Chocolate Cookie Dough Cake

cookie cake side 2

Sean’s list of acceptable birthday treats were as follows: vanilla ice cream, plain chocolate cake, and plain chocolate chip cookies.

Plain?!

You should know by now that I don’t do “plain.” In an attempt at making something slightly more exciting, I came up with the idea for this cake by combining two of these three acceptably plain desserts. But, before moving forward with my idea, I secured a guarantee from Sean that he would at least TRY the cake. Promise in hand, I searched the internet to see if someone had done anything similar before. The closest recipes I found were on Something Shiny and The Domestic Rebel, both of which made delicious-looking chocolate chip cookie cakes. But because I wanted (needed? I had a promise to fulfill, after all) a chocolate cake base with a buttercream frosting (so as to avoid cookie dough overload and satisfy the birthday requirements), I used those cakes as inspiration for my own creation. And you know what? The birthday boy ate an entire slice. Only folks in my lab will understand, but this is a major success. HUGE. This cake is a keeper for sure!

cookie cake cut

I combined a few great recipes to make this cake. The chocolate chip cookie recipe I adapted from Cooks Illustrated, the chocolate cake recipe comes from Smitten Kitchen, the cookie dough filling recipe comes from Fake Ginger, and the buttercream frosting recipe comes from Gale Gand, on the Food Network. The cookies can be made a day ahead, which makes assembly a breeze. This cake is moist and sweet, loaded with classic flavors and beautiful in its simplicity. I’m quite pleased with how it turned out and hope you like it, too!

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CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Feel free to use your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. This one makes fairly thin, chewy cookies with crunchy edges. It makes a lot more cookies than you’ll need, but who doesn’t want extra cookies? Adapted from Heather Homemade, originally from Cooks Illustrated.

2 1/8 cups all-purpose flour

¾  tsp. baking soda

¾ tsp. cornstarch

¾ tsp. sea salt

12 tbsp. (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to just warm

1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

1 large egg + 1 egg yolk

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

(Optional: 1 tbsp. ground instant coffee)

Make the cookies: 

1. Adjust oven racks to upper and lower-middle positions; heat oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare two large baking sheets by lining with parchment paper or spraying with non-stick spray.

2. Combine flour, baking soda, cornstarch, and salt in small bowl with whisk; set aside.

3. In a large bowl with an electric hand mixer, mix butter and sugars together until well combined, about 1 minute. Beat in the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla just until combined. Add dry ingredients and beat at low speed just until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand.

4. Place by rounded spoonful on the prepared baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake until cookies are light golden brown, the edges start to harden, and the centers are still soft and puffy – about 15 minutes. Cool completely on baking sheet.

*Note: if you want to decorate like I do, make a mixture of medium and tiny cookies. For the tiny cookies, roll small balls of dough by hand, about the size of a dime, and cook for ~12 minutes.

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CHOCOLATE CAKE

From Smitten Kitchen, originally from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes.

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup sour cream

1 1/2 cups water

2 tbsp. distilled white vinegar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 large eggs

Directions to make the cake:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottoms and sides of three 8 or 9-inch round cakepans. Cut out a circle of parchment or waxed paper and line the bottom of each pan; grease the paper. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the oil and sour cream; whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well-mixed. Pour into the prepared cake pans, dividing evenly among all three.

3. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely. Like Deb notes, these cakes are incredibly delicate. Put them in the freezer for half an hour to make your life infinitely easier. In fact, it’s going to be essentially impossible for you to make a layer cake out of these cakes if you don’t firm them up in the freezer. They’ll defrost once assembled, don’t worry.

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COOKIE DOUGH FILLING

Doubled from Fake Ginger.

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

Make the cookie dough filling:

Combine the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and cream on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the flour, sweetened condensed milk, and vanilla until well-incorporated and smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand.

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VANILLA BUTTERCREAM FROSTING

From Gale Gand, on the Food Network.

3-4 cups powdered sugar

1 cup salted butter, softened

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1-2 tbsp. whipping cream

Make the frosting:

In a stand mixer, beat together 1 cup of the sugar and softened butter. Mix on low speed until well blended, gradually adding the rest of the sugar. Increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes. Add vanilla extract and cream; continue to beat on medium for 1 minute more, adding extra cream or powdered sugar to reach a spreading consistency.

