vanilla cake

Double Barbie Frozen Cake: Redemption Edition

For those of you who have been following me know that I did a Frozen barbie cake for my girls’ birthday last November. It was the first time I had attempted a barbie cake and it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. The dolls were leaning because the structural integrity was so poor, the fondant seams were a mess, and the detailing was unfinished because I ran out of time.

I learned a lot from that cake.

A neighbor kid turned 5 earlier this month and had a Frozen party (of course!). For the first time I was on the fence about offering to do a cake. The baby has not been sleeping well; she usually wakes up 4 times a night, despite co-sleeping. This throws a wrench into any baking, because I usually get all of my cake work done at night once the girls are asleep. So with the baby’s schedule being so unpredictable, it seemed too risky to roll the dice this time. I would die if I wasn’t able to get a cake done after saying I would do it. Just when I was leaning strongly towards not doing it this time, my 4 year old asked me, “Mom, can you make a cake for my friend?” Looking into her big brown eyes brimming with excitement, I could not deny her request.

So I got in touch with my neighbor and told her that I would be happy to make her daughter a cake as a gift. “Maybe they’ll want something simple”, I said to myself. Kids love cupcakes, and cupcakes are easy! After browsing Pinterest, they sent me a picture of what the birthday girl wanted…

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Definitely not a cupcake. Of course she wanted a barbie cake. What 5 year old girl wouldn’t want this cake? BUT I DON’T KNOW IF I CAN DO THIS CAKE!!!

After the initial panic subsided, I actually thought about it and realized that I could make this cake. Sure, my first attempt at a barbie cake was kind of a disaster. BUT – – I learned a lot from that disaster:

  1. Bake the top layer in a bowl. That way, the shape of the dress is already there and won’t need to be carved.
  2. Don’t make the frosting in between the layers too thick. You want a thin layer, really. Enough to act as glue and add some flavor, but nothing like what you would put in a tiered cake. Too much frosting causes instability.
  3. Don’t pick a cake recipe that is super moist, because it doesn’t hold up well to stacking high or carving. This has always been an issue for me because I believe that there is nothing worse than dry cake. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter how pretty a cake looks if you get dry crumbs when you go to take a bite. The taste must match the beauty of the decorations, or else there’s no point. However, it’s very difficult to find recipes that are the perfect balance of moist yet sturdy.
  4. Chill out. No seriously–this cake needs to be chilled. Over and over again. So set aside enough time to do that.
  5. Details are key. I had to have enough time for the details of the dresses, otherwise it’s not a very interesting cake. Just a dome with dolls popping out.

That weekend was kind of busy for me, because aside from the birthday party, I also had committed to helping my mother-in-law with a jewelry party the night before. She is a stylist for Stella & Dot and one of her clients booked a party, where she brings all of her jewelry samples and the guests get to try everything on. These parties are always a lot of fun, but also a lot of work because my mother-in-law has a lot of samples. As in, it takes the two of us working together for an hour to set everything up. I knew that it was going to take up all of Friday night, and I knew that I couldn’t count on the baby sleeping. Since the birthday party was bright and early at 11 am Saturday morning, I knew that I had to get the cake done before I left for the Stella & Dot party on Friday evening or I would be screwed.

So I planned out my design. I found this YouTube video, which shows exactly how to make a single barbie cake. This is where I got the trick of baking the top tier in a bowl. Aside from the bowl cake, I knew I was going to need two 8″ rounds as well. I decided I was going to use this white cake recipe, swapping the milk for almond milk to make it dairy free. This recipe was perfect. The cake was strong enough to hold up to the stacking, but still moist and delicious. This will now be my go-to recipe for vanilla cake, because it’s kind of perfect in my opinion.

I decided to forgo the fondant this time around because it was already going to be challenging enough without adding the stress of frigging fondant. I wanted the frosting to be nice and firm, so I went with my fail-safe vanilla frosting. 4 ingredients: vegetable shortening, powdered sugar, a dash of almond milk and vanilla extract. Dairy free, delicious, and perfect for this job. One of these days, I’ll do a post with the recipe.

