Wedding Cakes

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I know that I just gave you a beautiful image of love and happiness and cool hair, but we’re here to talk about cake. And here’s the thing about cakes, guys; the thing is: wedding cakes are usually dumb. Half the time they’re from a catering company whose thing isn’t cakes and the other half they cost one million dollars. Most often they’re fakified in some way—slices are brought out from the back that clearly weren’t cut from the monstrosity those giddy newlyweds cut into minutes before. A lot of times they even taste bad. There; I said it.

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People are getting wise to this. I’ve seen various dessert bars, special hometown candies, doughnuts, and other creative giant-wedding-cake-replacers in the past few years, and I dig it. My friends Gigi and Zach (aka: Zizi, seen above dancing in love) chose to have an assortment of normal-sized cakes at their recent wedding instead of one giant cake, all home-baked by the beautiful Kinfolk Fairy Queen Ellen and myself (though Ellen is actually a professional baker, which is kind of cheating). And guys, we did it. We baked cakes for two hundred people and they all looked good and tasted good and I still can’t believe it.

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Ellen made lemon rosemary cake, browned butter coconut cake, and a berry white cake (get it?). I made chocolate ganache cake, red wine blackberry cake, and a carrot cake with spiced cream cheese icing. Something for everyone! People were just raving and I had another epiphany about how much I love baked-good affirmation. I shamelessly asked everyone what they thought of the cakes all night. News flash: they loved them. I already knew or I wouldn’t have asked.

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Bakers + Cakes

The wedding was very DIY, with lots of friend help, which I have come to approach with a certain degree of anxiety. But, when the couple keeps things simple and their friends are all incredibly talented and super generous, the stress goes way down. The wedding was held in the courtyard of the cute old apartment complex Gigi and Zach lived in when they met. Friends and family decorated, organized, performed music, cooked, and generally made good things happen.

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Everything was delicious, but I think MVP goes to the beer which was specially homebrewed by Ellen’s husband Tommy. I’d like to take a moment to appreciate that beer. If your experience of homebrew is bland, oddly carbonated grain water that all tastes the same regardless of kind, THINK AGAIN. Tommy is kind of a professional too though, so I guess that’s not fair either. The red was my favorite, expect that the pale ale was.

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This couple knows their way around grain.

Old friends came back in town. New friends ran amuck. Children, puppies, and a goat were all in attendance. Dancing was magical. I’ll never not associate ruling the world with that group of girls. The cops even showed up for the last song, which was pretty funny and added a festive, strobe light vibe (for the record, we were not yet breaking any noise ordinances). The night ended with everyone snacking on Cheetos in their fancy clothes, lying in the grass. One of the best weddings on record.

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Happy couple Zizi cutting cakes.

Here are my pro wedding-cake-baking tips:

  • Bake all the cakes ahead of time and freeze the layers individually in a double layer of plastic wrap—the weekend before is prime time. This is absolutely necessary, unless the wedding is teeny-tiny, or you have a time machine, or you are just a full-time baker (in which case, why are you reading this?).
  • If you can ice the cakes the day before the wedding, do it! This depends on schedule, of course, but will also involve refrigerator real-estate considerations, and other practical things like that. I didn’t have time before the day of the wedding and ended up missing more bridesmaids together-time than I would have liked.
  • Make lists and plan timelines and triple count ingredients. This way you’ll know if you in fact did not buy enough chocolate for the ganache icing before you start making it in your pajamas when you’re supposed to go have mimosas and eat breakfast tacos in like an hour…ahem.
  • Which brings us to the most important tip: only take on this task for people you don’t fear. Cakes can be complicated enough without the added pressure of eternal wrath if you mess one up. Generally, this means that you should only high-stakes bake for friends who are close enough/low-maintenance/low-stress enough to be safe, or for people you don’t really know.