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ASSEMBLY INSTRUCTIONS

1. Place one cake round down on your cake platter and cover the top generously with half of the cookie dough filling. Use your hands to press the cookie dough into the place, making sure you go all the way to the edges. Gently put another cake round on top of the filling and spread the rest of the cookie dough filling over it. Top with the third and final cake round.

2. Crumb coat the entire cake with some of the frosting. If you haven’t done this before, I explain it in my banana cake post. Essentially you want to cover the sides and top with a thin layer of frosting to “seal in” all the crumbs. Refrigerate the cake with the crumb coat for at least 15 minutes before frosting the final coat, to make sure the crumb coat sets up.

3. While the crumb coat sets in the refrigerator, cut about 5 large cookies in half. Remove your cake and coat generously with the remaining frosting. You’ll probably end up with some leftover frosting – might I suggest spreading it on your leftover cookies? Just a thought… Gently press the half-circle cookies around the bottom of the cake and small cookies in a circle on top of the cake. 

*TIP: It’s a bit difficult to cut through the cookies on top of the cake (the side ones cut just fine), so I pulled them off as I cut and placed them on each slice afterwards. I also brought extra cookies to put on slices that didn’t get the removed small cookies.

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Cappuccino Fudge Cheesecake

cappuccino side

With two birthdays to celebrate, what better way than to make a cheesecake? And since it’s my first time ever making a cheesecake, it’s probably best to pick a complicated recipe that takes way longer than anticipated, right? So when something goes wrong, you have no idea what to do because you have no “familiar ground” to compare it to and you end up on Google searching “why is my cheesecake puffing up and still jiggling and REFUSING TO COOK like it #@$&%*& should?!?” Sounds like a good idea, right?! My logic, sometimes…

Recall for a minute my friend Matt who visited over St. Patrick’s Day weekend: we made some awesome brownies and a cake that couldn’t be displayed but was eagerly consumed. Strike any bells? Well, Matt also happens to be incredibly thoughtful and a marvelously generous houseguest. He got me a springform pan because I’ve never had one before, and he said he “figured an avid baker had to have at least one springform pan in her collection.” See, what did I tell you? So thoughtful. And this meant I could finally try making a cheesecake! All those delicious recipes I’ve passed up over the years because I didn’t have the right supplies… Thank you, Matt!! Everyone, I hope you’re ready for loads of cheesecake recipes now – I have to make up for years of missed recipes!

As for my inaugural cheesecake, what better place to start than this:

Cappuccino.

FUDGE.

Cheesecake.

Oh, yes. It is as intoxicatingly and sinfully rich and delicious as it sounds!

I followed Smitten Kitchen‘s instructions for this amazing concoction, which Deb adapted from Bon Appetit, February 2002. Annie’s Eats also makes this recipe, but with a simpler crust. You can find Smitten Kitchen’s instructions below for this beautiful treat. One note: watch out that you don’t over-beat the eggs. The recipe makes it sound like you want to mix until the eggs are super well-blended, but that made the cheesecake “fluffier” than I would have liked. Be aware of that, and only gently beat the eggs in. That aside, this cheesecake rocks. With the perfect amount of each flavor, the tastes blend beautifully. Not to mention, it’s one gorgeous dessert! Plus, it’s a pretty easy one to make (remember, I’ve never made cheesecake before), if you don’t count my minor fiasco with the baking time (a product of over-beating the eggs, I think; I had to cook for nearly 50% more time). The worst part is the lengthly waiting/chilling times. Have side projects to work on (or a great baking companion to hang out with) while you wait and you’ll be good to go!

cappuccino candle

Birthday boys! Blow out the one candle we have in our building… 

cappuccino cut

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CAPPUCCINO FUDGE CHEESECAKE

(Link to Smitten Kitchen’s recipe provided above)

