Browsing articles in "Chocolate"
Nov 4, 2009

Toblerone Brownies


My friend Sara has all these wacky-but-completely-lovable traits that you’d really never see coming. She is sunshine personified, this girl–all blonde and loud laughs and positive energy. You’d never think she’s the type to get too hung up on details, based on first impressions. But you would be very, very wrong about that.

For instance, she goes positively bananas for laundry day. Like a micro-sorting-into-categories-of-whites-that-I-didn’t-know-existed-and-serious-opinions-about-detergents-level of interest in laundry. It used to be that I would know not to call her before a certain hour on Thursdays, because I knew it was Sara’s Laundry Day, but if I just had to call her about something and she did happen to pick up, she’d have this very Sara-esque cheery-but-absentminded tone because she’d really rather be ironing and folding her many, many sets of sheets than talking on the phone. But I will say that her meticulous nature with housekeeping duties makes being a house guest at her place one of the loveliest experiences ever.


You’ve also never met someone with so much restraint. Don’t get me wrong–girlfriend knows how to have a good time. A wonderful appetite for life and good food and wine, but when she decides to reel it in, sister goes hard core. I’ve always admired that about her. She doesn’t have a raging sweet tooth like me, so she can be especially good about sweets in strict moderation. I will never forget the time I went to her apartment and saw a huge Toblerone bar sitting on the kitchen table, only a chunk or two gone out of the whole thing, purchased at the movie theater two days before (an obsession with going to the movies alone is another Sara Quirk). I could not wrap my head around how one could have a partially eaten chocolate bar sitting in the same spot for more than a couple of hours, and on top of that, how could she have only eaten a smidgen of it to begin with?! Oh, Sara.

After that, Toblerone bars always remind me of Sara. And although I can say with great certainty that chances are good that she is on some sort of dairy-free-gluten-free-sugar-free dietary experiment as I write this, I’m sure even she would have a hard time resisting one of these fudgy brownies, chunky throughout with hunks of Toblerone pieces and toasty hazelnuts, with an unexpected hit of cinnamon.


This recipe is the first I’ve tried from a cookbook I recently bought on a whim. I had gone to the bookstore only to buy a birthday gift for a friend, nothing more, and reminded myself of that the whole way there. But because I was at the bookstore in rare form–sans toddler and showered, for starters–I lingered for a longer than I should have. I really don’t need another cookbook, I told myself as I traced my fingertips over the spines of so many culinary volumes that I’ve been eyeing as of late. But with latte in hand and no tiny person yanking at my jeans, the spine-tracing turned to back-cover-glancing and then flipping and then skimming and then “Ooh. Well, THAT looks good”, and so forth. And so it would be: The Best Bake Sale Ever Cookbook is the newest addition to my cookbook collection.


Cheesetastic subject matter aside, the recipes in this book are the sort that you just know have been tested hundreds of times over, in home kitchens by real people all over the place. Cookies and pies and bars and cakes of family and church gathering lore, the kind of baked goods that are named after people known by a certain dishes in their personal circles. Which is all to say that these recipes are uncomplicated, very transportable and not at all precious, sometimes unusual, and totally delightful. I haven’t been so charmed by a cookbook in a really, really long time. And any book that touts a brownie recipe with hunks of Toblerone bar is all right by me.


A word about Toblerone: the wrapper is not child-proof. If you fail to remove it from your child’s pudgy-knuckled grip to avoid a meltdown in the car on the way home, you may arrive home to find that in your back seat sits a little chocolate-smeared face with shining eyes and leech-like suction on one end of the package, which now looks like this:

Toblerone Brownies
Adapted from The Best Bake Sale Ever Cookbook

I love Ghiradelli chocolates for baking–they’re good quality and easily found in most supermarkets. For the Toblerone, use either the milk chocolate or dark chocolate variety–whatever you like. I like hazelnuts in this recipe, but pecans would also work well, as would almonds to echo the almond nougat bits in the candy bar, but remember to toast them before adding them to the batter for the best flavor. Toast them while you’re putting the rest of the recipe together at the same temperature as the brownies–350 degrees for about 10 minutes. Like most brownies, these keep beautifully in the freezer.