When I told people I was baking cakes for a wedding, most reacted with looks of fear and horror. I think they had visions of bridezillas and broken relationships as much as the actual logistics of baking. I had to explain every time that my friend Gigi is someone you can bake wedding cakes for without living in fear.

Gigi is up for anything and wants you to be too. I am generally in awe of the way she welcomes and cares for people (and animals) without hesitation or reserve. She’ll adopt a cat or get matching tattoos with friends she just met without skipping a beat. And her enthusiasm for and genuine interest in others don’t just maker her fun to be around, they’re strong enough to bring other people closer together. Gigi’s relentless inviting has made me more than one good friend. I am so thankful to know her, and was honored to be in her wedding. So, of course I’d make her cakes. #ziziforever.

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Gigi + Robert

Anyway, I guess To Each His Scone is catering now. Cake recipe posts to come!

Trifle-in

Do you ever just need to leave town? I’ve been traveling so much over the past year that I almost never feel that way anymore. Generally it’s the opposite—I just want a chance to be in my own house over a weekend and do some laundry. However, this past weekend was an exception. It’s not that I’ve been in town for weeks on end or anything, it’s just that there are two places I really wanted to be and couldn’t: St. Louis, MO and Lake Forest, IL.

My sister and her friends/old roommates throw a giant holiday party every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas called Fakesgiving. They go all-out with all kinds of delicious food and get at least a keg for the occasion. It’s something I’ve wanted to attend forever (along with their famous St. Patrick’s Day 5k + Brunch extravaganza in March) and this year should have been my year. Kiley (the esteemed sister) tried to get me to take a full week off before Christmas to attend this party in St. Louis, then go home with her and my brother-in-law John to Columbia, MO and see their new house/life before driving home with them for Christmas. I should have figured out how to make that happen. Instead, I’m working until right before Christmas and sulking my little heart out the whole time, resenting all of my graduate student friends and their cushy breaks.

Meanwhile, my wonderful mother, my cousin Johnny, and my aunt Kelly spent the weekend drinking Prosecco and hanging out making ravioli at my parents’ house in Lake Forest. My mom’s side of the family has homemade ravioli for Christmas every year, and we’ve discovered that our quality of life improves 70% the few days before Christmas when we’ve made the ravioli ahead of time and just have to cook it on Christmas day. We used to make our own pasta with a fancy pasta-roller and everything (I believe with an old family pasta recipe handed down from Nona—my mom’s grandmother, but I may be romanticizing the past) but now we just use pre-made wanton wrappers with the delicious cheese and spinach filling. And by we I mean my mom, aunt, and cousin—because I’m still in Texas! So depressing.

Which brings me to the fussy attitude of needing to get the hell out of town. Late Friday morning I found myself taking a quick break from editing an article to check last minute flights to St. Louis that very evening. Shockingly, they were extremely expensive. Over lunch I texted my friend Maria (previously discussed) in Austin to see what she was doing. She was working the whole weekend like a loser. So I texted my friend Hope in Houston (previously discussed) to see what she was doing. (You’re not on C team, Hope; the drive to Houston is C team.) She was having a potluck dinner party! And told me I should come!

I was so antsy that I spent the second half of my lunch break frantically packing an absurd combination of clothing from the tiny remnant of my wardrobe that doesn’t need to be washed and a few essentials (like leftover biscotti) before heading back to my office. After getting time-sensitive things done I did some time math, gathered all of my portable editing, and asked my boss if I could leave early and finish a few articles on Saturday while Hope graded papers for the classes she teaches at a community college.

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Yeah, Hope’s really pretty I guess. This photo is from her birthday weekend this spring.

