Easy, Hearty, White Wheat Bread | Baking

This is an easy, hearty bread recipe, made with a packet of yeast and a dash of whole wheat flour that requires very little kneading, fussing or attention.

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Bread that sticks to your ribs

This is not a fluffy, Wonder bread recipe. This bread has density and a heartiness that makes for a great breakfast toast or soup companion. Slice thin for best results. The wheat flour adds a heftiness that makes it extra filling and flavorful compared to a fluffy white bread.

hearty white wheat bread toasted with tomatoes, zucchini and fresh herbs.
Serving suggestion: Toasted with fresh herbs and veggies!

No sourdough needed

In March 2020, in lieu of my newfound work from home position amidst COVID lockdown, I fulfilled my dream of having my very own sourdough starter. Months later, after a tumultuous string of events that ultimately led to the decision to move, I decided it was time to let my starter go. After all, it hadn’t been bubbling for weeks and was producing a strange grey liquid on top that smelled a bit like toe jam.

And so there I was, having passed into and out of the sourdough starter phase of quarantine 2020. Thankfully, I am persistent upon purchasing yeast packets whenever I see them, particularly when grocery store stocks began dwindling and the shelves looked more and more bare with each visit.

Cooler months are coming, and while grocery shelves may be stocked, it’s still nice to enjoy a loaf of homemade bread on the weekend. Bonus: your house will smell like fresh baked bread for days!

Homemade bread for the rest of us

I love freshly baked, homemade bread. What I don’t love is spending countless hours preparing it only to have it come out subpar. That’s why this is my go-to homemade bread recipe. It’s simple, straightforward and comes out great every time.

If you are new to making bread, here’s a video of me kneading the dough by hand. You can watch it before you begin the recipe, or while you are kneading the dough. Let’s make bread together!

Easy Hearty White Wheat Bread

Lauren Harvey
This bread is made to fill you up! Read the full recipe, including tips and notes about mix-ins before beginning. We suggest making it as is for your first try, and experimenting with mix-ins as you feel comfortable. Enjoy!
Prep Time 1 hr
Cook Time 40 mins
Total Time 1 hr 40 mins
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 1 loaf

Equipment

  • Glass bowl
  • Wooden cutting board
  • Loaf pan
  • Parchment paper
  • Whisk
  • Bench knife, lame or razor blade for scoring the loaf

Ingredients
  

  • 1 ½ cup warm water
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp Active Dry Yeast or Instant Yeast
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour or additional 1 cup of all-purpose flour

Instructions
 

  • Add water, honey, salt, and yeast to a glass bowl. Whisk gently to combine. Let sit 3-5 minutes until bubbles appear on the top of the liquid.
  • Add the all-purpose and wheat flours to the bowl with the yeast.
    Incorporate using a spatula until dough becomes shaggy, then you can use your hands.
    Remember to scrape the bottom of the bowl to fully incorporate flour. Once all flour is incorporated and the dough has come together in a bowl, turn out onto a lightly floured wooden board or clean, flat surface.
    Knead using the heel of your hand until dough is smooth and not sticky.
  • Heat the oven to 400°F. Turning the oven on now allows plenty of time for it to come fully up to temperature before baking the bread.
    Place the round dough on the wooden board. Cover gently with a clean flour sack towel or dish towel and allow it to rise for 30-45 minutes.
  • Using a paper towel, lightly rub the inside of the pan with olive oil.
    This step is to ensure that nothing will stick. I do it even with nonstick pans. Better safe than stuck!
    Cut a strip of parchment to fit long-ways in the loaf pan with some excess over the sides. This will make it easy to lift the loaf out of the pan once its done baking.
  • Gently roll the dough back and forth to make a log shape approximately the same size as your loaf pan. It shouldn't take much to get it into shape.
    Place dough into loaf pan and, using a bench knife, lame or razor blade, score lightly down the middle.
  • Bake for 30-40 minutes.
    You are looking for a nice golden outside and a hollow sound when you knock on the bread.
    Leave on a cooling rack for an hour or so before slicing for a clean cut and to ensure its finished the cooking process.

