Suzi's Blog

On Frosting Cakes

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At Cooking by the Book, we do a lot of baking. Whether it is a corporate client or a private party, dessert is on every menu. Often a cake is requested. If the party is for a birthday or anniversary, you can be sure that a cake will be on the table.

I thought it might be fun to show you a cake “literally” in progress. Have you ever seen a perfectly frosted cake and told yourself that you could not do it. That you cannot imagine how it is done. How it can come out so perfectly.

Well, here’s the secret. The intermediate steps are messy and demand patience. The final product will smashingly pretty but along the way, there can be a bit of a mess. And touch up work is routine.

Look at the cake above. A couple of minutes ago, warm and flowing chocolate ganache was poured on top. Yes, poured. Gravity is your friend. There is no way you should attempt to “apply” ganache to a cake. Pour it on, let it flow. Then keep letting it flow. You see at the top of the cake how there are a couple of bare spots? Tempted to smooth it out right now? I mean, RIGHT NOW. No, wait. Gravity is your friend.

Don’t believe me? Look at the next picture.


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See, it’s better. Couple more minutes, slow flow, but the gaps are filling in naturally. Not perfect yet. But better. Now you can unleash the artist in you. Get that flat spatula that has been waving in your hand and go, not to the cake, but to the sink. Run it under hot water. It’s a hot spatula that will let you sculpt with grace. Make a mistake? Go wash the spatual clean, heat it up again and just go carefully. You do have time here to “perfect” your surface. You’ll have a mistake or two. Frosting a cake successfully is a lot like a yoga class. You have to breathe, move smoothly, have patience and wait for the rewards.


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But wait, you say. That bottom is going to get ruffled when the paper is pulled away. It’ll crack, it’ll be disrupted, the beauty will be lost. Next picture, please.

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See, you can simply “adorn” the bottom with chocolate shavings and any problems are quite simply hidden.

Oh, the first three cakes above are round and this last one is square? You noticed? Well, our pastry maven Charmaine has made lots of cakes, more than you will in your lifetime. On this particular day, she made both the round one and the square one. By letting the ganache set a bit and by edging with a sharp knife and steady hand, she was able to free up that round cake with minimal damage. A little hot spatula work and it was perfect.

The square cake, on the other hand, needed a little body work. She shaved chocolate and applied it before the ganache had hardened. The result is clearly a chocolate masterpiece.

The moral here is nothing you did not know. Chocolate is messy and your cake will not be looking perfect every second along the way. Just enjoy the experience, take your time, and lick your spatula.



A Comforting Chocolate and Chestnut Cake from Amber Rose


Amber Rose has just published Love Bake Nourish, a baking book that reflects a very distinctive personal nature. She’s a passionate about foods that are seasonal, organic and not processed. She loves different flours and she cannot abide processed sugar. In her career as chef and author, she has scoured for recipes, old and new, that meet her standards for superior and naturally healthy baking.

This dish is old, Italian, and a treasure. No sugar, just honey. No flour, just ground walnuts plus chestnut puree. There is a reason traditional recipes are the core of our culinary heritage. They taste good.

Amber’s recipes typically end with serving suggestions. I expected to read about whipped cream. How lovely to find she wants this dense, rich cake served with sour cream. This combination is truly self-intensifying.

And, uh, no, there is no chance of confusing this cake for a baked potato.


Suzen made this cake for her monthly group of celiac patients from the Columbia University Center for Celiac Disease. She teaches patients and their families, not just how to get through, but how to thrive. Our pastry chef made this cake and I reminded her that it should come with sour cream. Our pastry chef is from the Caribbean and very dignified and a bit terse. “No, whipped cream,” she said. And that’s what the picture shows.

This cake is unleavened, so it is Passover ready.

A Comforting Chocolate and Chestnut Cake

Yield: serves 10-12


  • 5 large free-range eggs, separated
  • ½ cup honey
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 18 ounces unsweetened chestnut puree
  • 1 ½ cups ground walnuts (or hazelnuts)
  • Finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
  • 4 ounces dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), grated or chopped



Preheat t h e oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 10-inch loose-bottomed cake pan.

Mix the egg yolks and honey in a large bowl until thick and smooth, then add the butter, pureed chestnuts, walnuts, lemon zest, and chocolate, and mix thoroughly until everything is completely incorporated.

In a separate, very clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Carefully fold the egg whites into the cake mixture, trying not to lose the air from the mixture, and don’t bang the bowl. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and bake in the oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the pan.

When the cake has cooled completely, turn out onto a serving plate. Serve cold with a little sour cream or crème fraiche. I like it with cherry compote.

Source: Love Bake Nourish by Amber Rose