Rosemary Focaccia from The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2012

I’ve been to Italy twice.

The first time I was in high school and took advantage of a trip to the Middle East that my Dad led with the college at which he taught. We were in Rome for a few days and my memories are of dirtiness, men pinching my behind and the most amazing chocolate ice cream (I know, I know; but back then I actually liked it).

The second time was with Hubby. We didn’t hit southern Italy, but instead wended our way from Milan to Venice and back again. We were enthralled with everything; the people, the food, the buildings, the beauty, the food. We dreamed about buying a gorgeous estate that we would get for a song because it needed renovations (yeah, we had seen Under the Tuscan Sun), strolling to the market to buy fresh foods, learning Italian so we could speak the the ever-friendly locals and having the dream life everyone wants.

When we arrived back home, I proceeded to try to become an Italian cook. I learned dish after dish; worked on perfecting my sauces. I watched Italian chefs (Mario Batali) cook so I could learn from them.

But in all that time and with everything I made, I never once ventured near focaccia.

Until today.

The Process

Since I’ve never made this type of bread, I have nothing with which to compare it. But, I’m pretty sure that the no-knead version isn’t used much by Italian bakers. In this version, it’s used. So, where you’d normally spend some elbow grease, instead you need to prepare to spend time. Lots of time.

If you’re good at planning, preparing the biga happens the night before so it can ferment and bubble up overnight. Biga? Huh? It’s like sourdough starter, but drier and used with Italian breads like focaccia and ciabatta.

I’m not very good at planning, but worked really hard to remember this because I knew that the good part of the next day would be given over to the rest of the process. You see, even though there’s no kneading, once the dough is started, here’s what happens.

Mix dough; let rise 15 minutes
Sprinkle salt, mix; let rise 30 minutes
Fold dough; let rise 30 minutes
Fold dough; let rise 30 minutes
Fold dough; let rise 30 minutes
Shape dough; let rest 5 minutes
Poke dough; let rest 10 minutes

You need to know in advance that making this recipe requires being at home for three hours straight, with the freedom to break free from whatever you’re doing so you can mix, sprinkle, fold, shape, poke and bake.

As far as difficulty; it’s not tough at all. The instructions are easy to follow and there are very few ingredients, and just one bowl. The one bowl thing is a huge plus.

The Verdict

If you have the time to commit to the process, the bread is worth the effort. Do you see the holes in the bread up there? That’s what your after, and the recipe delivers. I don’t know what focaccia is supposed to be like, but I found this to be a firm, chewy, tasty bread. I enjoyed piece after piece after piece.

Dudette saw green stuff (the rosemary) and wanted nothing to do with it. Hubby loved it, especially warmed up. It would be fantastic with a dipping oil.

What I’d Do Different Next Time

I can’t think of anything.

Rosemary Focaccia from The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2012
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Bread
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6
  • Biga
  • ½ cup (2½ ounces) all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup water, heated to 110 degrees
  • ¼ teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
  • Dough
  • 2½ cups (12½ ounces) all-purpose flour, plus extra for counter)
  • 1¼ cups water, heated to 110 degrees
  • 1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
  1. FOR THE BIGA: Combine flour, water, and yeast in large bowl and stir with wooden spoon until uniform mass forms and no dry flour remains, about 1 minute. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature (about 70 degrees) overnight (at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours.) Use immediately or store in refrigerator for up to 3 days (allow to stand at room temperature 30 minutes before proceeding with recipe.)
  2. FOR THE DOUGH: Stir flour, water, and yeast into biga with wooden spoon until uniform mass forms and no dry flour remains, about 1 minute. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 15 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons salt over dough; stir into dough until thoroughly incorporated, about 1 minute. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature 30 minutes. Spray rubber spatula or bowl scraper with nonstick cooking spray; fold partially risen dough over itself by gently lifting and folding edge of dough toward middle. Turn bowl 90 degrees; fold again. Turn bowl and fold dough 6 more times (total of 8 turns).
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes. Repeat folding, turning, and rising 2 more times, for total of three 30-minute rises. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position, place baking stone on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees at least 30 minutes before baking.
  5. Gently transfer dough to lightly floured counter. Lightly dust top of dough with flour and divide in half. Shape each piece of dough into 5-inch round by gently tucking under edges. Coat two 9-inch round cake pans with 2 tablespoons olive oil each. Sprinkle each pan with ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Place round of dough in pan, top side down; slide dough around pan to coat bottom and sides, then flip over. Repeat with second piece of dough. Cover pans with plastic wrap and let rest for 5 minutes.
  6. Using fingertips, press dough out toward edges of pan. (If dough resists stretching, let it relax for 5 to 10 minutes before trying again.) Using dinner fork, poke surface of dough 25 to 30 times, popping any large bubbles. Sprinkle rosemary evenly over top of dough. Let dough rest until slightly bubbly, 5 to 10 minutes.
  7. Place pans on baking stone and reduce oven temperature to 450 degrees. Bake until tops are golden brown, 25 to 28 minutes, switching placement of pans halfway through baking. Transfer pans to wire rack and let cool 5 minutes. Remove loaves from pan and return to wire rack. Brush tops with any oil remaining in pan. Let cool 30 minutes before serving.


