let’s bake a cake

3.18.2017

“Be patient with all that is unresolved in your heart

And try to love the questions themselves.

Do not seek for the answers that cannot be given,

For you would not be able to live them,

And the point is to live everything.

Live the questions now, and perhaps, without knowing it,

You will live along some distant day into the answers.”

-Rainer Rilke

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I’ve made some cakes these past few weeks—three cakes, actually—and that experience was fun. I’ve made cakes because it has been a birthday season of sorts, with birthdays for Mom, Rob, Dad, Kate, and a friend at work, Michelle. I didn’t make cakes for everyone, but I was grateful for the chance to make a few sweet treats. Oh, and I also made some cookies (because it was Andrew’s birthday, too), some bad “granola” bars, and some good granola.

I decided not to eat sweets for Lent, precisely three days after Lent began and just after I finished eating a blueberry donut. It’s 32 days until Easter and so far I have broken my decision twice, once for Dad’s birthday while consuming too much rum cake, and another time when I ate another “sweet” that I cannot precisely recall. Suffice it to say this hasn’t been my best performance in self-denial, but among all my sugary misgivings I have become increasingly grateful for this: God doesn’t really mind if I have dessert.

There are always miracles if we want to see them, right?

It has been warm in eastern NC, and also cold, and then on March 12th it snowed for 4 hours straight, which was truly a miracle. Snow! In March! It was part of a large nor’ Easter that combined just the right conditions for ferocious snow in 40-degree-weather, which did not stick at all but provided for a very entertaining and satisfying Sunday.

Which is when the bad granola bars and good granola were made. It happened like this: Richard went running at 5:00am in the pouring rain/sleet, just before it started snowing. For 10 miles. It was in the 30’s and I was in the bed. (I know…he’s tougher than me and you and probably everyone.) Anyway…then we went to church, and ate breakfast, and decided to make granola-type things while it snowed. And since I’m not eating sweets for Lent and he’s not eating sweets until after the Boston marathon, I decided we would make “healthy” granola bars, which just sounds rancid, doesn’t it?IMG_0307

But it was fun because it involved figs, which I’ve never cooked with, and Richard’s food processor, which is a contraption I have never used. It was magical. The granola bars were…not so magical. But the granola received a resounding approval from us both, and next time I resolved to make a double batch because it can easily be eaten like popcorn.

One day recently I also talked with a dear friend from the ranch, Kaelyn, who is currently living in Spain. And we talked and talked and she shared the above quote with me, which I liked. I liked it because I’ve been thinking lately that I don’t have all the answers, and that frustrates me. And I’ve been thinking that I shouldn’t be frustrated, just be grateful, but that is hard, too, isn’t it? But that quote gets to the heart of not just living with but actually loving the questions themselves.

I admit I have a long way to go, but I like the premise. I like the presumption that by loving the questions themselves, maybe we will find the answers, too. Maybe the questions are the answers, in some weird way. Or, maybe God gives us questions because it’s not up to us to have all the answers, anyway.

That’s a happy thought, isn’t it?

So I have resolved to pray more and worry a little bit less. To really read the verses on the page instead of just reading them, and to stop every so often to say “thank-you,” even if it’s hectic and I have to volunteer and my knee hurts and it’s blowing 40 and it’s snowing in March.

I’ll let you know how that goes. My guess? Probably somewhat similar to my “giving up sweets” for Lent.

But then again….God forgives us for that, too.

In the meantime, whether you can eat sugar right now or not, maybe you can gather up some of that sweet stuff and make a cake. You will be grateful, I promise.


I’ll feature one cake each of the next few posts, just so you aren’t overwhelmed all at once.

First up: Dark Chocolate Naked Cake with Hibiscus Cream Cheese Icing

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This was for Kate, because she loves chocolate so much. And that’s hard, because there are a bazillion chocolate desserts out there. What is one to make so the birthday cake is original but still reminds you of stuffing your face with cake when you were 5? This is what I came up with. All in all it turned out very well…the cake recipe is basic but delicious, which I adapted by using dark chocolate cocoa powder, which I prefer to the regular stuff. The coffee also brings out the flavor so much.

  • Disclaimer #1: I had never made a naked cake before, but I liked it a lot.
  • Disclaimer #2: I really like flowers on cakes. This one turned out beautifully. But what you don’t see is the massive crater in the top of the cake that appeared after I iced it.
  • Disclaimer #3: I stole the flowers from Aunt Jenny’s yard while they were’t home.
  • Disclaimer #4: I added a tiny bit of red food coloring to the icing because my hibiscus tea wasn’t doing the job well enough. No one knows, so sshhhhhh.
For the Chocolate Cake:
(makes a double layer 8-inch cake)
  • 1 3/4 cups (8.75 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups (14 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (2.25 ounces) dark chocolate unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) freshly brewed hot coffee
For the Hibiscus Cream Cheese Frosting:
(makes around 2 cups, enough for a scantily-frosted cake)

  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) water
  • 2 tablespoons dried hibiscus flowers (or hibiscus tea, which is what I used)
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick // 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 1/2 cups (14 ounces) confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • a pinch of kosher salt
Recipe
For the Chocolate Cake:
    1. Preheat the oven to 350 (F). Prepare two 8 inch round cake pans by spraying generously with cooking spray and lining the bottom of each pan with parchment paper circles. Spray the top of each parchment circle and set aside.
    2. In the bowl of mixer, combine 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, 2 cups granulated sugar, 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Mix on low speed until thoroughly combined.
    3. In a separate medium bowl, combine 1 cup buttermilk, 1/2 cup oil, 2 eggs, and 1 tablespoon vanilla. Whisk together gently until just combined
    4. With the mixer on its lowest speed, slowly add the wet ingredients (from the 3rd step) to the dry ingredients (from the 2nd step). Add 1 cup hot coffee. Continue stirring on low speed until just combined, before stopping the mixer and using a heatproof rubber spatula to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl and mix into the batter. The batter will seem really liquidy, but again, this is normal.
    5. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake in the preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the center of each cake comes out with a few crumbs and the tops of each cake bounce with a spongelike texture when poked gently with your finger. When the cakes are ready, remove from the oven and let the cakes cool in the pans on a wire rack for 30 minutes, before turning out to cool. Remove parchment paper and allow the cakes to cool completely to room temperature.
    6. Once the cakes are cooled to room temperature, wrap each layer in plastic wrap. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill for at least 2 hours before frosting.
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For the Hibiscus Cream Cheese Frosting:
    1. First, make the hibiscus tea. Bring 1/2 cup water to a boil in a small pot over high heat. Once the water is boiling, remove from heat and immediately add 2 tablespoons dried hibiscus flowers. Steep for at least 10 minutes — the longer you steep the tea, the darker your frosting will be. Take care not to get any of the tea on your clothes! It stains like crazy. After steeping, strain out the hibiscus flowers and discard
    2. In the bowl of mixer, beat together 8 ounces cream cheese and 1/2 cup unsalted butter on medium speed for around a minute, until fluffy and well combined. Gradually add 3 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar a quarter cup at a time until fully incorporated. Add a pinch of kosher salt, and beat on high speed for at least a minute. Lower the mixer to its lowest setting and slowly drizzle in the hibiscus tea one tablespoon at a time until the mixture is a pale pink. The more tea you add, the more flavorful and colorful the frosting will be.

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