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Come Into the Test Kitchen for a Piece of Cake

Come Into the Test Kitchen for a Piece of Cake

September 06, 2010
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I’m often asked, “What’s it like to work in the Test Kitchen?” or I hear comments like “It must be a dream job!’. To tell you the truth being a Test Kitchen Home Economist is special and is the way I exercise my passion of sharing my love of food and recipes with consumers everywhere. Providing excellent recipes and baking and cooking information is what it’s all about. Some days it’s a piece of cake…And some days, like any job, it isn’t. Come with me as I share one of our newest recipes we’ve created and tested in the Land O’Lakes Test Kitchens.

Ironically the recipe we are making today is Fall Leaves Maple Cake. Between the maple flavor of the cake and the browned butter frosting, the tasters rated the recipe 5-stars. Believe it or not, the cake practically disappeared in a round of recipe evaluation.

As long as we are in the Test Kitchen, let me show you how to make this recipe.

Heat the oven to 350°F. Then grease and flour a 13x9-inch cake pan. Preparing the pan first simplifies the preparation of the cake.


The next step is to combine all the cake ingredients except the melted unsweetened baking chocolate in a large mixer bowl.


I usually cut the stick of butter into small chunks before adding it to the other ingredients in the bowl. It is much easier to mix all the ingredients when the butter is in smaller chunks, especially when I’m eager for the get going and do not wait long enough for the butter to soften completely.


Beat the ingredients at medium speed until all the ingredients mixed in well.


My favorite cake is marble cake. This cake is marble. But what’s different about this recipe is that the marbled batter is not plain chocolate and yellow but rather chocolate and maple flavor. I measure out 1 ½ cups of the cake batter and place it into a small mixing bowl.


Next, I add the melted unsweetened chocolate to this batter. Stir until the batter is well mixed.


I now have two batters – chocolate and maple.


Pour the maple batter into the cake pan and spread it evenly in the pan. Then drop spoonfuls of chocolate batter over the maple batter.


Now is the time to get creative and swirl the chocolate batter into the maple batter with a table knife.


This time I got carried away and so the cake gets very “marbleized”. This is unique and what makes the cake interesting. No two cakes are alike.


Bake the cake for about 28 to 30 minutes and use the toothpick test to determine when the cake is done. I gently poke the middle of the cake with a toothpick at the minimum baking time.

If the toothpick has any batter or crumbs sticking to it when I remove the toothpick from the cake – the cake is not quite done and needs to continue baking. It is important to not test for doneness until the cake is very close to being done. You need to use a visual cue of color – “beginning to brown” – to determine when to use the toothpick test. Opening the oven and testing the cake too early could make the cake “fall” in the center.

My cake is done. You can see that I have a clean toothpick after poking the cake. Then cool the cake completely on a wire cooling rack.


While the cake cools I gather the frosting ingredients and mix the frosting. First, place 1/3 cup butter into a large glass bowl. Microwave on high power until the butter is melted. It should take about 20 to 30 seconds.


Now add the brown sugar and continue microwaving until the sugar is dissolved or about 30 to 45 seconds. It is a good idea to open the door about halfway through the cooking time, and stir the mixture. I can see when the sugar is completely dissolved.


Remove the bowl from the microwave oven. Add all the remaining frosting ingredients to the butter-brown sugar mixture. Beat the mixture at low speed until the powdered sugar is moistened. Then increase the speed to high. The frosting will get creamy and smooth and perfect for frosting the cake.


Next, frost the cake. Smooth the surface of the frosting with a spatula or a table knife after you have covered the cake with the frosting from corner to corner.


The best part is to come. Prepare the decorating bag for the chocolate frosting. Place a 1/8-inch round decorating tip or a leaf decorating tip…


…into one corner of a plastic disposable decorating bag or a quart-size plastic food bag. Cut off the excess plastic bag to expose the decorator tip.


Then spoon the chocolate frosting into the bag and “push” the frosting into the decorator tip by twirling the bag at the opposite end from the tip.


My suggestion before actually decorating the cake is to practice the tree design on a sheet of waxed paper. The design is easy to do, but practice does make perfect! Grasp the frosting bag around the end opposite the tip and position the tip at about a 45°angle to the surface. Squeeze out frosting in parallel lines.


