Category: Cake

Carrot Cake

January 9, 2012

I have a question to ask you.  Before I get to that, I know you probably have a question for me.  “Where did you get the stars on that cake?”  And because I appreciate you (did I mention that in my 2011 recap? I do so appreciate you), I will answer your question first.  I slipped those stars into a King Arthur Flour order that also included chocolate sprinkles and chocolate bars perfect for making petits pains au chocolat.  It looks like the stars were a seasonal thing but you can buy the chocolate here.  (And while you are on that site, I can’t recommend the silicon rolling mat highly enough.  Whenever I teach a class and use it, people always ask about it.  (I have no affiliation with King Arthur Flour, I just love them.)

On to my question.  Cake or frosting?  Yes, some people are both but in my experience, people identify with being one or the other.  I am cake all the way.  I remember being at birthday parties as a child and asking for a piece of the store-bought cake with the rose on it because that is what all the other kids did, tasting the rose, and then scraping all the frosting off so I could get to the (hopefully) chocolate cake underneath.  Cake girl, right here.  Frosting is too sweet, too buttery, just too much for me.

There are two exceptions.  One is this cake where the frosting is so delicious, so ridiculously decadent, that I love it even more than the cake.  (And I really love that moist chocolatey cake.)  The other exception is carrot cake.  I am, um, not a fan of carrot cake.  Just not for me.  I do like cream cheese frosting and so, in the case of carrot cake, I would scrape off the frosting and leave the cake.

Randy and I are different in many ways.  I do believe it’s one of the reasons our marriage works.  We have different strengths and weaknesses and we balance each other.  One of his weaknesses is that his favorite cake is, you guessed it, carrot cake.  (Kidding.  Of course.  Kind of.)  I’ve made him carrot cupcakes and inside out carrot cake cookies, but never in all the years we have been together have I made him carrot cake.  His birthday was on January 2nd and his parents, who gave me a cookbook with a lovely sounding carrot cake were in town, so it was time.

Most people who don’t like carrot cake don’t like the idea of a vegetable in a cake.  I don’t like it because, while I like nuts, raisins, pineapple, and coconut – I don’t like them in cake and I certainly don’t like them all together in one cake as some recipes would have you make.  The carrots are the least of my problems.  So when I found a cake that featured none of those extras, just a lot of spices and even a bit of whole wheat flour along with the carrots, I knew I had my recipe.  Of course, the frosting is great too.  I’m sorry I don’t have a photo of a slice of cake.  I was serving this to a large group and had to cut very thin slices and I happen to think a thin slice of cake, while delicious, is a little sad looking.  One more note, the children in the group were all clamoring for a second piece before they were half way done with their first – until they learned that it was, in fact, carrot cake – and then the table got very quiet.

One Year Ago:  Herbed and Spiced Goat Cheese Balls
Two Years Ago:  Petites Pissaladières
Three Years Ago:  Poblano and Cheddar Stuffed Portabello Mushrooms

Carrot Cake
Adapted from Cake Ladies
Makes 1 9-inch 3-layer cake

My one quibble with this cake is that the actual cakes were on the flat side.  I might one and a half the recipe for the batter next time so the cake it a little taller. 

For the cake:
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted better, at room temperature
1¾ cups sugar
¼ cup molasses
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups whole wheat flour
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 tbsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. nutmeg
1½ cups buttermilk, at room temperature
2 cups grated carrots
Zest of 1 lemon

For the icing:
2 packages (1 pound) cream cheese, softened
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
5 cups powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  Spray the bottom and sides of 3 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray.  Place the pans on a sheet of parchment paper and trace three circles the same size as the bottoms of the pans.  Cut out the circles and place in the bottom of the greased pans.

Make the Batter:
Cream the butter, sugar, and molasses together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy.  While beating the mixture on low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.

Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl, and beat again until the mixture is smooth, light and creamy.

Stir the flours, baking soda, salt, baking powder, and spices together into a separate bowl.

With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl sveral times.  Mix lightly but thoroughly between each addition, until ingredients are just combined.  Add the carrots and lemon zest, and stir by hand until combined.

