Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Samantha's Marble Cake

I've never understood why you would choose chocolate or vanilla when you can have both!

And then I kind of wandered away for two weeks. Sorry about that! Life happened, and I was kind of running on fumes for a while when it came to even thinking about doing anything with my blog. I'll be getting to answering comments shortly.

Anyway, in case you've been under a rock for the last month, some exciting new developments have occurred in the world of American Girl! The historical characters have got a fresh new look that I, for one, am very excited about, and while I'm pretty late to the party, I figured what better way to celebrate than make a cake?

And considering who made a pretty impressive comeback with the relaunch, it seemed only fitting for Samantha to host this post!

Well, that, and I really wanted to make a marble cake.

American Girl is a company with pretty humble beginnings, all things considered. First launched in 1986, they originally only offered three dolls: Kirsten Larson from 1854, Samantha Parkington from 1904, and Molly McIntire from 1944, which could only be ordered via catalog or over the phone. Bought out by Mattel in the early 2000's, the brand has expanded to include characters from throughout American History as well as modern characters and more "create your own" oriented dolls (although they're not and have never been fully customizable), and for most of its history, Samantha was the one blazing the way for others to follow. She always seemed to get the most outfits, got a movie before anyone else did, as well as a doll version of her best friend/adoptive sister Nellie O'Malley, and in 2008? She was the first character they chose to archive, leading to the shock and dismay of a lot of Samantha fans.

Well, if you missed out on Samantha, she's back and ready to lead the historical line into what I hope is another decade or two of popularity and relevance to girls living today.

Not to promote this too heavily, but seriously, the BeForever relaunch? Pretty cool. Way better than I thought it would be, and if retooling the brand means more people read the books and care about the historical characters like I did when I was a kid, I really can't say I'm complaining. Like, at all. Addy also made out like a bandit, which is excellent, and in general, this was a really exciting reboot, and I'm excited to see where else things go.

Marble cake is another one of those desserts I knew nothing about before doing a little bit of research for this blog. Honestly, I wanted to make it regardless of what era it was from, because a cake that's both vanilla and chocolate? Yes, please. When I was in college, I'll fully admit that there was many a morning where after class, I'd hit up Starbucks for some hot chocolate and a slice of marble pound cake for the walk back to my dorm.

(Thank God my campus was basically a giant street, and required walking for half an hour to get anywhere, otherwise the freshman fifteen would have been quite a bit worse.)

So after doing some poking around and discovering that marble cake can trace its history back to the Victorian Era, I knew I knew what I wanted to make as a small celebration of BeForever and Sam's return from the archives. Apparently, marble cake is a German Jewish creation that made its way to the United States with German immigrants in the mid 1800's. The first print reference comes in the 1880's, and in the Victorian Era, a popular variation of the cake involved arranging the batter in a checkerboard pattern. This is sometimes called harlequin cake, and I actually made one with my aunt a really long time ago! It requires some work, though, and this is a bit easier. The recipe has remained popular since its introduction, and got an upswing in attention at the close of World War II.

The recipe I used came from The Baker Chick and can be accessed here! I'm going to say right off the bat that her cake wound up looking a lot prettier than mine, but the recipe was easy and tasty enough that I definitely would like to give it another shot.

The cake batter is pretty similar to just about any cake batter. You cream together butter and sugar, add in eggs and vanilla, combine your dry ingredients, and add them to the butter and sugar while being alternated with buttermilk. You're left with a really nice vanilla batter.

About a third of this batter is set aside to be turned into the chocolate part of the cake. This was the part I had the hardest time with, mostly because when I added the boiling water to the cocoa powder, it didn't make it smooth at all. The powder just got lumpy and hard to work with, which made the chocolate batter look a little, well. Lumpy.

I also might have added way more cocoa powder than I needed to, because at first, it didn't seem chocolatey enough. Hersey's cocoa powder doesn't make a very dark chocolate, but it still tastes good.

The two batters get spooned into the pan in a checkerboard pattern, which is alternated as you build the layers up. A simpler way to do this is to just dump in all the vanilla batter at once, and then put a line of chocolate down the middle which you agitate a little with a knife, but this wasn't so bad.

This would have worked okay if the yellow batter hadn't been so runny. It felt like it was kind of just oozing everywhere, and the thicker chocolate batter kind of needed to act as little barriers to keep everything in a checkerboard shape. I also wound up with a lot more vanilla batter than chocolate, so my final product looked like this in the interest of not wasting batter:

You then run a knife vertically through the batter to get the chocolate and vanilla kind of swirled together. Don't overmix it, unless you just want a chocolatey cake.

I probably could have done a better job with it, but it didn't look totally gross when I finished.

The recipe is very up front that the bake time varies a lot depending on your oven. I've definitely found mine takes a while to cook from scratch cakes like this. The centers are often very liquidy if you shoot for the smaller bake time, and it often needs the full hour or so to set up, while the edges stay nice and evenly cooked. This was no different, and required the full hour to set properly.

Still, it came out looking nice!

I was very excited to cut into it and see what the marbling looked like. I have to say, it came out better than I thought it would!

Unlike a lot of the other historical tea breads, cakes and pound cakes I've made, this one doesn't have a thick crust, and the insides are nice and moist. It is definitely a very dense cake though, which I find very satisfying. Eating one piece feels like a substantial portion, and while you'll still probably be left wanting more, it's not necessarily because you're still starving, and don't feel satisfied by the slice you already gobbled down.

The one comment I had from my taste testers was that they wished there was a little more vanilla in the cake. As delicious as the chocolate was, it was definitely kind of overwhelming in some pieces, and the vanilla cake was really, really good. I totally agree with this observation, although I'm not sure how to really fix the problem moving forward. Chocolate in general is a very strong flavor, and in a cake like this, it can definitely wind up being the only thing you really taste. I'd definitely be up for experimenting a bit with it!

Overall, this was a cake that was a little time consuming and labor intensive to make, but ultimately, was very, very worth it. Marble cake is a great compromise between two yummy flavors, and looks really elegant and fussy no matter how much effort you put into actually making it. I would definitely recommend adding it to a list of things you should try out for yourself in the near future!

I know it's absolutely being added to the list of things I will be making again!


  1. That looks scrumptious! I use to make marble cakes when I was growing up, but I don't remember using that technique. Maybe I'll give it a whirl.

    1. It was definitely interesting! I do think it would have been a little easier to use my mom's technique though. Or maybe my vanilla batter was just too lose!

  2. I love marble cake (ok, any cake)! Interesting to learn a bit about its origin. Thanks! And I must say, although I am 'late' to the party as I know you have been doing this blog for a little over a year, it is such a creative take on things! Well done! I enjoy it very much!

    1. You're very welcome, I'm glad you found it interesting! :D And thank you so much! I'm glad you found me, I'm always excited to hear from new readers.

  3. It looks so yummy! My FIL had a superb marble cake recipe he would often make but alas, I can't get my marble cake to taste the same. I love Samantha and got her 10 years ago in 2006.

    1. Aw, that's a bummer! Funny how family recipes work like that sometimes. :c