Do you ever just need chocolate cake? As in, have to have it, nothing fancy, old fashioned, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cake? Yes, you understand. I knew you would. I could tell you I baked a cake in honor of our granddaughter's birthday today (she is six years old!), but that wouldn't be entirely true. I baked a cake for me, because I needed chocolate cake. Once again, I adapted a recipe sent to me by a reader a few years ago, and I baked the cake in the beautiful ceramic Bundt pan she made for me. This cake has never let me down; in fact, it always cheers me up, and it will do the same for you. If you wish, mix a simple glaze from confectioners sugar and a few tablespoons of cold coffee, and drizzle it all over the top.
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Last week I went to the market with a shopping list for my weekend cooking, and spied an incredibly beautiful bottle -- bottle! -- of buttermilk from my favorite Vermont dairy on the shelf. It wasn't on the list, and I didn't have a recipe in mind, but I had to have that buttermilk. Right away I thought of cake, one a bake-o-phobe like me could pull off. This orange buttermilk Bundt cake, rich and creamy and large enough for a crowd, gets its zing from orange zest in the batter, and orange juice in the glaze. If you love frosting, bake the cake in a couple of round cake pans, and slather the layers with orange buttercream. I like it simple, so I shaved some additional orange zest on the warm sugar glaze, and it was perfect. One tip: If you're using a decorative Bundt pan, be sure to spray every nook and cranny with baking spray. I had a few small mishaps in the unmolding, but a bit of extra glaze covered them nicely.
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At 7:15 in the morning, I fired up the mixer to make the batter for this cake. At 7:28, it went into the oven. At 7:45, I finished cleaning up the flour, sugar, butter and chocolate that had sprayed around the kitchen when I accidentally switched the mixer to high speed too soon. Yes, friends, no matter what time of day I bake, and no matter how much coffee I've had in preparation, baking is always a bit of a misadventure. No matter, this mocha sour cream cake is worth the mess, and a last-minute sprinkling of confectioners sugar on top right before you serve hides any little bits that stick to the pan (I'm sure this never happens to you, right?). Even though I baked it, and tasted it, at breakfast time, it's more of a dessert or tea-time cake, topped with a dollop of whipped cream and served with a rich cup of coffee.
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If you drive around Rhode Island in the summertime, you'll spot a green-and-white Del's Lemonade truck, emblazoned with a bright yellow lemon, on every corner, at every Little League game, alongside every public beach. Hundreds of college students earn tuition money by driving those little trucks, and serving up the famous iced lemonade to thirsty athletes and happy children. In the off season, you can buy Del's in the supermarket, in a cute plastic bucket filled with packets of the powdered mix, and that's the mix I use in the glaze for this lemon poppyseed cake. Sounds crazy, I know, but combined with real lemon juice, powdered lemonade adds a bit of fun, and an extra pop of lemon, to the icing. (You can use your favorite lemonade mix if you don't have Del's.) The basic sour cream cake recipe comes from Lorna, a reader who sent it to me along with a handmade ceramic cake pan. The cake isn't fussy, which suits my lack of natural baking ability, and it freezes well. Serve it with coffee or tea or -- why not? -- a glass of champagne.
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When my husband Ted, Cousin Martin and I visited Trinidad many years ago, we spent a week as houseguests of Kathleen, who lived in Arima, an Afro-Caribbean community in the center of the island. An amazing cook, she introduced us to all of the Trinidadian specialty dishes, washed down with her potent homemade ginger beer. It was the first time I experienced ginger in such a vibrant form, and I've never forgotten that taste. True Caribbean gingerbread overflows with the strong flavors of molasses and fresh ginger root, making it both sticky and spicy, and in no way resembles the gingerbread made from a box mix. I'm not usually drawn to dishes with a strong ginger flavor, but I ate a large square of this gingerbread. And then I ate another, and a third one after that, and Ted did, too. Kathleen would approve.
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