Coconut Lemon Pineapple Ombre Cake

That’s a mouthful, for sure. A delicious, citrus-y, sugary mouthful.

pineapple coconut ombre cake yellow

This might be the prettiest cake I’ve made so far, in celebration of my favorite Erin’s birthday.  Which was ages ago. Sorry I’ve been behind in posting! I’ve built up so many pictures and recipes waiting for me to find time to share them with you all… oops. Grad school makes balancing life sort of tricky. Especially when I decided to add a new hobby to my repertoire: rock climbing. Super fun stuff – some of my favorite people out here are fantastic climbers and got my does-it-involve-running?-because-I-don’t-run self hooked. But with school having started again, it means I’m constantly grinding myself into the ground attempting to balance classes, research, preparation for a conference (we leave Monday and I have to finish my poster still… apparently last minute stress is a major part of grad school), preparation for a research trip to Berkeley (WAHOO! research-funded trip to my undergrad stomping grounds), and other lab commitments with sanity-saving activities like sleeping, grocery shopping, hanging out with friends, spending time with the boy, and partaking in hobbies like dancing, rock climbing, and baking. I guess that’s what it means to be human, right? We’re all doing our best to load our schedules up and then complain about having no time!

how to decorate a coconut cake

So instead of complaining, I’ll give you this cake. Good trade, yes?

yellow ombre coconut pineapple lemon cake yellow swirled frosting

This cake was so much fun to make, putting both my cake decorating supplies and skills to the test. And it’s YELLOW!! Right there, its beauty was a done deal.

yellow ombre cake layers

See those layers? Yeah. They’re ombre. Like the frosting. It’s cool, I’m basically a professional. Please don’t judge me; I’m aware I took a lot of pictures. But it’s the first I’ve attempted something this complex, so forgive me: I’ve got a case of parental pride.

layer cake ombre yellow pineapple lemon coconut

I should probably give my Facebook password to my best friend now, so when I have kids someday, she can disable my account before I become a crazy parent who post pictures every.single.day of their child’s face. And their child eating. And smiling. And crying. And running around. And drawing pictures. And reading books. And generally being adorable and precious and magical. Because I could be one of those parents; you’ve seen what I did with this cake. Consider yourself warned.

how to decorate ombre coconut cake

This cake comes from all over the place. I started with this recipe on Food.com by PanNan as my “base” recipe, and changed it up with insight from my own baking experiences as well as other recipes on EatingWell.com and TasteOfHome.com. I found a nice, stiff cream cheese recipe on Food.com by Trixyinaz that was perfect for piping. Google “ombre cake” if you want to be amazed by the most beautiful cakes ever – those photos were my inspiration.

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LEMON PINEAPPLE CAKE

1 (15-16 ounce) can crushed pineapple in juice, undrained (divided use)

1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

½ cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt

3 cups sugar

5 eggs

1 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

3 cups cake flour, sifted

1 tsp. lemon extract

1 tsp. vanilla extract

PINEAPPLE FILLING

2 large egg yolks

(crushed pineapple + juice from above)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

5 tsp. cornstarch

CRUSTING CREAM CHEESE ICING

1 cup butter, softened

½ cup vegetable shortening

1 lb cream cheese, softened

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

3 ½ lbs sifted powdered sugar

½ tsp. salt

Food gel coloring

3-4 ounces shredded coconut

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1. Grease three 9″ round cake pans, and line bottoms with parchment paper. Great the top of the parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Separate the crushed pineapple and juice, saving both.

3. In a large bowl, beat butter at medium speed with a mixer until creamy; gradually add sugar, beating well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until blended after each addition.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

5. Combine ¾-cup pineapple juice with the sour cream (it won’t mix well, don’t worry). Add juice mixture to butter mixture, alternating with the flour mixture. Beat at low speed until just-blended after each addition. Stir in extracts.

6. Pour 1/3 of batter into each of the prepared cake pans. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. (I’ll admit I can’t remember how long this took; watch closely starting at 20 minutes!)

7. Remove from pans immediately and cool on wire racks.

8. Make the filling while the cake cools. Stir together egg yolks, sugar, ½-cup pineapple juice, all the pineapple, and cornstarch in a saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until thick and beginning to bubble, about 5 minutes. Let cool completely.

9. When both the cakes and filling are cool, make the frosting. Cream the butter, shortening, cream cheese, and vanilla extract. Gradually add confectioner’s sugar and salt. Beat on low speed until creamy.

10. Stack cake layers, spreading ¾-to-1 cup pineapple filling between each layer. Spread a thin layer of cream cheese frosting on sides and top of cake. Spread shredded coconut on the top, leaving a ½” border around the edge of the cake. Pipe a border of frosting around the top edge. Blend in a tiny bit of yellow (or any color) gel coloring and pipe swirls around the top third of the sides. Blend in some more gel coloring and pipe a second layer of swirls. Blend in even more gel coloring and pipe the remaining layer of swirls. As you go, fill in gaps with little star-shaped frosting piping.

TIP for piping: use a big star-shaped piping tip. Start in the middle of a rose and swirl around it about 1.5-2 times. Stop squeezing when you’re done and gently pull the tip away. Repeat! To make the little stars, switch to a smaller star piping tip and squeeze just enough to fill the gaps, then stop squeezing and pull away. It gets easier with practice, I promise!

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yellow ombre swirled frosting flowers cake

Ahh I just love a yellow cake, so happy!

Nanaimo Bars

For being so on top of the Fourth of July (did you make the star-spangled cupcakes yet?), I sure failed at alerting you to the other major holiday of the week: Canada Day!

