A Simple Cake


Odette Williams’s 
Simple Cake arrived on my doorstep the day before Phoebe’s birthday, but something tells me even if it was a random Tuesday in the middle of the night, this book would’ve given me no choice but to beeline for the kitchen to bake a cake, like the one you are looking at above: What she calls Chocolatey Chocolate Cake with Silky Marshmallow Icing.

Simple Cake is my favorite kind of cookbook: Beautiful, personal, poetic without being treacly. While there’s something to be said for the biblical “category killer” type of collection, the one that has every recipe you’ll ever need, the baking books that get me to break out the standing mixer are the ones that feel like the author just pulled out a few stained index cards from her wooden recipe box; the ones that have the overall feel of How lovely of you to stop by. That’s what Simple Cake is. Williams gives us recipes for 10 cakes and 15 toppings. And though that might not sound like a lot, once you do the mix-and-match math there, you’ll see it’s probably all you’ll ever need.

Once you leaf through it, you will find yourself so happy you still have that bag of almond flour in the pantry because: Almond Gato! (So simple! Seven ingredients; one of them is salt.) It will suddenly occur to you that maybe a warm Cinnamon Donut Cake (think farmer’s market cider donuts, but in cake form) would cheer up your daughter who is injured and sidelined from playing her favorite sport. Or perhaps Bribery Cake (Chocolatey chocolate cake with chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream) would work for that, too. As Williams’ writes, “It’s the cake you bake to help you or a loved one across the finish line.” Next up for me: TLC Cakes (pan-fried Coconut Cake), Self-Care Cake (Milk and Honey Cake with Whipped Cream); Poppy Seed Yogurt Cake, called A Cake for the Working Week.

In other words, it’s impossible to read this book and not think: It’s a good day to bake a cake.

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Chocolatey Chocolate Cake with Silky Marshmallow Icing

You can double this recipe when it’s party time—just use a 15 by 11-inch sheet pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Makes one 10 by 3-inch round cake. Preparation: 20 minutes

1 3/4 cups (225g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (45g) unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (300g) granulated sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (240ml) whole milk
1/2 cup (120ml) grapeseed oil or any mild-flavored oil
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (240ml) boiling water

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 10-by-3-inch round pan with butter, line the bottom and sides of the pan with parchment paper, and grease the paper. (I’ll let you just grease, line the bottom of the pan, and lightly flour the sides if you’re feeling lazy.)

Place a large sifter or a sieve in a large mixing bowl. Add the flour, cocoa,baking powder, baking soda, and salt and sift.

Add the sugar and whisk until combined.

In another large bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla together.

Gradually add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk until there are no lumps and the batter is smooth.

Carefully pour in the boiling water and stir until combined. (Watch the little ones with the hot water!)

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake in the center of the oven for approximately 50 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, and the cake bounces back when lightly pressed.

Remove from the oven and let the cake stand for 10 minutes. Run a butter knife around the cake to gently release. Peel off the parchment paper from the sides. Invert the cake, peel off the bottom piece of parchment, and cool on a wire rack.

Other Options:
Two 8- or 9-inch round pans. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes.
One 12 by 8-inch or 13 by 9-inch rectangular pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
10 to 12 individual ramekins (grease and fill halfway). Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
Two 12-cup cupcake pans (fill liners no more than halfway). Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
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Silky Marshmallow Icing
Makes 3 cups; enough for one 8- or 9-inch round cake. Preparation 15 minutes.
2 1/2 tablespoons water
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
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Fill a medium saucepan with about 1 1/2 inches of water, bring to a boil, and then lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer.
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Place the water, egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar, salt and vanilla in a metal mixing bowl. (Use the mixing bowl of a standing mixer if you have one.) Place the bowl on top of the saucepan. Make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water.
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Whisk the mixture constantly for 4 minutes until it reaches a temperature between 160° and 165°F if using a candy thermometer. The sugar will have dissolved, and the mixture will be opaque, bubbly, and dry warm to the touch.
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Carefully transfer the hot bowl to the electric mixer. Using a whisk attachment, beat the mixture on high speed for 4 minutes or until it’s white and fluffy with stand-up peaks.
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Reprinted with permission from 
Simple Cake by Odette Williams, copyright © 2019. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. For more Odette, follow her on instagram.
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21 Comments

sally

Gorgeous! I love a good cake.

BTW, I was at dinner with a close friend who I’ve known for 13 years – we met in prenatal yoga – and we were talking about meal planning and she mentioned that her husband was friends with you in college! I was like, I LOVE HER – well, I’ve never met Jenny, but I love her blo and books, and it took you 13 years to tell me this?

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Kim

This post feels like an old-school DALS post (in a good way). The simply decorated cake, the birthday gifts strewn on the table, the bright red chair in the background…. so comforting. Baking cakes is one of my favorite things in life and this book looks so good.

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joy

What’s the cake in the cover photo of the book? It actually looks a lot like Russian kulich, a sweet yeast bread a little bit like panettone, but that is made at Easter.

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Julie

This looks lovely. I am definitely adding Simple Cakes to my list of books to purchase!

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awads

i baked the cake last night, wrapped it and tossed it in the freezer to finish off (icing, eating) for a dinner party saturday night. i loved that it was created with pantry/fridge ingredients and came together very quickly (under 15 minutes). thanks for the recipe and inspiration!

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Awads

I finished the cake today and served it at a dinner party. OMG!! That icing!! I can’t believe I made that! The whole thing was amazing, and took very little effort or exotic ingredients. I wish I could post a pic here, but I posted it to my Instagram (awadsie). Thanks again! I will buy the book!

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Marisa

Made this lovely cake and divine icing with my daughter Saturday, and then promptly ordered the book. The cake was even better on day 2. We made 2 round 8 -inch cakes, with the icing perfect for 1. I froze the other cake and am looking forward to trying another frosting recipe from the book to top it.

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Laura

I saw this book at my local bookstore, leafed through it, and had to buy it. I was fascinated by the many ways to morph a simple cake into something spectacular.

Once I got the cookbook home, my 6 year old daughter and I baked the Very Vanilla cake, and since bedtime was drawing near by the time it was done cooking, and we couldn’t wait for the cake to cool before frosting it, we ate the cake with a dusting of confectioners sugar. It was delicious and easily the best vanilla cake I’ve ever made.

Up next is the Olive Oil cake, which I suspect will taste a lot like a simple (and delicious) cake my husband’s Greek grandmother used to make with olive oil and just a splash of orange juice.

Thanks so much for drawing my attention to this book! I suspect there will be many mother/daughter baking adventures inspired by this book, and flour strewn around my kitchen, for years to come.

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Awads

I made a 2-layer cake without doubling the recipe for icing. I had plenty! I wound up not icing the sides, so tossed out a good bit (which I’m sitting her mourning a week later! )

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Heidi

Thank you for this! My very picky eater turned 10 this week and her two favorite sweets are… chocolate cake and marshmallows!! This was a winner with both kids and adults. In fact, as he was leaving my neighbor reminded me that his birthday is coming up next month — and he’d be a-okay with me making this cake for him!

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Allie

Do you know if this amount of cake batter would fit in (and not overflow from) a 9×3 inch round cake pan? I mistakenly tried to bake it once in a 9×1 inch pan and ended up making a giant mess in my oven.

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Jessie

I want to try this cake and frosting for my daughter’s 4th birthday. Can I frost it the night before? Or wait until the day of? If frosted before, can/should it go in the fridge? Or leave out on the counter?

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