Norwegian Gold Cake with Sour Cream Ganache

Our busy week included the world’s best cupcakes and a shotgun trip to San Francisco. With a little luck, your busy week may include a free Zuni Café cookbook. Leave a comment for a chance to win Umami Girl’s first-ever contest.

Norwegian gold cupcake with sour cream ganache frostingA week ago today was my 33rd birthday. I’m writing that down because already I can hardly remember. The day was relaxed and lovely. Lunch with an old friend, a little self-centered shopping, a whole lot of dinner. (Yup, I’ve tried hard to set my birthday excitement quotient at a level I can sustain until I’m 103.)

Dinner started with a flute of bubbly, sipped between bites of Taleggio and prosciutto on thin slices of baguette. It meandered through a truly unsustainable amount of sushi on its way to the world’s best cupcakes. These cupcakes come all the way from Norway and are made of solid gold. Okay, no, those are lies. But the recipe has shepherded our family through an average of three birthday parties a year for the past 28 years, which is more cupcakes than I’d care to count. It uses an unusual mixing method—creaming the butter with the flour for five minutes to get things started—which is everything you’ve ever heard about what not to do with cake. But the results are so spectacular that I’ve never been able to understand why anyone would bother to make any other kind of cake ever, except that maybe they don’t have this recipe. Well, now you do. And with that sort of urgency at stake, it’s about time I’ve gotten around to sharing it.
sour cream ganacheSo I think that in view of the food if nothing else, you’ll believe me when I say that I am trying to remember my birthday. It’s just that a lot has happened since then. A 36-hour trip to California, a fifth birthday and a lesson in the importance of sticking your neck out, to name a few highlights before I pass out for three weeks.

AllisonTo the left down there is my gorgeous sister Allison, of Parisian coffee and poultry confusion fame. She up and joined me on my whirlwind trip to San Francisco this weekend, because she’s the kind of person who would do that for me. Probably for you, too. Also, she’s always wanted to fly to California just for dinner. The trip got off to an auspicious start from a culinary perspective when the airport security personnel asked the guy in line in front of us whether he had any electronics in his baggage.

“I have a sandwich,” he answered.

“A sandwich?” said the agent, in his best what-kind-of-terrorist-are-you voice. “Sandwiches are not electronic.”

Still, Allison reminded me upon takeoff to please stow my tray-table and turn off my sandwich.

Dinner is always kind of a big deal for us, but since this one had a whole plane fare riding on it, we turned it into a really big deal with reservations at the storied Zuni Café. Though Zuni has been around almost as long as I have and even longer than Allison, this was our first meal there—and we could’ve done a lot worse for our last meals on earth. Which gave us a certain sense of peace in the grittier moments of the walk back to our hotel late at night. (Unfortunately it didn’t help in our encounter with the equally storied Bushman. Neither encounter, in Allison’s case.)

Zuni CafeWe really ate it up at Zuni, from the Bloody Mary with Spicy Onion Gremolata through to the meringata with berries. Since we ordered at least half of the menu and I’m not really in the business of reviewing restaurants, I won’t subject you to a full rehashing. I’m still sort of reeling and speechless, anyway, from the sheer near-perfection of it all. Just go there if you can. Please.

I couldn’t help buying the Zuni Café Cookbook. zuni cafe cookbookWho could resist this gorgeous specimen? I bought two copies, actually, since I thought you might like to have one. If you’d like to have a chance to win one of them, all you have to do is leave a comment on this post about why you’d like to win by Sunday, October 4 at 11:59 p.m. EST. On Monday I’ll randomly select a winner from among the timely entrants. I’ll notify the winner and post the results here next Tuesday. Good luck!

As you can see, we tend to get a little preoccupied with dinner from time to time, but technically that’s letting food distract me from food, since we went to California so I could attend the BlogHer Food conference on Saturday. The conference brought together more than 300 people for a grand-scale exchange of ideas about food blogs and best practices for the people who create them. It was a lot of fun, too, especially meeting in person many people that I’ve known only through our blogs and Twitter. Although I’m by no means a conference junkie (if anything, I tend to run screaming for fresh air and quiet every few hours), it was nice to be conferencing about work I truly love doing. It was a refreshing counterpoint to every single conference I’ve attended in any former professional capacity.