Gently scrape the batter into the pans, dividing the batter  evenly between the three pans.  Place in the preheated oven, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and the sides of the cake have pulled away from the sides of the pan.  Allow the cakes to cool for 20 minutes, then run a thin knife around the edges of the cakes (a palette knife works best) to make sure they are not stuck to the pans.  Carefully remove the layers from the pans and settle on a wire rack to finish cooling.

Make the icing:
Cream the cream cheese and butter together in the bowl of a stand mixer on low speed.  Beat until the mixture is smooth and creamy and no lumps of butter remain.  Add and combine the vanilla.  Add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, blending on low speed until fully incorporated.  Using the rubber spatula, scrape down the paddle, sides , and bottom of the bowl.  Beat the mixture on medium speed until light and fluffy.

Assemble the cake:
When the layers are completely cool, invert the first layer onto a cake plate so that the parchment side is up.  Carefully peel off the parchment and throw it away.  Spread about 1 cup of the cream cheese icing on the top surface of the cake with an offset spatula, pushing the icing all the way to the edges.  Place the second layer on top of the first and repeat the process – removing the parchment paper and spreadting the icing.  Top with the third layer and apply a very thin coating of icing (a crumb coat) all over the cake.  Refrigerate for 1 hour.  Remove and finishing covering the cake with the icing.

Carrot Cake can be kept covered at room temperature for up to three days and can be refrigerated for up to one week.

My First Buche de Noel

December 22, 2011

I’m going to keep this short and sweet because, chances are, if you are still looking for a dessert for your holiday table, you need it now and don’t have extra time to read a long post from me.  Am I right?

This is actually, technically, my second Bûche de Noël.  I made the first one, the exact same recipe, earlier this month for a party we hosted and I meant to take a photo of it then and post about it so you would have plenty of time to decide whether or not this was the dessert for you.  Alas, things don’t always happen as we plan.  And sometimes I write run-on sentences.  So I made it again for another party this past Saturday.  I meant to post about it on Sunday but then this bug hit our house and it seems to enjoy taking its time attacking us one by one.

So here we are.  This is an easy cake – a very easy way to get lots of ooohs and aaaahs.  You will need a jelly roll pan and ideally a torch although the latter is not totally necessary.  If you have patience, you will be making chocolate leaves and if you don’t you will not.  (I chose not but I will include the how-to below).  Buy the best peppermint ice cream you can because that is the flavor that comes through most clearly.  The cake is very mild and the frosting is just sweet.  The chocolate sauce is divine though, of course.  Next year I will make a more involved Bûche, one with a chocolate ganache and homemade meringue mushrooms, and pistachio “moss”.  This was a good start though.

One Year Ago:  Holiday Biscotti with Pistachios and Cranberries
Two Years Ago:  Peanut Butter (or Caramel) Mini Candy Brownie Cups
Three Years Ago:  Ultimate Ginger Cookies (Ina calls them ultimate, I say not as my new favorites)

Frozen Chocolate-Peppermint Bûche de Noël
Bon Appétit
12 to 14 servings

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped
¾ cup heavy cream

Chocolate leaves
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped
10 fresh camellia leaves or lemon leaves, wiped clean with a damp cloth

Nonstick vegetable spray
1 cup sugar, divided
¾ cup cake flour
¼ cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
4 large eggs, separated
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 tbsp. water
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
2 pints peppermint ice cream
1/3 cup coarsely crushed red-and-white peppermint candies or candy canes

Meringue and decorations
5 large egg whites
¼ tsp. cream of tartar
¾ cup sugar
½ tsp. vanilla extract
Fresh mint leaves
Small candy canes

Place chocolate in medium microwave-safe bowl.  Bring cream to simmer in small saucepan.  Pour cream over chocolate.  Let stand 1 minutes, then whisk until melted and smooth.  (Can be made 1 week ahead.  Cool cover, and chill.  Rewarm, uncovered, in microwave in 15-second intervals and whisk before using.)

Chocolate leaves
Stir chocolate in small saucepan over low heat until melted and smooth.  Remove from heat.  Using pastry brush, brush chocolate on underside (veined side) of 1 leaf to coat completely (do not allow chocolate to drip over edge of leaf).  Place leaf, chocolate side up, on small foil-lined baking sheet.  Repeat with remaining leaves.  Chill, uncovered, until chocolate is cold and firm, at least 1 hour.  Working with 1 leaf at a time, carefully peel green leaf away from chocolate.  Return chocolate leaf to same sheet; discard green leaf.  (Can be made 3 days ahead.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill.)

