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

Chocolate Pomegranate Brownie Cake

If you’re not a dog or allergic, there is no such thing as too much chocolate, especially during the holiday season. To celebrate both chocolate and an excess of pomegranates in my house, I decided I should make this amazing cake for Holiday Baking 2016.

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This dessert is truly a show-stopper. It’s colorful, shiny and looks like it’s a lot of work, but it’s secretly super easy to make. Deseeding the pomegranate is a little laborious, but it’s a task of brute force, not skill. I’ve left some brief instructions on how I got the arils out below the recipe, but there are tons of videos online if you need to see it being done.

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Ultimately, the best part is that it’s gooey and delicious and will make you the hero of whatever holiday celebration you’re attending. Seriously, this thing will stand out on any dessert table AND it’s the perfect stand alone dessert as well.

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Just look at that brownie coated in ganache… it’s a dream come true for chocolate lovers. I’m getting hungry just looking at the photo.

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There is truly nothing tastier or more festive than this brownie cake, either. It’s rich, decadent and covered in nature’s Christmas ornaments.

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Ingredients

  • 6 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
  • ½ cup butter, cut into cubes
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ tablespoons cocoa powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup + 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 4 ounce recipe chocolate ganache
  • ¼ cup pomegranate arils

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350º F.

In a bain marie, heat your chocolate and butter until the mixture is fully melted and comes together. This should take around 7 minutes.

Take the bowl off heat and whisk in the sugar and brown sugar until completely combined. If the mixture is still hot to the touch, let it cool for a few minutes before adding the eggs, one at a time, whisking well after each addition.

Add the cocoa powder, salt and flour and whisk just until the batter comes together.

Grease and line an 8 inch round pan with parchment paper and pour the batter in. Bake for 30-33 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs.

Let the cake cool completely before decorating with ganache and pomegranate arils.

To deseed a pomegranate, score a ring around the middle of the fruit and use your fingers to pry it in half–this preserves more arils, as cutting it down the middle ruptures them.

Place the pomegranate half open side down into a small bowl of cold water and start to peel back the skin. The arils might need a little nudge, so running your finger along the bottom will help them fall out.

If any of the white part–the pith, as it’s apparently called–catches onto the arils, just let it be and skim it off later. Repeat this process until all the arils are gone. I ended up using about half a pomegranate’s worth, which was around a quarter cup.

To decorate, pour the ganache over the cake and, before it sets, sprinkle the arils on top. Set the cake in the fridge so the ganache sets a little before serving.

Salted Caramel Layer Cake

I know it’s still technically summer, but I had to throw another seasonal recipe out there. Caramel is a sticky autumn classic, usually in the form of a hard or chewy individually wrapped candy. But I have good news: caramel is just as good–if not better–merged with cake. Plus, it doesn’t get stuck in your teeth.

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I started out with three layers’ worth of vanilla cake batter, then folded in around 10 ounces of dulce de leche, which is basically a cooked sweetened condensed milk. It’s sweet and thick and delicious, and perfect folded into this vanilla cake. Something to remember, though, is that caramel makes things sticky, so you’ll want to line your baking pans with parchment paper.

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The next component is the caramel buttercream, which is just my classic American buttercream recipe plus some more dulce de leche whipped in. Something I learned while making this cake is that you really can’t have too much caramel, because it’s pretty much the best in the world.

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And lastly, my favorite part: the salted caramel sauce. I’d never made a caramel sauce before making this cake, and I was terrified I would somehow mess up. But even though there was lots of bubbling, it turned out perfectly. They say you’re not supposed to let a sugar syrup alone, so I stared intently at it for around 10 minutes. Safe to say that I have the image of bubbling sugar imprinted on the inside of my eyelids now. Seriously though, take the time to blink, at least for the first few minutes.

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At the last moment, I sprinkled some extra sea salt on the edges along with the caramel sauce, because I felt like there wasn’t enough salt to balance out the caramel. The intersection of sweet and saltiness is just perfect.

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This cake was a huge project for me. I planned it out about a month ago, and it took me two days to complete: one night I baked the cake layers and the next I frosted and decorated. I wouldn’t have made it during the week, but the occasion was my mother’s birthday, and that fell in the middle of the week.

