Rainbow Birthday Cake

rainbow birthday cakeHere’s a way to dress up a white cake for special occasions. The layers are colored and the frosting is white, so when slices are cut it’s the inside that stands out.

I was inspired by a picture I clipped from a magazine ages ago that showed four layers in graduating shades of blue. There was no recipe, if I recall — just the picture. But it was easy to copy using my existing recipes for white cake and buttercream frosting.

My son requested this cake for his birthday with four layers, each in one of our favorite colors. That was orange, green, red, and pink. I can foresee making this on holidays — shades of red and pink for Valentine’s Day, pastel colors for Easter, or red, white, and blue (maybe with another layer of white containing sprinkles?) for Independence Day.

The white cake recipe above yields two 9-inch round layers. I made the recipe twice to get four layers. Each time I made the recipe, I divided the batter evenly into two large measuring cups and tinted them with gel colors before pouring into the baking pans.

I also doubled the buttercream frosting recipe above.

Now, you’ll see from the picture that the cake is missing the red layer my son requested and has a brown one instead. That one counts as a lesson learned. I decided to use some red beet powder as a natural red food coloring — I had used it before to tint frosting — but this time, the cake turned out the color of whole wheat bread. I looked it up and it seems that the baking process, and maybe a reaction to the baking powder, turned the red beet powder brown. Oh, well. I know for next time.

A note on the frosting: For this cake, you want the colored layers to stand out, so you shouldn’t put a lot of frosting between them. Put just a small amount to act as a glue to hold the layers in place. The thin ribbon of white you’ll see between each layer when you cut the cake is also just enough to show off the colors.


Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake

Forget any thoughts of those cookie cakes at the mall, because the only thing they have in common with this recipe is the name. Rather than looking simply like one big cookie (as delicious as that sounds), this is a cookie in a cake pan — thick and chewy in the middle with a crispy, buttery straight-sided crust. The slices could even be eaten with forks. (But don’t do that. Cookies are too much fun to be eaten with utensils.)


The recipe comes from a recent issue of Southern Living magazine, where it was called a “skillet cookie,” baked in a cast-iron skillet. I swapped the skillet for a 10-inch springform pan, greased it well with butter, and followed the recipe as written.


If you ever want to serve cookies for dessert, this is how. And there will be no quibbling about who gets how many.

1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (4 oz.) butter, softened
1 large egg
3 Tbsp. whole milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups (about 9 oz.) all-purpose (plain) flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided

Preheat the oven to 325F (160C) degrees. Lightly coat a 10-inch springform pan with butter.

Beat brown sugar, granulated sugar, and butter with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add egg, milk, and vanilla, beating until bended.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Add to butter mixture gradually, beating at low speed until combined.


Add 1 cup of the chocolate chips, beating until combined.

Spread mixture evenly in prepared pan. Top with remaining 1/2 cup of chocolate chips.

Bake in preheated oven until golden and set, about 50 minutes. Let stand at least 15 minutes before cutting into wedges.

Cookie Monster Cake and Cupcakes

I made this cake for our son’s birthday as part of a Sesame Street-themed party. It was actually his “smush cake” — his own cake for grabbing and devouring and making a mess. The blue frosting got all over his hands and mouth and cheeks, which we all found fun and messy!

For the cake, I used this white cake in a 6-inch round pan. I also used one batch of buttercream frosting, tinted with numerous drops of blue food coloring (I lost count of how many drops I used, but it was around 20).

What I did first was make Cookie Monster’s eyes. I used a Wilton Sugar Sheet in black. It’s edible decorating paper and comes in all sorts of colors. You can punch out designs or make your own, then simply peel them off and stick it onto frosting. (I found it at Michael’s craft store, but you can also order them online).

I punched out two large dots of the sugar sheet using the wide circular end of a decorating tip for a frosting bag. I placed each dot on the bottom of a paper baking cup, peeled side up, right at the edge. Then I poured melted white chocolate on top, just enough to reach the edges of the cup, and let it cool. I used about 2 oz. of the chocolate, melted in the microwave for 30 seconds and then stirred by hand until it was fully melted.

After frosting the cake blue, I made Cookie Monster’s mouth with the black sugar sheet. I drew the mouth shape first on paper, then cut out the shape and put it over the cake to test what it looked like. I made several different cutouts until I got the shape and size I wanted. I put the paper on the sugar sheet and used the tip of a paring knife to cut around the paper. Then I carefully peeled the mouth shape off of the backing and laid it on top of the frosting. (Tip: Make a very large mouth. If it looks too large once it’s on the cake, you can always make it smaller by covering the edges with frosting.)

I then covered the cake in blue-tinted coconut flakes, sprinkling them over and lightly pressing them into the frosting. I left clear some space at the top for the eyes, so they could adhere to the frosting. I attached the now-hardened white chocolate eyes at the top edge, leaving part of them sticking out over the edge of the cake. I turned the black parts of the eyes in different directions to achieve Cookie Monster’s googly-eyed look.

Lastly, I put a “bitten” chocolate chip cookie on top of the black mouth. I used a knife to cut out a “bite” from the cookie, then laid the bitten cookie at the edge of the mouth and the bite of cookie inside the black to look like Cookie Monster was in the process of eating it. I had baked the cookies with Toll House pre-made cookie dough to save time. Whatever cookie you use, make sure the diameter of the cookie roughly matches the diameter of the eyes, or is even a tiny bit bigger, for the best dimensions.

To make the colored coconut flakes, put 1/2 cup of flakes in a zippered plastic bag. Dissolve a couple of drops of food coloring in 1/2 tsp. water, then add that to the bag, seal, and mash it around with your fingers until the coconut is evenly colored.


