Browsing Tag

dessert

book review, recipe

Bel Canto + Tres Leches Cake with Dulce de Leche Glaze

I read somewhere once that Bel Canto is the book you should start with if you want to give Ann Patchett a try. As a result, it’s been on my TBR and my bookshelf for a while now. You may recall that I actually read her newest novel Commonwealth first, but this is the novel that caused me to truly fall in love with Ann Patchett’s writing and storytelling.

At first glance, this wouldn’t seem like a novel I would enjoy. Not much happens by way of plot – in the beginning, a group of rebels interrupt a birthday celebration in order to capture the unknown South American country’s president and take on a whole mansion-full of hostages. That is sort of where the plot gets stuck, until the very end. The real story is in the growth of the characters – all of them so rich and well-developed. The setting, too, is unique, and it’s one that really lets the characters come to life, almost unexpectedly.

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book review, recipe

The Book of Unknown Americans + Mexican Buñuelos

In The Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina Henríquez gives a voice to the millions of immigrants in the United States – how they got here and why, where they come from and what they’re searching for. While her story focuses primarily on the Riveras and the Toros, many of the chapters are told from the perspective of other immigrants in their apartment complex in Delaware. Each hailing from a different Spanish-speaking homeland, each giving us a glimpse into their lives today.

When their teenage daughter Maribel suffered a near-fatal accident, the Riveras did everything in their power to help her heal and come back to herself. Her father, Arturo, secured a job in Delaware and with it, visas for all of them to come to America, where Maribel would be able to enroll in specialized classes and receive a better education. She eventually meets Mayor, a fifteen-year-old whose family came from Panama; he has lived here nearly his whole life. He and the other residents help the Riveras navigate the language and cultural obstacles they face.

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book review, recipe

The Taster + German Apple Cake

I first learned of V.S Alexander’s historical fiction novel The Taster on Facebook when my library included a picture of it as part of their “New Book Tuesday” post a few weeks ago. The title caught my eye (no surprise there), and after reading the blurb describing a woman who finds herself in service to Hitler as his food taster, I requested a copy.

In 1943, Magda Ritter is a young German woman, expected to work in support of the Reich or do her part to produce healthy German babies. Her parents send her out of Berlin to safety, where she must apply for a role in the civil service. Because of her loyal aunt and uncle’s connections, she is given a position of privilege working at Berghof, Hitler’s mountain retreat. Magda comes to learn she will be one of fifteen women who must taste his food before he is served, ensuring he won’t die of poison – though she could if she isn’t vigilant.

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book review, recipe

Educated + Peach Cobbler

As I mentioned in this month’s edition of Show Us Your Books, I read Tara Westover’s memoir Educated in a whirlwind over the weekend. It was one of my most anticipated books of the year, so even though I was excited to get a free copy from NetGalley (and read it before it even came out!), a little bit of me was also nervous to read it and be disappointed. Luckily, it lived up to expectations; I couldn’t put it down.

Tara grew up in Idaho, where her parents were determined to be self-sufficient, teaching their children to be prepared for the end of days that were always just around the corner. They canned peaches and stocked up on other necessities, saved for solar panels and built a bomb shelter. The Westovers didn’t believe in government-sponsored education and insisted on homeschooling all of their children, though the education they received was more of the hard knocks variety than something akin to reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. Perhaps the most terrifying thing about Tara’s parents was their refusal to submit to the “Medical Establishment.” Every wound or injury – no matter the severity – was treated at home.

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book review, recipe

Love & Gelato + Stracciatella Gelato

Because of this blog, reading often leads me to delicious food. Most of the time, I go into a book without any idea what I’ll end up making, since I haven’t read the book before. Sometimes I’m able to orchestrate it just so and I’m able to make something specific (particularly when a title or description mentions food), though that works out a lot less often than you’d think. Thankfully, in the case of Love & Gelato, it worked like a charm!

This young adult novel by Jenna Evans Welch has been on my TBR for a while now – I probably added it so I could make gelato – and because I was in the mood to break out my ice cream maker again, I added it to both of my 2018 reading challenges. It worked for “a book with food in the title” and fell nicely into the category of “book title starting with the letter L.” I love a good two-for-one deal.

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book review, recipe

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo + Strawberry Milkshakes and Dirty Martinis

I chose Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo as my Book of the Month in June last year because people were raving about it, and at the time, it seemed like a perfect summer read, light and juicy. Summer came and went and I never picked it up. The book’s cover and its title struck me as a little more salacious than I must have initially thought, and the longer it sat on my shelf, the less I wanted to read it.

