Rustic chocolate layer cake

Every year I make a birthday cake for my dad. And every year, it’s the same recipe base: chocolate espresso cake with dark chocolate ganache. This year I attempted, as always, to make the ganache frosting smooth. This year, as always, I failed to do so.

Luckily, rustic-looking things are a trend, especially around this time of year, and we also had some rosemary and raw hazelnuts on hand. I may not be the best cake decorator, but I’m not the worst!

Warning: this is a super rich cake and it’s not very sweet. Choose chocolate at your own discretion and do not feel pressured to eat the rosemary.

Ingredients

for the cake

  • 1 ⅛ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream

for the ganache

  • 8 ounces dark chocolate (I used 88% cacao)
  • 8 ounces heavy cream

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350º F.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt, then set it aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer* beat the cooled butter and the sugar together for 2-3 minutes or until it’s light and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time, making sure to scrape down the sides after each addition.

Alternate adding in the dry ingredients and the sour cream, starting with dry and ending with dry. After the last addition, scrape the sides and finish mixing by hand.

Pour the batter into two six inch pans, greased and lined with parchment paper.

Bake the cakes for 25-30 minutes, or until a skewer placed in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Let cool completely, then chill in the fridge before decorating.

In the meantime, heat the heavy cream to a boil, and chop the dark chocolate into small pieces and place it in a heatsafe bowl. Pour the boiling cream over the chocolate, and cover the bowl with a plate to keep the heat in. After around 10 minutes, take the plate off and mix the ganache. Let it sit at room temperature until it’s cool but spreadable.

Level the tops of both the cakes, spread ganache between the layers**, then coat the outside of the cake with more ganache. You should have used about ⅔ of the ganache at this point.

Pop the cake in the fridge to set, then add more ganache and create a bark-like pattern by running your spatula from bottom to top and top to bottom, creating vertical lines.

I topped the cake with a sprig of rosemary, some hazelnuts and chocolate shavings. Keep the cake refrigerated until 30 minutes before serving.

* you can also use a hand mixer

** I just used two layers, but you can cut each cake into two layers to make a total of four

Cookie dough espresso truffles

Oh heck yeah. 

The CDC recently told us not to eat cookie dough but… I feel like you’ll be fine with this one anyways. These cookie dough espresso truffles are perfect for a gift or a holiday party, or even just to eat for breakfast when you’ve slept in too long. Which I know from personal experience.

Note: these can also be vegan if you use margarine, dark chocolate and a nondairy milk!

Ingredients

for the edible cookie dough

  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • scant ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon espresso powder
  • 1 tablespoon whole milk
  • ⅓ cup almond flour
  • ¼ cup mini chocolate chips

for the coating

  • 4 ounces baking chocolate, melted (I used 65% cacao)

Instructions

In a small bowl, mix together the butter, brown sugar, vanilla and salt. Next, add the espresso powder, whole milk, almond flour and chocolate chips. Mix thoroughly and let the dough sit in the freezer for at least 10 minutes.

Roll the dough into small balls, then let them freeze for another ten minutes. In the meantime, melt the baking chocolate and line a plate with parchment paper.

Dip the chilled dough in the melted chocolate — work quickly, and immediately place the truffles in the freezer to set up. They’ll keep in the fridge for around a week.

Holiday Baking Roundup

I’ve done a lot of holiday baking over the past couple of years, so I decided to group my favorite holiday recipes together for easy access this holiday season. This way, you don’t have to scroll back through them all like I did!

Let’s start with a showstopper. This brownie pomegranate cake is a good centerpiece for if you’re having family or friends over for sit-down meal.

Almond shortbread cookies  are a super cute and would look great on a cookie plate. Just saying.

These espresso chocolate chip cookies aren’t necessarily holiday baking (I wrote the recipe over the summer) but they’re still perfect for a holiday party!

If you have friends with allergies, give them this gluten-free and vegan snack mix .

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Gingerbread bars are always a good choice, because they’re not too sweet and they’re kinda flashy with the gold sanding sugar, too. 

Paleo chocolate peppermint donuts are the way to go if you’ve got allergies, or if you just want an easy donut recipe.

Pecans kind scream Christmas, so make these oatmeal pecan cookies if you’re feeling it. 

No-bake chocolate desserts are easy and great for a holiday party. 

You might think pumpkin season is over. You’ll taste these pumpkin cupcakes and realize you’re wrong.

