Archive for the ‘Cakes’ Category

Sour cream-chocolate cake

Coming home to the arrival of a new cookbook is one of the best feelings. The crisp new pages, gorgeous photos, baking tips and tidbits – I can’t wait to jump right in.

Through Smitten Kitchen, I recently discovered Sky High, a book dedicated to modern American layer cakes. This book is loaded with simple and interesting triple layer recipes. I was immediately drawn to the recipe for a Sour Cream-Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Peanut Butter Chocolate Glaze. This is a great oil-based chocolate cake recipe and the addition of sour cream makes the cake super moist. The peanut butter frosting is phenomenal and the chocolate glaze gives this cake a stunning finish.

I happen to have three 8-inch cake pans (which are required for all of the recipes in this cookbook). However, if you only have two pans, you can put 2/3 of the batter in one pan, and 1/3 of the batter in the second pan. The pan with double the amount of batter will need to bake longer (approximately 45-55 minutes) and once cooled, can be sliced in half with a serrated knife to form two layers.

Decorate the top of the cake however you like or leave it the way it is. The chocolate glaze will speak for itself. I candied some roasted peanuts and used them on top of the cake.

Sour Cream-Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze

Adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes
Makes an 8-inch triple-layer cake, serves 12 to 16

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup neutral vegetable oil, such as canola, soybean or vegetable blend
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs

To make the cakes
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and lightly flour the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper.  Carefully butter and flour the paper.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl and whisk to combine them (or use the whisk attachment in a stand mixer). Add the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well mixed. Divide among the three prepared cake pans. Bake the cakes for approximately 30-35 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean.

Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 20 minutes before inverting onto wire racks. Let cool completely. If you can, I would recommend freezing (or refrigerating) these cakes before assembling by wrapping the layers very well in plastic. The hard, frozen layers will be a lot easier to work with during assembly as these cakes are a bit crumbly.

To assemble the cake
Place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or large serving plate. Spread 2/3 cup of the Peanut Butter Frosting evenly over the top. Repeat with the next layer. Place the last layer on top. Use a small amount of the remaining frosting to create a crumb coat which will lock in any stray crumbs so they don’t show through your frosting. Chill the cake for 15-30 minutes, then frost the cake completely with the remaining Peanut Butter Frosting. Chill the cake for at least 30 minutes.

To decorate with the Chocolate–Peanut Butter Glaze, put the cake plate on a large baking sheet to catch any drips. Pour the glaze over the top of the cake, and using an offset spatula, spread it evenly over the top just to the edges so that it runs down the sides of the cake in long drips. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes to allow the glaze and frosting to set completely.

Remove about 1 hour before serving. Decorate the top as desired.

Peanut Butter Frosting

Makes about 5 cups

10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter (do not use all natural peanut butter)

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup half-and-half

In the top of a double boiler or in a bowl set over simmering water, combine the chocolate, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Use while still warm.


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chocolate crepe cake

I recently realized that the only time I make pastry crème is for Jocelin’s birthday. As many of you know, my sister Jocelin typically demands unusual or obscure European birthday treats, such as last year’s Swedish Princess Cake, which was a big hit for the dirty thirty.

This year, I presented Jocelin and Eddie, who share a dual birthday celebration, with several ideas and they chose a Crepe Cake.

Crepe Cake, or Gateau de Crepes, is a traditionally a towering pile of crepes separated by thin layers of pastry cream. Since Jocelin loves fruit and crème and Eddie is a chocoholic, I created the below recipe that combines Francois Payard’s fluffy chocolate crepes with a refreshing orange pastry crème and then smothers the whole cake in ganache.

For those of you that have never made a crepe, it’s easy. They do take a bit of time (3 minutes per crepe) and require you to stay focused on the task at hand, but are well worth the effort.

The crepe recipe below will yield nearly double the amount of crepes you’ll need for the cake, but I recommend making the full batch and filling leftover crepes with fruit and Nutella for breakfast or dessert.