Still, I kept hearing about it and it was always in the back of my mind. Finally, when I joined the Book Challenge by Erin (8.0), I decided to add it as my “book with a character’s name in the title.” I am SO glad I did, and I am SO sorry I judged it by its cover for so long. I devoured this novel, which told a beautiful and unexpected story cleverly executed.

Evelyn Hugo was a glamorous actress whose success looked easy from the outside, though it often came at a price. She became entangled – and disentangled – with various men throughout her career, sometimes for love and sometimes with a different endgame in mind. This, of course, is the premise of the novel and the story Evelyn decides to share with an obscure reporter – one of the great loves of her life, both known and unknown.

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book review, recipe

The Secret Life of Bees + Banana Cream Pie

I always appreciate a book where you can immediately fall into it and remain completely immersed to the end – part of the joy of reading, for me, is leaving your own world/viewpoint/experiences and hanging out in someone else’s for a while. The powerful storytelling in Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees did that for me.

During a hot South Carolina summer in 1964, Lily Owens is about to turn 14. Propelled by a fuzzy recollection of the day her mother died and desperate to know more, she sets off on a haphazard journey from home with Rosaleen, a black woman who has become her stand-in mother. Their immediate safety may be Rosaleen’s driving force, but Lily’s search for clues about her mother’s existence brings them to Tiburon.

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book review, recipe

Friendship Bread + Cherry Chocolate Chip Amish Friendship Bread

Today’s blog post actually started three weeks ago when I read an NPR article called “The Friendship Bread Project: Can Baking Promote Unity In A Divided World?” The idea they discuss – that food can bring people together – is one I typically subscribe to and is one that prompted Darien Gee to write her 2009 novel Friendship Bread.

I was surprised and delighted to find that there was a whole book about friendship bread; naturally I had to check it out for myself. Before even starting the book, I was researching how to make starters and went down a bit of a rabbit hole, but I was already intrigued enough to make my own. It felt like a natural fit for this blog – it would just take a few ingredients and a little patience.

When I picked up Gee’s book from the library, in fact, the cover alone was enough to prompt the librarians to start up a conversation about previous friendship bread crazes and wonder aloud if “any of those starters from the 70s were still hanging around.” I made a mental note to bring them a loaf when I returned the book.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the novel – the cover evokes “chick lit” (and looks delicious), and I wasn’t sure that a story revolving around a baked good could have much substance. Happily, I was wrong about it lacking substance. For the most part, Friendship Bread follows Julia, who discovers friendship bread when a mysterious gloopy bag appears on her front porch; Madeleine, the owner of a tea salon; and Hannah, a former concert cellist who’s new in town. The three of them form an unlikely bond as the town is overtaken by its own friendship bread craze. On the whole, it was uplifting and optimistic and ends pretty neatly tied up, but it also explores the trials of loss and maintaining relationships quite realistically.

I began my starter the day I brought the book home, January 9. It was simple enough – dissolve a packet of yeast in warm water for 10 minutes before adding 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of milk. (These three ingredients are key in starter care.) Then, let it sit for 10 days, mixing each day. It’s important not to use a metal bowl or a metal spoon, but otherwise caring for a starter is pretty forgiving. (I forgot to stir it for two days and it turned out fine!) You add the foundation ingredients on Day 6 and again on Day 10, when you divide up the mixture to give to friends – keeping some for yourself, of course.

I tried my best to divide the starter wisely – opting to spread it out rather than releasing it in a concentrated area. I connected with fellow Michigan-based book blogger Kerrie at Comfy Reading, who lives about an hour away from me, and bestowed a cup of starter on her. (Here is her post on the experience.) When she saw I had read the book, my mom (who also lives about an hour away, in a different direction) requested starter, so I saved some for her as well. I gave a cup to a supportive coworker, Cheryl, who’s excited to care for it and bake together with her daughter. Finally, after a lot of research, I mailed a quarter cup to one of my best friends, Katie, who lives in Pennsylvania. Apparently, if you don’t want to dry it and send flakes (I didn’t), it’s best to send in small quantities so there is still room for it to expand as it ships. I’m hoping the cooler weather and 2-day shipping will keep the starter from expanding too much within it’s box.  

Admittedly, this was my first experience with a starter, and it gave me a whole new appreciation for the novel Sourdough, which I read last fall. I kept my starter in the oven, where it could keep cozy and grow with abandon. Thankfully, the friendship bread starter wasn’t as rambunctious as Lois’ sourdough starter, but mine still ended up yielding just under 7 cups, instead of the typical 4 cups. (I kept the extra for myself, not only to bake, but to keep feeding for another batch.)