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CHOCOLATE CRUST

1 (9-oz) box chocolate wafer cookies

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar

1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg

7 tbsp. hot melted unsalted butter

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CHOCOLATE GANACHE

1 1/2 cups heavy or whipping cream

20 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

1/4 cup Kahlúa or other coffee-flavored liqueur

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CAPPUCCINO CHEESECAKE FILLING

3 (8-oz) packages cream cheese, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 tbsp. all purpose flour

1 1/2 tbsp. dark rum

2 tbsp. instant espresso powder or coffee crystals

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 1/2 tsp. mild-flavored (light) molasses

3 large eggs

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VANILLA SOUR CREAM TOPPING

1 1/2 cups sour cream

1/3 cup sugar

2 tsp. vanilla extract

A handful of chocolate covered espresso beans (optional)

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Make chocolate crust:

1. Finely grind cookies, chopped chocolate, brown sugar, and nutmeg in processor. Add butter and process until crumbs begin to stick together, scraping down bowl occasionally, about 1 minute.

2. Transfer crumbs to 9-inch-diameter springform pan with 3-inch-high sides. Wrap plastic wrap around fingers and press crumb mixture firmly up sides to within 1/2 inch of top edge, then over bottom of pan.

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Make chocolate ganache:

1. Bring cream to simmer in large saucepan. Remove from heat; add chocolate and Kahlúa. Whisk until chocolate is melted and ganache is smooth.

2. Pour 2 cups ganache over bottom of crust. Freeze until ganache layer is firm, about 30 minutes. Reserve remaining ganache; cover and let stand at room temperature to use later for decorating.

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Make cappuccino cheesecake filling:

1. Position rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350°F.

2. Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar in large bowl until blended. Scrape down bowl, making sure you get to the bottom, where little pockets of unmixed cream cheese love to hide. Beat in flour.

3. Stir rum, espresso powder, vanilla, and molasses in small bowl until instant coffee dissolves; beat into cream cheese mixture. Beat in eggs one at a time, scraping down sides of bowl between each addition.

4. Pour filling over cold ganache in crust; it will go nearly all of the way to the top – don’t panic. Place cheesecake on rimmed baking sheet. Bake until top is brown, puffed and cracked at edges, and the center two inches moves only slightly when pan is gently shaken, about one hour.

5. Transfer cheesecake to rack. Cool 15 minutes while preparing topping (top of cheesecake will fall slightly, making room for topping). Maintain oven temperature while you continue on to make the topping.

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Make vanilla sour cream topping:

1. Whisk sour cream, sugar, and vanilla in medium bowl to blend. Pour topping over hot cheesecake, spreading to cover cheesecake filling completely.

2. Bake until topping is set, about 10-15 minutes. Transfer cheesecake to rack. Refrigerate hot cheesecake on rack until cool, about three hours.

3. Run a small, sharp knife between the crust and pan sides to loosen cake; release pan sides. Transfer cheesecake to platter.

4. Spoon reserved ganache into pastry bag fitted with small star tip. See Smitten Kitchen’s website for instructions to make a lattice top, or else decorate as you see fit. I drew lines across the top and piped stars all around the edges. Be creative!

5. Garnish with chocolate-covered espresso beans, if desired. Chill until the decorations are firm, at least 6 hours.

Mojito Cake with Lime Cream Cheese Frosting

mojito cake side

For Ellie’s birthday, I needed to find something citrus-y per her request (which she begrudgingly revealed only after I insisted she tell me her favorite flavor). Since I’ve never been a big fan of citrus flavors in baked goods, I tend to avoid these types of recipes. This was an excellent opportunity to branch out, and I’m quite glad I did: this cake rocks! A sort of cross between key lime and mojito, it’s bursting with flavor and surprisingly rich. Cut smaller slices than you think you’ll need, close your eyes, and enjoy all the delicious flavors of a mojito with significantly less of the alcohol. Which makes this cake perfectly acceptable to bring to group meeting in the middle of the day, right? Santé!

mojito cake slice

See the darker parts of the cake? Aka the best, most flavorful parts? That’s where the rum syrup seeped in. I was nervous about adding too much of the syrup, so I only used about half. Big mistake. Use lots of syrup, it’s delicious!