Notes

Tip: Check for doneness by tapping the bottom of the bread. If it sounds hollow, the bread is finished cooking.
Mix-in Ideas
Add any spices, seasonings or mix-ins you’d like. Try adding sliced olives, patted dry, Italian seasoning or a sprinkle of your favorite cheese! Add mix-ins after dough is kneaded, but before it is shaped and rested.
Some ideas to get you started:
  • Kalamata Olives, patted dry
  • Parmesan, with pesto brushed on top just before baking and a sprinkle of flaky salt.
  • Sunflower seeds, soaked in water for 30 min and drained dry before baking.
  • Caramelized onions and blue cheese.
  • Sun-dried tomatoes.
Keyword Easy Bread Recipe, White Wheat Bread, Yeast Bread Recipe

Have you made bread at home? How did you like it? Rate this recipe and leave me a comment below!

Orange Espresso cupcakes

Marbled Orange Espresso Cupcakes | Baking

These marbled cupcakes are sure to impress — no mixer required! Make the separate orange and espresso batters then swirl in the cupcake tins to create the gorgeous marbled effect. Top with the orange espresso buttercream for the perfect treat for the adventurous dessert fanatic in your life — or you know, just to have around as a quick snack!

Making it Marbled

A marbled orange espresso cupcake before baking.
A cupcake before baking — look at those swirls!

To best preserve the individual flavors, I’ve created two separate cake batters for these cupcakes; the orange and the espresso. The two are then playfully layered into cupcake tins and baked.

In order to keep this as simple as possible, no mixer is involved for the creation of the cake. Get two large bowls side by side and make your batter at the same time.

The recipe may look intimidating but I promise you can do it! As always, feel free to contact me with any questions.

The cake recipe is DAIRY FREE! No milk or butter used in the making of the cake. For a simple dairy-free swap in the buttercream, follow these replacements:

  • Use dairy-free or vegan butter.
  • Instead of heavy cream, use 2 tablespoons of your favorite dairy free milk, vanilla coffee creamer, or coconut cream.

Orange and Espresso: Delicious Flavor Combination

Initially, perhaps, this flavor combination seems counterintuitive. After all, chasing orange juice with espresso is a bitter experience. However, when layered with sugar in fluffy cupcake form, these flavors complement each other beautifully.

After much recipe testing, I perfected the amount of orange and espresso in each batter so that their true flavors come through but do not overpower one another. Additionally, these cupcakes are sweet which helps blend the two flavors together in a delicious way!

The espresso batter includes a dash of cocoa powder. This helps to round out the deep, bitter flavor of the espresso and complements the fresh orange zest and juice in the orange batter.

The buttercream frosting is a key component of this dessert, really tying the orange and espresso together in a smooth, creamy finish. I highly recommend taking the time to make the buttercream.

If you MUST skip the process of making the frosting, go for a vanilla store-bought, and mix in the orange zest, orange flavor and instant espresso as directed in the buttercream recipe.

Baked Marbled Orange Espresso Cupcakes
The end result of the marbling technique before frosting.

Orange and Espresso: Special Ingredients

Medagalia D'Oro Instant Espresso

To truly bring out the orange and espresso flavor in these cupcakes, we enlist the help of some special ingredients.

For the orange batter, use fresh, ripe oranges. You’ll zest and juice these oranges to use in the batter, and reserve some zest for use in the buttercream frosting.

In the espresso cupcakes, I chose to use instant espresso. It’s a great ingredient to have on hand for baking, as you can use it in the plain powdered form to incorporate into other cakes, frosting, ice cream or cookies or use the powder to brew just as much espresso as you need for your recipe. Here’s a link to my favorite brand of instant espresso, pictured below.

Marbled Cupcake Technique

What makes these cupcakes so fun and pretty to look at is the marbling technique. The natural colors of the orange and espresso come through in each batter, so you wind up with one light orange batter and a nice tan batter for the espresso. By making the batters separately and marbling them in the cupcake tin, it results in a gorgeous marbled cupcake!

Cake Mix in Two Separate Bowls. Layer and Swirl with Toothpick!

How you marble and layer the separate cake batters is entirely up to you. There truly is no wrong way to do this. Use small spoons to scoop different layers into the cupcake tin, then use a toothpick to swirl the colors together. For a more hands-on tutorial, check out this video from Wilton. The recipe they use utilizes food coloring, which you don’t need when using this recipe. However, its a good video of how the marbling process actually looks and may help if you are feeling unsure about the process.