Elsa’s dress has a delicate ombré effect, which I decided to honor. Even though her dress doesn’t actually have snowflakes on it (those are only on the cape; can you tell I live with Frozen fanatics?), I couldn’t figure out a way to replicate the fancy ice shards seen on her skirt. If I was going to use fondant, I could have made scratches and dusted it with luster dust for sparkle. But scratch marks in buttercream just looked like I didn’t know how to frost properly. So, Elsa’s dress would need 4 colors: 3 shades of blue and white.

Anna’s dress has beautiful detailing along the hem of the skirt. The stripe at the bottom is a lighter shade of the blue of the skirt, but I wanted it to pop a bit more, so I decided I wanted to go with purple. A lot of artists had made that choice too, so I wasn’t too concerned about kids calling me out on it (except my own 4 year old, who is very detail oriented and noticed that it was wrong). The stems for the embroidered flowers are also a lighter tone of the blue of the skirt, but again I decided to go with a teal to make the design pop. I didn’t want to do all the work of piping all these details on if no one was going to notice them. Just like her sister, Anna was also going to require 4 colors: dark blue for her skirt, purple for the bottom stripe, and teal and fushia for the flowers.

Despite my well intentions of giving myself enough time to do this cake, motherhood got the better of me yet again and I wasn’t able to start it until Thursday night. Mind you, when I say ‘night’  I don’t mean right after dinner. I mean after the girls were in bed. Thankfully, God took mercy on my poor soul, and I was able to lay the baby down in her crib! Since I was going to be around people the next day, I had to make showering a priority. She was still sleeping when I got out, so I made a mad dash to the kitchen and got to baking! She slept long enough for me to get most of the batter done for the bowl cake; I had to fold the whipped egg whites in with her on my hip because she was not happy with Daddy.

I set the oven to 325° instead of 350° so the outside wouldn’t burn before the inside could bake. It ended up taking 70 long minutes to cook through, so if you do one of these cakes, be sure to plan for that extra bake time.

I hit the ground running Friday morning and baked the two 8″ rounds and made the frosting. The baking took awhile because I only have one 8″ pan. I contemplated using one of my 9″ pans so the cakes could bake at the same time, but I didn’t want to have to carve anything. I really didn’t want to mess anything up because I would not have the time to fix it. Coloring frosting takes for. ev. er. The dark blue for Anna’s dress didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. The “dark blue” icing color that I bought looked more grey than blue. So I had to futz with it a bit, mixing in a lighter blue to get it to look blue. Note to self: buy more than 1 type of dark blue next time, so that I have more to work with!

Time was really getting away from me and I at least wanted to have the cake stacked and crumb coated before I had to leave. The last 8″ round was still a little warm, but I decided to flip it out of the pan anyways so it would cool faster.

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That was a bad idea.

Luckily it split in a nice line down the middle, so I was able to save it.

I followed the lead of my YouTube video and used a circle cookie cutter to create a well in the middle of the tiers for the dolls’ legs. This was a huge saving grace when it came to structural integrity! With my first barbie cake, I just stuck the dolls in the cake without removing any first, and the moment I did that, the cake started cracking. Cutting holes in the middle worked beautifully!

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I put my cracked cake at the bottom and patched it together with frosting. Luckily, it held up just fine and wasn’t a problem.

I put a thin layer of frosting on it to lock in the crumbs and popped it in the fridge while I went to the jewelry party.

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In case you were wondering what I did with the baby while I was working – I stuck her in her activity chair on top of the counter.

As I anticipated, I didn’t get home until 9 that night. But God took mercy on me again, and I was able to lay the baby down in her crib! I went straight to the kitchen and started working again.

