Category Archives: Cakes

Vegan Chocolate Cake

VEgan chocolate cake

When you need a vegan dessert this one is easy, moist and delicious. Jitney’s associate director, Awoye Timpo, is vegan, so the Backstage Baker baked this for her birthday.

It’s amazing.  And super easy to make.  In fact, I think I’ll go bake one now.

Easy Vegan Chocolate Cake

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups sifted flour
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup canola oil
1 Tbsp. vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup cold water

Method

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2.  Measure flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt into a sifter, sift twice. Sift all into and ungreased 9 inch square pan.

3.  Make three holes in the mixture. Pour oil into one hole, vinegar in the second, vanilla in the third. Pour water over all. Mix with fork until smooth and blended. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes (no more).

This cake is so moist it doesn’t need frosting.  Make like the Backstage Baker and top it with fresh raspberries tossed in powdered sugar and shave some chocolate on top.  Mmmm, delicious!

Chocolate Zucchini Cake with Sweet Potato Frosting

the-play-the-cake-the-wine

The Backstage Baker is back on Broadway with August Wilson’s Jitney! Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, it’s part of Wilson’s Pittsburgh/Century Cycle of plays (two of which won the Pulitzer Prize) and is the only one never produced on Broadway.  Until now.

James sent me this recipe several weeks ago, having baked this delicacy for the company’s first Wine and Unwind.  I’m only just getting around to posting it, while in the interim James and the company have rehearsed, teched and had their first preview on Broadway! (Oh, and they celebrated some holidays in there too.)  Opening night is January 19, 2017, so get your tickets now!

Chocolate Zucchini Cake with Sweet Potato Frosting
(with thanks to fellow stage manager Buzz Cohen)

1 pound (453 g) zucchini (about 4 small), trimmed
2½ cups (360 g) white whole wheat flour
½ cup (48 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups (312 g) sugar
1 cup (245 g) buttermilk, at room temperature
½ cup (112 g) grapeseed or other neutral oil
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (180 g) semisweet chocolate chips

Sweet Potato Frosting:
1 (15-ounce; 425-g) can pure sweet potato puree
10 ounces (283 g) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method:
1. To make the cake: Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325°F. Coat a 9 x 3 x 2-inch cake pan or dish with nonstick cooking spray. If you’re using a metal pan, line the bottom and sides with foil or parchment paper and spray again.

2.  Set a box grater on some paper towels and grate the zucchini on the large holes. Spread it out on the paper towels, top with more paper towels, and press gently to remove excess moisture.

3.  Sift the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk the sugar, buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a medium bowl until very smooth. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Whisk, gradually drawing in the dry ingredients, just until smooth. Fold in the zucchini and chocolate chips with a silicone spatula until evenly incorporated. Spread the batter in an even layer in the prepared pan.

4.  Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the top springs back a little when lightly pressed with a fingertip, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a rack.

5.  While cake is cooling, make the frosting: Bring the sweet potato puree to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate and vanilla. Stir until smooth. Cool, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is at room temperature and the consistency of canned frosting. It should hold soft peaks when you lift the spatula from the pan but not be stiff. Spread the frosting all over the top of the cake, creating swoops and swirls.

*Make ahead notes: The cake is best the day it’s made, when the chocolate chips are still a bit melty and the frosting is soft, but it will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.*carra-patterson-and-andre-holland Carra Patterson and Andre Holland

brandon-dirdenBrandon Dirden in a sugar coma . . .

Apples LeRoy

apples-leroy

The Backstage Baker made this apple sheet cake for the company of Plenty.    Cast member LeRoy McClain (who plays Mick) really, really liked it, so it was unanimously decided to name the dessert Apples LeRoy. (And that’s pronounced Apples LE-Roy, not Apples Leeroy!) The recipe originally came from the Better Homes & Gardens website, but our Backstage Baker did some fiddling with it to make it even tastier.

