You know how there’s a mini aisle of temptations at the checkout aisle of the grocery store? It’s not really as tempting as it used to be when I was a kid with eyes as wide as Reese’s cups. (If orange Tic Tacs still tempt you, though, hang in there, buddy.) But when you’re queuing up at Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, there’s a refrigerated case of single cake slices. The Boston Cream Pie always gets me: a hard layer of chocolate ganache that cracks like weak ice into spongy yellow cake, then a layer of pastry cream, and then a wee bit more cake. In the fridge, the cake becomes denser and every bite stays together better. It’s meant to be.
Because I’m a scarcity-minded person, I eat one or two bites at a time whenever I pass by my fridge at home. It makes the pleasures of cake stretch through the working hours. Sometimes I imagine I’m Elaine on Seinfeld sneaking a bite of ancient royal wedding cake, bought at auction for $29,000, and then I eat it all at once. Depends on the day.
Some cakes are just better cold. Especially carrot cake. I’ve made the Cold Carrot Cake from Alison Roman’s new book, Sweet Enough, twice. (It has dates instead of raisins, and sour cream makes the crumb dense and moist like sticky pudding.) “It doesn’t have to be refrigerated,” writes Roman, but it’s deeply implied by the name, because cold carrot cake is “one of the most delightful textures and flavors in this whole world.”
I recently made a cherry “slice” (pictured above) that was heaven from the fridge. Brooklyn Blackout Cake is also sublime cold, and best shipped cold so you don’t have to spend hours making it. Tres leches cake is cold by design, a superior dessert in all regards. Flourless chocolate cake basically becomes fudge once it’s been chilled. It sounds like cheating to say that pudding cakes are better cold, but facts are facts. Cheesecake, duh. The six eggs in Chez Panisse’s moister-than-moist almond cake make it a fridge’s friend. Nigella’s coffee-walnut cake, cold, for breakfast, now, please.
Sometimes there’s science: A cake that uses oil instead of butter stays moister in the fridge, where melted butter, which has water in it, will solidify at room or cold temps, making a cake taste drier. This is my subscription to Cook’s Illustrated really paying off.
That’s why Smitten Kitchen’s Mom’s Apple Cake, made with oil and so many apples, is wonderful served cold, with an equally cold dollop of sour cream. I like to buy namoura from a Middle Eastern bakery and stash it in the fridge, where the syrup soak keeps the pleasantly coarse semolina cake nice and, well, soaked.
My baking queen Roxana Jullapat has a recipe for Chocolate Buckwheat Cake that’s a dream with a slight chill. The buckwheat’s toasty notes are fresh and fragrant; serve with a cup of black coffee and start your day right. “I love ALL cakes out of the fridge,” Jullapat told me. I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t love a cold cake — but I guess that’s what comment sections are for.
Cold cake is a practicality for food safety and defense in the battle against ants. But it’s also a way we hold on to something good, streeetching it for as many days as we can, knowing that every slice is a moment to sink our warm teeth into, until the last, dried crumbs are left on the ice cold plate. And that’s when we pre-heat the oven.
Alex Beggs is a writer and copywriter who lives with her partner in Michigan. She writes a monthly Trader Joe’s review column for Bon Appétit and has also written an etiquette column and a Thanksgiving piece that won an ASME award. For Cup of Jo, Alex has written about grumps and roasted cauliflower. You can find her on Instagram, if you’d like.
(Top photo by Albert Martinez/Stocksy. Other photos by Alex Beggs.)