Thursday, October 15, 2009

Banana-Chocolate Upside-Down Cake

Lauren Chattman has a great new book, Cake Keeper Cakes. When I picked up the book and paged through it, I kept thinking, "I would make that. I would make that. Oh yeah, I would make that." First up: this banana-chocolate upside-down cake. It's one of several upside-down cake recipes in this book. There are plenty more recipes to make from this book, too. I can't wait to keep exploring.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Birthday Cake

For Claire's birthday this year, I knew it had to be chocolate cake, so I went with a tried-and-true favorite (Best Birthday Cake) from Lora Brody's Chocolate American Style.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Apple Cider Cake

(Cue Joan Jett.)

Oh Anne Byrn. I hate myself for loving you. You make me buy cake mix! It's insane. I was thrilled to learn that you had a new baking book coming out, The Cake Mix Doctor Returns. It is a swell book, and I've really enjoyed looking it over.

I had a meeting to attend tonight, so last night, I gave the new book a test-drive by making the Apple Cider Cake. Terrific cake, and it was really easy to put together. I'm looking forward to trying more recipes from the new book.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Banana Rescue

This year for Reach the Beach, we atypically undershopped for food to have in the van during the race. Nevertheless, there were some bananas left over. I think they were left over pretty much because they somehow became packed in between bottles of water and everybody's luggage. They ended up being great for banana-chocolate chip bread, though. I tried a new recipe from 250 Treasured Country Desserts: Mouthwatering, Time-honored, Handed-down, Soul-satisfying Sweet Comforts by Andrea Chesman and Fran Raboff.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

RTB Cookies

This year for the annual trek to New Hampshire for the Reach the Beach relay race, I made three kinds of cookies: oatmeal-dried cherry, chocolate chunk, and chocolate peanut butter cookies. All were recipes from Mom's Big Book of Cookies by Lauren Chattman. I know that the cookies were enjoyed by at least 1.5 teams at RTB this year, so that is good.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Cake for Blaise

Last June, our friend Blaise died about nine months after he was diagnosed with colon cancer. We learned of his diagnosis through an email with the subject line "annoying news" -- typically understated and dismissive, as if the cancer were a pesky mosquito that he was trying to brush away.

I've actually been struggling with what to write in this blog entry. In the end, all I can say is that Blaise was a terrific guy: funny, big-hearted, an athlete (but not a jock). I wish we'd had more time to hang out and laugh with him.

Anyway, after his memorial service a couple of weeks ago, there was a potluck. I brought along a Milky Way Cake. I like to think he would have found a cake made with four melted Milky Way bars to be both amusing and absurd.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Board Meeting

For today's skating-club board meeting, I made a couple of things. First, I made Crumb-Topped Coffee Cake from Abby Johnson Dodge's The Weekend Baker. It is brilliant, especially on those pieces where the crumb:cake ratio works in favor of the crumbs.

The scones are from Elinor Klivan's Fearless Baking. I'm not sure if it was the recipe or the weather (it has been pretty damp here), the scones had a relatively cakey texture, not very sconelike at all. However, everybody seemed to like them, so what do I know?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Tomorrow afternoon, the girls from the skating team are getting together to take a look at a memory DVD that one of the parents has put together. I'm looking forward to seeing it because I'm sure it's going to be as entertaining as the one that was done for the season that concluded a year ago. Since I know the girls (and, um, the parents) like cupcakes, I made a batch for everyone to enjoy during the screening. The vanilla buttermilk cupcakes are from Cupcakes Year-Round by Sara Neumeier; the chocolate buttercream is from More From Magnolia by Allysa Torey.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

New Haven

Ready for the New Haven 20K tomorrow. I'm participating in this year's event instead of just spectating. (I am not sure why. Oh well.) I'll be bringing along a couple of things: Ina Garten's Outrageous Brownies and, in honor of the late Sheila Lukins, Applesauce Raisin Cake from The Silver Palate Cookbook.

Instead of using the 3 cups of walnuts the brownie recipe called for, I used 1.5 cups and then 1.5 cups of a dried-fruit mix (cranberries, cherries, blueberries). I love the Chunky bar quality that the dried fruit gives the brownie. My gripe about the recipe is the 3 tablespoons of instant coffee powder it calls for. I think that rather than working with the chocolate, the coffee starts to override.

