They Say It’s Your Birthday! It’s Her Birthday Too!

How did we go from August to April???

I feel like ever since I turned 30, life just keeps moving faster and faster.  The weekdays drag on.  The weekends fly by.  Next thing I know, I’m in April celebrating two good friends’ birthdays with my lovely book club!  Check out the fancy spread courtesy of my lovely buddy, Karin.

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Doesn’t that just make you want to read, eat, and hang out with awesome women?  Yes, yes it does!

Two of my favorite gals, Jenn and Sandy, happen to be April babies.  I thought it’d be a nice surprise to make a cake for book club as well as make a successful attempt at a two layer cake.

The first time I made a layer cake was for Kelson’s birthday.  EPIC FAIL.  Isn’t it always when you’re trying to cook or bake something new and special that it somehow turns into a hot mess?  Let’s just say my grand plans for making a beautiful chocolate cake with chocolate ganache looked like a big pile of hot… well, you catch my drift.

First lesson: When working with ganache, you are not supposed to just start icing immediately off the stove.  You would think this is totally logical, but when you’re a happy fiancee dancing around thinking you’re Martha Stewart who is about to surprise her pal, Snoop Dogg with an awesome cake… well, let’s just say it’s important to take your time and READ CAREFULLY.  Especially when it’s your first time.

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Fast forward a few years later and many cupcakes, it was time to try again and do it right.  Did I mention it’s TWO of my dear friends that are celebrating a joint birthday month AND they’re a part of my book club.  Tis’ a sign to try again and make an awesome cake that I highly recommend to you all first time cake layer bakers.

Moist Chocolate Cake with Nutella Frosting (Serves:  Plenty!  10-12)

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Ingredients (for the cake):

  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 6 Tbl Dutch cocoa powder
  • 12 tsp vegetable oil
  • 2 Tbl white vinegar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups water
  • Pam spray

 

Ingredients (for the frosting and decorating):

  • 3/4 cup Nutella
  • 4 Tbl room temperature butter
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 8 Tbl heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds

*I only have one square and one round cake pan.  If you’re like me just make two batches.

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Add into a medium bowl; 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of cake flour, 2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt, and 6 Tbl cocoa powder.

3.  Sift the contents of the medium bowl into a large bowl.  Mix it up.

4.  Make three holes with your finger and then pour 4 tbsp vegetable oil in each hole.

5.  Pour 2 Tbl white vinegar, 2 tsp vanilla extract, and 2 cups of water.  Whisk everything together until smooth.

6.  Spray the cake pans with Pam and divide the mixture evenly between the two pans.  Bake the cakes for 35 minutes.

7.  When cake is ready, let it cool in the pan for half an hour before letting the cakes pop out.  If you try to pop them out too early, the moist cake will break apart.  *If you’re planning to frost, then put the cakes in the fridge for 15 minutes.

8.  Frosting time!  Whip out that KitchenAid mixer or use a hand beater to whip the 3/4 cup nutella and 4 Tbl. butter.

9.  Add the 3 cups powdered sugar, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, and 8 Tbl heavy cream.  Add the cream Tbl by Tbl until you get the right consistency.  I start on a lower speed and slowly work my way to the highest setting.  Once it’s whipped up, get ready to frost!

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Frosting is hard.  My cake was pretty moist and I felt like my delicious Nutella frosting was just tearing into my beautiful cake.  I vote to dump globs of it and spread it out.  Start from the center and work your way to the edges.  Remember, you can always decorate it with slivered almonds.  Adds some texture and design.  Plus, throwing in a few marshmallow chicks and a cute little banner helps.  Enjoy!

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A Little Bit of Summer Pie in Winter…

It’s February in SF and I am cold.

I know there are people out there who are living in climates that are dealing with real winters.  Real winters that involve shoveling snow.  Real winters involving snow chains and parkas and negative degrees.

It’s about 55 degrees in San Francisco and I’m cold.  I sit in my house and rock my animal knit hat.  Not ashamed, just cold.  (Thanks Jason H. for my KnitWit!)

On the other hand, the hubby LOVES this weather.  He rocks the SF uniform that involves jeans, a t-shirt, and Northface fleece.  He can still sleep in a t-shirt, while I opt to rock the Northface fleece IN BED… because I’m that cold.  Yes, I am a wuss.  A wuss in a knitted giraffe hat.  Again, not ashamed.

A Little Bit of Summer in Winter

When I think of summer, I think of lemons.  I think it’s because lemons are in a lovely, happy shade of yellow.  They’re… er, round like the sun?  No?  Sweet or tart like summer?  No?  Okay, well anyway lemons make me think of summer.

So… why not add a bit of summer in the midst of the cold?  Why not make some lemon ice box pie?  Just typing pie makes me happy and warm.  Even though I did just write “ice box” and that doesn’t really lead one to think of warmth.

There’s a bunch of recipes out there that are variations of this, but this has been my tried and true.  I credit Ms. Lynne R., a former co-worker and lovely friend, for sharing this recipe with me.

Lemon Ice Box Pie (with Vanilla Wafer Crust!)

WARNING:  You will be making crust AND meringue!  I swear, this is easy!

Make sure you have time… the crust needs to be refrigerated overnight.  Also, after the pie is baked (15 min.), it’s another 5 hours to chill.  It’s easy, but will definitely take some time!