Orange Espresso cupcakes

Marbled Orange Espresso Cupcakes

These marbled cupcakes are sure to impress! To keep this recipe as streamlined as possible, I've laid out step-by-step instructions. You'll be making the espresso and orange batters separately, then marbling them together in the cupcake molds. Lastly, while the cupcakes are baking, prepare the buttercream (if desired, or use store bought).
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 12 cupcakes

Equipment

  • Clean bowls
  • Coffee mug
  • Zester
  • Whisk
  • Spatula
  • Cupcake tin
  • Cupcake liners
  • Two small spoons
  • Stand or hand mixer for the buttercream frosting

Ingredients
  

Espresso Batter

  • ¼ cup water with 2 teaspoons espresso
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • ½ tsp instant espresso ¾
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 TB canola or grapeseed oil

Orange Batter

  • 1 tsp orange emulsion
  • tsp orange zest
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 TB canola or grapeseed oil

Orange Espresso Buttercream

  • cup unsalted, softened butter
  • cup + 1 TB powdered sugar
  • 2 TB heavy cream
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp instant espresso
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • ½ tsp orange emulsion

Instructions
 

Espresso Cake Batter

  • Stir 2 teaspoons instant espresso into warm water until fully dissolved. Set aside.
  • In a clean bowl, sift flour, baking powder and cocoa powder. Add in the salt and sugar and ½ teaspoon instant espresso. Whisk gently to combine.
  • In a different clean bowl, add the egg, oil, vanilla and espresso. Whisk to combine.
  • Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Whisk well to combine. Set aside until ready to use. If you prefer, you can pop this bowl into the fridge while you prepare the orange cake batter.

Orange Cake Batter

  • Zest two oranges into a small bowl, avoiding the white pith. In a separate small bowl or cup, juice both oranges.
  • In a clean bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Whisk gently to combine.
  • In a separate clean bowl, add the egg, oil, vanilla, orange juice, orange zest and orange emulsion. Whisk to combine.
  • Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and whisk well to combine.

Marbling the Cupcakes

  • Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  • Using paper or silicone liners, line one full-size cupcake pan.
  • Using two small spoons, scoop a bit of orange batter into the bottom of the cupcake tins, then add some espresso, alternating however you'd like. This is the fun part! Get creative and layer however you'd like. Stop filling the cups when it reaches halfway.
  • Using a toothpick, swirl the batters together in fun and interesting patterns. There's really no wrong way to do this, so have fun with it and experiment freely.
  • Bake at 325°F for 20-25 minutes or until the tops are firm and a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean.

Prepare the Buttercream

  • Using a stand or hand mixer, beat the butter until it is soft and fluffy about 5-7 minutes. Using room temperature butter will help speed up this process.
  • Incorporate powdered sugar ½ cup at a time, waiting until fully combined before adding more.
  • Once all the powdered sugar is mixed in, add the salt and vanilla extract. At this point, scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is fully combined.
  • Pour the whipping cream in a slow, steady stream while beating the buttercream.
  • If you prefer your buttercream to be plain vanilla flavor, you can skip this step. To get the full orange espresso flavor, add the espresso powder, orange zest and orange emulsions, mixing until fully combined.
  • If you don't have a piping bag, you can cut one corner off a Ziploc bag and use it to pipe, or simply spread the frosting onto the cupcakes with a butter knife.
  • Once the cupcakes have cooled fully, frost your cupcakes however you'd like. Incorporate some food dye into the buttercream for an extra burst of color!
Keyword espresso cupcakes, marbled cupcakes, orange cupcakes, orange espresso cupcakes

Have you tried this recipe? Curious about the flavor combination? Let me know in the comments below!

Nectarine and Goat Cheese Pissadelière | Baking

A yeast-based dough makes the base for this “French pizza”, the Provençal pissadelière.

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What is a pissadeliére?

Originating in Provence, France, pissadelière is a pizza-like street food. Located on the southeastern side of France, Provence borders Italy and the Mediterranean Sea — the perfect mix of culinary influence to create this French pizza!

On-the-water view of Provence, France
Gorgeous Provence

Traditionally, pissadelière is topped with onions, anchovies and olives. Needless to say, this is NOT a traditional pissadelière.

Instead, I chose to use the pissadelière dough as a base for a fruity, cheesy, sweet flatbread, something that could easily be eaten for dessert or for breakfast. This Nectarine Goat Cheese Pissadelière would make a great addition to a Sunday brunch, as an afternoon snack with a cup of tea or coffee or a sweet and savory dessert component for your next dinner.