The first step was to wrap up the dolls’ legs in plastic wrap to protect them from the frosting. I did this by putting the dolls back to back and taping their legs together. Then I wrapped their legs in plastic wrap and spun tape around the plastic to make sure it would stay put.

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I put the arms up so that they were out of the way, and then I slid them through the hole in the cake.

Using my spackling tool (which I only use on cakes, obviously), I marked where the two dresses met.

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Next, I took my extra large cake icer icing tip (Wilton #789) and piped the icing for each skirt on in horizontal stripes. I used a small round #2 tip to get the icing on the dolls’ hips, and used a toddler butter knife to smooth it out on their backsides because it was too small a space for my icing spatula.

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Next, I took my icing spatula and carefully smoothed the frosting. This was tricky with Elsa’s skirt in particular because of the ombré effect. I couldn’t just slab more icing on like I would with any other cake, because it would ruin the effect. You’ve really only got one shot at it, so make sure you use enough icing the first time you’re applying it and that you don’t scrape too much off when you’re smoothing it out. I started at the top, smoothing the flat part of the dome first. Then after wiping the spatula off, I lined it up vertically with the bottom of the skirt and smoothed the rest of it in one go.

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I wasn’t able to get the frosting as smooth as I wanted because I couldn’t scrape over it more than the one time. But the ombré effect turned out nicely.

By the time I was done icing the skirts, the baby woke up. So I popped it in the fridge and called it a night.

The next morning I woke up early, hoping that I was giving myself enough time to finish the detailing before we had to leave for the party. Luckily, the older two girls ended up sleeping in until 9:30 so I wasn’t getting interrupted every 5 minutes. But the baby was wide eyed and bushy tailed, so I still had my hands full.

Since Elsa’s dress doesn’t technically have snowflakes on it and since I did the ombré effect, I decided that Anna’s detailing was more vital and focused on her first.

I started by piping a straight purple line along the hem of her skirt using Wilton tip #47.

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Then I used my #2 tip and piped on the peaks.

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If you wanted to be precise, you could use a ruler and toothpick to mark out exactly where each peak should hit. I free handed it because ain’t nobody got time fo dat!

Continuing with the #2 tip, I filled in each peak.

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Then I smoothed it out with my handy dandy toddler knife.

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Now on to the flowers. I started with the long stems, working it from the tip of the peaks up. Again, if you have the time, then you can measure and mark before piping. But I was really cutting it close, so again, I free handed it. After the stems were piped, I used a different #2 tip and did the simple pink tulip. Then I went back to the green and piped on the smaller leaf design that’s in between each peak.

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This didn’t take that long, so I decided I had time for some snowflakes on Elsa. That was 100% free hand. I just took it one snowflake at a time, adding swirls to break it up. I then used a small closed star tip to pipe a line of white flowers along the seam where the two skirts meet so that it would look tidy.

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I ended up finishing at 10:30! Luckily the venue was only 5 minutes away and my oldest girl and I were able to get ready fast.

The birthday girl loved it! Seeing her face light up when I brought it in made all the work worth it.

And that is how I was able to conquer the barbie cake.

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Basket of Roses Cake

My Mother-in-law’s birthday is today. When we got the flu over Christmas, I wasn’t sure if we were going to recover in time for me to do a cake for her. But, we got healthy just in the knick of time and the stars aligned just right, allowing me to bang this cake out in 2 days for her. Normally my cakes take a minimum of 3 days for me to complete because I’ve got 3 kids 4 and under. It’s taken me years to learn how to efficiently make cakes in the stop-and-go rhythm of motherhood. It’s hard to do cakes in piece meal, because once I start, I go into a zone and don’t want to be interrupted. Except, I’m ALWAYS getting interrupted.