The cake is very good. I don't like the glaze so much, and will probably not make it again. However, I can see revisiting this cake as the fall weather sets in. I think it would be awesome with dried cranberries instead of raisins, too.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Chocolate-Cinnamon Bundt Cake

After spending much of the summer away from the oven (largely due to summer weather and/or travel), I am happy both for cooler fall weather and for being at home on a regular basis.

This cake is a little overdue, but it's for a colleague's birthday, which was last week. While browsing through the new issue of Bon Appetit, I was inspired by the recipe for Chocolate-Cinnamon Bundt Cake with Mocha Icing. I was a little concerned that the recipe called for a large Bundt pan but seemed to have too little potential volume, but the cake ended up having a satisfying height. Still, I think that if I make this again, I might try it in a slightly smaller pan.

Otherwise, while the taste testing remains, the cake seems like a winner. The aroma is amazing (predominantly cinnamon but with hints of coffee).

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Baking to Sell

My friend and work colleague Andy has a nice little baking side business going, and has been successful selling scones, muffins, and cookies at several local shops. Last weekend, as part of a big local event, the church where Andy bakes was making plans to do their traditional fresh-doughnut stand, and they invited Andy to sell his baked goods during the event. Andy then asked me if I'd be interested in participating. We've actually talked about doing something like this for a while, but my schedule is often hyperbooked. Last weekend, I knew I would have the time, and I was definitely up for it. We talked and agreed that I would do some brownies and help Andy out with some cupcakes.

Side note: This was actually the second time we'd baked together. The first time, two of the three things I made -- recipes I've made any number of times -- were complete disasters because I cluelessly used pastry flour instead of all-purpose flour. I was concerned about making sure that everything worked out this time, so I brought a 25-lb. bag of all-purpose flour with me.

Ready with my most-reliable brownie recipe, I headed to the church kitchen after work the Wednesday prior to the event and made four batches of straight-up plain brownies, thinking of them as a blank canvas for future embellishment. The following Friday, I spent the day baking with Andy. I made a double batch of chocolate butter cream (a more traditional formula that used powdered sugar, which we thought would be more stable in case it was warm on Saturday) and a double batch of vanilla butter cream. The frostings were intended to be used on the cupcakes Andy was making (lemon-ginger, chocolate, and carrot).

I also made four more batches of brownies, including two with walnuts. The two batches with walnuts ended up as Rocky Road Brownies; the nutty base was topped with a heap of marshmallows, toffee bits, chocolate chips, and chopped walnuts. After they were cool, I drizzled them with a bit of chocolate glaze. Two pans became Peanut Butter Brownies, coated with a peanut-butter butter cream and garnished with half of a peanut-butter cup, then a splash of glaze. Two pans got the mint treatment: a mint-flavored frosting with a puddle of chocolate glaze in the center of the brownie; I stuck an Andes mint into each puddle of glaze. Finally, I had two pans left, one of which had been sliced and tested for quality-control purposes (ha). For the sliced batch, I piped a dollop of leftover mint icing, stuck in an Andes mint, then drizzled some glaze. For the second batch, I covered the brownie with chocolate butter cream, then sprinkled on some chopped pecans. Everything turned out well except for one batch of the Rocky Road Brownies; for some reason, they didn't set up completely in the center. (I suspect that I put too much batter in the pan, although I thought I had portioned the batter equally between the two pans.)

While I like to think that I am efficient in the kitchen, I am pokey compared to Andy. Even though he had a bit of trouble with one cupcake recipe, he managed to produce more stuff than I did. Of course, I also fussed a bit more knowing that this was going to be my chance to see if I could make something that people would not only want to eat but also would have to buy to be able to eat. I give Andy a lot of credit for getting me to think more about presentation.

In the end, it paid off. I ended up selling 57 of the 95 brownies I had made, and I know Andy did well with his array of stuff. Getting to see people's responses to the brownie display was incredibly gratifying; watching them enjoy the brownies was even better. I was surprised by the number of kids who went for the mint brownies; I had guessed kids would go for peanut butter first. Go figure.

Thanks, Andy, for letting me sit in on this one, and thanks to all the people who stopped by and had nice things to say.