I got to Houston just in time to almost miss traffic. Houston traffic blows. I used to think that Houston was the worst, but then I learned that (like any city—even the ones you think you hate) there are parts that don’t suck even a little. It’s the sprawling, highway-riddled, Galleria-producing, mansion-suburbia atrocity of the greater Houston-as-a-whole that whispers “I’m a monster…let me die.” But that monster has a heart of gold; it’s called Montrose, and a few other neighborhood names I don’t know, and it has some amazing restaurants. So, once I managed to escape the dragging claws of early Friday evening I-10, I entered the heart of that happy heart, which has to be Hope’s house—affectionately called the Nevadapada. The Nevadapada is one of my favorite houses ever. It has a really weird layout, a great back porch, it’s covered with orchids and succulents, and decorated with Hope’s charming more-is-more aesthetic (countless world-travel souvenirs, friends’ artwork, an impressive face-mug collection, creepy Narnia statues, books and books and books, etc.).

Upon letting myself in, I was greeted by the happy kitchen bustle of Hope and her awesome roommate Holly, listening to Father John Misty and cooking pulled pork, spoon bread, chocolate chip pumpkin muffins, and my very own fall tarts (making me feel famous). I was immediately set to work helping with the tarts, drinking wine, and loving my impulsive decision to visit Houston. Pre-party kitchen hangouts are probably my favorite genre of hangout. You get all of the behind-the-scenes back-stories of the night; like the near-disaster pumpkin muffins saga which I shall now regale you with.

The muffins (read: decadent cupcakes called muffins) Hope wisely decided to make have a special place in my food-heart. Their full name is Duff’s Pumpkin Muffins because my old roommate Meredith (aka: Duff) brought them into our lives. I don’t remember where she got the recipe, but they were a staple of our freshly-post-college life when Duff, Maria, and I lived in a duplex we called Austin House. (I realize I’m throwing a lot of names and nicknames around, and I apologize. Honestly, it’s surprising that it took so long to get to this point. I’ve never even written about DUP! DUP (pronounced dupe) is the name of my college house, and now what we call the group of girls who lived there (including Duff and Maria). I’d go on, but this story is getting out of hand. Soon; soon I shall tell you about DUP.)

Traditionally Duff’s Pumpkin Muffins were made in Maria’s William Sonoma (no longer available) Pumpkin Patch Plaque mini cakes pan: the most appealing unnecessary bakeware of all. Hope made them in muffin pans, and for some reason they stuck/fell apart when we tried to get them out. They still tasted as luscious as ever (does that sound gross? It’s kind of how they taste, though.) but they were not fit to be seen on a platter. Ever quick on my kitchen-feet, I saw in this potential disaster not failure, not tragedy, but opportunity! (Side-note, I am not always quick on my kitchen-feet; if I had started the pumpkin muffins and had a stubborn desire they be as they ought, I probably would have just pouted and eaten handfuls of muffin-pieces when they didn’t turn out).

Since the muffins still tasted great, I suggested making the pieces into a trifle instead of a pile of muffin-pieces. Apparently no one knows what a trifle is; but they trusted me. So, the excessively hospitable Holly ran to the store and bought me whipping cream and powdered sugar, which I then whipped up with some cinnamon. I alternately layered the muffin pieces and cinnamon whipped cream in a tall, straight-edged crystal dish (naturally available in the Nevadapada), topping with a whipped cream layer, which I sprinkled with extra cinnamon. And thus evil was again turned to good. Seriously, I didn’t think the pumpkin muffins could get any better but they totally did. The only danger is that now I want cinnamon whipped cream all the time. Success!

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And it tastes at least ten times as good as it looks. Also, spotted: tarts on the left!

I like how certain foods take on associations with the time or people that produce them. (Ravioli=Cashmore Christmas; Jello Mold=Thanksgiving; Excessive Crescent Rolls=DUP; etc.) Turning Duff’s Pumpkin Muffins (circa 2007) into a new creation made me think of Austin House and how much has changed but how much I still love Duff and thinking about Duff while in a really different life, hanging out with Hope and Holly in Houston. I’m not going to get so sappy as to suggest you “make a trifle out of your past” or something, but also I am. It’s important to think of new and good ways to use what you’ve got. Truth from food. #foodtruth

Anyway, thanks Houston for a lovely weekend. The potluck was mega fun, as was the brunch excursion, coffee shop work time, and everything else. PS, Hope and I are pretty good brunch companions; I always look forward to the new places she’ll take me to when I visit. This time I called for a good bloody mary and she delivered. If you’re ever in Houston check out the Down House for solid brunch fare (I recommend the Vermonter), Hughes-approved bloody marys, and bizarre but attractive Darwin-themed decor.