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375ºF.  Line 15x10x1-inch baking sheet with parchment.  Coat paper with nonstick spray and dust with cocoa.

Sift ½ cup sugar, cake flour, ¼ cup coca, baking powder, and salt into small bowl.  Using electric mixer, beat egg yolks in large bowl until thick.  Beat in oil, 2 tablespoons water, and vanilla.  Gradually add dry ingredients, beating just until blended.  Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites and cream of tartar in medium bowl until soft peaks form.  Gradually add remaining ½ cup sugar, beating until stiff but not dry.  Fold ¼ of whites into yolk mixture to lighten.  Fold in remaining whites in 2 additions.  Spread batter evenly in prepared pan.

Bake cake until puffed and tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 12 minutes.  Cool cake in pan on rack 10 minutes.  Sift light layer of cocoa powder over large smooth kitchen towel (not terrycloth).  Cut around pan sides.  Turn cake out onto prepared towel, leaving 3-inch cloth border on 1 long side.  Peel off parchment.  Starting at 1 long side with cloth border and using cloth as aid, roll up cake in towel (towel will be rolled up inside).  Place cake, seam side down, on work surface; cool completely.

Microwave ice cream in 10-second intervals until barely softened.  Unroll cake on work surface but leave on cloth.  Dollop ice cream over cake by spoonfuls.  Gently spread ice cream in an even layer, leaving 1-inch plain border on long side opposite cloth border.  Sprinkle ice cream with crushed candy.  Using cloth as aide and starting at cloth order, roll up cake, enclosing ice cream in cake.  Place cake, seam side down, on long platter; cover with plastic wrap.  Freeze cake at least 8 hours or overnight.

Using electric mixer, beat egg whites and cream of tartar in large bowl to soft peaks.  Gradually add sugar, beating until still but not dry.  Bean in vanilla.

Cut off 1/8 of cake at angle at 1 end.  Press cut off part onto center of 1 side of log, cut side in.  Spread meringue all over top, sides and ends of cake.  Using fork, make long grooves in meringue down length of cake and in circles on ends to resemble tree bark.  Freeze cake until meringue is cold and firm, at least 3 hours.  Using torch, brown meringue in random spots.  Return cake to freezer.  (Can be made 2 days ahead.  Keep frozen.)  (DT:  I found I was not able to cover the cake because it stuck to the meringue so I just kept it in the freezer uncovered.)

Garnish cake with chocolate leaves, fresh mint, and small candy canes.  Cut cake crosswise into 1-inch wide slices.  Drizzle with warm chocolate sauce.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

December 15, 2011

Put away any pre-conceived notions you have about Sticky Toffee Pudding.  Unless your pre-conceived notions about Sticky Toffee Pudding is that you like it very much.  In that case, keep your pre-conceived notions and go take 1½ sticks of butter out of the fridge.

Look, when I check out a dessert menu, my eyes glaze over until I see chocolate.  I can appreciate a good apple tart and I like ice cream, and raspberries are awesome, but friends – dessert is chocolate.  Period.  But.  This time of year, something happens.  I never lose my chocolate affinity but my mind opens just a bit.  It would never occur to me that I would like a cake that has puréed dates in it and it may not occur to you either, which is why I am asking you to put aside those notions of yours.

A couple of years ago, I took a holiday cooking class with Olaiya Land.  She is now one of the co-founders of The Pantry at Delancey and she is a very good cooking teacher indeed.  In that class, we made Sticky Toffee Pudding and I silently pooh-poohed it and decided to eat my dessert’s worth of calories in savory bread pudding instead.  Big mistake.  The cake, which really looks like nothing special, smelled like the very best of everything (butter, brown sugar, cinnamon) and, with a caramel-y toffee sauce poured over the entire cake and the same sauce served alongside it, I realized my short-sightedness.  It’s not chocolate.  But it’s easy, crowd pleasing, and can be made in advance and frozen.

One Year Ago:  Over the Top Mushroom Quiche
Two Years Ago:  Chocolate Gingerbread Bundt Cake
Three Years Ago:  Fennel and  Brie Risotto Wedges (yum!)

