While cooking, listen to this: It's Too Late by Carole King
Have you ever tried explaining something to someone only to realize that that something is completely unknown beyond the confines of your childhood hometown?
It's like this earth-shattering moment of shock where you realize your Mitten State suburb is smaller than you think and that a whole chunk of the world has been deprived of one of your favorite birthday party desserts. It's a tragic moment of revelation, but thank god we have this blog to save the day.
If food was religion, dessert would be my god. I mean, honestly, nothing's more divine than taking a bite of something homemade with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top (except, maybe, if said ice cream was covered in Goldbrick. Another Michigan dessert secret for another time). So, when I moved to New York and found out that none of my non-Detroit friends knew what bumpy cake was, I knew it was time to remedy that.
I mean, how do you explain what bumpy cake is, exactly, any way? It's, like, a cake with frosting bumps on it. Covered in a layer of fudge.
Cake with bumps on it, you say? That hardly sounds appealing.
Well, never doubt something created by Sanders, the most magnificent hot fudge masters of the Midwest. I'm just explaining it poorly. I assure you, it's everything you ever dreamed of a dessert being and more. The so called "bumps" ensure buttercream goodness in every bite without completely overwhelming the flavor of the cake. If that isn't evidence of a higher being, I don't know what is.
I have to give a special shout out to my friend Jessica here. When I think bumpy cake, I think her family. They were completely and utterly committed to Sanders, and for that, I applaud them. Jessica's my own personal time capsule. Her memories of our first grade friendship (don't ask about the time I got sick in Mrs. Traub's class) is astounding, while mine are fuzzy, at best. If there's one thing I remember, though, it's eating bumpy cake at her house. Her mom always had a container lying around, ready to be torn to shreds by a gang of six year olds with forks.
I talk a lot about nostalgia on this site and how I associate certain foods with certain periods or occasions in my life. Living my so-called grown up life in New York, I find myself reverting to some of this nostalgia when I'm feeling particularly stressed or overwhelmed. And what's better than basking in your own self-created nostalgia? Sharing it with others.
So, I welcome you to join me on this journey to the simpler days of birthday parties and special after-school snacks eaten at one of your best friends' houses. We rarely have time to cherish these moments in our hectic work lives, so why not take a day and make this cake? Share it with a few friends, forks-to-pan, carefree without even thinking about how to store the leftovers. Because impulsive, nostalgic irresponsibility is, sometimes, all we need to get through the craziest of work weeks.
Yield: 20-24 slices
Active Time: 1h 30m | Total Time: around 3h 15m (accounts for cooling and refrigeration of cake)
Category: Sweet, Cake, Chocolate
Special Equipment: stand mixer or hand mixer, candy or instant thermometer (optional, see note below)
6 Tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
¾ cup firmly-packed brown sugar
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
¾ cup buttermilk*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt (table or fine sea salt)
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
¼ cup vegetable shortening
2 ½ cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
pourable fudge frosting:
½ cup buttermilk*
2 ½ cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup granulated sugar
⅓ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
⅓ cup dark corn syrup
¼ teaspoon salt
16 Tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into Tablespoon-sized chunks
*We make our own because we never use up a carton of buttermilk before it goes bad. To make your own, take 1 ¼ cup milk of choice and add 1 Tablespoon + ½ teaspoon distilled white vinegar. Mix well and let it sit for a couple minutes. Voila! Homemade buttermilk for the cake and fudge frosting.
Prep your pans: preheat the oven to 350 F and line a cake pan with parchment paper - we used a 9 x 13 pan, but you can also use a 8-inch square pan. Butter the parchment paper and exposed sides of the pan.
Make the batter: in the bowl of a mixer add the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar. Use the paddle attachment and beat until fluffy, scraping the bowl so that everything is incorporated. Add the whole egg, egg yolk and vanilla and beat until incorporated, then add the buttermilk and repeat. Sift together the cocoa powder, flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt - you can do this by sifting directly over the bowl, or sift into a separate bowl and then add. We do the latter because I have a special cover for my bowl that lets me add flour without it going all over the place. Do what works best for you! Beat the dry ingredients into the batter on low until just combined. Turn off and use a spatula to ensure everything from the bottom of the bowl gets mixed in. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, until an inserted toothpick or fork comes out clean. Let the cake cool for 5-10 minutes on a cooling rack in the pan, then flip onto the rack to finish cooling. We stuck ours in the fridge to speed up the process.
Make the buttercream: clean out the bowl you used for the cake batter and beat the butter and vegetable shortening for 3 minutes, or until pale and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar ½ cup at a time and allow to incorporate completely before adding the next ½ cup. When all the powdered sugar is mixed in, add the vanilla and beat for 30 seconds.
Pipe the buttercream: there are two ways to do this- we did one but I recommend the other. The first way is to scoop the buttercream into a piping bag fitted with a large round tip (place the bag in a tall glass and fold the edges over the rim to fill the bag, then twist off). The other way is to mold the buttercream by hand. This stuff is STIFF, and is pretty hard to get out of the piping bag, so I recommend hand rolling. Make snakes that are the length of your cake and about 1-inch thick. Place them on top of the cake about 1-inch apart. If you're using a rectangular pan instead of square, the snakes should run lengthwise. Stick in the fridge or freezer for at least 30 minutes to set the buttercream.
Make the fudge frosting: in a large bowl, whisk together the the buttermilk, sugar and vanilla and set aside. In a medium saucepan, add the sugar, cocoa powder, corn syrup, salt and 1 stick butter and place on medium-low heat. Stir occasionally to fully melt the butter, then bring mixture to a boil on medium-high heat. Cook until the mixture registers 240 F, or when a small amount of the mixture is dropped into cold water it turns into a soft, malleable ball. Remove from heat, and while whisking constantly add the hot mixture to the buttermilk mixture. Add remaining 1 stick of butter and whisk to fully melt and incorporate. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes.
Frost cake: take the cake out of the fridge/freezer and pour the cooled frosting over it in long strokes to completely cover the buttercream rolls. There will be some frosting "runoff" that will turn into delicious fudge pockets once the cake hardens up a bit. Put back in the fridge/freezer for at least 30 minutes before serving.
To keep: this can be kept in the fridge or freezer in a tightly sealed container or wrapped in foil for a few days and up to 2 weeks, respectively.