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by Sarah Steimer

I took French class in middle school and high school, and I'm pretty sure we often got king cakes for Mardi Gras in some of those classes. King cakes are typically topped with tons of green, purple and gold sprinkles, but I opted for gel streamers instead. The cake also usually has a plastic baby Jesus or a dried fava bean in it, but I omitted that part (didn't want anyone getting excited and choking).

I took French class in middle school and high school and, if memory serves, we sometimes got king cakes for Mardi Gras. It’s been a long time since I last had king cake, but my memory was jogged as soon as I mixed all the ingredients and I caught a whiff of that sweet, yeasty, lemony and cinnamon-y scent. Really, really phenomenal. (And probably not what I need to be in the house with in the dead of winter)

For the cake

  • 1 cup of warm milk, about 110 degrees (I put my milk in a mug and microwaved for two, 30-second intervals to reach 110 degrees)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dry yeast
  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup melted butter (2 sticks)
  • 5 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

    Naked cake! Just pretend it's flashing you for beads. Haaaa, Mardis Gras joke.

    Naked cake! Just pretend it’s flashing you for beads. Haaaa, Mardis Gras joke.

  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon zest
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • dash of nutmeg

In a large bowl, combine the milk, sugar, yeast and one tablespoon of the flour. Whisk until the sugar and yeast have dissolved.

After bubbles have formed on the surface of the milk, whisk in the melted butter, eggs, vanilla and lemon zest. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg and the remaining flour, using a rubber spatula to fold the dry ingredients into the wet.

King cakes are typically topped with tons of green, purple and gold sprinkles, but I opted for gel streamers instead. The cake also usually has a plastic baby Jesus or a dried fava bean in it, but I omitted that part (didn't want anyone getting excited and choking).

King cakes are typically topped with tons of green, purple and gold sprinkles, but I opted for gel streamers instead. The cake also usually has a plastic baby Jesus or a dried fava bean in it, but I omitted that part (didn’t want anyone getting excited and choking).

Once the dough has come together and pulled away from the sides of the bowl, form into a ball. Working on a well-floured surface, knead the dough for about 15 minutes (yes, 15, so this counts as your daily workout) or until the dough is smooth and elastic. My dough didn’t get super smooth, but I didn’t want to go over the 15 minutes and risk making a tough cake. Use good judgment!

Return the dough to the bowl and cover with a towel. Let rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in size.

When the dough has risen, punch down and separate into three equal-sized pieces. Roll the pieces out into ropes of equal length (mine were maybe 18 or so inches). Braid the three pieces and pinch the ends together to form a circle. Careful place on a parchment paper-covered baking sheet. Cover again with a towel and let rise for another 30 minutes.

Bake the dough at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until the cake is a light brown color and sounds hollow when you tap on it. Let cool for 30 minutes.

For the icing:

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup milk (I used skim)
  • gold, green and purple sprinkles or gel icing

Mix together the sugar and lemon juice, adding the milk a little at a time until you reach a desired consistency. I used the entire 1/4 cup of milk so I could easily drizzle the icing over the cooled cake. Make sure your cake is totally cooled before icing!

If using sprinkles, add while the icing is still wet. If using gel, wait for the icing to set on the cake.

Makes 10-12 servings

Recipe adapted from: Epicurious

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by Caitlin Saniga

This cake takes commitment, but if you follow the directions closely, it’ll be the best damn cake you’ve ever made. This particular carrot cake was made for my neighbor Katie to celebrate her daughter’s first day on earth. Katie had gestational diabetes during her pregnancy, so she had to ignore her many cravings for sweets (which was torture!). So of course she wanted cake on her baby’s birthday!

Cake:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 3 sticks (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 pound carrots (8 to 10 medium carrots), peeled and shredded on a box grater or in a food processor (about 2 3/4 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated orange peel (from 1 orange)
  • 1 cup pecans, finely chopped
  • 1 cup toasted almonds, coarsely chopped

Icing:

  • 16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
  • 2 pounds confectioners’ sugar, sifted (I used all but about 1 cup from a 2-pound bag. It was plenty sweet!)
To make the cake:
Today would have been my dad's 59th birthday. Carrot cake was his favorite. I wish I could have made this for him.

