Friday, September 17

Cake It Easy

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Sometimes keeping it simple is the best route — especially with cakes. Ready… set… bake!

Some words of wisdom emerged during this past year: In hard times, give yourself a break. Do easy things.

Enter the lowly sheet cake. Sharing a homemade treat is a sure, simple way to show you care, and there’s no homemade concoction with as little risk as a moist, delicious sheet cake. Currently, baking shows feature 20-layer “showstoppers” flecked with gold leaf. They’re as difficult to transport — even from one table to another — as astronauts through space.

Choose an easier path. Choose a simple sheet cake, one that remains in its baking pan (disposable aluminum is an option) and can be transported without incident on the floorboard of your vehicle’s back seat. Birthday cakes are just as special, and candles blow out just as delightfully on a sheet cake as on a professional custom cake sheathed in fondant roses. Your sheet cake will cost a lot less, too.

Cola Cake
  • 1 cup vanilla or cherry cola
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1¾ cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup unsweetened dark cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1½cups miniature marshmallows
  • Cola Frosting (recipe follows)
Cola Frosting
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • ⅓ cup vanilla or cherry cola
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened dark cocoa
  • 1 (16-ounce) package confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 13-by-9-inch baking dish and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the cola and buttermilk. Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter at medium-low speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the sugar and beat until well blended, another minute. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Fold in the extract.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cocoa and baking powder. Reduce the mixer speed to low and alternately add the flour mixture and the cola mixture to the batter. Begin and end with the flour mixture, blending well so the batter is smooth. Fold in the marshmallows.
  4. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in the pan on a wire rack. Pour the Cola Frosting over the warm cake. Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing and serving.
Cola Frosting
  1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter, cola and cocoa. Whisk until the butter completely melts and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the sugar and extract. Stir until smooth.
Chocolate Caramel Cake
  • 1 (1-pound) package caramels, unwrapped
  • ½ cup evaporated milk
  • 1 (18.25-ounce) package devil’s food or dark chocolate cake mix
  • 1 (4-serving) package chocolate instant pudding mix
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips, divided
  • 1¾ cups chopped pecans, divided
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  1. Place the caramels and milk in a saucepan over low heat. Stir frequently until melted. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, sour cream, oil and water. Mix at medium speed for 2 minutes. Spread half the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and carefully pour the warm caramel mixture evenly over the top, being careful to keep it away from the edge. Sprinkle with half the chocolate chips and 1 cup of the pecans. Carefully spread the remaining batter over the top. Bake 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, place the remaining chocolate chips and butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until smooth and melted. Spread evenly over the cooled cake and sprinkle with the remaining pecans. Cool completely before slicing and serving.
Peach Cake
  • 1 (11.3-ounce) can peach nectar, divided
  • 1 (3-ounce) box orange or peach instant gelatin dessert
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ⅓ cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 (15.25-ounce) box white cake mix
  • 2 cups powdered sugar plus more for garnish
  • Fresh, frozen (thawed) or drained canned peaches for garnish
  1. In a 2-cup glass measure, add 1 cup of the nectar and microwave on high for 30 seconds. If not boiling, microwave another 30 seconds. Stir in the gelatin and set aside to cool for 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, coat a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with cooking spray and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a mixing bowl, stir together the oil, applesauce and eggs. Add the cooled gelatin and mix well. On low speed, fold in the cake mix. Only mix until blended and the mix disappears … do not overmix. Transfer to the prepared pan and bake 25–27 minutes or until a tester or toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a couple of clinging crumbs.
  3. While the cake bakes, stir together the remaining nectar (should be between ⅓ and not quite ½cup) and powdered sugar until smooth. Immediately after removing the cake from the oven, use an ice pick to poke holes all though the cake. Slowly pour the glaze over the top, allowing it to soak into the cake. Set aside to cool completely. Sprinkle with more powdered sugar before serving. Serve with fruit if desired.
Caramel Apple Sheet Cake
  • 2½cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups thinly sliced Golden Delicious apples
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  1. Lightly grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine 2 cups of the granulated sugar, eggs and oil. Beat until well blended.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Gradually add to the egg mixture with the mixer speed reduced to low. Gently stir in the apples and pecans.
  4. Spread into the prepared pan. Place in a cold oven and set the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake 55 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.
  5. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the remaining granulated sugar, brown sugar, butter and milk. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes. Stir in the extract. Cool about 10 minutes and pour over the cooled cake. Let stand at least 10 minutes before serving.



Take the temperature of your oven. Use an oven thermometer to make sure the temperature you have set is the actual temperature. If the temperature is too high, your cake’s edges will overbrown, and the center can be underdone. If it is too low, the cake may fall, or the bottom can be soggy.

Always preheat the oven for at least 15 minutes prior to baking.

Leave the oven door closed until the minimum baking time has elapsed. Then start testing for doneness. Not only does opening the door allow heat to escape, it causes the oven’s heat source to cycle on and provide too much heat at once.

If you don’t own a cake tester, an uncooked spaghetti noodle works just as well.

Never use warped or bent pans, or you will have uneven results.

Ask Chef Tammy

Email your cooking questions to Tammy Algood:

Laura would like to know how long it takes to soften butter. “I have dessert recipes that frequently call for it, but I never know exactly how long it takes to properly soften,” she writes.

Laura: Straight from the refrigerator, butter will usually soften to room temperature in about 30 minutes. That can vary slightly depending on the temperature of your kitchen. Test it by gently pressing your index finger on top of the stick. If the indentation remains but the stick of butter still holds its shape, it is perfectly softened. That means it will incorporate the maximum amount of air, which is needed for light, tender desserts. Skip the microwave for softening because it can melt too quickly and unevenly.

Lily is wondering if she needs to spend the extra money on a stand mixer or if a hand mixer is just as good. “I don’t do a lot of baking but want to start even though my budget is tight,” she writes.

Lily: Heavy-duty stand mixers are the most powerful but also have the higher price tag. Less powerful stand and hand mixers are in the middle price-wise, and lower wattage hand mixers are at the bottom. If I were you, I would concentrate on the middle range of the spectrum. That matches your budget but also gives you a product that will hold up beautifully. I use my stand mixer much more than my hand mixer, but if storage space is an issue, a hand mixer is just fine. Good hand mixers usually have five speeds or more and come with extra attachments.


About Author

Tammy Algood develops for The Tennessee Magazine recipes that feature farm-fresh Tennessee food. Those fresh, local ingredients will always add cleaner, more flavorful foods to your table. We recommend visiting local farms and farmers markets to find the freshest seasonal produce. For more information about our recipes, contact Algood at

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