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She loved the cake, but really, who couldn’t? Caramel ftw.

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Ingredients

for the cake

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 7 ounces (½ can) dulce de leche

for the caramel buttercream

  • 2 cups unsalted butter, softened
  • 5-6 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 7 ounces (½ can) dulce de leche

for the salted caramel sauce

  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ⅔ cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1-2 teaspoons sea salt

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 375º F.

Cream the butter, shortening and sugar together until they’re light and fluffy. Then, beat in the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In yet another bowl, whisk together the milk, buttermilk and vanilla extract.

Alternate mixing the milk mixture and the flour mixture into the first bowl, in three or four installments, being sure not to overmix the batter. Then gently fold in the dulce de leche.

Divide the batter into three 8 or 9 inch pans lined with parchment paper and bake for 25-30 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter for about 5 minutes until it’s light and fluffy. Then, add the powdered sugar in, ½ cup at a time, until it’s all incorporated. Add the salt and vanilla and beat until it’s grown in size and is your desired consistency.

In a small saucepan, add the water and the sugar and set on low heat. Let it simmer for around 10 minutes, or until you start to see an amber color.

Heat your cream for around 30 seconds in the microwave, and when the sugar mixture goes solidly amber, take it off heat and pour in the cream.

Stir the mixture for a few seconds before adding in the butter and sea salt, then stir until the butter is melted.

Pour the mixture into a glass or ceramic container. It can be stored up to a week at room temperature, which is great because you only need about ⅓ of it.

When your cakes are completely cool, start to assemble.

I made the cakes in 9 inch pans, so they weren’t tall enough to level. To fix that, I just stacked them strategically.

Flip one layer top down on a cake stand and spread a layer of buttercream on top. Repeat the process until all three layers are stacked, then apply the crumb coat, which is just a thin layer of buttercream used to lock in any crumbs. I like to think of it as a “scraping” of frosting.

Chill the cake in the fridge for 20-30 minutes before applying the rest of the buttercream.

Then, drizzle the caramel sauce around the edge of the cake–I also sprinkled some extra sea salt on top–and serve.

 

Sour Cream Pound Cake with Fruit Salsa

Memorial Day Weekend is always a great time to see friends and family, wave American flags and grill hamburgers, but my favorite aspect has always been the opportunities for desserts and side dishes.

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The season for lots of fruits, at least in the Midwest, begins in late May and early June, just around the time of most Memorial Day celebrations. While peaches and plums aren’t really there yet–I had to use California peaches–we can get our hands on berries from the region by early summer.

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I took advantage of this opportunity on this past Memorial Day to make this cake; a dense, spongey pound cake with sweet vanilla glaze and a fresh fruit salsa. I actually made two cakes, though the recipe makes one, and the one we didn’t eat I gave to my grandpa to take home (he really liked it, I guess).

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Ingredients

for the cake

  • 1 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ⅔ cup sour cream

for the glaze

  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2-4 teaspoons water

for the salsa

  • 5-7 large strawberries, diced
  • ¼ cup blueberries
  • ¼ cup blackberries, halved
  • 1 peach, diced **any stone fruit would work here**
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Instructions

for the cake

Preheat oven to 350º F and liberally grease a 9 by 5 loaf pan.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt until combined, and then set aside.

In a larger bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs in one at a time, then beat in the vanilla and sour cream.

Stir in the flour mixture ¼ cup at a time until combined, then scrape the batter into the greased loaf pan.

Bake for around 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Let cool for 10 minutes in the pans, then turn out onto a cooling rack until cooled completely. **if you greased liberally enough, it should practically fall out when you tip it over**

for the glaze

With a spoon, a fork or a small whisk–or a chopstick if you have one–combine the vanilla, powdered sugar and water until the glaze becomes viscous.

Pour the glaze over your cooled cake, making sure to coat as evenly as possible.

for the salsa

In a medium bowl, combine the strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and peach cubes and drizzle with the honey and lemon juice.

Either with a spoon or by hand, mix everything together.

Top the cake with ⅓ – ½ the salsa, and keep the rest in a small serving bowl for scooping onto slices of the cake.