The cake, rum syrup, and lime cream cheese frosting recipes are only slightly adapted from Two Peas‘ recipe for adorable mojito cupcakes; the whipped cream recipe came from Bakerella‘s recipe for a stunningly gorgeous key lime cake.

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MOJITO CAKE

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 cup buttermilk

1 tbsp. rum (Captain Morgan’s Spice Rum if possible)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups granulated sugar

4 large eggs

3 tbsp. fresh mint, chopped

Directions to make the cake:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the sides and bottoms of three 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom with parchment or wax paper circles, and grease the top of the paper. Set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, stir the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together until well-mixed. Set aside.

3. In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, rum, and vanilla extract. Set aside.

4. In a large bowl with a hand mixer or in an electric stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy (4-5 minutes). Reduce speed to low and add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.

5. Scrape the sides of the bowl periodically throughout this process: Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar-egg mixture, and mix well. Add ½ of the buttermilk mixture and beat for one minute. Add another 1/3 of the dry mixture; beat until combined. Add the rest of the buttermilk mixture; beat for one minute. Add the rest of the dry mixture; beat for one minute until the batter is smooth. Beat in the chopped mint last.

6. Pour into cake pans, dividing the batter evenly. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Make the rum syrup (below) during the last 5-10 minutes of baking.

7. Let cool for 5 minutes and then poke holes all over the surface with a skewer, toothpick, or fork. Spoon the rum syrup evenly over the warm cakes and let cool completely before frosting. Or, carefully level off the tops of the cakes. The “exposed” cakes will much more easily absorb the syrup.

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RUM SYRUP

1 cup sugar

¼ cup water

¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter

¼ cup rum

zest of 1 lime

3 sprigs fresh mint

Directions to make the syrup:

Combine the sugar, water, and butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat once the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Carefully mix in the rum. Add the lime zest and fresh mint, and let the syrup infuse for 5 minutes before using to spoon over the cakes. It’s going to seem like a lot of syrup, but use at least 3/4 if not all of it, because it makes this cake amazingly moist!

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LIME CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

12 ounces cream cheese

~8 cups powdered sugar

1 tbsp. lime juice

½ tbsp. rum

optional: green food coloring (gel, not liquid)

Directions to make the frosting:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the cream cheese, lime juice, and rum. Carefully blend in the powdered sugar until you are satisfied with the consistency. Add green food coloring as desired. Scrape the sides of the bowl regularly and mix until well-blended. Spread on cooled cakes (refrigerate the cakes first to make them much easier to work with).

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WHIPPED CREAM

16 oz. heavy whipping cream

3 tbsp. granulated sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

optional: fresh mint sprigs

Directions to make the whipped cream:

Chill metal bowl and beaters in freezer for about 20 minutes. When ready to whip, add the cream, sugar, and vanilla to the bowl and beat at medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. Pipe onto your frosted cake, and decorate with fresh mint.

Store cake in the refrigerator until about an hour before you want to serve it.

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mojito cake top

Fortunately, my graduate student stipend isn’t contingent on my cake decorating skills. If it were, they’d have kicked me, jobless, out in the snow already! (Also: snow? In mid-March? REALLY?? As if I didn’t miss California enough already…)

St. Patrick’s Day Baileys Irish Cream Cheese Frosted Brownies

baileys brownie

My friend, Matt, is visiting from Cornell this weekend. We celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by making this AMAZING Guinness Chocolate Cake with Baileys Irish Cream Cheese Frosting. Seriously, check it out because that cake is delicious! We had the brilliant last-minute (read: poorly thought out) idea to add chocolate ganache in between cake layers… which oozed out everywhere, got all mixed up in the frosting, made the top layer slide, and rendered our delicious cake TUTP (“too ugly to post”). I still think a chocolate layer would take this cake over-the-top, so if you make the recipe, I recommend looking around for a good, thick ganache filling recipe (maybe this one?). Let me know if you can get it to work, because I’d love to successfully make this cake with a chocolate layer someday!

