Pistachio Pudding Cake

When someone successfully defends their PhD thesis in our department, we have a much-loved tradition of making them a personalized cake that ties into their research topic. This week, someone from my group defended, so of course it was cake baking time!

I did some reconnaissance at his practice talk for decoration inspiration, and quickly noticed something distinctly unique: every time “organic aerosol” was mentioned, this little face showed up:

OA_face

OA_venn

He had worked up his own silly image to reference organic aerosol throughout his talk, and boy oh boy did that make decorating a cake easy! Because who wants a cake that looks like this?

OHExposure

No one. Sorry, Dr., it’s a lovely figure for a science paper, but cakes ought to be more fun!

(Well, okay, maybe that would make a very impressive and colorful cake… but I’m a one-woman show here, and holy moly does that look difficult to translate into a cake!! Round faces are much easier and more forgiving.)

Additionally, his research involves putting organic aerosol (not actually living things, just FYI for anyone out there who’s confused by the faces) into a UV-light chamber and “aging” it via oxidation:

OA_chamber

Which he hilariously compared to a tanning bed:

OA_tanningbed

So, BOOM. Theme ready for cake execution!! Only one thing remaining: colored frosting can sometimes be… suspicious. How much coloring do you really want to consume, right? Needing green frosting meant I was looking for a green-flavored item; mint and pistachio sprang to mind. After consuming a fair bit of mint ice cream (three cheers for ice cream for dinner!), I wasn’t feeling the mint cake. I WAS, however, very intrigued by the prospect of a pistachio cake (hello, new flavor I’ve never worked with before!). So, without further ado, the cake to celebrate our newly minted Dr:

PistachioCake

Those ridiculous purple-rolls-in-a-white-box are meant to represent the UV lights in the chamber (hence the label of “New Dr.’s organic aerosol Tanning Bed”)… cut a girl some slack, okay?! I tried my best! And despite the fact that it would be AWESOME, my lab mates wouldn’t let me bring the actual UV lights out of the lab. Apparently something about contamination, safety, blah blah etc… whatever. It would have been cool, and you know it.

IMG_1765

IMG_1759

IMG_1768

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

PISTACHIO PUDDING CAKE

*Courtesy of Karlynn Johnston at The Kitchen Magpie*

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons cornstarch

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

¾ cup unsalted butter, softened

1 ½ cups white granulated sugar

1 (99g) package of instant jello pistachio pudding mix

4 large eggs

¾ cup chopped pistachios (¼ cup reserved for topping, if you desire)

1 ¼ cup whole milk

⅓ cup canola or vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

green gel food coloring (if you want a brighter green)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour three (3) 8-inch round cake pans, or one (1) standard Bundt pan (12 cup capacity).

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

3. Using an electric mixer on medium speed with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add in the pistachio pudding mix and combine thoroughly.

4. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, making sure each is well mixed.

5. Mix in the chopped pistachios.

6. Combine the milk, oil, and vanilla extract in a bowl.

7. Starting with the dry ingredients, alternate pouring a third of the dry and wet ingredients into the bowl. Mix thoroughly after each addition. After the last addition (which should be wet), mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add a few drops of gel food coloring (before the 2 minute mix) if you’d like brighter green cake.

8. Pour the cake batter evenly into the three cake pans and bake for approximately 50 minutes. The cake is done when a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

9. Invert the cake on a baking rack to cool.

10. Frost with pistachio pudding buttercream icing when the cake is completely cool, and sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup of pistachios on top if desired.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

PISTACHIO BUTTERCREAM ICING

*Courtesy of Karlynn Johnston at The Kitchen Magpie*

½ cup salted butter, softened

½ cup milk

3 tablespoons pistachio pudding powder

~3 cups powdered sugar

green gel food coloring (if you want a brighter green)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

INSTRUCTIONS

1. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until light and fluffy.