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Chewy Sugar Cookies from The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2012

Even though Easter is over a week away, the sugar overdose is beginning already, though not by my hand. Dudette’s first words when she woke up this morning were, “Tomorrow is the school’s Easter egg hunt.”

And that’s just the first. There are bags and bags of candy sitting on my dining room table; chocolate eggs, jelly beans and other sugar bombs waiting to be stuffed into plastic eggs. On Saturday our neighborhood’s kids will gather together and spend five minutes finding the eggs it will take us thirty minutes to hide.

So, I’m wondering why I made sugar cookies. It’s all because of that first word.


Chewy cookies make me happy. Hard cookies; not so much. Our friends at America’s Test Kitchen claim that these cookies will be crisp around the edges and chewy in the center.

The Process
I have never made cookies this way before and was sure that I’d have a failure on my hands. Whisking together the dry ingredients was routine and made sense. Whisking melted butter into sugar and cream cheese; not so much. But, I did it. And it looked weird.

Adding vegetable oil to the butter mixture loosened it up a bit more, but it still wasn’t what I expected at all. Then came the egg, vanilla and a splash of milk. It was getting closer to what I knew.

Once I added the dry ingredients and mixed everything together, I recognized the sugar dough, though it was very soft. Hubby, A connoisseur of cookie dough declared it to be excellent (he accepts the health risks involved in eating raw dough, though I think he’s nuts).

Dough was rolled into balls, then into sugar, flattened and sprinkled with more sugar before baking for 12 minutes. When I took the pans out, I was thrilled to see the cracks and crinkles. I was happy.

The Verdict
Chewy. The cookies are wonderfully chewy in the center even though they’re fully cooked. The edges, as promised, have a little crunch to them. Of course, in order to give you a good review, we had to try the cookies right out of the oven as well as after they cooled down. It’s a tough job.

Personally, I liked the flavor once the cookies had cooled. The tiny bit of tang the cream cheese gave showed up better and was really, really nice. These could very well be the best sugar cookies I’ve ever eaten.

What I’d Do Different Next Time
I think I’d splash the cookies with buttermilk instead of just plain milk to up the tang of the cookie and cut the sweetness just a bit more.

Chewy Sugar Cookiesprint this recipe
from The Best Of America’s Test Kitchen 2012

2 1/4 cups (11 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar, plus 1/3 cup for rolling
2 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and hot
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk four, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Place 1 1/2 cups sugar and cream cheese in a large bowl. Place remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a shallow dish or pie plate and set aside. Pour butter over sugar and cream cheese and whisk to combine (some small lumps of cream cheese will remain but will smooth out later). Whisk in oil until incorporated. Add egg, milk and vanilla; continue to whisk until smooth. Add flour mixture and mix with rubber spatula until soft, homogeneous dough forms.

Divide dough into 24 equal pieces, about 2 tablespoons each (or use #40 portion scoop). Using hands, roll dough into balls. Working in batches, roll balls in reserved sugar to coat and evenly space on prepared baking sheets, 12 dough balls per sheet. Using bottom of a drinking glass, flatten dough balls until 2 inches in diameter. Sprinkle tops evenly with 4 teaspoons sugar remaining in the shallow dish (2 teaspoons per tray).

Bake, 1 tray at a time, until edges are set and just beginning to brown, 11-13 minutes, rotating tray after 7 minutes. Let cookies cool on sheets for 5 minutes. Using metal spatula, transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature before serving.

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Easier Fried Chicken from The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2012

If you want me to learn something, let me do it. Experiential learning is my best teacher.

