Triple Decker Chocolate Cake

…seems simple enough, right? Well, with the help of Samin Nosrat, I’m getting a little more curious about the science behind what makes delicious cake just that.

Whether from a box or from scratch, it’s safe to say most households have made a chocolate cake at least once. Nosrat points out in “Salt Fat Acid Heat” that even boxed cake mixes call for some kind of oil rather than butter. Why might this be, you ask?

According to Nosrat, oil more evenly coats flour particles in comparison to butter. This inhibits gluten development which encourages a more tender, moist crumb. This does, in turn, create a cake that is a little denser when compared to butter’s capacity for aeration.

For a classic chocolate cake, I’ll happily take a dense, moist crumb and save the fluffy stuff for another time. And when I found this recipe for a three layer chocolate cake made with oil, I knew I was in for a decadent treat.

i chose to use canola oil for this cake, but vegetable oil or some other neutral oil would work well too

This cake baking endeavor posed an excellent opportunity to test out my new cake strips, which you can see pictured above as the thick, purple strips of fabric.

If you don’t know what cake strips are, you aren’t alone! I only learned of them recently. The idea is simple: buffer the heat between the temperature of the oven and the outermost ring of cake batter in order to more evenly heat the cake as it bakes. This makes for a more homogenous rise across the surface of the cake, which prevents doming.

To test this, I used two cake strips on two cake pans, and baked the third without.

about 3 cups of batter went into each cake pan

Here’s an aerial shot of both the independent variable (no cake strips) and dependent variable (with cake strips).

can you tell the difference? (l: no cake strips; r: cake strips)

Here you can see the dome from the layer baked without strips:

dennnng, check out that dome

Versus a close up of a layer baked with the strips:

in the background is the hump of the layer baked w/o strips–but you can see the outer rim of the cake pan, unique to those layers baked with the strips

The overall height of the layers of cake strips versus no cake strips was different as well, even though each layer roughly had three cups of batter prior to baking.

no cake strips–dense, tight crumb at the edges
with cake strips–fluffier crumb throughout

What do you think?

I have to admit, I am a new cake strips convert. You can purchase them here, if you are moved by this testimony. (And no, they are not paying me to say this! 🙂

After the exciting reveal of the cake strip experiment, I whipped up some buttercream frosting and layered my cake.

dark chocolate shavings make everything better

I was good and waited until after dinner to dig in to this cake…we’ll see if I can follow suit tomorrow!

a thin layer of frosting on the bottommost layer prevents the cake from sliding away from center on the cake plate, which is helpful if your cake is destined to travel places

Yum!

Basic Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Frosting

Generously serves 12

Cake

  • Butter and all-purpose flour for coating the cake pans
  • 3 c all-purpose flour
  • 3 c sugar
  • 1 ¾ c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbs baking soda
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 ½ c buttermilk
  • 1 ½ c near-boiling water
  • ½ c canola oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three nine-inch cake rounds and dust with flour, tapping out the excess. If using, soak cake strips for 5 minutes and apply to the exterior of the cake pans without ringing out the water. 

Slowly mix dry ingredients in a stand mixer until combined.

Add wet ingredients and beat for two minutes on medium speed, until everything is thoroughly incorporated.

Divide the batter evenly into the three cake pans, just over three cups worth.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Cool for 20 minutes before running a knife around the outer edge of the cake and inverting each layer onto a wire cooling rack. Allow cake to cool completely before frosting.

Frosting

  • 1 ½ c butter (3 sticks), room temperature
  • 3.5-4.5 c powdered sugar (taste as you go and make it as sweet as you like!)
  • ¾ c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 Tbs heavy cream or whole milk
  • Dark chocolate bar for shaving on top

Beat softened butter with an electric mixer until soft and fluffy. 

Add vanilla, cream, and cocoa powder and mix until incorporated. Add powdered sugar in increments, tasting as you go, until frosting is of desired sweetness. Frost in between each layer, the top of the cake, and the sides. 

Shave dark chocolate using a vegetable peeler on top of the freshly-frosted cake. Keeps well plastic wrapped at room temperature or tightly sealed in the fridge. Serve with a glass of your milk of choice.

Molasses Blueberry Bran Muffins

Well, this week certainly put me through my paces. (Oh, you too? TGIF.)

It’s a good thing I have whole wheat bran muffins for breakfast…I mean, it’s a really good thing.

What’s even sweeter is the fact that they were made with blueberries harvested with a dear friend at a “secret” blueberry farm. And to cinch it all together: these muffins have no refined sugar, but taste like you’re sort of getting away with something when you bite into them before 9 am.

What’s not to love about that?