Test Session

I'm doing a bit of catching up here because last week was busy.

Last Monday, the skating club held a test session, so I got to do my hospitality thing and prepared food for the judges who came in to assess the skaters' skills. The menu included cheese and crackers, cheddar-bacon-chive scones (a double batch, with plenty left for the board members of the skating club to enjoy after the event), black-bean soup with smoked turkey, and a fruit salad (strawberries, kiwi, and mango with mint dressing). Of course, there also were desserts.

First, I had a few pieces of Mississippi mud cake to serve. Also, I made the Classic Banana Bundt Cake from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours; I glazed the cake with some ganache I had in the fridge. Then, although I'd been thinking about making something else, I ended up having a batch of leftover brownies, so I dressed them up with a glaze of bourbon caramel, a drizzle of ganache, and a toasted pecan. Voila! Turtle Brownies.

How does one end up with a batch of leftover brownies? At 10:15 p.m. last Saturday, Claire informed me that she needed something for the next morning for her final Sunday-school class ever because they were having an end-of-year party. After the initial shock wore off, I made a quick batch of brownies. The next morning, I sliced and wrapped them. I went to swim and run, then got home around 10:15 a.m., when the party would have been starting. Imagine my surprise when my family returned home at 10:20. They discovered that the party had been canceled because the Sunday-school teacher decided not to have a party after all, then didn't bother to call or email to inform anyone in the class about this decision. (I hope this came up in confession!) Anyway, in this instance, that's how I ended up with a batch of leftover brownies. In the end, I guess it worked out because it did save me a little trouble on Sunday night, and the judges all liked the impromptu Turtle Brownies.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mississippi Mud Cake

I got two birds with one stone this week for both Lost Lunch Thursday and PLTI by making two Mississippi Mud Cakes, from Nancie McDermott's Southern Cakes. I figured that I really needed to try a recipe from this book other than the Sweet Potato Pound Cake, and the mud cake did not disappoint. While I tend to find marshmallows generally a little weird, they take on a pretty interesting texture when they are coated hot with a warm chocolate glaze. The dense, nutty cake is pretty good, too. Definitely a recipe to revisit, and another reason to endorse this cookbook.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Banana Bars

I wonder how many times I've started a blog post with this comment: I had a few ripe bananas to get rid of, so ...

This time, I had enough bananas to make two things. First, I made Chocolate Chip-Banana Snack Cake from Nicole Rees's Baking Unplugged. Although this recipe is designed to be made, well, unplugged, I confess that I used a mixer. (I'm lazy. What can I say?) I had a little vanilla frosting left over from the Cookies & Cream Cupcakes I made last week, so I put that on the cake. It's a nice little cake: not fussy, and it came together pretty quickly. Definitely one to add to the ripe-banana repertoire.

The other bars are Banana Caramel Brownies from Elinor Klivans's 125 Cookies to Bake, Nibble, and Savor. They are a cakey banana bar cookie with a bit of caramel sauce in them. Then after the batter is in the pan, more caramel sauce is drizzled over and lightly swirled in, and chopped pecans are sprinkled onto the exposed caramel. I'd made these bars once before, seven years ago, in fact. I made a note in the book and dated it: "3/20/02 Extraordinary. Butter + flour pan." (I recall that I brought some to share with my pals Brooke and Bill, and remember that Brooke loved them.) I think I won't let seven years pass before I make these bars again.

Banana Bundt

For last week's PLTI class, I made this Quick Banana Bundt cake from the book Bundt Cake Bliss by Susanna Short and Dottie Dalquist. It's quick because it starts with a yellow cake mix (I was a little pressed for time last Wednesday). No feedback on it, either, but maybe I'll get some word when I drop off next week's treat.

Another Peanut-Butter Pie

My colleague Tim is moving on to new adventures, so we had a little going-away party for him last week. It was brought to my attention that Tim liked the peanut-butter pie I'd made for a previous going-away celebration, so I made that recipe one more time. I couldn't stick around long enough to be sure that anyone was eating it, but when I saw the empty Tupperware on my desk on Friday morning, I knew that it must have been enjoyed. One of these days, I am going to make one of these pies without another purpose in mind. I'd really like to try a slice of it!