Chocolate Crepe Cake with Orange Crème
Makes one, 8 inch cake

Chocolate Crepes

2 cups, plus 2 tbsps all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
8 large eggs
2 cups, plus 1 tbsp whole milk
grated zest of two oranges
10 tbsps browned butter (recipe below)
1 cup heavy cream

Combine the flour, cocoa powder, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Set aside.

In another large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and orange zest.  Gradually whisk the egg mixture into the dry ingredients.  Then whisk in the browned butter, then the cream, until incorporated.  Strain the batter to remove any lumps and whisk it until thoroughly combined.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours, or up to overnight.

chilled chocolate crepe batter

Remove the chilled batter and whisk briefly.  Place a small crepe pan or non-stick skillet (approximately 8 inches in diameter) over medium-high heat and spray with vegetable oil.  Once hot, pour ¼ cup of batter into the pan, and quickly swirl to coat the bottom of the pan in a thin, even layer (if you’ve never made a crepe before, check out this video).  After two minutes, use a spatula to lift up the crepe and flip. Cook the opposite side for one more minute.  Remove from pan and cool.  The edges of the crepe will be crispy and the center should be moist.  Repeat the process until the batter is gone.  Pile the crepes one on top of another on a plate.  When the batter is gone, cover the pile of crepes with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to assemble the cake.

To Make the Browned Butter: Place the desired amount of butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and let come to a boil.  Cook, stirring occasionally to keep distribute the heat evenly, until the butter starts to turn light brown. Remove from heat immediately and set aside. Cool for 5 minutes and use immediately.

butter on the verge of browning

Orange Pastry Crème

2 cups whole milk
1 tbsp orange juice
1 tsp orange zest
½ cup sugar
5 tbsps cornstarch
4 large egg yolks
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream

Combine the milk, orange juice and orange zest in a medium saucepan and place over medium heat.  Remove from heat as soon as small bubbles start to form around the edges of the pan.

Meanwhile, combine the sugar and cornstarch in a medium bowl, and whisk in the egg yolks.  The mixture will seem very dry. Continue to whisk until the mixture becomes moist and the yolks turn pale yellow (1-2 minutes).

Slowly add a quarter of the hot milk into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly to keep the yolks from curdling.  Then pour the remainder of the milk into the mixture and whisk until thoroughly combined.  When the milk is well incorporated, return the mixture to the saucepan and place over medium-high heat, whisking constantly to prevent lumps from forming.  Whisk and cook until the mixture becomes very thick and bubbles start popping from the center of the pan for at least 20 seconds.  The mixture needs to come to a boil in order to activate the cornstarch.

Remove from heat and whisk in the butter until it melts and the mixture is smooth.  Pour the pastry cream into a glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming.  Let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until ready to use.

Just before assembling the cake, whisk the pastry crème for one minute.  In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the heavy cream until soft peaks form.  Gently fold in one quarter of the whipped cream just until combined.  Then fold in the remaining whipped cream until well combined and there are no more white streaks.

Chocolate Ganache

10 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
Pinch of salt

Place chocolate in a large, heat-proof bowl and set aside.

Bring cream, corn syrup, and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and pour hot cream over chocolate. Let stand for 3-4 minutes. Whisk, beginning in the center of the bowl and moving toward the perimeter of the bowl, until the cream and chocolate are completely combined and the mixture is smooth.  Set aside and let cool completely.

Assembling the Cake

Remove the chilled crepes and pastry crème from the refrigerator.

Place one crepe on a plate and top with approximately ¼ cup and 1 tsp of pastry crème. Use an offset spatula to spread crème into a thin even layer, leaving a one inch border on the crepe.  Repeat until pastry crème is gone, ending with a crepe on top.

Carefully pour spoonfuls of the chocolate ganache over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides and into the layers of the cake. Decorate as desired.

Chocolate crepe cake

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Sweet Serendipity cookbook

Sweet Serendipity cookbook

If you haven’t been to Serendipity in Manhattan, you’re missing out.  This adorable cafe and dessert paradise is flanked by a a quirky store that sells lots of fun chotchkies and can make the 2 hour wait worthwhile.


