Cake is expected to do many jobs, fill many roles. Cakes make happy people happier. Cakes make sad people feel better. We celebrate with cake and we mourn with cake. Cake is up to each and every challenge. Bundt cakes in particular have a well-deserved, cozy reputation for being welcomed into almost any social situation. Abundant, moist, simply presented, who wouldn’t love to see a glorious bundt cake on their buffet?
Baking is a meditation. I first practiced intentional baking when making wedding cakes, stirring in good wishes for a happy life together for the bridal couple. While mixing up a birthday cake, I like to imagine a year’s worth of good things coming to the birthday boy or girl. It makes sense to me to reflect on the life of the person I am honoring while baking cakes as part of memorial service.
In the perfect world, only elderly folks who have lived long, fulfilling lives would pass on and they would pass on only in wintertime when the mood lends itself to solemnity and one wishes themselves in a cozy kitchen baking comforting cakes to raise the spirit of the bereaved.
Real life, of course, is seldom as well orchestrated as one would wish. People die too young, in the heat of summer, when almost nothing can make you feel better. But even in the heat, sweets are required and must be baked.
As a dedicated year-round baker, I have evolved strategies for keeping the heat mostly endurable. The best time to bake in summer is as early as possible, say five o'clock in the morning. I measure out all my ingredients the night before, organize mixing bowls and baking pans, making sure everything is ready to go at the crack of dawn. In the morning, I preheat the oven just before it’s needed. Most modern ovens preheat more quickly than in the prescribed 15 minutes. If I’m baking a series of recipes, I try to stagger my mixing, scheduling one cake to be coming out of the oven just as the next one is going in. I also put a big box fan right in my kitchen doorway to help move that hot air. My last resort is to run over to Suzi's house, crank up her modern air-conditioning, and bake in cool comfort. I recommend finding a Suzi of your own but unfortunately, she’s one in a billion, and she already has a best friend, sorry.
Recently, I took five favorite bundts with me for a memorial reception. The grief-stricken need tea or coffee and something sweet and uncomplicated to momentarily take them away from the suffering at hand.
Even at a sad event, we want the food tables to be attractive (though not blingy or ostentatious.) As I’ve said before, varying heights using cake pedestals works elegantly. When making a buffet display of multiples of the same thing, it’s up to the baker to differentiate the items with visual clues. I’m fortunate to have a variety of shaped bundt pans which is one easy way to do that. Finishing with different methods is another. In the five cakes I made, one had powdered sugar sieved simply over the top, one had a thick chocolate icing, one had a soaking syrup which left a slight sheen, one was topped with coconut, and one had a powdered sugar glaze.
Unsurprisingly, the favorite cake turned out to be our Lemon Yogurt Cake. The recipe began life as a bundt cake before being turned into our most requested wedding cake flavor. It is featured in our wedding menu and planning guide here: http://www.myteaplanner.com/lemon-yogurt-wedding-cake.html Lemon juice and zest contribute to a huge lemon flavor while butter and yogurt keep it tender and moist. It’s soaked with lemon syrup before being glazed with a lemon icing.
Right behind the lemon cake, though, was one of my favorites, the rum cake, made with a cake mix, instant pudding, and the most heavenly glaze made of spiced rum, butter, and sugar. It’s hard not to keep sampling the glaze as you brush it on the cake to make sure it is really as delicious as you thought. The recipe was extremely popular in the 1970’s when a wave of cocktail-themed cakes broke in magazines around the county. Most were kind of strange (Harvey Wall banger cake, anyone?) but the rum cake is so divine it has remained a treasured recipe in most recipe boxes. I bake several as gifts at holiday time. It keeps extremely well and ships, snuggly packed in a tin, flawlessly.
The prettiest cake when sliced was the Cinnamon Apple Crown cake which I adapted from my Nordic Ware Bundt cook booklet. One batter is divided so the light colored batter goes first into the pan then the remaining batter is enhanced with apple butter and apple pie spice. The cake bakes up a delicate vanilla on top (the crown) with a darker, spicy bottom. It would be right at home on a harvest dessert table. Though I served it with just a dusting of powdered sugar, many different glazes and icing would be yummy.
