat, melt the caramels and cream, stirring often. Set aside to cool.
  2. In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese and brown sugar thoroughly. Add egg yolk and beat well.
  3. Once the caramel is lukewarm but still fluid, add to cream cheese mixture. Beat well. Stir in chopped pecans. Set aside.
  4. Heat oven to 350 F. Place 18 paper liners in cupcake pans.
  5. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy - at least 2 minutes.
  6. Mix in vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly and scraping the sides of the bowl between each egg.
  7. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  8. Add half of the flour mixture the butter mixture. Beat well and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add half of the milk. Beat well and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Repeat.
  9. Fill cupcake liners halfway. Don't add too much; you need to leave room for filling. If you have extra batter, make another cupcake or two.
  10. Using a tablespoon, place a scant spoonful of filling in each cup, using the spoon to make a small depression in the batter before scooping the filling into the center. The filling will still show on top, but this will help some of it to sink into the cupcake.
  11. Bake for approximately 24 minutes, until golden brown around the edges. Test with a toothpick, making sure to insert on the side of the cupcake, away from the gooey center.
  12. Cool thoroughly before icing and decorating.

Just follow the instructions; you can’t go wrong!

I’m going to cut right to the caramel rose directions.

  1. Use a large piping tip, or a cap from a bottle of water or a milk carton—whatever you can find that’s round and approximately 1 inch across—to cut out the caramel circles.
  2. I found that working with one caramel at a time is easiest. Place it between sheets of parchment and roll out thin. You should be able to cut 4 circles out of it with a reasonable amount of leftover scraps. (Pile them up and roll them out later.)
  3. In the picture below, the pieces of caramel in the background are round. That’s because I put each one in a tortilla press. It made it a little easier to roll out that way but isn’t necessary at all. And I’m still scratching my head about the fact that I put a square caramel in the press (between sheets of parchment) and it flattened the caramel into a perfect circle. WTH?
  4. Cut one circle at a time and pop it out of the cutter. If you let them stack up in there, they’re a real bear to separate. I know this for a fact! This would be a fun activity for kids to do and allow you to go right to the fun part of forming roses. It takes 9 rounds to make a rose.
  5. Set your finished roses on the counter (uncovered) or in a mini-tart pan for a little more support. If the rose flattens, just fluff it back out.

Cut out 1-inch circles. (The rounds in the background still need to be rolled out.)

Roll one circle to make the center. Overlap 3 petals around the center. Overlap 5 petals for the outside layer, pulling edges thin and curling down if desired. Petals can be shaped and enlarged before wrapping or after, whichever is easiest. (If you want to have enough caramel for a few leaves, you can cut some of that stem off and add it to the scraps.)

They’re your roses; make them 7 petals instead of 9 if you want. Play with the shapes of the petals. Make some big ones, some small. Play with your food! If you have any leftover caramel, a few leaves make the cupcake even prettier.

Use your favorite icing. I made a basic buttercream for this batch.

I had so much fun making these, and I’ll bet you will too. The roses would be perfect on individual brownies. Or chocolate cookies. Or . . . well, I’ll leave something to your imagination.

Lorinda

 

Camo Cake for “Deer Old Dad”

If you want a little bang for your buck this Father’s Day, make the man in your life a camouflage cake. (If he’s not the outdoors type, use his favorite team colors instead.) I covered my cake with a fudgy coating topped with crushed chocolate cookies, chocolate deer, and candy trees. (My man’s happy place is in the woods.)

I’d like to call this a pound cake, but technically it isn’t. I used leavening (just a little) and my egg, sugar, flour, and butter ratio isn’t exactly the same. Still, if it looks like a pound cake, and tastes like a pound cake, well . . . it’s delicious.

I used thick, fudge-like icing on my cake. If you prefer a traditional drizzle, I recommend making a ganache. It’s easy and you can use it right away as a glaze or let it sit and thicken for a few hours, then spread it like soft frosting. To make the ganache, use equal amounts of a good dark chocolate and heavy cream. For a drizzle, 4 ounces of chocolate and 1/2 cup of cream should do it. (Double this if you plan to spread it on the whole cake.). Chop the chocolate into tiny pieces and put in a bowl. Heat the cream to a simmer and pour it over the chocolate. Stir gently. Let it sit on the counter, stirring occasionally until it’s the consistency you want.

Here’s the recipe. I’ll give you decorating ideas below.

