Cake is one of life's inarguable pleasures, a moist and sweet confection that can be as simple or as sophisticated as you choose to make it. It's also a versatile ingredient, if you should find yourself with leftovers after a birthday party or after preparing a large number of cakes. Thrifty pastry chefs have scores of ways to use up extra cake, including some that have become established, much-loved treats in their own right.
Have a Ball
One of the benefits to "upcycling" your leftover cake is reducing your portion size. For example, cake pops can handily scale down a piece of leftover cake into bite-sized morsels. Just crumble the cake loosely, then stir it so the cake's own icing binds the crumbs together. This is especially handy if you also have leftover icing from the cake-making process. If your cake scraps aren't frosted, corn syrup or melted chocolate will also hold them together nicely. For an adults-only version, make rum balls or bourbon balls by soaking the crumbs with your spirit of choice. For bonus points, dip the balls in chocolate or roll them in cocoa or crushed nuts.
Trifle With Their Affections
If your cake scraps are a bit past their prime, all they'll usually need to recover their charm is a bit of added moisture. One timeless way to do that is in a trifle. There are countless variations on the theme, but most follow a similar pattern. Line the bottom of a bowl with cake scraps, and then pour in some form of custard or pudding. From there, let your imagination run wild. Fresh or stewed fruit and berries are common additions, as are garnishes of whipped cream or chocolate curls. For added appeal, sprinkle the cake pieces with your favorite liqueur before pouring the custard.
The European repertoire is filled with desserts that turn leftover cake into whole new desserts, in just the same way you might use leftover ham as the base of a casserole. For example, the Bakewell Tart -- a "pudding," if you're English -- packs a pie shell with fruit jam and a filling rich with cake crumbs and ground almonds. Central Europe has a lengthy tradition of cakes and tortes made with cake crumbs, from the fruit-stuffed punschtorte to elegant, multi-layer confections filled with nuts and buttercream. You can even use your crumbs as the key ingredient in a batch of fresh-baked cookies.
Easy to Be Hard
Cake crumbs will keep best in your freezer or -- for the short term -- in your pantry, if you dry them first. Cut your scraps into pieces of even size and toast them at the lowest temperature your oven can manage until they're completely hard. At this stage you can use them as a substitute for ladyfingers in tiramisu and similar dishes, or pulse them in your food processor to turn them into crumbs. Pull them out of your freezer when you want a crumb crust for a pie or cheesecake, or sprinkle them between layers of phyllo pastry to help keep them separate as the flaky dough becomes crisp.