Sticky Toffee Pudding
Adapted from Olaiya Land
Makes one 8-inch cake

I make this cake in a round cake pan but you can certainly use a square.  And because I have two of them (actually I have four – don’t ask), I usually double the recipe and freeze one for later use.  Don’t glaze the cake you are going to freeze.  Olaiya serves this with whipped cream but I just like to pour on extra sauce.

For Pudding:
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus additional for the cake pan
8 ounces Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
½ cup light rum
2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. baking soda
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature

For Sauce:
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
½ stick (¼ cup) butter, cut into small pieces
1/8 cup light rum

For pudding:
Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Butter an 8-inch square or 9-inch round cake pan and set aside.  Put dates, rum, and ½ cup water in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat to medium-low.  Cover and simmer until dates are very soft, about 5 minutes.  If the dates have not fallen apart, mask with a fork or potato masher to break up any large chunks.  (If you prefer to not even know the dates are there, you can blend the mixture with an immersion blender or put it in a stand mixer.)  Set aside to cool for 10-15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda.  Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the ixer bowl as needed.

Reduce speed to low.  Add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the date mixture.  Transfer batter to prepared pan and smooth top.  Bake for 25 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325ºF and bake until cake tester inserted into the center of the pudding comes out clean, 15-20 minutes more.  Let pudding cool in pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes.  Run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen and invert onto a serving plate.

For sauce:
In a medium saucepan, bring cream, brown sugar, and butter to a boil over medium-high heat.  Boil for 3 minutes.  Stir in rum and cook for 2 minutes more (you should have about 1½ cups sauce).  Put a piece of parchment or waxed paper under the rack (this will catch the drips).  Pour half of the sauce, slowly, over the warm pudding, allowing it to drip down the sides.  Serve the other half of the sauce along side.

(Make ahead:  I made this cake, glazed, one day ahead and loosely covered it with foil.  I let the remaining sauce cool completely, covered and refrigerated it.  When we were ready to serve it, I reheated the sauce gently.)

Perfect Chocolate Birthday Cake and a Giveaway

October 19, 2011

I just took a quick look at the “Cake” section of my blog and counted no fewer than 17 chocolate cakes.  17!  I guess I should clarify – 17 cakes that have chocolate in them, but still, 17!  And there is always room for another.

Sometimes I like bells and whistles, sometimes I like straight chocolate.  Up until very recently, I had not found the perfect classic chocolate layer cake – the kind you bring out topped with candles and accompanied by on off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday”.  The cake from Holly B’s was pretty good, tasty and easy, but the frosting amount was off and I find very few things more annoying than setting out to make a layer cake and having some part of it not work.

These are the times when you turn to a trusted source.  I get really excited about super seasonal cookbooks or single subject ones (as long as that single subject is something I like to cook and eat), but a good cook needs a few no-nonsense, big, all-inclusive, tested-to-perfection cookbooks in her collection.   How many of those are out there?  In my mind, not many.  I have The Joy of Cooking, The Essential New York Times Cookbook, and Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.  Oh, and my new baby.

You know the folks at Cook’s Illustrated, right?  I have been getting their magazine for over ten years and have mentally thanked them countless times for coming up with perfect recipes and making mistakes in their testing process so that I don’t have to.  I’ve been using their book Baking Illustrated for years and it has the distinction of not a single note written in it because the recipes do exactly what they say they will.  Now those good people have come out with a single comprehensive volume called Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook, 2,000 Recipes from 20 Years of America’s Most Trusted Food Magazine.  (You can buy it here.)

For those of you who receive their magazine, you are used to reading the fascinating stories of how they come to the perfect recipes.  In this new very large book, they still include a bit of each story.  Each recipe is prefaced by a paragraph called “Why This Recipe Works”.  It’s not just recipes, the personality of the magazine still comes through.  You will still get to read tidbits about the testing process and also get valuable make-ahead tips for many of the recipes.  Oh yes, and the recipes.  If you have every made a Cook’s Illustrated recipe, you know that it turns out exactly as they say it will.  Every time.  Because this book is so comprehensive, you get everything from very basic (Foolproof Vinaigrette) to very fancy (Kahlúa Soufflé with Ground Espresso).  Am I gushing?  Is it clear that I love this book?