(July 1, for you oblivious folks out there)

nanaimo bars canada day dessert

Canada is the only country I got to visit outside of the U.S. during the first 18 years of my life. I owe a lot to our northern neighbor: Grandma’s love of Cribbage. Older cousins who let us braid, clip, pin, and tie their hair. Hours-long drives through gorgeous forests. Grinning every time I hear “loonie” and “toonie.” Learning how to play A**hole/Janitor (depending on whether the children are playing) late into the night. Tim Horton’s (not for coffee, seeing as I was a kid and also don’t like coffee, just pastries). Coasting down a river in giant inner tubes. Multi-story indoor-and-outdoor water fights. Crazy, awesome, hilarious relatives. Snow. Snow on Christmas (we don’t get that in California). Oh, yeah, and my dad, who coincidentally is responsible for my last name and thus the name of this blog. He’s pretty cool I guess, so thanks for him, Canada!

canada day dessert nanaimo bar

Canada also gave me Nanaimo Bars. Aka nana-what?! bars. Aka “Finding Nemo?” bars. Aka nanananananaMO!! bars. Aka a chocolate coconut cookie-like base, vanilla kind-of-custard-kind-of-frosting filling, and smooth chocolate on top. Aka perfection out of the fridge. Aka try these now, and you can appreciate a little slice of Canada without the travel cost. Aka thanks, Canada, you rock!

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NANAIMO BARS

Recipe from Hidden Ponies

Base layer:

¾ cup unsalted butter

¼ cup granulated sugar

6 tbsp. cocoa

1 large egg

1 tbsp. milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1 cup shredded coconut

Middle layer:

½ cup unsalted butter, softened

6 tbsp. milk

4 tbsp. custard powder (or instant vanilla pudding powder)

4 cups powdered sugar

Top layer:

8oz (8 squares) semisweet or dark chocolate baking squares (NOT chocolate chips; they won’t melt properly)

1 tbsp. unsalted butter

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1. Make the base first. Combine the first 6 ingredients in a large saucepan. Heat and stir over medium-low heat until mixture is smooth. Remove from heat. Stir in the graham crumbs and coconut. Pack firmly into ungreased 9×13” pan. Place in the refrigerator while you prepare the middle layer.

2. To make the middle layer, beat all four ingredients together in a medium bowl until smooth. Spread evenly over the first layer. Chill for at least 45 minutes.

3. When the second layer is chilled, make the top layer. Melt the chocolate and butter in a small bowl at 50% power in microwave. Microwave for about 1½ minutes, then stir thoroughly. Microwave another 30 seconds or longer if needed, stirring frequently. Spread fairly evenly over middle layer. Chill for 1 hour, then score chocolate with a sharp knife (aka make shallow cuts that will prevent your chocolate from cracking later) and return to fridge to chill completely before cutting into bars. Keep refrigerated until you’re ready to serve.

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nanaimo bars canadian dessert

Red Velvet Fourth of July Cupcakes

red velvet fourth of july cupcake stars

Have you thought about the fact that we’re days away from July, the SEVENTH month of 2013? Where did the first half of this year go?!

red velvet fourth of july cupcakes stars

This also means we are rapidly approaching the Fourth of July! Just for you all, I made these cupcakes in advance so you can try your hand at them for your own July 4th celebrations. Just for you, I endured the puzzled looks of my professors and fellow grad students, who weren’t sure if I had just gotten the dates mixed up (“You do know the Fourth of July is on July 4, right?”) or if I was feeling suddenly patriotic (perhaps as a celebration of the recent SCOTUS rulings?). Just for you, I stayed up way past my bedtime to make these cupcakes and stars, then woke up early to cut out each red and white striped cupcake wrapping, whip up a batch of beautiful blue frosting, and assemble these star-spangled cuties. I did all of this so you can impress your family and friends at your own parties. So please, try these out and let me know how they are received!

fourth of july star spangled red velvet cupcakes

Reasons why I am extra excited about these cupcakes:

  1. I am utterly obsessed with the ease and beauty of adding chocolate decorations to everything (see: my last two posts).
  2. I found these red and white striped cupcake wrappers at You Make Do. For only $1, you get a pdf download of three wrappers with different stripe sizes, and can print off as many as you want! The only downside is you have to individually cut them out, but it’s much cheaper than purchasing pre-made striped wrappers.
  3. I finally ordered some large Wilton tips for decorating cupcakes, and I am completely in love with them. Frosting these cupcakes was such a cinch and so fun. You’ll be seeing more cupcakes on here now that I can actually make them look pretty! If you’re interested, I got: 1M, 2D, 6B, and 2A. A large coupler helps so you can easily switch between decorating tips for the same bag of frosting.
  4. I got a soft gel paste set from Americolor that is absolutely gorgeous (did you see that red velvet above? and how about the vibrant blue frosting?!). I may or may not be regularly pulling the box down from my cupboard just to gaze lovingly at the sweet little bottles of so many beautiful colors just begging to be used…

red and white stripes cupcake blue frosting stars

I’m usually a normal human being. I promise.

july 4 cupcakes american flag

I searched for cupcakes like this when the idea popped into my head, but couldn’t find anything. I found loads of red white and blue cupcakes, cupcakes with sprinkles, swirled cupcakes, american flag cupcakes, etc. but nothing quite like what I wanted. Which is surprising, because these cupcakes are designed to resemble American flags: red and white stripes on the cupcake wrapper, red velvet cupcakes, and blue frosting with white stars on top. Maybe someone’s done this already and I just couldn’t find it? Either way, I am quite pleased with how these turned out and hope you like them, too!

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RED VELVET STAR-SPANGLED CUPCAKES

Makes: 24 cupcakes

Red velvet cupcakes:

Barely adapted from Annie’s Eats, originally from Saveur

2 1/2 cups cake flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 tsp. baking soda

2 tbsp. cocoa powder

1 tsp. salt

2 large eggs

1½ cups vegetable oil

1 cup buttermilk

3/4 tsp. red food coloring gel (liquid requires 2 tbsp.)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. distilled white vinegar

Buttercream frosting:

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

3-4 cups powdered sugar

2-3 tbsp. milk or heavy cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract

a pinch of salt

a few drops of blue food coloring gel

Stars:

~8 oz white chocolate chips

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1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line cupcake pans with foil cupcake liners (paper will work, but the grease will stain your red & white outer wrappers more).

2. In a medium bowl, combine the cake flour, sugar, baking soda, cocoa powder and salt; whisk to blend. In a separate bowl using an electric hand mixer, combine the eggs, vegetable oil, buttermilk, food coloring, vanilla and vinegar. Beat on medium speed until well blended. Gradually mix in the dry ingredients on low speed and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.

3. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared liners. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 18 minutes.  Let cool in the pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

4. While the cupcakes are baking and/or cooling, make the star decorations. Lay wax paper down on a moveable flat surface (cookie sheets, cutting boards, etc.). Place chocolate in a microwave-safe plastic bowl (not glass). Microwave in 10-second bursts, stirring after every burst. Between 3-5 rounds, you should be able to stir until smooth; you can microwave for additional 5-second bursts once it’s smooth, but do not over-heat! This video by How To Cook That provides a fantastic tutorial for this process. Put the chocolate in a plastic bag and snip off just the tip (don’t cut off too much). Pipe stars of various sizes onto the wax paper, making sure to add a thick “stem” to one of the bottom points (at least 2 cm) that will stick in the cupcake and hold the stars up. I made 3 stars per cupcake for a total of 72 stars, plus a few extras in case I broke any. Put the chocolate stars in the refrigerator to harden up.

5. When you’re ready to assemble the cupcakes, make the frosting. Beat the softened butter, vanilla, salt, and blue food coloring gel together until uniform. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, adding milk or cream as necessary to reach your desired consistency. If you decide to add extra blue food coloring, make sure you mix it in evenly. Scrape the sides of the bowl often.

6. Put the cupcakes in their red and white striped cupcake wrappers. Fill a decorating bag with frosting. Pipe frosting in large swirls on each cupcake, switching decorating tips throughout if you want a mix like I have here. When all cupcakes are frosted, remove the chocolate stars from the refrigerator and gently push them into the tops of the cupcakes.

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red white and blue stars and stripes

Beautiful and easy – my favorite. These sweet cupcakes will make you look like a professional cupcake decorator even though we all picked up paper-cutting and star-drawing skills before kindergarden. They’re just so cute, with the vibrant colors and patriotic vibe!

wilton frosting tips cupcakes

red white and blue cupcakes stars stripes

Have a wonderful Fourth of July!

Musical Brownies

Is this some sort of strange version of musical chairs, where everyone runs around in a circle and when the music stops you must eat a brownie or else you’re out – except there are fewer brownies than people, and each time new brownies are added in smaller and smaller numbers, so the goal is to stay in the longest and therefore get to eat the most brownies?

music note brownies

No, it’s not. I’m really sorry.

white chocolate brownies

But if that is ever made into a game, I promise you: I will win.

Particularly if they are these brownies.

treble clef brownies

Remember the “omg drool just-like-box-mix” cocoa brownies I told you about earlier? Well, this time they’re getting an upgrade. Same amazing brownies, but topped with buttercream frosting and chocolate musical note garnishes. Although you really should be thinking “Brilliant!! I must make these immediately!”, if you are instead wondering why I would ever do this, then 1) stop questioning my genius ideas, and 2) my reason is that I needed to bake something for a blues dance. Blues → blue frosting, dance → music → music note garnishes. Compris?

music note dessert

I might just encourage (*ahem* force…) my future children to join band PURELY so I can sell these at band bake-sale fundraisers. Because, let’s be honest with ourselves here: who could avoid these temptress brownies?! That’s right. No one. You’re welcome, future child’s band, for all the money I will raise for you. You’re welcome.

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MUSICAL BROWNIES

Cocoa brownies:

Recipe (barely adapted) from Smitten Kitchen, which Deb adapted from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet

10 tbsp. (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup + 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 large eggs, cold

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

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 (blue for these; any color would work)

Chocolate garnishes:

6 oz semisweet chocolate (or milk or dark)

6 oz white chocolate

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1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Push a sheet of parchment paper (or aluminum foil) into an 8×8-inch square baking pan; it won’t stay very well, but that’s fine – just make sure the edges and bottom are all covered. When you add the batter later, it’ll push the parchment paper into place.

2. Combine the butter, sugars, cocoa, and salt in a medium bowl (heat-safe) and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir together gently until as well-mixed as you can get it, then microwave an additional 15 seconds. Stir together until thick and completely mixed. The batter should be warm to the touch; additional, short bursts of microwave time (don’t burn it!) may be necessary to get the batter warm.

3. Stir in vanilla extract then add eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously. When the batter is shiny and well-mixed, add the flour. Stir until it’s all mixed in, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes (incorporating air gives your brownies some “lift” and ensures they aren’t too flat/dense).

4. Pour into the parchment paper-lined pan and spread evenly. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out just slightly moist with batter.

