The Cake Slice: Caramel Apple Coffee Cake


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
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!


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.


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.


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.


Now that you are most likely drooling all over your screen, you really should make this. Here’s the recipe:


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.


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?


Check out what my fellow Cake Slicers baked this month:

Lemon Pie Bars


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

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

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


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


The Cake Slice: Black Forest Cherry Torte


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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???


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

The Cake Slice: Strawberry Shortcake Layer Cake


We’re well over half way through our baking year, and we’ve decided to change things up with the Cake Slice Bakers club starting this month. Rather than voting on a single recipe for all members to bake, club members will now have 4 selections each month from which they may choose.

Why the change? Well, some club members have struggled with the selections in this year’s cookbook – myself included – and this switch will allow us to be more creative and to select a cake that not only challenges us but also fits our own personal tastes…no point in baking something that you know ahead of time nobody in your household will eat. And, if my family doesn’t help me eat the cake, then I’m compelled to eat it, because you just can’t let cake go to waste, right?


So, for May, I let my family vote on the four choices we were given for the month, which included: a cheesecake, a chocolate cake, a pistachio cake, and a white cake with strawberries and whipped cream.

The results were unanimous.


Carole Walter, author of Great Cakes, calls this recipe Strawberry Gateau. As written, the recipe consists of three separate recipes put together – the first of which is an eggy (5 large eggs!) single layer white genoise cake that is thinly sliced to produce three layers. The layers are then drizzled with a sugar syrup (recipe #2), and then topped with an orange liqueur whipped cream (recipe #3) and sliced strawberries.

To make the genoise batter, eggs and granulated sugar are beaten with a hand mixer in a bowl on top of a simmering saucepan of water. Air is beaten into the batter to add volume without the use of leavening. I tried to get a few photos of this step, but it was no short of an acrobatic event to manage the hand mixer in the bowl suspended above the saucepan let alone juggle – and focus – the camera. After this step, lemon zest and vanilla extract are added to the batter, followed by flour and clarified butter.


I made the genoise according to the recipe, but divided the batter into two 9” rounds rather than the single 10” round called for in the gateau recipe. Then I simplified things by skipping the syrup and making plain old “whipping cream-vanilla extract-powdered sugar” whipped cream.

Rather than piping the whipped cream, as suggested in the recipe, I just plopped it on and smoothed it with a spatula. Simple.


Truth be told, I’m not sure how a genoise is supposed to turn out, but mine was a slightly dense sponge that tasted similar to shortcake, so our family dubbed it a strawberry shortcake layer cake.

And in less than 24 hours, the whole cake was devoured…by the whole family!


Want to see what my fellow Cake Slice Bakers made this month? Check out their links here:

Slow Cooked Sticky Chicken Drumsticks


As Hemingway put it, we are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master. Mastering just one small element in the kitchen is no more than a wave on a boundless ocean. There’s always more to learn.

You’re probably wondering if all I do now is bake cake. Based on my last several posts, it would seem the obvious conclusion.

However, lately, as is usually the case, I’ve been cooking and experimenting with new recipes and ingredients more than ever, driven to broaden my horizons. In the past few weeks, I’ve started to work on the dinner roll/biscuit genre…with less than spectacular results…but a ton of determination. It’s truly an art to achieve a flaky, light, buttery biscuit…but get there I will.

I’ve also tried making corn tortillas with Masa Harina, a Mexican corn flour which I found in our local grocery store while cruising through the baking aisle, but I used too little water and don’t own a tortilla press, so I used a Ziploc and a rolling pin, which resulted in an odd shaped, crumbly…albeit quite tasty…mess.

There have also been a good share of successes, including doughnuts so soft and flavorful that they melt in your mouth…recipe forthcoming. My first cheesecake that I made at Easter that did not crack. A lovely espresso Kahlua fudge torte for a coworker. A double layer milk chocolate cake for my dad’s 80th birthday. ….yes…this is returning to cake again…

And finally, there is this sticky chicken recipe.


I came up with this as a meatier play on slow cooked chicken wings…the kind so sticky, flavorful, fall-off-the-bone delicious, that you have to throw down your fork, roll up your sleeves, and dig in with your hands, mind focused on the task, and a ton of napkins.

Which is exactly what we did.


I paired the drumsticks with a batch of spaetzle, the perfect accompaniment to balance out the sticky, sweet, spicy chicken. If you’ve never made spaetzle, give my recipe a try. It’s easy to make, and you don’t need a spaetzle maker…a simple colander will suffice. It’s even quite impressive, given the fact that it’s nothing more than flour, eggs, and milk combined to make tiny pillows of miniature dumplings bathed in a touch of melted butter and a shake of sea salt.

