It always seems that when I need to focus on something, I can’t. While I was studying for the bar exam, I would check Facebook, People.com, Weather.com, various blogs, and my email a million times an hour. And I’d often find my thoughts drifting off on pressing life questions such as “Why do I always need to wear sunglasses when I’m driving in LA? Is the sun brighter here?” or “How many omelettes could you make with one emu egg?” or “Should I create a Twitter account just so I can follow the food trucks in LA?” (The answer to the last question turned out to be yes. I have become what I hate.) I don’t know if it’s because I have ADD or that pretty much anything in the world is more interesting than the Statute of Frauds but let me tell you – it was a damn struggle sometimes to get through my outlines.
I also could not stop thinking about what I would do once normal life resumed. The notion of free time became such a luxury. I could go shopping! I could visit the Coolhaus truck and the grilled cheese truck even if they were in far-flung corners of LA! I could have a social life again! Or I could simply be a bum on my couch that, yes, ladies and gents, has finally arrived. The possibilities were endless, and in the last few days, the promise of freedom was what kept me going (in addition to Red Bull, Tootsie Roll Pops, and sushi).
And of course, I had a mental list of of all sorts of delights that I wanted to bake: lemon bars, chocolate cookie sandwiches, peanut butter blondies, dulce de leche cupcakes. And while all those treats will be made at some point, when the exam was over, I knew I wanted to bake myself a cake. A simple celebratory cake to say “You have no idea if you passed but congrats on surviving two months of pure hell, and here’s to hoping you never have to do it again.” And I knew exactly which cake that would be.
I’ve made this cake once before, almost two years ago for a friend’s surprise engagement party. I’m normally not a huge yellow cake fan, preferring chocolate cake or white cake (especially confetti cake!) most of the time. But this cake – the first time I saw it, I thought it looked so cheerfully festive that I couldn’t resist. It reminded me of childhood birthday cakes, even though I personally never had a cake like this growing up (I was always a Baskin Robins ice cream cake kind of girl).
This cake is, well, just about perfect. It’s moist and tender, with a bit of firmness to it, and the fudge frosting is, literally and figuratively, the icing on the cake. It’s a cinch to whip up, which is a definite plus when you have important things to do like napping on your couch, figuring out what to wear to the Joy the Baker book signing, and discovering that Bootie LA is simply the most awesome mashup dance party ever with music that makes you want to keep dancing even though your 5-inch heels are killing your feet and your shirt in soaked in sweat (um…sexy?). Even better, the leftovers keep like a dream. In fact, I think I might just curl up with a slice right now in front of the TV. Here’s to having my life back!
P.S. Meg and Renee – this cake is also for you two ladies in spirit. Hope you’re loving post-exam life!
The Perfect Yellow Cake
From Smitten Kitchen
Yields a 9-inch two-layer cake or approximately 24 cupcakes
4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment.
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Switch mixer to low speed and beat in buttermilk until just combined. The mixture will look curdled. Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just Incorporated.
Spread batter evenly in cake pan (the batter will be very thick). Rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.
Instant Fudge Frosting
From Smitten Kitchen
Yields about 5 cups, enough to frost a 9-inch two-layer cake
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
4 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tablespoons half-and-half or whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to incorporate, then process until the frosting is smooth. This may take a few minutes – make sure all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated and there are no lumps.