We were left with extra frosting from that adventure, so Matt whipped up this tasty, fudge-y brownie recipe from AllRecipes and we covered it with the leftover Baileys Irish Cream Cheese Frosting. This is quite a decadent pairing, and so perfect for St. Patrick’s Day. Cut small pieces because it’s insanely rich. If you’re just making the brownies and not the cake, only make a quarter of the frosting recipe. All recipes are provided at the links, so I won’t repeat them here. Enjoy!!

Dennis the Cat Cake (Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Filling and Buttercream Frosting)

A puzzle for you today! One of these photos is a cat and the other is a cake in the likeness of the cat. Don’t worry if you struggle to tell the difference – I know my cake decorating skills are exceptional ;)Dennis cat and cake

Didn’t fool you one bit, did I? Trying to rapidly decorate a cat cake less than an hour before a potluck shouldn’t seem like a good idea. Ever. I’m not sure why I thought that would work out, but let me tell you: it was crazy! So, Dennis the Cat Cake looks a bit rugged because I was running around the kitchen frantically mixing colors, hastily putting them in ziplock bags, and hurriedly pushing frosting around with a toothpick, all while watching the clock tick down and debating the merits between being punctual and bringing a pretty cake. Punctuality won, as you can see.

Dennis is the sweetest “old man” cat that my friends recently adopted… who also kind of looks like he could be in the mafia. To celebrate and introduce him to everyone, they invited us all over for a potluck party. There were some seriously incredible dishes to enjoy: garlic knots, “ants on a log,” warm bread and brie, potato latkes, spring rolls with a spicy sauce, noodles, asian coleslaw, wine… I could barely move by the end of it all! And all this before we even touched the cake. UGH. Luckily this cake was delicious, so it was worth the uncomfortable stomach fullness. But goodness, it was quite the meal.

I had to keep this recipe relatively simple since I’ve never made a shaped cake before and didn’t have any directions to go off of, so I stuck to basics: one of the best chocolate cake recipes ever + a gooey salted caramel layer + buttercream frosting = simple and delicious! Definitely worth trying, even if you just make it a normal layer cake and don’t shape it into a cat’s face.

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CHOCOLATE CAKE

From: Smitten Kitchen, originally from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup sour cream

1 1/2 cups water

2 tbsp. distilled white vinegar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 large eggs

Directions to make the cake:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottoms and sides of three 8 or 9-inch round cakepans. Cut out a circle of parchment or waxed paper and line the bottom of each pan; grease the paper. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the oil and sour cream; whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well-mixed. Pour into the prepared cake pans, dividing evenly among all three.

3. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely. Like Deb notes, these cakes are incredibly delicate. Put them in the freezer for half an hour to make your life infinitely easier. In fact, it’s going to be essentially impossible for you to make a layer cake (let alone a cat face) out of these cakes if you don’t firm them up in the freezer. They’ll defrost once assembled, don’t worry.

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SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE

Adapted from: Ree Drummond, on the Food Network

1 packed cup brown sugar

1/2 cup half-and-half

4 tbsp. unsalted butter

1/4 tsp. sea salt

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

Directions to make the sauce:

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, mix the brown sugar, half-and-half, butter, and salt. Cook while whisking gently for 5-7 minutes, until it gets thicker (mine started bubbling and turned lightly golden at this point). Add the vanilla and cook one minute more to thicken further. Turn off the heat and remove from the stove. Set aside for use when assembling the cake.

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BUTTERCREAM FROSTING

Adapted from: Gale Gand, on the Food Network

6+ cups powdered sugar (add until you’re satisfied with the consistency)

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1-2 tbsp. half-and-half (vary based on how much powdered sugar you have and what consistency you like)

Gel food coloring

Directions to make the frosting:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together half of the sugar and all of the butter. Start on low speed until well-blended and then gradually add in more sugar. Increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes. Add vanilla and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream or powdered sugar as necessary to reach spreading consistency. Gel food coloring should be beat or stirred in as desired (see directions below for details).

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Directions to assemble the cat cake (or a simple layer cake):

1. Remove the three cakes from the freezer. If they are not flat on top, level off the unevenness using a serrated knife. Place one cake down on your cake plate. Using the buttercream frosting, make a 1/2-inch tall and at least 1/2-inch wide “dam” all the way around the perimeter of this bottom cake. The dam will hold in your caramel, so make sure it’s tall and wide enough to prevent caramel from oozing out.

