David Lebovitz’s Racines Cake

About 10 years ago my aunt had surgery and was unsure she’d be able to bake the hundreds of dozens of cookies she normally made and mailed as gifts to friends and family. I was determined to help keep her tradition going, and in 48 hours we baked 120 dozen cookies.

One sheet at a time. That is all her tiny 35 year old oven could accommodate.

All in a small Sunbeam stand mixer. Her KitchenAid didn’t come until a few years later.

She directed me from her handwritten recipes scribbled in a golden cake yellow-colored notebook. She taught me to get my hands into the dough and work in the rest of the flour. I rolled sugar cookies, pressed butter cookies, made many a thumbprint and walnut cups.

And then she looked at me with wonder as I used a tweezer to place colored sugar sprinkles to outline the sugar cookie houses. Yes, that was way before children.

Not a moment goes by when I’m baking that I don’t think of that weekend. So, auntie, thank you for inspiring me and giving me such a wonderful gift which will now be an edible heirloom I pass down to your great nieces.

So, what does this story have to do with David Lebovitz’s new book exactly? While I owe a great debt to my aunt for instilling my love of baking, I tend to fly solo in the kitchen these days making my own original creations for work. Every now and then, though, I like to be in the passenger seat. Working with someone else’s recipe is like a baking GPS if you find an author you can trust implicitly to not guide you down a road of wasted ingredients.

David Lebovitz’s new book Ready For Dessert arrived with perfect timing. Isabella is on spring break, and while that makes finding time to work challenging, it does relieve me from school routines and homework. What better way to spend a day than making some cake and cookies just for fun?


My first instinct was to make the Guinness-Gingerbread Cupcakes. David’s inspiration came from tasting a Claudia Fleming dessert. When I worked at Gramercy Tavern, I spent a lot of time in the pastry department. I pretty much worshiped her, and it was months before I could look her in the eye, let alone utter a word. Being in her presence was close to godliness for me, and she’d chuckle if she read this right now. She once left a message on my answering machine asking for my fudge recipe. I nearly died. And the Mr. almost did too…when he accidentally erased the message.

Long story longer, I didn’t have all the ingredients on hand for the Guinness-Gingerbread Cupcakes, but then another one caught my eye. It was the start of Passover, and while I’m not Jewish, by now you probably know my mother-in-law is. The recipe for Racines Cake looked like a decadent, chocolate, flourless treat to fit the bill for our Passover celebration.


Aside from the cake taking a few minutes less than directed to bake, this is recipe writing at its best my friends. I also made the peanut butter cookies. Chewy, peanutty goodness in every bite—and I highly recommend an icy cold glass of milk for dipping. Both recipes are well worth the price of admission.


p.s. I’d love to hear what got you started baking. Just leave a comment with your own special memory and you may be the one lucky person to get an extra special treat—a copy of Ready for Dessert, courtesy of Ten Speed Press.

Racines Cake

reprinted with permission from
Ready For Dessert
by David Lebovitz, courtesy of Ten Speed Press

makes one 9-inch cake

A few days after baking, I discovered this cake is really two treats in one. Lebovitz suggest this is best served the same day it’s made—and he’s right if you want a light airy kick of deep chocolate to the taste buds. Two to three days later, though, I found the flavors mellowed, making for a denser cake, with a more delicate flavor (sounds crazy, I know). Imagine the cake equivalent to decanting a bottle of wine. Whichever way you decided to serve it, fresh whipped cream is a must. I simply whipped some cream with a bit of sugar but imagine the orange-flower water one Lebovitz suggests would be lovely too.

Cocoa powder, for preparing the pan

10 ounces (280 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup (4 ounces/115 g) salted butter, cut into pieces

1 tablespoon freshly brewed espresso

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature

1/4 cup (50 g) plus 2 tablespoons (30 g) granulated sugar

2 tablespoons (20 g) cocoa nibs (optional)

Powdered sugar, for dusting the cake (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch (23-cm) springform pan, dust it with a bit of cocoa powder, and tap out any excess.

In a large heatproof bowl, combine the chocolate, butter, and espresso. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir occasionally until the mixture is melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

In a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, whisk together the egg yolks and the 1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar on medium-high speed until the mixture is light and creamy, about 1 minute.

In a clean, dry bowl and with a clean whip attachment, whisk the egg whites on low speed until they begin to hold their shape. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons (30 g) granulated sugar and whisk on high speed until the whites hold soft peaks.

Fold the beaten egg yolks into the melted chocolate mixture, then fold in half of the whipped egg whites. Fold in the remaining whites, mixing just untiI there are no visible streaks of egg whites. Don’t overfold.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, sprinkle with cocoa nibs, if using, and bake until the cake feels as though it’s just barely set in the center, about 25 minutes (Jennie’s note: my cake only took 21 minutes—I always start checking a few minutes before directed finish time). It shouldn’t feel too firm. Let cool completely.