It was also a useful reminder (especially to me, since I need to hear this message a little more frequently than average) that even if your job is to hole up behind your computer all day and live inside your head, good things come from stepping into the world and sticking your neck out from time to time. Even if it’s easier not to. And even if it only works sometimes.

But that would be all the time I had for introspection. Back east, a very demanding client would be turning five momentarily, and we needed to hop the redeye so we could get partying. I’d say the second event was as successful as the first. But truth be told, I’m still a little annoyed at my client. All that work, and she didn’t even spring for business class.

Birthday Girl

  • I live pretty much on the other side of the country from SF, but would love the chance to try some of Zuni’s recipes from that cookbook. Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • I love trying new recipes and different recipes from places that they actually work in. Restaurant cookbooks are the best b/c if you know the place does well, you know you are gonna have one yummy recipe to make that night. And every night you use it.
    And Bloody Mary with Spicy Onion Gremolata? Wow I want to try that!!!!ReplyCancel

  • Laura

    This cookbook sounds amazing – I have seen a delicious looking gnocchi recipe from Zuni Cafe on! I love that Judy Rodgers said in an interview that I saw with her that her greatest influences are the grandmas and the aunts and the mothers everywhere. I wish you had given us the full rehashing – it sounds like the food was awesome!ReplyCancel

  • Ooh, just when I need to make cupcakes for Annie’s bday at school next week. I have to have enough cupcakes for 20 kids, plus 5 or so for adults/teachers. Do you think this recipe will make enough, or should I double it? Thanks Carolyn!ReplyCancel

  • Hi Jess, happy birthday to Annie! Since the cupcakes are for little kids, you could probably stretch this to 24 or 25 if you don’t fill the tins too much (they do rise a lot if all the ingredients are really at room temperature). I wouldn’t expect any extras for the baker though, so I guess it depends how you feel about that. :)ReplyCancel

  • Jill

    I can’t believe you guys went to ZUNI Cafe!!! Love that place. Miss that place. Used to go there everytime my uncle visited. Yum. Ah… Sweet San Francisco memories.
    How awesome that Allison joined you for the trip! (love the pic of her btw!!!) and… I LOVE that she asked you to turn your sandwich off… I can hear that conversation… thank you for that! :o) kinda made my morning!

    Recipes sound delicious… should have made these for Keith’s birthday! Oh well… guess I’ll just have to come up with another occasion! LOL!ReplyCancel

  • It was my birthday on Saturday, but I just moved across the country and none of my cookbooks have arrived yet! The Zuni Cafe Cookbook would definitely keep me occupied for a while and would make a lovely birthday gift. =)ReplyCancel

  • Susie

    Wow, those cupcakes are gorgeous! I would love to win the cookbook, as I have become sort of the go-to food guru amongst my friends. With them looking to me for inspiration, I can always use new ideas!ReplyCancel

  • That DOES look like the best cupcake ever!!!ReplyCancel

  • Esty

    Wow, the cake sounds interesting, kind of like making pie… but into a cake. I’m going to try it. Happy Birthday!ReplyCancel

  • It’s been a year since I’ve moved away from San Francisco—and I miss it dearly. Would love to add Zuni to my cookbook collection. Thanks for your beautiful site!ReplyCancel

  • Matthew

    I am currently a graduate student in Omaha, NE. I moved from Chicago, and my girlfriend out here has experience in a professional kitchen. My cooking experience prior to moving out here was minimal, at best. However, I have been learning and I actually have some skill now! I read your blog as much as possible and as soon as I read this, I remembered my friend telling me about this cookbook…I called her and she reaffirmed this was the book she told me about and I was unable to find months before.

    So I guess this cookbook would just be a nice addition to a small collection that will be growing!ReplyCancel

  • Shelley

    Your cupcake photo has me drooling!
    I would love to win this cookbook, cause I love collecting and reading cookbooks, and this would be a great addition to my collection!
    Have heard great things about the Zuni Cafe, but never have been myself.ReplyCancel

  • Sarah

    i made the very famous zuni roast chicken+bread salad once before and absolutely adored it – it was so delicious! i would love to own this book so i could try out more of the recipes!ReplyCancel

  • Jenni

    I would love to win the Zuni cookbook because I’ve never had the chance to go there but would love to try some of the recipes.ReplyCancel

  • Sally

    I’m intrigued by the butter/flour technique. I will definitely have to try the cupcakes just for that.

