How many times have I thought: I’m a good cook but I can’t bake to save my life? Like, so, so many times. Part of the reason for this being I practice cooking way more often and it’s easy to get discouraged when baking. Curdle-y Italian buttercream, dry cake, or a host of baking flops and complete “Nailed It!” moments make me hesitant when it comes to baking. I probably shouldn’t complain too much because people will start to point to my successes on Instagram. And, yes, I’ve had some great baking moments in the past several years but it’s a skill I lack confidence in. This is where Christina Tosi and her book All About Cake fit in.
One of my secret, favourite things to do is to watch YouTube videos. Once the kid is in bed and the kitchen is cleaned up I love to sit down and watch — music videos (love me some classic, Canadian 70s rock), how-to (doesn’t everyone want to play a ukulele??), interviews (The Graham Norton Show is a scream), and most importantly, Christina Tosi videos (my personal favourite being the one where she and Questlove build a layer cake). Is there a more vibrant, energetic person? She seems to be filled with positive vibes (or a cuss-ton of sugar) and after watching her baking I thought that her cakes looked a) totally doable and b) darn delicious.
When I first got her book last November there weren’t any major family celebrations, so I wasn’t looking to bake layer cakes, which was alright because she has recipes for mug cakes. These are exactly what they sound like — individual-sized cakes in mugs which are cooked in the microwave. Who could say “no” to such a small cake indulgence? My husband who is the “if it’s not chocolate, it’s not dessert” type loved the Molten Chocolate Microwave Mug Cake, and, I totally dug the Oatmeal-Apple-Brown Sugar Microwave Mug Cake (which is topped with green apple matchsticks and brown sugar glaze). Minimal effort with a high-impact treat factor! And, while I’m almost positive Tosi would tell me that I don’t need a special occasion to bake cake as it’s an occasion in and of itself, these mug cakes strike the perfect balance between enjoying the sweet life without totally regretting it. A little somethin’ somethin’.
All About Cake is really all about cake — bundts, pound, cupcake, mug cake, cake truffles, sheet cake, ice cream cake, crockpot cake, and layer cakes. Tosi is focusing on all your cake-related needs! Her flavours are classic and inspired — there’s even a recipe for celery root pound cake! You might think “yuck”, but you know if Tosi has put this recipe into a book about cake you know it’s a winner. Her methods and flavour-combos are completely bonafide. One thing I’ve noticed about Tosi’s recipes is that there can be a few different elements happening that are meant to work in perfect concert with each other so that when you take your first bite you’re hit with incredible flavour AND texture. Take the Oatmeal-Apple-Brown Sugar Microwave Mug Cake — you get the warming comfort of oatmeal with the sweet/tart crunchy green apples and the sticky-sweet brown sugar glaze. It’s like what happens to Cinderella when her Fairy Godmother waves her wand — it’s like oatmeal gets the Fairy-Godmother makeover! If oatmeal could live its best life, I think this mug cake might be it. When you get into some of the bigger, more involved layer cakes there are still these flavour and textural elements that work together to elevate the cake experience.
Ask my husband right this moment if he’s regretting sharing a birthday cake with me and he’d probably say yeah (our birthdays are less than a week apart, so we’ve been sharing a cake instead of having two in the past few years). If he knew how much he was going to love the German Chocolate Jimbo Cake I think he would have told me to make two cakes! (My daughter would have also asked for two cakes because as I was unmolding the cake, she was standing behind me and offered this observation: “Hey mom — I don’t think that cake is going to be big enough for the three of us.”) All I can say is that everyone is going to be wanting their own cakes from now on!
The German Chocolate Jimbo Cake is one of the most delicious cakes I’ve ever had! You start with three basic chocolate cake layers that become the backdrop for liberal splashes of malted milk cake soak, coconut-crack filling, pecan crunch filling, and chocolate frosting. It’s borderline genius how well Tosi can deconstruct a recipe and make it her own. Once you’ve layered up your cake, it goes into the freezer to set for 12 hrs. Anyone can bake a cake the Tosi way and be successful. All you must do is make the components and you’re set. She’s really kept the home baker in mind because you can totally make the different elements ahead of time so that you aren’t spending a day in the kitchen.
The last time (well, the only time) I made a 6″-layer cake, I used several 6″ round cake pans. This is not the case with a Tosi cake — she relies on a jelly roll sized pan to bake the cake on. Once baked and cooled you use your cake ring to cut out the layers — two perfect rounds and one “round” that is cobbled together with pieces. As you can see in my picture, I got 2 whole rounds and two 1/2 rounds. The benefit to baking the cake like this is that you get really even layers, unlike the domed rounds you get when you bake a cake layer in a round cake pan. Not having to level anything out is a huge plus! (If you’re wondering what you do with the extra cake you cake eat it or make cake truffles with it — the recipe for which are in the book).
When building a Tosi/Milk Bar cake you need some essential tools/equipment and some key ingredients. Before baking any of her layer cakes I ordered a couple of cake rings — I had to go to a restaurant supply store because I needed the heavy-duty ones (I bought a 6″ and an 8″) that were wide enough on the sides (3″) to support the cake layers (you’ll also use the ring to cut out the layers). I also picked up a roll of acetate — this is what you use to line the ring with. When you unmold your cake, the acetate will stop the layers from sticking to the sides of the ring but, it will also create a smooth and tidy edge once you peel it off the cake. Finally, I ordered freeze-dried corn so that I could grind it up into powder. This seemingly small flavour element becomes one of the essential components in the Milk Bar (formerly known as crack pie) filling. I made the mistake of thinking I could buy feuillitine (tiny paper-thin wafer shards used by pastry chefs) anywhere (I couldn’t) so I used Rice Krispies (Tosi had mentioned how feuillitine was like Rice Krispies in a YouTube vid).
With my success baking up the German Chocolate Jimbo Cake I feel like I want to bake more of these cakes! Not only can you make 6″ cakes but with the use of different sized rings you can pretty much make whatever size cake you want (Tosi even gives information on how to make darn delicious vegan cakes!). All About Cake is all about eating something that is worth the effort to make in the first place. Nothing beige or boring. Layer cakes like this are perfect for me because it’s not about piping on flowers or swooping that frosting. And, if you’re like me, in love with Milk Bar but might never have a chance to actually taste their creations, then this book allows you to easily bake up all kinds of lovely Milk Bar cakes right in your own home.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Penguin Random House Canada / Clarkson Potter Publishers for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.