This slim volume, published in 1997, comes from the knowledgeable folks at Cook's Illustrated. In less than 100 pages How to Make an American Layer Cake lays out recipes for basic chocolate, white, and yellow cakes (with a few variations on the standard), as well as frostings and fillings. The signature CI illustrations run throughout the book which also includes sections devoted to technique and decorating suggestions. It's worthwhile to add to your collection if you're searching for a concise, pared-down handbook on layer cakes or if you are a layer cake (or just cake) devotee. That said, this is another out-of-print volume, but copies go for pennies (literally) online.


CakeBook Monday: SKY HIGH by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne

Sky High is one of those books that you pull out when you want to impress. There's just something about three layers that always proves breath-taking. 

I first heard about this book through Deb of Smitten Kitchen when she posted on the Sour Cream-Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze. That mind-twistingly-named, beautiful behemoth became a must-bake for me—and it did not disappoint.

Since then, I've baked quite a few of the cakes in Sky High—the Chai Cake with Honey Ginger Cream being another standout—and consider it an integral part of my collection.

Sadly it seems to be out-of-print, a fact I just learned when going to grab the link to post here. Used copies don't come cheap, but it is available an an e-book.

Dear Spring, Thank you for listening.

Because for a while, I was like

It's been a long, weird winter here on the East Coast, with sifts in weather reminding me of my hometown, Denver. There, going from 32 and snow one day to 60 and sun the next is par for the course, but here is NYC, it's just annoying—especially when trying to figure out how to dress a 2.5 year old. 

All of that said, I was craving a spring time cake, the kind of cake that might work its magic on the weather gods and bring us some sunshine and quiet winds. Not hot weather mind you (I am a cold-weather lover), but a break from the back-and-forth. So I baked up Joy the Baker's Yellow Cake with Honey-Lemon Frosting, a cake that reminds her of springtime as well. Power in numbers, right? 

And it seems to have worked! There's been rain, but not too much (yet) and mild temps with sun and winds. I'll take it . . . and I'd keep it. You don't want to see me in the summer. 

PS: The Cake is wonderful, the frosting the star with its cream cheese tang and bright lemon notes. I craved a stronger honey taste, so I might up the qty. the next time I make it, but I highly recommend it. The recipe can be found in her latest book, Homemade Decadence!

1,2,3,4 Cake (Project VICTORIAN CAKES)

Always baked by Mother, and flavored to the preference of the celebrant, this "simple old receipt, a stand-by in every family" was the base of every birthday cake in the Campion household.

Caroline and her sister, Kitty, were fond of a chocolate version (made by substituting some flour for cocoa powder), while eldest Emily preferred Almond. Maud chose lemon; Molly, orange; Father, raisins; Aunt Sophie, citron; Uncle George, nuts and spices. As Emil and Anna's birthdays were separated by just a week, Mother would bake a large cake flavored "in true German fashion with anise" for them to take to Anna's for a private celebration. Caroline does not record what flavor Mother herself was fond of, though for some reason i like to think that she would have chosen coconut. 

In a time before wide-spread literacy and standard measurements, the 1,2,3,4 Cake was about as democractic a cake as one could get. The ingredients few, the taste fantastic, it really was, and is, the classic yellow cake. The birthday cake. (Alice Waters agrees. See The Art of Simple Food.)  And let it be known that this is not the last time you will see 1,2,3,4 Cake here, I love it that much.

1,2,3,4 Cake
Adapted from the 19th c. (and Victorian Cakes by Caroline B. King)

1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 c (400 g) sugar
3 c (375 g) all-purpose flour
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp baking powder
1 c (240 g) whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350° and prepare a large capacity loaf pan (like a Pullman) and set it on a baking sheet just in case.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder and set aside. 
Add the vanilla to the milk and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer), cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy, about five minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating each in fully before adding the next.
Stop and scrape the bowl!
On low speed, mix in the flour mixture and the vanilla milk in three additions, beginning and ending with the dry. 
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and slide into the hot oven. 
Bake for 70 minutes or until a cake test comes back clean and the sides of the cake begin pulling away from the pan. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely. 

Serve dusted with powdered sugar.

CakeBook Monday: SEVENTY-FIVE RECEIPTS by A Lady of Philadelphia

That Lady would be Eliza Leslie, one of the most popular cookery writers of the 19th century. Considered the first baking book to be published in the United States by an American author, Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats (1828) is lovely little volume. As Eliza notes in the introduction, "The receipts in this little book are, in every sense of the word, American." This holds especially true for her recipes incorporating a popular ingredient of "the new world": Indian Meal. I mentioned this book, and the Indian Meal Cake, briefly when I posted about another CakeBook Monday selection (Baking In America), but I thought her book, and her contribution to cookbooks and cookery writing, important enough to warrant her own Monday slot. 

Other than the Indian Meal Cake, I have not yet baked one of her recipes from this book, though I do want to try Queen Cake out of sheer curiosity: