Category Archives: Cakes

Simple Sponge Cake

James has gone seamlessly from BAM’s “The Master Builder”  (which closed on June 9) to a workshop of a new musical called “Spongebob Squarepants.”  Yes, THAT Spongebob Squarepants.  So, what do you think our Backstage Baker baked???  Duh!!  Of course — SPONGECAKE!  Now, believe it or not, James has never made spongecake before (I know, really?  How is that possible???)  But he was able to come up with a recipe.  James notes that Spongecake very similar to an Angel Food Cake except that you use the yolks.  (That’s good for me, because I always struggle to find uses for those yolks and they end up in my freezer for months until I, uh, compost them.)

Anyway, in honor of all things Spongebob (and the song in the musical called ‘Just A Simple Sponge’) James offers up his Simple Sponge Cake. There are only three ingredients!!

Simple Sponge Cake


6 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 cup cake flour


1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter and flour a bundt pan.

2.  Separate eggs, putting whites in large mixer bowl and yolks in small mixer bowl.

3. Add 1/2 c sugar to whites and beat until very stiff.

4.  Add 1/2 c sugar to yolks and beat until very thick and light yellow in color.

5.  Fold egg yolk mixture into egg whites.

6.  Sift flour and fold it in using 1//3 c each time until well mixed. (Do not overmix!)

7.  Pour into prepared pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out dry.

8.  Cool for a few minutes in the pan then turn it out on a rack to cool completely. Sprinkle with sifted powdered sugar.

9.  Take 3 cups of mixed berries, stir in 1/4 cup of powdered sugar and a Tablespoon of Gran Marnier or Triple Sec.  (Ah, so that’s what the $10 bottle of Triple Sec is doing in the photo!)  Serve cake with whipped cream and berries.


Gluten-free Orange Cake

As promised, I’m going to intersperse the Cheesecake Bake-off recipes with some gluten-free ones. James is often called upon to make gluten- and allergen-free goodies, and has taken up the challenge masterfully.  (He has a gluten-free, vegan chocolate cake that is to die for.)  But today’s recipe is a simple introduction to the world of gluten-free baking.

I’ve just started experimenting with gluten-free baking myself and have been surprised to discover how complicated it is.  You just can’t swap out wheat flour cup for cup with, say, rice flour.   Most gluten-free bakers have a unique flour blend they’ve developed that includes several different flours carefully balanced, measured and whisked.  (BTW, there are an amazing number of flours to use other than wheat.  Who knew?)  When you first start out, though, there’s a much higher risk of ending up with a hockey puck of a cake or a loaf.  I’ve found that this is mostly due to the fact that there’s a whole new world of textures to get used to during the mixing process — bread dough is more like a batter, and cake batter is more like a dough.  Cookie dough seems the same, but it often spreads more than you expect.  Gluten provides needed structure to baked goods, and baking without it, while eminently possible, is challenging.

That said, the recipe below couldn’t be easier and more foolproof.  James has made it for the last several shows he’s been on, mostly recently for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”  It’s light and Springlike, too, perfect for Easter!

Gluten-free Orange Cake


*1 organic orange
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups rice flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

For Glaze:

1 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon flavoring (vanilla or fior di sicilia)


1.  Roughly chop the orange (rind and all) in food processor until fine.  *This is why you want an organic orange, because conventional oranges are often sprayed with artificial colors and food grade waxes.  Blech!

2.  Add the eggs, oil, and sugar.   Process until smooth.

3.  Transfer to a bowl and add the flour and baking powder. Do not over mix.

4.  Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake for 60 mins at 350*

(Note:  I’ve substituted 1 lemon for the orange and added 2 tablespoons of poppy seed for a divine gluten-free take on lemon poppyseed cake!)

(Second note:  You can also bake these in mini-muffin pans for a Springtime tea party offering.)

And the Cheesecake Bake-off Winner is . . .

Lisa Bracigliano!!

Lisa was James’ production assistant on Jon Robin Baitz’s “Chinese Friends” that premiered at Playwright’s Horizons in 2004.  Lisa has gone on to fame and fortune as the Executive Pastry Chef and Founder of The Chocolate Swirl.  (You HAVE to check our her website, or her shop if you’re lucky enough to live in Queens!  There’s an Iphone birthday cake on the site that is absolutely remarkable!)  So, I guess she was a bit of a ringer, but with a cake of such delicious decadence, who’s going to complain?


