Monday, September 15, 2014

Kitchen Heritage + THE Bundt

Welcome to my one millionth blog! Thanks for being here. I'm a writer and improviser living in Los Angeles, as well as a TV lover and documentary watcher and recreational baker who is prettttttty Minnesotan. The bundt pan and I were born in the same city. It's in my blood.

This blog will feature recipes that I've modified/tried -- I'll link to wherever I found the initial recipe, when possible. I bake most every Sunday because it seems like a good day to do that, and I typically have improv rehearsal, so I can force friends to try what I've made. I don't usually substitute with lighter options, because if you're going to have dessert, just have dessert, you know? 

I could never really talk about baking without talking about my grandma, so, just let it happen.

My mom is not a baker (sorry, Mom, but you're so many other things). My late grandma Robinson, though, continues to be the best cook/baker I've ever had the pleasure of knowing and her kitchen was a living organism that never took a break. Either the counters were filled with half-chopped ingredients while something delicious bubbled on the stove or the dishwasher hummed diligently, replacing the smells of rib roast and oatmeal cookies with Dawn detergent. I sometimes got to help her in the kitchen, but it was her domain, and she usually preferred everyone leave her alone and enjoy happy hour rum & Diets in the den (I stuck to caffeine-free Diet Pepsi).

There was one treat she made just for me. Whenever we visited, I knew I could open the fridge to find glass Skippy jars filled with homemade tapioca pudding dyed pink. I haven't gotten around to making it myself because it feels like Grandma's secret -- the worn recipe card featuring her familiar, no-nonsense shorthand.

She loved cooking and baking for the people she loved. And I know she loved cooking and baking for herself because she would sing along to 1940s crooners and Patsy Cline. I think of her a lot when I'm in my own kitchen.

My mom didn't have the luxury of baking because I grew up in one of those over-scheduled households where the four of us were all going in different directions, forever double-booked and about to lose our minds. It was the best childhood because I learned how to embrace stress and multitask like a motherf*cker. It was the best/worst childhood because I got to eat a lot of McDonalds.

So, when it was time for my mom to contribute to some god-forsaken dessert table at some potluck event my dad forgot to tell her he volunteered her for, painstakingly making something from scratch wasn't high on her list of priorities -- mostly because it's hard to bake while driving a GMC Safari van across town.

She had one sure-fire, never-fail recipe. Pat Schmidt's Oven Opus: The Chocolate Chip Bundt. It's a magical cake that can go from ingredients to oven in under five minutes. And it tastes complicated. People are always impressed. Growing up, the cake felt like a well-kept secret -- the trick of an over-worked mom. Now, I make it when I promised a bundt, but I'd rather take a nap. I'm at a different place in my life, okay?

THE Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake

1 box moist chocolate cake mix 
(You can use Devil's Food, German Chocolate -- mix it up, get crazy, have fun)
 1 box dark chocolate (or plain chocolate) pudding mix
4 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup water
8 oz. sour cream (one small container)
1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
optional powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven at 350 degrees.
Aggressively grease a bundt pan. (I say "aggressively" because you really have to get in those edges or you're going to be sad when it comes apart during flippage.)
In a large bowl, combine the dry cake mix, dry pudding mix, eggs, oil, water and sour cream until well blended. 
Fold in the chocolate chips.
Pour the batter into the bundt pan.
Bake for 50-55 minutes.
Cool upright for 15 minutes.
Dust with powdered sugar, if you're feeling fancy.

If you've made a bundt, you have probably felt a kaleidoscope of emotions. They can be some of the easiest cakes to make, and for some reason, people think they look "fancy" -- because of their shape and hole?? Sure. But it all comes down to that flip -- and if you're a hasty greaser or you haven't given it enough time to cool, you're going to be sad. Patience is a virtue. Be liberal with the PAM.
If you're still unsure pre-flip (and who isn't), you can slide a butter knife along the edges of the pan to loosen the cake. Be gentle.
There's nothing you can do for the bottom-that-becomes-the-top.
When you flip it onto a plate, if you don't feel it release right away, you can tap the bottom of the pan with your palm to ease it out. Don't break your plate doing this.

At the end of the day, if your bundt breaks (attention: metaphor applicable), the ingredients are all delicious, and the cake will still taste good, and that's what matters.

I think I've recently enjoyed baking so much because you if you follow the directions, you achieve the desired outcome. There's something very satisfying in that certainty when you don't have certainty anywhere else. (Everything's fine.)

Happy baking!


  1. I love how you describe your grandmother's kitchen.

  2. Your grandmother would not only be very proud of your baking but would applaud your commitment to aggressively grease the bundt. She knows you earned it.