Tastes of Summer – Apricot Cake

Featured photo by Cala on Unsplash

The Farmer’s Market on Keystone and Booth in Reno opens the first Saturday of June every year. By mid-July I’ve become complacent, despite having longed for it since February. Mid-July I think there’s no need to get up and go pick out fruit – there’s plenty of summer left. And though it’s open until the end of the first Saturday of October, I get over my complacency when dreaded August hits.

August has always been like Sunday to me, back when I was in school. I was a stellar student if we don’t count math into the equation (see what I did there?) but I totally hated school. So I loved Saturday and had a love-hate relationship with Sunday because while I was still free of school, there it was again, looming on the other side of Sunday.

August is like that. Too close to the official end of summer. Which may actually be the Equinox in the last third of September, but feels like the end of Labor Day weekend.

So. Farmer’s Market. Fresh peaches and cantaloupe and basil and onions and tomatoes and corn.

And apricots.

This is a family recipe, which may only mean from some women’s magazine I can no longer identify, but I hadn’t made it in forever before I made it this summer.  It’s simple, fast, tasty, lasts well, and isn’t so rich you can’t just cut a piece, stick it on a napkin and eat it with your fingers while reading or watering the flowers or doing something wonderfully summerish.

It’s Wednesday.  Here’s something sweet for the halfway mark of the week.

Apricot Cake

14 tablespoons shortening

1 cup minus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

4 eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

Powdered sugar to sprinkle

Somewhere around 8 to 10 ripe apricots, washed and halved, pits removed (do not remove skin)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.


Cream shortening and sugar until well mixed, then add the eggs, one at a time, stirring between additions.  Add flour, salt and baking powder.

Grease a pan (I use a 7×9 glass pan that fits it perfectly) and spread less than half of the batter over the bottom of the pan.  The batter is really thick, so using less than half is important because the remainder has to be spooned on over apricots, which ideally should stay where you put them, and dragging thick batter over them doesn’t help that process.


Place the apricots cut side down on the batter in the pan. I usually make two neat (kind of) rows of apricots but you don’t have to. Wildly random apricots would taste just as good, but one layer seems like the best bet in order for the cake to bake through and to have the wonderful tangy-sweet moist pockets of bright apricot.


Sprinkle the fruit and batter with powdered sugar. Spoon the remaining batter on top and carefully drag to cover the fruit and bottom batter. Sprinkle the top of the cake with more powdered sugar.


My traditional and not helpful recipe says to bake in the 350 degree oven for “Not less than one hour.” First off, not true! And second off, who says this? It is not helpful. So – I baked mine on a rack in the middle of the oven fur just 50 minutes and it was just this side of dry – perfect, but getting it out at 47 or 48 minutes might have been a tiny bit better. Test with a skewer or toothpick if you have no idea what a skewer is (I don’t – a long toothpick?)

Cool in pan on wire rack. This is better cold than hot, partly because it just is, and partly because the apricots form a pocket around themselves as they cook and inside that pocket they reach roughly the temperature of the sun and will remove your tongue and palate. When the cake is cold, those moist bits are a little tart and a little sweet, like the best apricot jam.

Perfect for after a barbecued hamburger and fresh corn, or maybe an easy morning breakfast with bacon on the side and a good English breakfast tea.

Summer is fleeting.  Taste every moment. Enjoy every encounter.


Not-So-Red Red Velvet Cake

Easter Sunday was also our wedding anniversary. When Rick and I got married in Reno, the wonderful Cheese Board catered for us. The cake – white cake, custard filling, white buttercream and pink roses with green vines and leaves everywhere – came from The Cake and Flower Shoppe. That was a heavenly bakery on Fifth Street, with delightful ladies who might have been Disney faeries of the Sleeping Beauty variety running it. When you entered, the shop smelled like the best possible bakery, not overly sweet, just enticing. It was also a florist, so roses and carnations battled it out with cakes that weren’t mouth-crunchingly sweet, and it was always cool, because of the flowers. I’m a heat lover and desert sun seeker, but when I’d walk into the shop, it always felt a little magical because of the change of temperature.

When we moved from Reno to Medford, Oregon, an experiment in living somewhere that wasn’t at 4500 feet + and was damp and green, we went less than a year after our wedding and took the top tier of cake with us for our anniversary. That started a tradition of having a cake every anniversary. Our second anniversary cake wasn’t from Cake & Flower Shoppe because we were in Oregon, but we moved home before our third anniversary. For our 13th anniversary, being that we’re geeks and love fantasy and horror, we asked for a “scary 13-themed” cake and they came through – they thought it was weird, but they did it.