The cheesecake awards were handed out by Shannon Oliver, the current Miss New York,  and Katie Berry, the current Miss Manhattan.


James just knows everyone, doesn’t he?

The event raised $700 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.  A total of 13 cheesecakes were baked and over 60 people attended.  We’ll be posting selected recipes over the next few weeks.

Lisa Bracigliano’s Crown Winning Cheesecake with Caramel, Chocolate and Pretzel Topping


For the Crust:

2 cups Pretzels (crushed)
2/3 cup Butter (melted)
2 tablespoons Brown Sugar

For the Chocolate Layer:

7 ounces Dark Chocolate (chopped)

For the Filling:

3 8-ounce packages cream cheese (softened)
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the Topping:

Crushed pretzels
Melted dark chocolate
1-2 packages soft caramels (unwrapped)
Heavy cream (can also use skim milk, or whatever milk you have on hand)


1.  For the crust:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the inside of a 9 inch spring form pan with butter. Lay two large pieces of aluminum foil crosswise on your work surface. Place the cake pan in the middle and crimp the aluminum around the pan.

Stir the crust ingredients together in a medium bowl. Once fully incorporated press into the bottom and sides of the prepared spring form pan, creating an even layer.

2.  For the chocolate layer:

Melt the chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave. Pour over the prepared pretzel crust. Transfer the spring form pan to the refrigerator for 5 minutes or until chocolate has set.

3.  For the filling:

Whip together the cream cheese and sugar until fluffy. Add the sour cream, eggs, egg yolk, vanilla and salt and stir together until incorporated.Pour the filling over the prepared crust and chocolate layer.

4.  Transfer the cake to a roasting pan and carefully fill the roasting pan with warm water until it comes 1/3 of the way up the sides of the spring form pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes or until the center only jiggles slightly. Remove and allow to cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes.

Refrigerate Overnight

5.  For the topping:

Remove cheesecake from Springform pan. Crush up pretzels and put them on top of cheesecake. Melt the unwrapped caramels in a microwave safe bowl in 30 second intervals.   CAREFUL!  IT WILL BE HOT. Once melted add 3-5 tabl spoons of heavy cream and mix well. If it is still sticky put it back in microwave. Pour evenly over pretzels and let it  drip down sides.

NOTE: If you want you can easily omit this step and use jarred caramel sauce, that will work well too 🙂

Melt more dark chocolate and drizzle over cake


Get Ready for James’ Annual Cheesecake Bakeoff!

Those of you that know James know that every year, no matter where he is, he hosts a decadent Cheesecake Bakeoff.  This year, the Bake-off returns to New York and has a charitable twist — all proceeds will go to Broadway Care/Equity Fights AIDS.

Here’s the invitation:

Cheesecake Bake-Off 2013 Returns to New York

A Benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS

Monday Night March 4, 2013
1560 Broadway, 14th Floor
(Seventh Avenue between West 46th Street and West 47th Street,
Entrance in the Times Square Visitors Center.)

Baker’s registration between 7:00 – 7:30pm Doors open 7:30pm
Tasting and judging to follow

The rules are simple:  either BAKE a cheesecake or make a $20 donation to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Wine and soda will be provided. Everyone tastes and votes for their favorites and the cake with the most votes gets the crown. Judging will be in 10 categories: CREAMIEST, CHEESIEST, BEST TOPPING, BEST HOMEMADE CRUST,BEST PRESENTATION, MOST SEASONALLY APPROPRIATE, MOST ORIGINAL FLAVOR, MOST DECADENT, BEST CLASSIC CHEESECAKE AND THE VIRGIN PRIZE FOR BEST FIRST EFFORT.

Because space is limited you must RSVP by March 1st.

Please indicate if you are baking or just tasting.
Phone RSVP- 917.716.8005
Email RSVP- or
Facebook events

And now on to today’s recipe:  “Bottom’s Dream” Cupcakes!  These were James’ offering for last week’s Wine and Unwind at “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”  (By the way, last chance for tickets, because the show closes this Sunday, March 3!)


James first made these cupcakes for a production of MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM in Central Park at the Delacorte. Jay O. Sanders played Bottom. James called these “Bottom’s Dream” because the cupcakes have a rich, chocolate bottom and a light, dream-like cheesecake topping.


James’ delightful Sunday evening spread!