Santa Lucia Eyeball Biscotti

Happy Santa Lucia day, everyone. Like St. Nicholas, St. Lucy is a big-time Advent figure. As one of the Saints listed in Mass she is generally a big deal—which kind of fascinates me. There might be more to this story, but I think a lot of her clout comes just from her name, which means light. So, because of her name, timing in the Church year, and the season, she happens to get more attention than other Saints with similar stories.

Rather than thinking this reveals some kind of scam—that hagiography is a twisted mess of associations and thus must have no true knowledge to convey about the actual people ignorantly worshiped by superstitious religious types—I think it shows how the Saints express the universality and help perform the nature-sanctifying work of the Church. For whatever reason, Saint Lucy is associated with the light of God and thus is very important during Advent, when we concentrate in hope on the light that grows stronger every day as we approach Christmas.

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Anyway, St. Lucy was an early Christian in the Roman Empire, martyred during the persecutions of Diocletian. She secretly became a Christian and took a vow to remain celibate against her mother’s wishes—who had betrothed her to some stupid guy. Her mother got sick, was miraculously healed through Lucy’s prayers, and was consequently okay with the Christianity and the virginity. The fiancé, however, was not and sold Lucy out to the Roman government after she distributed her dowry to the poor. Here is where she becomes awesome. They had a really hard time killing her. They miraculously couldn’t move her or burn her. In art she is often shown holding two eyeballs because they plucked her eyes out, which then miraculously reappeared! (Another story is that she took her own eyes out to make her stupid fiancé stop bothering her). Either way, so weird and gross. She’s the patron saint of the blind.

Now I’d like to take a moment to apologize to the people who only want me to give them recipes and maybe tell a story about having friends over for dinner. It seems I am not a good representative of my faith; the only two posts I’ve written about Saints emphasize the fantastical creepiness of the holy life more than anything else—say, it’s appeal or reward. I just realized that maybe even revealing the fact that I believe this stuff makes you think I’m crazy. Huh. Anyway, something that is normal: biscotti. Whatever you believe, whatever you want out of life, however crazy you think I am, there is something we can all agree on: biscotti.

My Catechism reading group is having a St. Lucy party tonight before everyone leaves town for Christmas, and I was looking at Lussekatter recipes (traditional Swedish buns served with coffee) for the occasion when I came across a fun food fact: Italian Santa Lucia eyeball shaped biscotti are a thing. For the past couple years I’ve been making eyeball gingerbread cookies for St. Lucy’s feast day—mainly because I’m constantly making normal-shaped gingerbread cookies this time of year and I thought it was funny to make eyeballs with the dough scraps. But, behold, all this time I’ve been in tune with a real traditional feast food. So, I went to my go-to biscotti recipe and made some creative adjustments (I obviously didn’t have time to make Lussekatter after work anyway).

I discovered this biscotti recipe years ago when I was trying to figure out what to give my dad for Christmas. I like to think of myself as a good gift-giver, but I find it really difficult think of presents for my dad. Half the time I end of getting him books that I love (I hope you caught the emphasis), lame-o golf balls (useful but unimaginative), or another hand-knitted scarf. The past few years I’ve learned to stick to my strengths: baked goods and drinks. Special whiskey from the distillery in my town, the only good wine from Texas (Becker), gingerbread, and my dad’s favorite treat: biscotti. I thought I had come up with all creative variations—orange zest, walnuts, pistachios, chocolate chips, pecans—but apparently not! I never made them look like eyeballs.

