The Cake Slice: February Cake

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It’s February. A short month. A month of hearts, love, and a whole lot of pink and red. To me, there’s no greater way to share the love than with a homemade cake. Baking brings me so much joy. Baking for others is such a wonderful way to celebrate life’s special little moments. The more I delve into this world of a million possibilities crafted out of a simple combination of flour, butter, eggs, and sugar…the more I know this is my thing.

This month, I chose the red velvet cake out of the four options we had for our Cake Slice Bakers club. The other choices were: king cake, black and white torte, or Mississippi mud cake. All good options.

While I love a good red velvet cake, I don’t love the amount of red food coloring that goes into the batter to make it a deep, blood red. Sooooo….I made a few tiny little changes. I basically baked the cake true to the recipe with the exception of the 1 ounce of red food coloring it called for. I did use a few drops, just not the four 0.25 ounce bottles per the recipe.

I also modified the presentation, including the frosting. While the recipe suggested a more traditional white mascarpone frosting, I used a whipped cream cheese, butter, cocoa, and powdered sugar combination, and then I covered that with pink, peppermint, homemade marshmallow fondant. I decorated it with white homemade fondant and we enjoyed it with our friend who recently received a big promotion at work.

This is the most I’ve ever changed up one of our monthly cakes since I started baking with The Cake Slice club. I do hope my fellow Slicers forgive me. I mean, my cake wasn’t even red inside…it was brown. And if not, I can always redeem myself next month!

If you’d like to see which of the four recipes my fellow Cake Slicers chose to bake this month, click here:

Cream Cheese Jalapeño Wontons

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There’s always so much to discover in the produce section of the grocery store. I just love checking out all the items that I’ve never tried before and figuring out how I could incorporate them into recipes.

My neighborhood grocery store carries lots of variety to cater to the diverse residents of our area. Right next to artichokes and peppers, you’ll find lemongrass, aloe vera, and giant cactus leaves. So many fun things to try.

On a recent, weekly grocery store trip, I discovered wonton wrappers in the refrigerated produce section. There they were, right next to the mini bags of baby carrots and prepackaged sugar snap peas. Beside them were egg roll wrappers. Two things I’m sure most grocery stores carry, yet I never seem to come across when I have a recipe in mind that requires them. Both sounded like a fun adventure; however, deciding I’d better start with something a little more simple, I opted for the wonton wrappers. Just wrap them around some cream cheese, and you’ve got a simple, two-ingredient appetizer.

Since I was already in the produce section, fresh jalapeños were just a few feet away. Why not add a third ingredient to give the wontons a little kick, right? So, into the cart they went.

Along with a bag of Meyer lemons. Haven’t decided what I’ll do with them yet, but they were just so cute and irresistible!

Anyway, the wontons were quick to put together and drew rave reviews, so I thought I’d share my recipe here. Even better, these are baked, so they are healthier than the traditional fried wontons. Enjoy!

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Cream Cheese Jalapeño Wontons

12 wonton wrappers
1 small jalapeño, finely diced (about 1/4 cup)
4 oz. cream cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix cream cheese and jalapeños in a small bowl.

Fill a second small bowl with water to use for sealing wontons.

Place wonton wrappers on cutting board and portion out cream cheese mixture among all 12 wrappers by placing about a teaspoon of mixture in the center of each wonton.

Dip your finger into the small bowl of water and wet the edges of the wonton wrapper all the way around.

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Pull up opposite corners over mixture and seal on top.

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Then, pull up the remaining two corners and seal to form a little bundle with the corners all sealed on top. Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

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Bake at 400 degrees for 8 -10 minutes or until wonton wrappers begin to brown slightly.

Serve with red chili garlic sauce for dipping.

Note: You can make these in advance and refrigerate until ready to bake.

The Cake Slice: Italian Cream Cake

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Happy New Year! It’s been a frigid start to the new year here in Minnesota with most days below zero and wind chills in the negative 20’s and 30’s. The kiddos are back to school after their two week Christmas break but after just a few days back at school, they received a one day reprieve when schools were closed for a cold day due to air temps of -10 and wind chills of -35.

