Baking on a Snowy Winter’s Day

The nice thing about wintertime — well, one nice thing about it — is that one is, if already kitchen-oriented, inclined to take on kitchen projects that you wouldn’t do at other times of year because you’re at home, it’s cold out, and you feel a need to do cozy odd things like attempt to make clotted cream. The bad aspect of this sort of thing is that in my case, this means your fridge winds up filled with endless little jars and tubs of the results of  these kitchen experiments. For the last few weeks, I have had so much dairy in the fridge I’ve had to make labels for the things I decanted or created in order to tell them apart: “CLOTTED CREAM” “CREAM LEFTOVER FROM CLOTTED CREAM” “VANILLA SWEETENED CONDENSED MILK” “HOMEMADE YOGURT” “COCONUT MILK.” It has gotten quite out of hand, especially when you take into account the tubs and jars of normal leftovers, like the chicken lentil soup (about 3 cups, I need to get someone to eat that) and the two chicken thighs from Friday night dinner and so on.

The three of us have been hanging around the house a lot, these last few February days, which you’d think would result in much of this stuff getting consumed, but last night we had a friend over for dinner and ordered in a large quantity of Chinese food, and it’s gotten so bad that the leftovers had to go in the auxiliary fridge in the basement, which normally holds only cases of seltzer and bags of flour. And that was after I took action to try to clear out space in the kitchen fridge by making a cake. As of this writing (1 p.m., Sunday afternoon, February 12th) all of the Chinese leftovers have been consumed except for a little bit of rice (which my daughter will, I’m sure, be happy to have with furikake on it as a mid-afternoon snack), and half of the cake is gone, too. If I can think of another thing to bake that will use up the last cup of coconut milk, the last of the leftover cream, and maybe that little jar of caramel frosting that’s wedged into the back of the fridge, I’ll feel a lot better about the state of the refrigerator.

In the meantime, though, we get to finish this cake, which I pretty much made up, and which turned out surprisingly well — so well, in fact, that I’ve already had requests to make it again.

The goal, when I started on this cake, was simple: bake a cake that will use up the rest of the store-bought yogurt. I eyeballed it and estimated it was about 1 cup of yogurt. (It turned out to be precisely one cup of yogurt, which I felt pretty smug about.) I said to my daughter, “I am going to bake a cake. How do you think cinnamon cake sounds? That sound good?” She said yes, so I began to think about cinnamon cakes, and I wondered about pound cake. I did some research in books and online and realized that I wasn’t really game to do a proper pound cake. The good pound cakes I make — they’re stupendous, but they require things like “whip 8 egg whites in one bowl, 9 egg yolks in a separate bowl” and I just didn’t have the patience for that kind of thing. I remembered a King Arthur Flour recipe for a brown sugar pound cake, and decided to model my cake after that. It’s a fairly simple cake that isn’t a true pound cake to me (it doesn’t have the same velvety crumb) but it’s good and the brown sugar gives the crust a really nice burnt-sugar flavor. The cake I made was baked in a Bundt pan but I’m sure you could do this as a loaf cake, as rounds, as whatever you wanted.

The list of ingredients:

2 sticks butter; 2 jumbo eggs; 1 cup light brown sugar; 1/2 cup granulated sugar; 2 tsp. vanilla; 2 cups flour; 2 tsp. baking powder; 1 tsp. baking soda; dash of salt; 1 heaping tablespoon cinnamon; 1 cup plain yogurt

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter the baking pan(s) of your choice; I used a 10 cup Bundt-pan.

Cream the butter; add both sugars and whip together until they’re smooth and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the bowl once or twice. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon). Add the vanilla to the butter and sugar and eggs, and then  add half of the flour mixture. Be sure to scrape the bowl down. Pour in yogurt; mix; add second part of flour. Combine again, scraping the bottom and walls of the bowl. Pour batter into pan(s); bake until cake tester comes out clean or cake hits about 200°. (In a Bundt pan, this took about an hour.)

Pulling this cake out of the oven was a pleasure; it smelled so ridiculously good, even if there wasn’t any chocolate in it. All of us have been eating slices of it all day long; to my daughter, it’s a perfect snack cake to have with a glass of milk; my husband thinks it’s a perfect match for a cup of coffee.

It tastes strongly of cinnamon and brown sugar, though my daughter suggested I might want to go with more cinnamon next time. I realized this morning, as I had a second slice, that it reminded me a lot of the Drake’s Coffee Cakes we used to get when I was little. True, they are fundamentally different things: my cake was not a soft yellow cake with a grainy, sugary streusel topping, but somehow the two cakes are related.

It occurs to me that this is the kind of cake that can probably be altered a million different ways. I could do another one and use up the coconut milk in it; leave out the cinnamon but throw in some shredded coconut, a little extra vanilla? The basic formula remains stable: two cups of flour, some baking powder, some baking soda, two eggs, two sticks of butter, two cups of sugar, one cup of dairy, and — flavoring. Whatever the flavoring is, don’t be stingy with it.

This is a cake that works well, but not well enough, to distract a middle-aged woman from dealing with the hell of making Valentine’s Day cards for her child to bring to all 25 of her classmates at school. To achieve the kind of numbness necessary to survive that, I’m afraid something more drastic is called for. Something along the lines of Everclear in a tall glass. Obviously this isn’t happening (and the previous sentence was, also, obviously a joke, don’t worry: I’m not much of a drinker to begin with, and I’m definitely not someone who’s gonna be drinking Everclear) so I suppose I should cut myself another piece of cake and face the glitter glue.



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