"Vintage Cakes" Black and White Cake

You know what you're going to see a lot of on my blog? Chocolate cake. Does it even count as dessert without the creamy, earthy, buttery richness of chocolate? And cake is by far my favorite food. I could eat it for breakfast (cinnamon crumble coffee cake, anyone?), lunch (shortcake with fresh berries and vanilla bean whipped cream) and dinner (this is usually where the only the richest, chocolaty-est desserts will do).

In my probably life-long quest for the all-time best chocolate cake recipe, I've made chocolate cakes with mayonnaise, Coca-cola, espresso, melted chocolate, cocoa, you name it. This recipe from Vintage Cakes was divine. With a soft crumb and incredible depth of chocolate flavor offset by the light and fluffy vanilla bean frosting, I heartily recommend this one. Vintage Cakes itself is such a lovely book with both creative and timeless recipes that I fully plan to make them all...in due time, of course!

Black & White Cake
(this recipe has been adjusted a wee bit, but the original can be found in the book, which you should buy immediately!)

The Cake
3/4 C best quality cocoa
2/3 C hot coffee (thank goodness for the Keurig)
1/2 C sour cream
1 T vanilla
1-1/2 C flour
3/4 t baking soda
1/2 t sea salt
10 T unsalted butter, at room temp
1-1/4 C brown sugar
1/2 C sugar
2 egg yolks, at room temp
2 eggs, at room temp

The Frosting
6 egg whites
1-1/4 C sugar
1/4 t cream of tartar
1 lb. unsalted butter, at room temp
2 t vanilla bean paste
1/4 t sea salt

The goods.
Preheat the oven to 350. Butter, then sprinkle cocoa into two 8" cake pans.

Mixing coffee and cocoa.
In a small bowl, whisk the coffee and cocoa. Mix in the sour cream, and vanilla and set aside.

In another bowl, sift the dry ingredients and whisk to incorporate.

In yet another bowl, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, 5 minutes or so, scraping down the sides at intervals to ensure incorporation of all the elements. Gently blend in the yolks and eggs, one at a time. With your mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, and the cocoa mixture in 2 parts, blending only until just incorporated.

Divide the batter between the pans and bake 35-40 minutes. Cool 30 minutes before removing from the pans and then completely before frosting.

Make the frosting.

Whisk the egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar and place the bowl over (not in) a saucepan of simmering (not boiling) water. Gently whisk continuously until the mixture is thick, shiny, fluid and very hot to the touch, or, if you have a candy thermometer, reads 130 degrees.

Remove the bowl from the heat and beat on medium high speed until the mixture triples in volume, 3 to 4 minutes. Beat another 1-2 minutes at medium-low speed until the mixture cools down and add the butter in one-tablespoon chunks, beating well after each addition. (Ms. Richardson notes the buttercream will look curdled and lumpy at one point. That's normal and will correct itself. Press on through!) Add the vanilla bean paste and salt and mix.
Frost the cakes with a thin crumb layer and refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Spread the rest of the buttercream over the chilled crumb layer and let the cake set about 30 minutes before slicing into it, if you can stand to wait.

Slice, plate and eat!
This cake makes a beautiful celebration cake and can be made a day ahead, if need be. Enjoy!

After School "Milkshakes"

It seems as though my almost-four-year-old is always hungry these days, but never as much as she is after a day at pre-school. The learning and playing and sand box fun depletes her inner resources and she'll ask for snack after snack, even after lunch, and will still eat a full dinner. How to get real, fresh, vitamin-packed foods into her body and stop myself from reaching for the snack jar filled with packaged goodies? A simple smoothie often does the trick.

Lulu's Milkshakes
8 oz. almond milk
1 banana, cut up and frozen at least overnight
a scant 1 T honey

6 strawberries
1T peanut butter
1T cocoa

Because the little one is sensitive to dairy, I use almond milk and bananas to thicken the shake. She asked for strawberries, although I might have added a tablespoon of peanut butter or cocoa, too, as noted above.

I use the pitcher of the blender to measure 8 ounces of the almond milk and place everything on top of that.

And, voila! One happy, healthy kid!
What do you give your little ones as healthy snacks? I could use the tips!

Chocolate Cherry Oat Bars with Toasted Slivered Almonds

Some days I just feel like I maybe I should indulge a wee bit less. Perhaps I've had a little too much wine and ice cream the night before. Maybe exercise has slipped off the priority list. (Yeah, what happened to that?) And sometimes there may be a wedding on the weekend at which there may have been short ribs, cocktails and cake that one may have partaken of with utter gluttonous glee. Regardless of any extenuating circumstances, I find myself needing something sweet every day, so, this time I whipped up some healthier bar cookies chock full of oats, whole wheat flour, nuts and dried fruit. Okay, and, maybe a little butter, brown sugar and chocolate, too. Moderation, my friends!
Doesn't this look delicious already?
Chocolate Cherry Oat Bars
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1-1/4 C brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 T vanilla extract
3/4 C unbleached white flour
3/4 C whole wheat pastry flour (all-purpose whole wheat flour is fine)
1 C oats
1 t baking powder
3/4 t salt
1-1/2 C chocolate chips
1/2 C dried cherries, chopped
1/2 C slivered almonds, toasted (350 for 5 minutes is good)

Yield 36 finger-sized bars

Pre-heat oven to 350. Butter, then flour a 13'x9' cake pan. I actually lined the buttered pan with a piece of parchment paper that was a bit long length-wise so that I could lift the bars from the pan without breaking them and then buttered and floured that, too.