Here’s what 2 minutes of cake decorating looks like for me now: put the baby in her seat; cut a hole at the bottom of my icing bag; tell the 2 year old that she can’t stand on a chair to watch, and take the  chair that she dragged into the kitchen back into the dining room; put coupler and icing tip in icing bag, and maybe even put icing in the bag; get snacks for suddenly starving children; pipe a quarter of basket weaving on the side of a 9″ cake; answer 4 year old’s questions about how I’m doing this technique; swat 2 year old’s hand away from the cake, as she’s standing on the chair that she dragged back into the kitchen.

It can get frustrating very quickly, because my thought process is being CONSTANTLY interrupted. I’ve lost count how many times the 2 year old has messed up the side of my cakes, because she was eating the icing off when I wasn’t looking. I typically lose sleep when I do a cake because it’s just easier to work at night when the girls are asleep. So why do I do this?

Because I love it.

It’s one of the only things I do for myself anymore. It’s a much needed creative outlet for this hibernating actress. So I learn to fully think out my designs before I start so that I know exactly what I need to do when I get in the kitchen. I research on my phone while I’m nursing, absorbing as much information from YouTube as I can on new techniques I can try. I’ve learned to break the whole process up into steps, and to spread the steps out over days, because it’s going to take me longer than a professional in a bakery. I let go of my desire to tunnel vision, and accept the interruptions. I make extra icing in anticipation of having to fix whatever the 2 year old is going to mess up.

Before this cake, I had never done a basket weave, piped a buttercream rose, or piped a buttercream leaf. This is by far the most technical cake I’ve ever endeavored. But every time I do a cake, I do something new, so that I’m always learning. Sometimes I crash and burn like I did with my mom’s piano cake (which I plan on redoing for her one day). But sometimes, like today, I hit it out of the park.

I really wanted to do a flower themed cake for my mother-in-law because gardening is her passion. She has one of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen and she meticulously plans out each and every flower, tree, and bush. The over zealous part of me wanted to create a basket of different flowers, but I knew I didn’t have the time for it. Different flowers mean different colored frostings, which means more work. Plus, I would have had to learn how to pipe more than one type of flower. In 2 days. No way. I picked roses because they’re so classic and beautiful.

I watched this tutorial video on YouTube, which goes through how to do the basket weave technique, as well as how to pipe the roses. I followed her instructions step by step and was really happy with the results! If you are interested in learning how to make this type of cake, I strongly recommend watching the video.

My mother-in-law just got me a cookie dough recipe book for Christmas. In this book is a recipe for a egg-free chocolate chip cookie dough cake filling, so I knew that I wanted to try it out for her cake. The recipe is really easy. Normally I always add less almond milk when using it to substitute for heavy cream. But since this was going to be a filling for a cake, I wanted to be sure that it was wetter than actual cookie dough, so that it would spread easily. But even still, adding the whole 1/4 cup of almond milk instead of heavy cream like the recipe calls for made it too wet. I ended up adding an additional 1/4 cup of flour until it was the consistency I was looking for. If you don’t have to worry about allergies, then just follow the recipe. But I wanted to throw that out there for my fellow dairy allergy people.

Cookie Dough Filling from The Cookie Dough Lover’s Cookbook by, Lindsay Landis:

-1 1/2 sticks of butter

-1/2 cup white sugar

-1/2 cup brown sugar

-1/4 cup cream

-1 teaspoon vanilla extract

-1/2 teaspoon salt

-1/2 cup of flour

-1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Prepare it the way you would normal cookie dough: cream the butter (or margarine, in my case) with the sugars; add the dry ingredients; add the milk; stir in chocolate chips. I used regular sized chocolate chips because they don’t make dark chocolate in the mini size. I don’t think it made any difference, but if you’re using dark chocolate and want the pieces to be smaller, just pulse them in a blender first.

I went with my go-to dairy-free moist vanilla cake, and did chocolate buttercream frosting since I needed the basket to be brown anyways. I wanted white roses, but didn’t have clear vanilla extract, so I flavored that icing with peppermint.

