Karen Gosselin: Before you commit to making a homemade cake for your next special occasion, we asked Karen Gosselin, owner of The Spring Street Market & Cafe in Williamstown, Mass., for some baking tips. The mom of three bakes delicious and creative treats for the cafe every day, starting in the kitchen around 4:30 a.m. so she knows her way around a spatula. Here are five things to remember before you crack those eggs:
1 Don't over mix: Gosselin, who makes a special chocolate cake for her adult children on each of their birthdays, cautions bakers not to be overzealous with the mixing. "Really, learning how much to mix is key," she said. "Don't over mix because it will make a tough cake." Unlike a box cake mix, which you often beat with a mixer, Gosselin suggests mixing your homemade batter enough to make the flour lumps disappear.
2 Frosting: Reading a frosting recipe can be intimidating for some, according to Gosselin. "Some people read the recipe and say, 'Do I really need six cups of powdered sugar?' The answer is, 'no, not if you don't want to,'" she said. Frosting is a delicate balance of mixing that doesn't require exact measurements, just and eye and taste for what you like. The cafe owner likes a thicker frosting "so it holds," but it's all up to the baker.
3 Experiment with flavor: Every year, Gosselin's children look forward to her double dark chocolate cake with creamy peanut butter frosting creation. Something, she said, she came up with for her son's love of peanut butter cups. In the middle layer of the cake she adds crushed peanut butter cups to her frosting. This, she said, is the fun part. Add your own favorite flavors or toppings to a basic cake recipe and make it your own.
4 Put down the piping bag: Before you stress out about going all Cake-Boss style on your cake, stop, take a breath and just worry about it tasting great. "I'm not a decorative baker, I'm more into the taste," said Gosselin, who offers about 15 different baked goods at her cafe daily. She keeps her cakes simple and pretty, using fruit slices, berries and a smooth layer of frosting. Embrace the homemade look and let everyone know it came from your kitchen.
5 Who says it has to be cake?: Yes, a birthday cake is kind of tradition — whoever heard of birthday cookie? But don't limit your party celebrations to just one sweet treat. For Gosselin, her birthday is best celebrated with a slice of key lime pie. "I do love cake, but for my birthday I make myself a key lime pie," she said with a laugh. It doesn't matter what kind of treat you gather round to sing "Happy Birthday," as long as there's a candle to blow out.