5. While the brownies are cooking, make the chocolate garnishes. Lay wax paper down on a moveable flat surface (cookie sheets, cutting boards, etc.). Place chocolate in a microwave-safe plastic bowl (not glass). Microwave in 10-second bursts, stirring after every burst. Between 3-5 rounds, you should be able to stir until smooth; you can microwave for additional 5-second bursts once it’s smooth, but do not over-heat! You want the chocolate to stay “in temper” as much as possible. This video by How To Cook That provides a fantastic tutorial for this process (note that I used chocolate chips instead of chocolate shavings; it still worked). Put the chocolate in a plastic bag and snip off just the tip (don’t cut off too much). Pipe different music notes, treble clefs, etc. onto the wax paper, making sure to add a thick “stem” to the bottom (at least 2 cm) that will stick in the brownie and hold the design up. Put chocolate garnishes in the refrigerator to harden up.

6. When the brownies are done cooking, cool them completely (I put mine in the freezer for about 30 minutes) and then lift the paper + brownies out and set aside.

7. Once the brownies are completely cooled, make the frosting. 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 to reach the color you’re looking for. Put the frosting into a piping bag with any decorating tip you like.

8. Cut the brownies into ~25 small squares and then pipe frosting onto each brownie. Gently inset a music note into every brownie, holding the garnish by its base so you don’t snap the top off while you’re pushing it down.

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white chocolate musical brownie

I was so smitten with the way these turned out, I took them up to our balcony for a mini photo shoot. Here you can see our incredible view (and more brownies, of course):

musical brownies balcony

sunset and brownies

 

In case you’re curious, these were a huge hit and did not last long before every last one was snatched up by a happy dancer. Not bad for something that’s super easy to make in under two hours! You could easily top them with any other garnish (stars, hearts, simple logos, etc.). Get creative!

Chocolate Quintet Cake

(Kelsey’s note: the chocolate cake insisted on writing his own post today. I would have resisted, but I was too busy eating rich, moist, over-the-top chocolatey cake and falling into a deep, sugar-induced coma that I couldn’t think straight. I apologize if he says anything… strange.)

best ever rich chocolate cake overload

Hey there. Thanks for stopping by. I know there are a lot of cakes out there, and you have plenty of options, so I appreciate you taking the time to figure out if we could be right for each other. You’re probably used to fairly normal chocolate cakes by now, but I assure you that I am not your average cake. If you give me a chance, I’ll help you bring some excitement back into your life. A little fudge, some ganache, chocolate garnishes – just to keep life interesting, you know? Some of us try to push the boundaries a bit. Maybe we could push boundaries together?

chocolate garnishes decorations

I guess I should tell you a bit about me. My favorite color is brown, but I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite shade. I prefer cooler climates, since the heat makes me feel like I’m melting. I’m super rich, and there’s a lot of me to go around. There’s never a dull moment with me: I’m the total opposite of dry. All I need is a tall, cool glass of milk to make my life complete.

rich chocolate cake

I’ll give you some of my specifics, and then let’s get back to discussing how we could be so good together… 

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MY FAVORITE 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

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

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CHOCOLATE FUDGE FILLING

Halved from Annie’s Eats, which she adapted from David Lebovitz

6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

1 1/2 tbsp. light corn syrup

2 1/4 tbsp. unsalted butter

3/4 cup heavy cream

(+ powdered sugar if you have consistency issues like I did)

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CHOCOLATE FROSTING

Adapted from Cathy Lowe on the Food Network

3 cups powdered sugar

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

3-4 tbsp. heavy cream

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CHOCOLATE GANACHE

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

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

2 tbsp. light corn syrup

1/2 cup heavy cream

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CHOCOLATE GARNISHES

Inspired by How To Cook That (← this link takes you to her fascinating YouTube video on making chocolate garnishes)

6 oz milk chocolate (or any kind of chocolate)

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Overview:

Make the cake; while it’s in the oven, make the chocolate fudge filling. Put the filling in the refrigerator. Make the chocolate garnishes and put these in the refrigerator. At some point, the cake will come out of the oven. After letting it cool on the counter for a bit, stick it in the refrigerator/freezer. {about 1-2 hours later} When the fudge filling is thick and the cakes are completely cool, whip up the chocolate frosting and assemble everything. Stick the cake in the refrigerator while you make the chocolate ganache. Remove the cake to pour the ganache over the top and down the sides. Finish off with the chocolate garnishes and refrigerate until about an hour before you serve the cake.

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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, line the bottom with circles of parchment or waxed paper, and grease the paper.

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. Put the cakes in the freezer for at least half an hour before you frost them.

Directions to make the chocolate fudge filling:

1. Combine the chocolate, corn syrup, and butter in a heat-safe bowl. Set aside.

2. Heat the cream on the stove until it begins to boil. Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate mix. Let sit for 1 minute and then stir until smooth and there are no lumps remaining.

3. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, removing every 15-30 minutes to stir (to make sure it cools evenly).

*Note: my filling never thickened up, which I think might be because I removed the cream from the heat too soon. If you have this issue, too, simply pour the chilled chocolate mix in a bowl and beat in powdered sugar until it becomes filling-consistency: thick, fluffy, and holds its shape.

Directions to make the chocolate garnishes:

1. Lay wax paper down on a moveable flat surface (cookie sheets, cutting boards, etc.).

2. Place chocolate in a microwave-safe plastic bowl (not glass). Microwave in 10-second bursts, stirring after every burst. Between 3-5 rounds, you should be able to stir until smooth; you can microwave for additional 5-second bursts once it’s smooth, but do not over-heat! You want the chocolate to stay “in temper” as much as possible. This video by How To Cook That provides a fantastic tutorial for this process (note that I used chocolate chips instead of chocolate shavings; it still worked).