Famous for the frozen hot chocolate, which is amazing , Serendipity serves a wide variety of sweet treats and offers an extensive food menu.  I recommend going for lunch.  You can make a reservation in advance if you’re there to eat food (as well as dessert), and can skip the massive wait that many of us endure for a spoonful of these delicious desserts.  My brother Eddie brought me to Serendipity for lunch on my birthday before I moved to NYC and it was one of my all time favorite meals.  I recommend going light on lunch and heavy on sugar…

Lucky for us, Serendipity has shared its secrets with the world in its Sweet Serendipity cookbook, which includes their famous frozen hot chocolate recipe and much more.

Below is a favorite recipe of mine.  It’s an indulgent year-round dessert and may remind you of a summer s’more.  It’s great with or without the chocolate pecan topping.  Enjoy!

Mississippi Mud Cake

Mississippi Mud Cake
Serves 6 or more

For the cake:
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cocoa
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups marshmallows

For the topping:
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup evaporated milk
2 sticks butter, melted and cooled

To make the cake:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan.  Set aside.

Sift together the flour and cocoa in a medium bowl.  Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  On low speed, mix the dry ingredients into the butter mixture.  Add the chopped pecans and the vanilla extract and continue to mix until combined.

Chocolate cake ready for the oven

Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and bake on a rack in the middle of the oven for 25 – 30 minutes.  Remove the cake and sprinkle with the marshmallows, then return it to the oven and continue baking until the marshmallows melt and start to brown.  Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan, set on a cooling rack.

To make the chocolate pecan topping:
Sift together the confectioners’ sugar and the cocoa into a medium bowl.  Add the pecans, evaporated milk and melted butter and mix until combined.

Slice the cake into wedges to serve and drizzle topping over cake as desired.  Store loosely covered, at room temperature.

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Christmas cookies and Hanukkah doughnuts are no more.  Your future involves a dense and flavorful cake filled with goodies like nuts, fruit and plastic babies… 

Also known as the Twelfth Night Cake or Epiphany Cake, the King Cake is a January tradition that is today associated with the festival of Epiphany and offers eaters a glimpse of their fortune for the New Year.  It traditionally makes its debut on January 6, (when the three wise men visited baby Jesus, 12 days after his birth) but can really be served anytime from January to March.

The King Cake can take many forms, from brioche twists and fluffy puff pastry to a more dense fruit cake, and is most popular in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Cyrus and Bulgaria.  Here in the U.S., the King Cake is widely celebrated as part of Mardi gras traditions in New Orleans.  Learn more about international variations here.

Colored sugar or frosting in purple (justice), green (faith) and gold (power) sits atop the cake and a small plastic baby, who represents baby Jesus, is baked inside.  The person who receives the lucky piece of cake with the baby is rumored to have the best fortune in the coming year, and is obligated to buy or make next year’s cake.

Below are a few great King Cake recipes and photos that I hope inspire you to try out this fun tradition.  Happy New Year!

Traditional American King Cake

Lenten King Cake

King cupcakes

La Galette des Rois (French King Cake)

A few recipes worth trying…

John Besh’s King Cake

Emeril’s King Cake

Dorie Greenspan’s Galette des Rois

Mardi gras King Cake with cream cheese filling

Andrea’s King Cake with fruit and cream cheese filling

Gluten-Free King Cake

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It’s Cyber Monday, which means Thanksgiving is over and it’s on to the festive holidays that make up December.  But before the sugar plums come calling, I’m still dreaming of Thanksgiving treats.  Here’s a snapshot of some of the amazing food I spent last week gobbling up…

Apple cornbread stuffing with raisins

Fluffy white mashed potatoes

Clove cranberry sauce

Aunt Ethel's dinner rolls

Roasted Brussel sprouts

Baked sweet potatoes in a brown sugar sauce

The main course

Apple cream cheese crumb pie

Chocolate pumpkin joconde cake

Chocolate pumpkin joconde cake

Ahhh…can’t wait until next year!