2. In a small bowl, combine the milk and pudding mix until completely dissolved. This is very important! If it is not completely dissolved at this point, you will have gritty icing! And no one likes gritty icing.

3. Beat the pudding mixture into the butter completely. Add a few drops of gel food coloring at this point if you’d like brighter green icing.

4. Add in the powdered sugar slowly (about ½ cup at a time), beating in completely.

5. Chill for approximately 20 minutes to allow the jello and butter to set.

6. Decorate your cake! This makes about 2 cups of icing.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mmm pistachio cake… such an unusual, unexpected flavor. It was quite the hit with everyone! Even the doctor of the hour, who normally doesn’t care for cake, said it was very good. Success!

Next time you need to bake a cake, why not venture outside the realm of the obvious and try a pistachio cake? Most people have never eaten a pistachio cake before (me included), so if you’re going to break that wall down, you may as well do it with an exceptional recipe like this one (instead of most pistachio cake recipes that use a boxed cake mix). I promise you won’t regret it. It’s tout à fait délicieuse!

IMG_1767

Advertisements

Chocolate Chai Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

chocolate chai cake cream cheese frosting

Mm, chai tea, how are you so delicious? Warm in a mug or cool in a iced concoction, loaded with spices, sweetened up with sugar, creamed to perfection with milk… you are the stuff of dreams. Of hot sticky summer days and bitterly cold winter afternoons. Of quick escapes from the lab with friends, dashing to our favorite local coffee shop. Of fond memories and future adventures. You make my heart smile.

chocolate chai cake cream cheese frosting slice view

While I can’t say I’d eat this cake as often as I drink chai tea (but, HELLO: check out this epic guide for making your own chai tea!), I will say that this cake is incredible. Spicy and sweet, the subtle chocolate flavor is mostly lost to the warm, fall-flavored spices. Trust me when I say you won’t mind. My favorite part is the drool-worthy cinnamon cream cheese frosting, though, and this recipe will leave you with about a cup of extra frosting that is a perfect spread for graham crackers. This cake would be ideal for any fall or winter celebration (cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger are the stars of cold weather) as a unique alternate to pumpkin, gingerbread, etc. treats. Your guests will love you for sure!

Check out all those flecks of cinnamon in the frosting, and dusting the top! These are the little things that make life special.

Check out all those flecks of cinnamon in the frosting, and dusting the top! These are the little things that make life special.

This recipe comes from What Megan’s Making. She adapted a Taste of Home recipe for chocolate chai mini loaves and turned it into cupcakes. Brilliant! I doubled her ingredients and made it into this delicious cake. I’m pretty sure that however you choose to eat this, you’ll agree: masala chai spices are fantastic in baked goods!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

CHOCOLATE CHAI CAKE

4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

1 cup water

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 cups brown sugar
, packed

4 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla extract

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. cloves

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 cup sour cream

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

CINNAMON CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

16 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

4 tsp. vanilla extract

5 cups powdered sugar

Cinnamon, to taste

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Make the cake:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare three 9-inch cake pans by greasing the bottoms and sides, cutting out circles of parchment or wax paper and lining the bottoms of the pans, and then greasing the paper tops. Set aside.

2. Whisk together the flour, spices, baking soda, and salt in a bowl; set aside. Melt the chocolate and water together in a microwave; stir until smooth. Cool slightly.

3. In a large bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla, then chocolate mixture. Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture, alternating with the sour cream.

4. Divide the cake batter evenly between the three pans. Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes (rotate halfway through) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to a wire rack to cool completely.

Make the frosting:

1. Beat together the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth and well-mixed, about 2-3 minutes. Mix in the vanilla extract.  Gradually beat in the powdered sugar until completely incorporated.

2. Keep the mixer running while you sprinkle in cinnamon. Sample periodically and stop adding cinnamon when you can see flecks throughout and it tastes good. I probably added about a teaspoon when it was all said and done.