Here’s a very happy LeRoy with the (almost) empty pan.

leroy-with-whats-left-of-his-cake

I had the opportunity to chat with LeRoy who, it turns out, is quite an accomplished baker himself.  A native of Cambridgeshire, England, he shares a lot of the same holiday baking memories that I have — mincemeat pies, Christmas cake, lemon curd tart . . .   But he’s also mastered new delights, such as French Vanilla Pineapple Upside Down cake (“Oh, I bring this one to all the Thanksgiving dinners I get invited to — it’s obviously not a holiday I celebrated as a child.”  Hmm, what are you doing for Thanksgiving this year, LeRoy?)  He’s promised to share a recipe for the blog – -perhaps his Caramel Apple Candied Pecan cake or his Raspberry Streusel Crunch Cake.  So stay tuned!

Apples LeRoy

Ingredients:
2 medium baking apples
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 2/3 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup apple sauce
2 eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried apples, finely chopped

Maple Icing:
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon milk

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13x9x2-inch baking pan; set aside.

2. Peel, core, and coarsely shred one of the apples. Thinly slice remaining apple, removing seeds; cover and set apples aside.

3. In a large bowl whisk together the butter, brown sugar, apple butter, eggs, and vanilla until smooth. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; whisk until combined. Fold in dried and fresh shredded apple. Spread batter into prepared pan. Arrange apple slices over batter.

4. Bake about 40 minutes or until golden and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Remove to a wire rack. Spoon Maple Icing over hot cake; spread evenly, using a pastry brush if necessary. Cool completely. Dust with ground cinnamon.

for Maple Icing:

In a small bowl stir together 1 tablespoon melted butter, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, 1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and 1 tablespoon milk until smooth.

Golden Syrup Cake

emily-bergl
Emily Bergl and her cake

Ah, Golden Syrup!  Also known as “light treacle,” it’s a British thing.  Thick, sweet and (duh!) syrupy, it has the same color and consistency as honey, but is made from cane sugar.  So it’s basically just melted sugar.  100% sugar. Sweet, pure, delicious sugar.  And doesn’t the name Golden Syrup sound delightful and kind of magical?

My mother is of British extraction — well, she’s from New Zealand, which was a British colony back in the day — so we always had a can of Lyle’s Golden Syrup slowly crusting up in the back of a cupboard.

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-2-02-10-pm

I loved this stuff — I think my Mum grudgingly allowed me to use it as an oatmeal topping, but only on special occasions!  Because, you know, she grew up when sugar was rationed, so  . . .

This recipe below is from Emily Bergl, currently appearing in Plenty at the Public Theater.  (She found this recipe on a BBC site called Good Food.)  I’ve adapted it to American measurements.  (I hope I did the math right!)

golden-syrup-cake

Golden Syrup Cake
Ingredients:
1 cup butter (that’s two sticks)
1 cup sugar (light brown adds depth but white is fine
1 1/3 Golden Syrup
3 cups all-purpose flour
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 Large Eggs
1 1/4 cups milk *
4 tbsp Golden Syrup

Notes:
— You’ll need a 10″ springform pan for this cake.

*Emily substituted coconut milk

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 140C/fan (or 160/C – gas mark 3). Grease the tin and line the base with baking (parchment) paper, leaving a little to cover the bottom corners and sides. Press into place.
  2. Place butter, syrup and sugar into a large pan and heat gently until the ingredients are just melted together, stirring occassionally. Leave to cool for 10 minutes – it helps if you place the pan away from the hob during this time since it will remain warm.(Oh, the hob!! The hob!!  It’s like we’re sitting down to tea with Mr. Tumnis in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe!)
  3. Beat the eggs with the milk. Add the flour and milk/egg mixture to the cooled syrup mixture in the pan and beat steadily with a wooden spoon until all the lumps have gone. This may take a few minutes, so you will need a little patience. Pour the mixture into the tin.
  4. Bake for around 50 minutes. The cake will be well-risen and springy, but still very moist. After a few minutes cooling time, pierce the cake all over with a skewer and spoon the extra golden syrup over the top. Leave to cool completely in the tin.
  5. This cake keeps for a week and only improves with time.  It’s a real treat and a cake you will be asked to make again and again.

Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet 1

Lazarus opened last night (here’s Ben Brantley’s review here) and it seems appropriate to share the recipe for the Backstage Baker’s dramatic birthday cake for Michael Esper.