Incidentally, Tim and his wife, Ruth, have an excellent blog, Eat Well, Eat Cheap. Check it out.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cookies & Cream Cupcakes

On Monday, Claire's Girl Scout troop hosted an event, and she brought home half of a Costco-size package of Oreos that were left over from the snack table. I know most people would think "Oreos! What a great snack!" I looked at them and thought, "Oreos! What a great ingredient!" Since I had promised Claire's skating pal Elise that I would make something for her upcoming birthday, I sought out a recipe that would allow me to use Oreos as an ingredient. I ended up making these Cookies & Cream Cupcakes.

Despite the fact that this recipe calls for a full tablespoon of baking powder, the cupcakes didn't rise a whole lot. They are incredibly tender, however, especially for a cake made with all-purpose flour. I think that's largely due to the preparation technique. The liquids and softened butter are all combined simultaneously with the dry ingredients; then egg whites are added (to provide structure, I think).

The recipe suggested a fluffy white frosting, but I went with a more traditional buttercream, which I thought would be easier to pipe onto the cupcakes. Then I garnished each cupcake with some sprinkles and a miniature Oreo.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Neil's Donuts

Yesterday, we took Claire to a skating clinic in Hamden, a town near New Haven. Afterward, we decided to head to Boston for the day. While heading north on the Merritt Parkway, we passed a sign indicating that the exit for Yalesville was coming up. In the dark, bakery-cluttered recesses of my mind, I remembered reading some commentary at about a good doughnut place in Yalesville. Since I was driving, we took the exit. A little bit up the road, and voila! Neil's Donuts!

In addition to doughnuts, Neil's has a nice assortment of baked goods. We kind of went for a sampler with a bit of everything.

Doughnuts are best fresh, and I very much enjoyed the pillowy soft freshness of the chocolate-glazed, chocolate-jimmied raised doughnut I had for breakfast. Karen had the chocolate-glazed cake doughnut and declared it good. Claire opted for the Boston-cream doughnut (lower left) that was so oozing with filling that we ended up having to stop so that she could wash her hands.

I'd been meaning to get to Neil's for years, but before yesterday, it was never conveniently on the way anywhere. Now all I can say is that I hope that Claire will be attending another skating clinic in Hamden in the near future. I know exactly how to fill my time while she is on the ice.

Unfortunately, we didn't make it to any bakeries after we arrived in Boston, although I did see someone carrying a bag from Finale.

These final two photos are not bakery-related, but I figured I'd tack them on here: me at the Boston Marathon finish line and Claire in the Public Garden at the Make Way for Ducklings statues.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bourbon-Pecan Turtle Brownies

This brownie is a creation that is evolving.

A few weeks ago, I was baking with my friend Andy, and I made a batch of Bourbon-Pecan Brownies, a recipe from Quick Chocolate Fixes by Leslie Weiner and Barbara Albright. Andy suggested dressing up the brownies a little. To be honest, while they taste really good, they are somewhat plain-looking, almost homely. So I glazed them with a bittersweet-chocolate ganache and sprinkled some chopped toasted pecans on top. Although that helped the appearance, Andy suggested a drizzle of caramel over the nuts and ganache. Since I didn't feel like making caramel, I left the brownies as they were, but I kept the caramel idea in the back of my mind.

For this week's Lost Lunch Thursday, I decided to work a little more with the caramel idea. I searched for a bourbon caramel recipe, thinking that it would be nice to have the bourbon flavor repeated in the final product. The first recipe I tried was too bourbony for my taste. Fortunately, the recipe made only a small amount. I then went back to a terrific caramel-sauce recipe from Fine Cooking. I've made this caramel sauce many times. For this version, I added 1/2 cup of bourbon to the warm caramel, then stirred in about 1 cup of chopped toasted pecans to 1-1/2 cups of the warm caramel. I poured this topping over the brownies, then glazed them with bittersweet chocolate ganache.

While I really like the flavors, I think I need a thicker caramel. I would like for the caramel to maintain a bit more shape after the brownies are sliced. I'm hesitant to dial back on the bourbon, though, because the 1/2-cup measurement (at least to the quantity of caramel sauce that this recipe makes) is just right for a hint of flavor. Still a little work to do ...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Great Blondie

For PLTI this week, I went with a tried-and-true blondie recipe from The Greyston Bakery Cookbook by Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan. These blondies are as dense as a good, fudgy brownie, largely because they don't have any leavening. I guess it depends on your palate, but I like their thick chewiness.

