This might be blasphemous for a food writer to say out loud but….
…I am a big fan of the whole “One Recipe Fits All” concept when it comes to baking. I have my one fruit crisp recipe that I use year round (swapping in whatever fruit is in season), and my one chocolate “mud cake” recipe that I make for special occasions (layering it for birthday cakes or freezing it for ice cream cakes or baking it a heart shape for Valentine’s Day). I think this is because the variables around baking terrify me (omg have you ever omitted baking powder by accident???), so when I find a good formula, I stick with it.
This is why I’m in love with Dorie Greenspan’s Everything Cake. It’s from her new book, Baking with Dorie, which is, in fact, an entire collection devoted to the concept of flexibility with classic recipes. It’s one-bowl, tender and spongey, and is the kind of cake that can be anything you need it to be: frosted, fruit-stuffed, sugar-dusted, almond-studded, and, most important, dependable. Here’s what she has to say about it…
From Dorie: I had trouble deciding on a name for this easy one-bowl cake that you mix by hand. It’s like a sponge cake, but moist and a smidge chewy; you taste the butter, but you wouldn’t call the cake rich, just good. Its beauty lies in its possibilities. You can flavor it by adding other ingredients to the batter or by infusing spices, herbs or tea into the melted butter that goes into it. It can welcome fruit, fresh or dried, either in the batter or on top of it (the fruit usually sinks, but that’s fine). It can be frosted — I like it with a confectioners’ sugar icing — or brushed with warm jam, or just sprinkled with sugar. It can be sliced and filled, and it’s nice with a topping of poached fruit, whipped cream or even hot fudge sauce. I’ve suggested a few ideas (see Playing Around, below), but there are many more possibilities for you to discover on your own.
The Everything Cake
From Baking with Dorie: Sweet, Salty, & Simple
Makes 8 servings
For the cake:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
⅓ cup milk, at room temperature
1½ sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Confectioners’ Sugar Icing (see below)
Make the cake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan, or use baker’s spray. Whisk the flour and baking powder together.
Put the sugar in a large bowl and add the eggs and salt, whisking for a minute or two to get a homogenous mixture. Whisk in the vanilla and milk. Switch to a flexible spatula and stir in the dry ingredients. When they’re fully incorporated, gradually fold in the butter. Scrape the batter into the pan.
Bake the cake for 28 to 32 minutes, or until the top is set and golden, the cake is starting to pull away from the sides of the pan and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack and let rest for 5 minutes, then run a table knife around the edges of the cake and unmold it onto the rack. Turn it right side up and let cool to room temperature.
If you want to ice the cake, do this when the cake is cool. Let the icing set at room temperature before serving.
Storing: Wrapped well, the cake will keep at room temperature for up to 4 days. If you haven’t iced the cake, it can be frozen, well wrapped, for up to 2 months; thaw in the wrapper.
Lemon, Lime, Orange and/or Tangerine Cake
Grate 2 to 3 tablespoons of citrus zest (use one kind or several) over the sugar and use your fingers to rub the ingredients together until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Use just 1/2 teaspoon vanilla (or omit it) and add 2 tablespoons citrus juice to the batter along with the milk. If you’d like, arrange pieces of fruit (either segments or thin slices) over the top of the batter and sprinkle with sugar before baking
Apple or Pear Cake
Add up to 1 tablespoon dark rum to the batter along with the vanilla. Arrange slices of peeled apple or pear on top of the batter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
Confectioners’ Sugar Icing
Makes about ½ cup
1 cup (120 grams) confectioners’ sugar (or more or less, depending on what you want), sifted
About 1 tablespoon milk, water, lemon juice or other liquid (or more or less, depending on what you want)
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional)
Put the confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl and little by little, work in the milk or other liquid with a flexible spatula. At first it will seem impossible that such a small amount of liquid could moisten all that sugar—just keep stirring. Add the vanilla, if you’re using it, and then, if you’d like a thinner icing, add more liquid by the drop. If the icing is too thin, add a little more sugar. For most jobs, an icing that falls slowly and steadily from the tip of a spoon is just right. Storing: It’s best to use this icing as soon as it’s made.
(Top photo by Mark Weinberg.)