3. Put the chocolate in a plastic bag and snip off just the tip (don’t cut off too much). Pipe whatever designs you want on the wax paper, making sure to add a thick “stem” to the bottom that will stick in the cake and hold the design up. Put chocolate garnishes in the refrigerator to harden up.

Directions to make the chocolate frosting:

1. Whisk together the powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Set aside.

2. In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and 1 cup of the sugar mix. Beat in 1 tbsp. of cream and 1 more cup of the sugar mix; repeat until all the sugar is incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat until fluffy. Add more cream or powdered sugar if needed to bring the frosting to a good spreading consistency.

Directions to make the chocolate ganache:

*Make this once your cake is already assembled — see below!*

1. Combine the chocolate and corn syrup in a microwave-safe bowl and heat in 15-second bursts, stirring each time until it’s smooth and all the chocolate is melted. Whisk in the heavy cream and stir until completely smooth.

2. 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.

Assemble the cake:

1. Place strips of wax paper in a circle on your cake stand or plate. Place one of the cake rounds down so that the strips are sitting just underneath the edges of the cake and sticking out (to catch drips and keep your plate pretty).

2. Slather half of the fudge filling on top of the cake round. Make sure you push it all the way to the edges and spread it evenly. Place a second cake round, top down, on top of the filling. Slather the remaining fudge filling on this cake and top with the third, and final, cake round.

3. Crumb coat the entire outside of the cake. Put the cake in the fridge for 10 minutes. Remove and generously coat the entire cake in frosting.

4. Make the chocolate ganache. While it’s still warm, pour over top of the cake and gently push sections off the side of the cake so it dribbles down. You can either pour this over the entire top of the cake (in which case, use all the ganache), or just on the outer rim like I did (use about 3/4 of the ganache). I used an offset spatula to smooth it into a pretty ring.

5. Carefully stick the chocolate garnishes into your cake. Refrigerate until an hour before you wish to serve the cake. When you cut this cake, it’s especially important to wipe the knife clean after each slice because all the different types of chocolate will stick to your knife and make it difficult to cut pretty, non-mangled slices.

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Are you still with me? Good. Because you’ll find that there’s even more to me once you take the time to get to know me. Underneath my shell, I’m bursting with different layers, flavors, and textures. There’s more to me than meets the eye, which is saying a lot considering how I am pretty easy on the eyes…

rich chocolate cake

That said, don’t go thinking I’m some stunningly gorgeous but intellectually-hollow cake. I’m not just a pretty face! I’ve got the brains to match. Just look at this photo of me with books. See how intelligent I am?

rich chocolate cakeI think this might be true love, you and me!

German Chocolate Cake

A conversation from a month or two ago when Will, the new postdoc, arrived. 

Moi (all chipper smiles): Will! Welcome to the department! It’s so nice to meet you! Just out of curiosity, when is your birthday? And what kind of cake would you want?

Will (confused): Um, nice to meet you, too? (This girl is crazy.) It’s June 7th. And, uh, I don’t like cake…

Moi (smile gone): WHAT.

Will (hesistant): It’s never been my thing.

Moi (serious and slightly upset): But… that’s not an option.

Will (apologetic): Actually, I guess I like German chocolate cake. Does that work?

Moi (all smiles again): Oh! I’ve never made one of those! This will be fun!!

german choc cake

In retrospect, I suppose insulting someone’s (bizarre and inexcusable) aversion to cake isn’t quite the best way to introduce them to the department. But luckily we found a happy agreement: I got to try my hand at German chocolate cake and Will got a birthday cake that he actually enjoyed. Perfect!

german choc cake 2

By the way, lest you think I’m some insane (yes) jerk (hopefully not), Will and I are friends now. So no hard feelings about our contrasting views on the merits of cake. Because unless you’re allergic to pecans or coconut or chocolate or happiness, how could a view like this fail to bring people together:

german choc cake slice

If you like German chocolate cake (or need to make one because a cake-hater has requested it), this should be the first recipe you grab. It’s the perfect fluffy, not-too-chocolatey cake with a fantastically moist coconut-pecan filling, finished off with a chocolate icing so impressively rich and delicious I used it on the black & white cake just a few days later (posted out of order, apologies). I’m not qualified to make such bold claims as “this is the best German chocolate cake ever,” seeing as it’s the first one I’ve ever made and, since it’s not usually the type of cake I reach for first, I don’t have a lot to compare it to. But I will say that this cake has hoards of impressive, positive affirmations on Annie’s blog – AND it got a thumbs-up from Will. Draw your own conclusions.

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GERMAN CHOCOLATE CAKE

From Annie’s Eats, which she adapted from David Lebovitz 

2 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 tbsp. water
4 large eggs, separated into egg whites and yolks
16 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1½ cups sugar, divided
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract

RUM SYRUP
1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
2 tbsp. dark rum

COCONUT PECAN FILLING
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
6 tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces
½ tsp.  salt
1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1 1/3 cups sweetened coconut, toasted

CHOCOLATE ICING
10 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp. light corn syrup
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream

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Make the cake:

1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Prepare two 9-inch round cake pans: grease the sides and bottom of the pans, line with a circle of parchment paper, and grease the top of the paper. Flour the bottom and sides of the pans. Set aside.

2. Using a double boiler (or the microwave in 15-second bursts), melt the bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate with the water, stirring until smooth. Set aside until the mixture cools to room temperature.

3. In the clean, dry bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on high speed until they form soft droopy peaks. Slowly add ¼ cup of the sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Transfer the egg whites to a separate bowl and return the mixer bowl to the mixer base.