Brownie-Blondie Double Deckers, or the 10x10 Pan

For this week's Lost Lunch Thursday, I was a little fixated with making a batch of bar cookies that combined a blondie with a brownie. I've made a couple of different versions before, but this week, I decided to use a recipe from Abby Johnson Dodge's The Weekend Baker.

After I read over the recipe, I looked at the photo of the bar cookie in the book. Much to my dismay, the bars displayed in the photo -- as baked in a 9x13 pan -- were thinner than what I'd been hoping to make. I then decided that I needed to assemble and bake the cookie dough in a smaller pan to get a thicker cookie. An 8x8 pan would be too small. Even a 9x9 pan seemed as if it would be too small (81 sq. in. vs. 117 sq. in. for the 9x13 pan). Then I remembered the 10x10 pan.

In a couple of her books, Lisa Yockelson has recipes developed to be baked in a 10x10 pan. When I first saw the reference to that pan size, all I could think was "Who the heck owns a 10x10 pan? Where on earth can you buy a 10x10 pan?" Even though I managed to track one down at, I didn't buy it.

Then one day a few years ago, I was in a Sur La Table store in SoHo in Manhattan. The 10x10 randomly crossed my mind, and lo and behold, there it was! And I bought it! I took it home! I washed and dried it! Then I put it away until yesterday! (I think the lesson here as I'm brilliantly rationalizing it is that eventually, I will some how, some way, use the pans and gadgets that I've purchased even though they might spend some portion of their lives gathering dust.)

In the end, I think the 10x10 pan gave me the kind of bar cookie I was looking for. It's thick enough, and it required only 12 minutes or so of extra baking time. Plus, the bars are good. I did my own riff on the recipe and added a cup of white-chocolate chips to the brownie part to contrast with the semisweet chips in the blondie part. They ended up looking and tasting great.

Cupcakes for Allie

Yesterday was a birthday for one of Claire's skating friends, so I volunteered to bring some cupcakes to the rink for the celebration. I made a batch of Chocolate Sour Cream Cupcakes from Sara Neumeier's Cupcakes Year-Round, and frosted them with a favorite chocolate buttercream from one of the Magnolia Bakery cookbooks. I even managed to light the candle at the rink without causing any fire alarms to go off.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thanks, Kevin

For nearly 15 years, I've had the privilege of working for the best boss I could have imagined. Kevin has been supportive, patient, and good-humored. He's smart enough to know that he doesn't know everything, confident enough not to be arrogant, and intuitive enough to have guided an eclectic group to make a great magazine. I think that he was party to one of my favorite post-marathon cheers, too. (When I was back to work the day after I ran my first Boston Marathon, sitting in my chair was our office's super-size Bob the Builder plush toy wearing a Laurel wreath -- a headband decorated with photos of Stan Laurel.)

His largesse is not limited to the office. Kevin helps colleagues with their home-building projects. (He helped me put a screen door on my house -- and by help, I mean that I chatted while he did most of the work.) Kevin even once sat through a skate show to see Claire perform. Really, you need to have had only one bad supervisor (give or take) to revel in having a good one. A boss who is more likely to laugh than to yell is truly a great thing.

After 23 years at the magazine, Kevin has decided it's time to step back and channel his creative energies in pursuits of his own design. While I know we are left in more than capable hands, I will certainly miss seeing Kevin in the office. I will miss hearing his nontraditional shout of "Shut up!" after someone sneezes. I'll miss sharing new-music finds (including, over the years, Justin Townes Earle and Teddy Thompson) and discussions of longtime favorites (Dwight Yoakam and Rosanne Cash). Perhaps more than anything, I'll miss the annual birthday challenge of finding a new concoction (cake, cupcake, pie, ice cream) involving chocolate and peanut butter.

To commemorate his last day in the office, I've gone back to revisit a couple of chocolate/peanut-butter favorites.