Slow Cooked Sticky Chicken Drumsticks

3 1/2 lb chicken drumsticks, skin removed
3/4 cup chicken broth
1 medium lemon
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp ginger
2 Tbsp hot sauce
1 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp soy sauce

Place drumsticks in slow cooker.

Zest and juice the lemon. Add lemon zest and juice to a small saucepan. Press garlic cloves into pan using a garlic press. Then, add all remaining ingredients to the pan. Cook over medium heat until boiling, then simmer for a few minutes until sauce thickens. Remove from heat and pour over chicken. Cover slow cooker and cook on high for 4 hours. (If you are rushed for time, you can simply combine the sauce ingredients and add immediately to the slow cooker without boiling first.)

After 4 hours, remove chicken from the slow cooker with a tongs. Pour juices from crockpot into a saucepan. Place chicken back in slow cooker and set to low.

Bring juices in saucepan to a rapid boil and continue boiling, whisking frequently, until sauce reduces by half. If necessary, combine 1 oz cornstarch with 1 oz cold water and whisk into sauce. Once thickened, pour over chicken, cover slow cooker, and cook for another 15-30 minutes or until ready to serve.

Coming Soon: More recipes…many of which may still have something to do with cake. Sorry. I’m slightly obsessed.

The Cake Slice: Coconut Layer Cake


After several months of mishaps and mayhem baking with the Cake Slice club, I’ve learned a lot and have finally hit my stride. This month’s cake came together just as the recipe promised it would and drew rave reviews. I have to admit, if it weren’t for this club, I probably never would have picked a coconut layer cake recipe out of a cookbook, but now that I’ve made one, I’m really glad that I did. It was moist, light…just sweet enough…and very tasty.


Shredded coconut is added to scalded milk and set aside to soften and soak while the dry ingredients, a flour/baking powder/salt combo are sifted together. Then, they are alternately added in shifts to a softened butter, sugar, and egg mixture. Offers of assistance with sifting are always plentiful in our kitchen…taking turns is a must.


Once the batter is incorporated, it is divided into two 9” round pans, each lined with a circle of parchment paper and a mist of non-stick baking spray (admittedly overdone a bit to compensate for last month’s stuck-on fiasco), and baked in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes until golden brown.


I let the layers cool a bit in the pans, and then popped them out to finish cooling, while I contemplated, second guessed, and eventually googled the “correct way to layer a layer cake”…i.e. which layer goes up and which layer goes down. What I found was that there is no correct way to do it, but rather several techniques that ranged from simple to complex.


Martha recommends trimming the dome off the top of each layer and then layering with the bottom layer right side up and the top layer upside down.


Annalise from Completely Delicious suggests increasing the baking time while baking at a lower temperature and offers a step by step tutorial on building the perfect layer cake.


Amanda Rettke, a local Minnesota baker (better known as blogger I Am Baker) who just published her new cookbook Surprise Inside Cakes, recommends leveling your cake to ensure all levels are the same height. You can even use a clean towel to cover the layers while they are still warm and push down on the domed portion to flatten it out.


Upon further research, I found many bakers depend upon “cake strips” to ensure level heights without having to trim the cake. Cake strips are fastened around the outside of the pan to insulate it so that the outer ring of the cake bakes evenly with the center of the cake resulting in an even top, rather than a dome. You can buy them online or make your own by cutting an old terry cloth towel into strips, soaking them in water, and then pinning around the pan before baking. Needless to say, these little beauties are now on my mother’s day wishlist…


The frosting is a quick buttercream version that starts off by heating flour and milk to form a custard. Who knew that flour went into buttercream??? I didn’t. Maybe it’s just my novice pastry skills, but this was a new one for me.


Anyway, you heat the milk and flour, whisking continuously, until it thickens and comes to a low boil. Then you remove it from the heat to cool for a few minutes before beating into the butter and sugar. The key is to let the custard cool just enough so as not to melt the butter when incorporating it.


The frosting recipe called for superfine sugar. Most of the frosting recipes that I’ve made in the past called for powdered sugar. I had granulated sugar and powdered sugar but didn’t have a clue what superfine sugar was or where to find it, so I used granulated sugar, and that worked out just fine. The frosting was perfectly smooth with no granular texture.


About the coconut: I chose an unsweetened, flaked variety from the natural foods section of our supermarket, and gave it a few pulses in my food processer to break it down a bit further. It provided a purer coconut flavor than the cloyingly sweet version and didn’t have all the added ingredients. After frosting the cake, I carefully pressed a layer of flaked coconut on the top and sides, just enough to secure it to the frosting.

Another successful cake and many more baking lessons learned.