If you’ve been following with the blog, you have probably gathered that I pretty much always have sweets in the house. When I’m halfway through one baked treat, it’s time to dream up the next one. (As I pen this, there is half of a loaf of bread pudding perched in my fridge, screaming to be eaten…I must remind myself, “adults” eat dinner then dessert…)

So it came as no surprise that I felt compelled (and I absolutely mean compelled) to try my hand at bran muffins this week, like, STAT. I guess I just couldn’t handle looking at the bag of Bob’s Red Mill wheat bran which has been staring me in the face for the last month, hinting ever so subtly that I should, ahem, make it into something delicious and vaguely nutritious already!

Thus, I plucked it from the shelf and did a little internet rummaging. (“How can I recreate those totally spectacular blueberry bran muffins featured at that coffee roaster in Portland?”)

With just a little digging, I found an approximation that brought me one step closer to that goal.

Adapted from this recipe from Food52, this muffin batter creates the perfect backdrop for whatever seasonal fruit, seeds, shredded vegetables or coconut you wish to spotlight. It’s simple to put together, with little mess. They taste like a treat but they’re sort of, like, a super food or something…at least, that’s what I’m telling myself.

that bright orange stuff is mashed baked sweet potato, but applesauce would work great here too!

Like many recipes in baking, the ingredients were placed in “wet” and “dry” bowls respectively, making for simple assembly and easy clean up.

here i am infusing these muffins with the last of summer’s sun…let steep for a few minutes in direct light for best results 🙂

Mix it all together…

i mean, that color just says “nutrient-packed”

Another beautiful aspect of this recipe is how perfectly it fills a 12-part cupcake pan. Less mess and cleanup, and you have 12 perfect muffins at the end of the process–I didn’t weigh or measure at any point during the batter scooping!

pro tip: butter or oil the lip of each “muffin hole” well so that your muffins crisp up nicely during the bake and pop out of the tin easily after

Then bake! And voila:

so delicious, and not so bad for your gut/waistline

For those of you who like to nerd out a little bit about food, part of what’s so great about these muffins is the amount of fiber paired with the natural sugar. As you probably know, your liver processes sugar as well as alcohol. When you consume an excessive amount of sugar in a short amount of time, it “panics” and transforms the sugar into fat rather than processing it as fuel for the body. I guess it’s kind of like hitting the snooze button when your alarm goes off.

Eating fiber with your sugar reduces the chance of the snooze button being hit; it slows down the process of digestion and gives your liver a chance to keep up with your carbohydrates. This is one of the many, many reasons that we love fresh produce.

So, not only are you getting antioxidants from the honey and blueberries and minerals from the molasses, but you’re getting our friend fiber from the whole wheat flour, wheat bran, berries, and coconut to boot. Are you psyched yet??

Molasses Blueberry Bran Muffins

Note: You can add whatever seasonal fruit is desirable, coconut flakes, dates, hemp hearts, toasted seeds or nuts…you can even sub applesauce for mashed baked sweet potato with a few tablespoons of water. It’s all about texture and natural sweetness with these muffins! 

Ingredients

  • butter or oil for muffin tin (optional)
  • 1 c wheat bran
  • 1 ½ c whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ c blueberries
  • ½ c walnuts, lightly toasted and chopped
  • ¼ c shredded, unsweetened coconut
  • 1 c milk
  • ½ c molasses
  • 3 Tbs honey
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ½ c applesauce (or scant ½ c mashed, cooked sweet potato with 3 Tbs water)
  • 2 Tbs melted coconut oil

Preheat oven to 400°F and butter or oil a muffin tin or line with paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together bran, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Stir in fruit, nuts, coconut, and any other desired accoutrements to the flour mixture.

In a medium bowl, mix together milk, molasses, honey, eggs, applesauce or sweet potato mash, and oil.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Divide the batter evenly between the 12 cups. (They will feel perilously full, but this is how they should look!)

Bake for 15-18 minutes–no longer than 20 minutes. A toothpick should come out clean when inserted into the muffin. Enjoy!

Whiskey Peach Bread Pudding

Not to brag, but I’m pretty sure I got the last few peaches of the season from my local farm stand.

I showed up looking for the last of summer’s beautiful stone fruits, not quite ready to say goodbye to the sun just yet…I browsed the boxes of produce laid out under their red and white striped tent, snatching up some beautiful Italian plums and passing up the apples and pears. (There will be many weeks of apples and pears to come. Julia Child’s pear tart is on my mind, but that won’t feel right until mid-to-late November, at the soonest. For now, let me cling to summer like I’m clinging to my 20s.)

Thinking Yakima’s peaches were a thing of the past, I made my way to the checkout counter with my plums.

“You don’t happen to have any peaches, do you?”

The friendly young cowboy in the cream-colored hat and tight t-shirt shook his head no. I thought not, I confirmed in my head, Summer must really be over…

But peaches (and maybe summer, too) hadn’t given up on me yet! Another associate from the farm who was stocking pickled veggies of various assortments chimed in–

“We have about four or five left in that far box over there!”