Run a knife around the sides of the cake to help loosen it from the pan. Release the sides of the pan and dust the cake with powdered sugar, if using.


  • Nicole Pelton

    Funny growing up my sister was the baker, as I’m not good with exact measurements so my stuff never quite came out right. Now my co-workers call be betty crocker since I bring in all sorts of baked stuff. I have a distinct memory of making www cinnoman rolls – I had never eaten one so I actually served them up on their side, never seen a photo. Everyone got a great kick out of that, but they were yummy.

  • Lindsay

    My first memory is actually that of me baking with my mom. I was about 4 years old and it was one of those glorious mornings when I had her full attention. My dad and brother were fishing and my mom suggested brownies. I remember she pulled a chair up to the island and that I got to lick BOTH of the beaters…. I can’t wait to make the same memories with my children one day.

  • Joan Bianco

    Thank you sweetie for acknowledging what was a wonderful time, even though I didn’t know it then. You were my hands and legs; I was the reader and director. We took what was not so a great time in our lives and made lemonade from the lemons we were handed. That special year has always been a very memorable and special time in my life and I think back to it every time I bake.
    So, a tradition began. For years, the first or second week in December you’d make the trek to my house so we could bake. Who could forget three-year old Isabella wanting to get her hands in the dough and saying, “Mommy I help. I make cookies for daddy.” We made memories no one will ever take away from us. I sincerely hope it’s a tradition you will carry on with my two adorable great-nieces.
    I hope, in some small way, that particular time, 12 years ago, contributed to the successful young woman you are today. I’m very proud of you, and glad I’m still around and able to enjoy all your experiences.
    I wish you continued success, in all you do.
    Love you bunches, Aunt Joan – xoxoxoxoxox

  • Robin (Hippo Flambe)

    I often think I started baking from the “Little House in the Prairie” series of books. I read all the books and with each one i would suddenly be driven to craft and cooking projects, inspired by all the things the Ingalls family baked and crafted.

  • Heidi

    My first baking memory was chocolate cake with my mom. I was 4 and I got to handle the sifting! It was the first trick I taught my own kids in the kitchen. I can’t wait to try this one, it looks like it could be equally memorable.

  • Gina von

    My mom’s side of the family hardly ever baked. To this day my Nonie knew how to make one dessert and my mother is the same. My father’s mother gave me my passion for baking. To this day, we discuss baking methods and combinations of ingredients that have me running to the kitchen to get started. She made me the most beautiful cakes imaginable…I aspire to be her and David’s book just might get me there. I’d like to be this inspiration to my daughter…someday perhaps.

  • Beth

    Every Friday was baking day at our house growing up -Sabbath treats were an institution. As soon as I learned to read, at the age of four, I was “in charge” of baking oatmeal cookies from the recipe on the back of my mom’s Quaker Oats cookie jar. My little brother, at just 3, made brownies from a mix. The next day we would proudly share our creations with the old-folks at church.
    Like your Aunt joan, my mother always made a hundred dozen or so Christmas cookies each year -for which she is famous. Some of my fondest memories of Christmases, involve rolling out and frosting sugar cookies. These goodies were given as gifts to friends, relatives and everyone in between.
    Baking has always been associated in my memories with love, goodness, giving and joy.

  • shira

    My earliest baking memory goes back 30+ years, sitting on my grandmother’s counter and keeping her company, as she used to say. My grandmother was from Vienna originally, so the treats were Linzer tortes, kugelhopf, and apple strudel (her making that dough is something I will never forget.)
    A few years ago, I seriously got into baking in a big way, mostly because I couldn’t deal with all the chemicals that my kids were eating in breads, cookies, etc. Now it’s become a complete passion/obsession and I find myself thinking what should I bake almost everyday.
    My grandmother passed away 10 years ago. But I still have her last kitchen aid mixer. It’s started to get a little finicky so I only use it when making delicate/short mix things that won’t burn out the motor. Using a new Cuisinart for bread and more. And I’m sorry I never had her show me how to make the strudel dough the way she did!

  • green apple sorbet

    What a beautiful post (and comment from Aunt Joan :)).
    Can’t wait to get David’s new book…although I’m meant to be having a moratorium on baked goods at the moment…hmmm, might have to break it!
    Happy cooking 🙂

  • Maureen

    I made my first cake at age ten, it was St. Patty’s Day and my Grandmother’s Birthday. Of course I just had to color it green, green cake, green icing. It wasn’t bad, for a first attempt, just a little lop-sided and way too green.
    Of course everyone agreed it was the best cake they had ever eaten!!