Today would have been my dad’s 59th birthday. He was the greatest. Carrot cake was his favorite. I wish I could have made this for him.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter three 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper, and butter parchment. Dust with flour, tapping out any excess. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, ginger and allspice.

Beat the butter and sugars with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat for 3 minutes. Add the vanilla, water, orange peel and carrots. Beat until well combined, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low, and add the flour mixture, then the finely chopped pecans.

Scrape the batter into prepared pans, dividing evenly. Bake, rotating the pans on the oven racks halfway through, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cool in pans on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of cakes to loosen, and turn out cakes onto rack. Turn them right side up, and let them cool completely.

To make the cream cheese icing:

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and vanilla until light and creamy, about 2 minutes. With the mixer on medium speed, gradually add the butter, beating until incorporated.

Reduce the mixer speed to low. Gradually add the sugar, beating until incorporated.

To assemble the cake:

If your cakes are rounded on top, use a serrated knife to trim the tops of 2 cakes so they are flat. Place one trimmed cake, cut side up, on a serving platter. Spread 1 cup of icing over cake. Top with second trimmed cake, cut side down. Spread 1 cup icing over cake. Top with remaining cake. Spread the remaining icing over the top and sides. Gently press the almonds onto the sides of cake. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.

Makes 10 servings.

Recipe adapted from: MarthaStewart.com

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by Sarah Steimer

Why the candles? This was Bill’s choice for a birthday cake this year (back in October) — not a bad choice at all for a fall birthday. I always make single-layer cakes when I’m cooking for a small crowd, but this could clearly be doubled to make a more traditional double-layer cake.

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick), at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

Grease and flour a 9-inch or 8-inch round cake pan (I use butter to grease the pan).

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.

Beat the butter and sugar in a medium bowl with an electric beater until fluffy. Beat the eggs in one at a time. Stir in the vanilla. Alternately at the flour mixture and the buttermilk in three batches, starting and finishing with the flour.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30-35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Let cool in the pan for about 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and let finish cooling.

For the icing:

  • 1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • about 1 cup powdered sugar

Melt the butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and stir continuously for 2 minutes. Stir in the milk. Return to a boil, stirring constantly, and remove from heat. Let the mixture come down to room temperature.

Gradually stir in the powdered sugar until the frosting comes to your desired consistency.

Once the frosting has cooled completely, ice the cake and serve.

Serves 8-10.

Recipe adapted from: Dramatic Pancake

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by Caitlin Saniga

I love how simple this cake is. I told myself, “I want cinnamon cake,” (had never had such a cake before), opened my cupboards and found all of the ingredients I needed.

Cake:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 11 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups white sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 2/3 cup milk

Frosting:

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Just a note: I use a 6-cup/8-inch Bundt pan, so that’s why my cake looks a bit small. If you follow the recipe, you’ll end up with with a regular 10-inch size.

To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour a 10- inch Bundt pan. Stir together the flour, baking powder, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and salt; set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butterg, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for at least 1 minute after each egg. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk. Pour the batter into a prepared pan.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let it cool in a pan for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack.

To make the frosting:

Place the cream cheese in the bowl of an upright mixer. Using the paddle attachment, soften the cream cheese. Gradually add butter, and continue beating until smooth and well blended. Add the confectioners’ sugar a bit at a time, and continue beating until smooth. Add the vanilla, and stir to combine.

Transfer the frosting to an oven-safe dish and place in the warmed oven to soften further, about 5 minutes.

To assemble the cake:

Transfer the cake to a serving plate. Pour the frosting over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides. Serve immediately, or store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Cake recipe adapted from: AllRecipes.com

Frosting recipe adapted from: MarthaStewart.com

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by Sarah Steimer

This was my first time making yellow cake from scratch – although I’ve made plenty of chocolate cakes (using this stand-by recipe). The walnut topping is totally optional, I just thought it needed a little flourish.