It was true: tucked into the low corners of these deep boxes were a few perfectly imperfect seasonal stragglers.

Containing a whoop and a holler, I snatched up these sweet rays of sunshine and paid for my flavored fructose. Now, what to do with these oddballs…

After recently making a dang delicious plum pie, I decided pie should be out of the picture. I’d already made peach cobbler this season, so that didn’t quite feel appropriate either. Then, I remembered the about-to-mold bread I’d stuffed in the freezer last week. Bread pudding it is, I thought.

When I think peaches, I think cream, honey, vanilla, almond, and whiskey. Why not add a few friends to the bread pudding party?

Peach friends!

I made ginger simple syrup, the whiskey custard, cut my beautiful peaches, and tore my thawed bread into chunks.

this simple syrup is great in cocktails, mocktails, or homemade ginger “soda”

I soaked the bread and peach mixture in milky custard and applied some “secret surprise creme fraiche” to the middle of the pudding.

yay, surprise creme fraiche!

Baked, brushed with simple syrup for a little sheen, then baked some more:

boom. thanks, summer. thanks, yakima. and thank youuu peaches

Obviously I had to eat this with some less-than-secret creme fraiche too.

needless to say, i was pretty happy to eat this.

Whiskey Peach Bread Pudding

Note: In the past, I have made this pudding using sourdough bread with excellent results. Whole wheat or rye would also be delicious, but the simpler the bread, the more your peaches will stand out. I have also subbed oat milk for regular milk which worked beautifully. The orange zest and ginger syrup are optional, but they both contribute to the desired complexity of this dish. I enjoy cutting my peach chunks into a variety of shapes and sizes, but if you prefer a more uniform dish, feel free to cut them as close to identical as you like.

Ginger Syrup

  • 1 c water
  • 1 c sugar 
  • 1” or 0.5 oz peeled ginger, cut into matchsticks
  • 2 Tbs whiskey

Pudding

  • Butter for baking dish
  • 2 c whole milk or alternative milk
  • ½ c sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 vanilla bean, split down the middle with seeds scraped out, 1 tsp vanilla bean paste, or 1 tsp vanilla extract 
  • Grated zest of 1 large orange (optional)
  • 4 Tbs whiskey
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 6 c bread, torn into ragged chunks
  • 2-3 c peaches (about 2 large peaches), skin on, cut into 1-2 inch chunks or slices
  • ¼ c creme fraiche 

Generously butter a bread pan and set aside.

Bring water, first measurement of sugar, and ginger matchsticks to a gentle boil. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until syrup has gained viscosity and ginger flavor. Stick a teaspoon into the syrup after 3 minutes; it should appear thicker than water and coat the spoon nicely. Keep boiling until syrup is of a similar consistency to maple syrup, but no more than 10 minutes. When syrup is of desired consistency, remove from heat and stir in first measurement of whiskey. Strain mixture into a jar or bowl using a fine sieve, chinois, or cheesecloth placed over a colander and let cool.

Place milk, sugar, and vanilla bean and seeds in a saucepan over medium heat until it is at a bare simmer. Remove from heat and add optional orange zest, and salt. Set aside for 10 minutes, or until you can place your hands on the walls of the sauce pot without burning yourself. Add 4 Tbs whiskey and stir. When the mixture is tepid (or room temperature) to the touch, whisk in blended eggs.

Heat oven to 350°F. Place bread and peach chunks and slices into a large bowl. Pour milk mixture over the top and let soak 15-20 minutes, gently stirring after 10 minutes with a wooden spoon or your hands.

Spoon half of the bread and peach mixture into the prepared bread pan. Dab the surface of the mixture with creme fraiche in teaspoon-sized spoonfuls. Pour the rest of the bread over the top and bake 20 minutes. Remove from oven and brush the top with whisky-ginger syrup until the entire pudding is covered in glaze. Bake 10-20 minutes more, or until bread has started to take on a golden color and peaches on the surface of the pudding begin to blacken.

Let sit at least 30 minutes to cool before cutting and serving. Best with a dollop of yogurt, creme fraiche, or vanilla ice cream.

Peach-Blueberry Cobbler with Cornmeal Biscuit Topping

It was a busy week at the bakery.

By the time I made it to the end of my work week, I was exhausted…but not too exhausted to make concord-orange zest jam with the grapes I harvested with my dearest, oldest friend over the course of the week. At her recommendation, I followed Rachel Saunders’ recipe from her book dedicated to preserves, titled “Blue Chair.” It’s quickly risen to the top of my wishlist of cookbooks to own someday.

