Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sweet Potato Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Is it bad that I am extremely excited about the fact that I have only ONE more day of classes left for this semester? I am literally counting the days until this semester is over. To any students reading this: you think you're excited about winter break? Hah! I'll bet you anything that your professors/teachers are even more excited.

This semester has been an eye-opening experience: challenging and interesting to say the least. Today, I had a student cry in my office. Now before you start thinking that I'm a ruthless professor, I should point out that this student has stopped submitting assignments after the 3rd week of classes. Every few weeks he would send me an email about how he was sick, or his mom was sick, or how work was very busy, and how I shouldn't worry, because he he will submit everything within the next two days, really he will, he promises this time. Never happened. So of course, when he came to my office today, I told him that since he had not submitted 90% of the assignments and had not shown up to class, he would fail both courses.

I knew he'd be upset, but I was not prepared for the next part.
He began to explain to me that his mother had a stroke and paralyzed the left side of her body, so he spent this semester taking her to the doctor and to physical therapy. Also, his step father was a cruel man who treated them very badly and he was now helping his mother look for a divorce lawyer.

Honestly, I didn't (and still don't) know what to say. I want to believe him, I really do, but I have spoken to other professors in my department about this student and they tell me that it's always the same story with him: 3 weeks or so into a class, he ceases to submit any assignments or show up to class. He is in his third year of college, so is it possible that he's had these problems at home this entire time? Or is he just pulling out the waterworks in my office so he can later go home, drink a forty, and congratulate himself on once again fooling another newbie professor?...I'm not sure. If it's the former, how can I be sure he's telling the truth, and more importantly, should I be doing something to help?

It was hard for me to see him cry and wipe his tears in my office, and I sat there not really knowing what to do or say. I tried my best to show support, but couldn't help but think that I wasn't not prepared for this kind of thing. Sure, I can plan lectures, present material, and create assignments. But grad school did not teach me how to be a therapist, and more and more, I'm starting to wish that it sort of did.

Earlier this semester, I had a student email me about why she couldn't submit an assignment on time: earlier week, for the first time, she had met the man who had sexually abused her as a child. Within the same week, her suicidal ex had contacted her and needed her help. Of course I gave her an extension, but I wasn't sure how to do more than that. I assured her that she could talk to me about her problems, but she never did. And that was that. I really don't know how to bring this topic up with her, or if she even wants me to.

Wow. This is becoming a very serious (and long) post. Let me get to the most crucial matter...this cake. ;) I made it a few weeks ago when my parents and grandmother came to visit and they loved it. Me? I thought it was good but slightly on the dry side. This is probably not a fault of the original recipe, but my modifications (I always try to healthify the desserts I make for my parents). I replaced some of the oil with applesauce and some of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour. Next time, I will up the oil to applesauce ratio and hope for a moister cake.

Sweet Potato Cake (adapted from

* 4 8-ounce red-skinned sweet potatoes(yams)
* 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
* 3/4 cup all purpose flour
* 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
* 1 1/4 teaspoons ground allspice
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 2 cups sugar
* 1/2 cup applesauce
* 1/2 cup vegetable oil
* 4 large eggs
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Recipe here (without the dulce de leche)

For cake:
Pierce sweet potatoes with fork. Microwave on high until very tender, about 8 minutes per side. Cool, peel and mash sweet potatoes.

1. Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 325°F. Generously butter 2 9in cake pans.
2. Sift flours, cinnamon, allspice, baking powder, baking soda and salt into medium bowl.
3. Measure enough mashed sweet potatoes to equal 2 cups. Transfer to large bowl. Add sugar, applesauce, and oil to sweet potatoes; using electric mixer, beat until smooth. Add eggs 2 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture; beat just until blended. Beat in vanilla. 4. Transfer batter to prepared pans. Bake cake until tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 1 hour 5 minutes.
5. Cool cakes in pans on rack 15 minutes. Using small knife, cut around sides of pans to loosen cake. Turn out onto rack; cool completely. Frost with cream cheese frosting.


  1. I had no idea that being a professor was so stressful with regards to the emotional/psych aspect of things. But now that I think about it, I've probably emailed professors with similar things...not to such extremes, but still.

    I love the concept of this sweet potato cake although I'm sorry it didn't turn out quite as well as you had hoped it would!

  2. Wow, that sounds incredibly stressful... I can't blame you for wanting the semester to be over!
    That seems awfully strange that he couldn't find time to do his work all semester... I bet he was probably lying haha. I was hospitalized over the summer while taking summer classes and had to get my spleen removed and I only missed 1 test (which I made up), and 3 classes haha.

    That cake looks amazing, by the way :)

  3. I know what you mean about stressing over school. Doesn't baking make everything better? I baked Christmas cookies all day Sunday to avoid studying and I got treats out of the deal!