Camo Cake for "Deer Old Dad"
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Ingredients
  • CAKE:
  • 2½ cups sugar
  • 1½ cups (3 sticks) butter, softened
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • ¼ cup strong coffee (mostly for color - you can just use buttermilk if preferred)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 tablespoon "Special Dark" cocoa (or use regular cocoa and a little black food coloring)
  • Green food coloring
  • FUDGE COATING:
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 6 ounces chocolate (chocolate chips are okay)
  • DECORATIONS (optional)
  • Crushed chocolate cookies (remove filling first if using sandwich cookies)
  • Green candy melts to make trees
  • Plastic or chocolate deer, ducks, hunters, etc.
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 F. Line a large loaf pan with parchment. Spray any uncovered surface with baking spray (or grease and flour the exposed area). This recipe was made with a 10"x5" loaf pan. If your pan is smaller, don't fill more than ⅔ full. Make a few cupcakes if you have leftover batter.
  2. In a large bowl beat butter and sugar together for 3-4 minutes, scraping the side of the bowl often.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating 30 seconds with each addition. Scrape the bowl!
  4. Combine buttermilk, coffee, and vanilla.
  5. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  6. Alternately add flour and liquids, beginning with ⅓ of the flour, stirring well, then add ⅓ of the liquid. Repeat until all has been added. Mix until well combined.
  7. Remove 1 cup of the batter and place in a small bowl. Fold in 1 tablespoon dark cocoa.
  8. Divide the remaining batter between 3 small bowls. Add 2 teaspoons regular cocoa to one bowl, add green food coloring to one bowl (add a touch of cocoa or orange color if you want to make a khaki color) and leave the last bowl as it is. You will have dark brown, light brown, green, and cream/tan.
  9. The first layer: using a small spoon, drop dollops of green, light brown, and cream batter in a random pattern in the prepared loaf pan. Place dark batter in a piping bag or sturdy food storage bag with the tip cut off and add long, skinny shapes here and there. Fill in some low places, climb the side of the pan - just don't use too much of it in one spot.
  10. The second layer: repeat, taking care to fill in any low places. Tap the bottom of the pan on a hard surface and gently smooth the top. The colors will smear together on top, but that's fine.
  11. Bake for approximately 75 minutes. Ovens vary, so check the cake at 1 hour by inserting a skewer into the center next to the crack (which is perfectly normal for a pound cake, by the way). If the skewer has batter or a lot of sticky crumbs on it, give the cake more time. It takes a long time to cook a pound cake in a loaf pan, and the edges may get a little dark before it's done. I just use a serrated blade to trim them if necessary.
  12. Cool the pan on a baking rack for 10 minutes before lifting the cake out.
  13. FUDGY COATING: In a small pot, combine water, corn syrup, and powdered sugar. Stir over medium heat until hot but not bubbling. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate. Spread over cake and decorate as desired.

Cream that butter and sugar until it’s light and fluffy (at least 3 minutes) then add eggs one at a time. Be patient and beat well!

Alternately add the flour mixture and the liquids.

Separate and color batter.

First layer. The dark brown is added using a pastry bag to get long, skinny shapes. What I didn’t realize was, since you’re cutting from the end, the squiggles should go cross-wise. Next time!

Second layer. Fill in those low spots!

Smooth the top and bake. Bake for a looooong time.

It will crack. Embrace it.

You can let it cool and serve it just like this, or drizzle it with glaze or ganache. You can wrap it snugly and hide it in the pantry where you’ll have sneaky little rendezvous with it for days (it just gets better and better as it ages) while you pretend to be looking for a can of mushrooms. Ahem.

Or you can decorate it however you choose. Here’s my cake. There are no smooth, perfect lines – this is a rustic cake for a man who’s into hunting.

I was really surprised by the lack of chocolate molds available in the shape of deer. Apparently, you can get deer heads or Bambi. I used a cheap little silicone mold I just bought, and it was not a good application for chocolate. If you want to get one, they’re on eBay and Amazon, but I’ve got to warn you, just count on getting a deer torso and head. The antlers and legs will break off. The mold is made for fondant, not chocolate. Honestly? I don’t even know how you’d get the fondant to come out of this delicate shape. 

So, you could bake and decorate deer-shaped cookies. (I’ll bet you have a reindeer cookie cutter in your holiday stash.) Or you could print a silhouette of a deer, put a piece of waxed paper over it, put melted chocolate in a pastry bag and follow the lines, filling in as you go. You could buy cute hunter/deer cake toppers. Or you could just make trees and pretend the deer is hiding behind them somewhere. (Probably the most realistic scenario.)

I piped trees, froze them briefly, then flipped them over and piped the other side. Add a sucker stick or toothpick before piping side two – then it’ll stick neatly in the cake.

I used light green candy melts for the trees, then painted them with color dust for depth. They didn’t want to stay upright; a simple solution would have been to add a toothpick when I flipped them over and piped the second side. Instead, the toothpicks were put to use propping the trees up.

I wanted the top to look like dirt, so I crushed chocolate sandwich cookies, discarding the white centers, and put the crumbs on waxed paper. I iced the top and long sides of the cake, picked it up by the ends, turned it over and rolled the top in crumbs. Ta Da!