Good.  I, and the good people at Cook’s Illustrated, want you to have a copy.  All 2,000 recipes.  Just leave me a comment telling me if there is a perfect recipe you have been searching for.  I always love to get a sense of who my readers are and what you are cooking.  I will randomly pick a winner next Monday, October 24th.  You have until noon PDT that day to enter.  UPDATE:  Contest now closed.  Winner announced 10-25-11!

And now, back to cake.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Layer Cake
Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook
Serves 10 to 12

I served this cake at a 50th birthday party after a large meal and along side an apple crisp.  I cut very small slices and served 12 with about half the cake left over.

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped coarse
¼ cup (¾ ounce) Dutch-processed cocoa
½ cup hot water
1¾ cups (12¼ ounces) sugar
1¾ cups (8¾ ounces) all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks, room temperature
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces and softened

1 pound semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup (2 1/3 ounces) sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
1¼ cups heavy cream

1.  For the cake:  Adjust the oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease two 9-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper, grease parchment, and flour pans.  Combine chocolate cocoa, and hot water in medium heatproof bowl set over saucepan filled with 1 inch of barely simmering water and stir with  heatproof rubber spatula until chocolate is melted, about 2 minutes.  Add ½ cup sugar to chocolate mixture and stir until thick and glossy, 1 to 2 minutes.  Remove  bowl from heat; set aside to cool.

2.  Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in medium bowl.  Combine buttermilk and vanilla in small bowl.  Using stand mixer fitted with whisk, whip eggs and egg yolks on medium-low speed until combined, about 10 seconds.  Add remaining 1¼ cups sugar, increase speed to high, and whip until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.  Replace whisk with paddle.  Add cooled chocolate mixture to egg mixture and mix on medium speed until thoroughly combined, 30 to 45 seconds, scraping down bowl as needed.  Add butter, 1 piece at a time, mixing about 10 seconds after each addition.  Add flour in 3 additions, alternating with 2 additions of buttermilk mixture, mixing until incorporated after each addition (abut 15 seconds), scraping down bowl as needed (batter may appear curdled).  Mix at medium-low speed until batter is thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds.  Remove bowl from mixer and give batter final stir by hand.

3.  Divide batter evenly between prepared pans and smooth tops with rubber spatula.  Bake cake until toothpick inserted in centers comes out with few crumbs attached, 25 to 30 minutes.  Let cakes cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes.  Remove cakes from pans, discard parchment, and let cool completely, about 2 hours, before frosting.  (Cooled cakes can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and kept at room temperature for up to 1 day.  Wrapped tightly in plastic, then aluminum foil, cakes can be frozen for up to 1 month.  Defrost cakes at room temperature before unwrapping and frosting.)

4.  For the frosting:  Melt chocolate in heatproof bowl set over saucepan containing 1 inch of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth.  Remove from heat and set aside.  Meanwhile, melt butter in small saucepan over medium-low heat.  Increase heat to medium, add sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, and salt and stir with heatproof rubber spatula until sugar is dissolved, 4 to 5 minutes.  In bowl of sand mixer, combine melted chocolate, butter mixture, and cream and stir until thoroughly combined.

5.  Place mixer bowl over ice bath and stir mixture constantly with rubber spatula until frosting is thick and just beginning to harden against bowl, 1 to 2 minutes (frosting should be 70 degrees).  Fit stand mixer with paddle and beat frosting on medium-high speed until frosting is light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.  Using rubber spatula, stir until completely smooth.

6.  To Assemble the Cake:  Line edges of cake platter with 4 strips of parchment paper to keep platter clean.  Place 1 cake layer on prepared platter.  Place about 1½ cups frosting in center of cake layer and, using large spatula, spread in even layer right to edge of cake.  Place second layer on top, making sure layers are aligned, then frost top in same manner as first layer, this time spreading frosting until slightly over edge.  Gather more frosting on tip of spatula and gently spread icing onto side of cake.  Smooth frosting by gently running edge of spatula around cake and leveling ridge that forms around top edge, or create billows by pressing back of spoon into frosting and twirling spoon as you lift away.  Carefully pull out pieces of parchment from beneath cake before serving.  (Assembled cake can be refrigerated for up to 1 day.  Bring to room temperature before serving.)

