A Tetris Cake for Someone You Really Love, or, Dewy Velvet Chocolate Cake with Bourbon Vanilla Frosting

Judson's birthday was last month, and while I'm now super late, I can't let it pass without telling you about his cake, because as we all know, Judson's birthday means two things: I want to make a cake and he doesn’t care about cake. So while I took to heart his request to ‘please, please don’t go over the top with food at my party’, I still couldn’t resist making a proper cake for the guests at his shindig.

Only I can’t ever just leave it at… you know, a plain old cake. For his birthday in years past there’s been the Domo cake with corresponding speech bubble; the ill-fated sushi cake (which was the same year as the jello shots inside of real strawberries, so I feel like I should get a pass for the cake only looking ‘meh;’ the key lime pie made in a country where I can’t buy key limes; and too many others to count. (I’m pretty sure there were beer popsicles one year? And another year, jello shots in the shape of the Scottish flag made with the largest bottle of blue curacao I've ever seen and if anyone can remember what I used to make the white ones, then they're doing better off than me).

So this year, Judson had a board-game party for his birthday- relatively chill, lots of games and puzzles and nerdy jokes and day-drinking, so I decided to make him a Tetris cake. Not content (and let's be real, not skilled enough) to use frosting for the shapes, of course I decided to make square macarons. But I didn't reckon on there being seven iterations of Tetris shapes. Did you know there are seven Tetris shapes? Well, there are. I'll give you a minute to think it through, but here is a list: line, square, T, squiggle-to-the-left, squiggle-to-the-right, L, and backwards L. I considered wussing out and only doing some of them (no I didn't) but instead of that, I called on my best baking buddy and while strolling through the streets of Barcelona, we brainstormed the best way to divide up a single batch of macaron batter into seven different colours out of which to build the shapes.

We haven't really talked about macarons much here because (no surprise) there are no recipes for them in the recipe box, but they're my absolute favourite dessert and one that I previously thought so untackle-able that I refused to even try to make them. Fast forward to this spring when I finally gave it a chance, and you know what? I'm not half bad at macarons! (Actually, I'm rather good at them and wildly enjoy making them). But being good at making them doesn't mean they're easy, and when you divide something as temperamental as macaron batter into sevenths, things are bound to get iffy. Combine the fact that I was using food dye to colour them pretty vibrant colours as well, and some of my shapes had some cracks in them, I'll admit it.

But the cake, dear reader, was amazing: plush and soft and so moist it hardly held together when I frosted it with the softest buttercream I could manage. I know I say I love one of the cakes I've made often, but this cake and the banana caramel cake from 2015 are without a doubt my two favourite cakes I've made since starting the Recipe Box Project. If you're a new reader, start with this cake... skip the macarons and it's actually beyond easy!

Or, even if you're not new here, next time you need a cake for someone you love dearly, give this one a go. It's the perfect way to tell someone happy birthday.

This is the footnote on the recipe for this cake... And i also quoted it to judson like a billion times when he kept requesting that i rein it in on party foods.

This is the footnote on the recipe for this cake... And i also quoted it to judson like a billion times when he kept requesting that i rein it in on party foods.

Some Notes:
  • As listed below, this will make you enough for 2 9x13-inch layers. If you'd rather have 2 9-inch round layers, you may halve the recipe.
  • If you've never made macarons before, then don't try to make them square the first time. I've made them close to a dozen times and still had some trouble making it work.
  • I used this recipe as my inspiration, splitting the nut & sugar mixture into seven by weight before I even beat the egg. Then I beat the eggs as normal, divided the weight of the egg into sevenths, and added it to my individual bowls of nuts & sugar. Add the food dye at that stage and make as normal, but work quickly. Fill your piping bags and pipe 1-inch squares onto parchment or a Silpat.
  • You'll also need to make your Tetris pattern. I used a 9x13 inch pan to make my cake, so I went for 8 columns of 1-inch Tetris blocks (because the macarons will swell a little in the oven and you'll need a bit of space around them). I found it useful to print out graph paper and doodle a few options before I committed to this one.
  • Once you decide on your pattern, make sure that you'll have enough Tetris blocks to make it- one batch of the above macaron batter makes approximately 16 square macarons in each colour, but that's very dependent on how well you scrape the bowl, how much you can get out of your pastry bags, etc.

the verdict:

5 spoons out of five. I still have dreams about this cake.