2. When you are confident in your dam’s ability to hold back the caramel, give your caramel a few stirs (at this point it should be a bit cool – don’t use it right off the stove or you’ll melt the buttercream frosting) and then gently pour it into the reservoir you’ve created in the center of your cake. *Note: if you are making a 3-layer cake (and not a cat face), only pour half the caramel in. Reserve the second half for the next layer, repeating this step.* Gently place a second cake circle on top of the buttercream and caramel.

3. Place the third cake on a flat surface, like a cutting board. From one of the edges, cut out a circle-ish shape for the mouth/nose area (use the edge of the cake as one of the “sides” of this shape, then line up this edge with the edge of your stacked cakes). Attach to the top of your stacked cake with buttercream frosting. From the remainder of the third cake, cut out four ears of the same size and attach them to the cake with buttercream frosting, stacking them two layers high so they are as tall as the cake.

4. Place the assembled cake in the refrigerator for 5-10 minutes, then remove and do a crumb coat. If you haven’t done one of these before, it’s basically a very thin layer of frosting that covers the entire cake and seals in crumbs. This way, when you frost “for real,” you don’t end up with cake bits mixing into your frosting and making it look ugly. Refrigerate for another 5-10 minutes to harden the crumb coat.

5. While your crumb coat is setting up in the refrigerator, tint your frosting with the gel food coloring. Think about how many colors you want and how much you need of each color, then mix up colors in different bowls. For this cake, I made a tiny bowl of pink and a tiny bowl of green, and saved a small bowl of white. I colored the rest of the frosting orange. When you’re ready to frost, remove your cake from the refrigerator and have at it! Frost with an offset spatula and decorate with piping bags. Small plastic bags with the tips cut off make for good piping bags if you don’t have any fancy ones. Toothpicks are very helpful for pushing frosting around to make small details. Finish off with chocolate chips for eyes (I used mini ones).

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This cake went over very, very well with everyone – even Dennis! (Notice the hand restraining him? Poor Dennis, we put a tasty buttercream frosting cake in front of him in his honor and we wouldn’t even let him have a lick. We’re cruel.)

Dennis the cat and his cake

And of course, an inside shot. See that caramel oozing out everywhere? Oh, my! And note the buttercream strip at the edge of the caramel – that’s the “dam” I talked about, holding all the caramel in. This isn’t a pretty cake by any means, but I promise you that no one will care about aesthetics after one bite of this cake!

Dennis cake slice

Pumpkin Butterscotch Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Chocolate Glaze

pumpkin cake

Adam’s birthday is tomorrow, and he asked repeatedly asked for “those pumpkin ball amazing treat things” I brought in last semester. Actually, ever since I made those, he’s been bringing them up and requesting them again. It doesn’t matter what new treat I bring in, he just wants those pumpkin bread balls. Unfortunately for Adam, even though it’s his birthday, that still doesn’t change the fact that: 1) I prefer to try new recipes rather than repeat old ones, and 2) birthdays require birthday cake. Period. Very little room for negotiating here, folks.

Of course, with that said, I’d rather not be a total jerk who ruins birthdays by denying someone their lone, long-standing request. So for a few weeks now, I’ve been brainstorming how to capture all those magnificent flavors from the pumpkin bread balls (pumpkin, cream cheese, chocolate, butterscotch, walnut) and highlight them together in one glorious cake. And you know what? It worked. Really, really well. Even better than I anticipated. So please, for me, make this cake. Try this and share it with your friends and tell me it’s okay that this cake makes me want to run to the grocery store and hoard all the ingredients and never leave my kitchen and not care a single ounce about developing diabetes…

pumpkin cake slice

Give me details, you say; the pictures are nice and all, but what exactly is going on here? I’m so glad you asked! Start with a great pumpkin cake recipe and add more spices, pumpkin, vanilla, and butterscotch chips. Cover completely with my favorite fluffy cream cheese frosting recipe. Whip up a simple and rich chocolate glaze and pour it over the top so it runs over the edges in dreamy dribbles. Finish off with butterscotch drizzles and chopped walnuts, and say “hello” to your drool-inducing, prize-winning, bribe-fulfilling, love-inspiring, debt-erasing, happiness-spreading cake that is shockingly easy to make, though you’d never be able to tell from looking at it. It’s dense, moist, and oh-so-rich, with the most satisfying combination of flavors. Everyone loved it, and in addition to more “normal” accolades, it was described using some rather colorful language that I can’t repeat here. Care to join me at the grocery store? I need to purchase all the canned pumpkin they have in stock…