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Although it’s been incredibly cold, we are hearty here in Minnesota, and it hasn’t put much of a damper on our fun. Over the past few weeks, we’ve bundled up and gotten out for basketball games, a trip to the Mall of America, and even a trip to the Minnesota zoo. It’s amazing how much more active the wild cats are during the winter months, and watching them up close, with the absence of the summertime crowds, provided ample entertainment for all of us.

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Beyond adjusting to the cold weather, I’ve spent lots of time in the kitchen trying out new recipes and refining tried and true ones. I’ve got loads (and I do mean LOADS) of recipes that I’ve clipped from magazines or newspapers over the years in hopes of eventually giving them a try. Well, this year I’ve resolved to actually dive into as many as possible – keeping only the best of the best and ditching the ones that turn out so-so.

Which brings me to the January cake. This month I chose to give the Italian Cream Cake a try. It’s a lovely white cake with a toasted pecan, cream cheese, butter, and powdered sugar buttercream.

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The recipe calls for 5 eggs – separated – with the yolks blended into a butter, shortening and white sugar combo. After that, flour and buttermilk are incorporated alternately. Next, the egg whites are beaten in a separate bowl until stiff peaks form, and then are gently folded into the batter. Finally, shredded coconut is added to the batter. The recipe calls for sweetened shredded coconut, but I used unsweetened, and it turned out fine, as the white sugar in the batter along with the sweet frosting provide plenty of sweetness.

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For the frosting, I toasted the pecans before incorporating into the mixture, and I learned to watch the pecans very closely as my first batch burned in the blink of an eye and I had to start over.

The Verdict: This was a wonderful, moist, tasty cake. I loved the idea of the toasted pecans in the frosting. They added a nice texture and crunch, and I will definitely file this recipe away to make again to take to events. Unfortunately, my chief cake eater in the house – my ten year old son – is allergic to nuts. Fortunately, I was able to tempt my fabulous coworkers into devouring the cake so that it didn’t go to waste!

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If you’d like to see what the other members of my baking club made this month, click here:

The Cake Slice: Rum Cake

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Hot buttered rum just screams fa, la, la, la, la.

Drizzling it over a butter-laden bundt cake just makes sense. Tis the season!

It’s our second cake reveal from our newest book, and amidst all the holiday hustle and bustle, I managed to find time to bake this month.

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Every year, we drive 45 minutes north to a Christmas tree farm where we tromp through acres and acres of balsams, fraisers, and canaans in search of the perfect tree.

This year was a special treat as it was not only a mild weather day that allowed us to keep hunting as long as necessary until we found the perfect tree, but we also got to watch two eagles soaring above us throughout our search.

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After the tree was up and our halls were decked, it was time to get going on the monthly cake. Since December is packed with birthdays for our family and friends, there’s ample opportunity to bake a cake. This particular cake went to the office to celebrate my friend Rhonda’s birthday.

The cake itself contains THREE sticks of butter, and the original recipe calls for both rum and banana liqueur. I used Captain Morgan spiced rum and substituted lemon juice for the banana liqueur. I also substituted 2% milk for heavy cream as that’s all I had on hand…and I neglected to read through the recipe beforehand to make sure I had what I needed…all planning goes out the window in the holiday rush!

The cake is finished off with a hot butter, sugar, rum syrup that is drizzled on the cake while still in the pan so that it absorbs into the cake, creating a moist, buttery, rum cake. Delish!!!