    I am really impressed with your blog. The recipes sound delicious. I especially like this cake. I'm going to have to try out this recipe. How do you get your images so clear? I just bought a new camera to enhance my image quality on my blog "Not Your Mom's Kitchen" (
    Do you do anything special with the lighting or the food itself to get that clear of a shot?
    I am a first time visitor, but consider me a new follower. This is great.


  4. wow. to believe or not to believe, that is the question. i wouldn't want to be in your shoes!
    meanwhile, i would want to be in your kitchen--this cake rocks. :)

  5. Hey Ms. Meanie, Hmmm, the boy in question does sound like he's coming up with stories that are probably just that-stories. If what he's saying is true, he should be able to easily get a note from his mother's doctor stating her condition. Then, at least you'd know if he was telling the truth about his hardships and could act accordingly. Either way though, he really should have withdrawn from classes early in the semester if all that he is saying is true. He even should have withdrawn if he was just feeling lazy or not emotionally up to dealing with school. I don't know what a student is thinking behaving this way no matter the true situation...?! Maybe I'm harsh, but I don't think so. I withdrew a couple of times at Emory early on in the semester due to work and then restarted the next semester...
    Again, if he could show me even one shred of true evidence of his hardship, I'd consider some kind of last minute chance to make a C or something. That's just me though:)
    Oh, and your cake looks wonderful. I'm sure I would have loved it too, but I do know what you're talking about in reference to wheat flour sucking up the moisture in a cake. It happens;)

  6. I LOVE Sweet Potato Cake. I actually ate a piece at work today, and I still can't believe that potato + cake = awesome!

  7. I am a special educator at a high school and know exactly what you mean about wanting the semester to be over! I enjoy my job, but a break is definitely necessary ;).

    This cake looks gorgeous, and I'm sure it's absolutely delicious. I love that you used whole wheat pastry flour and applesauce - two of my favorite healthy substitutions for baked goods! I adore sweet potatoes, as is evidenced in how many sweet potato recipes I featured on my blog during the month of November. I must make this cake!

  8. Is there some way to check out stories like this? Kids sure can be creative. And yet....who knows?
    Tough being a teacher. And parent. And kid.

    The cake looks marvelous though....glad you're through for the semester!

  9. I always thought this girl was me but lately she she has been you:
    Congrats on the end of your first semester!!! You did it! And now I think its only suppose to get easier.

    Oh also very nice cake! I thought sweet potatoes were just for fries...but now they can be used to make two of my favorite things!

  10. Don't worry yourself sick about your students problems. Like you said, you're not a counselor. As to whether or not he's telling the truth, you should grade based on his performance on class, not out of pity. It may be different elsewhere, but at my school we have a special grade category for students who perform poorly due to bad circumstances like family problems and illness. They don't pass but they don't get an F on their record. Keep going, the semester's almost over! Think of all the amazing new things you've achieved this year :)

  11. Hey, hope you're doing okay. Actually, I hope you're doing great (smile)!
    Oh, and I came by to say 'Happy Holidays' and all that jazz...
    Your Friend;-)

  12. How on earth did I miss one of your posts?
    You shed a lot of light on what professors go through...things I never thought about myself while I was in college. It must be very hard having to deal with kids who are just starting a brand new life and adjusting to being away from home. I guess that maybe some of them see their professors as pseudo parental figures?
    I don't know how you can tell if they're lying about something or not, but it's good that you have other staff members who can give you a backstory to some of them. Once you get into the swing of things, I'm sure you will develop a 6th sense about your students honesty. :D

    As for the sweet potato, yes please! I just did a stupid Tae Bo tape (yeah, I still have 'em) and I would be so willing to have a slice or 2.

    I hope you had a great holiday season! 2011 will be a better year, I'm sure of it. :-) Take care.

  13. Well, I hope your second semester is not as dramatic as the first! It is really tough to be compassionate but not to be taken advantage of. Cake helps. I love sweet potatoes and have been thinking I need to try a cake with them.

  14. Hola, chica. Long time no write, right? hehe I see we both have taken breaks from our blogs. I was reading this post, and your situation really resonated with me.

    I agree with Stella about the documentation. When I encounter situations like yours (At UT, I dealt with it almost EVERY semester), I always ask for documentation before making or changing any decisions. Also, I email my students an informal progress report in the middle of the semester ONLY if they have a 60 or below. That way, if they fail the class, I have proof that the student was aware of his failing grade before the Q drop date.

    As far as being a counselor, take more of a psychotherapist approach by just listening to the student without giving major advice. Also, suggest to the student that he/she visit the campus counselor and give the student the contact info for that department. Tell the student that while you understand and care about her/his situation, you feel the student would most benefit by talking to a professional counselor, psychotherapist, or psychiatrist.

    I hope this helps!! Tell me how that last semester turned out for you! :)

  15. Your cake looks terrific.
    Sounds like you've done what you can with the students. It's hard to know where to draw the line between compassionate and overly permissive, isn't it?

  16. I bet you're glad the semester is over! If my semester had been that stressful, I would have needed cake with cream cheese frosting every night to make me feel better :) This cake looks delicious!!!