CORALINE Cake (Books as Cakes)

Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the house . . . 

So begins Neil Gaiman's, Coraline. I bought my copy (already signed!) at Barnes and Noble in Manhattan's Union Square not long after it was released. I'd been in NYC for a month, maybe less, and took the book to a now defunct red sauce joint to treat myself to a fancy lunch (quite the splurge back then at maybe $10) and time to fall into a new world penned by one of my favorite authors. 

As with pretty much every word he's written, it did not disappoint; I have re-read the book at least once a year. And let's just get it out of the way that I never saw the movie, don't want to see the movie . . . to much of my own world is tied into the book to give the visuals over to someone else.

That said, when it came to thinking about how to turn this book into a cake, the visual concept of a large button was pretty much a given:
“Coraline?” the woman said. “Is that you?” And then she turned around. Her eyes were big black buttons. “Lunchtime, Coraline,” said the woman. “Who are you?” asked Coraline. “I’m your other mother,” said the woman.

Wanting a spool of thread to mimic the following passage, I found a vintage British industrial spool, wound two packages of black string licorice around it, and anchored it all with a big, sharp, leather needle:
“If you want to stay,” said her other father, “there’s only one little thing we’ll have to do, so you can stay here for ever and always.” They went into the kitchen. On a china plate on the kitchen table was a spool of black cotton, and a long silver needle, and, beside them, two large black buttons. “I don’t think so,” said Coraline. “Oh, but we want you to,” said her other mother. “We want you to stay. And it’s just a little thing.” “It won’t hurt,” said her other father.

As for the cake flavor itself, well, that sent me deeper into the book searching for passages that resonated on my palate.

The white cake base was baked in one 10" layer cake pan from this recipe and inspired by this: 
The world she was walking through was a pale nothingness, like a blank sheet of paper or an enormous, empty white room. It had no temperature, no smell, no texture, and no taste. It certainly isn’t mist, thought Coraline, although she did not know what it was. For a moment she wondered if she might not have gone blind. But no, she could see herself, plain as day. But there was no ground beneath her feet, just a misty, milky whiteness.

Though almond is not mentioned, I added some of the extract to the batter as the Other Mother is a poisonous character, cyanide smells like almonds . . . a stretch, but a lovely flavor. 

The round maraschino cherry juice-soaked/studded center (cut into with a 6" round) was inspired by this passage:
The key sat in the middle of the paper picnic cloth. Coraline let go of the string, and took a step back. Now it was all up to the hand. She turned to her dolls. “Who would like a piece of cherry cake?” she asked. “Jemima? Pinky? Primrose?” and she served each doll a slice of invisible cake on an invisible plate, chattering happily as she did so.

Finally, I cut out button holes with biscuit cutters and covered the lot in black swiss meringue buttercream, then black food color spray paint for that shiny, wet look. 

Overall, I am happy with the end result. Though, in hindsight, there's so much more to incorporate: a big, rusty, black metal key, the mouse circus, and even Coraline's day-glo green gloves somehow.

Perhaps discovering cakes is similar to discovering doors . . . it's only after you've been with something a little while that you can truly see it.



Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Cake (This Is What My Memories Taste Like)

Middle + School. One of the most terrifying word equations I can think of. Maybe you had the time of your life back then (seriously, anyone?), but me. Nah.

This was me in the 7th grade: 

See that awesome perm? What I wanted/dreamed of/coveted/obsessed over was this:

(I also thought using Noxzema would transform me, but it just made me break out. Shaking my fist at you advertisers!!!)

(I also thought using Noxzema would transform me, but it just made me break out. Shaking my fist at you advertisers!!!)

And I had a MAJOR crush on a boy with surfer blonde hair who wore lavender (!) pants and did not know of my existence. This is a snapshot from my yearbook:

(Redacted to protect the innocent. Also, does a black bar over the eyes really work? Old friends, can you guess who this is?!)

(Redacted to protect the innocent. Also, does a black bar over the eyes really work? Old friends, can you guess who this is?!)

So, we have a bad perm, a one-sided crush, the yellow polo shirt/kacki pants/penny loafer thing that you can't see but was definitely happening, and the self-esteem of an average 12-year-old. Can't you just picture the good times! 

Get to the cake Jess!

I clearly recall spending many a lunch hour that year with the school nurse (really) or hiding in the library, but one of my strongest memories is of these terribly hard, terribly delicious ice cream sandwiches I ate for lunch almost every day. I think they cost a quarter, maybe fifty cents, came wrapped in clear plastic that lent a satisfying sound upon opening, and, though I nearly broke a tooth once, provided sheer sugar pleasure in the form of two chocolate chip cookies cradling a massive lump of vanilla ice cream. That processed food-friend is what's inspired the newest Memory Cake: Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Cake!

Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Cake
Make one 6" cake

Preheat oven to 350°
Grease and parchment-line two 6" round cake pans

1 1/2 c (188 g) all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t kosher salt
1/2 c (85 g) chocolate chips
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 c (210 g) light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 c (120 g) whole milk, at room temperature
2 t vanilla extract

1 pint vanilla ice cream

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Toss in the chocolate chips to coat. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until much lighter in color and fluffy, about four minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating on medium for one minute before adding the next. Stop and scrape the sides of the bowl. Beat in the vanilla extract until blended in.

Alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk in three additions, beginning and ending with the dry (d/m/d/m/d). One the last bit of dry has started to incorporate, remove the bowl from the mixer and finish mixing by hand with a rubber spatula.

Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans. Bake for 32-34 minutes until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Put pans on a rack to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the pans and let cool completely.

15 minutes before serving the cake, take the ice cream out of the freezer and let it soften up for about 10 minutes on the kitchen counter. Once it is soft enough to easily spread, transfer the whole damn pint between the cake layers.

Note: I baked the cake and did the ice cream bit, then put it in the freeze over night thinking I would have a perfect triple layered cake/ice cream/cake the next day. Not true. Almost all of the ice cream soaked into the cake! Not that that's a bad thing (and it still tasted as dreamy as my middle-school crush), but that's why I recommend above adding the ice cream layer just before serving. 

An entire pint of ice cream soaked into those layers!

An entire pint of ice cream soaked into those layers!

The History of American Cake

Just a quick post to share an article that I have been working on for some time now, and it's finally live over at Food52! It spans American cakes from the late eighteenth-century through today and covers everything from innovations and inventions to the bakers and experimenters who brought us the cakes we so love. Check it out . . . I'd love to hear what you think!

Election Cake, late eighteenth-century. Photo by James Ransom.

Election Cake, late eighteenth-century. Photo by James Ransom.

Angel Food Cake, late nineteenth-century. Photo by Sarah Stone.

Angel Food Cake, late nineteenth-century. Photo by Sarah Stone.

Orange Chiffon Cake with "Hawaiian Fluff" Topping, 1940s. Photo by James Ransom.

Orange Chiffon Cake with "Hawaiian Fluff" Topping, 1940s. Photo by James Ransom.

Banana Cake with Peanut Butter Honey Frosting and Honey-Baked Tortilla Chips (This Is What My Memories Taste Like)

When I was a kid, we spent almost every weekend in the mountains. I grew up in Colorado, and my parents (my dad in particular) were keen to not let all that fresh air and rocky terrain go to waste.

In the winter we skied (of course) and drove horribly environmentally-unfriendly snowmobiles around and across meadows, sometimes clinging with unabashed joy to an inner-tube  anchored to the rear with a sturdy rope.

The summer, though, the summers were for exploring. My parents would pack up an easy lunch of these pb banana burrito things: tortillas spread liberally with peanut butter and a generous squirt of honey, topped with slices of banana. Rolled up tightly, they were packed into a cooler with cans of Tab or Diet Coke and water, maybe carrots. And beer. There was always beer. 

Off we would go, taking back roads in a jeep with a roll bar, climbing up higher and higher (and when your starting point is nearly 12,000 feet above sea level...) stopping to check out ghost towns (actual, deserted, creepy ghost towns),  old cemeteries, massive lakes, and herds of animals grazing in fields.

This cake is in honor of that perfect portable lunch and those long summer days of hiking, fighting off mosquitos, and learning how to pee standing up without getting any on your pants. To getting sunburnt and worn out, and to the long drives back to the house, the sun set, dad telling us stories about the stars. 

Banana Cake with Peanut Butter Honey Frosting and Honey-Baked Tortilla Chips
Preheat oven to 350°; Prep two 6" round cake pans

2 c (250 g) all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t kosher salt
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/2 c (100 g) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 c (112 g) neutral oil
1 c (227 g; about 2 large) pureed ripe banana (not banana-bread ripe)
1 t vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. In a separate large bowl throughly whisk together the sugar, eggs, oil, pureed banana, and vanilla extract. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until throughly mixed. Divide evenly between the two pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the tops spring back when pressed, a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, and the sides start pulling away from the pan. Remove to a rack and let cool in the pans for 5 minutes before turning the cakes out to cool completely.

6 oz (TK g) cream cheese, at warm room temperature
6 T ( TK g; 3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at warm room temperature
2/3 c (170 g) peanut butter
5 T (tk g) honey

Whip all of the ingredients together until throughly combined and smooth. Fill and frost the cake.

Honey-Baked Tortilla Chips:
One 8" tortilla
1 T  honey
1 T water

Mix the honey and water together in a small bowl. Liberally brush both sides of the tortilla with the honey-water. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and put into a preheated 350° oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and minimally tacky to the touch. Let cool. Cut up as desired to decorate the frosted cake.

A Short Bit On Blood-Warm

I first came upon the term blood-warm (sometimes blood heat) as a temperature indicator while reading through Hannah Glasse's 1747 book, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Simple.

It came up in a recipe for a pretty cake to describe the state of heated cream and butter to be used. Instantly captivated by the morbid weirdness of it to my modern mind, more than that, I found it remarkable how intuitive it was. No need for a thermometer to tell me 98.6°, I really could feel it. 

These days we use lukewarm. Interestingly, the word lukewarm dates to at least the 14th century, so why use blood-warm or blood heat I'm not sure. Cursory research tells me nothing—literally nothing—as it pertains to the term and cooking. That said, there must be something on this history out there. If you know, please enlighten me!  

As a culinary tool, blood-warm and blood heat seemed to loose favor as an adjective in the early 20th century, so I was beyond surprised to stumble across this book published in 1988 that uses blood heat copiously in its recipes: 

Anyone familiar with more European-centric baking books and their use of this term?