Once the technique is mastered…


A “tip” we use when decorating a cake like this is to use a toothpick to draw lines in the frosting that can be used as a guide or pattern for the design.


Use the same technique for holding the decorator bag and squeezing out parallel chocolate lines to form the trunk and the branches of the tree. Draw the long branches first. Keep the flow of the frosting even from the bottom to the top of the tree. Then fill in the trunk and add side branches, if you like.


Finally, sprinkle dried fruit, such as cranberries and golden raisins to chopped apricots and pecans, at the base of the tree and among the branches to represent the colorful leaves of Fall. You can add a purchased sugar decoration in the shape of a ghost or another Fall design to the tree for a special treat!


No ghost? No problem! Here is a fun tip for how-to make a ghost using purchased whipped cream cheese. Use the same decorating technique as before, a #12 or ¼-inch round decorator tip and another plastic food bag. On a plate lined with waxed paper squeeze out a small ¾-inch circle of cream cheese.

Then pipe cream cheese in a line down one side of circle and down other side of the circle. Fill in any gaps with more cream cheese. Freeze the ghost for about 15 minutes. Lift the ghost from the waxed paper and place onto the cake.


The finished cake…Tasters here in the Test Kitchens come out of the woodwork when we enlist comments and feedback about recipes like this. You can make Fall Leaves Maple Cake, just as we did in the Test Kitchens.


Have a piece of cake! I hope you can come with me again another day and see what’s happening in the Test Kitchens.

Up next, Amanda will share a delicious chocolate torte recipe.

Cindy Manwarren is a Manager of the Test Kitchens for Land O’Lakes and writes for our Recipe Buzz™ Blog.

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Helena, thanks for your comments! I love this cake and it is so fun to serve in this colorful season of autumn!

Posted November 09, 2010 by Cindy

The cake was very moist!  I did use butter. The taste is great & the marbling came out nice. The maple frosting was rich & has a nice maple flavor. The cream cheese makes the frosting creamy, but it's taste is an under tone, just right. The tree was fun to make. I thought of my kids & the construction paper trees they would make with colorful leaves.  Perfect for autumn, Halloween or Thanksgiving! The photos & step by step by instructions helped.

Posted November 08, 2010 by Helena Georgette

Thanks for your kind comments! I love to share with other about recipes. This is a fun seasonal cake and very easy to decorate. Hope you make this recipe soon!

Posted September 22, 2010 by Cindy M.

Cindy, Thank you for sharing this beautiful looking cake. The photos and instructions make it look doable even for a novice like myself! I am going to try it this week and hopefully take it along on a visit to see our daughter who is working very hard in her first year of law school. It will be a most welcome treat! Thank you for your great explanation on this recipe! Sincerely, Rita V., Georgia

Posted September 19, 2010 by Rita V.

With step by step instructions like this and sharing the trick of drawing with a toothpick first, I could make a cake like this one and have my family enjoy not only the cake but the decorating. Please continue to show step by step like this so I to can feel like a proffessional cake decorator. I never knew it could be so easy to do. I need the visual to go with the written on something like this. Thank you I can not wait to try and create this my self. My daughter will also enjoy using the directions.

Posted September 19, 2010 by Dawn

This looks wonderful! I am making this for Halloween this year! I am going to add some sugar pumpkins! Thank you!

Posted September 18, 2010 by Nancy

Sounds wonderful. Great idea. I can't wait to make it for a special occasion I have coming up in a couple of weeks

Posted September 18, 2010 by Jean

beautiful .

Posted September 18, 2010 by teresa m.

This Hallween Cake is a real neat idea for Halloween and step by step is so great! Thank You!!

Posted September 17, 2010 by LOIS

Cindy what a great Fun Fall Food idea!! The tree looks awesome, and I can't wait to see how the maple and chocolate cake tastes. I live in South Florida - no fall leaves, so this will be a good way to celebrate a season that practically goes unnoticed down here. Thank you for sharing such good ideas with us. Happy Fall! Andi

Posted September 17, 2010 by Andi C.

Cindy - the blog looks great!! Excellent Fall recipe.

Posted September 14, 2010 by Terry