New Cookbook Chronicles A Year Of Cakes At NPR All Things Considered producer Melissa Gray describes her adventures in baking — and the staff's adventures in eating — in All Cakes Considered. Gray brings a new cake into the office every Monday. She says she loves to see the staff's childish joy at seeing her latest confection.

New Cookbook Chronicles A Year Of Cakes At NPR

New Cookbook Chronicles A Year Of Cakes At NPR

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Melissa Gray (left) and Melissa Block cut into a cake in the NPR offices. Gray bakes a cake every Monday for the All Things Considered staff and has a new book in which she chronicles a year baking cakes. Stephen Voss hide caption

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Stephen Voss

Melissa Gray (left) and Melissa Block cut into a cake in the NPR offices. Gray bakes a cake every Monday for the All Things Considered staff and has a new book in which she chronicles a year baking cakes.

Stephen Voss

Just about every Monday, All Things Considered producer Melissa Gray dashes off an e-mail that reads something like this: "Up front we've got sweet potato pound cake, still warm. Dig in, don't be shy."

That goes without saying. When Gray started bringing cakes into the office, she discovered the staff will eat just about anything.

Her adventures in baking, and the staff's adventures in eating what she created, are recounted in a new cookbook called All Cakes Considered: A Year's Worth of Weekly Recipes Tasted, Tested, and Approved by the Staff of All Things Considered.

Melissa Gray steers her book toward the beginning baker, with tips she has learned along the way from family and friends — often laced with her trademark Southern sass.

Annabelle Breakey
Sweet potato cake
Annabelle Breakey

"Don't stomp around the kitchen while your cake is baking," she writes. "Proceed with your cleanup placidly and calmly, like you're on Prozac or Valium and everything is fine, fine, fine with the stock market."

On a recent morning, NPR's Melissa Block popped over to Gray's house outside Washington, D.C., as she put one of those cakes together. Gray made a sweet potato pound cake in what she calls her "little RV-sized kitchen." It's perfect for this time of year. The batter is thick, a pretty pale orange.

A couple of hours and a subway ride later, Gray arrives at the office, cake in hand. And it exerts a gravitational pull on the staff: It's gone in less than 10 minutes.

"A new land-speed record," Gray says with pride.

Gray says it's that kind of reaction that keeps sending her back to her mixer.

"I love watching our staff — all of these incredibly competent, brilliant people — taken back to being like 8 years old, and having that little joy: 'Oh, there's cake!' " she says. "I love that because it makes you remember that people at their core are still human beings.

"I keep track of who doesn't get cake, I do. And I check with them: 'Didn't you get a slice of cake today?' I want everybody to join in. I want everybody to share in the community of having the cake. It's like breaking bread. Because in a way, it does bind us: It's that one moment where we don't have to worry about the next deadline."

Gray ticks off the favorites of some of the hosts and reporters on the NPR staff.

Michele Norris is very easy to please, Gray says, but she does not eat coconut. Robert Siegel claims he does not eat cake, Gray says, but she says she has seen him take cookies. Melissa Block likes fried pie, brown sugar pound cake and bittersweet chocolate frosted layer cake. Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep is a butterscotch guy. Film critic Bob Mondello loves coconut cake, and news analyst Dan Schorr is partial to frosting.

"He likes cake as a delivery system for frosting," Gray says.

But after a year of recipes, it's possible Gray may bring another cultural shift to the newsroom:

"At some point," she says, "I think we're going to have to do Monday aerobics, too. Because everybody is complaining I'm making them too fat."

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Missy G's Sweet Potato Pound Cake

Annabelle Breakey
Sweet Potato Pound Cake
Annabelle Breakey

This is one scrumptious cake. The All Things Considered staff scarfed the whole thing up, licked the crumbs off their plates, rubbed their bellies, and insisted this was my "best cake ever," "definitely in your Top 10 of cakes," and they begged, "Can I have the recipe?" Sure. Here it is. It should serve 20 to 32.

You'll Need

A shallow baking pan

A potato masher

A 10-inch tube pan

For The Cake

About 4 medium sweet potatoes

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

1 cup dark brown sugar

4 large eggs

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon maple flavoring

1/2 cup peeled and diced Granny Smith apples

For The Topping

2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pats

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

3/4 cups chopped pecans

About 2 Hours Before Mixing The Cake

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Bake your sweet potatoes for at least 45 minutes. Use a knife or a fork to test for doneness--the potato should be very mushy inside its shriveled skin. Remove from oven and cool for 1 hour. Slit each skin lengthwise and remove, leaving the soft, orange center. Mash with a potato masher and measure out 2 cups for this recipe. Cool to room temperature before mixing the cake. If the mashed sweet potatoes are too warm, they will melt the butterfat and the batter won't get as nice and thick as it should.

To Make The Cake

2. Position a rack so the cake will sit in the middle of the oven, and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line the bottom of your tube pan with parchment paper, and spray the sides and bottom with baking spray.

3. Cream the butter with a mixer on medium speed.

4. Combine the sugars in separate bowl. Gradually add to the creamed butter, 1/4 cup at a time, beating at medium to high speed after each addition.

5. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating at medium to high speed for 1 minute after adding each one.

6. Reduce the mixer to low speed and add the mashed potatoes, 1/2 cup at a time.

7. In a separate bowl, dry whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt.

8. In another separate bowl, combine the milk, vanilla, and maple flavoring.

9. With the mixer still on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and milk mixture, beating after each addition. Start with a third of the flour mixture, beat, then add half of the milk mixture, beat again, and repeat until the last of the flour mixture has been added and beaten in.

10. Turn off the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, and then mix the batter on medium to high speed for 2 minutes.

11. Slow the mixer down to the lowest speed and add the apples, mixing until just incorporated.

12. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and use the back of a spoon to even out and smooth the batter.

To Make The Topping

13. In a separate bowl (I know — it's like the bowls have Balkanized here), combine the cold butter, brown sugar, and chopped pecans. Mix with a wooden spoon and do not fret because the mixture is crumbly. That's just the way you want it.

14. Sprinkle the topping all over the surface of the batter.

Bake in the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes before testing for doneness. Then use a sharp knife to test the cake, and poke it around in a couple of places to determine whether it's finished. This cake can fool ya.

15. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes. Then, using the plate-over-pan method, unmold the cake and flip it onto a cake rack, topping side up.