4. In the bowl the electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter with 1¼ cups of the sugar. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate. Mix in the egg yolks one at a time, scraping down the bowl as needed.

5. In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix half of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture on low speed just until incorporated. Mix in the buttermilk and vanilla extract until combined. Mix in the remaining dry ingredients just until incorporated. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold about a third of the egg whites into the batter to lighten it. Then fold in the remaining egg whites just until incorporated.

6. Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans and bake in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the cake pans for 10 minutes, then remove from the pans and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Make the rum syrup:

While the cakes are cooling, combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and heat until the sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Off the heat, stir in the rum.

Make the coconut pecan filling:

1. Combine the cream, sugar and egg yolks in a medium saucepan. Put the butter, pecans and coconut in a mixing bowl; set aside.

2. Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of a spoon (170-175° F.)

3. Pour the hot custard immediately into the pecan coconut mixture and stir until the butter is melted. Cool completely to room temperature. The mixture will thicken as it cools. If it doesn’t thicken up, add additional coconut until you are satisfied with the consistency.

Make the chocolate icing:

1. Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl with the corn syrup and butter; set aside.

2. Heat the cream on the stove just until it begins to boil. Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate. Let stand for 1 minute, then stir until smooth.

3. Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator or freezer until firm enough for decorating (at least 2 hours, can take more).

Assemble the cake:

1. Carefully cut the two cake layers in half horizontally to yield four layers.

2. Set the first layer on a cake circle, cut side up. Brush well with the rum syrup (seriously! Be generous – this makes it moist and delicious). Spread ¾ cup of the coconut filling over the cake layer, making sure to reach the edges.

3. Set another cake layer on top of the filling. Repeat, using the syrup to brush each cake layer, then spreading ¾ cup of the coconut filling over each layer, including the top.

4. Ice the sides of the cake with the chilled chocolate icing. Pipe a decorative border around the top layer, encircling the coconut topping.

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And there you have it: delicious, moist, flavorful German chocolate cake. Just for the heck of it, let’s really get in here. Doesn’t this make you want to lick the screen?!

german close up

(No? Just me? I’m the only one currently cleaning their monitor with their tongue? Oh… c’est embarrassant…)

Black & White Cake

Before I recently moved to my new apartment, I had no idea how I was going to get everything over. Being in the middle of end-of-semester stress, I didn’t have time or energy to think about logistics. I kind of just hoped it would work out somehow. Because that’s how responsible people operate, right? Just fail to plan and keep your fingers crossed that something will come along. It’s exhilarating! (←lies)

Lo and behold, I have some pretty darn amazing people in my life. Alex and her family helped me load and transport my larger pieces using the U-Haul they had rented. They were literally heaven-sent! I couldn’t have made it without them. Furniture moved, I now had to bring over all the “things” I left behind. I didn’t have my bike yet, so I thought briefly about walking stuff over. I estimated I could finish within a week, if I never slept or took any breaks. The appeal factor for this plan was dismal. Luckily, Tommy (ZipCar member) and Dave came to my rescue. I packed up my stuff in bags and boxes, and we transported it to the new apartment… only to find that the elevator was broken.

And of course my new place is on the top floor.

Much laughter ensued as we carried everything up all four flights of stairs. And by “we” I mean “the boys,” because while I was carrying things like lamps and pillows, they were competing to see who could carry the most weight – and I’m pretty good at packing things to be obnoxiously heavy (hey! I wasn’t thinking that the elevator would break!).

In addition to a much-deserved dinner and drinks, I promised the boys a cake for all their assistance. Plus, it’d be perfect because Tommy could come back (with Erika!) and see the place once it was all set up and pretty. I got the requests (Tommy likes chocolate; Erika likes white cake; Dave was down for anything) and put them together to create this:

Black and white cake

Lest you think I simply frosted this cake to be half buttercream and half chocolate frosting, please observe the complete division of flavors:

black and white cut

Yes, this is a cake that is literally half chocolate and half plain white. Yes, I did eat two pieces. Naturally. Who wouldn’t?! You have to try both sides! This cake was a solid winner, although we could barely get through the slices. You see, Erika works in a fancy bakery and is therefore extraordinarily talented at cutting slices. Not just any slices, but thick, decadent works of art. Evidence:

WhiteCakeSlice

Can I please never be in charge of cutting my own cakes ever again? Erika, you are officially hired! Pay will consist of cake slices, and you’ll have to cut them yourself, but hot damn look at how pretty that is…

We mostly all agreed that, while both halves were delicious, the chocolate cake wins because it’s so over-the-top rich and moist. In fact, I’m tempted to make an entire cake of the chocolate side, because the “frosting” is more like a rich fudge ganache that blends seamlessly together with the cake to provide a death-by-chocolate sort of experience. That is not to say the white cake side wasn’t good; it was soft and delicate as white cakes are, and the buttercream tastes like sugary goodness. But I accidentally overcooked the cake (still adjusting to the new oven and I’m convinced it runs too hot), so it bordered on being too dry. Watch your baking times carefully, and you’ll be sure to impress with a cake that pleases both sides of the chocolate vs. plain cake war!