Makes 16

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, peeled and chopped
1 Toblerone bar (3.52 ounces), milk or dark chocolate variety, chopped (I cut each triangular hunk into quarters)

Position an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8×8 inch square pan with aluminum foil to make removing the brownies easier. Spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Place the butter pieces and unsweetened chocolate in a small, microwave-safe bowl. Melt the butter and chocolate together on high power in 30 second intervals, stirring well after each, until the mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool slightly while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle or in a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the eggs on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the sugar and vanilla. Beat in the cooled chocolate mixture until well-blended. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and fold in the dry ingredients by hand. Stir in the nuts and candy pieces.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick comes out nearly dry, about 30 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Remove the brownies using the foil sleeve and cut into 16 bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to four days.

Aug 26, 2009

Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Cherries and Pecans

Somewhere in the back of my increasingly feeble, mother-to-an-almost-toddler mind, I seem to remember learning in school about the hierarchy of basic human needs. I’m pretty sure they included food, water, shelter, chocolate and an aunt and uncle set who are significantly cooler than your parents. Baby C scored on that last bit. A prime example being that her awesome Uncle Pat recently rolled through town on a tour with his band, while her totally boring mother baked cookies for said band. But as it turns out, it’s a tall order, baking for rockstars.

Although homemade cookies of all sorts would probably be welcomed by a van full of boys, you certainly don’t want to send them off with a container full of anything too delicate that might shatter into crumbs while getting rattled around among their gear and various gaming platforms. No, surely a lady cookie wouldn’t do. You need something sturdy. Dude Cookies. Road Biscuits. Like chewy nuggets of midnight dark chocolate, nubbly with tart dried cherries, bittersweet chocolate and toasty pecans.

This recipe comes from Alice Medrich’s great Pure Dessert, a book brimming with the kinds of recipes that turn out flavorful, earthy desserts that are never too sweet and always completely satisying. The recipes are familiar enough to create an instant craving, but there’s always a few ingredients that are off my everyday baking radar tossed into the mix that get me all excited to forage aisles in the market that I might not normally visit. And if that kind of spontaneity isn’t rockstar, well then I don’t know what is. How about staying out until midnight on a weeknight to go see a show in a bar AND paying someone to watch our kid for the first time?! THAT’S rock n’ flippin’ ROLL, people! Hard core!

Yeah. So…
This chocolate cookie recipe is going to be bookmarked for the long haul in the Piece of Cake kitchen. Not only can you turn out these rustic cookies that are perfect for gifting or keeping out on the counter for weekday snacking, you can also make a few tweaks during the prep and baking of them to create the kind of perfectly chocolately, thin, crisp, wafer-like cookies that are the ultimate building blocks for creating different desserts altogether and are getting increasingly harder to find in your typical supermarket (more on that in coming weeks). But for some awesomely talented guys several weeks into a non-stop national tour, it had to be a manned-up version of this recipe, the kind of brawny, chunky chocolate cookie that screams for a glass of milk. Or a handle of Jack. Or whatever those crazy kids are into these days.

Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Cherries and Pecans

Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert

Makes about 4 dozen

The original recipe calls for the dough to come together in a food processor. I’ve never acquired one myself, so I used a standing mixer and have rewritten the recipe as such. The beauty of a food processor is that it doesn’t incorporate a lot of air into the dough, making for a decadent, dense cookie, so if you use a mixer like I did, just keep the speed as low as possible.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened and cut into 12 chunks
3 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 ounces (1 cup) bittersweet chocolate chunks or chips
6 ounces (1 cup) dried tart cherries
1 1/3 cups chopped toasted pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats.

Combine the flour, cocoa, sugar, salt, and baking soda in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed to blend the dry ingredients thoroughly. With the mixer running on low speed, add the butter chunks to the bowl until the butter is incorporated and the mixture looks lumpy and sandy. Increase the speed slightly until the dough begins to clump up around the paddle. Combine the milk and vanilla in a small cup. With the mixer running, add the milk mixture and mix until the dough is smooth and creamy in appearance, like a thick frosting. Fold in the chocolate chips, dried cherries and toasted pecans.

Drop by level tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until the cookies look drier and set–the centers won’t be firm at all, but shouldn’t be too squishy. Cool completely on the baking sheets. Store in airtight containers in single layers separated by waxed paper or parchment.

