Backyard birthday party

Cynthia Stone
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Were you smart enough to book vacation days for an extra-long weekend to take advantage of the coming mid-week celebration?

Whether you’ve stretched it into a holiday or are just planning a get-together on the back deck, you’re probably considering what sweet Canada Day treat you might offer up. I’ve got two classic ideas for you to mull over.

Red Velvet Cake

This is all the rage again and for good reason: it’s delicious.

If you haven’t used gel food colouring, here’s your chance to try it. It’s available in some grocery stores as well as bulk food and a couple of specialty stores that cater to bakers. If you can’t find it, substitute 2 tbsp. regular red food colouring but omit the 1 tbsp. cold water.

Most red velvet cakes I’ve tried don’t have much chocolate flavour because the cook has decided to go for more colour, and too much cocoa prevents the red from coming through. I think this recipe is a fine compromise.

If you like mounds of icing, double the recipe — it keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days and tastes great on anything from a cinnamon bun to a raisin scone.

3/4 cup soft unsalted butter, no other

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

2 eggs, at room temperature

2 cups plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cocoa

1-1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup buttermilk — not ice cold

1 tbsp. white vinegar

1 tbsp. vanilla

1 tsp. gel-style red food colouring

1 tbsp. cold water


1/2 cup soft unsalted butter, no other

1 8-oz. package soft cream cheese

2-1/2 cups icing sugar

2 tsp. vanilla

Cream butter and sugars until creamy, light and fluffy — about five minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each.

Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Resift and set aside. Whisk together buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla, red food colouring and cold water.

Add dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk mixture, using three additions of dry and two of liquid. Mix after each addition on medium speed only until most ingredients are incorporated — don’t overmix.

Generously grease two eight-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper and grease again. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans. Tap lightly to release any air bubbles. Bake at 350 F for 25 to 30 minutes or until a tester in the middle comes out clean. Rotate the cakes halfway through baking for the most even result.

Allow to cool in the pans for 10 minutes then remove carefully, peel off the parchment and cool completely on a rack.

For the icing, cream butter until smooth, creamy and lighter in colour. Beat in cream cheese until completely combined and fluffy in texture. Gradually add icing sugar, going slowly at first to avoid a huge mess in your kitchen, and beat until spreadable. Add vanilla and mix until incorporated.

To assemble the cake, place one half top-side down on a serving plate and put a nice dollop of icing on top. Spread almost to the edges. If your cake has a dome top then slice off the round bit to flatten it and place it, top side down, on the iced bottom. Cover top and sides with icing. Serve right away or chill for later.

Lemon Sunshine Bundt Cake

A slice of this cake is like sunshine on a plate, tangy and moist and perfect for an outside event. The cake keeps well for a couple of days, even in warm weather. It’s wonderful with this simple citrus glaze but add a scoop of ice cream or a handful of fresh berries for a completely different dessert.

1 cup soft unsalted butter, no other

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

1 cup milk

2 tbsp. finely grated lemon zest, firmly packed

1 tsp. vanilla

Lemon Glaze:

1 cup sifted icing sugar

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tsp. soft butter or margarine

1 tbsp. finely grated lemon zest

Cream butter and sugar until lighter in colour and fluffy — allow at least five minutes for this step. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each.

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Add alternately with milk, using three additions of dry ingredients and two of wet. Beat on low speed after each addition, mixing only until there are no streaks of flour or pools of milk. Stir in lemon zest and vanilla.

Spoon into a generously greased and floured bundt pan and smooth the surface.

Bake at 350 F for 55 minutes or until a tester in the middle comes out clean.

Allow to sit in the pan for 10 minutes then run a thin knife blade around any crusty edges.

Turn out onto a wire rack. Prepare the lemon glaze and pour it over warm cake. Serve immediately or cool.

For the glaze, combine sugar and lemon juice. Stir in butter. Microwave on high for 15 to 20 seconds, just until the mixture loosens — you don’t want it to get hot. Stir in lemon zest.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: The Telegram

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