Two years ago: Bacon Rounds

the recipe:

Dewy Velvet Chocolate Cake with Bourbon Vanilla Buttercream

the directions:
cake:

Line 2 9x13 pans with paper on bottom and preheat oven to 175C/350F.
Sift flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa into a large bowl and set aside.
In a separate bowl, beat eggs until thick and lemon-coloured.
Gradually add sugar and beat until very well-blended and almost smooth.
Add oil, buttermilk and vanilla to dry ingredients and beat until very smooth.
Fold in egg mixture thoroughly but gently.
Pour into prepared pans and bake 30-35 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted in the middle comes out very slightly sticky.
Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Frosting:

Beat butter until very light and fluffy.
Add powdered sugar gradually until mixture has the consistency you want.
Add cream, vanilla and bourbon and blend well; adjust powdered sugar if necessary.
Frost and fill cake, then decorate with macarons if going for a Tetris cake.

the ingredients:
the cake:

3 c cake flour, sifted (OR 3/8 c cornflour PLUS 2 5/8 c flour, all sifted together)
2 ½ tsp baking soda
2 tsp salt
1 c cocoa
4 eggs
2 ½ c sugar
1 1/3 c vegetable oil
2 c buttermilk (OR 2 tbsp lemon juice or white vinegar PLUS scant 2 c buttermilk)
1 tsp vanilla extract



the frosting:

2 c butter
6-7 c powdered sugar, sifted
½ tsp salt
4 tsp cream
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp bourbon

Spicy Fudge Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

I know. I’ve barely re-appeared and am gracing you with another cake recipe. But this one, I tell you, is different. It’s chocolate, and these are cupcakes, and that frosting is to die for, and they’re so adorably tiny and wee you just want to eat a dozen of them at once.

Which brings me to my next point: we got a puppy.

Not recently (hence my prolonged absence), but 2 months ago we adopted a tiny baby French Bulldog who we promptly christened Holtzmann Pombal Cowan (runner-up name and favourite nickname so far: Anchovy). She was named for our favourite Ghostbuster and a town in Portugal where we spent New Year’s Eve this year, and we couldn’t love her more.


 

Some details about her:

  • Loves: peeing at unexpected times, snorting, her toy badger (same size as her), laying in sunbeams, napping on one or both of us, eating flowers, my makeup brushes, the fringe on the edge of our living room rug, making weird noises, the coat we bought her 2 sizes too big so she could grow into it… even though she just ended up looking like a vampire when she wears it.
  • Dislikes: being ignored, her bed, baths, the neighbour in the next garden over who yelled at me one time while Holtzmann was doing her business, chasing a tennis ball, full rubbish bags, prams, laundry on the line, this one stump in the park across from our flat.

She’s soft and snuggly and a little bit sassy and the smartest pupper I’ve ever met. She gets really embarrassed if she accidentally barks at us and spends the next ten minutes with her tiny ears back, trying to snuggle us into oblivion. Among her tricks so far are sit, stay, come, shake and ‘go home,’ which sends her directly into her crate (which she loves).

And despite the fact that she still whines when we put her to bed and despite the fact that we’ve gone through an entire bottle of ‘puppy stain’ spray and despite the fact that I haven’t slept in on a Saturday since February, I still love that tiny little baby way more than I ever thought possible. Every milestone with her is a treat to watch, and we’re crazy about her even when she’s causing trouble (approximately half the time).

So in honour of the sweetest pupperoni that ever existed, here’s a recipe for cakes practically the same size as she was when she joined our family. (But obviously don’t feed these to your doggo as they are full of dog enemies like chocolate.)

The verdict:

5 spoons out of five. The perfect moist crumb, the softest frosting, and a note of spiciness that permeates all the way through the cupcakes to differentiate it from every other chocolate cupcake you’ve ever had all combine to make these the perfect treat for a lunchbox (or to bribe your coworkers into coming to your department’s monthly meeting… not that I know anything about that).

One year ago: Lemon Pecan Bars
two years ago: Eleanor's Sangria

The recipe:

Spiced Fudge Cupcakes

The directions:
Cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 175C/350F.
Grease or line with paper liners 2 12-cupcake pans (or make in batches).
Combine lemon juice and milk and set aside.
Sift together baking soda, flour, cornstarch, baking powder, cinnamon and salt, then set aside.
Cream shortening, sugar and vanilla until fluffy.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.
Add chocolate and blend.
Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with hot water, curdled milk, black treacle and golden syrup.
Beat until smooth, then fill cupcake tins halfway with batter.
Bake 17-20 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted in a middle cupcake comes out barely sticky.

 


Frosting:

Cream butter until light and fluffy.
Gradually add powdered sugar in batches, mixing until smooth.
Add salt, vanilla, chocolate and cream and beat until smooth and spreadable.
Allow cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.