First, there's the Chocolate Festival Cake, a Maida Heatter recipe. The cake has peanut butter, chocolate, and bananas, and the frosting is peanut butter and chocolate. For some reason, this time I ended up with what seemed like an overage of frosting, so I used some to garnish the chocolate-peanut butter pie (photo below), then used the rest to make some decorative squiggles on the cake. (In hindsight, I probably should have forgone the squiggles; they look a little amateurish.)

This chocolate-peanut butter pie is from Quick Chocolate Fixes, a tiny book full of great recipes.

Finally, I tried one new recipe, a chocolate-peanut butter tart, an Abigail Johnson Dodge recipe that appeared in Fine Cooking in December 2005. I think this one turned out pretty well, although I fumbled a little with the graham-cracker crust.

Thanks, Kevin. Whenever you need a chocolate-peanut butter concoction, let me know.

Coffee Toffee Chocolate Chunk Cookies

For Lost Lunch Thursday this week, I made a batch of coffee toffee chocolate chunk cookies. (Scroll down for the recipe.) They are the best.

Zesty Lemon Pound Cake

For the PLTI class this week, I made a lemon pound cake. The recipe I used was from a Nestle cookbook I'd picked up at the grocery store, but I also tracked down the recipe at the Nestle Web site. No word on how the cake turned out, although a number of people were impressed with the star shape of the cake. One change I made from the recipe was using 6 oz. of melted chopped white chocolate rather than 6 oz. of melted white-chocolate chips.

Here's the recipe, from the Nestle Web site:

Zesty Lemon Pound Cake
Estimated Times:
Preparation - 20 min | Cooking - 55 min | Yields - 12 to 16 servings


1 cup (6 oz.) * NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Premier White Morsels
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
3 to 4 tablespoons grated lemon peel, (about 3 medium lemons)
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
1 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
PREHEAT oven to 350° F. Grease and flour 10-cup Bundt pan.

MELT morsels in medium, uncovered, microwave-safe bowl on MEDIUM-HIGH (70%) power for 1 minute; STIR. Morsels may retain some of their original shape. If necessary, microwave at additional 10 to 15-second intervals, stirring just until morsels are melted. Cool slightly.

COMBINE flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in lemon peel and melted morsels. Gradually beat in flour mixture alternately with buttermilk. Pour into prepared Bundt pan.

BAKE for 50 to 55 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in cake comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Combine powdered sugar and lemon juice in small bowl. Make holes in cake with wooden pick; pour half of lemon glaze over cake. Let stand for 5 minutes. Invert onto plate. Make holes in top of cake; pour remaining glaze over cake. Cool completely before serving.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes

This year, I was not called upon to make 300-plus cupcakes for the Girl Scout troop's Princess Tea Party. I found a couple of boxes of cake mix left over from last year's extravaganza and decided to use one of them to make a treat for this week's PLTI class. These cupcakes are made from a devil's food cake mix, a can of cherry pie filling, some almond extract, a couple of eggs, and some chocolate chips.

Cherry pie filling is pretty nasty, acrid stuff, although the nastiness is mitigated somewhat if you happen to find a couple of cans of it for 99 cents each on the grocery-store closeout rack. For the frosting, I followed the Anne Byrn's recommendation for the Martha's Chocolate Icing. It's a cooked frosting (sugar, butter, and milk heated until the sugar melts, then combined with chocolate chips). I made a double batch of it and used some to glaze the Chocolate Syrup Swirl Cake for Lost Lunch Thursday.

Chocolate Syrup Swirl Cake

A couple of months ago, we stopped for dinner at Cracker Barrel. We seem to find it impossible to get out of Cracker Barrel without buying something in the gift shop, whether it's Moon Pies, candy, or some other crazy thing. This trip, I started flipping through a spiral-bound Hershey recipe collection that seems to be a combination of three grocery-store impulse-buy point-of-purchase cookbooks. Enough recipes seemed appealing that I ended up buying the cookbook.

One of the recipes that caught my eye was Chocolate Syrup Swirl Cake. After the batter is prepared, half of it goes in a Bundt or tube pan. The other half (2 cups) is combined with a cup of chocolate syrup and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda. There's also an option to add a cup of shredded sweetened coconut, which I did. Also, I discovered that I had only about 1/2 cup of chocolate syrup left, so I balanced out the total volume with some coffee-flavored syrup. (Mocha!)

As the cake bakes, the batters swirl together.

