The Chocolate Trifecta Cake

I needed to make a birthday cake for a Senior Manager at work, and I knew he liked chocolate. So I did some research, and ended up picking this recipe. Generally I’m very hesitant to use recipes from websites like Food Network (I don’t think they’re always properly tested), but when I saw that it included sour cream and coffee, I knew it would be a winner. So I gather my ingredients:

Cake:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 3 cups light brown sugar, packed
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 1/3 cups sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups hot coffee

Frosting:

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature
  • 3 T unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup cooled coffee
  • 4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 6 cups confectioners’ sugar

Decorations (optional)

  • 4 oz. bar white chocolate
  • 4 oz. bar dark chocolate

I preheated my oven to 350 degrees, and buttered and floured my 9-inch cake pans (I only have two, but this is a 3 layer cake so I had to repeat this process once my first two layers had baked). I also cut circles of parchment paper to fit the bottoms of the pans, to make it easier to remove the cakes once they were baked.

Next, I creamed the butter until it was smooth, added the sugar and eggs, and mixed until it was fluffy (about 3 minutes). Then I added the vanilla, cocoa, baking soda and salt and mixed until it was all incorporated. I added the sour cream and flour in two installments.

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The last ingredient was the hot coffee, which I poured in and mixed until the batter was smooth (the batter will be thin). Then I poured the batter into the prepared pans and baked until the tops were firm to the touch and my toothpick came out clean, which took about 35 minutes. Halfway through the baking, I rotated the pans in the oven to make sure they baked evenly. Once they were done baking, I let them cool in the pan 10 minutes, then put them on my wire racks and let them cool completely before frosting. Do NOT try to move them to the cooling racks too early…your cake will crumbled/crack, and it will NOT be pretty (yes this happened to one of my layers because I’m impatient and tried to move them too quickly).

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While the cakes were baking, I made the frosting the decorations for the outside of the cake.  For the decorations, I just melted a 4 oz.bar of white chocolate in a double boiler, spread it out on parchment paper covering a cookie sheet, and froze it until it had hardened (about 10 minutes). I then repeated this process with the dark chocolate, drizzling it over the top the white chocolate.

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For the frosting, I creamed the butter and cream cheese together until the mixture was smooth. Then I added in the cocoa, and mixed in the coffee and vanilla. Next I added the sugar (1 cup at a time), mixing the frosting after each addition. I blended the mixture until it was completely mixed together. I altered the original recipe because I ran out of chocolate, so if you want a fluffier frosting refer back to the original recipe. This frosting was thinner than I’m used to, but it actually tasted great with the cake, and I enjoyed the texture.

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To frost the cake, I used an icing knife to cover 2 of the cake layers with frosting, and then stacked them together. I then flipped the third cake layer over and rested it on the top to create a flat top for the cake. I then frosted the sides and top, and covered the edges of the cake with the splinters of frozen chocolate I made. I froze the cake overnight to ensure it would survive the heat of my commute (the subway gets SO HOT). I then put it in the fridge when I got to work. It was still very cold when we ate it in the afternoon, which made it super easy to cut and eat. I would say this recipe is a winner!! The only thing  I would do differently next time would be to add a bit more powdered sugar to the frosting to make it a bit thicker.
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Everyone at work loved it! The birthday boy gave it his stamp of approval.

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Tender Braised Short Ribs

I have been waiting to make this recipe for quite a while, but it is a meal that should be eaten in good company. I invited a friend over for dinner, and realized it was the perfect opportunity to finally make this dish 🙂 I started the prep work for this meal in the morning, and started by getting my ingredients:

  • 4 pounds beef short ribs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 0.5 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 0.66 cup ketchup
  • 3 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme

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I started by sprinkling a generous amount of salt and pepper over ribs. In large pan on medium-high heat, I then browned the ribs on all sides and removed them from the pan (keeping the drippings in the pan).

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Next I sauteed the onions in same pan until they were translucent, and added the garlic. I let this cook for another minute, then placed the ribs in my crockpot, covering them with the onion/garlic mixture.

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I whisked together the wine, ketchup, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and dark brown sugar, and poured it over the meat. The last step was to add fresh thyme sprigs on top of meat.

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I let this cook in my crock pot on low for 7-8, and served it over a mashed potatoes. Robert and Jonathan helped me taste test the mashed potatoes.

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Everyone gave it their stamp of approval 🙂 We finished off our meal with gratineed pineapples. Food always tastes best in good company!

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Dried Strawberries

I’ve been experimenting with healthy snacks again….because as tasty as spoonfuls of Nutella can be, I really need to eat a little better! So I tried making my own dried strawberries!

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It’s a pretty simple process – you just hull a bunch of strawberries, and throw them in the oven at 210 degrees for three hours! They taste amazingly good!! Almost like candy 🙂

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I made two batches; the first batch I cut the strawberries in half, the second batch I left the strawberries whole. I think I liked the halved strawberries best! They almost tasted like chewy strawberry Twizzlers….I will definitely be making these again.