Buttercream Frosting

This fluffy frosting is great for decorating cakes and cupcakes. Easily add color with food coloring.

It comes from the Hummingbird Bakery in London, where tray after tray of colorful cupcakes begin tempting you as soon as you walk through the door. It’s a wonderful but dangerous place for any sweet tooth.

Makes enough to frost 12 cupcakes (double the recipe to frost an 8-inch cake)

250g/8 oz. icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar), sifted
80g/3 oz. unsalted butter, at room temperature
25ml/just under 2 Tbsp. milk
a couple of drops of vanilla extract

Beat the sugar and butter together in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) on medium-slow speed until the mixture comes together and is well mixed.

Turn the mixer to slow speed. Combine the milk and vanilla extract in a separate bowl, then add to the butter mixture a couple of tablespoons at a time.

Once all the milk has been incorporated, turn the mixer up to high speed. Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, at least 5 minutes. The longer the frosting is beaten, the fluffier and lighter it becomes.

If adding food coloring, add just a couple of drops at a time and mix well until you achieve the desired color.

White Cake

This is the perfect recipe for a cake you want to cover with frosting and decorate. It’s easy and delicious, but the flavor of the cake stays enough in the background so you can highlight the sweet frosting on top. (See this recipe for a good buttercream frosting here.)

I used this as the base for the Cookie Monster Cake. This recipe is for a double-layer 8- or 9-inch round cake. Halve the recipe for a single-layer cake of the same diameter, though I used half in a 6-inch round cake pan and it turned out well.

I clipped this recipe years ago from the newspaper. It said it won an award at the 1997 Boulder county fair for a woman named Jan Bentley. I feel I ought to give her credit for such a delicious creation!

2 1/4 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
4 egg whites
1 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375F/190C degrees. Grease and flour two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Blend in shortening with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

In a separate bowl, mix egg whites, milk, and vanilla. Add liquids slowly to the flour mixture and mix by hand, scraping the sides of bowl, until blended. Beat with the mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes.

Pour batter into prepared cake pans and bake 25-30 minutes until tops are golden and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (Don’t worry if the top is turning dark and you’re still waiting for the toothpick to come out clean, because you’ll slice off the top later.)

Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then remove and place on wire racks until cool completely, about 2 hours.

Apple Muffins

The fresh, fragrant apples of fall are often celebrated in great apple pies, but here’s another way to enjoy them. This is one of the first recipes I pasted in the “Cakes & Muffins” section of my cookbook 15 or so years ago, having found it in a brochure from the New York Apple Association. It’s now on the association’s website, along with lots of other apple recipes, descriptions of the various apple varieties, and even a link to some apple cider recipes. And, apparently, they’re still printing those brochures.

This recipe was invented by elementary school students in North Syracuse, New York, according to the association. I’ve changed just a few details.

The Official New York State Apple Muffin
Makes 20-24

1/2 cup walnuts or pecans
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. melted butter

2 cups flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
2 cups chopped apples (2 large or 3 small)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup butter, melted
4 oz. cream cheese, cut into small pieces
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 375F degrees. Prepare topping by mixing all ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.

For the muffins, combine the first seven ingredients in a bowl. Combine the rest in a separate bowl, then add the dry ingredients a little at a time. Stir until just combined; do not over-mix.

Portion the batter into 24 paper-lined muffin cups and sprinkle with topping. (If you want big muffins that slightly overflow the edges, fill only 20 cups.)

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

This cake turned out to be a big success — a straightforward recipe with delicious results and a rich chocolate flavor. As you can see, it was designed for Easter. The top ridge of the cake caves in, creating a base for a whipped topping that looks like a nest. Lay some candy eggs on top and you’ve got much more than a flourless chocolate cake — you have an Easter Egg Nest Cake.

This was a Nigella Lawson recipe I clipped from The New York Times eight years ago. I don’t tend to have a lot of luck with her recipes, but as I suspected, the recipe’s appearance in the Times meant it was a winner. I hope you have similar results.

Yield: 1 9-inch cake

For the cake:
8 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
8 oz. semi-sweet baking chocolate, melted
6 large eggs: 2 whole, 4 separated
1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

For the topping:
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 oz. semi-sweet baking chocolate, melted and cooled
Approximately 1 cup small candy eggs, like robin’s eggs

1. Heat oven to 350F degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper, then grease the top of the paper.

2. For the cake, stir the softened butter into the just-melted chocolate and let cool. Whisk 4 egg whites until foamy (this is best done in a stand mixer). Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar and whisk until whites hold their shape but are not too stiff. Reserve.

3. In a separate bowl, by hand, whisk 2 whole eggs and 4 egg yolks with 1/3 cup of sugar and vanilla until combined. Stir in chocolate to mix.

4. In three additions, fold whites into chocolate mixture*. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cake rises, cracks, and center is no longer wobbly.

5. Cool cake on a wire rack; the middle will sink and the sides will crack. Carefully remove cake from pan and place on serving plate.

6. For topping, whip cream with vanilla until it is firm but not stiff. Fold in melted chocolate. Fill top of cake with whipped topping, easing it out gently toward the edges. Arrange candy eggs on top.

*A tip for folding mixtures: Folding is not the same as stirring. It requires gentle and methodical mixing with a spatula. Holding the bowl on the left side, cut through the batter with the edge of the spatula from left to right, then lift upwards with the broad side of the spatula along the half of the bowl closest to you. Give the bowl 1/4 turn and repeat, doing this until the batter is slowly mixed. Doing it this way preserves the air bubbles in certain batters where the bubbles are necessary for lift.