Finally, before I get to the recipe, some notes about orchestrating the creation of this masterpiece without taking all day:

  • I recommend making the chocolate cake first; while it’s in the oven, make the chocolate frosting. This goes in the fridge to harden up.
  • When your chocolate cakes come out of the oven, let them cool for at least 10 minutes before inverting them onto a cooling rack. Wash up your cake pans (if you don’t have four; if you have four pans, you can make the white cake while the chocolate one is in the oven) and get them ready for your white cakes.
  • Make the white cakes and pop them in the oven. While they are cooking, put the chocolate cakes in the freezer and give the chocolate frosting a stir to make sure it’s cooling evenly. This is good time to tidy up the kitchen, because it probably looks like a science experiment gone wrong at this point in the process.
  • When the white cakes come out, let them cool for about 10 minutes and then move them to wire rack and put them in the fridge to cool off a bit (they’re studier than the chocolate cake, so they don’t need to be placed in the freezer). Prepare your cake stand (put down strips of wax paper in a circle that you can remove after decorating – this prevents frosting and crumbs from getting all over your stand).
  • Make the buttercream frosting. Remove the white cakes and cut them in half. Stack these, alternating cake layers with buttercream frosting. When the cake is fully stacked, slather the flat, cut side with a thick wall of buttercream (if the buttercream has “dried” a bit by this point, blend in some extra butter (softened) or milk to make it “sticky” again).
  • Remove the chocolate cake and frosting. Stack these, pushing them against the wall of buttercream as you go. Alternate cake layers with chocolate frosting. You’ll have to cut the last half-circle so that it’s even with the white cake side (you don’t want your cake to be too lopsided!).
  • Put the cake (now with the white and chocolate cake halves stuck together, but no frosting on the outside) in the fridge for 10 minutes.
  • Remove the cake. Frost the chocolate side with the chocolate frosting, then frost the white side with the buttercream frosting (the buttercream is easier to work with and is thicker than the chocolate frosting, so it should go on second).
  • Finish off with any decorations! I used white and brown sprinkles on opposite sides of the cake to tie it together, but feel free to get creative!

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BLACK AND WHITE CAKE

For the 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

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

For the chocolate frosting (but really more like fudge ganache):

12 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

3 tbsp. light corn syrup

4 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter

1 1/2 cup heavy cream

For the white cake:

Adapted slightly from Group Recipes

1 cup + 1 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

2 cups granulated sugar

6 large eggs

2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

2 tbsp. milk

For the buttercream frosting:

1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened

1-2 tsp. vanilla extract

1-2 tbsp. heavy cream

3-5 cups powdered sugar

(Sorry I don’t have better estimates on these, I basically just combine things until I like the taste and consistency!)

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Make the chocolate cake:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottoms and sides of two 9-inch round cake pans. 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.

3. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for 10-20 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.

Make the chocolate frosting/ganache:

Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl with the corn syrup and butter. Heat the cream just until it begins to boil.  Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate.  Let stand for 1 minute, then stir until smooth. Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator or freezer until firm enough for decorating. (Mine took about 2+ hours to thicken up satisfactorily.)

Make the white cake:

1. Your oven should already be at 350 degrees F, but if you are doing this at a later time, preheat it now. Grease the bottoms and sides of two 9-inch round cake pans. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs, two at a time, and then stir in the vanilla.

3. Combine the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl and then gradually add to the creamed mixture until well-mixed. Blend in the milk.

4. Pour into the prepared cake pans, dividing evenly. Bake for 30-40 minutes (the recipe calls for 40-45; mine were done at 30 – it just depends on your oven, and I’m still adjusting to our new one), or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out just barely clean. Let cool in the pans for 10-20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks and let cool completely. Put them in the fridge to cool even faster.

Make the buttercream 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. (I used a hand mixer this time because I moved to a new place and won’t have a stand mixer until I can ship mine over from California; it worked just fine, but the frosting was a bit thicker and less fluffy than I would prefer. That’s the magic that only a stand mixer can bring!)

Assemble everything:

1. Starting with the white cakes, cut them in half so you have four half circles. Stack them, alternating cake layers with buttercream frosting. When the cake is fully stacked, slather the flat, cut side with a thick wall of buttercream (if the buttercream has dried a bit by this point, blend in some extra butter (softened) or milk to make it “sticky” again).

2. Next, work with the chocolate cake. Cut them into half circles, and stack them, alternating cake with frosting. This time, though, push each layer against the wall of buttercream as you go. You’ll have to cut the last half-circle so that it’s even with the white cake side (you don’t want your cake to be too lopsided!).

3. Put the cake (now with the white and chocolate cake halves stuck together, but no frosting on the outside) in the fridge for at least 10 minutes. Remove and frost the chocolate side with the chocolate frosting, then the white side with the buttercream frosting (the buttercream is easier to work with and is thicker than the chocolate frosting, so it should go on second). Finish off with any decorations you like. I used white and brown sprinkles on opposite sides of the cake to tie it together, but feel free to get creative!

black and white top view

Sprinkles-Coated Chocolate Cake

sprinkles cake side

 

Well, hello there! So good to see you again.

A few updates, since I’ve been gone so long:

1) The past few months were utter insanity. I didn’t have time to bake, or when I did, it was simple chocolate chip cookies so I didn’t bother sharing with y’all. It was rough: I was so stressed, I couldn’t spare any time to bake. But because I wasn’t baking, I didn’t have a way to properly relax and release stress, so the stress just compounded. Not a fun cycle.

2) I moved! This new place? There are no words to describe its perfection. Huge and spacious, 2 bedroom/2 bathroom (I HAVE MY OWN BATHROOM!!), a private patio deck facing west with killer sweeping sunset views (and coincidentally, looking toward California – lest I forget my return plan!), floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room, beautiful wood floors, a ginormous closet (I could sleep in there comfortably), and a kitchen that is drool-worthy. I’ll post a picture sometime so you can see how glorious it is!

