Where there is cake, there is hope. And there is always cake. ~Dean Koontz
Cakes have long been associated with celebrations, large and small. From a child’s first birthday, when he is allowed to dig in from the safety of his high chair and smear himself with the delicious frosting while a parent takes his picture, to weddings, where elaborate, expensive cakes are the highlight of a reception and the wedding photos, cake is nearly as necessary to family events as the family itself…nearly.
Since cake is so important in our culinary experience, let’s learn a little about it before delving into the delicious recipes I have for you.
Europe is credited with the invention of modern cakes, which were round, yeast-y, and topped with a boiled icing, not the luscious buttercream (or the bland tasting but beautiful fondant) used today. However, by the 19th century, the soft, sweet cakes made using baking powder instead of yeast became popular, as did buttercream icing, and people began to love cake even more.
Now let’s move forward into the 20th century. Cake mixes became available when P. Duff and Sons patented a cake mix for use by "the modern housewife" in 1933, according to Bon Appetit Magazine. John Duff sweetened the mixes with lots of dried molasses, which worked well for the spice cake and devil’s food cake in his company’s product line.
By the 1950s, many other companies had introduced their own version of the cake mix, including Duncan Hines and Pillsbury. In the ‘30s, the companies used dehydrated eggs in the mixes, but by the ‘50s they decided that people wanted to be more a part of the creation of the cake, so they removed the dehydrated eggs and had the purchaser add fresh eggs at home, according to the BA article. Making a cake became easier, and the finished product was delicious.
While it is a badge of pride for many people to make a cake from scratch, no mix involved, let’s be honest. A cake mix is a handy way to make a dessert and is almost foolproof. Cakes from scratch can turn out coarse, dry, crumbly…or perfect. One never knows. But a cake made from a mix is almost always perfect, assuming that the baker follows package directions, and doesn’t let little boys run loudly into the kitchen to open the oven door. (I’ve been there! We ate the fallen cake, anyway.)
Certain cakes in my life have had a prominent place during special occasions, and that may be true for you, as well. For example, as a little girl, I always wanted, and received, a pink strawberry cake made in mama’s kitchen for all my friends to share as they gathered around our dining room table. I don’t remember a single gift I received, but I remember that glorious pink cake. It was made from a mix, and she used fresh strawberries in it and in the frosting sometimes. I loved it mostly because of the pretty color, I recall.
Christmas meant two kinds of cake for our family gatherings. One was coconut cake, with white cake layers and a fluffy white powdered sugar icing, topped with sweetened, tender coconut flakes. The second kind was a yellow cake covered with chocolate frosting and topped with pecan halves. I still make that one now in my own home at Christmas, and I will always associate the beautiful white coconut cake with my dad, as he has always loved it so much. Those are special memories for me.
As famous television cake baker Buddy Valastro said, "Cakes are special. Every birthday, every celebration ends with something sweet, a cake, and people remember. It's all about the memories.” I could not agree more.
Now, if you want to try some new cake recipes, I have a couple of them to share with you. But first I’ll share my favorite chocolate icing recipe which I learned by watching the talented Ina Garten. It’s the perfect icing to use on a yellow cake!
Ina’s Chocolate Icing
24 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (if you’re not a fan of semi-sweet, try milk chocolate chips)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (Ina & I agree that one should only use REAL vanilla extract)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature (very important that it be room temp)
First, place the chocolate chips and heavy cream in a bowl set over a pot of gently simmering (not boiling) water, stirring, until the chips are completely melted. The more you stir, the shinier the icing will be.
Off the heat, add the corn syrup and vanilla and allow the chocolate mixture to cool to room temperature. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the chocolate mixture and softened butter on medium speed for a few minutes, until it’s thickened.
Spread on a completely cooled cake. This made enough icing to cover the 9×13″ sheet cake I made with about 3/4-inch of icing. If you would like to, feel free to top the icing with pecans, as my family does.
"Let's face it, a nice creamy chocolate cake does a lot for a lot of people; it does for me.” - Audrey Hepburn
Next, this is a cake that uses fresh summer berries for juicy flavor atop a whipped cream icing.
Summer berry poke cake
One white or yellow cake, baked according to package directions in a 9"x13" baking dish; allow to completely cool before proceeding.
3 cups fresh berries: blueberries, strawberry slices, raspberries, etc
8 ounces of whipped cream or non-dairy whipped topping
small package of strawberry jello mix
small package white chocolate pudding mix
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup cold water
1 cup boiling water
1. Use a fork to poke holes in the cooled cake.
2. Combine jello powder with a cup of boiling water, whisking to dissolve; then add 1/2 cup cold water to it, and whisk again.
3. Pour the jello mixture evenly over the cake, and then put the cake into the fridge for several hours or overnight.
4. Frosting: After the chilling time has passed, combine the pudding mix and milk, then add to whipped cream, gently folding with a rubber or silicone spatula to combine.
5. Spread the whipped cream mixture over the chilled cake, covering completely, then add the berries in any pattern you like; I like to scatter them, but you can make a flag, a star, etc. if you want to try. Have fun with it, and enjoy!
(Note: Keep the cake refrigerated until just before serving)
My blueberry-lemon cake recipe is easy and utterly moist and delicious! Perfect for breakfast or dessert. Sit on the porch with coffee or cold milk and enjoy a slice!
Blueberry-lemon Greek yogurt cake
1 box lemon cake mix
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup milk or water
the number of eggs called for on cake mix box
pint of blueberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a tube or bundt pan with cooking spray, or use shortening to grease pan, and then flour it.
In mixer bowl, combine all ingredients except blueberries. Mix for about 30 seconds, then stop, scrape the bowl with a spatula, and then mix again for two minutes. Stop mixer, then gently fold berries in with spatula.
Pour the batter into the sprayed or greased pan, and bake for around 35-40 minutes. Test with a toothpick for doneness. If the toothpick inserted into center is free of crumbs or batter, the cake is ready.
"Most of us have fond memories of food from our childhood. Whether it was our mom's homemade lasagna or a memorable chocolate birthday cake, food has a way of transporting us back to the past." Homer Cantu
Feel free to share your favorite cake recipes with me: Steph@whatsouthernfolkseat.com.
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is "Mama Steph." She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home.
She is married and has three young adult sons who are considerably taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at whatsouthernfolkseat.com.