All in all, this cake was pretty good. It's extremely moist. My only gripe was that the chocolate/coconut center was hard to slice neatly. Maybe it would be a cleaner cut without the coconut.

A Cake for Frank

Frank, one of Karen's colleagues, decided to retire after working at their place of employment for 30-plus years. Yesterday, a bunch of folks took him to lunch to celebrate, and I got to make his going-away cake. Since I've kind of been in the stout groove, I made another one of the Chocolate Stout Cakes. It's such a good cake: moist, rich, good chocolate flavor. It's also a reliable recipe. (Also, I still had four bottles of stout to use up. Now down to three!) I think I let the glaze cool too much before I poured it on the cake, though. It looks a little gloppy.

By all accounts, the cake was greatly enjoyed. Happy retirement, Frank!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

More Red Velvet Cupcakes

I had to make another batch of those red-velvet cupcakes because they were so good. The recipe makes so many that I had plenty for both Lost Lunch Thursday and for PLTI. Sweet!

A Disappointing Coffee Cake

I usually like Carole Walter's recipes a lot, and I was thrilled when Fine Cooking ran one of her coffee cake recipes in their holiday issue last year. I didn't make it then, but had it in the back of my mind. When I needed to make something for a skating-club board meeting last weekend, I decided to give this coffee cake a try. The recipe has three variations, so I went with the chocolate version.

Although I ended up liking aspects of the cake, I can't say that I loved it overall. Preparing this cake requires a major kitchen throwdown, calling into use the following gear:

• a saucepan for preparing struesel
• a bowl for combining struesel ingredients
• a bowl for combining filling ingredients
• a food processor for preparing the filling
• the KitchenAid, of course
• many measuring cups and spoons
• other pieces of measuring equipment
• the oven (natch)

After the cake batter is prepared, there's a fairly elaborate cake-assembly process involving layers of batter alternated with layers of filling, all topped off with struesel and a final application of filling — reminiscent of a babka, almost, I guess. I think it took me longer to get the cake ready to go in the oven than it took to bake it. I also didn't have the amount of batter I'd believed I would have to be able to assemble the cake according to the instructions.

After all that work, the final result was disappointing. The middle two layers of the cake were gummy — reminiscent of a bread pudding, I guess. (And that is not to disparage bread pudding, but I wanted a coffee cake.) I would like to say that I will try this one again, but I'm not so sure. Maybe. The top part was excellent, especially the struesel. In all, though, I felt underwhelmed.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Another Chocolate Stout Cake

When I hear the word stout, I don't usually think of beer. First, I think of the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menominee, Wis. (I went to college in nearby Eau Claire.) Next, I think that stout describes the shape I have taken on since the beginning of the year. Eventually, I get around to stout as in the dark beer.

A couple of weeks ago, the King Arthur Flour email newsletter included a link to a blog post and recipe for a chocolate stout cake. I was intrigued because the cake looked pretty awesome; besides, I'd already bought a six-pack of Guinness for a chocolate stout Bundt cake. I decided to make the King Arthur cake for St. Patrick's Day.

The process mostly went well; I had only a couple of gripes. First, the cake layers baked with a bit of doming, which meant that I had to level two of them before assembling the cake. (I am thinking that is because I used my thinner cake pans instead of the heavier-duty ones.) Also, if you choose the three-layer option as I did, I think you don't get quite enough ganache to frost the cake. (My instinct tells me that even if you made the cake as two layers, you might want to split and fill them; otherwise, that is going to be two extremely thick layers of cake. In that case, of course, you would definitely need more ganache.)

That said, the cake is great: rich and very moist. (You might expect that, of course, when you get to the second ingredient in the recipe: 1 lb. of butter.) I think that this cake might be good enough to become a St. Patrick's Day tradition.

Test Session

Several times a year, the skating club holds test sessions, which allow skaters to demonstrate their proficiency with skills that they learn in lessons. I think some of the skaters test because they want to compete (and level of testing determines what category you can compete in), and some test because they like the challenge of preparation, of learning new things.

Anyway, when we hold a test session, four or five judges attend to do the assessments. Because the judges do this service for free, it's tradition to provide them with a nice lunch. Since I am currently hospitality chairperson for the skating club, I get to do the food.