Assemble the cake:

1. Prepare your cake plate by placing small strips of wax paper in a circle about the size of your cake (this will catch the frosting spills and keep your plate looking pretty).

2. If necessary, use a serrated knife to level off the rounded tops of each cake. Place one of the cake rounds on the wax paper circle (the wax paper should be partially under the cake), with the serrated side facing up. Put a generous amount of frosting on top and smooth it out to an even layer. Put a second cake round on top and spread more frosting on generously; place the final cake round bottom-up so the top is smooth.

3. Spread a thin layer of frosting all over the sides and top of the cake. This is called a “crumb coat” and will effectively seal in all the crumbs, so when we frost “for real” later, it’ll look magnifique! Put the cake in the fridge for 10 minutes.

4. Remove the cake and frost with generous scoops of frosting, spreading it all over the sides and top. Leftover frosting (I had about a cup) can be eaten with a spoon or used as a dip for graham crackers, pretzels, etc. If you want, carefully sprinkle cinnamon on top of your cake for decoration.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

chai tea cake chocolate cream cheese frosting top

That’s it! All the flavors of chai tea wrapped up in one marvelous cake and perfectly paired with the best cinnamon cream cheese frosting. Your house will smell incredible, your taste buds will thank you, your guests will compliment, and you will beam!

Simple Birthday Bliss: Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting

yellow butter cake chocolate frosting

When I sat down on the bus this morning with this cake in my lap, two young girls behind me (around 9 or 10 years old) whispered to each other, “That’s a yummy-looking cake!” I smiled, turned around, and said, “I made it for my friend’s birthday! It’s a yellow cake with chocolate frosting!” They grinned at me and started chattering away. One of the girls, a cutie with chin-length brown hair and a smattering of freckles, told me about the desserts she’s made with her mom: a yellow cake, a chocolate cake, and chocolate chip cookies with strawberries (um, what?!). I told her I had never added strawberries to my cookies before, but that I would give it a try, and she lit up at that idea. She then offered, “You wanna know the secret to the best cakes and cookies no matter what?” She leaned closer to me conspiratorially and announced, “Lemon and vanilla! You just add lemon and vanilla to everything, even if it doesn’t call for it. That’s the way you get the best cakes!” I asked her a few more questions about this surprising secret, then turned to her friend who had been mostly silent up until now. This adorable girl, with curly blonde hair and petite glasses framing her big eyes, excitedly shared that her mom was “a CHEF!!” and could make “everything – cakes, pastries, cookies, pies, and lots of other things!” We chatted about her mom’s talents for a bit, and then another girl of about 16 or 17 years (I believe she was working the summer camp that these two were part of) chimed in that she had “made a chocolate cake with beets, and you couldn’t even taste the beets, it was just really moist and dense and awesome!” And just like that, the four of us were having a conversation – on a bus – about everything. The summer camp they were a part of, the languages they spoke, how I’m an engineer for work and baker by hobby, the best desserts we’ve ever had… My favorite part of all of this was how obvious it was that the preparation and eating of food had formed bonds, inspired admiration, and caused excitement in these girls’ lives. How happy they were, and how comfortable it was, to have a conversation with a stranger on the bus, all because of a cake!

And the thing is, this isn’t even the first time I’ve had people comment on my desserts. It’s nearly impossible to make the trek from apartment to work without having at least one random person comment on or joke about whatever I’m carrying. “Is that for me?” “How thoughtful – you knew it was my birthday!” “What kind of cake is that?” “Oh wow, that looks delicious!” “You’re going to share with me, right?” “What’s that for?” “Did you make that?” “I should probably taste test that for you…” “I’m so jealous of whoever gets that!” Clearly, there’s something about desserts that allows people to let down their guard and interact. Something that tips them off that it’s okay to talk, that no one’s going to look at them strangely or brush them off or turn away if they strike up a conversation. This is the power of cake. It makes strangers into friends, if only for the duration of a morning commute. And I love it.