Close up photo of a slice of Nectarine Goat Cheese pisadellière
A platter of Nectarine Goat Cheese Pissadelière

The dough is the most laborious part of the recipe, and even then most of the time spent is letting the dough rise, not active time.

If you prefer to use a different stone fruit, the recipe is completely adaptable. Simple choose your fruit, cheese and herby toppings! Here are some other combinations to consider:

  • Plum and Chèvre
  • Peach and Gorgonzola
  • Berries and Brie
Slice in triangles for a fun, rustic platter of tasty sweet/savory pizza!

On a Personal Note

The basis of this recipe, originally from Cook’s Illustrated , was handed down to me from my mom, originally given to her by my grandfather. He was the one who taught me how to make pizza at six years old. He called the recipe “French pizza” because he (like many of us, I’m sure) was confused on how to properly pronounce “pissadelière”. Honestly, I have no idea how to say it either. What I do know is that the final result is delicious.

Nectarine goat cheese pissadeliere
Nectarines, goat cheese, a drizzle of honey and a sprinkling of fresh herbs. Delicious!

The trick to the dough is using well-oiled hands! As my grandpa (Papa) said, “The dough is beautiful to work with, especially in conjunction with the parchment paper and using very oily hands stretches the dough easily.”

It was a pleasure to make this recipe that he’d made and enjoyed before. I hope you enjoy the recipe as much as we did. Feel free to change out toppings as you see fit!

Nectarine Goat Cheese Pissadelière

This "french pizza" is made with a soft dough and topped with fresh nectarines, goat cheese, herbs and a drizzle of honey. Eat for dessert or breakfast!
Prep Time 2 hrs
Cook Time 15 mins
Total Time 2 hrs 15 mins
Course Breakfast, Dessert, dinner
Cuisine American, French

Ingredients
  

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus additional as needed for dough
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1-2 large, ripe nectarines
  • 8 ounces soft goat cheese
  • Handful of fresh herbs mint, thyme or basil
  • Honey, for drizzling

Instructions
 

  • In a large bowl, mix yeast and warm water. Whisk gently. Let bloom for 3-5 minutes. You should see light bubbling forming in the bowl.
  • Sift all-purpose flour into the bowl with the yeast and water.
    Add salt and olive oil. Mix in bowl until combined.
    Then, on a wooden board dusted with flour, knead dough into a smooth ball, about 3 minutes.
    When kneading, shape the dough into a ball and use the heel of your hand to push the dough down, reshaping it.
     *For an alternative method using a food processor, see recipe notes.
  • Lightly oil a clean bowl and place the dough ball inside and cover with a cloth. Allow to rise for 1 – 1 ½ hours, until the dough has grown in size
  • Have olive oil close at hand for stretching the dough. This dough responds better to oil than flour to repel stickiness.
    Line a full-sized baking sheet with parchment.
    Cut the ball of dough in half, forming two chunks.
    Stretch the dough using oiled hands to form rectangle shapes. (Any shape you make is okay, the important thing is stretching the dough so it is about ½” thick. If the shape doesn’t come out the way you’d like it, remember, it’s not a mistake – it’s rustic!)
    Place one rectangle on one end of the baking sheet. Using your fingertips, dimple the dough.
    Repeat with the other dough ball.
  • Slice the nectarines into eight sections. This prevents the nectarines from being too thin and burning in the oven. Top dough with sliced nectarines and goat cheese. Add as much or as little as you'd like!
  • Bake in a 425°F oven for 13-15 minutes. The crust should be lightly brown.
  •  Drizzle the pissaladiére with honey. Top with finely chopped herbs of your choice.
    Mint, thyme and basil all pair well with nectarines and goat cheese. If your herbs are flowering, use the flowers too! They are edible, slightly sweet and make for a beautiful presentation.
    Slice the pissaladiére any way you’d like. If the dough is not perfectly rectangular, I recommend slicing into triangle shapes.