Since I am newly obsessed with serrano peppers thanks to this phenomenal recipe, I partitioned off a smaller pot to experiment with, and added a few thin slices of the green pepper, and its seeds. The results were pretty amazing: sweet, complex jam, with a hint of peppery spice right at the finish. Worth going back for more grapes, and going through the painstaking labor of stemming 4 lbs and squeezing each grape from its skin.

But by the time Sunday rolled around, I was ready to cook some more…one day of rest after a week of 10+ hour workdays is enough right? (Right??) I rose from bed, donned my enormous sweater, cute pants, and shoes NOT caked in flour and syrup, and went to the farmer’s market.

For around $30, I got a large bag full of Italian Empress plums, six relatively local peaches, and a whole chicken from this awesome farm. Plum preserve is next on the list, followed by Alison Roman’s chicken and dumplings.

But these peaches! Lord! Is there anything like that scent? A scent which screams to be paired with vanilla, almond, whiskey, cream…and berries! (Wild blackberries are my favorite pairing with peach, but they’re few and far between this late in the season–they’ve had an odd year.)

I got into the kitchen and started scheming. I’ve already made a peach cake this year using peach puree in the batter (with blackberry quick jam in between layers with marscapone buttercream frosting), and several peach galette. But y’know what I haven’t had in a millennia? A good, old-fashioned cobbler.

Of course I had to go to Smitten Kitchen for this one when I saw the cornmeal biscuits on top. I followed her simple recipe almost exactly, only added a little less brown sugar than hers, and my cobbler was mostly peaches with just a HINT of blueberries. And dang, was I pleased with the results.

perfectly ripe fruit is such a turn on, no?

Aside from being utterly delicious, this recipe is dead simple, and there’s a wonderful interplay of textures between the cooked fruit and biscuits. I made my biscuits with a coarser grind of cornmeal for added texture. At first I thought, “Oh boy, I’ve gone too far with this one!” because my biscuits came out of the oven damned GRITTY. But as the cobbler sat in my fridge over the next 8 hours (yes, I had cobbler for lunch–don’t judge me!) the cornmeal did what cornmeal does best–absorbed that beautiful, beautiful liquid.

I used Bob’s Red Mill polenta, but finer cornmeal would work beautifully here too, especially if you want your cobbler, like, yesterday.

Now I’m from the rain and never ate a single biscuit, to my knowledge, before the age of 25 when I started working as a barista for a roaster in Portland and was around morning pastries every day (I’m looking at you, bacon cheddar biscuit). So to say these fluffy creations aren’t exactly in my intuition base would be an understatement. They seem deceptively simple, but if you’ve ever had a lifeless, or tacky, or painfully chewy biscuit, you begin to understand there is more than meets the eye, here. Cornmeal seems an unlikely addition at first, but the two have a relationship I’m eager to continue to explore.

fruit dotted with cornmeal dough

I didn’t have regular milk for the buttermilk so I used almond, but the acid from the lemon I used to make it did what acid does with baking powder: caused floof to happen. (Yay, floof!) I spooned these pillowy-yet-hearty beauties over my fruit with mounting anticipation. Thank goodness this whole thing only takes about 30 minutes to make.

thar she blows!

Because I’m freaky like that, I brushed the exposed fruit with warm salted honey/apricot jam glaze, just for a little extra zhush. I’m telling you, I could not stop eating this cobbler.

Go get you some peaches (if you haven’t already!) and make yourself dessert. Don’t neglect the cornmeal! Take pride in your gritty biscuit!! It’s a welcome counterpart to cooked peach, believe me.

Peach-Blueberry Cobbler with Cornmeal Biscuit Topping
Adapted from smittenkitchen.com

Fruit
1 ½ lbs (about 4 cups) pounds peaches, pitted and cut into chunks of various sizes
1 pint (about 2 cups) blueberries, rinsed and dried
1/3 cup-2/3 cup packed dark-brown sugar (to taste)
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

Biscuit
3/4 cup (3 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornmeal (choose your own adventure with grit! 😉
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup buttermilk, or about 2 tsp lemon juice or vinegar in any kind of milk, adding up to ½ cup

Preheat oven to 425°F. Toss peaches and blueberries in sugar, flour, lemon juice, cinnamon and salt in a 2-quart casserole dish.

Mix together the flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Cut the butter into the dry mixture with a pastry blender or your fingers, then incorporate buttermilk with a rubber spatula until a wet, tacky dough forms.

Dollop heaping spoonfuls of the biscuit dough over the coated fruit, leaving gaps in between spoonfuls. Bake until the fruit is tender and the biscuit tops are browned, about 20 to 25 minutes. If you are so inclined, heat up 2 Tbs of honey or light-colored jam with a pinch of salt and brush the tops of the exposed fruit. Enjoy with your favorite creamy sidekick (ice cream, yogurt, crème fraiche, honeyed whipped cream…etc)!