“A party without a cake is really just a meeting.” -Julia Child
I had kind of an epiphany recently – I love to bake.
By no means am I a great cook or a great cake decorator. (I’m more of a Liz Lemon than a Martha Stewart. I took a Wilton cake decorating class last fall in which I improved my skills by maybe 5%, tops.)
But there’s no better way to unwind than by mixing up a cake from scratch.
Here were my 5 favorite cakes from the past year, with links to the recipes. All of these received D’s seal of approval, and I’d highly recommend each one. (I prioritize flavor over form, so I promise they’ll pique your taste!)
1. Baked flan
Flan is *so* easy, guys – it requires pretty much the same involvement as assembling a cake from a box mix. It also is full of all kinds of things you probably don’t want to know about (example: sweetened condensed milk. So good, but soooooo bad.)
I tried out this recipe from One Chopping Board, and it truly is the world’s best flan.
My advice? Make sure to plan ahead, since it will need to be refrigerated for hours and hours. On the flip side, it’s easy to make ahead for a party, since there’s no concern with the cake drying out.
2. Julia Child’s Chocolate Almond Cake
After seeing the movie Julie and Julia, I went through a Julia Child obsession. I immediately bought her cookbook (The Art of French Cooking) and, being a vegetarian at the time, attempted all of the dessert recipes, since that’s basically the extent of French vegetarian dishes.
I’ve made this cake over and over since then, and the recipe has never failed me. I use fancy dark chocolate (it makes a significant difference) and a shot of espresso, and I follow the instructions to a T. If you don’t have the cookbook (which you obviously should), here’s a blog post with the full recipe.
I mean, that chocolate ganache… I can’t even.
3. Marble Swirl Pound Cake
In my family, each of us has “our” cake. My cake is carrot cake with cream cheese frosting (YUMMMMMMM). My mom’s cake is cheesecake. You get the idea.
Since my dad was visiting us in Houston during his birthday last December, I felt compelled to bake him a cake. And with fond memories of birthdays growing up, I set out to make him a marble pound cake, which is his fave.
Pound cake is a very tricky cake. There’s a fine line between dense cake and a dry, spongy crumb. I’ll be honest, I’ve made some marble cakes in the past that I haven’t been too proud of. But this recipe didn’t disappoint.
You know what’s even better than chocolate swirl pound cake? Chocolate swirl pound cake with a glass of milk. Go try it.
4. Flourless Chocolate Mousse Cake
If I were stranded in a dessert, I’d take this with me. Even if I developed some terrible gluten allergy, I could still feast on this rich, perfect cake. I’ll be honest – this one involved a lot of prep time, and there’s a lot of technical baking skills involved (creating a waterbath – that was a first for me! I’m still impressed that I didn’t accidentally drown my cake). But all that prep is very much worthwhile. I served the cake with fresh raspberries, but it would be great with any fruit – next time I’ll try strawberries or candied orange peel.
Here’s the recipe. You’re welcome.
5. Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake
I am a terrible blogger and didn’t photograph this one. Instead, the stock photo from Myrecipes.com will have to suffice.
I went a little overboard on making desserts for Thanksgiving 2014 (see above RE: baking as a stress outlet). In the end, I think I made 4 pies, as well as this aptly seasonal cheesecake. This one was the biggest hit – everyone went crazy for the smooth pumpkin cake and the praline topping. I fully intend to start a new pumpkin cheesecake Thanksgiving tradition.
Sometimes the community recipe websites like Allrecipes.com and Epicurious are the very best place to find a reliable recipe – I love reading everyone’s reviews and weighing different substitution options and cook times. This one is a perfect example of a shared recipe done right.
So, tell me – what’s your go-to, favorite cake?