Cake & Flower Shoppe closed in 2011, I think – at any rate, Nicholle Albumbaugh opened Homage Bakery in 2011 in the same building, having bought the equipment from C&FS. Homage is lovely and so in demand I’ve never yet ordered a cake in time for our anniversary. Which means for several years we’ve tried different sources for our cakes – in 2013 we were in Disneyland and celebrated with beautiful cupcakes and Mickey & Minnie cake toppers (also mouse ears bride and groom hats).




This year we made our own.  I’m still working on making things look pretty in addition to tasting good. Rick spread the buttercream on the cake and it looked good until we tried the pink roses. (It didn’t occur to me until we were mid-rose-attempt to do a line of decoration around the edge. Next year.)

The pink blob in the photo – that’s my contribution and it’s a rose. Honest. That’s a rose. In some alternate universe. Where roses aren’t quite what they are here. The Rick and Jennifer bit was Rick deciding nope! He can’t make roses either.


The frosted abomination.


It isn’t pretty, but it’s wonderful. I started making this cake in college. The original recipe came from a friend of a friend of a friend so I could make it for another friend who was spending his first birthday away from home and who loved Red Velvet Cake.

This is adjusted for 5000 feet above sea level baking. It’s also adjusted like this:

Red food dye? No thank you! Creeps me out and sometimes makes me sick and adds nothing but a vaguely ink-like taste to foods. So now I add 3 ounces of water to the batter to take the place of 3 ounces of red food color. The result is a lovely soft brown cake, light and fluffy with a delicate sweetness. This cake doesn’t wallop you with sugar. It’s just good.

Vanilla. I am always out of vanilla. I could buy a gallon of vanilla and I would still be out of vanilla in about half an hour. So this time I cut a full vanilla pod in half, scraped the insides and cut the pod into pieces and let it all sit in the 3 ounces of water while I made the rest of the cake.  Seemed to work and was rather simple, no muss, no fuss. For the custard, I cooked the other half of the pod into the custard and pulled it out when the custard was set. Since it still smelled wonderful, I washed it, dried it and stuck it in a small jar full of sugar. Some day when I figure out what vanilla sugar is supposed to be used for (anyone know?) I’ll have some on hand.

Otherwise, the recipe offered here is what I’ve been making periodically since college, with the changes that make it high desert viable. Nothing fell, though the waxed paper clung to the cakes more than I thought necessary. That was all right – we filled in the missing bits with custard and frosting.


The waxed paper had its way with the delicate cake.


Red Velvet Cake

¾ cup shortening (not butter – I use regular Crisco sticks)

2 ¼ cups sugar minus 1 tablespoon

3 eggs, room temperature

1 ½ teaspoons cocoa

¾ teaspoon salt

3 cups + 2 tablespoons flour

1 ½ cups + 3 tablespoons buttermilk

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla

3 ounces red food coloring (or replace with water)

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons white vinegar

Grease 3 9-inch layer cake pans, dust lightly with flour, bang out excess flour, and line bottom of tin with a circle of wax paper. Preheat oven to 365 (up 15 degrees from 350 for high altitude).

Cream sugar and shortening until well blended. Add the eggs and beat until well combined


I’m not a fan of vegetable shortening, but I love the clean, bright look.


In a separate bowl, stir flour, cocoa and salt until well mixed. Add to the batter alternately with buttermilk, beginning with the dry ingredients and ending with buttermilk. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Mix in the vanilla and either food coloring or water.

In a small bowl, carefully combine baking soda and vinegar (I’m convinced this is the elementary school mixture that makes paper mache volcanoes erupt). Gently fold the dissolved soda and vinegar into the batter.

Bake in a 365 degree oven for 27 to 30 minutes for high altitude, or 35 to 40 minutes at 350 for 3500 feet above sea level and below; bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Gently remove cakes from pans and cool completely on a wire rack.


Building layers – rack left lines on warm, soft cakes.



Combine 1 ½ cups milk, 1/3 cup flour, and a dash of salt in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring gently, until mixture reaches bubbly stage.  Set to cool.

Cream together ¾ cup of shortening (again, not butter) with 1 ½ cups powdered sugar and 1 ½ sticks of butter (must be butter; my preference is salted sweet cream butter) and 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla. Add to the pudding mixture and beat until smooth.


Custard in lumpy stage before smoothing and bubbling.


Vanilla Buttercream

This is a variant on traditional buttercream icing, swiped from More from Magnolia by Allysa Torey (2004).

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened (I used salted…)

6-8 cups confectioner’s sugar (in my dry desert, I used 6)

½ cup milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Cream the butter with 4 cups of the sugar, then add the milk and vanilla and beat until smooth and creamy, about 3 to 5 minutes on medium speed. Gradually add in the remaining sugar until the frosting reaches a spreadable consistency.

For the pink that created our blobs and wavering anniversary messages, we used a small bowl of the buttercream and Wilton gel food colors, mixing a few drops at a time with a toothpick.

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