Easy chocolate cake for the New Year!

Chocolate Fudge Cake
My messy, frosted cake!

Below you will find a seriously good, slightly unusual chocolate cake, and the best buttercream frosting I have been able to figure out how to make!  It’s a little labor intensive, it’s easier to just grab a Betty Crocker box and take the short cut, but it’s SO much better to make your own!  Normally I shy away from buttercream, but I figured out the perfect way to make it light and delicious without the grittiness I usually get!

I did steal this one, but made the adjustments that get the cake to be super silky and very dense.  Check it out below and let me know what you think!

Fudge Cake:

  • 2 ⅔ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ cups superfine sugar
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup best-quality unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (melted and cooled)
  • ½ cup corn oil
  • 1 ¼ cups chilled water

Fudge icing:

  • 6 oz chocolate, melted and at room temperature
  • 18 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened)
  • 2 ¾ cups confectioners’ sugar (sifted)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

 

You’ll need 3 mixing bowls for the cake, and a stand mixer or hand held mixer for the cake and icing.  It’s a lot but it’s necessary, I found out the hard way!

Preheat your oven to 350° F.  Grease and flour two 8 inch cake tins, round or square are fine.  In a medium sized bowl combine all the ingredients for the cake up to but not including the eggs.  Use a fork to combine them and set aside.  In a small bowl, or a measuring jug, combine the eggs, sour cream and vanilla extract, combine well and set aside.  (*quick note here, please, please use good extract, and not artificial essence.  That will quickly lose it’s flavor.  To make your own, 2 cups good vodka or bourbon in a Mason jar, and one vanilla pod, pushed down to cover with the alcohol.  Let it stand for a few days, you’ll see the change in color almost immediately.  Keep in a dry cool place and shake every few days.  After about 2 weeks,  you’ll have good extract.  You can keep it forever, and feed it more alcohol as you use it up!)

In the third bowl, if you have a stand mixer, use that bowl, combine the vegetable oil and melted butter and beat them together like mad.  When they look fairly amalgamated, add in the water and again beat like mad.  Turn the mixer to low and add in the flour mixture.  Mix until well combined, then add in the sour cream mixture.  Don’t do it out of order, or skip a step and add all the dry ingredients to the wet, do the two additions of dry then the sour cream, that will make the cake dense and rich.  If you short cut it, you’ll end up with a flat hard cake (my husband said it “hurt” his mouth to eat, but it was still delicious!)  Stir all well to combine and divide up in to the two pans.  Tap the filled pans on the counter lightly to release any air bubbles and put them in the oven.  They will bake for 50 – 55 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Once fully baked, cool the pans on a rack, and when fully cooled, either wrap well with plastic wrap and save until ready to frost, or just start frosting them.  It’s critical they are completely cooled.

For the frosting, you’ll have to do a little forward planning.  Critical step number one is to allow the butter to come fully to room temperature well in advance.  I usually take it out of the fridge the night before I make it and let them wrapped sticks sit overnight and most of the following day.  When you’re ready to make the frosting, plop the butter into the mixing bowl and beat it like mad, for longer than you even think necessary.  Once it’s pretty light and looks whipped, start adding in the confectioners sugar one big spoonful at a time.  This is going to take a while. Critical step number 2, once the sugar is fully incorporated, once again, beat like mad.  In doing so, you’re not only adding air, you’re also allowing the sugar to dissolve more in the liquid in the butter.  It’s not going to curdle, the sugar also acts as a stabilizer, so beat away.  At this stage, I let it sit for a good 20  minutes, beat it again, then add in the vanilla, and then the completely cooled chocolate.  And one more time beat like mad.  Stop occasionally to scrape down the bowl and beater, as you beat it, the color will be come lighter, and the texture will be very fluffy.  Once you’re sure it’s all combined, time to frost!

Find the plate or cake stand you’ll be serving on, and set the cake on strips of wax or parchment paper, like so with the rounded top side down (borrowed from the Betty Crocker site):

Betty Crocker frosting

Dab a tiny bit of the frosting under the cake on the plate to hold it in place. Use about 1/3 of the frosting on the top of the cake, and leave a 1/4 inch border around the edge, for expansion when you put the second layer down.  Next layer should be humped side up. Use the rest of the frosting to ice the remaining cake, including the sides, and once you’re done, remove the paper strips, and you’ll have a clean presentation!