First thing is to bake your cakes; you’ll need 2 rounds for this design (mine are 9″). Once the cakes are cooled, dam and fill them (check out this great YouTube video on how to dam and fill cakes if you don’t know how).

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I decided to not level my cakes, because I hate doing it. It’s tedious and they weren’t that bad. After finishing the cake though, I wish I would have taken the time to do it because it made the basket weaving difficult. (You’ll want to level the cakes before filling and stacking.)

Then I dirty iced the cakes to lock the crumbs in. This technique is actually one that I’ve only recently learned, and one that I wish I would have known about years ago. Crumb coating makes a night and day difference when icing cakes! If you don’t know how to do it, watch this video on crumb coating.

Next, you’ll want to score the sides of the cake where you want the vertical lines of the basket to fall. I have a dry wall spackling tool that I used to do this, but the blunt edge of a chef knife would work as well. I spaced mine out too far originally, so I ended up cutting the spacing in half from what you see in this picture. But you get the idea.

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Then just take your time. I used a Wilton tip #47 for texture. The video will explain how to do the technique much better than I could, so go watch it if you haven’t already.

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It really wasn’t difficult after watching the tutorial video. Just take your time and follow your lines, and you’ll be fine.

Then I piped a rope detail along the edge of the top of the cake using a Wilton tip #18. The video shows you how to do this detail as well. It really helps finish the look off.

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Then I used a Wilton leaf tip and piped leaves around the outer circumference of the top of the cake.

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Then I said a prayer and tried my first buttercream rose. I used a Wilton tip #104.

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I was holding the tip upside-down, so the petals looked fat. Oops. I dumped that one back in the bowl of icing and did it right the second time. But then it flipped upside-down when I tried transferring it to the cake. Oops. So I carefully scraped it off and tried again.

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My buttercream was too soft, so it was impossible to get the very center of the roses to be as tight as they needed to be, and all of them leaned to one side. But for it being my first go at them, I am damn proud of these babies.

There were some gaps in between some of the flowers because I wasn’t able to lay them as closely as I wanted to. So I just filled them in with leafs and pretended that that was the plan all along. Fake it till you make it!

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Dairy Free Moist Vanilla Cake

Like the complete sham that I am, I neglected to get the quintessential Pinterest picture of a single piece of beautifully frosted cake for this recipe. This is my very first recipe post and I’ve already screwed up. What ever will I do with myself?

Although my “finished” product picture is just a crappy pan shot, please trust me when I say that this cake is DELICIOUS. I refuse to produce dry cake, so white cake had been a challenge for me for awhile. Every recipe that I tried was dry, uninspiring, and sad. No one wants to eat sad cake; cake should make you feel happy. This cake makes people happy. It’s moist, fluffy, and delicate, but not so delicate that it can’t hold it’s own. I use this recipe for cupcakes all the time, and they stay put together as you peel the wrapper off. It also works well for layer cakes, standing proudly without any sag.

Like most of the recipes I use, this is not of my own invention. But let’s be honest here–very few people can actually take credit for “inventing” a recipe, and most of them probably died a very long time ago. We all borrow from one another, adding our own tweak here and there. Any cake recipe starts with the same foundation: flour, sugar, fat [butter, shortening, oil], and leavening ingredients [eggs, baking soda, baking powder]. I think it’s silly for anyone to get their panties in a bunch over someone else sharing THEIR recipe; no one has exclusive rights to any one recipe because IT’S BEEN DONE BEFORE. Many times. Before you were born even. But I digress. I will always give credit where credit is earned; I’m not here to try to take credit for anything that is not truly mine. However I refuse to feel guilty for “stealing” someone else’s recipes. If you don’t want people sharing your stuff, then don’t put it on the internet.

This recipe is from Allrecipes.com and can be found here.