Jul 17, 2009

Fresh Mint Ice Cream

Little known fact about me: I taste words. Meaning, when I hear or read or speak a word, even non-food words, I can experience a taste with most of them, and usually feel the taste on my tongue. Most of these pairings aren’t logical (some examples: “clock”= peanuts, “quality”= oatmeal, “present”= Twizzlers), but the taste and word pairings go back for as long as I can remember. I heard this really interesting NPR interview with a guy who saw colors while eating–different flavors made him see certain colors, and it made perfect sense to me, what with my wacked-out tasting of words thing and all. Turns out these sort of sensory crossovers have a name: synesthesia. Huh! Who knew? Just add that to the list of Certifiable Things About Me.

What? Oh! Yes, my point. I made a batch of ice cream, and upon tasting, realized that it tasted a lot like what “green” tastes like to me. And in other news which makes me feel a little more normal, it was made from something that was actually green. Whew.


Even if this mention of synesthesia has you totally stumped and kind of afraid of me now, I think you’d agree that David Lebovitz’s recipe for Fresh Mint Ice Cream churns out a frozen dessert that is everything “green” should taste like. It’s invigorating, refreshing, herbal. Makes you breathe a little deeper as you’re eating it. If there was an Official Ice Cream of Spas, it would taste like this one.


It all starts with a pile (and I do mean a pile–two tightly packed cups’ worth) of fresh mint leaves. I had a charming, sizable mint plant sitting on my windowsill which inspired me to make this recipe in the first place, but after plucking it clean of its leaves, I still had to supplement the bounty with a bunch from the produce market. Steep the leaves in a pot of warm sweetened cream and milk, whisk it into a custard with some fresh eggs, and then swirl it into more cream, all the while willing yourself not to lap up the fragrant elixir straight out of the bowl.


But if you stick to your guns and the lush, minty batter actually makes it into the ice cream maker for churning, you can spin some melted bittersweet chocolate into the mix. Although I guess you’ll have to keep yourself from lapping that up too while you drizzle it in. Oh, and then–and then!— there’s the issue of having to the scrape the soft-set ice cream into another vessel for freezing. Call in Lick Prevention, people. We’ve got a situation over here.



Fresh Mint Ice Cream
with Bittersweet Stracciatella
Adapted from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop

After steeping the leaves in the warm cream, you may want to give the mixture a quick blitz with a stick blender or similar–I find this intensifies the mint flavor and bumps up the green color just a bit. Give the puree an extra run through the sieve to trap excess leafy bits, but don’t obsess about getting all the specks of leaf out of the ice cream–a few scattered throughout add character, like vanilla bean flecks.

1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
Pinch of salt
2 cups lightly packed fresh mint leaves (no stems)
5 large egg yolks

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (bar chocolate, not chips), finely chopped

In a small saucepan, warm the milk, sugar, 1 cup of the cream and the salt over medium heat–do not let it boil. Remove the pan from the heat. Plunge the mint leaves into warm cream mixture and let it steep for at least one hour at room temperature.

Taste the resulting mint-infused cream–if the mint flavor and green color isn’t as intense as you’d like, puree the mixture with a stick blender or in a standing blender for a brief moment. Strain with a fine-mesh sieve into a medium saucepan and rinse any leafy bits from the sieve. Pour the remaining 1 cup of cream into a large bowl (aluminum will be best for speed-chilling the ice cream batter) and set the sieve on top.

Rewarm the mint cream in the saucepan. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl. When the cream is warm to the touch, whisk it slowly into the yolks, then scrape the yolk and cream mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often and scraping the bottom and sides of pan until the custard thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Pour the custard through the sieve into the large bowl and stir it into the cream. Chill over an ice bath, stirring constantly, about 10-15 minutes.

Begin freezing the ice cream in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Melt the chocolate in the microwave in a glass measuring cup on 50% power in 45 second bursts, stirring well after each interval, until very warm and fluid. During the last moments of churning, drizzle the melted bittersweet chocolate into the ice cream, taking care to avoid the spinning dasher. Scrape the soft-set ice cream into an airtight container, giving it an extra folding to make sure the stracciatella is mixed evenly into the ice cream. Freeze until firm.