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PUMPKIN BUTTERSCOTCH CAKE

Adapted from: Diana Rattray at About.com

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1 ¼ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

½ tsp. ground ginger

¼ tsp. nutmeg

¼ tsp. clove

2 cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

4 large eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cans (30 oz total) pumpkin puree or cooked mashed pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie mix!)

3/4 bag butterscotch chips (save the other ¼ for the top)

Directions to make the cake:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare three 9-inch round cake pans: grease the sides and bottom using baking spray or butter, cut out a circle of parchment or wax paper and place on the greased bottom, and grease the top of the paper as well. Dust bottom and sides lightly with flour. Set aside.

2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla extract until well-mixed. Stir in the dry mixture until just incorporated. Gently stir in pumpkin puree, and finally stir in the butterscotch chips.

4. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake at 350 F for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (mine were perfect at 30), rotating pans halfway through baking. Cool completely in pans.

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CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

From: Southern Living (minus the pecans)

2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup salted butter, softened

1 (32 oz) package powdered sugar (or two 16 oz packages)

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions to make the frosting:

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, beat the softened cream cheese and butter together until creamy, then beat in the vanilla extract. Add the powdered sugar gradually, stopping when you like the consistency/flavor of the frosting (I always add the full 32 ounces).

Frost according to the instructions in my Cinnamon-Swirled Banana Cake. Make sure you freeze the cake before assembling, and do the crumb coat! This cake is very delicate.

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CHOCOLATE GLAZE

From: Smitten Kitchen

10 oz semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (or a bag of chocolate chips)

2 tbsp. light corn syrup

1/2 cup half-and-half

Directions to make the chocolate glaze:

In the top of a double boiler or in a bowl set over simmering water, combine the chocolate and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth.

Pour over the top of your frosted cake, and gently push small sections of the chocolate off the top so it drips down the sides in long lines.

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FINISHING TOUCHES

¼ bag butterscotch chips

1 tsp. light corn syrup

2 tsp. half-and-half

½ cup chopped walnuts

Directions to make your cake b-e-a-utiful:

Melt butterscotch chips and corn syrup in the microwave for 45 seconds and stir until melted and smooth. Whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Drizzle over the top of the cake (which should already be frosted and glazed). Sprinkle chopped walnuts over the top.

Store in the refrigerator but remove at least 2 hours before you plan to serve it so everything can reach room temperature and bring out the flavors best.

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See, what did I tell you? So simple! The cake layers take ~15 minutes to make, 30 to bake, and 20 to cool (if you’re impatient and throw them in the freezer). The frosting takes ~10 to make and ~20 to put on the cake. The glaze takes ~10 total to make and pour on top, as do the finishing touches. Which clocks you in at well under 2 hours to make this delicious cake. I declare that totally do-able. And if you are anything like me and have an unhealthy obsession with pumpkin, butterscotch, cream cheese, and chocolate (walnuts are healthy – they don’t count), you will love it. Guaranteed.

pumpkin cake side view

Dark Chocolate Chip Salted Caramel Nutella Cookie Bars

This weekend found me back at the Cape Cod field site for a few days, ostensibly to help with data collection and discuss potential contributions I can make to the research. And both of those did happen

cape sand ripples

But we also explored the Cape for a few hours, walked along the beach for a few miles, and were fascinated by the water and sand ripples. I even found a half dozen heart-shaped rocks! The hunt for these put me a good 100 yards behind Beth and Ellie for half of the walk… oops. But aren’t they just so darn cute?!

