Red Velvet Cake Balls

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Cake balls are everywhere. At least they used to be – I’m not totally up on all the dessert trends. I know, I know, I should be, but I make what I like and I like what I make. Apologies to Dr. Seuss. Anyway, I made a few cake balls last week and I must say, I am hooked.

As I chronicled in last week’s red velvet cake post, we had just a little bit of cake floating around here last week. Since we had two red velvet cakes in one week, we were just a wee bit tired of cake by the beginning of this week. We had a huge slab of cake left, and no one was eating it. Cake balls to the rescue.

I mashed the cake and icing together with a fork, until it was more or less homogenous. The mix was a little dry. I just happened to have a few tablespoons of leftover icing in the fridge. I added that to the mix and it made it the perfect texture. I can’t say it looked great – though cake mush isn’t all bad. I used my smallest cookie scoop and made about a dozen tiny balls. They were pretty squishy, but after a brief chill in the fridge, they held their shape nicely.

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While they were good plain, I decided to dip a few in melted chocolate. I used semisweet chocolate chips, since there were handy. The dipping job was rustic, to say the least. But I am all about flavor over appearance, so they were fine.

I am already thinking about other combinations, other than red velvet cake and cream cheese icing. I have a few pieces of vanilla cake in the freezer. And I think I saw a piece or two of chocolate bundt cake in there too, while I was rooting around to find a pork tenderloin for dinner on Tuesday. I see more cake balls in the future.

There isn’t really a recipe here. Mash cake with icing, ideally already iced cake that is leftover. If you have extra icing, you can add it to the mix if it is too dry to hold together. If you don’t, a tablespoon of melted butter would work nicely. Then make balls. If you want icing on the cake (hah!), dip the balls in melted chocolate. Eat and enjoy. All by yourself, if that floats your boat. Or you can share.

Adventures in Cake – Easter 2013

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I am making it a tradition to make a cake in my lamb mold for Easter dinner. Some might call it an obsession, but I am going with tradition. My grandmother (my mom’s mother) made a lamb cake most years when I was a kid and I like continuing the tradition. I don’t remember Grandma ever talking about having any trouble baking her cake, or with it sticking to the pan. Not sure what that says about my cooking skills, but I’ll leave it to you to draw conclusions.

My mother did mention this year that she isn’t sure that the pan I have is the one Grandma had. She has a vague memory that Grandma had a cast iron pan, which has long disappeared. That might explain the problems I have getting my cake baked evenly – the pan I have is thin aluminum. Cast iron would heat more evenly than my pan does.

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But pans aside, I am still in search of the perfect cake recipe to bake in my lamb mold. I want the cake to have enough structure to stand up, but to still be moist. It is a fine line that I am trying to walk, and it is still a work in progress. I think the lamb shape works against me every year – baking it long enough to get the middle done dries out the edges. This year I used an eight-yolk cake from “Joy of Cooking.” I had yolks left over from making an angel food cake for my mom’s birthday (so many recipes, so little time to post them!). I have made the cake before as a regular layer cake and liked the results – moist, buttery and yellow from all the egg yolks.

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This year I also decided I didn’t want to bake the cake in the closed mold. I thought maybe the large diameter of the middle of the body was working against me. I baked the two halves separately and planned to glue them together with icing for the finished cake. I’m not sure it made a whole lot of difference. The ears, head and rear end all baked faster than the middle and were a little bit dry. If I weren’t worried about the sturdiness of the cake, I would soak the whole thing with sugar syrup to deal with the dryness, but I am afraid that might make the whole thing slump down onto the plate.

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I repeated last year’s grease job with melted shortening, though I must not have been as diligent with the shortening, as one ear and the head on the back half stuck in the pan.

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For a bit I thought I wasn’t going to get the back half of the lamb to come out of the pan at all. Better to lose the head than to have to dig the whole thing out in pieces, I guess.

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I was able to stick everything back together with icing. And the lamb survived the night intact, unlike last year. See last year’s results in the pictures below.

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The cake was fragrant with vanilla, the cream cheese icing was all I could wish for and everyone was impressed that it held together without the benefit of skewers.

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Somehow though, everyone will remember last year’s reattached head a lot longer than this year’s (relative) success. It’s funny how failures become family stories and successes are just tasty desserts.

Made in a minute, gone in a minute.

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I made my favorite Black Devil’s Food Cake on Saturday to take to a wine tasting and dinner at our church. We did a variation that Rich came up with a few years ago that ends up looking like a giant Hostess Ding Dong snack cake – two chocolate layers with cream cheese icing in the middle and chocolate icing all over the outside. This time I did make a design on top instead of leaving it smooth like a Ding Dong.

This cake recipe was my mom’s go-to recipe for birthday cakes, potluck desserts or any time we needed a quick dessert. She got the recipe from a cholesterol-free booklet (long since lost) she had from the late seventies, when they decided that eggs were the worst things you could eat. Believe me, there is no redeeming food value in this cake, despite the lack of eggs!

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I have worked on many variations of this recipe, as you can see from the page out of my cookbook. This is the one that we like the best, and the one that I made on Saturday.

If you always use cake mixes, give this cake a chance. It goes together quickly, requires no special equipment (not even a mixer) and makes an excellent chocolate cake that leaves cake mixes in the dust. And the icing is, of course, the topper (pun intended). I have been known to make a double recipe just so we will have some left over to spread on graham crackers or to eat with a spoon.

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To make the version we made, you do have to make two kinds of icing, and you end up with a pretty thick coat of the chocolate icing. If you would rather simplify things, skip the cream cheese icing (which does require a mixer, unless you have forearms of steel and want to beat it by hand) and just make the chocolate. Your icing layer won’t be quite as thick, unless you make a double recipe. We’ve been known to do that too. We really like this cake, if you can’t tell.

