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Checking In (+ Yellow Butter Cake)

[On the Wadi Trail, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 2015.]

We moved into our new house last weekend and I’ve already baked a lemon yogurt cake, made lots of fruit compotes for a certain someone, did the requisite pot of quinoa and roasted a chicken … So, not much has changed kitchen-wise other than my current abode’s offering is much tinier and darker than my last lovely tiled and light-filled space and I’m a bit thin in the wares department. Still, we’ve transitioned OK-ish and I remain grateful we came over to Riyadh from Casablanca rather than going back to the States first. Flying long distances plus time differences when you have a little one adds the sort of dimension to travel that almost makes you want to stay home (only almost) or at least slate a long stretch of time to stay when you get there. That’s to say, pretty much, that I am looking forward to a nice summer of California time because a) there’s no way we are staying in the desert when temperatures can reach upwards of 120 degrees F and b) have I mentioned how … interesting … long haul flights are with an 18-month-old?

Just the thought of it makes me want to reach for a slice of cake. And, please, let’s have one together – specifically this one I made in my waning, pre-move days in Morocco. I’d get up early 3 days a week to log 6-8 miles along the ocean (which I already miss!) and then I’d think about what to organize and what I should bake. (I was also trying to whittle down most of my pantry so that was an excuse.) The baking part was clearly the most important of the day.

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to bake this particular yellow cake with chocolate frosting here in my new place but alas! I keep forgetting to buy a cheap cake pan at the grocery store. This should go on my list for tomorrow’s trip to Carrefour, along with a nice piece of salmon (crossing fingers) and some more vegetables and fruit to make for dinner because we’ve invited a guest to share with us and it’s the first time someone is coming over for a meal. This helps me feel more settled – when I cook for others – and while I only have 3 pots in the kitchen and a houseful of rather dark (if nice) government-issued furniture I will make the most of what I have.

’tis a simple enough cake, calling for the usual suspects of eggs, milk, and butter. And yet. When capped with a creamy swath of chocolate buttercream (or almond buttercream, as I did in another iteration) it borders on the sublime. These days when I am working with less I streamline my meals and desserts and after all I think I prefer cooking this way. Lots more time, then, for me to utilize the baby’s naps for reading the New York Times online or check out another book for my kindle from the San Francisco Public Library. Or dust. There will be a lot of dusting in my future activities. Welcome to the desert. It’s definitely different.


Yellow Butter Cake with Chocolate Frosting

I’ve included a gluten-free flours combination here to make this cake naturally flourless; the oat flour is lovely here, as this cake is rather sturdy without being heavy. To make dairy free, substitute 1/2 cup margarine and 1/2 cup non-dairy milk of choice.

Makes one 8 or 9-inch single layer cake.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
gluten-free substitute: 1 cup finely ground gluten-free oat flour + 1/2 cup sweet white rice flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
rounded 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup raw sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place an oven rack in the lower 1/3 of the oven and heat to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of an 8 or 9-inch round cake pan with a circle of parchment.

In a small bowl, combine the flours, baking powder and salt. Stir to mix well and aerate.

In a large bowl and using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary, until the butter is lighter in color, about 45 seconds. The add sugar in a steady stream and scrape down the bowl again. Continue to mix on medium speed until the mixture is very light in color and texture, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Slowly pour in the eggs a little at a time, and beat very well for about 2 minutes.

Combine the vanilla and milk in a small bowl or measuring cup.

With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture in four doses, alternating with the milk in three doses. Scrape down the sides of the bowl in between additions.

Pour the batter into prepared cake pan, place in the oven, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and set on a rack to cool for 10 minutes then turn out onto rack to finish cooling completely.

Chocolate Frosting

2 oz. unsweetened (or bittersweet) chocolate, chopped
1 1/2-2 cups confectioners’ sugar
3/4 stick butter or margarine, at room temperature
2-3 Tbs. [soy] milk, plus more, if needed
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
pinch salt

Heat chocolate a double boller until melted. Let cool to room temperature. In a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter. Add the chocolate, confectioners’ sugar, milk, vanilla, and the pinch of salt and beat on low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes, then reduce the speed to low. Add more sugar and milk as needed.

If the frosting is dry, add more milk, 1 tsp. at a time, until it is creamy but still holds peaks.

Liberally frost cake; fill if you like as well (I kept things simple with one layer). [/print_this]


  1. Mmm… butter cake. Doesn’t even need frosting, not that I’d turn it down. A little ice cream perhaps.

    I know exactly what you mean about how cooking for someone settles you. I say it grounds me. Helps me feel connected to the planet and its life. Which I will wish for you as you settle into this slightly less friendly location. Good life to all of you!

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