We’re calling it a “Suede Cake”

Baking projects with Lilli are a weekly thing in our kitchen. Sometimes I’ll ask if she wants to bake, but most of the time I’ll watch her go into the kitchen, grab her apron and push her Kitchen Helper to the counter while shouting “Cook! Cook!” (This is also her word for cookie, so you really have to watch for context clues to see if she wants a cookie or to bake one.) Last weekend, during the latest blizzard, she got out her apron and started pushing her way to the counter while calling out “Cake! Cake!” so I knew what she had in mind.

Suede Cake

Although Lilli loves spending time in the kitchen, she still has the attention span of a two year old, so it’s better if the recipes are easy to manage and can be done quickly. So I was pretty excited when I found this red velvet cake recipe in the Lemonade cookbook a few weeks ago. It looked really easy, and I already had buttermilk for the batter in the fridge as well as two blocks of cream cheese for the frosting. (There had been a sale and I figured there would be a frosting recipe soon enough that called for them.)

It turns out the recipe was ridiculously easy and took only a couple of minutes to pull together. You sift the dry ingredients in one bowl, and whisk the wet ingredients in another, then you add the dry to the other and continue to whisk. Or, as Lilli said as she stirred the batter: “Mix! Mix!” I should add here that whenever I read “sift flour” in a recipe, I ignore that and grab a whisk. Couldn’t be easier.

You’ll notice in the photo (go me for actually managing to snap one this time) that this is more of a tan velvet cake. Rich even suggested calling it a “suede cake.” We made the executive decision to eliminate the food coloring from the recipe and keep it out of our bellies. As it happens, there was a study released late last week about artificial colors and hyperactivity in children. Of course, I can’t find it right now, but I’m sure you can find it if you’re really curious.

tea party

But about this cake: It’s terrific. Deceptively delicious given how simple it is to throw together. We baked a pineapple upside down cake this morning, and you could see how disappointed Lilli was when she was served a slice of that rather than this cake. I know you’re probably thinking the ingredients are a little strange, but to quote the cookbook, “While the ingredients may sound odd, vinegar and cocoa powder are crucial to the batter, lending its distinctive tang and subtle chocolate taste!”

My only other suggestion aside from eliminating the food coloring is to take the cream cheese and butter out of the fridge when you start this project. It will be room temperature by the time the cake is ready to be frosted.

Man, this is a great cake. Trust me.

Suede Cake from The Lemonade Cookbook by Alan Jackson and Joan Cianciulli



Nonstick cooking spray, for coating the pans

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups sugar

1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups vegetable oil

1 cup buttermilk

2 large eggs

(2 tablespoons red food coloring)

1 teaspoon white vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 350F. Line three 9-inch round cake pans with wax or parchment paper and coat lightly with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Remove the cream cheese and butter from the refrigerator and set it on the counter to come to room temperature.

To prepare the batter: In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the oil, buttermilk, eggs (food coloring), vinegar, and vanilla extract until well combined. Gradually add the dry ingredients, continuing to whisk until the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the surface with a spatula; the pans should be one-half full. Tap the pans a few times firmly on the counter top to level and knock out any air bubbles. Place the pans on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when touched. Cool the cake in the pans until completely cool. In the meantime, prepare the frosting.

To prepare the frosting, put the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or use a hand-held electric beater. Beat on medium speed until very smooth and lump-free, about 2 minutes. Stop the machine periodically to scrape off the paddle and the sides of the bowl. While beating, gradually sprinkle in the powdered sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and continue to mix until combined.

Once the cakes are cool, turn them out from the pans and remove the paper. Trim off any uneven edges. Save these crumbs for decorating the top of the cake. Using a metal spatula, spread half the frosting on top of two of the cake rounds. Carefully place the cakes on top of each other. Set the last layer on top. Frost the top and sides of the cake thoroughly. Crumble the reserved scraps with your hands and sprinkle on the top of the cake, letting the (red) crumbs fall on the sides. Refrigerate the cake for 45 minutes before cutting.


A New Favorite

We’ve had so much snow here in Boston that we’re now using sports figures as units of measurement. For those keeping track, we’re up to nearly a Gronk of snow. That’s about six and a half feet in less than two weeks. There’ve been multiple weekly school cancellations; the T, our mass transit system, has completely shut down several times; sidewalks are nearly impossible to navigate; parking etiquette has devolved to Lord of Flies level. We’re really lucky to own a driveway, although we’ve barely shoveled out room for our car, so no visitors, please.

do you want to build a snow man

The Super Bowl party we were invited to was canceled due to lack of parking, so we threw together our own party and hosted close friends who live around the block. We had leftovers for a few days, including a half-eaten bag of tortilla chips. But that’s OK, because it means I get to make my new favorite go-to weeknight dinner: Nacho Pie.

Found the culprit

I saw this recipe on an episode of Sara Moulton’s Weeknight Meals I had on in the background one weekend this fall. When she opened the show by saying the episode was devoted to pantry meals, she had my attention. The first dish was a pasta with beans and Kalamata olives. I have no recollection what the third dish was because all I could think about was the Nacho Pie in the middle.

You probably have everything on hand in your pantry already: can of black beans, can of corn, jar of your favorite salsa, an onion, and the dregs at the bottom of a bag of tortilla chips. In terms of fresh things, you’ll need a chopped up green pepper and some shredded cheese. There was once a time when I groaned when all I had in the house was a green pepper. But now that means I can make shakshuka, eetch or nacho pie, all terrific pantry meals.

You can gussy it up with other things on hand. I bought a pile of avocados which were on super sale for $0.88 cents each for the Super Bowl. I threw them in the refrigerator when they were perfectly ripe and we’ve been working our way through them these past few weeks. Add a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, and maybe a squeeze of fresh lime to perk it up.

warm head

This is a great weeknight meal that travels well the next day as leftovers. It’s vegetarian and cheap. I think you’ll love it as much as we do.

Nacho Pie


One medium onion, chopped

One green pepper, chopped

One can of black beans, drained and rinsed

One can of corn, drained and rinsed

One jar of your favorite salsa

Two cups of tortilla chips, divided

Two cups shredded cheese, divided

Enough oil to cover a skillet


Preheat oven to 400F

Heat oil in a large skillet on medium heat. When hot, add onions. Sprinkle a pinch of salt to help them sweat, and cook them on medium heat for about six minutes.  When they start to soften and become clear, add the green pepper to the onion and continue to soften them for about three minutes more.

While the peppers and onions cook on the stovetop, drain the cans of corn and beans in a colander. Give them a good shake and add them to the skillet. Stir to incorporate. Add the jar of salsa to the mixture and cook it for about one minute more.

In the bottom of an oven-proof dish – I use a soufflé dish – lay a cup of tortilla chips on its bottom. Pile about ¾ cup of shredded cheese on top of the chips. Next, pour the contents of the skillet on top of the cheese and chips. Finish the dish with the remaining chips and the rest of thecheese. Slide into the oven for about 20 minutes.

The crust will get nice and bubbly. Remove from the oven and enjoy.