Of course, you can change up all the flavors of the cake by changing the vanilla extract to something else, and also replacing the water in the cake with a fruit juice, or a liqueur.  If you do, just watch the baking time and test slightly earlier than 50 minutes.

Happy New Year all!  Go forth and bake!!

Thanksgiving is here (almost)!

Every year the Hubby and I host his family for Thanksgiving.  The attendance numbers fluctuate year to year, but it’s usually no less than 16 people.  In the old house, it was super easy to accommodate the number, but since we have only just moved, we opted out of hosting this year.  We just don’t know how many people we can fit into our little dining room, although I am SURE we will have no problem, once we get settled.

I find myself completely at odds with myself, not having any planning to do, other than making a cake for the gathering we will be attending.  So, I thought I would spend a few days of blogging going over a few of the tried and true recipe’s for what we normally do, and share a few photo’s of the beautiful tables we have set over the years.

Each year, I try to do a completely different table from the previous year, and we do everything real.  Real plates, silverware, glasses, all from a stock I have accumulated over the years.  It was the big tradition of Hubby’s Uncle Henry and Aunt Max to have huge family gatherings at their house for the holiday, and we try to keep that tradition alive.  Henry built basic folding tables, with a T at the top, that would seat over 20 people in their basement.  But they were easily stored for future use, and we did use them last year!

The race to decorate the tables is usually something I really think through carefully.  One year I made my own table runner and loved the material so much, it became the pattern for our wedding announcements and party invites.

Image

I loved that table, and it got rave reviews!  You can see how long the table was, it went from our dining room all the way into the living room, and I think we had 18 that year for dinner.

Here is a typical menu for our Thanksgiving:

Roasted turkey

Gravy

Mashed potatoes

Sweet potatoes (with Red Hot’s sauce)

Fried or creamed corn

Stuffed celery

Olive puffs

Pickle and olive plate

Roasted cauliflower and Brussels sprouts

Coleslaw

String bean casserole

Stuffed mushrooms

Dinner rolls

Tofurkey

Cranberry sauce

Pecan pie

Pumpkin pie

Lime Bavarian

Blackberry cobbler

It’s a lot to put on the table, but generally everyone makes one thing, or more, and brings it.  I do the turkey and mashed potatoes every year, along with the pies and the Tofurkey.  Can’t have Thanksgiving with out that for the Hubby!

So, I’ll miss making all that this year, but through you, dear blog readers, I will virtually make a great deal of it for you in this blog this week!

What are some of your family favorites?  Do you have the same group each year, or does it vary?  I used to do a lonely hearts Thanksgiving every year, for people that had no family locally, or just wanted to be somewhere other than with family (you wouldn’t believe how many peeps I had with that reason!) The Hubby’s Aunt Max used to call it her “Mystery Guest”, and I am thrilled that we do keep up with that tradition as well!

My Secret to the Worlds Best Chocolate Frosting

I am once again going to fly picture blind with this post.  With the new house, and all the unpacking and organizing that we’re doing, I have been thinking about how different the cooking vibe is in this house.  I don’t feel compelled to cook at all.  I am still getting used to having only drawers in the kitchen, as the cabinets were clearly built for someone with at least a foot in me.  Not feeling the urge to cook is an odd place for me to be, but perhaps it’s just the idea that we are still unpacking and, as I said, rearranging.  We did decide that we won’t host Thanksgiving this year, which is a little bit of a relief, even though I thoroughly enjoy the entire process, even being bone tired after everyone leaves!  However,  I also don’t want to get out of the habit, and perhaps getting used to not hosting.  I love to do it, and I am so thrilled to host the family and keep the old traditions alive!  But’s it is a great deal of work, and honestly I think we have had enough change, anticipation and preparing for one year!