Jul 7, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle

WARNING: If, like me, you are prone to becoming obsessed with a certain food and wanting to eat nothing but that food for many days on end, then this recipe is probably a very, very bad idea for you. Because really, it has been quite a while since I’ve come across something so addictive. It will dominate your thoughts and appetite until the only evidence of it having existed at all is a smattering of crumbs. And there you’ll stand, alone at the counter twinged with sadness, wondering where it all went and kind of not remembering that you are the one who ate it all. I give you Cookie Brittle.


Oh, you heard me right. It’s cookie. It’s brittle. It’s crunchy and sweet and a little bit salty with bits of chocolate and toasty nuts. It’s basically an entire pan of the crisp, brown-buttery, sugary edges of the very best chocolate chip cookie, aka The Best Part. I like cutting to the chase. I don’t have a lotta time to spare these days. And I certainly don’t have time to deal with Oprah-esque, Big Life Questions, like, was I really, truly living before I ate cookie brittle? I can’t be sure.


This recipe comes from a really charming cookbook called The American Country Inn Bed and Breakfast Cookbook, a collection of recipes from little B&Bs all across the country, organized by state. It’s actually a really fun read, with descriptions of each place followed by a few of the inns’ favorite recipes, and you really get an idea of the spirit of each place by the kinds of foods they offer to their guests. In the case of Cookie Brittle, our enabler/dealer is a someone named Kris associated with the Wine and Roses Country Inn in Lodi, California. And I am grateful to him/her for offering this recipe (even though the original calls for margarine). Because now I don’t have to travel all the way to Lodi to enjoy this cookie brittle–I can just make a batch of my own and eat the whole thing in the comfort of my dark closet right here at home.

You will be thrilled to learn that this gem of recipe comes together in minutes in a single bowl with a wooden spoon. Nudge it onto a sheet pan, bang it into the oven for a short bake and chain yourself to a large piece of furniture while you wait for it to cool completely (the magic is in the cooling so the brittle crisps evenly). It’s the perfect cookie recipe for lazy bakers. Broken up into cronch-y, no-napkin-required hunks and kept in a container on the counter, conditions are perfect for you to have absolutely no self-control while walking through your kitchen. I repeat, trying this recipe is a really bad idea.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle
Adapted from The American Country Inn Bed and Breakfast Cookbook, Vol. 2

Try a variety of chip and nut combinations in the mix–I love bittersweet chocolate chips and cashews, but I’m thinking throwing a few butterscotch chips or shredded coconut into the mix would also be fabulous.

1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsalted roasted cashews
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (60% cacao–I like Ghiradelli)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and set a rack to the center position. Pour the melted butter into a large bowl, and stir in the vanilla. With a wooden spoon (or your hands, if your prefer), add the sugar, salt and flour and mix to combine–the mixture will be somewhat crumbly, like a moist pie dough. Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips. Press the mixture in a thin, even layer onto an ungreased cookie sheet (use the chocolate chips as your guide–try to get them in as close to a single layer as possible throughout the dough, and you’ll have the right thickness). You may not fill the entire sheet with the dough–that’s okay.

Bake for 23-25 minutes, until light golden brown (the edges will be a bit darker than the center). Let cool completely before breaking into whatever sized pieces you desire. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Jul 1, 2009

Nutella Cupcakes with Bittersweet Ganache

Back when I was young and unafraid, I had the experience of a lifetime studying in Europe for a summer during college. It was the ultimate summer school–noisy pubs and boy chasing in England, sunbathing and karaoke at a dive bar with the Manchester United soccer (football, whatever) team in attendance in Malta (where did I put that photo of David Beckham and me, anyway?), lots of great chocolate in Germany and Austria. That sort of thing. And I think there may have been some schoolwork in there somewhere. Amazing what you can accomplish with a two-month-long hangover while a college student, really. Comes in second only to what a crazed mother of a 10-month-old can create when thinking of the days she was footloose and fancy-free. Like, say, working out a recipe for Nutella cupcakes.