 yellow white cake chocolate frosting

This cake is a very simple, traditional yellow cake with chocolate frosting per request for Anthony’s birthday. Well, actually, he originally requested a “life-size castle cake” that he “could walk into,” but alas, that was not to be. Maybe when he graduates… Can you even imagine how much flour, sugar, butter, eggs, etc. you’d go through to make that?! Not to mention all the structural issues inherent in making walls and roofing out of cake. There would have to be lots of reinforcement (boards? wood? poles??) and “glue” (some super strong frosting?). I’m not quite up for that challenge, yet! Simple and classic it had to be.

I found recipes on both Smitten Kitchen and Annie’s Eats that looked promising, and ended up going with Annie’s mostly because I had all the ingredients on hand. Just a few slight adjustments to try and make it extra moist, and I ended up with a nice medium-density: not too fluffy but definitely not heavy. The frosting was chocolatey, airy, and practically melting off the sides – I decorated this morning, so I never refrigerated it. Luckily, this “rustic” style of decorating (large swirly swoops of frosting) lent itself well for touching up melting sides. If you make this, keep it out of the sun and/or refrigerate it (although in the comments on Annie’s page, people mentioned issues where the frosting hardened too much in the refrigerator and wouldn’t soften even after it had been out for a while). As for the taste, it’s good but not great: it’s a classic yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Hard to mess up, hard to fall in love with. At least in my, make-it-as-rich-as-possible mindset. Still, for what it is, it’s pretty delicious.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

YELLOW CAKE

Recipe slightly adapted from Annie’s Eats, originally from Baking Illustrated.

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing pans

1½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting pans

2 cups cake flour

1 tbsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

2 cups granulated white sugar

4 large eggs

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup plain Greek yogurt or sour cream

1 cup milk

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

CHOCOLATE FROSTING

Recipe slightly adapted from Annie’s Eats, originally from Baking Illustrated.

1 lb. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

6 tbsp. Dutch-process cocoa powder

6 tbsp. boiling water

3 sticks (1½ cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup powdered sugar

Pinch of salt

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Make the cake:

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line the bottoms of two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper. Butter and flour the edges of the pans, tapping out the excess; set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder, and salt; whisk together and set aside.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed. Mix in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the milk. Beat each addition just until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently.

4. Divide the batter between the prepared baking pans. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until the cakes are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean, 35-40 minutes. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool ~20 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pans to help remove the cakes. Invert the cakes onto the rack and peel off the parchment. Let the cakes cool completely before frosting.

Make the frosting:

1. Place the chocolate in a plastic, microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 1 1/2 minutes. Stir well until the chocolate has melted and is smooth; you may need to microwave for additional 10-15 second bursts, stirring each time. Set aside and let cool to room temperature, about 25-30 minutes. In a small bowl, combine the cocoa powder and boiling water; stir until the cocoa is dissolved and then set aside.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, powdered sugar and salt on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Add the room-temperature melted chocolate; beat on low speed until combined, 1-2 minutes. Beat in the cocoa mixture until well blended. You may need to let it cool longer before using it to frost if it’s too runny at this point.

Assemble the cake:

1. Place one of the cake layers on a serving platter. Top with 1 cup of the chocolate frosting and smooth over the top of the cake.

2. Top with the second cake layer. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting as desired (I had some left over). And of course, decorate with sprinkles if you like happiness!

This is best if served the same day, but you can also keep it refrigerated, covered, for up to 3 days. Let the cake come to room temperature at least 30 minutes before serving.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

chocolate frosting sprinkles cake decorating

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… 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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…)

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!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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…)

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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

Decadent Triple-Layer Chocolate Cake (Gluten- and Dairy-Free!)

vegan gluten free chocolate cake

Our department is currently hosting a visiting graduate student from Norway. In addition to being one of the sweetest and most genuinely friendly people you’ll meet, he has Celiac disease, which means he can’t eat gluten. Most importantly for the sake of this post, his birthday was on Sunday. He’s staying in a foreign country, for his birthday, and he can’t easily find a birthday cake to enjoy? Yeah… not on my watch!