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Chocolate Croissants

This is seriously the simplest brunch/snack/treat to make..and the tastiest 🙂 It’s perfect if you have friends in town, need a hangover cure, or have hungry roommates! I have made these in all three situations, and it hasn’t failed yet.

If you want to make your own croissants, this is a great recipe. If you’re crunched on time, or would rather sleep in an extra hour, you can definitely use pre-made dough instead! I’ve made these both ways, and generally I like to cheat and use Pillsbury dough. It’s just so much easier, and Pillsbury really does know what it’s doing.

The ingredients are ridiculously simple:

– 1 can croissants

-1 handful dark chocolate chips

-1 T sugar (for garnish)

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I started by preheating my oven to 375 degrees. Then I popped open my can of “crescent” dough, rolled them out, and put about two tablespoon of chocolate chips at the base of each triangle of dough. I used a mini roll of dough that made four croissants, because only my roommate and I were eating them.

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I then rolled these bad boys up, sprinkled a little sugar on top, and let them bake for about 10 minutes, until they were golden brown. Like always, they turned out DELICIOUS. My roommate gave them her stamp of approval 😀

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If you want to mix it up, you can always throw some mini marshmallows in with the chocolate chips to make s’mores croissants, or swirl in some peanut butter. You can really do whatever your heart desires 🙂

Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Éclairs

Éclairs…where do I even begin? They are so delicate, so rich, so luxurious. However, if you decide to make a french pastry, you need to go all out. I mean the finest chocolate, exact measurements, following the recipe to a T. I obviously decided to go big, and tested out Pierre Hermé’s recipe for Chocolate Éclairs. Considering he is the youngest person ever to be named France’s Pastry Chef of the Year, this is an authentic, intricate recipe with several delicious components 😀

I began with the chocolate sauce, which is used in the chocolate glaze. (The recipe actually makes a lot more than you will need the glaze, so you will have some left over to dip fruit, make chocolate milk….the possibilities are endless). The recipe called for:

  • 4.5 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup sugar

I placed all the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan and brought the mixture to a boil.  Stirring constantly, I then reduced the heat to low and continued stirring with a spoon until the sauce thickened (about 10 minutes). You’ll know that the sauce is done when the sauce sticks to the back of you spoon.

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I made this sauce in the morning before yoga, and then began the chocolate cream filling in the afternoon. Yes, this was basically a whole day affair. But if you ask me, it was a great way to spend a Sunday!

The chocolate cream filling called for:

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 6 T Sugar
  • 3 T cornstarch
  • 7 oz. Bittersweet chocolate (melted)
  • 2.5 T unsatled butter

In a small sauce pan, I brought the milk to a boil. While I was waiting for the milk to heat, I combined the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together in a  heavy-bottomed sauce pan. When the milk was boiling, I slowly tempered it into the egg mixture by whisking in a couple spoonfuls of milk.I continued to whisk the eggs and slowly poured the rest of the milk into the tempered yolks.

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I then made sure that none of the eggs had scrambled (and made sure to remove any that had), and poured the mixture back into the sauce pan while whisking vigorously (yes this gave me a GREAT arm work out) until the mixture returned to a boil. I continued whisking for a couple minutes, and then stirred in the melted chocolate.

Next I spooned the pastry cream in to a small bowl and set it in an ice-water bath to stop the cooking process. My ice bath was a little ghetto, but I think it did the trick. I made sure to stir the cream as it cooled to ensure that it kept its smooth texture.

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Once the cream had cooled a bit, I mixed in the butter in four installments. I then returned the cream to the ice bath and let it cool completely (and stirred it occasionally) before I put it in the fridge.

At that point, I decided it was time for a breather, and went on a walk through central park with my roommate. It was nice to take a little breather and enjoy the sunshine!

Once I got back, I tackled the dough (choux pastry, aka pate a choux). The dough called for the following ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 water
  • 1 stick unsalted butter (cut into 8 pieces)
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 5 large eggs

I brought the milk, water, butter, sugar, and salt to a boil in a heavy bottomed saucepan. I then added the cup of flour and reduced the heat down to medium, while stirring vigorously. I continued to stir for about 2-3 minutes, so that the dough could dry a bit, until it was soft and smooth. Don’t worry if a slight crust forms on the bottom of the pan at this point in the process – it’s supposed to happen. I then transferred the dough into a medium sized mixing bowl, and let the mixture cool for about ten minutes. It’s important you let it cool before adding the eggs so that the dough will properly rise. I then mixed each egg in one at a time. Don’t worry if your dough separates when you add the first couple eggs, it will come back together as you continue to mix it.

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Once the dough was mixed together (and still a bit warm), I put it in a bag and piped it in 3 inch long strips on my lined baking sheets. I cut the edge of my bag about 3/4 of a inch, and piped about 30 eclairs. I froze one of the sheets (the frozen dough lasts for about a month), and baked the other two pans at 375 degrees. It was a strange baking process…but I followed the directions. I let the pastry cook for 7 minutes, then propped open the oven door with…a wooden muddler. I was supposed to use the handle of wooden spoon…but believe it or not I don’t have a wooden spoon! The muddled worked just fine though. After the pastry had cooked for a total of 12 minutes, I rotated the sheets top to bottom and front to back. I then continued baking for 10 more minutes (until the pastry is puffed, golden, and firm).