The constant in my European summer, along with Boddingtons, was Nutella. It sustained Erin (she of Scotch-a-Roo lore) and I through the London portion of our trip, along with bread and Coke Light and a smartly-packed jar (her brillance, not mine) of American peanut butter. And to the delight of shoestring-budget college students like us, it seemed that you could find Nutella just about anywhere on the continent for dirt cheap. The hazelnut-chocolate combination is all over Europe in various forms, and is celebrated deliciously in the adorable Mozart Kuglen that I devoured by the dozen in Austria, making a huge dent in what was supposed to be a haul back to the states to gift to my family, who literally never really knew what they were missing.

Luckily, I can revisit that epic trip abroad by stopping into just about any supermarket and picking up a jar of Nutella. The creamy, chocolately, nutty spread is pretty much the ideal spoon-to-jar-to-mouth experience, and to this day I get crazy sense memories from just a whiff of the stuff. Recently, I got to thinking about it again because of a cake recipe I tried that involved chocolate syrup. The resulting cake was fabulously moist, but tasted way too much like, well, chocolate syrup. I brainstormed for days about what I could swap out the syrup with andbing!–NUTELLA! Insert me sprinting to the store here.


The Supermodel Cupcake look doesn’t give away how simple, simple, simple this recipe is. The most difficult thing about it is toasting and peeling hazelnuts for garnish, which, if pressed for time, you could forgo altogether. But even that is pretty simple–just throw the hazelnuts into a baking pan and into a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes or until toasty and fragrant, then let them cool completely before wrapping them in a little bunch in a dish towel and rubbing them in your hands like a bag of marbles–the peels will flake right off. Do a bunch at once and freeze the rest and you too can have peeled hazelnuts at a moment’s notice. The American dream, right?

To arrive at this gorgeous and delicious specimen of a cupcake, I had to really rework the aforementioned chocolate syrup cake recipe (chocolate syrup is fat free, Nutella is pretty much just sugar and fat), and I baked up a couple test batches before declaring number three the winner. The cakes are moist and somewhat dense, almost chewy, and come out of the oven with perfectly flat tops, which beg for a slick of ganache and end up having that gorgeous, streamlined European bake shop vibe.

Even better, these elegant lookers are perfect dinner party make-aheads–they taste so much better with a more pronounced hazelnut flavor the next day. I can’t recommend them enough, people. Have a glass of milk or a nice strong cup of coffee nearby, close your eyes, and pretend you’re at a little scrolly wrought iron table someplatz special.

Nutella Cupcakes with Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache

The ganache in this recipe is my go-to ganache–it firms up nicely with a slight chew and a satiny sheen. The recipe also works with dark, semi-sweet or milk chocolates. After the ganache sets up, I highly recommend storing the cupcakes in an airtight container overnight before serving them–the flavors are so much better the day after they’re baked.

Makes 12

For the cupcakes:

1/2 cup self-rising flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup sugar
8 ounces Nutella
2 eggs
2 tablespoons whole milk

For the ganache:

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (60% cacao–I like Ghiradelli)
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

Whisk together the flour and salt and set aside.

With an electric mixer in a medium bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and beat until well-blended. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy and pale in color. Beat in the Nutella until well-incorporated, stopping to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl while beating. Add the eggs and beat until smooth. On low speed, beat in half the flour mixture just until it beings to disappear into the batter. Beat in the milk. Fold in the remainder of the flour mixture by hand until the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into the muffin cups, filling them no more than 1/2 full. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs–if in doubt, pull them from the oven a bit early–do not over bake. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, prepare the ganache. Place the chocolate chips, butter and corn syrup in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 30 second intervals, stopping to stir after each interval, until the mixture is shiny and smooth. Stir in the vanilla.

When the cupcakes are completely cool, using a spoon, top each one with about two teaspoons of the ganache, and with the back of the spoon coax it as close to the edges as possible without letting it drip down the sides (or go on and let it drip…drippy chocolate is rarely a bad thing). Sprinkle on a bit of the chopped hazelnuts. Let the ganache set before storing in an airtight container at room temperature overnight–these cupcakes truly taste better the next day. But if you want to defy me and serve the cupcakes immediately, refrigerate them for about five minutes and the ganache will quickly set.