3 Cupcakes for $11

September 20, 2011

Now that the school year has started, we have a new weekly schedule in place.  Graham is in first grade so, obviously, he is in school five days a week.  Spencer goes to preschool four days a week and spends Wednesdays with me.  As much as I try to keep those days fun and Spencer-centered, they are often days full of errands.  He is a great sport and happily accompanies me as I drive around town getting the necessary ingredients for cooking classes or catering jobs.  I like to make sure those trips aren’t pure drudgery for him so there is often some kind of treat incentive.

Last week, we were near a cupcake shop and I suggested we stop in for cupcakes for the “boys” in our family.  (Me?  If I am going to eat cake, I am going to eat cake.  My cake.  Not store-bought cupcakes.)  I asked for three, the nice lady behind the counter boxed them up, rang me up, and told me I owed her $11.

$11.  For three cupcakes.  Really?  In my brain a little switch went off.  That “I will never buy into this crazy-ness again” switch.  As much joy as those cupcakes bring my children – it’s over.  Cupcakes in the Dana Treat household are homemade from now on.

But here is the thing.  I get it.  If I make cupcakes, it’s about 1 million times cheaper.  I can probably make 50 cupcakes for $11.  They will taste much better and be made with love.  But what am I going to do with 50 cupcakes?  Or even 12?  There are three people in my family who eat them.  Even if we have cupcake loving friends with cupcake loving kids over, we will only get through just over half a dozen.  What do I do with the rest of them?  They only keep for a day or so.  I can’t exactly put them in the cookie jar, right?  (Note to self:  Invent a cupcake jar!)

Once in a while my addled brain comes up with something surprisingly clear.  Post store-bought cupcake horror, I was extremely motivated to make my own.  I also realized that I needed a dessert for a special class I was teaching.  Mexican Chocolate Cake actually.  What if I made the cake smaller and used the rest of the batter for cupcakes?  It could have been a disaster but it worked great.  From one recipe, originally intended for a bundt pan, I made a 9×5-inch loaf cake and six cupcakes.  The boys were pleased, the babysitter was pleased, my students were pleased, Randy was pleased, and I was pleased.  Success!

One Year Ago:  Double Chocolate Layer Cake
Two Years Ago:  Grits Frittata
Three Years Ago:  Frittata with Feta, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, and Basil (apparently this is the time of year I make a lot of eggs)

Mexican Chocolate Cake

To make things simpler, I’m giving you the cake as originally written, for a 12-cup bundt pan.  (This is the standard size for a bundt pan in the US.)  You can play around with what pans you want or if you just want to make all cupcakes.  A site I find very useful when trying to figure out what pans to use is Joy of Baking.  You can look up your pan size, find out how many cups it holds by volume, and then reconfigure.  Sound complicated?  It’s actually really easy.

For cake
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
½ cup Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ cup water
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup well-shaken buttermilk
2 tablespoons vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt

For glaze
2 cups chopped pecans (7½ ounces)
½ stick (¼ cup) unsalted butter
½ cup half-and-half
½ cup confectioners sugar
5 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), finely chopped
¼ teaspoon salt

Make cake:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter cake pan well and dust with flour, knocking out excess.

Melt butter (2 sticks) in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, then whisk in cocoa. Add water and whisk until smooth, then remove from heat. Whisk in separately sugar, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla.

Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt into a bowl, then sift again into cocoa mixture and whisk until just combined (don’t worry if there are lumps).

Pour batter into cake pan and bake until a wooden pick or skewer comes out with a few crumbs adhering, 45 to 55 minutes. (Leave oven on.)

Cool cake in pan on a rack 20 minutes, then loosen edges with a thin knife and invert onto a plate.

Make glaze:
Spread pecans in 1 layer in a shallow baking pan (1 inch deep) and bake until fragrant and a shade darker, 6 to 8 minutes. Cool pecans slightly in pan on a rack, about 5 minutes.

Melt butter in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over low heat, then stir in half-and-half and confectioners sugar. Add chocolate and cook, stirring, until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in pecans and salt. Cool glaze until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

Spoon glaze over top and sides of cake (cake will still be warm) and spread with a small offset spatula or knife to cover completely.

(Cake (with glaze) can be made 2 days ahead and kept at room temperature in a cake keeper or covered with an inverted bowl.)

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