The Fluffiest Coconut Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

My friend Ryan O’Connell is a superstar in every sense. Not only does he have his own show on Netflix, he was featured this weekend in a New York Times article about artists as activists. (Coincidentally, the article was written by Mark Harris, a Lunch Therapy alumni, just like Ryan.)

Suffice it to say, I feel very lucky to call Ryan a friend. And knowing that his birthday was coming up, and that he’s part of our quarantine bubble (a very small group of friends that we still see), I asked if he had a menu in mind for his birthday dinner. He didn’t hesitate: “Oooh, can we have Martha’s Mac and Cheese?” (The best of all time, in case you didn’t know that.) “Oh, and maybe a salad with peaches? Peaches are season, right?” (They are.) “And can we do a coconut cake for dessert?” “You got it,” I replied.

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Raspberry Ricotta Cake

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You’ve heard of one-pot meals, but have you heard of one-cake desserts? That’s not a thing, but it should be. Here’s the idea: instead of an elaborate cake that you have to frost or decorate or slice in half, a one-cake dessert is one where a batter goes into a cake pan, the pan goes into the oven, and whatever comes out an hour later is what you serve for dessert (sprinkled, perhaps, with powdered sugar). In my years of dinner party-throwing, I’ve been a big champion of one-cake desserts: Al Di La’s pear and chocolate cake, for example. Or my favorite dinner party dessert of all time: Amanda Hesser’s almond cake. Now a new cake comes along to join the pantheon; this raspberry ricotta cake from last month’s Bon Appetit.

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Tangerine Sour Cream Pound Cake

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I have a theory that Starbucks has heightened our tolerance for bad, sad pastries. There’ve been moments in my life, at an airport, at a rest stop, where I break down and order a slice of a Starbucks lemon pound cake to go with my coffee. It tastes fine. It’s not bad. It’s sweet, cakey, nicely glazed. But it’s not, by any means, good. Most people don’t know that because most people don’t take the time to make their own glazed pound cakes; but if you do take the time, yours will be light, where theirs is dense. Yours will be authentically flavored, whereas theirs tastes synthetic. Yours will be made at home with love whereas theirs is made in a warehouse. Plus, if you make your own, you can use tangerines instead of lemons.

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Four Orange Cake

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There are four oranges in this cake. I repeat, the cake that you see above these words? There are four whole oranges in it. FOUR WHOLE ORANGES. I know, I collapsed when I heard about it too. But putting whole oranges into a dessert is a thing, a thing I first heard about on Ruth Reichl’s blog when she wrote about Nancy Silverton’s olive oil cake with whole oranges in it. This isn’t that cake. That recipe has you dice three oranges and throw them into the batter with rosemary, pine nuts, and raisins. In other words: an orange cake for wimps. This orange cake–which comes from a British cookbook that I bought at Omnivore Books in San Francisco–has you boil four whole oranges for two hours, remove the seeds, then pulverize them in a food processor before mixing them with sugar, eggs, almond flour and baking powder. That’s it. It’s the most orangey cake you’re likely to eat in your lifetime.

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Almond Cake with Plums

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“Take a risk or play it safe?” That was the question I asked myself the day before Besha Rodell and Rachel Shukert came over for dinner last week. Rachel I wasn’t nervous about. Even though I’d never met her before, I knew we’d click because we’re both musical theater geeks. The food would be secondary. I also knew I’d click with Besha, who I had met before (at Proof Bakery last year) but that’s not what made me nervous. What made me nervous is that Besha is a food critic. A food critic! Can you imagine cooking for a food critic? I was kind of freaking out.

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Brittany Cake Aux Pruneaux

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The Neverending Story was one of my favorite childhood movies. I loved the back and forth between Sebastian eating his peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the attic of his school and young Atreyu on his white horse (well, not for long…Artax!) journeying to kill The Nothing. Mostly, though, I loved the idea of this dusty old book, discovered in a hidden-away book shop, that teleports our young hero to another world. I felt the same way, the other day, making a dessert from a cookbook I bought at Bonnie Slotnick’s in the West Village.

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Blackberry Buttermilk Snacking Cake

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Here in L.A. it’s harder to get in touch with my old New York self, the self who used to make an afternoon snacking cake. If you say the words “afternoon snacking cake” here in L.A. you will be shot by the body police, buried in a mountain of silicone, and never heard from again.

So I made sure to close all the blinds when I set out to make this cake from the most recent Food & Wine; a cake perfect for nibbling in the late afternoon or for breakfast or with tea in the morning.

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