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup real lemon juice (4-5 lemons)
  • 1 can Eagle brand sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 eggs, separated (toss out 1 yolk)
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • 6 Tbl of white sugar
  • 3/4 box of Nabisco Vanilla Wafers (*if you don’t have time to make the crust, feel free to use a pre-made graham cracker crust)

Instructions

1.  THE CRUST:  Put the wafers in a zip-lock bag and start crushing them with a rolling pin.  We usually do a few wafers at a time.  Roll them out or use the back of the roller.  Crush them well!

2.  Once crushed, poor the contents into a bowl.  Keep crushing until they’re fine, but not turned to dust!

3.  Melt the butter in a pan on medium heat.  Once melted, add the butter to the wafers.  Stir until the wafers are well coated.  Pour into a pie pan.  Shape it into a crust and then refrigerate overnight.  Bye-bye pie, see you tomorrow!

The next day… Start by setting your oven to 325 degrees.

4.  THE FILLING:  Separate your eggs.  Keep the egg whites in a bowl.  Beat the egg yolks in another bowl and set aside.

5.  Pour the condensed milk into a bowl.  Stir in the lemon juice gradually.  Add beaten egg yolks and stir well until blended.

6.  Take the crust out of the fridge and add the filling.  Set aside.

7.  THE MERINGUE:  A Kitchen Aid mixer is not required, but will be EXTREMELY helpful.  You can also whisk like a mad person by hand.  For the meringue, pour the egg whites into the mixer.

8.  Add the sugar.

9.  Start the mixer on the lowest setting and work your way to the highest.  Continue to mix until you see firm peaks.

10.  Once the meringue is “peaky”, carefully place the meringue on top of the filling with large spoonfuls or use a cake knife to shape peaks.  Meringue is a finicky friend.  Some days you’ll have great peaks… today was not a peaky day…

11.  Bake the pie for approximately 15 minutes (or until the meringue has browned). Cool the pie before refridgerating.  Chill for 5 hours before serving.

Get ready to gobble this baby up!  I don’t think I’ve ever had a chance to have a second helping on this pie, because it disappears so fast.

It’s easy.  It’s lemony.  It’s a little bit of summer during your winter.

Enjoy!

P.S. Don’t forget Pi(e) Approximation Day (March 17th) is coming… Great time to try a new pie recipe!  😀

Red, red wine… and chocolate!

Okay, so it’s the new year and you’ve talked about a new you… working out more, eating better, and trying to treat people better than how you want to be treated.  What better way to reward yourself and treat those friends you’re being extra nice to than to make one of the best chocolate cake recipes we have come across?

Nothing.

Well, except that you may have to work out just a little bit harder afterwards… BUT we’ll be making little bundts, which is easier to share with a lot more friends.

The Best Chocolate Cake Recipe

There are a few things that bring me that feeling of appreciation in the simple joys in life (related to the kitchen that is).

1.  Using the kitchen aid.  Hello blue!

2.  Using the mini-bundt pan.  Just writing “mini-bundt pan” makes me smile.  Mini-bundt pan.  🙂

3.  Using the leftovers. I hate leftovers, but I also hate wasting the leftovers.  Quite the conundrum.  But when we find ways to make just the right amount for the party at hand or turn the leftovers into something fresh and new.  Well, this is a simple kitchen joy that tickles my fancy.

This, my friends, leads to leftover red wine.  Sometimes Kelson and I cannot polish the bottle off.  Shocking, I know.  Sometimes you just want a glass or two and sometimes you’re left with just a smidget.  A smidget too much to polish off and too much to pour down the sink without feeling a bit wasteful.  So, what can you make with leftover red wine that is absolutely fabulous?

Say hello to an amazing red wine chocolate cake recipe courtesy of Smitten Kitchen.  Please note that as she mentions in the recipe, the red wine does not get baked away… so as much as I truly believe this is one of the best chocolate cake recipes I have ever had, this is probably not the best cake to pass on to the little ones.  Although I’m pretty sure I may have delivered a few bundts to my neighbors with the kid this past Christmas.  Ooops….

Ingredients

  • 6 Tbl unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup firming packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup red wine

 

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup and 1 Tbl all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Dutch cocoa powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp table salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • powdered sugar

 

*Photographed is double the recipe.  I also opted to make mini chocolate bundts rather than a cake round from the original recipe.

1.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Bring out the kitchen aid and cream the butter until smooth.  Add the sugars and beat until fluffy (about 3 minutes).  Add the egg and yolk and beat well.

2.  Add the red wine and then the vanilla.

3.  Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt together.

*Do you like my makeshift sifting action?  It’s always nice to use what you have at home for another purpose.  Although Kelson makes a good point that we do enough baking to justify getting a proper flour sifter.

4.  Mix until 3/4 combined and then fold the rest with a spatula.

5.  Spray the bundt pan with oil.  Pam is wonderful for this purpose.  Then spoon the mixture into the pan.  Do not fill it to the top.  You want to give it some room to grow.  Bake them for approximately 15 minutes.  Use the toothpick test.  Stick a toothpick in the middle and make sure it comes out clean.  No need to undercook either, since this cake is quite nice and fudgey.

6.  Put the cooling rack against the bundt pan and flip it over.  Wait about 10 minutes before lifting off the bundt pan and… TA-DAH!  Beautiful and moist chocolate bundts with a lovely touch of red wine.

Dust these lovely little guys with some powdered sugar and you have some very yummy (and very sharable) chocolate cakes!  Enjoy some red wine and chocolate deliciousness!  Totally worth the heavy workout to balance out eating one too many of them.