The Year of the Cake

Let’s be blunt. This year was dreadful. This was one of the loneliest years of my life. There are so many things that I miss, but human connection is probably at the top of the list.  

We have all had to find our own ways to cope with the challenges of this year. The one thing that got me through this year more than anything else was cake. I therapeutically baked a lot this year, but I kept coming back to the one dessert that will forever own my heart. I made some old favorites, discovered some new recipes, and even came up with a couple creations of my own.

This year, I think I successfully moved the dial in establishing my reputation as the “goddess of cakes.” Check out my year of cake. I might even reveal which was my favorite. 

Raspberry Mousse Cake: I made this cake in January before I even knew how bad things would get. This was the first of several cakes I made from Lindsay Conchar’s Simply Beautiful Homemade Cakes. She writes the Life, Love and Sugar blog. This was my first ever mouse cake cake. The sponge is a champagne cake, and it is topped with a raspberry mousse with a thin layer of raspberry glaze. Although I found this to rather sweet, the tartness of the raspberry was delightful. 

Castagnaccio (Chestnut Cake): This next cake is an ancient Etruscan recipe from the region of Italy that is now Tuscany. The cake is made with chestnut flour and is only sweetened with raisins and honey. The consistency is similar to a thick pancake. I found this recipe in a book on Tuscany at BU’s library while I was preparing to present for an award at school, and it served as my dessert course.

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Cupcakes: In February, I made these cupcakes to celebrate a co-workers birthday. I started by making a vanilla cupcake that I filled with a strawberries and cream mixture. I then thought it would be fun to use chocolate ganache instead of a frosting to make these more like a chocolate covered strawberries. These cupcakes were a hit with my co-workers.

Mocha Nutella Cupcakes: In February, I made these cupcakes from Simply Beautiful Homemade Cakes. Espresso cakes were topped with a nutella buttercream, which is one of my favorite frostings of all time. This is definitely a recipe I would go back to at some point next year.

Red Wine Chocolate Cake: This was the last cake I made before Covid hit the US, and it also comes from Simple Beautiful Homemade Cakes. It is a chocolate cake with sweet red wine and a raspberry buttercream. I made this for my Food and Gender class in one of our last meetings before our class went online for the rest of the semester. My professor still talks about this cake. The cake was so moist and rich with a more complex flavor brought by the wine. I wish I had a bottle of sweet red wine to make this cake right now.

Lavender Cupcakes: Someone posted this recipe on Facebook. I made these very early into quarantine in March. The base was a lavender cupcake, and I piped on honey cream cheese frosting. These cakes had a great floral note without being too strong. What a pleasant treat. When I made these, I foolishly thought our current situation was not going to last too long. I was still enjoying my downtime in solitude. Little did I know how tough it would get.

Spiced Pound Cake: By the time I made my next cake, it was late April. I had greatly struggled to get through the rest of the semester online, having lost most of my motivation to work. I made this cake by Jocelyn Delk Adams (aka grandbaby cakes) can be found in the Feed the Resistance cookbook. Adams notes how this cake can nourish your soul, and I needed a bit of that to get me through the final hurdle of writing my final papers. This is a spiced pound cake made in a bundt pan with a rum molasses icing. Wow, what a delicious cake. The batter is whipped to create a voluminous, luscious cake that is perfectly moist and flavorful. I loved this cake so much that I made it again in November on National Bundt Cake Day, though the timing was coincidental.

Chocolate Sourdough Cake: Like most of the Internet, I found myself experimenting with sourdough this year. One of my teachers had gifted me some starter at our culinary arts graduation, and I was looking for things to do with my discard. In May, I made this chocolate cake using discard with an espresso icing and chocolate drizzle, found on King Arthur’s website. The cake was not sour; the bitterness of cocoa helps to temper the fermented taste of the starter.