That may be one of the reasons I am such a fan of Mario Batali. At one point in his culinary teaching he went to Italy to learn to cook Italian food. He didn’t attend some culinary school for the experience, however. Nope. Instead, he lived in a small town and cooked along the people there. He embedded himself in the community, culture and cuisine.

When I moved down to North Carolina I discovered Carolina barbecue (be still my heart) and stood by experienced barbecuers until I had the method down. Collard greens? A little lady named Maxine showed me her tried-and-true (and delicious) method for making them and I was right there next to her while she did it.

Fried chicken has continued to elude me, however. I’ve had conversation after conversation with people about making it and am always told the same thing; “Oh, I can’t make it like my Momma can. If you want to learn to make good fried chicken, you need to go find yourself a southern Momma and stand by her side.”

I’ve lived down here for over fifteen years now and that still hasn’t happened. It’s really hard to find someone that thinks they make excellent fried chicken and is willing to share their secret with you.

So, it’s with an overwhelming amount of joy that I show you those perfectly fried chicken legs. Do you see those? I made them. Without anyone’s help.

Well, maybe with a little help from my friends at America’s Test Kitchen.

The Process

You have to read the article that goes along with this recipe to understand why the chicken is fried, then baked. It has to do with using less oil, water being converted to steam, dehydration, etc. It’s fascinating and makes sense. I think the recipe is mis-titled though. It’s not necessarily ‘easier’ fried chicken, because frying, then baking adds a step. It is a more frugal and less fattening way of frying chicken though.

There’s a big debate between chicken fryers as to whether the pieces need to be soaked in buttermilk prior to frying. I don’t know which is better, but this version soaks and it works. With hot sauce, garlic powder and cayenne added to the buttermilk, you can just imagine the amount of flavor that seeps into the meat over time.

Where this recipe veers away from others I’ve tried is in the coating. In addition to the seasoning added to the flour, a bit more buttermilk is as well. Just a bit. This gives it some moisture, so it’s easier to press it onto the pieces, giving a more uniform coating.

With under two cups of oil used to fry the chicken, I’m a happy camper. It’s always felt pretty wasteful to throw out three cups of oil after one meal. Not the case here. After browning the chicken in the skillet, it got put on the rack and into the oven to finish cooking.

I let my chicken soak for a full 24 hours to get the maximum flavor infusion. I also used my 12-inch straight sided skillet and couldn’t fit all the pieces in so had to do two batches. My chicken baked for the full 20 minutes.

The Verdict

Hubby took one bite of this and said, “You finally did it.” He’s been well aware of my quest to make perfect fried chicken (how could he not be?).

I really did finally do it. You can tell that just by looking at it. The crust is very crispy and crunchy. It has a tremendous amount of flavor. It’s very, very juicy. It’s just freakin’ awesome. No other words for it.

Both of those legs were devoured by Dudette. She didn’t even mind the heat from the hot sauce and cayenne.

I would buy this magazine for this one single recipe. The chicken is that good.

What I’d Do Different Next Time


Easier Fried Chicken from The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2012
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Meat
Cuisine: American
Serves: 4
  • 1¼ cups buttermilk
  • Salt and pepper
  • Hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3½ pounds bone-in chicken pieces (breasts, thighs and drumsticks, or mix, breasts cut in half), trimmed
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1¾ cups peanut or vegetable oil
  1. Whisk 1 cup buttermilk, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, dash hot sauce, ¼ teaspoon garlic powder, ¼ teaspoon paprika, and pinch cayenne together in a large bowl. Add chicken and turn to coat. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
  2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Whisk flour, baking powder, 2 teaspoons pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, remaining ¾ teaspoon garlic powder, remaining ¾ teaspoon paprika, and remaining cayenne together in a bowl. Add remaining ¼ cup buttermilk and mix with fingers until combined and small clumps form.
  3. Working with 1 piece at a time, dredge chicken pieces in flour mixture, pressing mixture onto pieces to form thick, even coating. Place dredged chicken on large plate, skin side up.
  4. Heat oil in 11-inch straight-sided saute pan over medium-high heat to 375 degrees. Carefully place chicken pieces in pan, skin side down, and cook until golden brown, 3-5 minutes. Carefully flip and continue to cook until golden brown on second side, 2-4 minutes longer.
  5. Transfer chicken to a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet. Bake chicken until the breasts register 160 degrees and the leg/thighs register 175 degrees, 15-20 minutes. Let chicken rest for 5 minutes before serving.


