Apple Spice Cake with Walnut Praline Topping.

What’s girl to do?

Let me be more specific.  What’s a baking girl to do?  Well, first off, get out of the oven.

Alright.  I’ll be serious.  So seriously, let’s talk buttermilk.  It’s tangy, thick and frothy.  It makes the best salad dressing, and the absolute premier biscuits.  But the thing about buttermilk, it comes in big quarts.  Or at least, I bought a big quart.  Even after the week of salad followed by the week of biscuits—which really, was a biscuit filled weekend, goat cheese filled anything doesn’t last a weekthere was still buttermilk.  So back to the top.  What’s a girl to do?

As it turns out, the answer is easy, if not utterly predictable.  Ask the question, receive cake.  Apple Spice Cake with Walnut Praline Topping.  If the spicy, moist apple cake doesn’t convince you, just take a moment, and think.  Think about a warm, sticky toffee flavored nut topping, dripping over the top and sides of a loaf of cake.  Imagine a slice of said cake, and a little extra walnut praline topping.

Now ask, what are you going to do?

Recipe on the following page.

Georgetown (Baked and Wired).

If last week’s testimony to Georgetown coffee shop and bakery Baked and Wired didn’t convince you to visit, if the idea of banana cupcakes topped with peanut butter frosting and chocolate drizzle somehow didn’t justify a leisurely stroll, Metro ride, drive, train trip, plane flight, sail…let me try again.

Yes, it may takes upwards of ten minutes for espresso drinks, yes there is never anywhere to sit and yes, sometimes the lines are extreme.  But, it’s worth it.  That’s what I’ve concluded.  While, during the ten minutes after you place your espresso order, it may seem like torture, caffeine-deprived torture, once that perfectly capped, wet-foam drink is in your hands, in your stomach, poured over your head or drizzled onto your eye if eyeballing is the game du jour, the wait is worth it.  Always.

On the plus side, if you go during normal hours on the weekdays, for a mid-morning, lunchtime, mid-afternoon or casual evening visit, there are generally nominal or no lines.  (Though the requisite ten or so minutes still happen. Good espresso takes time, a sentiment that is rapidly becoming the ultimate Catch-22 of my short life.  I desperately need it to wake up and function, but I have to go, purchase and wait.)

In a town that seems to run on good espresso, with Dupont’s Dolcezza and Filter and Chinatown’s Chinatown Coffee Company rounding my top favorite espresso shops, Baked and Wired has the additional plus of a lovely pastry case.

Never a bad thing.

Elvis Cupcakes [sans bacon].

There is a coffee shop in Washington that is obsessive about the perfect espresso drink.  Actually, there are many such places in Washington, shops where not only the coffee is deep, slightly bitter and so perfectly strong, but the baristas freak out if there is even a smudge of grounds on the love of their lives, their reason for living—their precious espresso machines.  If you’re curious, you do very much want your cappuccino made by baristas who revere their espresso machines on the same level as children.  Shiny, steamy Italian children.

It’s totally normal.

But there’s a catch.  The absolute perfect cappuccino takes time and while the ten minutes it takes to prep the foam, brew the espresso and perfectly pour a wet foam top is absolutely worth it after the fact, let me tell you; waiting ten minutes for necessary caffeine is a trial.  This may seem extreme, but it’s true.  If there is a hell on Earth, it’s the ten minute purgatory that stretches out between ordering a cappuccino at Baked & Wired and clutching the eight oz. cup of perfection in your hand.

Always, always worth it at the end of the road.  But in-between, I’m transformed into an un-caffeinated miniature gremlin. 

Thank god then, on the other side of the room is a table stacked with the most delicious of baked goods.  In the in-between, when the espresso bar is literally taunting you as the Baked and Wired baristas do their best to deliver espresso to the addicted masses, the baked bar on the other side of the shop is heaven.  Cupcakes—or Cake Cups as they affectionately call them (oh so hip*)—coffee cakes, brownies locked and loaded with an array of toppings, stuffed cookies, marshmallow bars, handpies…

There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.

Today, that light is the wonderful, ridiculous Elvis Cupcake, a riff on the Unporked Elvis at Baked and Wired.  A moist, light banana cake filled with chocolate fudge filling and topped with a luscious, velvety peanut butter frosting.  Chocolate drizzle and bacon optional.

Now, what do you say? BACON OPTIONAL?  I know, I know absolute blasphemy.  (Who knew this post would take such a theological air? Oops.)

Blame it on an unfortunate run-in with a dark chocolate, bacon pumpkin truffle last fall. But this Elvis Cupcake is so perfectly sweet and surprising with complementary banana, chocolate and peanut butter flavors, that I just couldn’t bring myself to add a bacon crumble.  Against the King’s wishes, but trust me, it can stand on its own.


Recipe on the following page.

New York (Two Little Red Hens).

There is a bakery on the Upper East Side of New York City where quite honestly, dreams come true.  If you’re slightly abnormal like me and spend time imagining baked goods, if pie and brownies dreams are at the forefront of your mind, then the Two Little Red Hens bakery on 86th street is quite honestly heaven.  Just imagine a homey, warm enclave on 2nd avenue, packed with tables, farm memorabilia and pastry cases.  Now add the most beautiful array of cakes frosted with explosions of lotus flowers, daisies, roses, irises, vines, sunflowers…I guarantee you’ve never seen anything so beautiful.  First time I’ve teared up in years.