heart rocks

Furthermore, I was treated to some hilarious delirium on the parts of Beth and Ellie, who’ve been out here for weeks now. As an ever-so-slightly-more-sane addition to the house, I felt it was necessary to cure their field campaign doldrums with something sweet. While hunting for recipes, I asked Beth if I could make this one and she gave me the most incredulous look. “Has anyone ever said no?!”

choc chip caramel nutella cookie bars

A dinner of homemade lasagna and garlic bread paired with local Truro red wine (Beth and Ellie have amazing taste and culinary skills, in case you couldn’t tell), topped off with these dark chocolate chip salted caramel Nutella cookie bars for dessert was just what we needed to push through the last few days out here. Days that included unlocking and re-locking dozens of chained entrances. Days of moving very large and very heavy gas cylinders up and down an uneven sandy hill. And yesterday’s grand adventure: getting locked out of our rental house after they showed it to prospective buyers, thus having to break back in by climbing (horrifically ungracefully) through a window. All excellent excuses to savor our relaxed evening. Find yourself a similarly perfect excuse for making these. Did you check off a few key things on your “to do” list recently? Spend your entire day working up data or tweaking models on a computer? Finally tackle the pile of laundry you’ve been putting off for weeks? Arrive to work on time every day last week? Successfully breathe all day? Impressive, my friend, very impressive indeed. You need these. No, wait, you deserve these. You worked hard for it.

I took this already perfect recipe from Two Peas & Their Pod and amped it up just a tad. First, I switched to dark chocolate chips because I love the combination of salted caramel and dark chocolate. Second, I added Nutella because why would you ever need an explanation for adding Nutella? These are buttery. These are sugary. These are melty. These are gooey and salty and sweet and chocolate-y and carmel-y and Nutella-y (those are all words) and basically everything you could ever dream of. Best of all, they are a cinch to pull together. The ONLY thing that could possibly be holding you back right now is lacking the right ingredients in your pantry. Otherwise, you should already be preheating your oven (325 F, but you scrolled to the directions a long time ago, didn’t you?).

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DARK CHOCOLATE CHIP SALTED CARAMEL NUTELLA COOKIE BARS

(Recipe barely adapted from Two Peas & Their Pod)

2 1/8 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda

12 tbsp. butter, softened

1 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk

2 tsp. vanilla extract

~2 cups (one 1o-oz bag) dark chocolate chips

10 oz caramel candy squares, unwrapped

3 tbsp. heavy cream

~1/2 cup Nutella

Sea salt, for sprinkling over caramel and bars

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1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease an 11×7-inch baking pan with nonstick baking spray or butter.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda until well-mixed. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer or using an electric hand mixer, combine the softened butter and sugars until well-mixed, at least one minute. Beat in the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla extract until smooth. Gradually beat in the dry mixture until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

4. In a large microwave safe bowl, combine the caramels and heavy cream. In 20-second intervals, microwave caramels on High until they melt, stirring after each round. This should take ~2 minutes.

5. Press half of the cookie dough into the prepared pan, pressing it down evenly and smoothing the top with a spatula. Spread Nutella evenly over the cookie layer. Pour the melted caramel over the Nutella and sprinkle with sea salt. (Here I let out an audible “Oh!” because the sight of caramel pouring over Nutella is darn close to divine.)

6. Take small portions of the remaining cookie dough and press flat with your hands. Place gently over the caramel, and repeat until you’ve covered all the caramel. Sprinkle the top with additional sea salt.

7. Bake at 325 F for 30 minutes or until the top of the bars are light golden brown and the edges start to pull away from the pan. Cool completely* on a wire rack and then cut into squares.

cookie bars stacked

*Um, yeah right! I say go for it after you’re sure you won’t burn your tongue. Letting it cool completely means you’ll have clean cuts, but if you’re not giving the entire thing away to people, dig in as soon as it cools down. You’re okay with a spoonful of cookie, Nutella, and caramel all melted together, right? That’s what I thought. You can cut the rest up nice and pretty later. But you need a warm and gooey mess right now. Mmm… délicieux…

Also, apologies that we’re back to bad photos for the day. My talented photographers are a few hours away!