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Barbecued Chicken Kebabs from The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2012

Remember the parental ‘talks’ that began with, “When I was your age….”? Most are bad enough, but imagine being on the receiving end of those chats when your parents are both European WWII survivors. My most memorable one has something to do with the difference between the dentist drill I had to face and the one my mom had to sit under as a child (I think foot-pedal powered entered the conversation).

I haven’t pulled out the “when I was your age” cannon yet, but I’m sure I will. I’ve already started lining up the various examples. She complains about having to ride the bus home from school; I walked. In Chicago weather. I can’t say it was uphill both ways because Illinois is pretty darn flat and she’s actually already seen the school I went to. Not enough clothes to wear? I shared a dresser with my sister. I won’t even begin to tell you the amount of clothes she has.

One thing I can’t use as a comparison is kebabs. We had two kinds when I was her age. Both were Armenian. One was made from chunks of lamb (shish kebab) and the other was ground beef with onions, parsley and other goodies mixed in (  kebab). I win.

Except that Dudette will grow up with those two types of kebabs, other varieties that use pork and vegetables. And these; barbecued chicken kebabs. Apparently, we both win.

The Process

If you remember back a couple of weeks, I prepared America’s Test Kitchen’s null and we loved it. Bless the folks there for going beyond the dry rub and wanting to show that they can put forth a good wet barbecue sauce as well.

One thing I like about this recipe very much is the salt that goes on the cubes of chicken breast for an hour prior to grilling. It helped keep the chicken moist while grilling.

The bacon paste is definitely a bit weird and kind of gross. I was curious as to whether the family would notice that it was there.

The sauce, a combination of ketchup, molasses, onion, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, cider vinegar and brown sugar is easy enough to simmer until thick. I applaud the Test Kitchen for grating the onion instead of mincing it. A much more smooth sauce is created that way.

The Verdict

We didn’t actually fight over these, but the amount that everyone ate was watched closely to make sure that no one person got more than another (can you feel the love?). That’s how much we liked these. The kebabs never even made it to the table. They went from the grill, to a plate, to our stomachs. We don’t normally eat that casually, but sometimes it’s just fun to stand around and graze.

And no, no one guessed that there was bacon coating the chicken.

What I’d Do Different Next Time

I found the sauce to be a bit too tangy for me. I like mine sweeter, but that’s personal taste. To ‘fix’ it, I’d reduce the cider vinegar and Dijon mustard to 1 tablespoon each and up the brown sugar to 2 tablespoons.

Barbecued Chicken Kebabs from The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2012
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Grilling
Cuisine: American
Serves: 4
  • Sauce
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • ¼ cup light or mild molasses
  • 2 tablespoons grated onion
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
  • Kebabs
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 slices bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 4 12-inch metal skewers
  1. Bring all sauce ingredients to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce reaches a ketchuplike consistency and is reduced to about 1 cup; 5-7 minutes. Transfer ½ cup sauce to a small bowl. Set aside remaining sauce for serving.
  2. Toss chicken and salt in a large bowl; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to an hour.
  3. Get a charcoal (or gas) grill going until hot.
  4. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Combine sweet paprika, sugar and smoked paprika in a bowl.
  5. Process the bacon in a food processor until a smooth paste forms, 30-45 seconds, scraping down the bowl twice. Add the bacon paste and spice mixture to the chicken; mix with hands until ingredients are blended and the chicken is coated. Thread meat onto skewers.
  6. Grill kebabs (covered if using gas), turning one-quarter turn every 2-2½ minutes until well browned and slightly charred, 8 minutes for breasts and 10 minutes for thighs. Brush top surface of kebabs with sauce; flip and cook until sauce is brown in spots, about a minute. Brush second side with remaining sauce; flip and continue to cook until brown in spots and chicken is cooked through.
  7. Remove kebabs from grill and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve, passing reserved barbecue sauce separately.


Strawberry Dream Cake from The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2012

Pink is a four-letter word in our house.

Our child epitomizes the phrase ‘tom-boy’ to a T. Her favorite doll? Spiderman (and Power Ranger Samurai, though she’s still missing a couple of those). In fact, I had to take away her Barbies because she was ruining them . . . on purpose.  Her favorite colors? Blue and green. Dresses? Be ready for looks of horror and loud protests. They’re only worn under duress for picture day.

So, when I make something like this cake, it’s an opportunity to tease my little one. I have fun dangling cake in front of her as something she won’t like because, oh the horror, it’s P.I.N.K. And she doesn’t let me down. There’s wailing and gnashing of teeth. Why, oh why do we have to have pink cake. Poor, poor Dudette.