    As for the Zuni cookbook, I’ll have to go for the sympathy vote–I live in northwest Iowa (even more remote than Omaha), and if I’m going to get great food, I’m going to have to cook it myself! I have tried the Zuni roast chicken recipe (wonderful) and would like to try more. But then again, I’ve been a grad student a few too many times and know how stressful that can be. Maybe the Omaha grad student should get it.ReplyCancel

  • Emma

    Noticed your cupcakes on foodgawker, and they look like pure gold! I’m sure they taste like it too…

    They’ve got me drooling (as does that cookbook!)ReplyCancel

  • My husband and I have a trip to California wine country percolating, but haven’t yet planned the details. Since I can’t get to the West Coast too often, I would love to try my hand at recreating Zuni’s recipes and then make it a destination on our trip! I would *definitely* order half the menu!ReplyCancel

  • Gail

    I keep hearing about the Zuni Cafe and how I have to try their roast chicken. I would love to win the cookbook so that I could try it out along with the other deliciousness that Zuni is famous for. Thanks for the chance!ReplyCancel

  • Marilyn

    I’ve heard terrific things about the Zuni roasted chicken. Would love to try that one!ReplyCancel

  • Carolyn, so glad you got away and celebrated your 33rd in a special way. Addie is stunning and so vibrant. A celebration of good genes and good parenting. Congratulations on all fronts.ReplyCancel

  • Kiri

    The cupcakes look gorgeous. I am a bit curious though about the order of ingredients where you mix the flour in first, should that be switched with the sugar? if not, what does this unusual method do?ReplyCancel

  • Hi Kiri, thanks. As I mentioned in the post, you’re right that beating the flour with the butter is extremely unusual for a cake. You’d think it would develop too much gluten in the flour and produce a tough result.

    It doesn’t. I wish I could say exactly why.

    The cake’s high fat and sugar content both contribute to a tender crumb, so that’s part of it—but I think maybe there’s a little magic involved as well. :) Although my family has made this recipe as-is for years with great success, I did once try switching the flour and sugar to see what would happen. The result was not as good. A little lighter, yes, but that’s not what this cake is about.ReplyCancel

  • Dinners with sisters in San Francisco are one of life’s greatest joys :-) but a joy that I have put on hold to be a grad student out in lovely, chilly Cambridge MA —

    My family (sister included) is back in the SF Bay Area, and when I miss them most of all I cook something to remind me of home, and it warms my belly and my soul.

    Zuni Cafe IS Bay Area to me, which means it is home; this book would bring a slice of home (and of sister :-) to me waaay out here on the banks of the Charles ~ I would very much appreciate this.ReplyCancel

  • AndreaMichelle

    Oh that looks to die for good!! Must go and make these. Zuni Cafe sounds amazing too!ReplyCancel

  • These look good and although I don’t consider myself a baker in the least (I try) this looks like something I could master – I can almost taste it.

    And I’d like one of those books for inspiration.ReplyCancel

  • amy

    zuni is on my list of places to eat before I die! maybe I can at least make some of their fab stuff at home ’til I get there! pick me, pick me!ReplyCancel

  • Jodey

    Love the write up and will definitely try the recipe. Out of curiostiy, what was used in the photograph to garnish the the sour cream ganache in the spoons?


  • Sherrence

    I can’t wait to make these. I do have one question though. Do you measure the flour before or after sifting it?ReplyCancel

  • Daphne

    Carolyn -Those cupcakes do look delicious! – but are they an electronic device ?
    If I had known about the recipe I might have tempted to go through with having wedding cupcakes instead of plain old wedding cake…..ReplyCancel

  • Daphne

    ….you have the cutest ever client by they way – it is wonderful to see Addie in her moment of birthday glory :) By the way I have always wanted to go to the Zuni Cafe myself….living in the bay area on under 15k a year, for a long time it was out of my financial realm…but hurray for living you sister’s dream of flying to California expressly for dinner. Perhaps the French Laundry for her next trip?ReplyCancel

  • Thanks, Jodey. It’s just pomegranate seeds and a little pink sanding sugar. All of which was promptly eaten.