Chocolate Tres Leches Cake: This next recipe comes from NYT Cooking, and was one of my favorites of the year. I already knew I loved tres leches cake, but add chocolate to the mix, and I am bound to be hooked. The cake is so saturated with the milk mixture, it is almost like pudding, but still having the structure of a cake. It was not mushy or soggy at all. This cake is perfect and deserves our attention.

Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Curd: These cupcakes were another original creation. I made lemon cupcakes (though the lemon did not come through as strong as I had hoped). Not to worry though, because I got a ton of citrus from the lemon curd filling, my first ever curd. Finally, I piped roses of Italian meringue buttercream. I made these in June, at which point I needed a pick-me-up from my routine of working at Wegmans or sitting at home.

Cleveland Cassata Cake: By this point, I was getting a bit bored. A Facebook follower suggested I make a cake I had never even heard of: Cleveland Cassata Cake. I am so sad I was left in the dark for so long, because this cake is divine. Four layers of vanilla sponge, three layers of vanilla custard and macerated strawberries, all brought together with whipped cream as frosting and topped with more strawberries. This is a cake that is so good it might make you cry, and I guarantee it will be because of the delectable custard filling.

Angel Food Flag Cake: For the Fourth of July, I had my first ever paying customer for one of my cakes. I made an angel food sheet cake decorated with fruit and Chantilly cream, decorated as the American flag. Since I had not made angel food cake before, I did a practice round and turned that into my own dessert for the holiday, a berries and cream trifle. I layered angel food cake, vanilla custard, strawberry whipped cream and fresh berries, topped with just a little extra Chantilly cream from my other cake. That sure was a festive, summery dessert.

Pistachio Financiers: I learned how to make these pistachio financiers last fall from Pastry Chef Janine Sciarappa, who taught our pastry classes in my culinary program. I have now made these so many times because I am addicted. I brought back this recipe in August when I wanted to share a sweet treat with my managers before my last day of work at Wegmans. To test these out, I took a little scoop of homemade vanilla bean lavender ice cream to top a financier for a decadent treat of my own.

Brown Butter Cake with Apple Filling: Apple season inspired me to come up with this cake in September. I made two brown butter sponges and filled them with caramelized apples, then frosted the cake with brown butter buttercream. This was a perfect treat for the fall with local apples and nuttiness of brown butter. All that is missing is a cup of hot apple cider and a cardigan.

Apple Cider Doughnut Cake: October 3rd is my birthday, and this year I got to spend it in Boston with two of my best friends after we all got Covid tests. I put together a fall themed brunch, where the final course was this cake. Janine Sciarappa’s apple cider doughnut cake with my own twist. Instead of the cinnamon sugar topping, I made cinnamon whipped cream and apple cider caramel sauce. What a decadent way to celebrate turning 29. This cake is what dreams are made of.

Pumpkin Roll with Coffee Caramel Cream: I promise November was not neglected in terms of pastries. On top of a delicious tart for Thanksgiving, I made the spiced pound cake again. By December, I needed something once again to get me to the finish line that was the end of my semester. Time for another NYT recipe. I used pumpkin puree that I made myself and topped my cake slice with some candied pecans. One last sweet treat before I wrote my final papers.

This truly was the year of the cake in the view of my life. Each cake brought me comfort and joy in this tough year. When I was concentrating on baking a cake, I wasn’t thinking about how bad everything else felt. It was just me and the cake. While I wish I could have shared more of these with people, I am confident that when the threat of Covid passes, my new skills will have me ready to bake for the world. For now, I will keep making myself cakes.

Finally, I think that it would be unfair to pick a favorite from this year, as there were some very different offerings. However, I think the Cleveland Cassata Cake deserves the prize, so I am willing to admit a favorite here. Where has that cake been hiding my whole life?

And with that, I bid adieu to 2020. Good riddance, right? I wish all of you a happy new year. I know that we are still fighting Covid, but at least this year is over. I am not putting expectations on 2021. I am just going to let it happen