Jun 29, 2009

Magnificient Moist Golden Cake with Fudge Frosting

Though I’ve been skimming it at every opportunity and lovingly stroking the cover for a couple months now, I just recently really got to dig in to Shirley Corriher’s GENIUS book, Bakewise. I’ve decided that owning this book, combined with having Baking Illustrated on your cookbook shelf, is the surefire way to have the Holy Grail recipes of everything you’d ever really want to bake. In addition to perfection-producing recipes, you also get Shirley’s reassuring and straight-outta-Georgia voice, making it equal parts Good Read and cookbook. And I’ve finally gotten to try a few of the recipes and they are like children to me, I love them so.


Shirley’s Magnificent Moist Golden Cake has ended my search for the absolutely perfect yellow cake–sweet, tender and toothsome with a tight, velvety crumb, perfect for layer cakes and cupcakes alike. It’s a true food scientist’s cake recipe, so it took a few tries to wrap my brain around the recipe, but man, is it worth the details. Even though every time I’ve made this recipe, I’ve had to pull the pans from the oven in a panic a minute after putting them in because, really, it’s just not natural to “drop the pans from a height of four inches onto the countertop to knock out the air bubbles” before putting them into the oven (P.S.–if you forget to do this altogether, your cake will still be delicious, though pockmarked with air bubbles, so it’s more of a problem to neglect to do this with layer cakes, and a smaller problem with cupcakes). And the relatively small amount of butter in the recipe being offset by the folding in of whipped cream? I’m listening, Shirley.

My first attempt with this cake was a small 6-inch layer cake that had the husband and I closing our eyes and having a moment of silence upon the first tasting. Nom, nom, nom. It was really something.


The second time I used this recipe was to create cupcakes for a crowd of Southerners at a belated wedding reception and not-a-one purty little cake remained on the platter. And those people know cake.


And since I am a freakin’ American, I believe yellow cake belongs with a milk chocolate frosting. The end. So I tweaked Shirley’s Luscious Chocolate Icing a bit for my tastes, and really, truly, you will never find a more beautiful (and simple!) chocolate frosting. The chocolate is the true star here, there is no butter or confectioners’ sugar involved, and it doesn’t crust or run or do anything but just sit like a gorgeous chocolate pillow atop anything you put it on. I’ve spread it and piped it and swirled it on with a spoon and fallen in love all over again every time. I’ve found that as long as you use the right total weight of chocolate, the chocolates can be interchanged to give you exactly the right balance of bitterness and sweetness that you are looking for. So while I use mostly milk chocolate to pair it with a yellow cake, I might do a higher ratio of semi-sweet or bittersweet to milk chocolate for a deep chocolate cake or somesuch. Love.

Shirley Corriher’s Magnificent Moist Golden Cake

The original recipe calls for a single standard 9-inch cake pan for this recipe, with the intention of slicing the one thick layer into two or three layers. But I’d use a springform pan for the higher side for that purpose, or just use two standard pans and adjust the baking time. Quarter the recipe for a 6-inch two layer cake. The rise on this cake can be pretty amazing, so be conservative with how full you fill your cake pans and/or cupcake liners–I stick to just about 2/3 full in both cases. Unless, you know, you like scraping molten cake batter off the floor of your oven. Don’t ask me how I know this.

Makes 2-3 9-inch cake layers or two dozen cupcakes

2 large eggs, at room temperature
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/3 cup buttermilk, divided
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups cake flour, spooned and leveled
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch springform pan or two (or three) 9-inch cake pans with cooking spray and dust them with flour, or line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners for cupcakes.

In a large measuring cup or similar vessel, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, 3 tablespoons of the buttermilk and vanilla.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of your standing mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat in the butter, oil, and remaining buttermilk on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened, then crank it up to medium speed and beat for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Add one third of the egg mixture, and beat for about 20 seconds, and scrape the bowl again. Repeat two more times until all the egg mixture is incorporated and the batter is smooth.

In a cold bowl with cold beaters, whip the cream to just beyond soft peaks. Stir a quarter of the whipped cream into the batter to lighten it, then carefully fold in the remaining cream.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans (about 2/3 full for cupcakes). Drop the pans onto the counter from a height of about 4 inches to knock out air bubbles. Bake until the center of the cake springs back when touched and a toothpick comes out clean but moist–about 40 minutes for one thick layer, 25-30 minutes for individual layers, and 17-20 minutes for cupcakes (checking progress early and often). Do not overbake. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

Shirley Corriher’s Luscious, Creamy Chocolate Icing

I adjust the proportions of milk and semi-sweet chocolates depending on the sweetness I’m after, and suspect dark and bittersweet chocolates added to the mix would work too. Chips or chopped bar chocolate work equally as well in this recipe.

