Sunny grinned, showing all of her sharp, sharp teeth, and then swung her head down onto the can of soup, remembering the day she had learned to open cans all by herself. It was not that long ago, although it felt like it was in the very distant past, because it was before the Baudelaire mansion burned down, when the entire family was happy and together. It was the Baudelaires’ mother’s birthday, and she was sleeping late while everyone baked a cake for her. Violet was beating eggs, butter, and sugar with a mixing device she had invented for herself. Klaus was sifting the flour with the cinnamon, pausing every few minutes to wipe his glasses. And the Baudelaires’ father making his famous cream-cheese frosting, which would be spread thickly on top of the cake. All was going well until the electric can opener broke, and Violet didn’t have the proper tools to fix it. The Baudelaires’ father desperately needed to open a can of condensed milk to make his frosting, and for a moment it seemed like the cake was going to be ruined.Lemony Snicket, The Hostile Hospital
This cake is the perfect tribute to A Series of Unfortunate Events, since all the titles, save for The End, contain alliteration in some form. It’s also the perfect birthday cake, with its warm tones of cinnamon and caramel. And yes, following in the Baudelaires’ footsteps, I did make this cake for a friend’s birthday.
The literary reason for making this cake is that the process of making it is very much in the spirit of the whole series. There are many moments in the series where it seems like everything is going to be ruined, but somehow the Baudelaires manage to pull through using their trusty skills. Or, if you’re as pessimistic as Olaf, you could also view this as the Baudelaires’ fortune being well and gone. It used to be the case that any problem seemed solvable, that their whole family would be “happy and together”. But it no longer is.
Let us not wallow in such maudlin thoughts, however.
There’s another more pragmatic reason for choosing to recreate this particular food from this novel, though: All the other food mentioned just don’t sound appetising. Soggy macaroni? Canned alphabet soup? No thanks. I’d much rather have a Southern-baked mac and cheese if I’m looking for a quick and easy meal.
Staying True to the Novel
From the quote above we know a few things:
- The cake contains eggs, butter and sugar, and they’re beaten together. i.e. probably no melted butter.
- The flour is sifted with the cinnamon.
- The cream-cheese frosting contains condensed milk. I was originally thinking that it might be a poke cake, but the way it’s worded (” the Baudelaires’ father desperately needed to open a can of condensed milk to make his frosting”) seems clear enough: The condensed milk goes into the frosting.
- It probably is a single-layer cake. Making a double-layer cake would have taken too much time— hours, even days. The Baudelaires’ mother would probably have woken up during that time and it wouldn’t have been a surprise anymore.
Getting Creative with the Remaining Ingredients
With the above constraints, I had to think of something that pairs well with cinnamon and, preferably, that conveys the happier times the Baudelaires had when their whole family was together. There were a few options open to me: apple, caramel and pumpkin. But I went with a simple cinnamon caramel flavour in the end. It stays true to the novel in all ways, and can be made if you don’t routinely have apple or pumpkin on hand, like me.
To this end, I added both light and dark muscavado. Muscavado is an unrefined sugar with molasses, and has caramel undertones. You could probably get away with using all light or dark if you don’t have both, but the taste would be less (if using light) or more (if using dark) caramelly. You can also use refined brown sugar if you don’t have muscavado, but I personally like the pairing of molasses with cinnamon.
Making the cake itself was fairly simple. I wanted a texture close to that of my Red Velvet Birthday Cake, so I adjusted the amount of ingredients until I got a batter that was thick but pourable. If, for some reason, you don’t have such a texture, you could try adding milk or flour, depending on whether your batter is too runny or dry.
That being said, I can’t vouch for the outcome if you do this—if you are planning to give this cake to someone for a birthday, you might want to try the recipe out at least once to make sure that you get your desired outcome.
Any other tips?
I like eating the cake when it’s at room temperature, but my taste testers find that it tastes good chilled too. The difference isn’t huge but I think anything with cinnamon should be eaten warm. Just a personal preference though.
Make this cake to celebrate a birthday or fall… It tastes good either way!Print Recipe
With its warm tones of cinnamon and caramel, this moist and fluffy cake is perfect for fall or a loved one’s birthday celebration. Topped with a rich and sweet and milky cream cheese frosting.
- 75 g salted butter, softened
- 37 g light muscavado or light brown sugar
- 37 g dark muscavado or dark brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 125 ml (1/2 cup) plain Greek yogurt
- 62.5 ml (1/4 cup) milk (I use low-fat)
- 2 1/4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- 180 g whole wheat flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 125 g cream cheese, softened
- 62.5 ml (1/4 cup) condensed milk
Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars until well-combined. Beat in the eggs one by one.
In a large measuring cup, whisk together the yogurt, milk and apple cider until smooth.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together (or sift, if your dry ingredients are particularly lumpy) flour, cinnamon and baking soda.
Beat in until just combined (See Recipe Notes) the dry ingredients and yogurt mixture alternately to the butter mixture in a total of three additions, starting and ending with the dry ingredients (i.e. 1/2 of the dry ingredients, all of the yogurt mixture, then the remaining dry ingredients).
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 20 min until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out with a few moist crumbs.
Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 min before flipping it out onto a cooling rack.
With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and condensed milk until smooth and fluffy.
Spread the frosting on top of the cake when it has cooled to room temperature.
Serve immediately. Store any remaining slices in the fridge and take them out for 15 min before eating.