Beat the butter and sugar in your stand mixer on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until the color is close to your toasted almonds and the batter is light and fluffy. If you don't have a stand mixer, don't fret. The recipe will just come out a bit denser, which is not a bad thing at all.

Add the eggs, one at a time, until each is fully incorporated and then add the vanilla.
Adding eggs one at a time.
In a separate bowl, gently whisk the flours, oats, baking powder, salt, chocolate chips, cherries and almonds (cooled, please) until the goodies are nicely coated with flour and oats.
Just starting to mix.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet batter.
I did this all in one pour and then gently folded the dry ingredients in just until everything was mixed together.
Bake 35-40 minutes or until the bars are nicely set and a toothpick comes out clean.
Note the long edge of parchment that makes it easy to pull these babies right put of the pan.
You can cut these into squares, but I thought a biscotti-type shape would be fun, so, I cut them longer than they were wide. Next, pour yourself a glass of milk and enjoy!
These bars would make a great after school snack and are so versatile, you could really add any dried fruit or other goodies into them such as chopped apricots, coconut, M&Ms, raisins, walnuts, (all about a half a cup at a time) the list goes on. The whole wheat flour and almonds give the treats a heartier crumb, but make no mistake, these babies are still a dessert. Although because they do have healthier ingredients, I just couldn't feel guilty - even as I popped the 4th and 5th ones into my mouth!

Decadent Chocolate Brownies

There are days that all a girl really needs is a spoonful of chocolate. Not just a Hershey kiss, but an intense shock of soft, gooey, deep, dark, decadent chocolate with a light vanilla finish. On those days, I revert to my childhood pleasure of homemade brownies. 

After years of working from various recipes, I've found this particular grouping of ingredients creates my favorite flavor and texture profile.

Decadent Chocolate Brownie Recipe
4oz. Unsweetened chocolate 
3/4 C butter
1-3/4 C sugar (caster sugar is best, but regular baking sugar works fine, too)
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 T vanilla extract
1/2 t salt
1 C flour

Additions (any and all will work):
1/2 C toasted walnuts
1 C chocolate chips
1/2 C dried cherries, reconstituted in 1 C hot water, water discarded

Oven to 325. Butter and flour (or cocoa, see below) one 8"x8" square pan. 
The Mise

First, I gather my mise en place a.k.a. the ingredients. The great thing about brownies is they really are the simplest of treats. Butter, sugar, eggs, chocolate, vanilla, flour and a sprinkle of salt are all you need. The suggested additions are nice-to-haves and I used none of them today.

Any good recipe will tell you to melt the butter and chocolate over a double boiler on medium low heat, but I like to melt the butter first and add the chocolate once the butter is almost all melted. And, I break the chocolate up as much as I can before tossing it in. You can also melt butter and chocolate together in the microwave. For that, follow the directions on your chocolate wrapper or box.
By tossing the chocolate into the warmed butter, it can melt on contact as opposed to heating simultaneously with the butter. If you ever make ganache, it's the same concept as heating the cream and adding the chocolate to that. But, I digress.
Instant melt.
Almost all incorporated.

Once the chocolate is all melted in, take the mixture off the heat and let it cool about 5 minutes. Then, add the sugar.

Make sure the sugar is nearly dissolved before adding the eggs. In fact, stirring the sugar in can take up to 5 minutes by hand (which I recommend) and can feel a little like a workout. 

The eggs should be at room temperature and make sure to break them into a measuring cup first to eliminate any chance of shells making their way into the batter.
For brownies, always add the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating each egg before adding the next. Once all the eggs are nicely mixed in, add the vanilla and salt.

Another tip - I learned this from Joanne Chang in her excellent baking book Flour - is to always fork-fluff your flour before measuring it into the cup. It lightens the flour to its intended consistency. Once the flour is mixed in, one naturally takes a bite. 
The reason I do it to begin with lies in the melty goodness of this spoon's contents.

Really, I cannot help myself.
Now the batter is ready to go into the pan. Rather than use flour, I add a tablespoon of cocoa on top of the buttered pan. 

You'll want to distribute this evenly across the bottom and sides of the pan like so.
Pour the batter into the pan.

And bake. These took 32 minutes at 325.
Here comes the hard part: waiting for these puppies to cool down enough to slice. Brownies have to cool at least most of the way to room temp before you can cut them. You can either leave them on the counter about an hour or put them into the fridge roughly 30 minutes.