Like most quick breads, the recipe for Amish friendship bread isn’t too difficult. It’s also quite flexible, as you can incorporate a variety of add-ins to suit your tastes. I had an abundant supply of dried cherries on-hand, so instead of making the traditional cinnamon-sugar bread, I wanted to make something with cherries and chocolate. I found a recipe on the Friendship Bread Kitchen site close to what I was looking for, so I adapted that recipe a bit to be more like what I had in mind.  

I began with 1 cup of my starter in a nonmetal bowl. To it, I added the ingredients as listed in the recipe. I only used 1 box of instant vanilla pudding, deciding to save the second box I bought for my second batch, but you can leave it out altogether if you don’t want to use it. I mixed everything together using a wooden spoon and then divided the batter between the two loaf pans.

After baking, I allowed them to cool for a bit in the pan before moving them to a cooling rack and dusting with a bit of sugar (because I forgot to do it before I put it in the oven).

Being from Michigan, I already love cherries, and I thought the cherry-chocolate combination in this bread was delicious.

Well, that’s it for today – I’m off to return my book to the library, along with a loaf of the bread for the librarians. I hope they like it as much as we did!

Have you ever made friendship bread or received a starter? I’d love to hear about your experience!

Cherry Chocolate Chip Amish Friendship Bread

  • Servings: 16 (2 loaves)
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Ingredients

  • 1 cup Amish Friendship Bread Starter (recipe here, if you don’t already have one)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup oil
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1-2 boxes instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dried cherries
  • up to ½ cup sugar, for dusting

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, add ingredients as listed (excluding sugar for dusting).
  3. Grease two large loaf pans.
  4. Dust the greased pans with ½ cup sugar.
  5. Pour the batter evenly into loaf or cake pans and sprinkle the remaining sugar on top.
  6. Bake for one hour or until the bread loosens evenly from the sides and a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean.


This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

Everything, Everything + Vanilla Bundt Cake

Though it’s not my typical choice, I’m no stranger to YA fiction. I like to pick them up for a quick read, and often – as with John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down – they bring difficult topics to the forefront and make them relatable, which I always appreciate. My latest YA read, Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything, tells the story of Maddy, a girl who lives in a bubble, and was captivating from the beginning.

Like many YA novels, it centers around a love story. Maddy watches from her window as new neighbors move in – one of them, Olly, a distractingly handsome teenage boy. That part of the novel was pretty predictable, in my opinion, but well-done and entertaining. Aside from the consequences of Maddy’s precarious health problem, it is with Olly – and through the window – that this novel touches on some darker real-life situations.

What made the novel worth it for me was the twist that came about two-thirds of the way through. I definitely did not see it coming, but I’m glad that it did. I won’t spoil it for those of you that haven’t read it yet, but I thought it added some welcome heft to the story.

One of the funnier series of events comes early on in the book, when Olly’s mom sends him over to Maddy’s house with what he describes as an “indestructible” bundt cake, which comes to be known as The Bundt. Olly and Maddy bond over this seemingly rock-hard inedible cake, and I found the whole thing endearing.

Obviously, I had to make my own bundt cake. Because of her illness, Maddy can only eat limited pre-approved foods and since vanilla cake is her go-to birthday dessert, I knew mine had to be vanilla as well. As funny as the cake’s indestructibility is in the novel, no one wants to fail that badly at baking. To capture the rock-hard aspect of the cake, I bought a beautifully structured hard-edged bundt pan to bake it in. (And now I have a bundt pan! I had to borrow my mom’s for the Tipsy Chocolate Cake a few months ago…) If you’re interested, I found it on Amazon here.

Like most cakes, this one wasn’t too difficult to make, but the recipe I chose has a very specific order in which ingredients need to be added, so make sure you read it through before you get started.

I preheated my oven to 350 degrees F and began mixing the batter. To start, I creamed the butter and sugar together in a large bowl. To that, I added the baking powder and salt.

At this point, I measured out the flour by scooping it into a 1-cup measuring cup and leveling it off before adding it to a medium bowl (for a total of 3 cups).

I added the first 3 eggs to the butter and sugar mixture, one at a time. Then, I added 2 Tablespoons of the pre-measured flour to that and mixed until just combined. I added another egg, mixed, and then alternated 2 Tablespoons of flour with one egg until all 6 eggs were incorporated.

I happened to have almond extract on-hand, so I added both that and the vanilla extract to the milk. To the batter, I added one-third of the remaining flour, mixing on low until combined. Then, I added half of the milk, mixing again, and began alternating with the remaining flour and milk, until all ingredients were incorporated. Finally, with the beaters on medium-high, I mixed the batter for another 30 seconds, until it became smooth and fluffy.