With the cooler months and falling leaves, I start thinking more and more about dark, deep food, like sticky toffee pudding, red wine stews and rich, dense chocolate cake.  My very favorite frosting, isn’t really a frosting at all, it’s more like a heavenly chocolate cloud that you anoint a cake with.  It’s simple, very easy, and completely worth the accolades of everyone whose mouth comes in contact with it!  As a matter of fact, at it’s simplest, it’s two ingredients.  Good quality chocolate (although chocolate buttons, or even Hershey bars will do in a pinch) and cream.  There can be additions of butter, sugar, some kind of fruity alcohol (I adore raspberry liqueur and Grand Marnier) but honestly the simplest and best way is just the two ingredients.  And by the way, it’s called ganache and it isn’t anywhere near as difficult as you may have heard!

You can do ganache with white chocolate, rather than dark or milk, but I can tell you first hand, it’s very easy to curdle.  I am going to get into my way way back machine to give you an example.  Many years ago, I made a 25th Anniversary cake for my parents.  I used the very best recipes that Bon Appetite and Gourmet magazines had to offer, with a little of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “The Cake Bible” thrown in.  (A word to the cake-wise, if you don’t have that book, get it.  I have had it for almost 20 years, and I still refer back to it to this day, even though it is falling apart and has moved countless times with me!)  Now, lets set the mood here, I was 24, so that would make it 21 years ago, long before making wedding cakes became stylish, and certainly before any of the reality shows you see these days.  Wedding cakes were a standard, slightly gross and dismal business.  At best they were a cut up, brut edible sheet cake.  At worst they were the various left over bits of cake, merged and frosted to look like a cohesive, but barely edible cake.   When I saw this cake on the cover of the magazine, I decided that my parents would have a big surprise 25th Anniversary party and for it I would make this cake.  I have photos of the homemade white chocolate fondant ribbons and flourishes that I made by hand with no food processors or any help for that matter, draped over every surface you could imagine, including over broom handles and the frame of a bicycle, drying.  The ganach was supposed to be the crumb coat under the fondant.  When I tell you I tried it 4 or 5 times, and each time, it curdled.  Since this was the first time I had ever tried it, I just gave up and used a nice milk chocolate ganache.  I can still taste it to this day, slightly raspberry and very rich.  It was lovely but so soul suckingly hard to do!  That being said the parents loved it, as did everyone else at the party, so it was a success, and worth every second!

Now, back to my frosting.  It’s so simple you’ll kick yourself.  Equal parts chocolate (by weight) and heavy cream.  And no, you can’t substitute any other diary, no milk, no half and half, and for God’s sake, nothing soy or coconut based.  They won’t whip up the way that heavy whipping cream will do.  The trick is finding that vague and imprecise moment when it’s all cool enough to whip, and yet not so cool that you can’t get the mixer to work.  When I say equal parts by weight, I mean an 8oz cup of cream and 8oz of chocolate.  It’s better if you have a weighing apparatus in the kitchen, so if you do have that, use it., otherwise, do the best you can and use cup measures.  

 

Ingredients:

16 oz heavy cream

16 oz chocolate (chopped fine, or grated to make measuring easier)

Optional:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 tablespoons liqueur of your choice (raspberry goes great, as does coffee)

 

Machinery/tools needed:

Heavy bottom saucepan

Large heat proof bowl (glass is best)

Metal whisk

Hand mixer

 

Instructions:

Heat the heavy cream to just boiling, if it does boil, that’s ok, just be sure you remove the skin that forms.  In the heat proof bowl, place the chocolate, and when the cream comes to the boil, pour it directly over the chocolate.  Her wis the magic bit, immediately use the whisk to start mixing the chocolate and cream, it will start to look like chocolate milk, only lumpier, as the heat of the cream melts the chocolate.  Then suddenly in the middle of the bowl, you will see this dark pool start to from, that’s what the entire bowl will begin to look like!  Keep whisking gently until it is all uniform and there are no chocolate lumps.  The bowl should still be very warm, and if you choose to use the butter (which givers it a nice sheen) or the liqueur, now is the time to add it, and mix well.  Once everything is amalgamated and melted, set this aside to cool.  It will take about 30 minutes until the bowl is room temperature or cool to the touch.  

