The Community Kitchen

Where foodie friends come together

Cake before dinner…are we real adults yet?

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A place never quite feels like home until I’ve cooked for people there.  Dinner parties have been discussed with a lot of different people here, but (and this is probably best for all of us), the size of my apartment has prevented me from inviting over far too many people and then not feeding them until midnight.  Apparently, however, nothing has kept me from not reading a recipe carefully enough.  This is why, last night, we made not one but two pasta sauces, plus a birthday cake.  They were all wins.

The cake happened because one of our classmates Ben was planning a birthday party…a middle school themed birthday party…and several of us were discussing said birthday party a few nights ago.  Another classmate Laura (who showed up to a picnic last week with my very favorite cookies, from The Best RecipeI immediately knew we’d be friends) asked Ben whether anyone was baking him a cake.  His reply was “not to my knowledge.”  Neither Laura nor I is willing to accept a cakeless birthday situation.  Her face lit up with possibility and I proclaimed, far too loudly, “Laura!  You already have the cookbook with the very best cake recipe in the world in it!” and smacked my hand across the table far too energetically.  Ben being a self-proclaimed non-sweet-eater, we didn’t even have to worry about suiting the cake to his liking.  Still, I stand by my assertion that this recipe is the Best in the World.

Obviously, where there’s cake there must also be dinner.  Laura and I invited our other friends Kara and Kristin, and with a couple of bottles of wine, lots of Alanis Morisette (in the spirit of preparing for Ben’s middle school party), and my three culinary muses (America’s Test Kitchen, Lidia, and Deb), my apartment was christened.

We started out with The Best Recipe:  classic white layer cake with butter frosting and raspberry-almond filling.  I know, white cake sounds boring.  But this cake is delicately textured, moist, and flavored with almond (as all white cakes should be).  A bit of raspberry jam and almonds between the layers add just the right touch of tang and texture to complement the fluffy frosting.  Also, Laura brought her A game in the form of homemade raspberry jam.  We embellished the cake with almonds around the outside and a big, bold “Ben,” writ large in jelly.  Who needs a pastry bag when you’ve got a pinky finger and a butter knife?

While the cakes were baking, we turned to Lidia’s Simple Tomato Sauce recipe, which I apparently hadn’t read closely enough (or remembered well enough) to realize that it needs to simmer for an hour and 45 minutes.  Not to worry, Deb came to the rescue with a 10-minute tomato and almond pesto sauce that did not disappoint.  Good thing I’d visited the Ann Arbor farmer’s market that morning and had a bunch of basil and some last summer tomatoes in the arsenal.  I had feta and walnuts rather than pecorino and almonds, but that worked out fine.  The great thing about living in a studio is, my apartment still smells amazing from the basil, tomato, and almond deliciousness.

And without further ado, the recipes.  If you want The Best Recipe’s full discourse on why things absolutely must be mixed in the order and amounts prescribed, you’ll have to buy the book.  It is too much to type here.  But really you should buy the book anyway.


1 cup milk, room temperature

1/4 cup egg whites (about 6 large), room temperature

2 teaspoons almond extract

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/4 cups plain cake flour

1 3/4 cups sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened.


1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 pound (4 cups) confectioners sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon milk

1 pinch salt


1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds, toasted and chopped coarse

1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam


  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.  Generously grease two 9-inch round cake pans and cover pan bottoms with rounds of parchment or wax paper.  Grease and flour lined pans.
  2. Pour milk, egg whites, and extracts into 2-cup glass measure, and mix with fork until well blended.
  3. Mix cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of electric mixer at slow speed.  Add butter; continue beating at slow speed until mixture resembles moist crumbs, with no powdery ingredients remaining.
  4. Add all but 1/2 cup of milk mixture to crumbs and beat at medium speed for 1 1/2 minutes.  Add remaining 1/2 cup of milk mixture and beat 30 seconds more.  Stop mixer and scrape sides of bowl.  Return mixture to medium speed and beat 20 seconds longer.
  5. Divide batter evenly between two prepared cake pans; spread batter to pan walls and smooth tops.  Arrange pans at least 3 inches from the oven walls and 3 inches apart, and bake 23-25 minutes, until knife or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  6. Let cakes rest in pans for 3 minutes.  Loosen from sides of pans with a knife, and invert onto greased cake racks.  Let cool completely, about 1 1/2 hours.


  1. Beat butter, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, milk, and salt in bowl of electric mixer at slow speed until sugar is moistened.  Increase speed to medium; beat, stopping to scrape down bowl, until creamy and fluffy.  Avoid overbeating, or frosting will be too soft to pipe.


  1. Before assembling cake, set aside 3/4 cup frosting for decoration.  Spread small dab of frosting in center of cake plate to anchor cake, and set down one cake layer.  Combine 1/2 cup remaining frosting with almonds and spread over first layer.  Carefully spread jam on top, then cover with second cake layer.  Spread frosting over top and sides of cake.  Pipe reserved frosting around perimeter of cake or top.  (We spread slivered almonds around the outside of the cake).
  2. If you have occasion to take this cake to a middle school birthday party, you should probably be wearing overalls, clogs, overly branded outerwear, and pigtails:

LIDIA’S SIMPLE TOMATO SAUCE (From Lidia’s Family Table)


  1. 8 cups (two 35-ounce cans) canned San Marzano or other Italian plum tomatoes, with juices.
  2. 1 large onion, chopped in small pieces
  3. 1 medium carrot, chopped in small pieces
  4. 1 inner rib celery, chopped in small pieces
  5. 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  6. 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  7. 2 cups water
  8. 2 bay leaves
  9. 1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
  10. 1/2 teaspoon honey (optional)


  1. Put the tomatoes through a food mill, or a colander or sieve, set over a bowl.  If you’re sieving the tomatoes, push the flesh through, scraping against the sieve to extract all the pulp and juice.
  2. Put chopped celery, onion, and carrot in the food processor and pulse several times, until you have very finely chopped small shreds.
  3. Pour the oil into the sauce pot, stir in the chopped vegetables, and set over medium-high heat.  Sprinkle on the salt.  Cook for 3 minutes or so, stirring frequently, as the vegetables start to sizzle and soften; don’t let them brown.
  4. Pour the milled tomatoes and juices into the pan, and stir with the vegetables.  Rince out the bowl and the tomato cans with the water, and pour this into the saucepan as well.  Stir in the bay leaves, honey, and pepper flakes, turn up the heat, cover, and bring the sauce to a boil, stirring and checking it frequently.
  5. Adjust the heat to maintain an active summer, with lots of small bubbles all over the sauce. Cover and cook for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Remove the cover; raise the heat so the sauce is still bubbling energetically and gradually reducing.  Cook for another hour or so, stirring frequently to make sure nothing’s sticking to the bottom of the pot.  Turn down the heat as the sauce thickens (and if the bubbles are bursting out of the pot).  Taste for salt near the end of cooking, and add more if needed.  When the sauce has reduced by about a quarter and is concentrated but still pourable, remove from the heat.
  7. Let the sauce cool; remove the bay leaves.  Allow the flavors to mellow for an hour or two.  Use however much sauce you need immediately; refrigerate or freeze the rest.


Deb will give you better, more entertaining, baby-anecdote-filled instructions.


Written by parrishb

September 22, 2010 at 12:02 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. that first picture makes my mouth water 🙂 congrats on christening the apartment with a successful dinner party!


    September 22, 2010 at 12:31 AM

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