This cake recipe is from Carole Walter’s Great Cakes cookbook. Click the link below to see the other Cake Slice Bakers’ version of this month’s coconut layer cake.

The Cake Slice: Espresso Cake with Hot Kahlua Syrup and Milk Chocolate Ganache


It’s a miracle that I survived this month’s cake challenge. And that the cake actually did get baked…just in the nick of time. And that I actually have pictures to show you.

The forces were definitely against me this month.


Notice how the majority of my pictures depict the ingredients rather than the final creation?

When I first learned of the chosen cake for March, espresso cake with hot Kahlua syrup, I was really looking forward to baking it. Coffee and chocolate are some of my favorite things. Add to that a splash of Kahlua, and now we’re talking.


The first indication of trouble was when I read through the ingredient list in preparation for my next shopping trip. Flour, eggs, cocoa powder….all typical cake stuff.

And then, espresso powder. Hmmm???

First, what is it? And second, can I just substitute coffee grounds?


So, I began by googling “what is espresso powder“ and quickly learned that it’s finely ground espresso beans, basically instant espresso, that is sometimes used in recipes to intensify the flavor of chocolate.

Ok. That made sense.

So, then I googled “espresso powder substitute” and that’s where things got interesting. There is no good substitute. Nothing.


Long story short: three weeks passed, my baking deadline was imminent, four grocery stores in two states had been searched, and no espresso powder was to be found. Fortunately, I made a stop at a high-end grocery store near my office as a last ditch effort, and there it was. Espresso powder. Two lovely ounces for $4.39.

Espresso powder in hand, I made my way home, ready to bake. It was Friday night. The plan was to whip up a batch of homemade mac and cheese, watch a little TV with the family, and then get baking as soon as I put the kids to bed. That’s not exactly how it went.


You see, this recipe requires a good amount of prep time even before it goes into the oven. First, you have to dissolve the espresso powder into boiling water and set it aside to cool. Then, you have to triple sift the dry ingredients – I cheated and only single-sifted. After more mixing, whipping, and sugar adding…one tablespoon at a time over the course of 6 to 8 minutes, per the recipe, the cake is finally ready for the oven.

The cake bakes for an hour. After that, you let it cool for 15 minutes in the pan, while you prepare the hot Kahlua syrup, and then the cake has to sit at least another hour while it drinks in the flavorful syrup until absorbed, and then, THEN…you can finally invert the cake onto a cake plate to remove it from the pan. Did I mention the ganache? Well, that’s the next step once the cake is finally out of the pan. You have to prepare the ganache, let it cool to thicken slightly, then drizzle it over the cake. At that point, you’re FINALLY done.

It’s a good thing I read through the recipe in its entirety before getting started with it on Friday night…or I would have been up all night. Just reading through it was exhausting enough, and convincing enough to reserve the project for Saturday.


And so, Saturday was spent prepping, mixing, whipping, stirring, baking, syruping, and glazing, all for the love of coffee and chocolate, with the prospect of expanding my baking skills. Until…I grated my thumb along with the lemon and turned the lovely, fragrant lemon zest an unlovely shade of crimson. After all the yelping and cursing and throbbing, all I could find was a Spongebob band-aid, that lasted no more than a few minutes before soaking through…it was a very deep cut. Still, I persevered.

When the cake came out of the oven, I poked some holes in it to help the syrup tunnel through, which in the end weren’t very necessary because the syrup (a mix of Kahlua, water, and honey boiled until thickened) never got syrup-y. So, I poured the runny liquid over the cake and watched as it pooled on top and prayed that it would eventually soak in without creating a soggy mess.


Five hours later (after errands and dinner out), I returned home to finish the project. I ran a knife around the edges of the bundt pan hoping it would slide right out easily. WRONG.

It shattered into several pieces, with some remaining pieces left to be coaxed out of grooves of the pan. SERIOUSLY. Again, I persevered.

I grabbed a plate, fit the pieces back together like an edible jigsaw puzzle, then made a double batch of milk chocolate ganache to drizzle over all the imperfections. The ganache was a mix of equal parts heavy cream and chocolate chips with a few splashes of Kahlua mixed in. Of course, the Kahlua caused the ganache to be a bit thin, so it ran down the cake more than I had hoped – honestly, would you expect any less at this point?


When it was finally time for the first bite, I was so upset with this cake and this recipe and this whole ordeal that I wanted throw it at the wall. The cake, the espresso powder, all of it.

And yet.

I decided that if it was worth all this effort, than at least it was worth a taste. So, taste it I did.

And it tasted…heavenly.

If you’d like to try your luck at baking this cake (good luck – you’ll need it), check out Carole Walter’s cookbook Great Cakes. Also, click the link below to see how my fellow cake club members’ cakes turned out.