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If you’d like to check out what my fellow baking club members chose to bake this month, click here:

The Cake Slice: Caramel Apple Coffee Cake

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It’s the start of a new baking year for the Cake Slice…which means it’s time to reveal the new book we’ll all be baking from for the next 12 months. By “all” I mean my fellow Cake Slicers – a lovely group of ladies from all over the world who share a common love for baking and agree to bake one cake from the same cookbook each month for a year. We learn from our successes and failures and – most importantly – have lots of fun. We use a private Facebook group to compare notes, share pictures, and recount our latest baking adventures. As we were preparing for the launch of our new baking year, we ran a quick roll call to share where we all lived, and I was blown away by our diverse list of locations:

Cambridge, UK
Shedd, Oregon
Saginaw, Michigan
Weybridge, Surrey UK
Somerset, New Jersey
Modesto, California
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Singapore
Santa Rosa, California
Sydney, Australia
Montgomery Village, Maryland
Limerick, Ireland
San Fernando Valley, California

Wow…all of us connected through our affinity for flour, sugar, and butter!

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Each month, there are four cake recipes in which each baker may choose from, and then on the 20th of each month, we reveal the cake we chose on our blog and link all the blog posts together so all the world may see the pictures of our wonderful cakes.

The chosen book for our new baking year is called the Southern Cake Book by the editors of Southern Living Magazine. It’s loaded with beautiful, full-page pictures of each cake within the book and the recipes are easy to follow. I initially checked the book out from my local library so that I could give it a quick peruse before committing to another year’s worth of cake baking. I was pleasantly surprised.

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From the four options for November, I selected Caramel Apple Coffee Cake, and it was FAB-U-LOUS…and dangerous. Who knew homemade caramel was so easy to make and would taste so good?!? And better yet, the batch of caramel sauce was more than enough for the recipe, leaving an extra ½ cup for other purposes….like drizzled over homemade vanilla ice cream or slathered over fresh apple slices. I confess…I cut up an extra apple just to scrape the remaining caramel from the pan…into my mouth…at 8:00am…for breakfast. Don’t judge. No regrets.

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So here are the details on this cake. A fairly typical dense batter makes up the base. Then a layer of lightly sautéed apples is arranged on top on the batter, followed by a generous drizzle of caramel sauce. Finally, streusel crumbs are placed on top, and the whole thing is baked uncovered for 45 minutes, and then covered and baked for another 30 minutes. After it’s thoroughly cooled, more caramel is poured over the top.

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Now that you are most likely drooling all over your screen, you really should make this. Here’s the recipe: http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/caramel-apple-coffee-cake

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A few notes: Be sure to make the caramel sauce and streusel BEFORE you make the batter, so they have time to cool and are ready when you need them. Also, there is more butter in the batter/caramel/streusel combined recipes than a butterhead at the Minnesota State Fair…so don’t be afraid to cut it down a bit…I used half the butter called for in the batter and the streusel and it was just as decadent. Finally, I substituted ½ cup oats in place of the nuts in the streusel so my little coffee-cake loving kiddo with a nut allergy could enjoy this with the family.

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So, there you have it. And the kiddo gave it his seal of approval saying it’s the best coffee cake I’ve ever made. You know…because I bake coffee cakes all the time, right? Don’t we all?

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Check out what my fellow Cake Slicers baked this month:

Lemon Pie Bars

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Lemons are a staple in our household. Every few weeks a bag of organic lemons finds its way into our shopping cart and they never last long. Lemons are so versatile. We squeeze the juice on chicken, fish, or even just a simple pasta with a little butter and Parmesan. We stuff lemons in whole chickens before roasting. Most often, however, we combine lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt, and fresh ground black pepper and toss it with spinach – a light, flavorful dressing that’s easy to whip up and much better than store bought salad dressing.

Once in awhile, we have a few lemons to use up before they go bad. When we do, this lemon pie bar recipe does the trick. It’s the perfect combination of creamy lemon custard paired with crumbly, buttery crust. The best part is that it’s made from scratch – with ingredients typically on hand – and it beats the lemon bar box mixes by a mile. To get the most juice from your lemons, slice them in half and microwave for 10 seconds before juicing.