Notes

Alternative dough method: If you are new to dough making, you may be more comfortable with the food processor method described in the original Cook’s Illustrated recipe:
“In the workbowl of a food processor fitted with a plastic dough blade, pulse flour, yeast and salt to combine, about five 1-second pulses. With machine running, slowly add oil, then water, through feed tube; continue to process until dough forms ball, about 15 seconds. Generously dust work surface with flour; using floured hands, transfer dough to work surface and knead lightly, shaping dough into ball.”
Keyword dessert pizza, french pizza, goat cheese recipe, nectarine recipe, pissaladiére, pissaladiére recipe

Top 8 Essential Baking Utensils | Lifestyle

Baking is an exact science… most of the time. While I do much improvisation in the kitchen (it is difficult to follow a recipe without adding my own spin), baking is a delicate balance, and requires precision. And so I present to you, my eight top baking utensils. These tools are a must-have to make at-home baking more accurate, more enjoyable and more tasty!

The 8 Essentials are:

  1. Scale
  2. Oven Thermometer
  3. Zester/Microplane
  4. Pastry Bag & Tips Set
  5. Fine Mesh Strainer
  6. Hand Mixer
  7. Glass Jars
  8. Spatulas

Let’s get into it!

1. SCALE

When making my grandfather’s cookie recipes, I always use a scale. Weighing ingredients provides for a much higher level of accuracy and consistency, particularly if you are making smaller or larger batches than the original.

Here’s a solid starter scale on Amazon. As you get more comfortable measuring by scale, it may be worthwhile to invest in a scale that provides two decimals when measuring in grams (1.25 g for example).

Using a scale is my preference for baking. Besides the obvious accuracy of measuring with a scale vs. attempting to perfectly level 3 cups of flour, it makes clean up much faster!

2. OVEN THERMOMETER

Again, baking is an exact science. Sure, you can ~set~ your oven to 350 degrees, but how do you know it actually ~is~ 350 degrees? Enter the oven thermometer.

Oftentimes, ovens run a little hot, or a little cold. Recently, I’ve noticed the oven in our apartment running hot. Thankfully, I can check my oven thermometer before putting anything in the oven. By checking the thermometer and adjusting the oven temp, I can get an accurate temperature every time I bake.

Buy one here on Amazon.

3. ZESTER — MICROPLANE

I’ll admit, zest is one of my most favorite baking ingredients. I love dessert, but am NOT a fan of anything overly sweet. Citrus zest is a relatively foolproof way to balance out the sweetness of your favorite dessert with a fresh burst of acidity.

Have a good zester on hand to lighten up any dish, sweet or savory!

Try adding:

  • Orange Zest to Chocolate.
  • Lemon Zest to Vanilla.
  • Lime or Grapefruit Zest to Berries & Fruit.

Get yours here on Amazon.

4. PASTRY BAGS & TIPS SET

Most commonly, I use my pastry bags and tips for decorating cakes. However, there are some cookies I make that utilize the pastry bags to form the cookies.

Pastry bags and tips can also be used in savory cooking. In general, they are beneficial to have on hand when you feel like dressing things up a bit!

This is the exact first pastry bag & tip set I purchased. The tips are small, which is ideal for learning how to pipe. It’s easier to manage the frosting in small amounts, just make sure your buttercream/frosting is well mixed so nothing gets stuck.

I prefer the plastic pastry bags to the stretchy silicone type included in the set. The silicone bags have a tendency to stretch more when you are trying to pipe, making it harder to control.

Find some plastic piping bags here. If you are concerned about the throw-away plastic, I’d recommend a canvas piping bag instead. They are durable, will last you literally decades if properly cared for, and don’t oddly stretch and give as the silicone bags tend to do. Find some canvas piping bags here.

5. FINE MESH STRAINER

I have a small version of this strainer and I love it. It use it for many things. The feet on the bottom make it easy to sit over the edge of a bowl and measure directly into. It’s ideal for sifting ingredients. The smaller size is convenient for all recipes, or even just dusting a cake with powdered sugar. Buy it on Amazon here.

6. HAND MIXER

Having a hand mixer ~on hand~ is simply essential. They are small in size, affordable and versatile. The hand mixer I use is this one, from Hamilton Beach. I break it out when I want to whip up a batch of 5 minute homemade whipped cream, semi-homemade buttercream frosting, or when I’m saving time by using a boxed baking mix.

My stand mixer, (this one here), is quite literally, a monster. My kitchen can barely accommodate Esther (yes, SHE has a name) so bringing her down from her home in that awkward cabinet above the refrigerator requires a very good reason. For everything else, I use my hand mixer.