On top of the most exquisite Brooklyn Blackout Cake or cupcake ever—moist and airy chocolate cake filled with luscious, velvety chocolate cream and topped with truffly, fudgy chocolate frosting and crumbled chocolate cookies crumbs for texture—there are any number of pastries, cookies and pies.  The Macadamia Nut Turtle Bar.  The Peacan Fudge Bar.  Lemon bars, apple pie, cinnamon buns, Linzer bars, cookies, cheesecakes…

There is a reason that lines frequently are out the door, even on cold February days.

Two Little Red Hens can be credited, in part, for the start of Bakelist.  It’s true, it really is.  Not that I’ll ever reach the bakery-echelons of the Yorkville establishment, but it doesn’t mean I can’t try.

For the train ride back from NYC to Washington, I had a little cupcake packed away.  And by little cupcake, I mean a relatively large cupcake that I consumed in front of many a jealous co-passenger.

Sucks for you, is all I have to say.  Should have gotten your own cupcake.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake with Mascarpone Frosting and Brittle.

Reminiscing about past cake is a terrible idea, mostly because cake memories are not nearly as good as cake-present.  Yeah, sure.  A recollection of how rich and luscious the chocolate ganache was is always nice, as is the thought of perfectly whipped, sweet frosting.  But come on.  I’d trade any remembrance of cake for, well, a slice of a cake.

So this Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake with Mascarpone Frosting and Brittle, this very cake of my dreams, only brings back fond recollections.  But then I get to thinking about how perfectly moist and peanuty the cake was, how it was filled with dark, silky ganache and a crunchy powder of peanut brittle, how it was frosted is alternatively sweet and tangy mascarpone whipped cream frosting and how on top were perfect fragments of that same sticky sweet brittle, and I curse my brain.  I try to shut it off, block the memories!  It’s helpless really.  I accepted long ago that for about 80 percent of the time, I’ll be thinking sweet nothings of pie, cake, cookies, ice cream and the occasional tart.  Most of the time it’s lovely, but every so often I catch myself thinking of dessert when I actually am quite hungry.

It does not help the situation.  At all.

Each component of this cake can stand on its own, but combined they create one of the most delicious (and traditional) flavor combinations in a new and luxurious kind of way.  Chocolate and peanut butter have never tasted this elegant.  Part of that can be attributed to what I’ve discovered is the General Rule of Deliciousness.

What is this rule, which, in general, makes everything delicious?  Oh well, I guess I share it with you.  For maximum deliciousness, the finishing touch has to be contrasting textures.  A little crunch in the filling of this cake is what brings it over the top.  The soft cake filled with the similarly textured smooth ganache filling is highlighted by the sweet crunch the peanut brittle adds to each layer.  That dissonant surprise sharpens the other textures and flavors.  It’s the General Rule of Deliciousness.  Try it out, in ice cream, cookies, muffins, anything.

But first, make this cake.

Recipe on the following page.

Chocolate Gateau.

While I can say, with absolute certainty, that I have never met a cake batter I didn’t like, there have been plenty of cakes post-oven that fall short of their liquid pre-cooked potential.  The disappointment is similar to that of a child just failing to reach their goals, and as the cake-parent, the post-bake is often times disheartening.  Leave it to the French then, to outdo my American cake-child—and yes, if you have realized, cakes are very, very similar to potential children in my mind, creepiness notwithstanding—and to create the most simple, elegant, and understated of chocolate cakes.

This Chocolate Gateau, which literally translates into ‘Chocolate Cake,’ is not the overblown three-storied filled and frosted cake monster typically found across the board in pastry cases and in those cute little pink and white cardboard boxes.  This is a single-layered cake, unfrosted, but richer and more decadent than any tower of cake could be.  The trick is in the egg whites.

The Gateau utilizes what is essentially a brownie base except in the last stage one beats the egg whites to stiff peaks and then folds them into the batter, creating a light and incredibly most cake.  It is a very fudgy, brownie-like cake, but it dances along the line of a soufflé.  It’s perfect, it really is.  Unfrosted and unadorned, I’d take it over any other cake.

As with all great recipes, this particular Chocolate Gateau didn’t really come with measurements.

Add 4-8 big spoonfuls of milk. (Note the doubling of quantity.)

Add 3-6 big spoonfuls of flour, and stir until right. (The exact ‘right.’)

However, a vague and cryptic recipe from a graceful French woman is more times than not it appears, the foundation for the most perfect cake.

Recipe on the following page.

Chocolate-Malt Cake.

I’ve only had one interaction with the Momofuku Empire, or two, but they happened in the same day, within the relatively same window of time as each other, and my stomach was most definitely still digesting what I had eaten at the Noodle Bar when I wandered into the Milkbar.  I mean, I was still very, very full.  So full in fact, that I could not finish the cake, ice cream, and two cookies I had ordered.  Ridiculous, I’m sure.

Regardless of my stomach’s apparent deficiencies and all-around disappointing showing when faced with a second lunch and a little dessert, the Milkbar was amazing.  Not in a culinary, wow those flavors!  Wow that technique kind of way.  In a different way, a wow, that never would have occurred to me. If one sat down and imagined all the things one has ever eaten, starting from the beginning of memory, chances are that your childhood flavors do not include celery root or Dungeness crab ravioli with a lobster and sweet corn sauce.  (Yes, delicious.)  Those taste memories would be of the more Fruit Loops, French Toast Crunch, Ding-Dong, and Hawaiian Sweet Roll variety—though in complete honesty my childhood was also studded with a love of veal with capers and Korean barbeque.

What Christina Tosi does at the Milkbar is take those lowbrow childhood memories, and cram them into cakes, cookies, pies, and ice cream.  The result is delicious.  It’s different from the tortes and mousses, but delicious nonetheless.  And Ovaltine in a cake?  It’s also just a little silly, enough so to induce giggles.