Takeout style sesame chicken

College students like takeout. That’s pretty much a fact. Yet somehow, I went half my freshman year before I caved and decided to get takeout at Joy Yee, an Asian restaurant chain in the Chicago area.

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I thought I wouldn’t like it, mostly because I tended to like more authentic Asian food—sushi, dim sum, etc. But godDAMN was this food good. Once I started, I got Joy Yee roughly once a month until I came home for the summer.

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But naturally, I still had moments where all I wanted was to stuff my face with takeout. So, naturally, I decided to test out making some myself. It went okay the first time, and it went REALLY WELL the second time.

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The best part about this chicken is that it’s super easy to make, and it’s also gluten and grain-free, for those of you who have restrictions. I ate mine with greens, but rice or noodles would also be a great choice. Go forth and eat comfort food!

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Ingredients

for the chicken

  • 1 pound boneless chicken thigh
  • ¼ cup arrowroot starch
  • neutral oil for frying (avocado and canola are good choices)

for the sauce

  • ¼ cup tamari soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar (or coconut sugar)
  • 1-2 tablespoons sriracha
  • 1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
  • 1 teaspoon arrowroot starch

Instructions

Cut the chicken thigh into uniform, bite sized pieces.

In a large cast iron skillet, heat 1-2 centimeters of oil on a high setting until very hot—I don’t use a thermometer, but a good way to check if the oil is ready is to splash a little water on it. If it spits and goes crazy, you’re ready to fry.

Dredge your chicken pieces in the arrowroot starch, then place directly into the oil and fry for about 2 minutes on each side or until crispy and slightly browned. I usually need 3 or 4 rounds to make sure I don’t overcrowd the pan.

Place the cooked chicken on a plate lined with a paper towel to let oil drain. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, sriracha and chili garlic sauce. Pour the sauce into a nonstick pan on a very low heat and continuously stir with a spatula for 3-4 minutes—it’s easy to get impatient, but if you turn up the heat the sugar will burn, so take this low and slow.

Once the sauce starts to thicken, add the arrowroot starch, cook for another minute or two and turn off the heat. Add the fried chicken pieces into the sauce and coat well.

Top with sesame seeds and eat with rice, greens or by itself.

 

3 Ingredient coconut caramel

As I test fall recipes, I realize that a staple in my healthier breakfast and desserts is this coconut caramel. Instead of typing out the recipe every time I use it, I gave it its own post, so you can find it easily anytime you need it.

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This coconut caramel sauce is quicker and easier to make than my regular caramel, is paleo and *most importantly* doesn’t taste like coconuts! If that’s not enough reason to make it, I have a few recipes coming up that will feature it prominently.

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Happy Fall!

Ingredients

  • 5.4 ounces (one small can) coconut cream
  • ¾ cup coconut sugar
  • 1 teaspoon arrowroot starch
  • optional: pinch of salt

Instructions

In a small saucepan, bring the coconut cream and coconut sugar to a boil.

Turn the heat to low and simmer for 5-6 minutes, until the mixture starts to thicken and coats the back of a spoon—don’t worry if the mixture looks dark, because it’s (probably) not burning! Coconut sugar is much darker than cane sugar, which leads to this color difference.

Add the arrowroot starch (and salt if you want it) and stir once more and then pull the caramel off the heat.

Pour into a glass container and let cool completely before serving.

Lasts for 2 weeks in the fridge.

Espresso chocolate chip cookies

Chocolate chip cookies are iconic. They’re most people’s favorite cookie, and they’re undeniably delicious. But I’m irreverent of tradition, and if it ain’t broke, you can probably make it even better somehow, especially if coffee is involved.

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At the start of testing, the two main things I wanted to do with these cookies were (1) diversify the flavor profile and (2) make a cookie that wasn’t too sweet. Adding espresso was the best way to fit both of those criteria, but halfway through my first test I realized I was low on chocolate chips. I went in my pantry to see if there was a good substitute, and I decided to chop up some 100% cacao baking chocolate and toss it into the dough.

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The first test went well, but I had some things I wanted to change. The cookies were chewier and crispier on the edges than I wanted, and I still wanted more depth of flavor. For the second (and successful) batch, I browned the butter and added some cinnamon. I also changed the brown to granulated sugar ratio from 3:1 to 1:1, which gave the cookies a cakey texture in the middle. They were perfect. They are perfect. These cookies are the pinnacle of cookie.