Lemon Pie Bars

Crust:
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup confectioners sugar

Topping:
2 eggs
1/4 cup lemon juice
1Tbsp lemon zest
2Tbsp all purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix 1 cup flour with confectioners sugar in a medium bowl. Using a pastry blender, incorporate butter into mixture until it resembles pie dough. Press into a 8 x 8 square baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes, or until crust begins to slightly brown. Remove from oven.

In another medium bowl, beat eggs for 1 minute. Add lemon juice, lemon zest, flour, and sugar. Mix for another minute. Pour mixture over crust and bake for another 20 minutes. Remove from oven when topping is set. Cool.

Sprinkle powdered sugar on top of bars. Store at room temperature.

A Minnesota Tomato Harvest

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Summer is officially over here in Minnesota. After months of caring for our tomato plants, we came to the realization that it was time to harvest the last of the tomatoes before the first hard freeze.

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This was our first year growing tomatoes from seed and our first year growing them in pots on our deck to keep them from being a tasty treat for the local deer and bunny population. Because we got a bit of a late start, we didn’t truly begin to see the fruits of our labor until mid-August when we were blessed with the first juicy, ripe Sweet 100’s.

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Unfortunately, with the onset of autumn and the temperatures dropping rapidly, our plants were heavy with a plethora of green tomatoes that begged to be saved for our winter enjoyment. But…what to do with a billion green cherry tomatoes? Well, chutney seemed the obvious solution, but after a bit of searching online, I landed on a few quick pickle recipes that captured my interest, so I decided to give it a try…with my own minor adaptations.

And, for the ripe tomatoes, a slow-roast just seemed like the best way to enjoy these sweet, red nuggets throughout the cold months of winter. I plan to store them in the freezer and add them to pastas and sauces to bring a blush of summer to our blustery Minnesota winter months ahead.

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Spicy Pickled Green Cherry Tomatoes

Makes 1 Quart and 2 Pints

2-4 pints green tomatoes (depending on size, enough to fill jars)
2 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
2 Tbsp pickling or sea salt
4 tsp dill seed
4 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp black peppercorns
4 cloves garlic

Bring vinegar, water, and salt to a boil in medium saucepan. Fill sterilized jars with tomatoes. Fill each pint jar with 1 clove of garlic, 1 tsp dill seed, 1 tsp red pepper flakes, and 1/2 tsp peppercorns. Fill the quart jar with 2 cloves of garlic, 2 tsp dill seed, 2 tsp red pepper flakes, and 1 tsp peppercorns. Using a funnel, pour brine into each jar until tomatoes are covered leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Place caps and rings on jars. Allow to cool on counter for a few hours, and then store in the refrigerator.

Slow Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

2-4 pints ripe cherry tomatoes
4 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
4 sprigs thyme
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

Wash and remove stems from tomatoes. Slice tomatoes in half. Place on parchment lined baking sheets with cut side facing up. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Top with thyme sprigs. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper.

Bake at 300 degrees for 90 minutes. Turn off oven but do not remove tomatoes. Allow to cool in oven for two hours. Transfer baking sheets to freezer. When tomatoes are frozen, transfer them to an airtight freezer bag for storage.

The Cake Slice: Very Berry Roulade

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I just made it in under the wire this month. Truth be told, I wasn’t even sure if I would get to making this month’s cake. But…here it is. Isn’t it cute? Well, not sure if a cake can be described as “cute” but who doesn’t love a good jelly roll?!?!

I’ve recently graduated from Casual Baker to Serious Baker. Meaning: I now buy powdered sugar by the truckload – behold the 7 pound bag from Costco.

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If I ever break down and buy the 50 pound bag, it’ll definitely be time to lock me up.

So, this month I was torn between a marble cake and this one. Ultimately, I thought this one was more suitable to August – light, airy, loaded with fresh, seasonal berries.

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I veered a little off course from Carole Walter’s Very Berry Roulade recipe in Great Cakes by adding lemon zest to the batter and then incorporated whipped cream cheese into the whipped cream to produce a loftier filling with a hint of a cheesecake feel to it. I also folded diced strawberries along with raspberries and blueberries into the filling. Triple Berry Cheesecake Roll would probably be a more suitable name for my version.