For the yellow cake:

Makes enough for one, 8-inch round cake, single-layer.

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter softened, plus more for parchment
  • 1 1/3 cups cake flour sifted, plus more for parchment OR 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used skim)

    I’ll admit that if I’m going to foray into unknown baking territory, I always head for Martha Stewart’s website.

Butter an 8-inch cake pan. Cut a circle out of parchment paper, using the pan as a guide, and place the circle at the bottom of the pan. Butter the top of the paper and lightly flour the pan, tapping off the excess.

In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and then beat in the eggs one at a time. Set aside.

In another medium bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add this dry mixture to the wet mixture, alternating with the milk. Martha Stewart’s recipe said to start and end with the flour additions, but I didn’t do this and everyone survived.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake at 325 for 45-55 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown. Cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then remove from pan (don’t forget to take the parchment paper off) and cool on a rack completely. Do not ice the cake while it is still warm.

My cake, which I made with all-purpose flour, was maybe a little more dense than it would have been with cake flour. But it was still moist.

For the chocolate icing:

Cut this recipe in half if you only make one layer of cake.

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup milk (again, used skim)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt the butter. Add the cocoa powder and whisk to combine.

Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating with an electric mixer as you go. Can add additional milk if needed. Stir in vanilla. Use immediately.

Cake recipe adapted from: Martha Stewart

Icing recipe from: Hershey’s (right on the side of the cocoa box)

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by Sarah Steimer

The cake is Martha Stewart's recipe, but the icing is my own. It's really a great idea to read the comments or reviews on recipes you find online. I was fully intending to use the icing recipe that was posted with the cake recipe until I noticed a few readers comment on how gross it was.

For the cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the eggs, buttermilk, vegetable oil, water and peppermint extract to the dry mixture and beat with an electric mixer until smooth.

Divide the batter between among lined muffin tins, filling about 2/3 of the way full. You should fill a whole pan on the first round and about 1/3 of the next pan, making about 18-20 cupcakes in all.

So beautiful yet such a pain. But maybe you're more patient and delicate than I.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes, rotating halfway through. Test with a knife or toothpick to make sure the cupcakes are cooked through. Let cool completely on a rack before icing.

For the icing

  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter, softened
  • 3 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk or water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • green food coloring (optional)

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter in a medium bowl. Add the sugar, milk or water, and the extracts. Mix until creamy, adding more milk or water as necessary. Add about two or three drops of green food coloring and mix for a light green color.

For the chocolate mint leaves

Now, this part was sort of absurd but I really wanted to try it. The results were pretty – but not enough turned out well that I was able to use them on all of my cupcakes. See the last picture in the post for another (easier) option.

  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate morsels
  • 1 or 2 bunches of mint leaves

Melt the chocolate morsels in a double-boiler or in the microwave, being careful not to burn the chocolate. Let cool slightly.

If you do go the mint leaf route, be prepared to also cover your entire kitchen in chocolate.

Using a small, soft (and clean) paintbrush, apply the melted chocolate to the backs of the individual mint leaves. Do not use just a thin coat, you don’t want to see any of the leaf sticking through. Plus, the thicker the chocolate, the easier the leaf will be to pull off.

Arrange each leaf as you go on a parchment paper-covered baking sheet. Drape a few over spoons or other utensils so the leaves have a more “alive” look. Place in the refrigerator or freezer so they may set.

Once the leaves are ready, take only a couple out at a time and remove the leaves from the chocolate. You will many of these unless you’re a magical being. Place the finished leaves back in the fridge/freezer to set one last time.

Ice the cupcakes and top with the chocolate leaves. Or just do this:

Ta-da! The MUCH easier version that my co-workers received (sorry for the lack of fanciness, guys).

Cupcake and leaf recipe from: Martha Stewart

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