Red Velvet Cake

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons unsweetened, cocoa powder (plus more for dusting pans)
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk (if you don’t have buttermilk substitute one cup milk less one tablespoon  and one tablespoon of white vinegar. Let sit 5 minutes.)
2 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1-2 oz. red food coloring, depends how deep you want the color
1 teaspoon of white distilled vinegar
½ cup of plain hot coffee (don’t skip this ingredient)

Frosting:

2 (8 oz) packs cream cheese, softened
¼ cup milk, made need more
1 stick butter, softened
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar

Method

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cocoa powder and salt. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, combine the sugar and vegetable oil.
4. Mix in the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla and red food coloring until combined. Stir in the coffee and white vinegar.
5. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients a little at time, mixing after each addition, just until combined.
6. Generously grease two round, 9 inch cake pans with shortening and dust with cocoa.
7. Pour the batter evenly into each pan.
8. Bake in the middle rack for 30-40 minutes (check at 30 minutes), or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Do not over bake as cake will continue to cook as it cools.
9. Let pans cool on a cooling rack until the pans are warm to the touch.
Slide a knife or offset spatula around the inside of the pans to loosen the cake from the pan.
10.Remove the cakes from the pan and let them cool. These are moist cakes so I refrigerated them before icing.
11.Frost the cake with cream cheese frosting (recipe below).

Frosting Recipe:
Add softened cream cheese into large bowl.
Pour in milk, butter and vanilla extract.
Mix until well combined.
Pour in half of the powdered sugar.
Mix until combined.
Add the remaining powdered sugar.
Mix until smooth and fluffy.
Reserve about a cup of the frosting and tint with red food coloring until it achieves just the right bloody shade.  Artistically dollop on and around cake as it pleases your murderous eye.

 


Red Velvet 2
Production Assistant Rachel Zucker, Michael C. Hall and birthday boy Michael Esper

Red Velvet 3

Chocolate Red Wine Cake


Chocolate Red Wine Cake

 Chocolate. Red wine.  What else do you need?

James celebrated his first Wine and Unwind with the cast of Cymbelinecombining the Wine and the Unwind in one cake.  (I’m sure, however, that there was some wine served separately, but the efficiency of this appeals to the stage manager in me.)

He tells me “This a not too sweet cake that goes great with vanilla ice cream or gelato, based on a recipe from Anne Willan’s 2001 book Cooking with Wine. There is just enough wine to give it a wonderful flavor!”

I know I like chocolate, and I like red wine, and I like both together.  So how can this cake go wrong?

Chocolate Red Wine Cake

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)* plus some for dusting.
1 1/4 teaspoons  baking soda
1/2 teaspoon  salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups  sugar
2  large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons  pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups  dry red wine
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting
Whipped cream or ice cream for serving

Method:

1.  Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and dust a 12-cup Bundt pan with powdered cocoa. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.

2.  In a large bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, beat the butter with the sugar at medium-high speed until fluffy, 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until incorporated. Add the vanilla and beat for 2 minutes longer. Working in two batches, alternately fold in the dry ingredients and the wine, until just incorporated.

3.  Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack; let cool completely. Dust the cake with confectioner’s sugar and serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Kate Burton Queen and Belarius
Kate Burton, who plays the Queen and Belarius, unwinding

Patrick Page who plays the title role Cymbeline and Raul Esparza who play Iachimo

Patrick Page, who plays Cymbeline, and Raul Esparza, who plays Iachimo, taking their wining and unwinding very seriously.

*What is Dutch process cocoa?  What is non-Dutch process cocoa?  And why does it matter? 

Non-Dutch process is simply natural cocoa powder:  the dry, solid remains of fermented, dried and roasted cacao beans that have been ground into a fine powder.  It is slightly acidic with, if you’re a complete nerd, a PH between 5-6.

Dutch process, on the other hand, is natural cocoa powder that has been washed with a potassium carbonate solution to alkalize it slightly.

Who cares, right?  And what difference does it make to my cake?

