Tropical Layer Cake

IMG_9443Disclaimer: I’m writing this at a time of night when I’d normally be listening to sappy music or journaling, so you’ll have to excuse any emotional rants that develop (and typos).

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my family’s Christmas visit to Pittsburgh. Well, that’s a bit of an incorrect summary–I wrote about the horrible goodbye after my family’s Christmas visit to Pittsburgh.  That empty feeling that I get when I’m separated from them certainly hurts for the moment, but thankfully we have no choice but to eventually move on from the sting of leaving each other and resume our individual lives: mine here, my sister’s in Columbia, and my parents’ in Charleston.

Still, there are just some things missing each time I make the transition from family-time to “independence,” things that I don’t always realize I long to have when I’m on my own. One of them is family dinner. I don’t mean to mislead you into thinking we’re a family from a picture in the 1950’s unit of your Social Studies textbook, sitting around a nicely set table at 6 o’clock every night. In fact, we rarely had the time to eat at a normal hour for many of the years I lived at home, and living room dinners became frequent. But just the occasion of all being in a house (not an apartment), all sharing a prepared meal (not whatever I threw together for myself), and intentionally doing it together (instead of whenever it fits in each person’s schedule)–it’s so different.

This weekend I was blessed to experience just that–a dinner that was truly a family-away-from my family night. A group of us came together to prepare a surprise meal for a family that generously hosts frequent dinners for us in their home. We each tackled a dish (you can guess what I was in charge of), came a couple hours early, cooked together, and spent the evening enjoying each other’s company. I think that cooking and eating food together is one of the most rewarding activities to share with friends and family, and the evening was certainly a testament to that.

In the middle of our meal, I was struck by this sudden swell of gratitude. (I say sudden because it was abrupt enough to pull me away from my candied pecan brussel sprouts, which is no easy task). I was honestly a bit overwhelmed with the feeling. Being a young adult is hard. Ballet is hard. Figuring out life away from home is hard. I often find myself, especially with my long-time struggles with injury, projecting my insecurities onto others. I allow myself to imagine that my coworkers and friends see me as weak or invaluable as a dancer, that the only reason they spend time with me is because of my job in the company. It’s been a sort of self-inflicted isolation that unfortunately causes me feel distant from the community that I cherish so dearly. But that night at dinner, those negative, untrue thoughts didn’t threaten to ruin my night.

I felt loved. Appreciated. Not just because I’m a dancer at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Maybe a little bit because I make a mean cake. 🙂 But mostly because I am part of a family-away-from-my-family here. And that makes Pittsburgh just a little more like home.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13


(Forgive my lack of photos–this was a spontaneous recipe and was eaten before I could get pictures!)

Tropical Layer Cake


  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup almond milk, room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 1/2 cup fresh mango puree, separated, room temperature
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup Malibu rum (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh, diced pineapple
  • 1 batch vanilla swiss meringue buttercream (Just leave out the vanilla)
  • solid part from a 13.5 oz. can of coconut cream
  • toasted coconut


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9″ cake tins with parchment paper, and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
  2.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and both sugars on medium speed.
  3. Add each of the eggs in, mixing on low-medium speed between each.
  4. Mix in milk.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg.
  6. Begin adding both the flour mixture and 1 cup of the mango puree to the butter/sugar mixture, alternating between the mango and the dry ingredients and mixing after each addition until both are completely incorporated.
  7. Pour cake batter evenly between both tins.
  8. Bake until knife inserted in the center of cake comes out completely clean, about 40 minutes.
  9. Remove cakes from oven, and allow to rest in pans for five minutes. Then flip them out onto a cooling rack (drizzle with Malibu rum if desired), and leave to cool completely.
  10. Make the swiss meringue buttercream, or if you’ve already made it, place it in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Whip on low-medium speed until fluffy if needed. Whip in coconut cream, using the entire solid portion of the can or until the desired flavor is reached.
  11. Mix diced pineapple into the remaining 1/2 cup mango puree until all pineapple is coated.
  12. Assemble: Trim domed tops off cakes. Spread a layer of coconut buttercream on first cake. Top it with pineapple/mango mix, and then place the second layer of cake on top. Cover both cakes with buttercream, and press toasted coconut around the entire outside of cake.
  13. Pipe designs as desired on top of the cake, and top with another ring of pineapple/mango mix if desired. Serve immediately.



Orange “Creamsicle” Cake with Chocolate Ganache (V)

img_6448.pngThis week, I’m introducing the first of what I hope will be a growing collection of “ballet bakes.” The idea behind them will be to create recipes that are inspired by ballets I’m learning or performing with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. What’s more, the day that I decided to act on this idea fell during the most incredibly convenient time– it was in the middle of rehearsals for a piece choreographed by Stanton Welsh called Orange. I mean, I was practically spoon-fed the flavor for my blog with a title like that!