I used shortening to grease the bundt pan, taking great care to make sure I got all the nooks and crannies. Then, I scooped the batter – which is thicker than many traditional cake batters – into the bundt pan and leveled it off with a spatula.

I checked my cake at 50 minutes, but it wasn’t fully baked until an hour had passed. I turned it out onto a cooling rack, leaving the pan on top as it cooled for 10 minutes.

While it cooled in the pan, I made the glaze – combining the water, granulated sugar and salt in a small bowl. I used the microwave, heating it at 30 second intervals and whisking until the sugar was fully dissolved. Then, I added the vanilla extract to complete the glaze.

I removed the pan from the bundt cake and used a pastry brush to cover the cake with the glaze. (Be sure to put a plate or something else underneath the cooling rack to catch any glaze that might drip.)

I am happy to report that the finished product was not rock-hard and was actually quite delightful.

Did anyone see the recent movie version of Everything, Everything? Did The Bundt make an appearance? 

Vanilla Bundt Cake

  • Servings: 20
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Cake Ingredients

  • 24 tablespoons (1½ cups or 3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract, optional
  • ¾ cup milk

Vanilla Glaze Ingredients

  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • 5 teaspoons water
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Beat together at medium speed until the mixture lightens in color and looks fluffy. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.
  3. Add the baking powder and salt, mixing just to combine.
  4. Measure the flour by gently spooning it into a measuring cup, sweeping off any excess with a straight edge. Set it aside.
  5. With the mixer running at medium speed, add the first three eggs to the butter/sugar mixture one at a time. Wait until each egg is absorbed into the mixture before adding the next.
  6. Add 2 tablespoons of the measured flour to the bowl after the third egg, and mix until combined. Add the fourth egg, mix until absorbed, then mix in another 2 tablespoons of flour. Continue in this fashion with the fifth and sixth eggs, alternating the addition of the egg with 2 tablespoons of the flour from the recipe.
  7. Add the vanilla (or vanilla bean paste) and almond extract (if using) to the milk.
  8. Add one-third of the remaining flour to the batter, beating gently to combine. Gently beat in half the milk. Mix in another third of the flour, then the remaining milk. Stir in the remaining flour. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, then beat until the batter is smooth and fluffy, about 20 to 30 seconds at medium-high speed.
  9. Thoroughly grease a 10- to 12-cup Bundt pan, using non-stick vegetable oil spray or shortening (not butter; butter tends to increase sticking). Scoop the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula.
  10. Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes, until it’s starting to brown, appears set on top, and a toothpick or long skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. (If you’re baking in a dark-interior pan, start checking at 45 minutes.) If the cake appears to be browning too quickly, tent it with foil for the final 15 minutes of baking.
  11. Remove the cake from the oven, and gently loosen its edges using a heatproof spatula. Turn the pan over onto a cooling rack. After 10 minutes, lift the pan off the cake, and allow it to cool completely.
  12. While the cake is cooling in the pan, make the glaze. Combine the sugar, water, and salt. Heat briefly, just to dissolve the sugar; a microwave works fine. Stir in the vanilla. Once you’ve turned the cake out of the pan onto a rack to cool, gently brush it all over with the glaze.
  13. Just before serving, sift a shower of confectioners’ sugar over the top, if desired. A garnish of fresh berries is lovely and tasty. Store leftover cake, well wrapped, at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage.


This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

The Word Exchange + Mini Pineapple Upside-Down Cakes

For those of you who read my recent Top Ten Tuesday, where I covered books I’m thankful for, you’ll recognize today’s title. Alena Graedon’s debut novel is a dystopia called The Word Exchange. It had been on my TBR list for a little while now, but I forget how it got there. I remember adding it to the consideration set for our office’s Diversity Book Club when we were selecting from various dystopias one month. It didn’t win then, and honestly, it may have taken me a lot longer to get to it if not for my good friend Deanna suggesting it for our most recent book club meeting (outside of work).

Though I ended up loving The Word Exchange, it wasn’t an instant hit for me. I struggled a bit through the first couple of chapters; I even warned our book club to get started sooner rather than later and break out the dictionary. The language was complicated (purposefully, I found out later) and those chapters were dense. But, after about 50 pages or so, I began getting into the story and was suddenly hooked.