The ingredients:
The cupcakes:

½ c minus 1 tsp milk
1 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp baking soda
2 c minus 2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
1/3 c shortening or Stork
1 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted & cooled
½ c hot water
1/3 c black treacle
3 tbsp golden syrup

The frosting:

½ c butter, softened
2 c powdered sugar, sifted
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla
3 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted
3 tbsp heavy cream

Strawberry Cake for Celebrating

As of last month, we’ve been married for five years. It may not be much, but it's an impressive feat for us nonetheless: we’ve survived a transatlantic move, grad school (probably harder on the partner than it was on the attendee), combining apartments and moving houses, trips to more countries than I can count, and one really weird raging fever virus that put me down so hard I missed a week and a half of work. Our five years has included an awful lot of costumes, parties, starting new jobs, applying for visas, eating amazing food, doing dumb things to make the other one laugh, and most of all, some insanely delicious meals.

…And also some pretty rough ones. We can’t be perfect all the time, in the kitchen or in life.

So to celebrate, I did what I always do: I made a cake.

This year's anniversary didn't look quite the same as anniversaries of years past: there was the year we escaped to a cabin in the mountains where it started snowing just as soon as we climbed in the hot tub; the year we visited thousand-year-old churches in Durham, England; the year we hung out poolside on a Spanish island off the coast of Africa... and then there was this year, where our passports were stuck at border patrol because we had to renew them because we both filled ours at the same time. We were stuck in Edinburgh, but we made the best of it with a fancy dinner for two and a giant slab of this cake for each of us.

And honestly, it's been a long time since I've been as proud of a thing I baked as I am of this cake. Not only did I not have access to yellow cake mix, but I also didn't have any Jell-O mix of the appropriate flavour- and I can't find a shop that sells it here, so there was a lot of making do on this recipe. A lot of times during the process when I thought 'Now I've definitely ruined it,' but I kept on going and wouldn't you know it? The cake surprised me after all.

So in honour of the last five years, the good, the bad and the wonderful that came along with it, and the most challenging US-UK baking conversion I've had to date, here's the recipe for the moistest, most delicious strawberry cake I've ever tasted. From Mrs. Coderre to Mary Marx to me and now to you, I recommend you make this ASAP while strawberries are still in season and ready to be picked... even without the icing, this cake is worth it.

Some notes:

DSCF0332.jpg

If you're stateside, I recommend following the directions as printed in the photo of the recipe, because I have no idea how to compare the 'jelly'* I used to what you can get in the US.** If you're not into frosting, you can totally leave it off and this cake wouldn't suffer for it- yes, it's that good- but feel free to swap the frosting for barely-sweetened fresh whipped cream instead. After you add the strawberries to the batter, the mixture will look thin and curdled, but don't fret- it will all come together in the end!

*Note that 'jelly' in this recipe refers to the UK form of jelly, which in the US would be gelatin or Jell-O.

**Jell-O brand isn't widely available in the UK- at least in my city- so I used the only brand of gelatin dessert carried by my supermarket- Hartley's. This comes as partially-constituted, very firm gelatin cubes which need to be full rehydrated by adding boiling water and cold water. I don't know what the benefit of this is as opposed to the powdered type you can find stateside as they both seem to be full of preservatives, take up the same space on a shelf, and come in similar-sized packages, but it seems to be the only way it's found here, and this is the first time I've worked with it. It's weird, but not any weirder than the powdered version I'm (marginally) used to.

The verdict:

5 spoons out of five. This cake is both fresh and satisfying, and it tastes like the kind of thing your grandmother would have made if your grandmother was anything like mine. It's the kind of thing you want to dig into a slice of after a light springtime dinner... or maybe for breakfast, I won't tell.

One year ago: Yum Yum Punch
Two years ago: Magic Bars

the recipe:

Strawberry Cake

Cake recipe adapted from smittenkitchen.com, where I found a reliable, from-scratch yellow cake recipe to use as my jumping point.

the directions:
cake:

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Add boiling water to jelly, stir well and set aside.
Grease 2 cake pans, then line bottoms with parchment paper.
Sift together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt, then set aside.
Add lemon juice, vinegar or yogurt to milk and set aside.
Beat butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, then add vanilla and mix to combine.
Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
At low speed, stir in milk mixture, jelly mixture and muddled berries with their juices until just combined (mixture will look curdled).
Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just Incorporated.
Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles.
Bake until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out very slightly sticky, 35 to 45 minutes.
Cool in pan 5 minutes, then remove from pan and allow to cool completely before frosting.

Frosting:

Cream butter and powdered sugar until light coloured and slightly fluffy.
Mixture will be very thick.
Beat in berries and mix until light and fluffy.
Frost between layers and on top cake, using additional strawberries for garnish as desired.

the ingredients:
the cake:

1 c boiling water
1 pkg strawberry jelly (if in the UK)
4 c flour
2 tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp table salt
1 c milk (scant)
1 tbsp lemon juice, vinegar or yogurt
1 c butter, softened
2 c sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 c strawberries, sliced and muddled

 

 

 


the frosting:

½ c butter, room temperature
2 c powdered sugar, sifted
½ c fresh strawberries, sliced and muddled
Additional strawberries for garnish