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In the midst of mad editing, I frequently fight the urge to just shut my computer and bake something. My brain gets twitchy, and especially once my children come home from school, I want nothing more than to head into the kitchen with them.

So it was that last week my daughter and I ended up together at the counter, but with the computer open, so she could bake a new recipe I’d seen online. Hypocrite alert: I really dislike it when bloggers just post other people’s recipes, maybe with a few notes about what it was like to try those recipes, but here I go, breaking my own rule against that, to point you to the “Zebra Cake” recipe at the King Arthur Flour website.

A fuzzy zebra cake ... but still cute

This is a blog I often check out for solid, basic recipes and some sweet surprises. The zebra cake’s surprise comes not in flavor but appearance, and it’s easy enough for a 7-year-old to do on her own. To create the pattern, you make a vanilla batter, set aside part of it, and flavor the rest with cocoa. Drop a dollop of vanilla batter in the center of a cake pan, top it with a dollop of cocoa batter, then a dollop of vanilla, and keep going until you have a bulls-eye pattern. When baked and cut, zebra stripes magically appear.

Truly a cute cake, and perfectly adequate in flavor and texture (I do plan to bump up the vanilla extract and add espresso powder to the chocolate batter next time); I want to use the same idea but make it as a sheet cake for a second-grade class party next week.

OK, so I broke my rule and wrote about someone else’s recipe–but I do have one of my own to offer. Because after that cake was done, it was a 7-year-old’s bedtime, and the cake still needed a frosting. On an ordinary day, I’d have made a Swiss meringue buttercream, by far my favorite. (I can’t tolerate the standard, gritty American frosting made from butter and/or shortening and confectioners’ sugar.) I was so weary, though, that I desperately thumbed through my files, looking for a time-saving shortcut. And there I found a note to myself, from who knows when or where, to try making a pseudo-buttercream from butter and marshmallow creme.

A jar of marshmallow creme in my pantry usually means just one thing: whoopie pies. You don’t want to look too hard at the creme’s ingredient list (though it is short, and you can pronounce everything on it, it’s hardly a nutrition knockout). But for the filling in whoopie pies, there just aren’t many good substitutions (I’ve tried!) . . . and for frosting, well, I think I found the creme’s true shining moment.

Reasoning that making a Swiss meringue buttercream means beating a warmed sugar-egg white mixture until it’s a billowy, pillowy marshmallow creme lookalike, then beating in butter, this pseudo-buttercream seemed promising. But what a surprise to find just how good it was, given that it came from just two ingredients–creamy, fluffy, easy to spread and pipe. And with a heavy dose of homemade vanilla, this had to the best flavor for the least work ever in a buttercream.

It’s not something I’d make every day, mind you; I’ll always be true to my Swiss love. But I know that from now on, a jar of marshmallow creme gets permanent lurking rights in my pantry.

Recipe: Marshmallow Creme Buttercream

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