Bringing up the rear in cake slices eaten, were Ellen’s Coconut Cake and a Dark Chocolate Bundt. I think the coconut cake suffered by comparison to some of the other bundts by way of height: I baked it in a shallower pan so it didn’t soar to the majestic heights of a cake baked in a deeper pan. I have learned my lesson. But as a mother best loves the wayward child, I chose the coconut cake to sample and it was so good! It stays moist via the coconut syrup drizzled over top, which also adds to a triple dose of coconut. This coconut cake is still the best I’ve ever had. It is part of our American Southern Tea menu, here: http://www.myteaplanner.com/an-american-southern-tea.html
The Dark Chocolate Bundt cake’s lack of popularity is a bit more puzzling. Usually, chocolate anything is the first to be gobbled up. This one was very attractive with a thick, shiny chocolate glaze and deep chocolate flavor. Too deep, perhaps? This was no mild, supermarket affair but a cake with a super deep chocolatey flavor. Probably too dark for the heat of summer. Just pleasing myself, I would not have put a chocolate cake on the menu. Yet, as I’m creating a menu for any group of people, I remember Rose's advice that people will be disappointed if there is no chocolate. And we would never want to disappoint our chocolate-lover friends. Just to be on the safe side, I won’t include the recipe here. If any of you have the perfect chocolate Bundt recipe, do pass it along.
I monkeyed around with this recipe to make it a little spicier. The original calls for cinnamon and apple sauce but I always like the extra kick of apple butter. You can use whichever you have on hand.
- 3 cups flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
- 1 cup milk
- 3 eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup oatmeal
- ½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons apple pie spice
- ½ apple butter
Preheat oven to 350°F
Special equipment: Bundt pan, sprayed with Baker's Joy or heavily greased and floured, hand or stand mixer, silicone scraper, cooling rack, sieve if using powdered sugar to finish
- In mixer bowl, combine first eight ingredients on low speed, scraping bowl as needed. Beat three minutes at medium speed.
- Spoon half the batter into prepared pan.
- To remaining batter, add oats, brown sugar, apple pie spice, and apple butter. Mix thoroughly.
- Spoon batter over first half of batter in pan. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until cake tests done when pick inserted into cake comes clean.
- Cool in pan 15 minutes then turn out onto cooling rack to cool completely. Sieve powdered sugar over cake just before serving, if desired.
This is my interpretation of the classic Bacardi rum cake recipe.
- 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts or sliced almonds
- 1 yellow or white cake mix (I’ve used 15 ounce to 19 ounce sized mixes with equal success)
- 1 box (small size) vanilla instant pudding
- 4 eggs
- ½ cup cold water
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- ½ cup spiced rum (I use Sailor Jerry brand)
- ½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
- ¼ cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ cup spiced rum
Special equipment: Bundt pan, sprayed with Baker's Joy or heavily greased and floured, hand or stand mixer, silicone scraper, cooling rack, microwave-save 3 or 4 cup bowl, wooden or metal skewer, pastry brush
Makes 1 Bundt cake, serves from 10 to 20, depending on serving size
- Sprinkle nuts over bottom of prepared pan.
- In mixer bowl, combine all cake ingredients on low speed, scraping bowl as needed. Beat three minutes at medium speed.
- Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake one hour. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until cake tests done when pick inserted into cake comes clean. Cool in pan 15 minutes then turn out onto cooling rack.
- In microwave-safe bowl, soften butter for 30 seconds. Add water and sugar, stirring to combine.
- Microwave on full power for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring every minute, until mixture is combined and syrupy. Stir in rum.
- Poke holes in cake with skewer. Brush and spoon glaze over cake. It seems like quite a bit of glaze but just keep at it and the cake will eventually absorb all the glaze.
This is the recipe that goes with the photograph at the beginning of this blog. I don’t usually take photos of my own bundt cakes because, really, each looks pretty much like the next. This recipe looked good and Nordic Ware recipes can generally be trusted.