Ingredients you will need:

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-1/2 cup of vegetable shortening

-3 teaspoons of water

-2 cups of sugar

-3 egg yolks

-1 whole egg

-2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

-2 cups of flour

-1/2 cup of almond milk

-1/2 teaspoon of salt

-1 teaspoon of baking soda

-1 teaspoon of baking powder

-1 cup of boiling water

There was only one substitution I made to make this into a non-dairy cake: I swapped almond milk for buttermilk. Soy milk is a better substitution for buttermilk because you can “sour” it by adding distilled white vinegar or lemon juice to it. I usually add 4 teaspoons of either the vinegar or the lemon juice for every 1 cup of milk. So for this recipe, use 2 teaspoons. But, you cannot “sour” almond milk. It gets curdled and ruins the overall consistency of the cake. The reason I chose to use almond milk is because my youngest daughter used to have a soy intolerance. She seems to have grown out of it, but as she’s only 1, I’d rather be safe than sorry. The almond milk works fine as a substitute, but if you can use soured soy milk, do that instead.

First things first–preheat the oven to 350 degrees. If you are doing a cake, then grease and flour the pan; if you are doing cupcakes like me, put the liners in (this recipe will make 2 dozen cupcakes, or two 8″ rounds, or one 12.8″ x 9.5″ sheet cake).

Then you’ll want to enlist the help of adorable tiny humans in aprons to be your assistants.

The sweetest thing

The sweetest thing

Now, in a large mixing bowl, cream the shortening with the water with the back of a spoon. They will not incorporate; you just want to soften the shortening. If you ever use a baking recipe that requires shortening, always soften it with water first. The ratio is 6 teaspoons of water for every 1 cup of shortening.

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Next, sift the sugar into the shortening/water mixture, and cream until fluffy (on my Kitchen Aid mixer, I start at the number 2 speed and work up to the number 4 speed for a minute or so). YOU MUST SIFT THE SUGAR. Unless you like lumps in your cake, in which case don’t bother with the sifting.

Also, the kids LOVE the sifting part

Also, the kids LOVE the sifting part

The next step is one that will repeat: scrape the sides of the bowl. To me, this is so important, because otherwise you end up with lumps of ingredients on the sides of your bowl that never got mixed in with the rest of the batter. So every time you add an ingredient you must scrape the bowl before adding the next thing. Yes it’s tedious and you’ll want to skip it every time, but trust me–it’s worth it.

Now it’s time to add the eggs. If you don’t know how to separate eggs, here’s how I do it:

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Crack the egg, and gently move the yolk from one part of the shell to the other, allowing the egg white to fall into a bowl. Now the rule with separating eggs goes as such: it’s ok to get a bit of white in your yolk, but you can’t have any yolk in your whites. If you’re making something that requires egg whites, there absolutely cannot be even a spot of yolk in them. The whites will not whip up properly if there is. Egg yolks aren’t as picky; they’re ok if a bit of the white comes along for the ride.

Add each egg yolk and the whole egg one at a time, beating well in between each one. The mixture will get fluffy, as such:

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Scrape the sides of the bowl, then add the vanilla extract and mix.

Sift the flour in, and mix until well incorporated. Scrape the sides of the bowl.

While the mixer is on the ‘stir’ setting, slowly pour the milk in. After all the milk has been added, scrape the sides of the bowl.

Add the salt, baking powder and baking soda, and mix. Then scrape the sides of the bowl.

Again, while the mixer is on ‘stir’, SLOWLY pour the boiling water in (please be careful; you don’t want to add it in too fast and get a splash of boiling water to the face). After all of the water has been added, scrape the sides of the bowl one last time and mix in any lumps so that when you lift your flat spatula, it looks like this:

The batter will be very thin

The batter will be very thin

Bake at 350 degrees in a greased pan for 20-30 minutes (depending on if you’re making cupcakes or a sheet cake). You’ll know that the cake is done when the middle is springy to the touch, and when a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Trust me--they're delicious!

Trust me–they’re delicious!

Let the cake cool completely before frosting, and enjoy!