Making Vanilla Cake

I just finished reading Garlic and Sapphires, Ruth Reichl‘s account of being the NYT food critic (yeah, it’s been out forever but I’m late to a lot of stuff). I loved how she included recipes instead of photos, so you can make the food she’s talking about. There’s a point in the memoir where she is tiring of being the critic and assuming all these disguises, and she makes a vanilla cake with her young son Nicky and his friends. It sounded so good that my son and I just had to try it. (I swear, I drooled so much while I read this book. It was worse than seeing photos). She calls it Nicky’s Vanilla Cake and because Nicky and his friends “creamed the sugar into butter, pounding fiercely with wooden spoons until they had achieved a perfectly smooth emulsion,” I had my son make it without the electric mixer, too. Just his arms and a wooden spoon. He got tired, but never complained. I told him his right arm would get super big.


He did all the measuring and mixing himself. I helped him with the oven part.

The cake turns out very dense, like a pound cake; I guess that’s why you use the angel food or bundt pan. It’s very moist. (Mmm, two sticks of butter again…)


A bit…a lot…of homemade whipped cream went on top.


Son was so proud of himself. He loves the show CAKE BOSS and immediately hatched a plan for his own bakery. (We all have jobs. My title is “Oven Handler.”) And, of course, for baking more cakes by himself. After this one’s gone, we’re doing chocolate.

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup sour cream
2 Tbsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an angel-food or bundt cake pan.
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition.
Mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together, and add this to the butter mixture, mixing well. Add the sour cream and mix well; then mix in the vanilla. (The batter will be thick.)
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden. Let the pan cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Then turn the cake out of the pan, and leave it on the rack until cool.


Hawaiian Cupcakes and Cakes

I have to do serious research. It has come to my attention that one of my characters in the new story I’m working on insists on being a cupcake baker. This means one thing: eating lots of cupcakes.

I found Cake Couture Cupcakes only a couple of miles away from me. It’s like Sprinkles, only BETTER. Yes, you heard me right. These cupcakes are smaller, but moister. The frosting is buttercream and delicious. I had their peanut butter fudge, which was a peanut butter frosting over fudgey goodness. My favorite combo is always peanut butter and chocolate, but most of the baked items or ice cream tastes like an idea of peanut butter, not actual peanut butter. This tasted like real peanut butter and was capped with a sliver of peanut brittle.

The store is tucked away in an nondescript strip mall near the Holy Trinity Church, which is how I found it. I think the community’s called Aina Haina; I could be wrong, though. Just when you think the store is closed and you can’t find it, you have to go back into a little nook near a surf shop and an ice cream shop, and there it is.

The cupcakes are attended by beautiful, thin young women wearing black, as though they are ready to put Chanel makeup on you instead of selling you a cupcake. Each cake is nestled in a wooden holder inside the counter; the store is kept cool and closed off, the counter seems to be open to the back.

Ethan had a vanilla cupcake and Kaiya had a cookies n cream. I did not get to taste either because they plowed through so fast. I naively thought that they would only eat half, which has been the case at every other cupcake store we’d ever been to. Not so. These were perfectly sized and not too sweet.

Yet, this cupcake store did not satisfy my character. I am interested in Hawaiian flavors used in baking. They’re everywhere here. At Foodland, they sell passion fruit cake; cake with guava filling; and Waialua cake, which as far as I can determine is a Hawaiian coffee. Gotta research that.

Anyway, I searched some more and found what I was looking for: Cake Lava. Cake Lava is a specialty bakery in Kailua, combining delicious tropical flavors with gorgeousness. Each cake is a spectacle, and their flavor combos sound divine.  How do they come up with their flavors? I’m particularly intrigued by “Broke da Mouth,” described as:

Vibrant colored mango cake with mango Li hing mui curd and cream filling.
Li hing mui is a sweet and salty dried plum powder found throughout Hawaii.
Another cakelava original. So Local, this cake will broke da mouth!

This is what I’m talking about. This is what I wanted for my character.

I e-mailed the proprietors and got a callback the following day. On Sunday, I get to go check them out, ask them questions, do research for my next novel.  I can hardly wait!  Of course, I shall not take any pics nor reveal any of their secret recipes; but I do hope to get a sense of the work that goes into designing flavors and the general baking process.