    Sherrence, thanks for asking. Sift the flour first. Then use the spooning and leveling method to measure—spoon it into a measuring cup, and level it off with a knife. It’s amazing what a big difference correct measurement makes.ReplyCancel

  • Kirstin

    Thanks for sharing your cupcake recipe with us – I can’t wait to try it! Your pictures of the food are beautiful. I would love to add the beautiful cookbook to my kitchen and try Zuni’s recipes as I live smack dab in the middle of the country!ReplyCancel

  • The cupcakes look fab – can’t wait to try them. My daughter’s bear is celebrating his weekly birthday again; maybe I can try them and spice things up a bit.

    I would like to win the Zuni cookbook so I can finally learn how to make a more than so-so polenta and because no matter how much I beg my brother will not fly out on a whim to SF with me.ReplyCancel

  • Teresa

    My daughter’s birthday is later this month – she will officially be a teenager! She loves chocolate, and enjoys making things with me in the kitchen. I think she and I might make these cupcakes for her special day – I think she’ll love them and I’ll enjoy the time spent with her.ReplyCancel

  • Very fun meeting you at last, and you are indeed just as gorgeous as your sister! Sounds like you had fun, and I’m adding Zuni Cafe to my “must eat there” places!ReplyCancel

  • Let me start by saying this cake looks absolutely delicious! Love the idea of a sour cream ganache too. I would love to win this book! It has been on my list of books to get for some time now. I have many fond memories of Zuni from the short time I lived in the Bay Area. Judy Rodgers’ food is fantastic and I am glad that you had the opportunity to experience it and I hope that you had a wonderful time on your birthday :)ReplyCancel

  • Lauren

    I just stumbled upon your blog today. It looks like my timing was perfect — the Zuni cookbook looks amazing. I found your blog in the first place because I was looking for something to do with the half bushel of tomatoes and bushel of apples I bought yesterday. Just made eight quarts of applesauce this afternoon.. Can’t wait to try your other recipes.ReplyCancel

  • Karl

    Oh how I would love to win the Zuni cookbook! What fun!ReplyCancel

  • Happy Birthday! Will have to add this recipe to my birthday cake repertoire. I like how you include the times needed to beat each ingredient. Sometimes making cakes can be nerve-wracking because I am afraid I am beating the flour too long and will end up with a tough cake.

    I would love to have a chance to win the cookbook!ReplyCancel

  • Katrina

    I can’t wait to try this recipe! Happy birthday and thanks for the post and giveaway :)ReplyCancel

  • the ganache looks rich and delicious. would love to try it!ReplyCancel

  • Tried it today, Carolyn, and it went well :) Who knew cooking from scratch took so much time, though? Wow! They’re delicious, even though I used whole wheat flour and pink food coloring to make them into princess cupcakes. Had to do white chocolate chips for Annie so the frosting could be pink, but that worked pretty well too :)
    Thanks again!ReplyCancel

  • Those cupcakes sounds wonderful. As someone who blogs about Scandinavian recipes, it’s always fun to see other people helping to educate people about Scandinavian food, too!ReplyCancel

  • My roommate just made these for me for my birthday. They are AMAZING!!!ReplyCancel

    • What I find so interesting is you could never find this ayhnwree else.ReplyCancel

  • […] Umami Girl gives us “Norwegian Gold Cake with Sour Cream Ganache“ with snapshots of her life and family in […]ReplyCancel

  • nicole

    I just made this cake and was almost anointed to Sainthood by my family. WE Loved it!!!!! Thank you so much for sharing it.ReplyCancel

  • […] always trying new cupcake recipes (thank you Pinterest) and this one caught my attention because it breaks the cardinal rule of baking: NEVER over-beat […]ReplyCancel

  • Tommi

    Wiii! I am from norway, was soo fun to find this when stumbling:DD
    Guess I’ll have to try this cake now!:3ReplyCancel

  • Peggy

    OMG! There goes my willpower. :)ReplyCancel

  • […] Cream Ganache recipe slightly adapted from Umami Girl Sour Cream Cupcakes recipe slightly adapted from Anne […]ReplyCancel

  • Greer

    I have made this cake and it’s FANTASTIC! In a couple of weeks I will be making it again for my daughter’s Frozen birthday party. Could you recommend a non-chocolate frosting that would taste good with this?


  • Emily

    This is probably way too late in the game to ask, but I just made this (in bundt form). Do I refrigerate it after frosting it, or can I keep it on the counter? It’s for the hubby to bring into work tomorrowReplyCancel

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