On the other end of the spectrum is her good friend, nicknamed Boo. Boo is girlie. Boo wears dresses, tiaras, ballet shoes that sparkle and lots of pink.

When I decided I needed a boost on this pink cake, I showed the picture from the magazine to her and told her I had made it. “Oh, can I please come over and have some?” she whispered breathlessly, enthralled by the pinkness of it all.

So, today my friend Boo is coming over to have pink cake with me and I can’t wait.

The Process

I love the folks at America’s Test Kitchen for their passion and commitment to excellence. I really do. They claim to work on a recipe until it’s the best of the best and most times I would agree that they succeed. But, along the way they create a royal mess.

I’d love to stand in the corner of their test kitchen and see what happens after a recipe like this cake is developed. Did Lynn Clark, the cake’s author, do the dishes afterwards or did she leave them in the sink for others to clean up?

This isn’t a hard recipe to put together, but it creates a lot of work on the other end. The strawberries alone use a bowl for microwaving, a fine-mess strainer for pressing, the spatula and a saucepan. I just put the solids back into the original bowl, otherwise that would have been one more on the pile.

In the description, Lynn Clark said that adding the thick syrup, “turned the cake a pretty shade of pink.” Yes, that was true where the batter was concerned. It was nice to see the pink continue into the finished cake. It’s not a strong a color as theirs looks, but at least it’s there (and naturally to boot).

I can say that I am not a fan of adding 24 pieces of butter and cream cheese (for the cake and frosting) “1 piece at a time” until each is combined. Pffffft. Who has that kind of time for a cake?

The Verdict

This is good. In fact, it’s very good. I actually made it as dessert for a dinner party I had last night. Both guests ate their slices enthusiastically. The strawberry flavor does come through but I think the cream cheese taste overwhelms it a bit (which doesn’t bother me).  The cake doesn’t rise super high, but it is moist and light. The slices of strawberries between the layers is a very nice touch.

Hubby agrees with me that while this is tasty, for the amount of work it was to make, I probably won’t do it again because there are others that we like more. If this had been over-the-top in flavor, the work beforehand and after wouldn’t matter.

I can’t wait to find out what Boo thinks.

What I’d Do Different Next Time

The reasoning behind using frozen strawberries that the cake can be made year-round. However, since fresh strawberries are needed for the frosting part, doesn’t that negate that reasoning?

Strawberry Dream Cake from The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2012
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Cake
Cuisine: American
Serves: 12
  • 10 ounces (2 cups) frozen whole strawberries
  • ¾ cup whole milk, room temperature
  • 6 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2¼ cups (9 ounces) cake flour
  • 1¾ cups (12¼ ounces) granulated sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces and softened

  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2¼ cups (9 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
  • 12 ounces cream cheese, cut into 12 pieces and softened
  • Pinch salt
  • 8 ounces fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced thin (2 cups)
  1. Put the oven rack in the middle and heat the oven to 350. Grease two 9-inch cake pans, line with parchment paper, grease that and then flour pans.
  2. Put thawed strawberries in a bowl, cover and microwave about 5 minutes, when strawberries are soft and juices are released. Set a fine-mesh strainer over a saucepan and press the strawberries through, reserving the solids. You should have ¾ cup of juices. Bring juice to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, 6-8 minutes or until syrupy and reduced to ¼ cup. Add the milk to the juice with a whisk.
  3. Whisk together strawberry milk, egg whites and vanilla in a bowl. In another bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt on low speed until combined. Add butter, 1 piece at a time and mix until pea-sized pieces remain. Add half of milk mixture. Beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add remaining milk mixture and beat until incorporated, 30 seconds. Give batter a final stir by hand.
  4. Divide batter between the two cake pans and bake until toothpick in center comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Switch and rotate pans halfway through baking. Cool cakes on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove cakes from pans and cool complete for 2 hours.
  5. Mix butter and sugar at low speed until combined, 30 seconds. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add cream cheese, 1 piece at a time, and beat until incorporated, about 1 minute. Add strawberry solids and salt. Mix until combined.
  6. Dry sliced fresh strawberries.
  7. When cakes are cool, spread ¾ cup frosting over bottom layer. Press strawberry slices into frosting and cover with ¼ more frosting. Add top cake layer and spread remaining frosting over top and sides.