Graedon describes a near-future where the death of print has happened and handheld devices are taking over society. Furthermore, people begin to rely on something called The Word Exchange, where people makeup definitions and words in a sort of online marketplace. Anana works with her father at the North American Dictionary of the English Language, and when he goes missing, she finds herself in a world where language is quickly losing meaning. She enlists her bookish coworker Bart in the search for her father and answers – trying to avoid contracting the rapidly spreading “word flu” all the while.

The combination of the importance of language and our reliance on technology was done quite skillfully, in a way that still haunts me whenever the novel comes to mind. I’ve tried to be more conscious of my use of technology – particularly my cell phone and social media – since finishing this book. Not that any of it is bad in and of itself, just that it’s important to me to not become dependent on these, particularly as a way of passing time. As I learned over the recent Thanksgiving Readathon, putting down my phone gives me a lot more time to focus on something more worthwhile – like spending time with family or reading.

Anana’s father’s favorite fruit is a pineapple, and if you’re wondering why I know that, it’s actually a bit of thing throughout the book. Anana’s name, in fact, means pineapple when an s is added to the end. I knew almost immediately they would be a huge part of what I made to go along with the book. If I’m remembering correctly, pineapple upside-down cake was his favorite dessert. I decided to make it in mini form, thinking that would be easier. (In the end, I don’t think that’s the case.)

It was really important to me to find a recipe that used the rings rather than the chunks, and so after a bit of research, I found this one from Baker by Nature. I started the whole process by ordering some jumbo muffin tins from Amazon – the jumbo ones are required so that the pineapple rings can fit in the bottom.

They arrived in time for me to make the mini cakes for our book club meeting, so I got to work the night before. I preheated the oven and greased the jumbo tins.

Then I mixed together the cake batter. I combined the eggs with the sugars and rum, beating until smooth. To that I added the pineapple juice, just stirring it in. Separately, I sifted together the dry ingredients, and then added them into the wet ingredients, whisking until just combined.

In a small saucepan, I made the topping for the cakes. I melted butter and then added brown sugar, rum and salt, stirring while it cooked.

I added the topping to the bottom of the jumbo tins (because they’ll be flipped upside-down later!) to start.

Then, I added in the pineapple rings on top of that, with a maraschino cherry in the middle of each.

Finally, I added the cake batter, filling them roughly ¾ of the way full.

I baked the cakes for about 20 minutes and then pulled them out of the oven to cool.

They cooled in the pan for 5 minutes before it was time to turn them out to cool on a rack. I want to caution you to be very careful when flipping your pans. If you have two tins of 6 cakes each, please do them individually and not at the same time – even if you think you can manage it. The topping is VERY hot and still ooey gooey, which I can tell you from personal experience makes a huge mess if something goes awry and it happens to get all over the kitchen.

It is important to place the cooling rack within a baking pan with a lip. Place that upside down on top of the muffin tin and then quickly and carefully flip that over so that the pan and cooling rack are on the bottom. Repeat with the other rack/pan/muffin tin.

I hadn’t had pineapple upside-down cake before, and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it. Anana’s dad was onto something!

Mini Pineapple Upside-Down Cakes

  • Servings: 12
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1¼ cups granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • ½ cup pineapple juice
  • 2 teaspoons rum (or pure vanilla extract)
  • 1½ cups all purpose flour
  • 2¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1½ cups dark brown sugar (packed)
  • 1 teaspoon rum (or vanilla extract)
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 12 pineapple rings
  • 12 maraschino cherries

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Generously spray a 12-mold jumbo muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.
  2. Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl; whisk smooth. Add in the granulated sugar, brown sugar, and rum (or vanilla), and beat smooth. Stir in pineapple juice and set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and cornstarch. Gradually add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and whisk until just combined. Be sure not to over mix here! Set mixture aside while you make the topping.
  4. For the topping: In a small sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add in the brown sugar, rum, and salt, and cook for 1 minute, whisking constantly. Remove from heat.
  5. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the topping mixture into the bottom of each muffin tin; place a pineapple ring on top, then place a cherry in the middle of each pineapple ring. Divide the cake batter evenly among the prepared tins, fill each muffin tin 3/4 of the way full.
  6. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until the tops are puffed and golden brown, and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
  7. Remove from the oven and cool in pan for 5 minutes. Gently run a knife around the edge of each cake to help loosen any stuck bits, then gently place a wire cooling rack on top and quickly flip over. You will want to place the cooling rack on a large sheet pan before doing this, to help make it less messy. Serve cakes warm or at room temperature.

From: Baker by Nature

Recipe Notes: Rum may be substituted with pure vanilla extract. Cakes are best eaten the day they are made, but may be stored in the fridge, in an airtight container, or on a plate covered tightly with plastic wrap, for up to 3 days.