June 16, 2011

When I was about 8 months pregnant with Graham, my oldest child, Randy and I did a Lamaze weekend out of town.  Most OB’s recommend you do some kind of class to prepare you for childbirth and the hospital where we ultimately delivered offered a six week course.  Randy had just started working at Microsoft and was spending a ridiculous number of hours there trying to get up to speed.  The thought of trying to get back across the lake in time for a class stressed him out, so we opted to cram all those classes into one weekend instead.

Sometimes things happen for a reason and I think we ended up going this Lamaze route so we could meet an incredible group of people.  There were 12 couples, all due within a few months of each other, and over the course of the weekend and talking about things like contractions and bed-rest and colostrum, we got to know each other.  We were all in this incredibly heady time in our lives – about to have our first baby.  Scared, excited, scared and um, scared.  The weekend ended and we drifted away from each other and back to our lives.

The first couple had their baby just days before we had Graham.  The husband emailed their news out to the group and, now that we were connected, all the rest of the couples followed suit.  Through this email connection, the women started bonding.  Once all of us had our babies, we began to get together with our brand new babies.

At the time I was in a PEPS group (Program for Early Parenthood Support), an organization I believe in and support.  I even lead a group myself when Graham was a year old.  But my particular group was a little funny.  Everyone was nice but there were some big overachievers in there and everyone seemed to have it together.  No one cried, everyone’s baby seemed to be sleeping, nursing was going well for all the moms – in short, no one was real.  I went to those meetings making sure I had showered, did not cry, bit my lip the whole time, and left feeling like a failure.  It was the weekly gathering of Lamaze ladies where I could be myself.  It was my lifeline.  Being able to walk out of the house unshowered, crying baby in tow, get to a friend’s house who was in a similar mental and emotional space as me, and be able to cry myself – out of exhaustion, frustration, fear, and hormones – is what saved me in those first few months.  One in our group gave us this quote: “You make friends for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.”  It seemed we had made lifelong friends.

Sadly, within a couple of years, 6 of the 12 couples moved away.  We all got busy with our lives, husbands, work, second children.  I have remained extremely close with two of the women – I consider them two of my closest friends.  I wish I saw everyone else more frequently but busy lives and distance makes it difficult.  Donna was one of our true gems and she had the nerve to North Carolina before we knew it.  Donna and I have been keeping in intermittent touch on Facebook and I will occasionally get a comment from her on this blog.  She emailed last week to say that she and the family were heading to town and could we gather?  Of course!

6 adults, 10 kids, 2 pizzas, 2 salads, and 1 cake makes for a rocking good time.  Graham was in heaven because all the six-year-olds were girls.  Spencer was in heaven because there were so many people to play with.  It was so nice seeing them all as such big kids and seeing how truly far we have come.  In true Lamaze group fashion, we shared some of the joys and some of the frustrations we are experiencing.  And we got to sing “Happy Birthday” to one of our group whose birthday is Friday.

I have been wanting to practice my layer cake technique ever since watching this incredibly helpful video.  A friend’s birthday is the perfect excuse for practice.  This is a Holly B’s recipe and it’s hard for me to believe I have never made it.  Holly mentions in her book that this is the standard birthday cake in her family and now I know why.  It’s a perfect chocolate cake.  The cake itself is moist, the frosting is to die for and the whole thing is incredibly easy and quick to make.  Yes, really.  My only quibble is that there was not enough frosting.  The cake is very crumbly so it needs a crumb coat, but there was not enough for me to do that.  No matter, sprinkles cover a lot of error.  But next time I will one and a half the frosting recipe to make sure there is enough to really cover the cake and for little fingers to dip into.

One Year Ago: Chile Cheese Gratin Sandwiches
Two Years Ago:
Grilled Vegetable Quesadillas
Three Years Ago:
Feta and Ricotta Cheese Pie (ignore the bad photo, this is a terrific recipe)

Sour Cream Chocolate Cake

With Love & Butter

Makes a 9-inch double layer cake

I‘m giving you the recipe as written in the book.  Remember, I would at least one and a half the frosting recipe – even double it and do a crumb coat.  To do so, spread a thin layer of frosting all over the cake and place it in the freezer for about 15 minutes.  Then frost the rest of the cake.  This will keep little crumbs from marring the smooth appearance of your masterpiece.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup unsweetened cocoa
½ cup boiling water
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 eggs
1 cup sour cream
2 cups flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt

Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting
¾ cup sour cream
4 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. salt
1/3 cup (2/3 stick) unsalted butter, melted
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Make the cake
Preheat the oven to 375ºF with the rack in the center position.  Butter and flour 2 9-inch round cake pans.