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This Strawberry Cream Roll recipe is very close to the recipe that I used. The key is to a light sponge is to beat the eggs until they turn thick and lemon colored – a minimum of 5 minutes, sometimes longer. I baked my cake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes – just until the edges began to slightly brown and pull away from the sides of the pan.

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When making a rolled cake, it’s really important to line the jelly roll pan with parchment paper to keep the cake from sticking to the pan. Flip the cake onto a powdered sugar covered cotton dish towel, peel off the parchment, sprinkle the cake with more powdered sugar, then roll it up in the towel and let it sit until completely cool. Piece of cake…and super impressive!

If you’d like to check out what my fellow cake club bakers close to bake this month, click here to see their links:

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The Cake Slice: Black Forest Cherry Torte

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There are two desserts I could eat every single day: tiramisu and black forest cherry torte. Whenever I find them on a menu, I just can’t resist…and I lick the plate. Every time.

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Both are equally intimidating to make at home with ingredients that take some work to seek out (ladyfingers for the former; morello cherries and kirschwasser for the latter).

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I spent a semester in college studying in Germany, and that’s where I first discovered both desserts. Every little café throughout Bavaria had Schwarzwaldkirsch Torte (i.e. black forest cherry torte) on the menu. After class, we’d head over to the nearest café and indulge in a cappuccino and a thick slice of this decedent torte. On the weekends, we’d head south with our Eurail passes to explore Italy, stuffing ourselves with pizza and tiramisu along the way. I don’t know how we didn’t gain a bazillion pounds back then…but adapting to the European mode of walking everywhere coupled with frequent hiking in the mountains helped offset all our indulgences.

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By the way, the reward for hiking up a mountain in Germany is typically a quaint little chalet perched atop the peak, serving, you guessed it…schwarzwaldkirsch torte.

Back in my college days, I had just begun to take interest in baking, as well as cooking in general. During my semester in Germany, I spent numerous hours in my German host mother’s kitchen learning her recipes and techniques for preparing classic Bavarian dishes, while at the same time introducing her to some of my favorite American picnic recipes, like shrimp pasta salad and layered taco dip.

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When I wrapped up my semester in Germany, my German host mother gave me a German cookbook and a glass measuring cup as a parting gift, and we made one last recipe together – black forest cherry torte.

My 1st Black Forest Cherry Torte - Rosenheim, Germany

My 1st Black Forest Cherry Torte – Rosenheim, Germany

Needless to say, I was thrilled to see that black forest cherry torte was one of the four options to pick from for our July cake club selection. At the same time, I was apprehensive, as this cake is no small task. It consists of many steps – providing ample opportunity for things to go wrong.

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The first obstacle was locating morello cherries – a tart, almost sour cherry that’s packed in juice and goes well with the chocolate cake and whipped cream in this recipe. Fortunately, I was able to find them available at Trader Joe’s, which is a German-owned grocery store. Trader Joe’s imports these from Germany, so they are the real deal. If you can’t find morellos, the next best alternative would be canned bing cherries.

Kirschwasser can also be a challenge to find in the U.S. It’s often quite expensive. I used a bottle that I had brought back from my last trip to Germany, and a few tablespoons are all that’s required.

The cake portion of this torte is a chocolate gateau recipe that’s heavy on eggs with less than a cup of flour. The eggs are beaten in a bowl suspended over a pan of simmering water. Then the flour, cocoa powder, and other ingredients are folded into the batter. I have to admit, this was a clunky, time-consuming process that I would not repeat. In the future, I’d just make a simple chocolate sponge cake and then proceed with the rest of the recipe.

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The cherry filling for the torte was easy to make and will be something I’ll definitely incorporate into other future dessert recipes. To make the filling, cherry juice is mixed with cornstarch and is brought to a slow boil until it thickens. Then the cherries are carefully folded in to the glossy, thick syrup.