3) We bought a plant for our apartment and named him Martin. He’s an umbrella plant from the tropics and brings some greatly appreciated life to the living room:

martin

4) I finally got a bike! It’s yellow and vintage perfection (3-speed from 1972). I named her Susie. (I’ve been on a naming kick lately. Don’t worry about it. I think it’s a stress-coping mechanism…?)

yellowbike

Summary: I’m sorry I’ve been MIA! I’m sure you did just fine in my absence, but I do apologize. I’m so thankful for summer’s arrival and some time to finally get back into baking and posting again. Although the humidity has me cursing my decision to move here. What happened to weather perfection?! Oh, right. That’s California. *sigh* 4-5 more years…

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Enough of that. Let’s talk cake. Specifically, let’s talk sprinkles on cake. Like this:

sprinkles cake

Drooling yet? I am. But then again, I have a full-blown addiction to sprinkles. So when I noticed a giant jar of sprinkles on the “free” table in the kitchen, I snatched them immediately and began dreaming up this cake. What resulted is a beautiful, deceptively simple, and delicious cake: my favorite chocolate cake + buttercream frosting + chocolate ganache + loads of colorful sprinkles? Yes. I’ll have a huge slice, thankyouverymuch.

By the time I remembered to take a "slice" photo, there was barely any cake left. THAT is how tasty this cake is!

By the time I remembered to take a “slice” photo, there was barely any cake left. THAT is how tasty this cake is!

I’m not going to wax poetic here. This cake needs no justification. Either you adore sprinkles (like me) and will make this purely because LOOK AT IT, or you don’t care for sprinkles and you’ll simply click away from this recipe. Either response is fine.

(Except if you don’t like sprinkles, there’s something wrong with you and you should probably see someone about that.)

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SPRINKLES-COATED CHOCOLATE CAKE

For the 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

For the 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

For the chocolate ganache:

From Smitten Kitchen

10 oz semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (or a bag of chocolate chips – I won’t tell)

2 tbsp. light corn syrup

1/2 cup half-and-half

Finally, the most important ingredient and the star of this show:

SPRINKLES!! (about 1/2 to 1 cup)

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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.

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.

Make the chocolate ganache:

NOTE: Do not make this until you are ready to pour it on top. You’ll want to pour this while it’s still warm, so wait until you’re ready for it.

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. (Cheater’s shortcut: microwave in short, 15-30 second intervals for a maximum of 1-1.5 minutes and stir until smooth.)

Assemble everything:

1. Place one round of cake on your cake tray or stand (set it on top of wax paper strips so you can remove these at the end and have a clean stand!). Spread frosting on top, pushing it all the way to the edges. Repeat with the other two rounds. Coat the entire cake in a thin layer of frosting (aka a crumb coat) and put the cake in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes. When the crumb coat has hardened a bit, pull the cake back out and generously coat it with the remaining frosting.

2. Pour a bunch of sprinkles in your hand, and then gently press them all over the sides of the cake (not on top – that’s going to be covered with chocolate ganache). I used an upward sweeping motion, starting at the bottom with just the edge of my hand and slowly moving my hand up the cake, tipping more sprinkles against the cake as I moved up. Wash your hands as needed to keep them from getting covered with frosting.

3. When the cake sides are covered with sprinkles, make the ganache. Let it cool a little; while it’s still warm, carefully pour it over the top of your frosted cake. Gently push small sections of the chocolate off the top so it drips down the sides in long lines. Take any remaining sprinkles you have and decorate the top with them (as you can see in the photo above, I made a circle).

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And that’s it! You now have a very festive, fun cake perfect for birthdays (what this one was used for) or graduation or anything else you want. You could even vary the cake or sprinkles to fit the mood (perhaps red, white, and blue for the upcoming Fourth of July?). Let me know if you find a creative way to dress up this cake! Enjoy!! 

 

Homemade Marshmallow Peeps

A fellow grad student in my department asked if I could make my own peeps for Easter.

Challenge? Accepted.

peeps1

I used this simple marshmallow recipe from Smitten Kitchen, originally from Gourmet 1998, and added a bit of red food coloring to make them pink. I also divided the marshmallows between the pan size she calls for and a smaller (about 5×7-inch) pan because I didn’t want the marshmallows to be too thick.

To make sure I got the look just right, James made a special bunny cookie cutter for me. This is the same guy who made the heart cookie cutter for Valentine’s Day; crazy talented, right?! If you don’t have an equally remarkable labmate with impressive machine shop skills, I’m really sorry. You’re missing out. You’ll have to find a bunny cookie cutter somewhere or use a different shape. Hearts for Valentine’s Day? Clovers for St. Patrick’s Day (green food coloring, of course)? Red and blue and white stars for Fourth of July? Orange pumpkins for Halloween? The possibilities are endlessly intriguing. Conversely, we could see if James is interested in a side business selling custom cookie cutters… That is, assuming I’m willing to share my cookie cutter-making virtuoso. Big assumption.

bunny

Look at that seam… I have no idea how he does it, but I’m not going to question the wizardry so long as it keeps producing this sort of magic!

After punching out each bunny, I rolled the edges in pink and purple sugar sprinkles. Oh, and make sure you lightly grease the cookie cutter before you try cutting out marshmallows! (I may have learned that one the hard way…)

Finally, dip a toothpick in melted chocolate to dab on eyes and a nose. Cute, cute, cute!

peeps3

It’s so easy, I’m not going to give you the recipe – follow the Smitten Kitchen link to make the marshmallows and then come back here for directions on how to do the rest. Soft, fluffy, and sugary homemade marshmallow peeps? That completely blow regular, plastic-y peeps out of the water? Done and done. No more store-bought peeps for moi!

I hope you all had a lovely Easter. And please let me know if you try a different holiday or celebration version of these!

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.