I searched for a full three weeks to find a good gluten- and dairy-free recipe (why dairy-free? because I wasn’t up-to-date on another student’s conditions who had previously been avoiding dairy, so I figured why not go all out on this cake?). The problem is, I have no intuition for what makes gluten-free or vegan recipe “good,” let alone amazing. And I want (insist on?) amazing! Plus, there are tons of recipes out there for supposedly fantastic gluten-free and vegan cookies, brownies, meals, etc., but to find a birthday cake nicer than a boring sheet cake was incredibly difficult. But settling is forbidden: it’s his birthday, it must be a legitimately impressive birthday cake! Finally, one very helpful blog (thanks, Chocolate Covered Katie!!) and a grocery bag of gluten- and dairy-free ingredients later, we were in business. And folks? Business is good

Thus, without further ado, I present to you: Decadent Triple-Layer Chocolate Cake! Perfect for your gluten- and dairy-free friends and family, and guaranteed to make everyone else happy in the process. As with most cakes of this sort, the cake layer is a bit dry. I improved that a little by spooning sugar water over the bottom cake layer before assembling everything, but you may want to look into ways to bring extra moisture into the cake base. Fortunately, the chocolate mousse layer adds enough silky, creamy texture to balance out the slightly dry base, so it worked out quite well. And of course, topping anything with a layer of chocolate ganache (dairy-free!) and mini chocolate chips is bound to convert even the most skeptical taste-tester. When in doubt, overload the tastebuds with chocolate and people will put up with almost anything. (That was my operating theory, at least!)

Ultimate verdict: our gluten-free birthday boy was very happy and had many wonderful compliments about this cake. Big success! Everyone else who tried it ranged from “Mm this is awesome!” to “I can tell it’s not quite ‘normal,’ but it’s still delicious!” to “This is pretty good!” Which may be a cover for “I’m going to eat this because it has chocolate, but it wouldn’t be my top choice for a cake” or it might be a subdued “FAVORITE CAKE EVER!!!” (Probably not that last one, though, unless you’ve never had a cake made with butter. You can’t beat butter.)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

DECADENT TRIPLE-LAYER CHOCOLATE CAKE (Gluten- and Dairy-Free!)

Cake Layer (from Chocolate Covered Katie)

1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour

1 tsp. baking soda

4 tbsp. cocoa powder

1/2 tsp. salt

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 tsp. white vinegar

3/4 cup cold water

Mousse Layer (also from Chocolate Covered Katie)

12.3 oz silken or firm tofu (she recommends Mori-Nu silken-firm or lite for no aftertaste, but I couldn’t find that brand and it was fine. I also used 14 oz)

1 tsp. cocoa powder

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 tbsp. almond milk (or soy)

scant 1/8 tsp. salt

1 bag (~10 oz) chocolate chips (read the labels to find a gluten- and dairy-free brand)

3+ tablespoons powdered sugar (I kept adding until I liked the consistency, so I probably ended up adding 1/2 cup or more)

Chocolate Ganache Top

1 bag chocolate chips (3/4 for melting, 1/4 for sprinkling over the top)

1/2 cup almond milk (or soy)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Make the base cake layer:

1. Preheat oven to 355 F. Prepare an 8- or 9-inch cake pan by greasing and lining the bottom with parchment or wax paper (I used Crisco shortening to stay gluten- and dairy-free).

2. Stir together the flour, baking soda, cocoa powder, salt, and sugar until well-mixed.

3. Add the vanilla extract, oil, vinegar, and water. Mix with a fork until just combined.

4. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes. Cool completely.