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It’s been a while since I’ve done an all out unhealthy recipe complete with all purpose flour, cane sugar and butter. But traditional baking is something I really do enjoy, and felt like I wanted to do more. If you don’t want to look at these ~terrifying~ real cookies, then close the window. If you wanna have fun, make them.

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup browned butter
  • 1 cup golden brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 ½ tablespoons espresso powder
  • 2 ¼ cups all purpose flour
  • 2 ounces 100% cacao chocolate, chopped*
  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate chips**

Instructions

Brown the butter in a small saucepan, then transfer to a heatproof bowl and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. If you’re short on time, you could put it in the freezer for 10 minutes instead.

Once the butter is cool and thickened, mix with both sugars until combined, then mix in the eggs one at a time.

Add the vanilla, baking soda, sea salt, cinnamon and espresso powder, and mix until incorporated.

Gently fold in the flour and chocolate, then chill the dough for at least 30 minutes.

In the meantime, preheat the oven to 375º F.

Scoop the cookies and bake for 11-13 minutes until the edges are golden brown and the middles are still soft.***

Let cool completely before serving.

 

*I used Ghirardelli 100%

**I used Equal Exchange semisweet baking chips

***using my scoop, this recipe makes 14-15 cookies—they’re pretty big 

 

Thai chicken spring rolls

Back in the spring, I bought rice paper, thinking, “I’m going to make spring rolls for spring!” Except in the spring, I was still living the glamorous dorm life, and I didn’t have access to the ingredients I wanted, let alone the equipment and space I needed to cook them. Luckily, rice paper has a long shelf life, and I eventually got around to making some spring rolls.

Once I got home, I had access to something I hadn’t while at school: Thai basil. Thai basil is kind of like regular basil but is…. spicier? I don’t want to say it’s actually spicy, but it has a stronger flavor and tastes SO GOOD with flavors like soy and sesame.

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I made the most of small town living, and bought $1.50 worth of Thai basil from a family I’ve known for years. (Note: the Iowa City farmers market is one of my favorite places to shop, because we know the people we buy from. It’s the best thing in the world.)

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I picked up some boneless chicken thighs, some (locally grown!) greens and some radishes, then went into full testing mode. Admittedly I knew the recipe would taste good, so “testing” really meant “practicing rolling the spring rolls so they don’t look awful.” I think I did okay.

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And then, because I wanted it to be extra flavorful, I made a sauce as well. This is one of the more complicated recipes on this site, but I hope some of you will make it because it’s SO GOOD and remarkably filling (even though my brother said it felt like he was “eating handheld salad.”)

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Ingredients

marinade

  • 3 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons chili garlic paste
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, also grated
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Thai basil, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

spring rolls

  • 4 boneless chicken thighs
  • rice paper
  • ½ cup fresh Thai basil
  • 1 cup mixed lettuce
  • radish, sliced
  • avocado, sliced

dipping sauce

  • ¼ cup smooth peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon chili garlic paste

Instructions

In a baking or casserole dish, mix together the tamari, fish sauce, chili garlic paste, garlic, ginger and basil, and whisk until you form a thick paste.

Add in the olive oil and whisk again.

Lay your chicken thighs in the marinade and move them around, making sure all sides are covered in the sauce. Place in the fridge for at least half an hour.

When you’re ready to eat, take the chicken out of the fridge and heat a large cast iron skillet to medium high. Once the pan is hot, add the chicken and let cook for 5-6 minutes on each side, or until safely cooked through.

Slice the chicken into pieces, then let it cool completely before assembling the spring rolls.

Moisten a circle of rice paper, and lay it flat on a (preferably wooden) cutting board.

Add the lettuce, basil, chicken and avocado, then roll over once and fold in the sides. Place radish slices in the crease of that fold, then roll up the rest.

Add all the sauce ingredients into a small bowl, and whisk vigorously until a thick sauce forms. Add water until you like the consistency.

If desired, cut into pieces and dip in the sauce.

Chewy cacao bites

“Like a truffle, but more powerful.” – my father, describing these cacao bites

When I wake up in the morning, food is not usually the first thing on my mind. I know that’s surprising, but I’m usually not hungry until an hour or two after I’m out of bed. Unfortunately, that usually means I’m lifting on an empty stomach. I know you’re not supposed to do that, so I thought, “what if I made something small, that I could eat before working out, that would give me the necessary carbs to lift heavy things?”

So I made these cacao snack bites. And holy SHIT they are good.