A tip: Be sure to use the single whip when making whipped cream. The beater attachments are not sufficient for incorporating air into the cream and will instead deflate it. Use the beater attachments for baking mixes.

7. GLASS JARS

These are what I use to store my open bags of flour and sugar. Sealing the flour in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid keeps the flour fresh, and prevents pest infestation. Similarly, sealing your open bags of sugar in glass jars deters ants that would otherwise consider the scent of brown sugar wafting from your baking cabinet an open invitation to a downright stampede. Needless to say, if you plan on baking regularly, or even just cooking regularly, invest in (or start collecting) quality sealing glass jars. Plastic is OK, but glass is always preferred.

8. SPATULAS

You MUST have a good set of spatulas to bake. Out of all the essential tools listed here, this one may be the MOST essential. How else can you scrape every bit of cookie dough goodness from the bowl? Accurately measure rapidly melting butter? Imagine tackling a recipe that calls for molasses without a quality spatula… impossible! To scrape down the sides of your mixer when combining wet and dry ingredients?

I digress. Here’s a set of spatulas from Amazon. I like them because they are sturdy, can hold up to being used to scrape glutinous dough, and flexible, meaning they’ll bend to the shape of the bowl, or other container. They come in a variety of sizes and fun colors. I wash mine in the utensil section of the dishwasher and haven’t had any problems.

Additionally, I recommend a set of adorable mini spatulas. These are prime for scraping small jars.

* * * * * *

With these eight indispensable baking tools in tow, you are ready to tackle any baking project the holiday may throw your way! Happy Holidays. Enjoy!

Chocolate Cake with Strawberry-Mascarpone Filling | Baking

Some moments in life deserve a special celebration.

And every celebration deserves cake!

I made this decadent chocolate cake, adorned in pastel floral accents for Nana’s birthday.

Nana loves chocolate, and this cake was the perfect combination of rich chocolate and light, fluffy cake.

Pastel gel food coloring gives the piped rosettes their bright yet gentle hues. Using three different piping tips creates visual interest between each color. The sprinkles are Wilton brand, picked up at Michael’s Craft Store, and placed meticulously onto the buttercream with tweezers.

Below, I’ve included each step of the cake:

  1. The Chocolate Cake
  2. Mascarpone Strawberry filling
  3. Buttercream
  4. Assembly & Decoration

The Cake

Chocolate Cake

A decadent, delicious chocolate cake. This recipe yields 3 eight inch cakes, meant to make a tall layered birthday cake.
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 40 mins
Servings 3 8 inch cakes

Ingredients
  

  • ½ cup greek yogurt
  • 1 cup buttermilk (substitute: your preferred milk + 3/4 tsp cream of tartar)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 ½ cup fresh brewed espresso or strong coffee
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tb vanilla extract
  • 3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tb baking soda
  • 1 tsp kosher salt

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 350° F.
  • Prepare three 8 inch cake pans. Grease the inside of each pan by evenly coating them with butter. Use a paper towel to wipe up any excess butter. Sift ¼ cup cocoa powder into a separate bowl. Sprinkle the sifted cocoa powder on the buttered surface, turning the pan upside down over parchment paper to tap out any excess. This process helps the cake release from the pan more easily.
  • If you are using buttermilk, skip this step. If not, mix your preferred milk (regular, oat or almond works) with ¾ teaspoon of cream of tartar. Whisk to combine and let set.
  • In a medium-bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to combine.
  • In a separate large bowl, combine the sour cream, eggs, buttermilk (or buttermilk substitute prepared in Step 2), vegetable oil, vanilla extract and coffee/espresso. Make sure the coffee/espresso is cool to the touch before combining it with the rest of the dry ingredients.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the bowl with the wet ingredients. Using a hand mixer, combine the ingredients well for about one minute. Be mindful not to overmix.
  • Distribute the batter evenly between the three pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes at 350° F. Test doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is done.
  • Rest the cakes for 10 minutes. Then turn the cakes out onto a wire rack to cook completely.

The Filling

The cake was baked in three 8″ cake pans (as per recipe instruction) and filled with a Mascarpone Strawberry filling (as per my affinity for Italian cheeses). This recipe I adapted from a Real Simple Article.