Well, successful baking is more than a little bit of a science.  In order for cakes to rise properly, you need the proper balance of acid and alkaline in your batter.  If, as in this recipe, you’re only using baking soda to make your cake rise, then you want the slightly acidic natural cocoa because baking soda is alkalizing (it’s why you take a teaspoonful in water if you suffer from acid indigestion.)

Anyway, long story short, you really can use either kind of cocoa no matter what, but to make the ideal version of whatever you’re baking, stick to what the recipe says.  

4th of July cake

IMG_1708

Okay, I’m finally posting the recipe and directions for the divine and very impressive 4th of July Flag cake James made last year. Until I saw him do it, I would have thought it was far too difficult and never gotten farther than looking at the recipe online.  But as you can see below, the recipe itself is super easy, it’s just the putting it together that’s a challenge.  If you like puzzles, you’ll be in heaven.  If you don’t, well, you can just stuff handfuls of cake and frosting in your mouth.

Give it a try!

4th of July Flag Cake

Ingredients:

Three vanilla cake mixes (+ eggs, oil and whatever else they call for) — read the box and get the extra items before you leave the store.  You could of course make the cakes from scratch, but why?

Two containers of vanilla frosting. Any standard-sized store brand will do. (You won’t need all the frosting in both containers, but you’ll need more than one.)

One bottle of red food dye and one bottle of blue food dye.  You know, the little ones that come in the red, yellow, green, blue pack.

2 9″ cake pans.  You will, of course be making six cakes total, so budget your time accordingly.

A bowl or tin or anything with a 4″ diameter for cutting cake

Method:

First, read this all the way through before you start.  Seriously.

1.  Bake two 9″ vanilla cakes as directed on the mix box.  Add the entire bottle of red food coloring to batter as you mix it for 2 minutes.  Don’t even think about the perils of red dye #2 or whatever the current toxic number is.  You want to celebrate America, don’t you?

2.  Bake two more 9″ vanilla cakes as directed on the (second) mix box.  Do not add any color.

3.  Bake TWO MORE 9″ vanilla cakes. (See what I mean about budgeting your time?)  Pour half of the batter into the cake pan, then pour blue food coloring into remaining batter.  Use as much as necessary to achieve the proper blue color — I found I only need 1/2 a bottle, but perhaps my America blue is different from yours.  Experiment.

3.  Once you’ve baked and cooled all six cakes, let the cake puzzle assembly challenge begin!  (Note:  You will have extra cake layers that go unused in this recipe.  Cut them into cubes and then freeze them.  I will post a recipe for Patriotic Trifle shortly.)

4.  First, set up your cake stand/plate by placing four strips of wax papers around the edges in a square shape.  Put a dab of icing in the middle of the square to anchor the bottom cake layer.

5.  Slice one red cake in half horizontally to make two red layers.  Then slice one white cake the same way to make two white layers.

IMG_1685

6.  Place one red layer on the cake stand and frost.  Then place a white layer on top and frost.  Repeat with one more red and white layer.  Frost the top white layer.

IMG_1690

7.   Now, take your blue layer (do not slice this layer in half horizontally!).  Using your 4″ bowl or tin, cut a 4″ circle down into the cake.  Remove blue cake plug and set aside.  Place blue layer with the center missing on top of red/white layers.

IMG_1691

8.  Okay, still with me?  You should have one unsliced red and one unsliced white cake left.   Go ahead and slice them horizontally now. (You could do this step earlier when you slice the other ones — I just did it now because it kept things a little more organized in my head.)  Take one of the half slices of red and cut out a 4″ circle.  Do the same with the white half slice. Put the leftover cake aside.

Frost the top of the 4″ white circle and insert it into the blue cake.

IMG_1694

9.  Insert the red 4″ circle into the blue cake and you are finished assembling the cake!

10.  Now you’re ready to start frosting.  Brush off any excess crumbs (easier said than done, but do your best.)  Put a big glop of icing on top of the cake and start spreading it around.  (An offset spatula is really useful here.)

IMG_1696

11.  James likes to make attractive, Betty Crocker-like swooshes with his frosting:

IMG_1700

Ta da! ‘Merica!

IMG_1708Of course, now that I’m finally posting this, I think maybe a rainbow cake would really be the thing for this holiday.  Hmm . . .