Last weekend, we held a test session. For lunch, I made split-pea soup with tarragon and lemon, and a fruit salad (honeydew, grapes, and kiwi with mint). Of course, I also baked: bacon-cheddar-chive scones, orange poppyseed pound cake, red-velvet cupcakes, and the aforementioned chocolate stout Bundt cake. (The orange poppyseed pound cake is a Nicole Rees recipe from Fine Cooking and was featured in the same article as the stout cake.)

OK, it was dessert-heavy, but it was nice to have extra to share with the skaters. The judges seemed pretty happy with the food, especially the scones. I neglected to take a photo of them before the test session, and by the time the session was over, they were gone! Instead of making eight large scones, as the recipe directs, I divided the dough in half and make 16 small scones.

I don't know what prompted me to make the cupcakes. I've been reluctant to make red-velvet cakes because -- cripes! -- a bottle of red food coloring? I've got to say, though, that this cupcake recipe is amazing. I am planning to tinker with it to see how they turn out with a bit of additional liquid in place of the red food coloring. I think they'd make an excellent vanilla cupcake.

Our next test session is in May. I think it goes without saying that I will have to make another batch of the scones. While that will not be a problem, I will be sure to stash one away for myself for after the test session.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Chocolate Stout Cake

This Nicole Rees recipe first appeared in one of the Holiday Baking issues that Fine Cooking published several years ago. Since it contains stout and since we are nearing St. Patrick's Day, I figured it was time to revisit this cake. It's a great cake, moist and chocolatey. It calls for 1-1/4 cups of stout; unfortunately, the bottle of Guinness stout that I bought measured 1-1/2 cups of liquid. Thus, 1/4 cup was ladled out and discarded. (Although I enjoy beer, I am not a stout fan.)

Now that I've got five bottles of stout left to use, I guess I'll be making another stout cake (this one recently featured on the King Arthur Flour Web-site blog).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tropical Chocolate Chip Cookies

There is a conventional wisdom that if you change three things about a recipe, it becomes your own creation. Inspired by the chocolate chip cookies I made last week, I started thinking about flavor combinations that might work well in a cookie. A couple of days later, I made the dough for these Tropical Chocolate Chip Cookies. I am going to chalk this up as my first recipe (although I confess that it borrows heavily from the traditional Toll House cookie recipe, a cookie formula of classic and elegant proportion).

These cookies contain white chocolate chips, lemon zest, lemon juice, toasted macadamia nuts, chopped dried pineapple, and shredded coconut. I think they taste great. Ideally, they will be going to tomorrow night's PLTI class -- as long as I don't eat them all first.

(Recipe to come, as soon as I track down the notes I made.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Donut Dip

Whenever we travel to or through Springfield, Mass., I always look forward to the opportunity to visit Donut Dip, a small, local purveyor of old-fashioned cake and yeast-raised caloric goodness. Even though I knew we would get to stop at the King Arthur Flour Bakers' Store last weekend, I was looking forward more to Donut Dip. (Bonus: We got to stop there twice, on the way to Burlington, Vermont, and on the way home.)

Donut Dip advertises 49 varieties, but I don't think that includes their muffins or their fruit-filled bar cookies, which seem to be a New England bakery specialty. Donut Dip just sells good doughnuts. It's always difficult to choose a rational sampler at Donut Dip, but among other things, we tried both cake and raised doughnuts, filled and unfilled, glazed and sugared. It was all good.

Based on prior visits, I had hoped to get a meltaway, Donut Dip's version of a treat we first discovered at Bonatt's, a fantastic bakery and breakfast place in Harwichport on Cape Cod. Last weekend, they had no meltaways. However, they did have their version of the "dirt bomb," a treat we first discovered at the Cottage Street Bakery in Orleans on Cape Cod. The dirt bomb is a muffin with a cake-doughnut-like texture. After baking, it's rolled in melted butter, then in cinnamon sugar. (Yes, it's as good as it sounds.)

I also couldn't resist the allure of my very own Donut Dip T-shirt (photo above). If I'm going to be a walking advertisement for anything, it might as well be something I wholeheartedly endorse. If you're traveling through Springfield, make a stop at Donut Dip. You'll be glad you did.

Donut Dip is on Riverdale Road in West Springfield, Mass.