5. If your cake seems dry, combine about 3 tablespoons of hot water with 1 tablespoon of sugar and stir until almost dissolved. Poke small holes in the cake and spoon the sugar water over the entire surface. Be careful not to pour too much water in one place or it’ll get soggy!

Make the mousse:

1. Melt the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl for about 1 minute; stir until smooth.

2. Drain the tofu and add everything to a food processor (including the melted chocolate). Blend until incredibly smooth – no lumps!

3. Put in a bowl and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes before you try to spread it on top of the cake.

Assemble the cake:

1. Place your base cake layer (right-side up) on a cake plate.

2. Spread the mousse evenly onto the cake layer, being careful not to push it over the edges. Then, make a small, wide “well” in the middle of the mousse layer, basically building a small lake for your ganache to pool in. Put the cake in the refrigerator to firm up while you make the ganache.

3. Make the ganache by microwaving 3/4 bag of chocolate chips for 1 minutes, stirring until smooth, then adding 1/2 cup milk and stirring until smooth again (this will take some time and you’ll have to “press” them together between the back of your spoon and the bowl).

4. Let the ganache cool down for a few minutes, then remove cake and pour ganache on top. Sprinkle remaining chocolate chips evenly over the top and gently press in so they stick. Store cake in the refrigerator until half an hour before you’re ready to eat. Enjoy this (almost healthy) cake!!

vegan gluten free chocolate cake side view

Sugar Cookie Heart Sandwiches (Chocolate-Dipped and Red Velvet Cake-Filled)

heart sandwich cookies

Happy Valentine’s Day, my dear friends!! I hope you feel loved and appreciated today. Even the snow was bitten by the love bug:

snow heart

Many people will try to tell you how Valentine’s Day is pointless, worthless, or silly. But I ask you: if we didn’t have Valentine’s Day, how could I get away with packing this much pink, white, & red and this many hearts & sprinkles into one sweet treat?!

heart sandwich cookies 4

People would think I was crazy or love-obsessed on any typical day for handing these out. But today it is perfectly acceptable to be a bit over-the-top. So I say, embrace the excuse to be ridiculous! Celebrate Valentine’s Day! Make these treats! Though you’ll want to thank me for this recipe, there is no need – I am sharing it with you because (1) it is Valentine’s Day and (2) this is my way of putting just a bit more love out into the world. Because these treats? These are love.

The basic layout: sugar cookie + red velvet cake with cream cheese filling + sugar cookie, edge-dipped in chocolate and topped with sprinkles. Each sandwich has one sugar cookie that’s white with a pink heart and one that’s pink with a white heart, so the sides are reverse mirror-images of each other, sort of like a sugar cookie ying yang metaphor for love. Yup.

A few people declared this their favorite treat that I’ve brought to lab so far. Which is mighty high praise indeed! If you haven’t been convinced up to this point, now I’ve got you: you should really want to make these. And they’re not too difficult! Promise. There are a lot of steps, yes, but it’s quite fun and the payoff is worth it in both appearance and taste. How could you go wrong with sugar cookies, cake, chocolate, and sprinkles? (You can’t.)

I pretty closely followed this Valentine’s Day Cookie Cake Pop recipe from Bakingdom. My changes came in the details: instead of stamping pictures and words on the cookies, I swapped heart cutouts. Instead of lining the edges with candy melts, I dipped the sides in chocolate so you can still see the red velvet filling (and to save time). Finally, I decided to make them little sandwiches instead of putting them on cake pop sticks. Just a few variations, but the general theme of love remains and the genius of combining cookies, cake, and candy belongs to Bakingdom. :)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

SUGAR COOKIES (from: Bakingdom)

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups granulated sugar

4 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla

5 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. salt

red gel food coloring

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

RED VELVET CAKE FILLING

1 box red velvet cake mix

required ingredients to make the cake (eggs, vegetable oil, water, etc.)