  • Jonathan Schütte

    Omg… I just made that cake and it’s gorgeous! Thank you for sharing.
    Now, I want David’s new book so badly… But the chance that it’ll sit on my windowsill, untouched and with the rest of the cookbooks I got and meant to read, is very alive. But then again, those aren’t written by mr. Lebovitz.
    And just a tip: do not shop on Amazon when it’s very late at night and your mind is addled by wine and chocolate. Nobody needs a ‘cookbook’ named: “Cooking for one; Using only a microwave and subpar ingredients”. You can trust me when I say that it defines horrid anew.
    Nevertheless, I’d love to share how I started baking. (Or tried starting it.)
    It wasn’t when I was young(-ish) or with sugary sweet threats. I was just 16 and my parents where out of town for Easter. And they forgot to do any groceries beforehand.
    So when I went in the kitchen in the morning there was nothing. And in my bedroom I had the (then) love of my life (give me a break, I was 16), still sleeping, who I wanted to surprise with breakfast in bed. But it being Eastermorning and a Sunday to boot, the shops where closed shut. Driving to the neighbours wasn’t an option either. The nearest one lived three miles away and my bicycle had two flat tyres.
    So what to do? Luckily I saw a few nights before, on the telly, how to make your own bread. Working from memory I tossed together some flour, water, sugar, salt and a packet of yeast… But then I started to look at the bowl and wondered what to do next. Oh joy.
    These where the days before the Internet and looking stuff up took forever. Especially when you don’t know where to look. I was clueless. So I added more flour to make it thicker. And then added more water to loosen it up again. It sorta helped. A bit.
    When I put it in the oven it wasn’t spongy, nor soft, but I thought it would be fine. The fact that the smell that was coming from the oven was fabulous and the crust was becoming perfectly goldenbrown, helped too.
    But boy, was I wrong. The big clump of dough was hard as a rock on the outside and the inside had a bit of the structure of ‘normal’ bread, but it was still dense and and a bit undercooked.
    While I had my hands in my hair, I could hear waking up sounds coming from my bedroom. Figuring something is better than nothing, I rushed upstairs with the monstrosity, in tow plenty of butter and marmalade to cover up any sins.
    A pairs of sleepy eyes greeted me when I entered and a huge smile came to be, when the air filled with the smell of freshly baked bread. The gratitude for this romantic gesture was overwhelming. (We were both 16, so I don’t need to spell out what happened next. But it wasn’t breakfast.)
    Two hours later, we finally came round to sample it. When I asked for an opinion all I got was a small peck on the cheek. A sure non-verbal sign that: “It is okay, but please don’t ask any further, otherwise I have to be honest. And that means mercilessly blunt.”
    The very next day, when the shops were open, I went and bought a proper cookbook, to make it up and bake a bread that isn’t a hazard for teeth and health. I did succeed and we stayed together a very long time after.

  • Heather

    My paternal grandmother was a farm wife, and baking was her thing. My dad inherited that love, and I’d help make Swedish rye bread. But the first recipe I recall tackling on my own was Grandma’s “twinkling rolls”–a simple white yeast roll. I was probably in junior high, and she was legally blind, but she typed the recipe out on a manual typewriter with rather remarkable success and sent it in the mail. The paper’s stained and rather tattered now, but it’s such a happy memory. She was always so pleased to hear of or taste my baked treats.

  • Annelle

    My grandmother made great big ‘squoze’ biscuits every day. She mixed up the dough using clabbered milk, and squeezed the dough into biscuits and then baked them off. They had some little crispy peaks on the outside, and were like clouds on the inside. When I was with her she would give me a little bowl of dough and let me add whatever I wanted to flavor and taste (I loved eating the raw dough) and then I would shape mine into a ‘cake’ and we would bake it. Mama Frye would fill our coffee cups all the way to the top with cream, and then tip the already sweet coffee into the saucer to sip, and we would share the cake. I would give just about anything to see her make those biscuits again.

  • Avalee

    What a lovely story!
    I don’t have a specific ‘first baking’ story — it was just something that always happened & that I inevitably got to help out with. Butter tarts were so yummy but sugar cookies that we rolled out and cut into shapes were *so* much fun to cut and then decorate. 🙂
    Looking forward to giving this one a try — David’s recipes are great!

  • Dani Lazar

    My sister-in-law’s birthday is always around Passover, so for years I have made a flourless chocolate cake in celebration – I love the addition of cocoa nibs! While we were never big bakers in our house, I learned how to cook at my dad’s side – and too this day we cook together!

  • Brandi

    I remember my grandmother trying to teach me how to bake biscuits. She didn’t measure. Just kept flour in a bowl on the counter. She would make a well in the flour, add some buttermilk and lard and mix it with some of the flour. She was an expert and I treasure that day!