If you’re using this as a glaze for a cake, now is the time to get pouring.  If you’re using it as frosting, get your hand mixer out.  Starting at medium speed, start to whip the mixture.  As you go along and it lightens up, you can increase the speed.  The more air you incorporate, the more it will begin to look like rich chocolate whipped cream.  Once you have it getting pretty fluffy and light looking, get a rubber spatula and fold and scrape the bottoms and side of the bow, so you don’t loose any of this magic chocolate mixture.

Here is what a frosted cake will look like:

 

Choccake2

St. Patrick’s Day 2012!

I am sure anyone that knows me, knows that my mother was born in Ireland and moved to the States when she and my father were about to be married.  When I think about it now, it was quite the intrepid adventure she set out on.  At the time, 1965 she was very young in only 19, and people didn’t travel back and forth overseas as easily as we do these days, it was prohibitively expensive, not to mention the cost of overseas phone calls!  So this very young woman moved to America, married my Dad and started a family!  No family around to watch the baby, and a husband who worked all day.  It was a different time all together!  My Mom did instill a very strong sense of our Irish heritage in us kids, and we are all still very close to our Irish family.  And so, St. Patrick’s day is a big deal for us, and not in the drink green beer until you can’t possibly drink any more sense.  For our family it’s a day that we really are proud to be Irish!  This year, one of my nieces is even doing her first public Irish dancing recital… big news in the Hennessey family!!

In creating my own little family in Detroit, I do try really hard to honor both of our heritages.  As I have mentioned here before, Tim is half Hungarian, so all the food I can possibly make from there, I do.  And my paternal grandmother’s Belgian roots are honored all the time!  And on St. Patrick’s Day, I go all out… even thought Tim won’t eat the corned beef, I cook it for me, and some years, for friends and family here.  This year, one of my cousins posted a photo on her Facebook page of the “green and gold jellies” that they were having for dessert today (lime and orange “jello” with lots of cream to go over) and I thought, jeez, I should make that for us too!  Alas, Jello, and gelatin products are decidedly NOT vegetarian.  I have experimented a few times with making vegan versions of things like marshmallow, and the pudding I have posted here.  I have had success with all of them, except the marshmallows, and I was dying to figure out what was wrong.  And then, low and behold, I read many, many recipes with something called agar agar, also called agar flakes, or powder.  But, agar is a fickle mistress… and so the great vegetarian dessert caper of St. Patrick’s 2012 was afoot!

I got two pots out and used 2 cups of liquid, in this case, orange juice and limeade, with some white wine thrown in for the grown up in me.  I didn’t add any sugar, but I did add a drop of green food coloring to the lime version, to up the color.  The recipe I found online called for one teaspoon of agar and very little cooking time.  From experience I know now, that it usually takes double that amount to really work, so I used 2 teaspoons in each pot.  I brought them both to the boil, took them off the heat, added in the agar, stirred well, then put them back on the heat and let them simmer for a good 30 min, stirring occasionally.  Then, everything was allowed to cool and the mixture was poured into a lightly greased aluminum loaf pan.  It looked promising when I started:

I put both pans carefully into a Ziplock bag when they were completely cool and set them in the middle shelf of the fridge.  I was told it could take up to 4 hours, so I just walked away and made the soda bread, put the corned beef on to boil and forgot about them.  About 3 hours in, I checked them… I couldn’t resist.  The orange one was completely jelled and looked pretty good.  The lime one on the other hand, seemed fine until I wobbled the pan a bit, and it exploded into a liquid, although slightly thickened, mess.  Uh oh!  I uncovered both and put them back into a cooler part of the fridge and vowed to just leave them!

About 3 hours later, the orange was still gorgeous, the lime still a bit too liquid for me, so I popped it in the freezer, and served dinner.  When we were able to think about dessert, I grabbed both pans and whipped the cream and this is what we had!

The orange, although jell like, was a soft jell, so I am adjusting the agar amounts to account for that.  Here’s the recipe and a few more photos of the day!