Makes enough icing to frost and fill 1 9-inch 3-layer cake or 2 dozen cupcakes

12 ounces milk chocolate, chips or chopped
9 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chips or chopped
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups sour cream

Place the chocolate in a microwave-safe vessel and microwave on 50% power for 30 second intervals, stopping to stir after every interval, until smooth.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, salt, vanilla and corn syrup. Stir in the sour cream until nearly smooth. Add the melted chocolate. Beat on low speed until very smooth–it will get stiffer as you go, so beat just until it’s a nice spreading consistency and don’t overbeat. Use generously.

Jun 26, 2009

One-Bowl Chocolate Cake with Perfect Vanilla Buttercream

I’ve begun to dabble in the idea of baking more for other people, like maybe, possibly for profit. So I’ve been doing quite a bit of volunteering to be the dessert bringer for various parties and get-togethers as a way to perfect recipes and get feedback. Plus it gives me excuses to patronize dreamy places like Cooks Boulevard and the baker’s paradise that is Spun Sugar to pick up little baubles and piping bag tips and other things that make me dorkily, maniacally joyful. Is there a support group out there for people who clap their hands and bounce on their heels when presented with a shelf full of glistening sanding sugar in every imaginable hue?


A few weeks ago, a great opportunity to pass on some baking love arose. See, my darling husband, whose sweet tooth rivals (read: enables) mine, will eat and at least pretend to love anything I bake. So he likes to ask me to make stuff that he can bring into work and sort of “show me off”, kind of the married guy’s version of posting a hot picture of his girlfriend in his office. In this case, the stand-in for me posing in a short dress and suntan was a riff on Martha Stewart’s One-Bowl Chocolate Cake and a simple vanilla bean buttercream to make some girly cupcakes for an office baby shower.

You know that lovely smell of a freshly baked and American buttercream-frosted cake, all sweet cream butter and sugar, that explodes from whatever vessel in which you are storing said cake in as soon as it’s opened? Well, that kind of gorgeous scent was driving me bonkers, wafting through my car all the way downtown when I went to drop off these beauties. The kind of heady, sweet smell that has got to be caloric. And for that experience alone I highly endorse this combination.

One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes
Adapted from Martha Stewart

I get about 18 cupcakes out of this recipe, but you can stretch it to a full 2 dozen if need be. It also makes two great 9-inch cake layers. Using brewed coffee instead of just water makes the chocolate taste more…chocolatey.

Makes 18-24 cupcakes

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I love Ghiradelli or Valhrona)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup strong brewed coffee
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Spray the top of the muffin tin with cooking spray for extra non-stick insurance, as these cupcakes can have a serious rise and often puff over the edges of the tin’s wells.

Sift together the cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Add the eggs, coffee, buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Beat until smooth with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl to assure batter is well-mixed.

Divide batter evenly among muffin cups (an ice cream scoop works well here), filling each cup no more than 2/3 full. Bake until tops spring back when touched, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely before frosting.

Vanilla Bean Buttercream
Adapted from Amy Berman of Vanilla Bake Shop

I nabbed the idea of letting the salt dissolve in the liquid for American buttercreams from the fantastic Shirley Corriher, and will never go back to just adding it straight to frostings. I like a nice dose of salt in my icings, and this trick allows you to add a touch more without risking having a random crunchy salt grain in the mix. Love.

Makes enough to moderately frost 2 dozen cupcakes

1/4 cup milk
Scant 1/8 teaspoon of salt (one generous pinch)
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces
3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 vanilla bean, scraped
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Add the salt to the milk in a measuring cup and set aside to let the salt dissolve. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the butter until soft and creamy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, beating until smooth. Add the vanilla seeds and vanilla extract, beating to incorporate. Beat in the milk last, adding a bit more milk if necessary to reach the desired consistency.
Use immediately or store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to a week. Bring the buttercream to room temperature and rewhip before using.

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