Santa Lucia Eyeball Biscotti (slash, normal biscotti)

Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis (or, according to my grandpa, “cooking with cleavage”)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup room temperature butter
  • the zest of one small lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • a couple handfuls of dried cranberries
  • a little bit of melted chocolate or colored icing

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, beat together the sugar, butter, lemon zest and salt until combined.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time.
  4. Add the flour and baking powder (you can whisk or sift them together first if you want to) a little at a time until just blended.
  5. Stir in the cranberries (and any chopped nuts if you’re interested).
  6. Form the dough into a 13-inch long log on a parchment-covered baking sheet.
  7. Bake until light golden, about 40 minutes, then allow to cool for 30 minutes.
  8. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the log into 1/2-inch-thick slices (for normal biscotti cut in a slight diagonal, for eyeball biscotti cut straight across so they look more eyeball-shaped).
  9. Arrange the biscotti, cut side down, on the baking sheet and bake until they are pale golden, about 15 minutes.

If you desire your biscotti to look like eyeballs, proceed to melt some chocolate or make the icing of your choice while they cool from their second bake. Once the biscotti are completely cooled to room temperature, spoon small circles of melted chocolate or pipe “pupils” of icing onto the biscotti. If using chocolate, it’s best to refrigerate the cookies on wax paper for 20-30 minutes so they set. It might get messy, but hey, we’re dealing with eyeballs here.

Sweet/Savory Fall Tarts

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FYI, it’s still technically fall. I know you’re all emotionally into dark-winter Advent, or at least going to Christmas parties all the time, but my calendar says I have two more weeks to post these recipes. Also, Texas does this weird, manipulative thing with fall. Everyone talks about missing the season and northern hometowns and color, but really you get a pretty beautiful autumn in Central Texas. It just happens in December. It holds out and you get over it and then all of a sudden it’s beautiful fall with crisp, not cold, weather, the smell of leaves, oranges and yellows and reds…and you want a cold snap and maybe some snow. It’s all you’ve wanted since August, and when you finally get it you want something else. Eh.

Sweet/savory fall tarts are one of my favorite treats of the season (whenever it might occur). That sounds kind of vague and noncommittal, but fall is the best season with the best food, so it’s actually not vague at all. It’s quite a statement. Like with soup, figuring out that you don’t really need a recipe for puff pastry tarts opens up a world of food creativity and joy. I’m into making my own pastry dough, but puff pastry is its own beautiful, convenient, frozen thing. You can start with the delicious combinations below, but the possibilities are endless. I mean, probably.

These would be killer for a holiday appetizer shindig or adapted as a dessert. I made three different kinds of tarts for the party I told you about awhile ago: one big Bosc pear and honey goat cheese tart, two small Macintosh apple and sharp cheddar tarts, and one small roasted butternut squash and honey goat cheese tart all with caramelized onions. My original plan was honey goat cheese and pear, but then I went wild with the food that was near at hand.

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Pear to the left, apples lower right, two bitty pieces of the butternut squash remaining on the upper right. I always forget to take photos until it’s almost too late. Also, I never took photos. Photo credit to friend Andrea again.

First, I will tell you how to caramelize an onion if you don’t already know: you just cook it for a long time. Okay, but really there are a couple things you should know. It takes at least half an hour, sometimes around 45 minutes, over medium/medium-high heat. Drizzle some olive oil in a pan, add the sliced onion with a pinch of salt and pepper once the pan is hot, and stir them around while they cook. They’ll get dry before they’re done cooking, so you’ll want to add some liquid when that happens. Some people use broth. This particular day I used BEER. It was awesome. I probably used a little less than half a bottle of dark ale; then I drank the rest—that’s an important step. When the onions are translucent, totally soft, and have turned a caramel color they’re ready to top a tart. Or anything else.