Mascarpone Strawberry Filling

A light and well-balanced filling for the cake. Mascarpone balances out the sweetness of the cake's buttercream. Fresh strawberries work best!
Prep Time 30 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American

Ingredients
  

  • 4 tb unsalted butter, softened to room temp.
  • 8 oz cream cheese (full fat preferred).
  • ½ cup mascarpone cheese (I recommend Trader Joe's brand).
  • 1 ½ cup powdered sugar.
  • ½ container of fresh strawberries
  • 2-3 tb granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch salt

Instructions
 

  • Pull the butter and cream cheese out of the fridge. Let it sit out on the counter while you prep the strawberries.
  • Remove the strawberry stems and cut into quarters. I used about a half container of strawberries. ~Leftovers are great to eat by themselves so no worries if you cut too many!~
  • Sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of granulated sugar over the strawberries and toss to coat. Let sit for 7-10 minutes until juices are coming out and the strawberries are softened. This process is called macerating — using sugar to break down the fruit.
  • Mash strawberries with the back of a fork. You don’t want any big chunks but some small ones are okay. Set aside.
  • In a stand mixer, or using a hand mixer and large bowl, whip butter and cream cheese until fluffy.
  • Switch to low speed, add powdered sugar, mascarpone, vanilla and a pinch of salt. Measure out 2 tablespoons of the macerated strawberries and add to mixture. Mix until just combined.

Notes

Recipe adapted from a Real Simple Article.
Keyword mascarpone, mascarpone stawberry filling, strawberry

White Vanilla Buttercream

White Vanilla Buttercream

I used a crumb coat of white vanilla buttercream modified from the Preppy Kitchen recipe, as noted here.
Course Dessert
Cuisine American

Ingredients
  

  • 1 ½ lb powdered sugar
  • 1 ½ cup unsalted butter (3 standard sticks), softened to room temp.
  • ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract

Instructions
 

  • Beat butter until soft and fluffy.
  • Incorporate powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, waiting until combined before adding more.
  • Once all powdered sugar is mixed into butter, add salt and vanilla extract.
  • Add the whipping cream in a slow steady stream with the mixer still on.

Notes

When making buttercream, it is imperative to scrape the sides of the mixer consistently, as this helps to incorporate everything evenly. Particularly if you have a mixer like mine, with a deep bowl, it is important to scrape the bottom to make sure everything is mixed in evenly.
Keyword buttercream

The Decor

Cake Assembly

As far as timing goes, I baked the cake on Saturday, trimmed it and filled it with the Mascarpone filling. Then I added a crumb coat to seal in the freshness of the cake and to give myself a smooth base for decorating.

For more information about how to crumb coat a cake, check out this King Arthur Flour article.

The cake stayed in the fridge until Sunday morning, after making a second batch of buttercream (just in case) and preparing my colors. I decorated on Sunday and left in the fridge until the party Sunday night.

This kept extremely well in the fridge and the buttercream holds up after sitting on the counter for a few hours. I removed the cake from the fridge about 15 minutes before serving.

For all those roses…

To decorate, I used the watercolor technique around the entire cake; created by adding splotches of colored frosting and smoothing out against the white frosting. This served as my background for the piped rosettes. I began with the largest rosettes first, then filled in with smaller.

For the top of the cake, it’s important to divide the large rosettes evenly before filling in with smaller piping. Pipe the rosettes as if you are cutting the cake in half each time, instead of attempting to go in a circle. Pipe one rosette, then turn the cake around and pipe the next on the opposite side of the cake. Pipe the next in between these two rosettes, and continue until all are piped.

For a visual tutorial, check out this video by Wilton.

It’s an extremely fun technique that requires one hand motion. Practice on a sheet of parchment before decorating your cake! Once you feel comfortable with the rosette piping motion, start decorating your cake.

Piping for practice on parchment (say that three times fast) is also a great way to see how your piping tips look before using them on the cake.

The techniques used to create this cake were completely doable and I truly enjoyed putting it together. It takes patience and time, but it can be done!

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THE BIRTHDAY GIRL

On a Personal Note

Technique aside, what truly makes a cake like this worth a weekend of work is the people with whom you share it.

That look in their eye when you walk into a room holding a cake like this is simply priceless! That sheer excitement is the most magical part of food, when you bring a smile to the people who partake. That moment, that joy, is really what it’s all about. To be quite cheesy, those moments truly show that yes, food is an act of love.

For me it was a privilege to bring that moment to Nana, and to share this delicious dessert with my family.

Happy Birthday Nana.