  • merry jennifer

    No one in my family ever baked, but I have wonderful memories of baking with babysitters.
    Growing up, I thought cakes were only for birthdays. After spending the afternoon with one of my babysitters when I was around 10 years old, I came home all excited and gushing to my mom about the chocolate cake we made. “And it wasn’t even anyone’s birthday!” I told her. That experience opened up the idea of baking just for fun.

  • katie

    Love this post, and the comment from Aunt Jean!
    Most of my baking memories involve my grandma. She was a fantastic baker and serviceable cook. Every summer we’d spend at least a week at my grandparents’ house on a lake in Northern Minnesota, baking and swimming. From the time we were little we got to “help” (though in retrospect – and based on some of the photos we have – I’m pretty sure we just created more work!) and all of the grandkids learned to make bread on their own at a very early age. The universal favorite was molasses rye bread she’d learned to make from her own mom as a young girl. We called it “Grandma’s bread”. When my grandma died three years ago and we were all in her house for the last time – for the funeral, and getting the house ready to sell – we cleaned out the freezer and found one last loaf of her bread. The six of us grandkids (ranging from 10 to 28) sat down around her table one last time, with one last loaf of “Grandma’s bread”. It was a great time for us to bond, and to share the memories we’d made over the years that we’ll always carry with us.

  • Tricia

    Apple Keuken was a special treat in my house. When I was big enough to pull a chair up to the side of the counter, my grandmother set to work teaching me how to make this cake. She would tell me stories about how it went back to her austro-russian heritage and how her grandmother taught her how to make it. I still make this cake to this day–it brings me closer to my grandmother and family-past full circle. The act of baking has literally gotten me through thick and thin–I treasure those memories and the skills I’ve cultivated because of them!

  • Trish

    My mother’s grandfather was a baker; he immigrated from Germany. As a child, I remember being intrigued by his career and studied photographs of him in his white apron outfit and baker’s hat. I listened to stories about the goodies he would bake and share with my mom and her siblings.
    My constant questions about baking led my mom to buy me my first cookbook when I was about 10 years old. It was an 8.5 x 11 soft cover book with a handful of “easy” recipes for kids. But I considered it my Bible. In my young mind, this book contained everything I ever needed to know about baking. And those first spills of vanilla caked with flour and sugar on several pages … they were my badges of honor. Proof that I was “a baker.”
    After thumbing through the book the first time, I was immediately drawn to the chocolate chip cookie recipe. (Of course!) The first time I made them, they came out flat and hard. I was disappointed and embarrassed. But, over time, I compared the recipe to the one on the back of the Nestle chocolate chips bag and came up with my own modified recipe. And then through experimentation, I learned other tricks to keep the cookies soft and chewy. Before long, chocolate chip cookies became my specialty.
    As time went by, my interest in baking grew almost as fast as my recipe collection. I gathered “secret” family recipes that were my great grandfather’s and I clipped them from magazines. I collected favorites from friends and coworkers who loved to bake as much a me. I became the one who always brought dessert to work functions and family gatherings, with people making requests. “Oh, please bring that peanut butter mousse chocolate devils food cake with you!” or “I love your apple cake. Can we have that when we come visit?” And, of course, constant requests and expectations for me to bring my chocolate chip cookies.
    I’ve often daydreamed about opening a bakery, but my internal clock will never go for it. I’m a night owl and the thought of getting up extra early in the morning is far from any reality that I will ever know. Still, a good friend and I came up with a name for my future bakery and I recently designed a logo so I could use it when I entered my goodies in a contest at work. The funny part, was that my colleagues all thought I had a side business going after hours. Maybe one day. Who knows what the future will bring. Until then, I bake for fun. I bake for the yummy goodness of dessert. I bake for the smiles on my kids’ faces.

  • Anne

    I didn’t really start baking until I moved away from home, to university. I do remember baking with my grandmother before that, but I think my contribution was mainly eating the cookie dough!

  • Jeannette

    Honestly, I think it’s just the simple memory of my grandma baking with such love. I don’t remember much from when I was a kid, but I do remember my gma baking. I now live in the US and she in Germany. I haven’t seen her in a long time, and this (on some weird level) keeps me feeling connected to her, even though she isn’t baking with me. 🙂

  • Adele

    My Mom always was a great baker, but really what got me started early on at successful baking and my true interest was my Home Economics class in high school. Since my Mother did not like anyone messing in her kitchen, I used to run home from school when she would be gone and dig into a project. Then I would clean up.
    Thanks for listening

  • Carmen Carlton

    Dad was the chef on the C&O dining car during the railroad’s heyday of the 40s and 50s. And although Mom learned a lot from Dad about cooking, she was THE in-house baker. She even won some ribbons at the Michigan State Fair for her cherry pie and chocolate cake. I just loved to watch her bake cakes, cookies and pies. So she was my inspiration to try my hand at this baking thing.