Of course, a flavor is just the start of a recipe, a foundation on which to build a whole dessert. I generally have a list of baking ideas running through my mind, but I rarely possess the decisiveness or the focus to mold my swirling thoughts into an actual plan on my own.  When I’d concluded, then, that I was heading down the citrus route this week, I knew immediately my next step: seek out some consultation. That’s why, when I found myself at a loss for direction last week, I grabbed my friends Jack, Sam, and Grace, and picked their brains about what I should make. Not only did they help me decide on the idea of dance-inspired bakes, they came up with a plethora of potential desserts centered around oranges. Thanks to them, I left the studio that day excited and anxious to get working on a new recipe. IMG_6459

Everyone knows that I love to bake, and I do! I love the actual process of combining ingredients and testing combinations and measuring and boiling and scooping–the physical act of making food is wonderfully satisfying to me. But the more I dive into this hobby, the more I realize that baking for me involves so much beyond what actually occurs in the confines of my kitchen (or whoever’s kitchen I happen to be mooching that day). The baking that I love begins with the idea. It begins with the phone call to my mom in the middle of Giant Eagle to talk through the ideas I have for a recipe and get her advice as I wander through the aisles looking for inspiration. It begins with looking through the magazine recipe my grandma shared with me because she thought it had potential to be a great flavor for a dessert. This week, it began between rehearsals with a pow-wow between three of my friends, who enthusiastically offered up tons of fabulous (and a few not so fabulous 😛 ) concepts for an orange themed dessert. IMG_6439

Similarly, the baking never ends with the close of my oven door. Rather, it ends with the giddy swarm of friends that congregated when I brought out some of the cake at work this week and their satisfied smiles upon trying a piece. It could end with the elaborate taste-test I conduct with my roommates to finalize a recipe, or the regular text to my family group chat to get votes on the most Instagram-worthy food photo for my post. If I’m lucky enough, it’ll occasionally even end with someone sharing with me how they tried a recipe from the blog for themselves. IMG_6413

On those days when I’m exhausted, when I’ve been dirtying my apron for hours, when my kitchen becomes a sauna, and a dessert is going horribly wrong, it’s easy to limit my experience with baking to the actual hours I clock in with my ingredients. I’ll admit that by the afternoon of the third day working with this cake, I was very much tired of seeing any more orange zest. But this cake also reminded me that the reason I love to bake is so much more than the actual baking: it’s the brainstorming, the thrill of a crazy idea, the chance to share something I love. Most importantly, though, it’s the people who are along with me for the ride, the ones who make my love for this process grow every week, and without whom this blog would certainly not exist. Thank you for baking with me 🙂

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.

Philippinans 1:3


Orange “Creamsicle” Cake with Chocolate Ganache (V)



  • 1/2 cup sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1/3 cup vegan butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup cream soda, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup orange juice, room temperature
  • 2 tsp orange zest
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • oranges for garnishing


  • 2 TBSP orange juice
  • 2 TBSP cream soda
  • 4 oz. bittersweet vegan chocolate

FROSTING (adjust extracts to taste)

  • 1/2 cup vegan butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp orange extract
  • salt to taste



  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and line the bottom of a 6″ cake pan with parchment.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter and sugar. (You can also use a hand mixer). Mix on medium speed until very smooth.
  4.  Add cream soda, orange juice, salt, vanilla extract, and orange zest. Mix until combined. If butter splits, its okay; continue to next step.
  5. Gradually mix in flour+baking powder mixture until completely incorporated. Increase mixer speed to medium-high and whip for 30 seconds.
  6. Pour batter into prepared pan. Tap on the counter to eliminate air bubbles.
  7. Bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in cake’s center comes out clean.
  8. Turn cake out of pan, and allow to cool completely. Place in freezer or fridge before cutting/frosting.


  1. Combine cream soda and orange juice in microwave-safe measuring cup. Microwave until very hot, just before boiling.
  2. Begin stirring in chocolate until it is all mixed in. You may need to heat up the mixture again to allow it to completely incorporate (Only use 15 second intervals to avoid burning).
  3. The final product should end up being about 2/3 cup when all the chocolate is added.
  4. Place ganache in fridge or freezer to cool until ready to use; just check it periodically to make sure it doesn’t freeze.


  1. Place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium for a few seconds to spread it out in the bowl.
  2. Begin adding powdered sugar, about 1/2 cup at a time, and mixing on low-medium speed.
  3. When mixture becomes too dry, add extracts (adjust amounts to taste if desired). Continue mixing and adding powdered sugar until it’s completely incorporated.
  4. Add salt a pinch at a time to taste. Mix on high for 30 seconds.


  1. Stack cake layers, and cut to make them even. Unstack.
  2. Spread a very thin layer of frosting on top of bottom layer. Spread a layer of ganache on top of frosting. Stack second cake on top, and repeat frosting/ganache layers until you reach the top.
  3. Apply a very thin, smooth coat of frosting to entire cake (called a crumb coat), and place cake in freezer until frosting layer is firm.
  4. Remove cake, and apply second and final layer of frosting.
  5. Using a spoon or squeeze bottle, spread ganache on entire top of cake, and drip some down the sides. (Make sure your ganache is spreadable but not warm before doing this; if it gets too firm, microwave for a very short time, and stir).
  6. Top as desired (I dehydrated orange slices in a 200° oven for a few hours!), and enjoy! Keep leftovers in the fridge to keep the ganache from melting.