Vegetarian Jellies

1 ½ c fruit juice (apple, orange, cherry, slightly sweetened)

½ c white wine or just use fruit juice

2 ½ teaspoons agar flakes or powder

½  teaspoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon cold water

In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and water and mix well until smooth and set aside. Bring the fruit juice and wine to boil in a small heavy bottomed pot.   Take the pot off the heat and sprinkle the agar flakes over the hot juice and stir to  combine well.  Place the pot back on a low flame and simmer to allow the agar to soften and melt totally, about 15 minutes.  Under no circumstances should you boil the agar, it will lose it’s effectiveness.  Take the hot juice off the heat again and lightly whisk in the cornstarch and water, making sure no lumps form, and continue to stir until the mixture become clear.  At this point, it should be slightly thick, not very just enough that it isn’t the same consistency as juice or water.  Set the pot off the heat to cool.  When it has cooled about 10 – 15 minutes, pour it into the container you will chill it in.  You may want to put a very thin layer of light corn oil on the pan, so the jelly will come away from the pan when it’s done.  Allow the mixture to cool completely, and then cover in plastic wrap and put in the coolest part of your refrigerator.  The time to jell will vary but after 3 hours you should be able to nudge the pan and see that it is fairly solid.

When you gently press with your finger on the top of the jelly and it is firm and solid, you can either serve with a spoon, or cut into slices.  I used lightly whipped cream with a spoonful of sugar, but you can serve it to taste.

And here is my soda bread, along with the flowers my mom and dad sent us.  But, I can’t give you that recipe, it’s a family recipe and I would have to kill you…!!

Who doesn’t love pudding?

As hard as it is to believe, it’s winter, and although we have had the mildest winter on record, I still want to hibernate and cook dark, gravy-laden food, food that you have to cook for hours, and can just sit and smell, rather than having to fiddle over.  It’s an inherent drive, I guess!
Last night, Tim and I went out to a nice Italian place we love, and the waitress highly recommended the “wonderful homemade rice pudding”.  Turns out, she made it, so she was all about seeing what everyone thought.  It was wonderful, and reminded me of the rice pudding I use to help my mom make when I was a kid.  As Tim and I sat there and enjoyed it, I realized that I could probably attribute my ability to know when a sauce, custard, pudding or gravy is ready, to being the stirrer of the rice pudding when I was a kid!  I must remember to thank my Mom for that one!  I used to stand there and stir and stir and stir, then suddenly the bottom of the pot got slick and slippery, I knew the alchemy of a thickened food was happening!  To this day, I know that’s the moment when I probably should switch to a whisk, to prevent lumps, and that it’s just about to be ready.
So, in honor of winter and all things yummy and warm, I am going to give you a foolproof chocolate pudding recipe.  You’ll have to stand there and stir, but you will never look at pudding again once you have made your own, I promise you!  As always, you can do this many ways, you can substitute skim milk, you can use half and half, coconut milk, almond or hazelnut milk, rice milk, anything you have in the house. You can use white, milk or bittersweet chocolate, but if you do use white, exclude the cocoa powder. You can spike it with a hazelnut liqueur, rum you name it.
Enjoy it and let me know what you can come up with!
Chocolate Pudding
4 tablespoons corn starch
6 tablespoons sugar (brown sugar is nice here too)
1 ½ tablespoons cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
Pinch of salt
2 ¼ c. heavy cream
1 ¼ c. milk
6 oz. semisweet chocolate
1 ½ tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the cornstarch, sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon and salt.  Make sure they’re well combined and there are no lumps.  In another bowl, mix together the milk and 1 ¼ c of the cream.  Slowly whisk the cream/milk mixture into the dry ingredients, again, making sure there are no lumps. Then put the pot on a medium-high flame and stir constantly until the mixture comes to a boil and is thickened.  Add the chocolate and stir until it’s melted.
Take the mixture off the heat and beat in the butter until it’s melted and combined.  Transfer the whole mixture to a glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Make sure the plastic is touching the entire surface of the pudding, (unless you’re a fan of the pudding skin, then leave it off) and let it cool, for 45 min, it will be ready to eat at that point, and you can serve it with the remaining 1 c. of cream whipped.  Otherwise, cool it completely in the refrigerator, and spoon into serving bowls, then use the remaining cream on top.