This article is part of Spring Bake, a collection of brand-new recipes and ideas that will keep you in cake, buns, and cookies until summer.
Last year pastry chef Joy Cho was developing a recipe that just wasn’t going the way she’d hoped. Formerly a cook at Gramercy Tavern, Cho is one of the multitude of restaurant workers who lost their jobs in the wake of pandemic-related cutbacks. The problem recipe was intended to be something she could sell from home, part of the growing cottage industry of bakers across the country. Then, on a whim, she picked up a new baking pan at the mall and brought it home to play with. To give her mind a break, she began to work on a totally different recipe: a mini Bundt cake. And that’s the origin story of Cho’s wildly popular gem cakes, which disappear from her online shop faster than a newly released vaccine appointment.
$38.00, Sur la Table
Cho describes the cakes as having a texture that’s at “the intersection of sour cream pound cake and a cake doughnut,” but what really sets them apart is an addition of sticky rice flour in the batter. Cho says the rice flour gives the cakes a bit of bounce, a “subtle springiness” that’s nowhere near the chew of something like mochi, but which “bolsters the cakes and makes the final texture a little more three-dimensional.”
After baking, the cakes are decorated with an array of glossy, brightly colored glazes that are flavored with various extracts, powders, or jams. It’s this combination—mini cakes cut with bumps and ridges and vibrantly hued glaze—that give the cakes their name, because, when packed up, they resemble a treasure chest of precious gems. Once the cakes are glazed, Cho tops them with an assortment of garnishes: sesame seeds, jam, toasted coconut, candied fruit—the point is, when it comes to glaze-and-topping combinations, the limit does not exist.
Cho sells her cakes online, six to a box, to anyone with the ability to pick them up in Brooklyn. Luckily, for those a little farther afield, she shared her recipe with us, along with a couple of great tips so that you can pull off a beautiful batch at home.
Because these cakes are so delicate (and because Bundt pans, no matter their size, can be somewhat finicky), Cho recommends spraying down the wells with Pam for Baking. She says the flour-enhanced spray is nothing short of “magical” as “sticking is hardly an issue anymore and cleanup is a breeze.” You can hack the technique, sort of, by spraying the wells with regular cooking spray (or brushing them with a neutral oil), dusting them liberally with flour, and inverting the pan to tap out the excess. Note that the flour will create a mottled appearance on the surface of the baked cakes, but once glazed they’ll still look shiny and perfect.
$20.00, Amazon for three (5-ounce) cans
Because the cake base is always the same, Cho says the simple powdered-sugar-and-milk-based glaze is where she gets to have a lot of fun with flavor. She recommends starting out with three of her favorites: soft green matcha, rosy strawberry jam, or mellow caramel-colored milk tea. All stellar choices—my personal favorite is the milk tea, which tastes at once earthy, sweet, and bright. But you can branch out too. Cho says she’s gone through countless glazes, and they all come out well.
One of her more recent combinations started with powdered pumpkin, hand-dried and ground by Cho’s grandmother (similar products are available online). Cho dipped the cakes top-down into the pumpkin glaze and then spooned a dollop of yuja (yuzu) marmalade in the cake’s divot. (Yuja is sometimes sold as citron tea, a concentrate that’s frequently diluted and sipped as a sore throat remedy.) Cho says that the contrast between the earthy, creamy-yellow pumpkin glaze and tart, golden citrus was “so bright and sunshiny”—ideal for spring.
When you’re making the glaze, Cho explains, the hardest thing to nail down is the consistency. So, do a test: When you lift your whisk or a spoon from the bowl, the glaze should drizzle down in a ribbon so that you can just see the imprint of the trail on the surface of the glaze before it disappears into the sweet depths.
More of an active learner? Cho says to dip just one cake in the glaze, then walk away to prep your toppings or clean up a bit. After a few minutes, the coating will set and you can decide if you want your glaze thinner, thicker, or if it’s just right. If the glaze is too thin, you can add more powdered sugar or flavoring powder. Too thick? Add more milk. Either way, add the amendments in small increments until the glaze has reached your ideal consistency.
As for the toppings, get ready to scour your cabinets, because anything goes: a dusting of toasted sesame seeds, a dollop of jam, a sprinkle of flaky salt or citrus zest or crumbled graham cracker. When I made these cakes recently, I cut slivers of candied ginger, spooned jarred sour cherries out of their syrup, and raided my spice cabinet for sumac and anise seeds.
The mini Bundt pan makes beautiful cakes—and gives you a central spot for toppings. But if you don’t want to wait until yours arrives, the cakes work equally well—and, honestly, are still quite cute—when made in a standard muffin tin. The muffin-cakes are a little larger, so you’ll end up with fewer finished cakes per batch. But, hey: Can you think of a better reason to make another round and try out a whole new slew of flavor combinations? Me neither.Joy Cho
Originally Appeared on Epicurious