Food & Drink

Stir Crazy: Make the cake for what’s inside — not the fancy exterior

It’s 12:15 p.m. and I’ve been working my way through my email. Part of the challenge of such a task done before lunch is that many of the messages I get are from food companies. Big ones like Pillsbury, Kraft and Better Homes & Gardens. They send me lovely color photos and recipes, beseeching me (and every other food editor) to please share their work with our readers.

Suddenly, I get a hankering for exactly what is shown in front of me. The three-layer cake with a buttercream frosting and covered in spring-colored sprinkles. A closeup of a grilled smoked Gouda sandwich stuffed with carved ham and perfectly toasty bread all melty on a pretty plate.

Stomach grumbles and I’m trying hard not to drool all over my keyboard. Do people really have to wonder why recipes should include photos? It’s certainly not just for instructional purposes!

But, it’s best not to be fooled. Yes, our eyes can be bigger than our stomachs, but they also can inflate our skills at replicating a dazzling recipe.

I say that looking at an amazing cake on Better Homes & Gardens website, It’s a three-layer square cake with a white buttercream frosting and cool pastel stripes made with sprinkles.

Here are my thoughts looking at this creation: Couldn’t this cake be made without so much fuss? Forget the sprinkles and the use of three brownie pans (8-inch ones). Just use three round cake pans and divvy up the batter. Who has three 8-inch square pans in the house, anyway?

I want to save this cake from readers looking at the challenges of creating what’s on the outside and not considering what’s inside. Because what’s inside is what I want to make: a cake that includes bananas, shredded sweet potatoes and crushed pineapple. This combo has my mind reeling at what I imagine would be a very moist spice-like cake.

So, here’s the recipe for making and frosting the cake; I didn’t include instructions on making the sprinkle stripes. See the website for the complete recipe and a video if you are up for the work involved. Also in the photo are round candy balls on top of the cake. They are made with Candy Clay, yet another time-consuming decoration. Directions are on the site for that as well.

Sprinkle-Me-Happy Cake

4 eggs, lightly beaten

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/2 cups sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

2 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana (about 5)

1 1/4 cups vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 1/2 cups peeled, shredded uncooked sweet potatoes (about 9 ounces)

1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple (juice pack), drained

Allow eggs to stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Meanwhile, grease three 8-by-1 1/2-inch square baking pans. Line bottoms of pans with parchment; grease paper. Flour pans, shaking out excess; set aside.

In a very large bowl, stir together 4 cups flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cloves.

Stir in bananas, oil, eggs and vanilla just until combined.

Fold in shredded sweet potatoes and drained pineapple. Evenly spread batter among prepared pans.

Refrigerate one layer. Bake two layers on one rack for 50 to 55 minutes, until layers are set in centers when gently shaken and tops are golden. Cool layers in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove layers from pans. Discard paper. Cool completely on racks; about 1 hour. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake and cool third layer.

Place one layer on serving plate. Frost top with about 1 cup of Almost-Homemade Vanilla Buttercream. Stack second layer; spread top with 1 cup buttercream. Stack final layer. Frost top and sides. (Expect to have leftover Buttercream frosting.)

Almost-Homemade Vanilla Buttercream

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), softened, cut in 1-inch pieces

1 (16-ounce) jar marshmallow creme*

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large mixing bowl, beat softened butter with mixer on medium until light and fluffy. Add marshmallow creme; beat until smooth, scraping sides of bowl. Add powdered sugar and vanilla; beat until light and fluffy. If frosting is too stiff to spread, soften in microwave oven no more than 10 seconds, then beat again until smooth.

Frost cake immediately. Or, to store, cover and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month. Bring to room temperature before frosting cake. Makes 3 cups.

*If only 13-ounce jars of marshmallow creme are available, purchase additional, then add 3 ounces (3/4 cup).

Quick chicken salad: Thanks, once again, to Janet Keeler of the Tampa Bay Times for her quick meal ideas. She always includes one in her weekly selections that uses a store-bought rotisserie chicken. She calls this one Retro Chicken Salad. It can be served over lettuce, stuffed in pitas or as an open-faced broiled sandwich with melted cheese. Dice the chicken from the store-bought bird and make a dressing of mayonnaise, a bit of sour cream and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Mix with chicken and add halved grapes and toasted chopped walnuts. Serve with sliced tomatoes and cucumbers drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.