Large Pear, Honey Goat Cheese, and Caramelized Onion Tart

Ingredients:

  • One sheet of frozen puff pastry (Pillsbury comes with two sheets folded in thirds)
  • 2-3 oz. soft honey goat cheese (if you can’t find this variety, just get plain and drizzle with honey)
  • 2ish bosc pears, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 yellow onion (probably), caramelized

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350
  2. Spread honey goat cheese over the defrosted puff pastry sheet, leaving a half inch border all the way around.
  3. Arrange thinly sliced pears over the puff pastry in an even layer, leaving that border. Make sure the slices aren’t stacked, but are just overlapping so the fruit doesn’t get too heavy for the fluffy pastry dough. (Once when making an apple tart I stacked up the fruit too much and the dough sort of disappeared under it; it was so heavy that I couldn’t transfer it off the cookie sheet without completely destroying the tart.)
  4. Spread the caramelized onions over the top so that they’re evenly spaced around.
  5. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  6. Bake until the crust is golden brown—around 30 minutes, checking every once in awhile after 20.

 Small Macintosh Apple, Sharp Cheddar, and Caramelized Onion Tart

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 sheet of frozen puff pastry (I usually make this size because you don’t need to wait for the dough to defrost completely—the folded sheets of dough break into even thirds.)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 C shredded white sharp cheddar (I think orange would just look gross)
  • 1 Macintosh apple
  • 1/6  yellow onion (probably), caramelized

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350
  2. Sprinkle the shredded cheese in an even layer, leaving a half inch border all the way around.
  3. Place the thinly sliced apples in a line on the dough.
  4. Spread the caramelized onions over the top so that they’re evenly spaced around.
  5. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  6. Bake until the crust is golden brown—these will be closer to 20min.

Same steps apply to the butternut squash variety. I’ve also made the pear tart with bacon. So, that’s a pretty good idea. If you want to go the dessert route, leave out the cheese and toss sliced apples or pears with cinnamon and sugar before arranging them on the pastry dough. You could also drizzle the top with caramel.

I suggest keeping a couple packages of puff pastry in your freezer so you can get creative with the food you have around when a last minute party situation sneaks up on you. Tis the season. Whichever season it is right now.

Birthday Cakes

I love making birthday cakes for people. Birthday cake is personal, iconic, classic, and necessary. Who makes birthday cookies? Nobody, that’s who. I mean, unless you just want to win awards and compliment a birthday cake with extra baked deliciousness; in which case you’re invited to my next birthday party. Birthday cake might just be the most special food item out there. In my book it beats wedding cake by a long shot because it’s kind of lame to outsource birthday cake but it’s kind of crazy not to outsource wedding cake. (To be clear, I want a homemade wedding cake if the occasion should ever arise. However, I would not ask one of my closest friends to make it, as I would my birthday cake. I’d ask the mom of one of my best friends, Liz.)

I consider it a great privilege and honor to be the one to bake my friends’ special day food present. I try to cater to their tastes and personalities. My friend Nathan is allergic to chocolate and so often gets gypped when it comes to dessert. (Side note: I realize that gypped is a racist term. I used it on purpose because Nathan is proud of his gypsy heritage and I thought it’d be funny. It’s not racist if it’s funny.) For his birthday I made the best carrot cake I could muster, with spiced cream cheese icing to make it extra special. No one missed chocolate that day; which is a rare day indeed. You may remember that for Saayeh’s birthday I made red wine chocolate cake with raspberry preserves and chocolate ganache icing: all things classy, delicious, and fun. All things Saayeh. I already told you about Michael’s birthday meal. Now…the dessert.

