Foods & Culinary

A cake you can’t screw up

Welcome to Ask Elazar, a column in which Eater staff writer Elazar Sontag answers your highly specific and pressing cooking questions.


My second birthday in quarantine is just around the corner (: sobs πŸ™‚ and while I’m a very inexperienced baker (focus on VERY NOVICE), I want to make myself at least a cake. Do you have a suggestion for baking that feels festive but isn’t huge either, since I live in a two-person household and don’t want to eat cake for a week?

Hpy birthday! Hopefully this will be your final pandemic celebration, and next year we will all again have birthdays surrounded by loved ones in very busy restaurants. In the meantime, as a bakery colleague, I know the fear of making a not sad birthday cake from scratch. For those of us who lack confidence and know-how, visiting a favorite bakery is of course the best way to guarantee a successful result. But if you are determined to bake at home, no dessert is more forgiving and rewarding than the loaf cake. One loaf is just enough of a project without sending the novice baker into a spiral created by layering and glazing. A really good bread is not overly elaborate or crinkled, but just as elegant and impressive as any round, stacked masterpiece. And no matter what anyone says, a loaf is a Cake.

I’m sure if you search hard enough you could find an intricate loaf cake out there. But for the most part, when a recipe calls for a loaf pan, it signals that the process is accessible to the inexperienced baker and that the ingredient list won’t make my head spin.

As such, placing dough in a loaf pan and putting it in the oven is one of the few forms of baking that I happily adopt, and I have a loaf for almost every occasion to prove it.

Like everyone else, I spent the first few months of 2020 making endless banana bread (which is actually just breakfast cake). For dinner dates – or just because I long for it – I make a variation of a Pumpkin Tea Cake. I’ve made this particular one so many times that it is slowly turning into a different dessert: roasted and mashed sweet potatoes are now replacing the pumpkin puree, and olive oil gives the cake a more grassy taste than the vegetable oil originally called for. Granted, this bread is perfect, but more Pumpkin Spice Latte than Perfect Birthday Weekend.

Equipped with a loaf pan, you can opt for a summery bowl Lemon crumb loaf, a fresh citrus and olive oil cake, a Carrot bread cake, a bowl Cornmeal Pound Cake, or a Poppy seed cake. There is a amount of great loaf cake recipes out there, but for a birthday mood, I say stick with chocolate, the most solemn and famous cake flavor. I recently made a chocolate bread for a friend who lives a few blocks away, but I didn’t see much of it during this pandemic. I wanted to be with her on her birthday, and bringing cake and waving through my car window was as close as I would imagine. For some reason my non-vegan friend asked for a vegan cake and I landed on it egg-free chocolate bread, shared by an AllRecipes user named Angel.

Even though the recipe didn’t call for add-ins, I tossed a mountain of chocolate chips into the batter and made up my mind that if my cake was a total disaster, I’d only blame myself. But like so many recipes published by chefs with no surname and no headshot at AllRecipes, this bread naturally turned out to be practically indestructible. With 743 five-star ratings, Angel delivered a top-notch cake that I was able to make in a bowl with very little fear – and even less tidying up – on my lunch break. It was moist and filling (I rubbed some crumbs out of the pan with my finger), with a nice, crunchy top.

Because making a loaf is so stress-free, it leaves the nervous baker (me) room to have fun with the decoration. For this one I chose a very simple one Powdered sugar icingTo which I added a tablespoon of smooth almond butter, a generous scoop of tahini and a large pinch of flake salt. I poured the golden icing over my warm, beautiful baby and frantically fanned it out until the sugary mixture solidified. When I finished licking the icing out of the bowl (cooking specialty) I topped the cake with some shredded roasted peanuts, pushed it onto foil-wrapped cardboard and brought it to my friend’s art. The next day I received a photo of the loaf, which looked very festive, very solemn and – in my humble opinion – just as impressive as the fanciest birthday cake. A loaf might not bring you space for the next season of the year Great British baking showBut for me, that’s the only way it comes up short.

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