For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been talking about archival theory and the various questions it raises in terms of how archives affirm or undermine authority, whose voices tend to get preserved or not, and the allure of the archives as a tactile connection to the past, among other issues. Before we move on to the next part of my list though, which addresses digital humanities, I thought I’d take a break from the theory and share this post about a cake.
A little backstory first. I originally wrote this in early February, and it’s rather strange reading it now. Before the pandemic, I usually only baked cakes and that sort of thing for social occasions. Not so anymore. I’ve done a lot of baking since the pandemic started, but aside from Brandon, I haven’t been sharing my baked goods with anybody. The cake I talk about in today’s post, one that was meant to be shared by a group of people, feels like it happened a very long time ago. Future historians take note: sheltering at home in the Covid-19 pandemic alters your sense of time.
Anyway, here’s the original post:
A coworker of Brandon’s recently got a new job at the Valentine Museum in Richmond. To celebrate this new chapter, Brandon asked if I could make a cake for her, as he knows I enjoy baking. After finding out that she has a penchant for chocolate raspberry cakes with cream cheese frosting, I decided to give it a go.
Here’s the recipe, which is modified from a King Arthur recipe for classic birthday cake:
- 2 cups cake flour (I used King Arthur’s unbleached and unenriched)
- 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s Special Dark, but it’s up to you)
- 4 large eggs
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
- 1 cup milk
- 4 tablespoons (1/4 cups) butter, cut into parts
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees with a rack in the center. Lightly grease two 8″ or 9″ round cake pans. If the 8″ pan isn’t 2″ deep, use the 9″ pans.
- Combine flour, sale, baking powder, and cocoa powder in a small bowl.
- In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and almond extract until thickened and light gold in hue. The recipe called for using a hand-mixer at medium-high speed for 2 minutes, but I was able to do this by hand with a little effort.
- Add the dry ingredients and mix just enough to combine. Scrape the bottom and sides, and mix again briefly.
- Bring the milk to a simmer over medium heat in a saucepan on the stovetop, or in the microwave. Remove from heat, add butter and oil, and stir until the butter melts
- Slowly mix the milk/butter/oil concoction into the batter until everything is well combined. Use the low setting on your hand mixer if you’ve got one. Scrape the bowl and mix one more time, briefly.
- Divide the batter between the two pans.
- Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean and the top feels set (38 to 42 minutes for 8″ pans, 26 to 30 minutes for 9″ pans)
- Remove from the oven, loosen the edges, and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Remove the cakes from pans onto a rack (right-side up), and let them finish cooling. Cakes should be completely cool before you frost them.
And here’s what I did for the cream cheese frosting (You can also find it here):
- 1/2 cup butter, softened.
- 8 ounces cream cheese (the block kind, not the spreadable stuff for bagels)
- 4 cups’ confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Beat butter and cream cheese until blended, then add sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until creamy and smooth.
For the filling in between the cake layers, I used seedless raspberry preserves, probably between 1/4-1/2 cup though I wasn’t measuring precisely. I got mine from Publix, but any brand will suffice. To keep the raspberry filling from soaking too much into the cakes, I coated the top of the bottom layer and the bottom of the top layer with a thin coat of frosting. I then applied the raspberry filling on top of the bottom layer of cake, placed the top layer over that, and covered the whole thing with cream cheese frosting.
Now for the story behind this cake:
As I mentioned earlier, this recipe is modified from a classic birthday cake recipe from King Arthur Flour, my favorite baking company. The recipe is on their website, but you can also find it on the back of their cake flour box.
This recipe is definitely easier with a hand mixer, but you can do it by hand, like I did. I broke my hand mixer a few years ago, but I’m able to meet most of my baking needs without it. If I start baking cakes more often though, I’ll definitely get a new one.
Two-layer cakes have always been an aspiration of mine. I’ve done lots of sheet cakes and cupcakes, but there’s something about the height and elegance of a layer cake that intrigues me. I don’t bake them often enough to be really good at them, but I always appreciate the challenge.
In retrospect, I would have done three things differently. First, I would have put the frosting back in the fridge before using it, as I found that despite using block cream cheese, it was still a tad runny when I was using it. Second, I wouldn’t have spread the raspberry filling all the way to the edges. When I applied the frosting around the edges, the raspberry filling bled into it, causing an ombre effect. While I actually liked how it looked, it wasn’t what I had initially set out to do. Third, I would have applied more frosting in between the layers. I ended up with more frosting than I needed to cover the cake, so I ended up having a very thick layer on top.
Overall, though, I was pleased with how this cake tuned out. Adding the oil also kept the cake moist, which is another improvement on my previous cakes. Visually, it wouldn’t win any contests on a baking show, but this is definitely one of my better efforts. I mean, it’s upright and evenly coated with frosting more or less, so in my books, it’s a success. Most importantly, Brandon’s coworker loved it, along with everyone else in the collections department, so I’m happy I was able to help make her sendoff a memorable one.
Who knows when it’ll be safe to do this again.