Steps for making the perfect birthday cake:

One: Think of the birthday girl or boy’s favorite sweet or kind of cake and ponder ways to adapt them into the perfect, personalized birthday dessert. Michael’s favorite treats are Poptarts and Nutella. He loves Poptarts so much he thinks that his bestie Coleridge’s aesthetic theory perfectly applies to them. Nutella is something that Michael likes almost as much as Poptarts. He lived in France for awhile and my impression of his time there is that he mainly just ate Nutella and visited a couple holy sites. Last year I went all-out and created homemade raspberry and cinnamon sugar Poptarts for his birthday. (I used this King Arthur recipe, which has a super versatile and delicious pastry dough that will punch your stomach with heavy buttery goodness.) Side note: I KNOW WHAT I SAID earlier about cake being the only appropriate birthday treat. I’m contradictory. I’ve learned to accept it, and so should you. This year I did make a cake for Michael’s birthday. First I looked for the perfect Nutella cake recipe, which was oddly difficult to find. There was a Nutella yogurt cake, but it sounded too healthy for Michael’s tastes. There was an ooey-gooey cake, but that involved ground hazelnuts I didn’t want to buy/overwhelm the cake flavor—plus it looked like it might run off a plate. Finally I resorted to Nutella icings and made a simple chocolate cake as a canvas.

Step two: Keep calm when you screw everything up. So, this cake calls for instant coffee—which is a totally normal baking thing to have but I think is stupid to buy just for baking. I improvised in a weird way I won’t even explain, but in the process misread the teaspoons for tablespoons/added even more than that and made the cake taste so much like coffee I thought it might fail. I served the thing anyway, wishing for the best, and lo! the best was found. The cake was fine.

Then, I went to make some Nutella whipped cream to top the cake and instead made Nutella heavy whipping cream. It was pretty depressing. Dessert failure is one of the saddest of failures, and I generally avoid it. I think I put in excessive Nutella and it ended up too heavy to whip. But lo! again, Nutella heavy whipping cream—I mean Nutella Sweet Cream Sauce…is pretty delicious. We ended up drizzling it over the cake and it tasted amazing and actually looked fancy.

Step three: decorate the cake in a special birthday way. By special sometimes I mean weird. I was really focused on the Poptart/Nutella theme and ended up adhering pieces of cinnamon sugar Poptarts to the edges of the cake with Nutella. It actually looked kind of cool—like a chocolate tart with Poptart crust—which worked well with the chocolate sauce vibe. Plus, that extra little taste of Nutella on the edges was fairly delicious. Normal people would go with icing designs or untraditional cake toppers. Sometimes I’m normal too. And candles are a must. I hate singing in public and I hate lots of people looking at me, but singing happy birthday to someone on their birthday is not optional.

And there you have it: special (/weird) birthday cake for Michael. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo with the Nutella Sweet Cream Sauce.

Heavenly cake…according to the lighting of this photo.

Sturdy Chocolate Cake (adapted from Martha Stewart)

I think of this cake as a man’s chocolate cake. If a cake can be hearty, this cake is hearty. It would probably laugh at you if you tried to layer it with frilly frostings. It has oatmeal in it, for goodness sake.

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup quick-cooking oatmeal
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tsp instant coffee (or very finely ground regular coffee, if you’re okay with…more texture. I’ll leave it at that.)
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a round 9 inch pan.
  2. Combine flour, oats, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
  3. Whisk the heavy cream and coffee in a small bowl.
  4. Beat the butter and brown sugar together for a few minutes, until they’re fluffy. Then add the eggs one at a time. Then the melted chocolate.
  5. With your mixer on low begin adding the flour in batches, alternating with the cream. Beat until smooth.
  6. Pour into the cake pan, smacking it on your counter to release any air bubbles, and bake for about 25-35 min (until a tester comes out clean).
  7. If you’d like to create an exact replica of the monster above, then cut up some Brown Sugar Cinnamon Poptarts into quarters, and adhere each to the side of the cake (clean edge up) with a dollop of Nutella. The cake was weirdly the perfect height for this adornment.

Nutella Sweet Cream Sauce

The recipe I used suggests 1 cup of Nutella and 2 cups of heavy whipping cream. If you actually want whipped cream, I suggest less Nutella. If you want Nutella Sweet Cream Sauce, then have at it. Whip the cream and Nutella together, then pour over each slice of cake. Delicious.