Inspiration: Cake


I love Bon Appetit magazine. If you’re reading this blog, I’m sure there’s a good chance that you do too. I tear the plastic wrapping off each month, excited to see what I’ll find inside. I know there will be beautiful photographs, ah-ha! tips and tricks, top-notch restaurant nods, and dozens of recipes. But what I most look forward to discovering in its pages is inspiration–a different way of looking at peaches, or burgers, or cheese that makes something in me shift.

When it happens, it’s like a presence that sweeps across all of my senses at once–I can’t yet see, smell, or taste it, but I can feel that it’s there. Slowly, it becomes an actual thought, takes shape, comes into focus. Most often it’s only a single element, or a concept, that then begins to sprout delicate fingers that probe the corners of my mind and pull out tiny pieces of color and flavor, assembling them together into something whole. Something that all of my senses can fully imagine. Something that I then must create. Mmm, yes. This is where recipes are built.

And while I often turn the pages for this rush alone, there is occasionally that one recipe that gives me pause. That does not send my creative mind into a hungry frenzy, but quiets it instead. Back in April, I stopped upon one such recipe and it has been clinging to the walls of my brain ever since. Occasionally, it will stick its little foot out, wriggling its toes in the middle of everything else I’m trying to sort through, just to let me know that it’s still there–I’m waaaiting.

So I gave in. How long can one really hold out against cake anyway?



I don’t know how many of you remember the Coffee-Chocolate Layer Cake with Mocha Mascarpone Frosting from the April 2009 issue of Bon Appetit magazine, but my dear Carolyn remembered it right away. “You made it?!” she asked. Yes, I did. And I made it gluten-free.

This was my first attempt at adapting a non-GF recipe, and I was surprised and extremely pleased that it came out on the first try. This cake is rich and dense…and caffeinated. It has been dessert, breakfast, and a late night snack that kept me from falling asleep a bit longer than I would have liked. I feel as though it would be responsible of me to tell you that I wouldn’t recommend eating it at 1am. But I would.




Coffee-Chocolate Cake with Mocha Mascarpone Frosting
Adapted from Bon Appetit


1 cup sweet white sorghum flour
1/2 cup white rice flour, plus more for dusting pans
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1/4 cup potato starch
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
4 teaspoons instant espresso powder* dissolved in 3/4 cup hot water

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 325°F.

Butter two 9-inch cake pans with 2-inch-high sides; dust with rice flour, tapping out any excess. Line bottom of pans with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, sift together the sorghum, rice, and tapioca flours, the potato starch, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, xanthan gum and salt. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in vanilla.

Add flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with buttermilk in 2 additions, beating just until blended after each addition. Gradually add hot espresso-water mixture, beating just until smooth.

Divide batter between pans and bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on rack 15 minutes. Invert cakes onto racks; lift pans off cakes and remove parchment. Place wire rack atop each cake; invert again so top side is up. Cool completely.


1/3 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder*
1 1/2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream, divided
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 8-ounce containers chilled mascarpone cheese
Bittersweet chocolate curls or shavings (optional)

Sift cocoa powder into large bowl with espresso powder. Bring 1 cup cream to boil in small saucepan. Slowly pour cream over cocoa mixture, whisking until cocoa is completely dissolved, about 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup cream and sugar; stir until sugar dissolves. Chill until cold, at least 2 hours.

Add mascarpone to chilled cocoa mixture. Using electric mixer, beat on low speed until blended and smooth. Increase speed to medium-high; beat until mixture is thick and medium-firm peaks form when beaters are lifted, about 2 minutes (do not overbeat or mixture will curdle).

Place 1 cake layer, top side up, on platter. Spoon 1 3/4 cups frosting over top of cake and spread frosting to edges. Top with second cake layer, top side up, pressing to adhere. Spread thin layer of frosting over top and sides of cake. Chill 10 minutes and spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake, swirling decoratively. Top with chocolate curls, if desired.

*My market didn’t have instant espresso, so I used regular, fine-ground Illy espresso instead. It came out perfectly fine this way.

This cake is best on the first day and excellent on the second, straight out of the fridge. By day three, it starts to dry out a bit as these things are wont to do–but that’s what frosting is for.

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