Melt ¼ of the butter (½ of one stick) and combine with the cocoa powder and boiling water in a small bowl.  Stir until smooth and set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the remaining butter with the granulated and brown sugars and vanilla.  Add the eggs and beat until smooth.  Mix in the sour cream, then the reserved cocoa mixture.  Finally, dump in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and mix just until combined.  Divide the batter between the 2 pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.

Bake the layers for 10 minutes, rotate the pans and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more or until a toothpick just comes out clean.  Don’t overbake – moistness is your goal.  Cool the cakes on a rack.

Make the frosting
Put the sour cream, powdered sugar, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of a mixer.  Whip to combine.  Stir the melted butter and cocoa together.  If the mixture begins to harden, dribble in a little more melted butter and beat until free of lumps.  Add to the sour cream mixture and beat until smooth.

Put one cake layer top-side-up on a serving plate and spread frosting generously to within ½-inch of the edge.  Place the second layer on top, bottom-side-up.  Smooth the remaining frosting over top and sides.

(DT: I made this cake a day ahead frosted and all.  I waited until the frosting had hardened slightly and loosely covered the whole thing with foil.  I think it improved both the flavor and texture of the cake so don’t hesitate to do the same.  You could probably even make it two days ahead, but then I would refrigerate it, covered, and bring it to room temp before serving.)


  1. I’ve never understood the idea of going to a support group and then not just telling it like it is. Those moms COULDN’T have had it all together. It’s just not possible!

    I’m glad you find a core group to get you through though and it will definitely be fun to watch as all the gets get older! This chocolate cake sounds absolutely amazing. The perfect celebration cake!

    Comment by Joanne — June 16, 2011 @ 6:18 pm

  2. I’m going to have to bookmark this one because just yesterday I asked my husband what kind of cake he wants for his birthday. His answer was chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, perfect!

    Comment by Jacqui — June 16, 2011 @ 6:22 pm

  3. I love everything about this post – the way you describe your experience, your friendships and the pictures of this cake. Support is such an important thing, in all stages of life. I am happy for you and the close friends you have.
    Now I need an occasion for making this cake, ASAP.

    Comment by Annika — June 16, 2011 @ 6:25 pm

  4. don’t you just love that “with love and butter” that is the perfect name.
    and, btw, i think it’s awesome that you got your tat in ptwon. rock on hot momma!

    Comment by vanillasugarblog — June 16, 2011 @ 10:30 pm

  5. I’ve been reading for a while but I don’t think I’ve commented before. I just wanted to say: I love your recipes (and use them often) but I also love when you share stories. The story of this lamaze group is quite lovely and so very real – it made me want to send it off to my first pregnant friend. Thanks for sharing!

    Comment by Marnie — June 17, 2011 @ 2:47 am

  6. I hear you about bonding with mums in the same space as you are in. I don’t know what I would have done without my mum and babies group in those early first months – when you didn’t even have to be coherent because someone there would get you or be in that same place. And it is so cool to be able to stay friends afterwards and watch the kids grow up.

    And this cake looks divine – I’ll put it on my “to make” list.

    Comment by Charlotte — June 17, 2011 @ 4:48 am

  7. Really nice story and this absolutely looks like a cake I couldn’t be trusted to have in the house. I’d have to double the frosting recipe!

    Comment by Maris (In Good Taste) — June 17, 2011 @ 5:04 am

  8. Dearest Dana,
    You so summed up our wonderful group of mommies…I miss us getting together on a more regular basis, but am so very grateful to you for taking the time when I was in town last week – not only for hosting our group at your lovely home, but also for sharing your love with us through your amazing culinary skills. It was so heavenly to see you and the others from our very special group…and, having eaten some (but not enough) of that beautiful cake, I can vouch that it tasted as amazing as it looks in the pictures!!

    THANK YOU, Dana, for a lovely evening. xoxo Donna :)

    Comment by Donna — June 22, 2011 @ 12:45 am

  9. I’m working on improving my cake making and decorating skills. I never thought about making the cake early enough the frosting can harden a bit. I’ve made a couple cakes right before the party and the foil has stuck to them and made a mess. Thanks for the tip.

    Comment by Shar @ Cherry Recipes — June 24, 2011 @ 6:12 pm

  10. Love the friendship quote! Glad to hear that friends can sustain such a distance (and the cake looks beautiful)!!!

    Comment by Evi — July 15, 2011 @ 1:17 am

  11. I made a similar cake to this before but wasn’t entirely happy with it. I’m saving this recipe for when I want to try again. :) It looks amazing.

    Comment by Ashley — July 21, 2011 @ 2:08 am

  12. Made it, loved it, was insanely sweet, but in a good way! A good sized portion was sent home with the birthday Grandmother too.
    Thanks for the recipe, the stories and also, I think your blog is ace – it’s a favourite of mine.

    Comment by Amy — August 9, 2011 @ 2:22 am

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