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Cakes n’ Carrots

Happy Sweet Treat Tuesday!

I love a great carrot cake, and so does my mom.  For her birthday (Nov 9!), I knew a traditional carrot cake would be a must.  It’s been a long time since I made one for myself, although I’ve certainly tasted my fair share of carrot cakes at other people’s houses, restaurants and events.

The best carrot cake I’ve ever had the joy of eating was at MC Perkins Cove.  Those of you that live near southern Maine had better count yourselves lucky.  Chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier offer an amazingly tall carrot cake with nearly a dozen thin layers covered in tart cream cheese icing.  My favorite part is the candied carrots that rest atop the cake…wowza.

For my mom’s cake, I didn’t have a particular recipe in mind, though I knew I would need plenty of carrots, shredded coconut, nuts of some type and maybe even pineapple…I set out to consult my cook book collection, and to my utter disappointment, found that not ONE of my books included a carrot cake recipe.  Seriously?  Of course, my living room is no Barnes & Noble, but I consider my small collection of recipes to be pretty reliable and versatile.  Well apparently, I’ve got some more collecting to do.

After some extensive online research and much contemplation over what makes a great carrot cake (walnuts or pecans? sweetened or unsweetened coconut?  pineapple or not?), the recipe I chose yielded a moist, flavorful cake with a great texture and light, tart icing.

I chose to make a 9-inch double layer cake, but you can alternatively split the cakes into additional layers or divide the batter into muffin pans for cupcakes.

Carrot’s up!

Nancy’s Carrot Cake

Nancy's Carrot Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¾ teaspoon salt
3 cups hand grated carrots (about 9 carrots)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs

Fluffy Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 ½ cups finely chopped walnuts (optional)

To Make the Cake:
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmet and salt and set aside. In another bowl, stir together the carrots, chopped walnuts and coconut.

Beat the sugar and oil together on medium speed in a kitchen aid mixer or large bowl until smooth (approximately 2 minutes).  Add the eggs one at a time, combining completely after each addition. Reduce the speed to low and gently add the flour mixture to large bowl.  Mix on low speed only until just combined. Gently add the carrot mixture and mix until just combined.

Dive the batter among the pans and baked for 55 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the cake comes out clean.  Transfer the cakes to a cooling rack and cool in pans for 5 minutes.  Invert cakes onto cooking rack and cool completely.

To Make the Icing:
Beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth (approximately 3 minutes).  Add the sugar one cup at a time and mix completely after each addition.  Turn the speed up to medium / high and beat for 3 minutes.  Turn the mixer down to low speed and add the lemon juice.

Place one cake layer on a plate and cover the top with 1/2 – ¾ cup frosting.  Place the second cake layer on top and frost the cake completely.  Cover the sides of the cake with chopped walnuts by pressing them into the frosting.  Serve immediately, or store the cake at room temperature for up to 3 days.

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Chocolate Wafer Icebox Cake

When I asked Tom what he wanted me to make for his birthday, he didn’t skip a beat – Icebox Cake.  I was expecting a more complicated request like a chocolate peanut butter concoction, special cupcakes, a pie or some type of intricate cake.  I have to admit I was a little relieved that he wanted something so simple.

If you’re looking for an easy, flavorful dessert that requires minimal prep time and NO baking…this is the recipe for you.

I made this a personal size cake (for two) but you can build a classic 8-inch cake by doubling the ingredients and using 7 cookies in each layer (instead of three).


3 cups heavy cream
2 tbsps sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 box famous chocolate wafer cookies, from Nabisco

Combine cream, sugar and vanilla in stand mixer and whip until cream forms stiff peaks.  Do not over beat.  Take three wafer cookies and line them in a circle on a plate.

Cookie cake base

Add a dollop of whip cream and and spread it over the cookies in a thin layer.  Repeat, adding layers of cookies and whipped cream, ending with whipped cream on top.  Garnish with wafer cookie crumbs (optional).  Enjoy!

Slice of Chocolate Wafer Icebox Cake

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