Even as large (and old) as I am, I’m still a big sucker for stuffed animals. Their fluffy cuteness is NOT something to be underestimated or taken lightly. I’d be the first to admit I still sleep with a beloved stuffed puppy every night, and I’d be lying if I said that teddy bears don’t make great Valentine’s Day presents. That said, I’m also a big believer in homemade gifts, so if you’d really like to go the extra mile for your sweetheart this weekend, I don’t think you can go wrong with a combo pack of a bear and a cake (and maybe even a homemade card if you’re feeling frisky).
In the realm of baking, I feel as if there’s a certain reservation about making cakes from scratch. After all, aren’t they supposed to be super fancy and decadent, the caviar of all baked goods? I definitely felt this inhibition myself last summer when I first started searching for recipes, passing on several that I felt would be far beyond my skill level (and budget for ingredients). It didn’t help that my previous experience with homemade cake included my brother’s fiancée, a professional baker who (God bless her heart) has made some enormous multi-layer, hand-decorated cakes that put the humble products of my kitchen to shame.
There are definitely infinite ways to go nuts and get very creative with a cake, but that need not make them intimidating for an amateur baker. The most important thing to remember, I think, is the magic of homemade treats. As long as every ingredient comes out of your pantry and the final product out of your own oven, it’ll be absolutely delicious to you and anyone you choose to share it with. Yes, you can make a cake from scratch–as long as you know how to keep it simple. It doesn’t have to be a three-foot tall wedding cake with Greek pillars, unless you’re also planning on proposing to that special someone this weekend (in which case let me know so I can bring the champagne).
In fact, this basic cake recipe is so accessible (and tasty!) that it had become a staple among my close friends and me. Though I’m advertising it here as a Valentine’s Day treat, an iteration of this cake has appeared at the majority of my large weekend gatherings since the beginning of the year (sometimes paired with an assortment of muffins). It’s a true Large Dan classic, to the point where the cake itself even has its own nickname. But that’s a different story. If you’d like to know it, I guess you’ll just have to become my friend… or even my Valentine! As always, Bon Appetit!
2 cups sugar
1 ¾ cups flour
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup milk
½ cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl
Add in eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Mix with electric mixer until
Pour in boiling water and mix on low speed (so that the hot water
doesn’t splash) until smooth. Batter will be thin, but it thickens
as it bakes.
Grease and flour cake pans. You can either use two 9-inch round pans
or a bigger pan of your choice. I use a single, oval-shaped
casserole dish that is about a foot long.
Pour batter into pan(s), but do not fill them more than ¾ of the
way. Use more pans if necessary.
Bake for about 35-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the
center comes out clean. Baking time will vary depending on how many
pans you use – shorter for two pans, longer for one pan.
Allow to cool completely and top with frosting and decorations if