If you want your brownies to be in perfect little squares, you probably have to wipe down your knife between slices. I just use a paper towel for that.

These brownies are indeed rich and are intended to be eaten in smallish quantities. But, if you wanted to cut the richness, you could always top them with a scoop of Vanilla Haagen Dazs!

Okay, well, my work here is done. Enjoy and please let me know how yours turn out!

My beautiful little tester.


Lemon Pound Cake for the Moms

This past weekend my husband and I got our moms together for dinner in our new place. As the two of them get along famously, we knew it would be a lively evening. But because my cooking skills are still in development (read: not great) I turned most of my attention to dessert. What to concoct for our sweet mothers on a cool evening in February?

Dinner would be Braciola (an Italian flank steak roulade in marinara sauce) with pasta, so I wanted dessert to be something light but also full of flavor. What would brighten the end of the meal and lift the palate? Lemon cake, of course.

Pulling out my trusty "American Classics" by the editors of Cook's Illustrated, I found the perfect lemon pound cake, bought some raspberries and heavy whipping cream and got started zesting lemons.
The recipe smartly calls for blending the sugar with the zest before doing anything else, ensuring a fragrant batter. Once you've got that done and the wet ingredients whisked in, the flour gets added a little at a time - in maybe 3 or 4 batches. This eliminates lumps and makes for a light, fluffy cake.
I always make sure to generously butter and lightly flour the pan.
And, I may be a wee bit meticulous about evenly distributing batter because, you know, perfect-looking cakes taste better, right?
Umm, so, I was so excited about putting it all together that I may have forgotten to take a photo of the final cake (oops!).

Once the cake was out of the oven, I poked tiny holes in the top and poured a glaze of sugar and lemon juice that had been marinating for the hour the cake was baking. Making holes causes the glaze to seep down into the soft cake, adding a burst of lemony flavor in every bite. The glaze is my favorite part and I could eat it by the spoonful (I have a high sugar tolerance, though). You can even add a couple of tablespoonsful of the glaze to sparkling water for a very special lemonade treat.

Back to the cake! Now, it was time to rinse berries and make whipped cream. I reeeeally recommend whipping your own cream as the flavor and texture really are so decadent and make all the difference. This time, I added about a tablespoon of vanilla bean paste to about a pint of fresh heavy cream.
Because vanilla bean paste has sweetener in it, the cream needed no additional sweetening. I mean, I like sweet, but you want to be able to experience the range of flavors.

Adding fresh berries to little slices of cake and wholloping the whole thing with a heap of real whipped cream made for a delicious finish. Now, I know these are my moms, but they did claim to love it and everyone gobbled it up in no time, despite a fairly heavy dinner.
This is the kind of cake you can serve at tea time, bring to a new neighbor, freeze, eat for breakfast - really, it's so versatile. If you like lemon, you'll love this.

And, now, for the recipe!

Lemon Pound Cake with Lemon Sugar Glaze
based on American Classics by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted, cooled and whisked to keep solids from separating
1-1/2 C flour, sifted
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1-1/4 C sugar
2 T lemon zest
3 t lemon juice
4 eggs
1 t vanilla extract
Sugar Glaze (below)

Butter and flour a loaf pan. I like to use  4.5"x12" but a 9"x5" will totally work. Heat oven to 325.

Whisk the dry ingredients together and set aside.

Blend the sugar and the zest in a blender or food processor about 5-6 pulses. Then, add eggs (I always break eggs into a measuring cup to make sure to catch any shells before adding to a batter), vanilla and lemon juice and pulse 7-10 times, until incorporated. Turn your blender/processor on and slowly drizzle the melted butter in over about 10-15 seconds.

Transfer the wet mixture to a large bowl and gently whisk in 1/3 the dry mixture. Repeat until all of the dry mixture is incorporated, but don't overmix.

Bake 50 minutes, until the top of the cake is set, although it may still be glossy and look slightly underdone. Let it cool about 15 minutes and then add the glaze.

Lemon Sugar Glaze
1/4 C lemon juice
1/2 C sugar

Mix lemon juice into sugar and whisk. Then, repeat about every 15 minutes for about an hour. The sugar will naturally mostly dissolve, leaving a few soft sprinkles of sugar crunch that make a nice, soft crust atop your cake.

To Glaze:
Keep your cake in its pan and poke lots of holes in it - gently! I use a fork with long tines, but you can use toothpicks or kabob sticks. Slowly pour the glaze over the warm cake. I usually take 3-4 passes at this, letting part of the glaze settle in each time and then pouring a little more over.

Let the cake sit at least 30 minutes and then pop it out of the pan. Slice with a sharp knife if you're serving it fresh or, if you have time, refrigerate the cake to solidify the crumb.

As I recommend above, drop a few berries (enough so that each bite of cake can be accompanied by a berry and some cream) on a slice of cake and then douse it in whipped cream and you're good to go.

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