If your guy isn’t into camo and hunting and you’ve still read this far, you are my new best friend! Instead of camo, make the colors those of his favorite team, or turn it red, white, and blue for the 4th of July!

Remember to keep the cake well wrapped at room temperature. It’s good for days . . . if it lasts that long.

Lorinda

 

 

Orange Cranberry Cupcakes

Chopped fresh cranberries and orange zest add little bursts of flavor to these sweet vanilla cupcakes. The fluffy orange icing is made with a generous amount of whipping cream, which keeps it from being too sweet.

Make sure to freeze lots of cranberries this season, because these cupcakes aren’t just for the holidays – you’ll want to make them all year long.

You know how many sweets I bake (my sweet tooth is legendary), so you might be surprised to know that I really prefer my cake unadorned, or at least minimally so, and sometimes even (gasp) scrape off some of the icing. Peer pressure often has me piling the icing on cupcakes just like everyone else, and I have to admit it makes for beautiful photos.  But how on earth are you supposed to eat a cupcake with mountain-high icing without having it go right up your nose?

Eeeuw. Not attractive.

So I’ll give you two options. A half-batch of icing is enough for a sweet little rosette on each cupcake, like this:

Or, if you love your icing, make a full batch and pile it higher, like this:

Yes, you could make even more and go for the mountain effect, but I didn’t go there. This time.

For an artsy effect, you might want to gently heat and drizzle orange marmalade or cranberry sauce over the icing, which would be lovely. But for the love of all that’s holy, do NOT use fresh cranberries to decorate the cupcakes unless you want to watch everyone pucker.  Sour, sour, sour. The berries that are baked into the cake itself are delicious, though.

Orange Cranberry Cupcakes
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Sweet orange cupcakes studded with bits of chopped fresh cranberries, topped with whipped orange icing. Makes 24 tall cupcakes, or approximately 28-30 standard cupcakes.
Ingredients
  • CAKE:
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2¼ cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon orange extract
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 3½ cups cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups buttermilk
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
  • grated zest from 1 large orange
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • ICING:
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 2 tablespoons concentrated frozen orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • grated zest from 1 large orange
  • pinch salt
  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • orange food coloring if desired
  • Candy orange slice or sprinkles for decorating
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 F. Place extra large baking cups in two 12-cavity cupcake pans. (If you are using regular baking cups, this recipe will make approximately 28-30.)
  2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy - about 5 minutes.
  3. Add vanilla and orange extracts and mix until combined.
  4. Add eggs one at a time, beating and scraping the bowl between each addition.
  5. In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.
  6. Alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk to the butter mixture, beginning with the flour and ending with the buttermilk, approximately ⅓ of each at a time. Stir each addition well before adding the next.
  7. Beat mixture just until well blended.
  8. Add 1 tablespoon flour to the cranberries and toss to coat. Fold cranberries and orange zest into batter.
  9. Scoop into cupcake liners. For extra large (or tulip-type) liners fill a little over half full - about level with the pan. If you're using regular liners, fill approximately ⅔ full.
  10. Bake approximately 20-25 minutes, or until cupcake springs back up when pressed on the top.
  11. Cool on a rack.
  12. ICING:
  13. In a large bowl, beat together the butter, shortening, orange juice, and vanilla together well.
  14. Add powdered sugar and orange zest, beat until combined. If too stiff to mix, add a little of the whipping cream.
  15. Add whipping cream and beat until light and fluffy. This will take several minutes.
  16. Place half of the icing in a bowl and add a small amount of orange food coloring.
  17. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large open star tip with both colors to get a swirled look. For a rosette, start in the center of your cupcake and work in circles outward. For a mounded "mountain" effect, start on the outside and work your way in, increasing pressure at the center. Top with a candy orange slice or sprinkles.

My next-door neighbor, Pam, gave me some wonderful parchment supplies and I’m in love with these extra-large liners. They come up high so you can use a little more batter. (They fit nicely into two of my standard cupcake pans but were a little too big for the other.) If you can’t find them, you can use tulip-type liners or just make more regular-sized cupcakes.

Beat butter and sugar until fluffy.

Add vanilla, orange extract, and eggs. Beat well.

Add one-third of the flour. Stir.

Add one-third of the buttermilk. Stir.

….and repeat. Again!

Dust the cranberries with flour. Fold into batter along with orange zest

Fill tall cups a little over half full.

Beat butter, shortening, orange juice, and vanilla together. Add powdered sugar and orange zest.

Whip in the cream. So fluffy!

Put both colors together in a pastry bag fitted with a large open star tip and make ’em pretty! Top with an orange candy slice.

These would make a perfect holiday dessert . . . not too rich, not too heavy, and so festive!

Time’s flying and Christmas is just around the corner. I’m so not ready. The next time you hear from me I’ll probably be pushing chocolate hearts, so let me say it right now:

Merry, Merry Christmas!

Lorinda