Calvin wasn’t going to the wine tasting, and he really wanted a piece of the cake. I decided to go ahead and cut him a piece and leave it at home. We got some kidding about the cake that already had a slice out of it, but I am glad I snagged Calvin a piece ahead of time. We came home with one bite of cake left on the plate.

Don’t forget to post in the comments and let me know how the cake works for you!

Black Devil’s Food Cake
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 8-inch round layer cake

2 cups flour
1 ¾ cups sugar
½ cup cocoa
1 tablespoon baking soda (yes, it really is a tablespoon)
1/3 cup oil
1/3 cup plain, nonfat yogurt
1 cup buttermilk *
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup strongly brewed coffee

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans. Stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa and baking soda in a large bowl. Add oil, buttermilk and vanilla and stir well. Carefully stir in coffee. Batter will be very thin. Pour into pans. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until cake bounces back when lightly pressed in center.

Cool 15 minutes in pans on racks and then turn out of pans directly onto racks to cool completely before icing. This is a tender cake, so use a cooked icing or a very fluffy icing or the cake may tear when you are icing it.

* Commercial buttermilk works best. But you can also substitute slightly less than ½ cup yogurt and slightly more than ½ cup regular milk, mixed together. Or measure 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice into a measuring cup and fill the rest of the way with regular milk. Let stand for a few minutes before using. The cake won’t rise quite as high with either substitution.

 Cream Cheese Icing
adapted by the Cook’s Life
from The Complete Cooking Light Cookbook
Makes enough for one 8-inch layer

2 ounces cream cheese (1/3 less fat or regular), room temperature
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons milk (approximately), if necessary

Beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy. Add powdered sugar gradually, and mix well. Beat for 30 seconds, or until fluffy. If icing seems too thick, add a teaspoon of milk and beat again.

 Fudge Icing

3 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup sugar
dash salt
¼ cup milk
¼ cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix all but vanilla in a medium saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce heat slightly and boil for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Stir until thick enough to top cake (it will look like a thick milkshake). Pour over cake and spread to edges. If frosting a layer cake, let icing run down sides of cake and then smooth with a knife. Let icing cool thoroughly before covering cake.

Cake is even better the next day.

Download recipe here.

Moderation went out the window

Deep dish pizza from Pi.

Rich’s mom was in town for a long weekend and we almost literally ate our way through St. Louis. She stayed for 5½ days and I think we gained about ten pounds while she was here. Quick run-down of her stay:


Glazing our own doughnuts.

If we could have licked the pot, we would have.

Cupcake split and drizzled with icing while it was warm and still pourable.

-Homemade cheese-stuffed shells, very buttery garlic bread (thanks Calvin!), and then out for frozen yogurt
-Out for burgers, fries and ice cream for lunch the next day
-Homemade pizza for dinner (probably the healthiest meal of the week)
-Homemade angel food cake with caramel icing/sauce and peaches for my mom’s birthday
-Doughnuts from World’s Fair Donuts before touring the Botanical Gardens
-Deep dish pizza at Pi for lunch, including garlic bread and shakes for dessert
-Homemade (baked) vanilla doughnuts for breakfast
-Cheese and chocolate fondue for dinner at The Melting Pot to celebrate Calvin’s good grades
-Our own cheese plate, with four cheeses, pita chips (home crisped from store pitas – post on those next week), spiced nuts from a recipe on The Sweets Life blog, dried fruit and apple slices
-Homemade Black Devil’s Food cupcakes, with double icing (post coming soon)

After all that I was tempted to post a recipe for plain oatmeal, no milk, no butter, no cream, no brown sugar. But I took pity on everyone and am doing the caramel icing. This was my maternal grandmother’s topping for angel food cake. She never put any other icing on angel food cake – it was either plain, or had this icing on it. And she never put this icing on any other cake. I don’t recall that it even had a name; it was just “that icing that Grandma puts on angel food cake.”

My brother and I always hoped Grandma would make this icing when she said she was making angel food cake, though I don’t know that we ever requested it. It was always a surprise. And it wasn’t always in the same form. Sometimes the icing glazed the cake, drizzling down the sides like it was supposed to. Sometimes it all sat on top in a thick layer. And sometimes it all ran off the cake and made a puddle in the hole in the middle and around the edges. Not sure if it was the weather, or if Grandma sometimes cooked it longer than others. We always ate it – no matter what form it takes, the icing is good.

My mother and grandmother hardly ever used cake mixes, but angel food cake was the exception. When you have the time and want to try it, make an angel food cake from scratch (I’ll do a post sometime). But one from a mix is perfectly tasty and almost foolproof.

Would you believe I forgot to take any pictures of the icing? I'll just have to make it again and add a picture later! When finished, the icing will be about the same color as the golden brown parts of the cake in the picture.

Grandma’s Caramel Icing
When I asked for the recipe, Grandma’s directions were to cook until thick. That’s all. I expanded on the directions just a bit here.

2/3 cup (5 oz. can) evaporated milk*
2/3 cup sugar
½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine milk, sugar and butter in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until thickened, stirring almost constantly, about 8 minutes. Icing will begin to turn a light tan. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Stir until slightly thicker, about 5 minutes. Pour over cake and let icing drizzle down the sides. Or, if you prefer, pour into a bowl to serve as a sauce. You might have to rewarm the sauce for a few seconds in the microwave if you are serving it later.

Let icing cool and set up before slicing cake. The icing tastes even better the next day.

*If you can’t find the small cans of evaporated milk, measure out the 2/3 cup from a larger can and store the rest in the fridge for a later use. Maybe another batch of icing…

Download the recipe here.