The whipped cream recipe is the standard heavy cream, vanilla, and powdered sugar mixture.

To finish the torte, I poked holes in the two layers and drizzled a few tablespoons of kirschwasser on them which was quickly absorbed. Then, I piped a wide ring of whipped cream around the edge of the first layer and filled the middle with cherries. Next, I added the second layer, frosted the edges, piped a ring of whipped cream on the top and filled the middle with the remaining cherries. I used the remaining whipped cream to decorate the cake, finishing with a sprinkle of chocolate shavings and some stemmed maraschino cherries.

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Whew…just writing this all up took a lot of work. So, you can imagine how time-consuming it can be to make the whole torte.

So, how did it taste? Well, I have to say, I thought it was tasty for a first attempt at this highly intimidating recipe, but there are definitely things I would change. Swapping out the gateau for a chocolate sponge would cut down on the time it takes to make this and would most likely make it more comparable to the tortes I recall from my days in Germany. Perhaps it’s just my lack of gateau skills.

My boys were on the fence with this cake. My cherry loving boy is more in the sweet cherry camp. He could eat a jar of maraschino cherries in a flash. My other boy doesn’t care for cherries, but he still tried the cake and seemed to like it. All in all, they’d be fine if their mom just stuck to making good old fashioned chocolate cake with chocolate frosting! But for me, it brought back memories of young and carefree times experiencing the world and proved that I’m ready for my next cake challenge….maybe tiramisu???

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If you’d like to see what the other bakers in our cake club made for July, check out their links here.

The Cake Slice: Absolutely The Best Yellow Cake

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We capped off Father’s Day weekend with this delicious, simple yellow cake. Is there really any better way to cap a weekend off than with cake?

It was a weekend filled with baseball, fun, friends, and memories. Not only was it Father’s Day weekend, but also the annual festival our town throws to celebrate it’s potato farming heritage, called Tater Daze.

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The festival runs all weekend long and includes a tater tot little league baseball tournament, a spud run 5k race, a parade, fireworks, and the usual carnival games, rides, and food.

Amid the festivities, we battled intermittent rain showers and thunderstorms throughout the weekend. And, on top of it all, my monthly cake deadline loomed for the Cake Slice Bakers.

This is what it looks like when a mixer throws up:

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Fortunately, this cake came together VERY quick, which made it a definite keeper. I sprayed my angel food cake pan with baking spray and lined it with some foil to ensure the batter didn’t leak out of the bottom, as this is a three-piece pan, similar to a springform.

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The batter makes a HUGE cake. I’m not sure if the pictures really do it justice, but it baked up golden brown on top, and after cooling for 15 minutes, it popped right out, and stood a solid 3 inches tall!

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The best part is that it didn’t even require any frosting – just a slight dusting of powdered sugar on top, just before serving. It was moist and delicious served with a handful of fresh berries. A scoop of homemade vanilla bean ice cream or fresh whipped cream would make it even more decadent.

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The recipe for this cake can be found in Carole Walter’s Great Cakes cookbook. Although I’ve had my initial doubts about this cookbook and it’s lack of pictures, I’ve now baked several cakes from it as part of our baking club that I know I will certainly make again. The recipe is one of them.

It’s actually been fun to try a recipe without seeing a picture of the final cake in the cookbook…it makes the cakes that turn out well all the more exciting.

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This cake is one of four different recipes that my fellow Cake Slice Bakers got to choose from for the June cake club selection. If you’d like to see how the other cakes turned out, check out their links below. Happy baking, my friends!

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Check out my prior month’s cakes:
May: Strawberry Shortcake Layer Cake
April: Coconut Layer Cake
March: Espresso Cake with Hot Kahlua Syrup and Milk Chocolate Ganache
February: Lemon Velvet Squares
January: 18th Century Pound Cake
December: Streusel Squares
November: Applesauce Spice Cake

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