1 can (16 oz) cream cheese frosting

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

TOPPINGS

2 bags (~12 oz each) chocolate chips (I used 1 white and 1 semi-sweet)

2 tsp. shortening (for white chocolate only)

Valentine’s-themed sprinkles!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

IMPORTANT SUPPLIES

1 large heart-shaped cookie cutter

1 mini heart-shaped cookie cutter

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Preparation (aka my Day 1):

1. Make cake according to instructions.

2. While the cake is in the oven, make the sugar cookie dough. In a medium bowl, whisk/stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl + hand mixer), cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating until well-combined after each egg, and then beat in the vanilla. Gradually add the dry mixture until everything is well-mixed; scrape the sides of the bowl regularly.

3. Remove half the dough and press into a fat, round disk. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

4. To the remaining dough, beat in red gel food coloring until you are satisfied with the color (keep it mind it will lighten slightly during baking). Press into a fat, round disk, cover with plastic wrap, and chill with the other dough.

4. When the cake is done, let it cool completely. If you are waiting overnight, cover with plastic wrap until you’re ready to use it.

Baking the cookies (aka my Day 2):

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a cookie sheet with baking spray.

2. Roll each chilled dough disk out on a floured surface to a thickness of slightly less than 1/2-centimeter.

3. Using the large heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out as many hearts as you can from both the pink and white dough, pressing the dough scraps together until you can’t make any more cookies.

4. Using the mini heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out small hearts from every cookie. The small hearts should be offset inside the big hearts, on either the right or left side. Make an even number of right- and left-side cutouts for both the pink and white doughs. Swap hearts with the opposite colored dough and gently press the mini heart and the large heart together.

5. Gently transfer cookies to the lightly greased cookie sheet (use a spatula or they’ll fall apart!). Bake for 8-10 minutes, until you start to see any edges turn slightly brown. (Watch these like a hawk: they’ll turn crispy really, really fast. Ideally, you want to catch them right before they brown.)

6. Cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack.

Assembly (aka my Day 2 continued; could be a Day 3):

1. Match up cookies of opposite color so that when they’re back-to-back, the mini hearts are touching. Do your best to pair up similarly shaped cookies.

2. In a large bowl, crumble the cake and stir in the frosting until very well-mixed.

3. For each cookie pair, place 1.5-2 tablespoons of the cake mixture onto the bottom side of one of the cookies. Gently press the dough until it fills the whole cookie evenly, then top with the other cookie and gently sandwich together.

4. Chill the sandwiches in the refrigerator for half an hour or freezer for 15 minutes.

5. Pour 1 bag of chocolate chips into a bowl and microwave for 1.5 minutes. Stir together until all the chips are melted. (For white chocolate chips, add 2 teaspoons of shortening immediately after microwaving to thin it out.)

6. Dip in chocolate the side of the sandwiches that does not have the mini heart cutout. Using a spoon or the side of the bowl, gently scrape off excess chocolate. Make some sandwiches with the pink side face-up and others with the white side face-up. Set on wax paper to harden and decorate with Valentine’s Day sprinkles.

7. When half of the sandwiches have been dipped, repeat steps 5 & 6 with the other bag of chocolate chips.

8. Do not store or stack until the chocolate has set; you may have to let them harden overnight.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I recognize that this recipe has a LOT of steps, but it’s really not too difficult. You can do it! And they’re so, so good. Seriously: make these. You won’t regret it!

heart sandwich cookies 3

Also, did you notice how gorgeous these photos are? Robin and Ruby (two amazing people in my department) both told me that my photos had a lot of room for improvement (apparently iPhone photos aren’t good enough for them…). To help me step up my game, they both volunteered to share photography duty. So today, Robin conducted a mini modeling session complete with fancy lighting and a studio box and everything. My little babies, all grown up and turned into supermodels! Expect better photos from now on, folks: I’ve made it to the big leagues. I’ve got PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHERS!!

heart sandwich cookies 2