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Maybe it’s just me and my chocolate addiction, but I really felt like eating these before my workout, even though I wasn’t particularly hungry yet. They pack the perfect pre-workout punch, too: dates for carbs, hazelnuts for protein and healthy fats and cacao butter and powder for some superfoods.

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Also, they’re super chewy and fudgey and are all in all, really freakin’ delicious. If you want a snack or dessert, make these! They come together in less than an hour including chilling time, so there’s really no excuse not to.

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Ingredients

  • 12 small dates, pitted and soaked in warm water
  • ½ cup raw hazelnuts
  • 2 tablespoons almond flour
  • ¼ cup cacao butter, melted
  • ¼ cup raw cacao
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

Add the soaked dates to a food processor and pulse until you get a thick, clumpy paste. Scrape that paste out as best you can and set it aside.

Add the hazelnuts to the food processor and pulse until they’re ground into a sand-like consistency, then add the almond flour and pulse once more.

Add the cacao butter and the date paste, and pulse until a sticky dough forms.

Add the cacao and the vanilla, and pulse again until the dough comes together and the sides of the food processor are clean.

Scoop the dough out and roll into balls. Refrigerate for at least half an hour before eating.

Iced chai latte – coffee shop copycat!

I love coffee shops. I love their vibe, I love the smell, I love how they’re the best place to meet up with friends for a chat. I also love their sweetened, expensive chai lattes. It’s not like I don’t make tea at home. I do… I just like the coffee shop stuff better. It’s sweet and the milk to tea ratio is just right, and I don’t have to spend a lot of time making it.

But I don’t really have the money to hit the coffee shop every day, and I would rather sweeten my chai a little less than the baristas do.

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This is a good time to mention a secret I have: when I’m cooking, rather than baking, I rarely have to test and retest recipes. I make something once, and if it’s good, I write the recipe and share it with y’all. But I wanted this to be absolutely perfect.

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The first attempt was good. I drank the whole thing through my metal straw and enjoyed myself thoroughly. But there were some problems. First, I hadn’t brewed my tea strong enough. I think for some people it may have been enough, but I like a strong, bold flavor. Second, I wanted more cinnamon. I always want more cinnamon.

Try number two was better: more cinnamon, and I brewed the tea extra long for a stronger flavor. But as soon as I did that, I realized it wasn’t sweet enough.

Third time’s the charm, I guess, because the more date nectar I added, the better it got.

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The final recipe is intense, with lots of tea, lots of cinnamon and lots of date nectar. It’s not quite as sweet as the chai you might get at Starbucks, but it’s pretty damn close.

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Ingredients

  • 1 ½  cups chai filterbag tea, brewed strong and chilled
  • ½ cup unsweetened cashew or almond milk
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1-2 tablespoons date nectar (or liquid sweetener of choice)
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla

Instructions

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend for 30 seconds.

Pour over ice into a 16 ounce glass and enjoy.

 

Note: I used Equal Exchange chai because I like the flavor profile. Choose whichever chai mix is your favorite!

Vegan kale pesto

I’m finally home and I couldn’t be happier about it. Of course I’ll miss some things about college, like the lake, the public transportation and my friends, but I’ve been looking forward to a summer full of recipe testing since winter break.

The worst thing about living in a dorm was the food. And sure, maybe the Northwestern food is better than a lot of colleges, but I still found myself without a variety of options. I can’t count the number of times I made quinoa bowls with the exact same ingredients or filled a tortilla with hummus, greens and sandwich meat just to avoid having to eat the poorly steamed broccoli or the “healthy” pizza.

So much of my happiness is derived from food that it’s no surprise I’m over the moon to have my own kitchen once more. And the best part of a fully equipped kitchen is access to all the appliances.

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It’s therefore quite fitting that a pesto–a recipe that requires a food processor–would be one of my first projects back in my own kitchen.

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The best thing about pesto, though, is its versatility. Adding a spoonful or two to a pasta dish makes it perfectly summery.

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Ingredients

  • ¾ cup packed lacinato kale
  • ¾ cup packed fresh basil
  • ⅓ cup raw walnuts
  • 2-4 tablespoons water
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons nutritional yeast

Instructions

Add the kale, basil, walnuts and some water into a food processor and pulse until the greens are shredded.

Add the garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper and olive oil, and blend again until the pesto is uniform and smooth. Add more olive oil if necessary.

Add the nutritional yeast and pulse once more.

Store in the fridge in an airtight container for 3-4 days.