Thief cake – a baking interlude

In honour of Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief, which turns 20 on October 1, 2016, Yash and I took up the Sounis “Stealing the Cake” challenge of baking a cake using ingredients mentioned in The Thief. (A shorter version of this post can be found on Sounis here.)

We planned, naturally. I doodled fantastical layered cakes with far too many flavours for one cake to reasonably hold, and Yash drew up a plan for a cake that would actually taste good.

We adapted this recipe, changing adding a few ingredients and halving the amounts involved, since there were only two of us to eat a whole cake, and the thought of a two-layer cake split between two people was a bit overwhelming.

As a result, the measurements were eyeballed. How else do you measure half of a third of a cup, anyway? or half of a quarter?

The recipe as we made it:
3/4 cups flour
1/4 (and 1/8) cup cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
generous 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup hot water
2 teaspoons instant coffee
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup butter, softened to room temperature
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs

For frosting:
1/4 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup cream cheese
generous 1/8 cup goat cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups icing sugar

For crumble:
1 slice white bread
1/3 cup oats
generous dash cinnamon
2 tablespoons brown sugar
teaspoon or two butter

For decoration:
3-4 fresh figs
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons apricot jam

To make the cake: 

Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Sift together.

In a small bowl, combine hot water and coffee granules. Stir until granules are dissolved. From this mixture, measure out approximately 1/6 cup (sorry!) and combine with yogurt and vanilla.

In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time.

Alternate adding flour mixture and yogurt mixture, beating well after each addition, and beginning and ending with the flour. (I.e. add 1/3 flour mixture, 1/2 yogurt mixture, 1/3 flour, 1/2 yogurt, 1/3 flour to butter mixture.) thief-cake-baked-cake

The resulting cake batter will be very thick. Scrape it into a greased and floured 9-inch round cake pan. (Actually, we used a glass pie pan with pretty scalloped edges. This was irrelevant to how the cake turned out, of course, but it looked pretty when we put it in the oven.) Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.

To make the frosting: thief-cake-icing

I might as well confess: I messed up. I forgot to halve the icing sugar. If you like really sweet icing, use the full 2 cups. If you prefer your teeth sans cavities, reduce the icing sugar to 1 cup, maybe 1 and a half. I ended up adding extra cream and goat cheese to counterbalance the sugar. The result tasted good, but we had a bowlful of excess icing after the cake was covered.

Whichever measurements you use, beat together butter, cream cheese, and goat cheese. Add vanilla and icing sugar and beat well.

To make the crumble: thief-cake-crumble

Toast the bread. Put toast and oats in the food processor or blender and grind until the consistency is mostly flour-like. Add cinnamon, sugar, and butter. Puree. Pour mixture onto a tray or square cake pan and bake at 350 for 5-10 minutes or until lightly browned.

To make the decorations: 

Wash the figs and remove the stem. Slice them lengthwise (see photo) and eat the extra edges. Eat any slices that don’t look pretty. Grill figs in a frying pan until they are slightly browned and slightly firm.

In a small bowl, combine honey and jam. Strain so there are no lumps.

See how pretty the figs are? Yash cut them. See how tidy the board is? I ate the extra slices.

Assembling the cake:

Sprinkle the crumble on whatever plate you will serve your masterpiece on. This is the base layer; there will be extra crumble. Lay the cake on the crumble. Ice the sides and top of the cake. Be generous with the icing; there will be extra no matter how thickly you spread it. Decorate to your heart’s content with figs; brush the figs with the honey-jam glaze. Sprinkle cake top with the remaining crumble, if you wish.

Confessions from a doodling baker: we intended to used halved grapes to decorate the cake, but forgot to buy them.

More confessions from a doodling baker: we tried to grate orange zest onto the cake, but the mandarin wouldn’t grate. Note to self: next time buy a navel orange.

Remember to store any uneaten cake in the fridge.

The finished cake, seen from above.

So what of these (sometimes odd) ingredients were mentioned in The Thief?

oats [oatmeal]




goat milk cheese [we intended to use goat’s milk but none of the local stores carried it. So we improvised with cheese.]

cream cheese



apricots [in jam form]

oranges and grapes [in intention, if not in execution]

For a two layer cake (because like ogres, Gen has layers)

1 1/2 cups flour

3/4 cup cocoa

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp baking soda

1 cup yogurt

1/3 cup hot water

4 tsp instant coffee

2 tsp vanilla

1 cup butter

1 1/3 cups packed brown sugar

3 eggs


1/2 cup butter

1 cup cream cheese

1/4 cup goat cheese (maybe closer to 1/3 cup)

2 tsp vanilla

2 cups icing sugar


2 slices white bread

2/3 cup oats (quick)

2 tsp cinnamon

2 tbsp brown sugar

2+ tsp butter



1 tbsp honey

1 tbsp apricot jam


Things to try next time: thief-cake-detail

    • Yash wanted a stronger coffee flavour. Next time we will double the amount of instant coffee granules used.
    • Try dissolving the instant coffee into scalded goat milk instead of hot water.
    • Orange zest! I’ll buy a navel orange next time. It might be worth cutting thin strips of the rind to add to the cake batter.
    • Incorporate the crumble with the cake: sprinkle unbaked crumble on top of unbaked cake batter and swirl with knife or toothpick. (Save some crumble for decorating the top.)
    • For a sacher torte effect on a double-layer cake, double the apricot jam-honey mixture and spread on the bottom cake layer before icing with cream cheese mixture.


It was delicious, by the way.