“Bottom’s Dream” Cupcakes


Cupcake Mixture:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup canola oil
1 Tablespoon vinegar
1 tsp vanilla

Cheesecake Mixture:
1- 8 oz. pkg Cream Cheese
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup mini-chocolate chips

Chopped nuts
Granulated sugar


1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Line a cupcake tin with paper liners.  Mix up cupcake and cheesecake ingredients in separate bowls.   Fill each cup 1/3 full of cupcake batter. Drop one heaping teaspoon of cheesecake mixture into each cup and sprinkle the tops with chopped nuts and granulated sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30- 35 minutes.

Makes 18 – 22 cupcakes

Triple Layer Double Decadence Death by Chocolate No. 17

Mmmm . . . What better way to celebrate a birthday than the chocolatiest most decadent cake imaginable??

Yesterday was Carrie Coon’s birthday, “Honey” in Broadway’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.   I imagine she just signed up for a chocolate cake on James’ “Birthday Information Form” that first day of rehearsal, never expecting that she would get treated to this:

Death by Chocolate No. 17

BTW, James tells me that the reason behind the name of the cake is that he experimented with 16 varieties of Chocolate Layer Cake before finally settling on this one as the ne plus ultra.  How lucky are we to know someone who would experiment with chocolate cakes that thoroughly.

Happy birthday, Honey!!

Happy Birthday, Honey!

Triple Layer Double Decadence Death By Chocolate No. 17


1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1.4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups hot coffee or espresso
3 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups cocoa powder (not dutch process). James likes to use 1/4 cup of black cocoa as part of that 1/2 cups
2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups buttermilk. If you don’t have buttermilk, use 1 1/2 cups whole milk (minus 2 Tablespoons) mixed with 1 1/2 Tablespoons of vinegar.
1 tsp vanilla

Ganache Icing
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp light corn syrup
1/4 cup butter

1.  Preheat oven to 300. Spray three 9” round cake pans with cooking spray. Line bottoms with parchment and spray again.

2.  Combine chips and hot coffee. Let it stand and whisk occasionally until chocolate is melted. In a large bowl whisk together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking power, baking soda and salt. In another large bowl  beat eggs until thick and yellow (3-5 minutes), slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla and chocolate mixture to the eggs beating until well combined. Add dry ingredients and beat on medium until JUST combined.

3.  Divide batter between pans and bake in the middle of the oven until a toothpick comes out clean- 40-50 minutes.

For ganache icing
1.  In saucepan whisk together cream, sugar and corn syrup. Bring to boil over medium heat whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate chips, whisking until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Cut butter into 3 pieces. Add to mixture, whisking after each addition until smooth.

2.  Chill for 45- 60 minutes until spreadable. If it is in the refrigerator too long, just bring back to room temperature before frosting.

3.  Keep cake covered and chilled. Bring to room temperature before serving. Amazing!!!!

James’ note: “I use a cake comb on the sides of the cake when frosting to give it linear texture.”

Of course you do James, of course you do!

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Glaze

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Glaze

On Sunday morning, James posted the following to his Facebook page:  “With complaints that the sweets at WINE AND UNWIND were causing distress to waistlines, I respond with a new version of a flourless chocolate cake. I pray I will not be serving a giant hockey puck.”

Well, James outdid himself for this past Sunday’s “Wine and Unwind”.  No hockey puck here (although, it would be a cool thing to serve at a hockey-themed birthday party.  Just sayin’.)  Not only is this recipe super easy to make (the cake itself only has six ingredients) but it’s also gluten-free!

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Glaze


4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Glaze:

2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon corn syrup
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1 tablespoon butter


1.   Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Grease an 8 inch round cake pan, and dust with cocoa powder.
2.   In the top of a double boiler over lightly simmering water, melt chocolate and butter. Remove from heat, and stir in sugar, cocoa powder, eggs, and vanilla. Pour into prepared pan.
3.   Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.

For the Glaze:

1.   In a small saucepan, combine 2 tablespoons sugar, the corn syrup and 1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Add 4 ounces chopped chocolate, swirl pan to mix, do not mix, and allow to stand until melted, about 3 minutes.
2.  Whisk 1 tablespoon butter into icing until melted and the chocolate is shiny and smooth.. Put wax paper under the cooling rack then pour glaze evenly over cake. Use a spatula to ease icing out to edges of cake and down the sides. Sprinkle the ground almonds around the top edge of the cake. Allow icing to cool and set before slicing.