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I then transferred the pastries from the cookie sheet to a cooling rack. As the pastry cooled, I made the chocolate glaze for the top. I used:

  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 4 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 4 tsp. unsalted butter
  • 7 T Chocolate Sauce (made above)

I brought the cream and chocolate sauce to a boil, then removed the pan from the heat and slowly added the butter and chocolate. I let this cool a bit as I prepped the pastry for assembly.

Once they were cooled, I cut them in half, and laid the tops right side up so that I could easily glaze them. I used a metal icing spatula and spread the lukewarm glaze over the tops. I then piped the chocolate cream filling onto the bottom half of each pastry. I made sure the glaze had set before I placed the tops onto the cream covered bottom half of each pastry.

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I was really pleased with the way these éclairs turned out! They were the perfect level of sweetness, kept their form, and were decadently rich 🙂 I made them a teensy bit smaller than the original recipe called for, but I actually liked them being small! It made them easier to eat, and i didn’t feel as guilty for having two…or three…haha they were just so tasty!!! Some of my friends helped me taste test, and they agreed 😀
045The only thing I would try to improve on next time would be the presentation; I think I got pretty sloppy with my glaze! Next time I may try to dunk the tops in the glaze, or just lightly drizzle it the glaze over the tops.

Lemon Blueberry Swirl Cake

SPRING IS HERE! And so is my friend Uli’s birthday!! AND my other coworker Brandon’s Birthday!!! Clearly, this can only lead to one thing – A lemon blueberry swirl birthday cake! I followed this recipe for the cake portion, but altered my own favorite buttercream frosting recipe to make a lemon buttercream. I used the following ingredients:

  • 2 sticks butter, room temperature
  • 2 C granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp grated lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon extract
  • 7 egg whites
  • 3 C cake flour
  • 4 tsp baking power
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 C whole milk
  • 1 13 oz. jar blueberry jam (make sure it’s made with lemon juice!!)
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The first step was to preheat my oven to 350 degrees. I then greased and floured my eight inch cake pans and line bottom with wax paper (I only have two pans, and this cake calls for three layers…so I reserved a third of the batter in a bowl until I was done baking the first two layers). Next I creamed together  the butter, sugar, lemon zest and lemon extract until the mixture was fluffy.  I added the egg whites in gradually, a couple at a time.

In a separate bowl I mixed together the flour, baking powder and salt. Then I alternated adding in the flour mixture and milk into the butter mixture. I beat the mixture on a medium speed during this, and continued mixing it until there weren’t any lumps. I then reserved about 1 cup of batter in a small bowl (to be mixed in later), and divided the remaining batter evenly into three containers (my two cake pans and a bowl).

The next step adds to the aesthetics AND taste of the cake 🙂 I added 2.5 Tbsp of blueberry jam to the cup of reserved batter and mixed it well. Then I drizzled this over my two cake pans, and created a swirl design by dragging a knife up and down through the drops of cake/jam mixture. This allows the jam mixture to get slightly incorporated into the batter, but just into the upper layers. It looks beautiful when you cut into the cake, and the top of each layer has a hint of blue.

I then baked each layer for about 25 minutes or until the toothpick came out clean and the cake had just started to pull away from the sides. I let the layers cool in the pan until I could hande them (10-15 minutes), and then remove from pan onto a wire rack. I was then able to pour the rest of the batter into a cake pan, and repeat the jam swirl. As I let the layers cool completely, I made the frosting!

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This recipe originally called for a relatively complicated frosting involving a candy thermometer….and I’m sorry, but that is just too much work for a frosting! I like to keep my frosting simple, and full of flavor. Soooo I decided to make a lemon buttercream. I used the following ingredients:

-2 cups butter (softened)

-2 boxes powdered sugar (8 cups)

-zest of 2 lemons

-juice of two lemons

-1 tsp lemon extract

-1 tsp vanilla

-1/4  milk

I love this frosting because it isn’t too sweet, and can literally be morphed to frost just about any cake. I laid my first layer on the tray I was using to transport the cake on, and started the assembly. Cake, Frosting, Jam, Cake, Frosting, Jam, Cake….and a ton more FROSTING!

 

Make sure you alternate bottom down, top down with your layers as you go, to make sure your cake remains relatively level. Once I filled the layers and had evenly frosted the top and sides of the cake, I made a ring around the base of the cake with blueberries, and made a jam swirl on the top of the cake with the remaining jam (using the same technique as described above). The finishing touch was placing a few blue berries and couple lemon wedges on top.

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I was REALLY pleased with the end product; the cake had a very light texture, and the lemon gave the cake such a bright taste. My coworkers agreed, and not a single slice was left. This is one of the best tasting cakes I’ve made 😀

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