Decadent Fudge Cake for Easter

DSC_0012For the last several years I have made a lamb-shaped cake for my family’s Easter dinner. Last year I did a yellow cake, baked in the two halves of the open mold. The year before I made a carrot cake in the closed mold. Both years I made a tasty cake, though not without a few mishaps.

This year I decided not to mess with the potential frustrations of the lamb pan. I have a new swirly bundt pan that I am using every chance I get, so I used that to bake a chocolate cake. I didn’t expect any of the family to even notice that the lamb didn’t make an appearance.

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Boy, was I wrong. Everyone wanted to know what kind of lamb I had made this year. And everyone remembered the lamb from two years ago with his head held on with skewers. But they were all suitably impressed with the chocolate cake and the cool shape from the pan.

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The cake. Oh the cake. I have made this cake before, but this time it was at its best -darkly chocolate, slightly crispy on the outside, especially on the ridges from the pan, but very fudgy on the inside, almost like a flourless chocolate cake.

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This cake started out as a recipe from a card I received in the mail, which I have since lost. Companies used to send out sample recipes for monthly recipe clubs you could subscribe to. The internet sounded the death knell for these clubs. I never subscribed to one, but I did make this cake, with a few changes. The chocolate I use is darker than the original, I increased the vanilla and I changed margarine to butter. And I eliminated the fussy chocolate and white chocolate leaves that the original cake was topped with. The cake can certainly stand on its own, with no embellishment.

The cake uses chocolate syrup, which I rarely buy. I would like to find a substitute for it, since I just used up the last of the bottle to make the cake. It provides some liquid, some sugar and some chocolate. I am playing around with the idea of more buttermilk and a little cocoa, though maybe not more sugar, to make the cake even darker. Or I could just leave it out and see what happens.

I want to do some experiments, but I need to have another holiday or party so other people can help us eat the cake. If you have any ideas for substitutions, send them my way.

Download or print the recipe here.

Decadent Fudge Cake
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 12-15

4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
4 ounces 70% chocolate
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 sticks butter (8 ounces), room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1½ cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
⅓ cup chocolate syrup (like Hershey’s)
1 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Heavily grease a 10-inch bundt pan and set aside.

Melt the baking chocolate and 70% chocolate in the microwave or a double boiler. Set aside to cool. Stir the baking soda together with the flour in a medium bowl and set aside.

Beat the butter with the sugar and vanilla extract until light and fluffy and no longer grainy – 3-5 minutes.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.

Add about one-third of the flour mixture and mix well. Add half of the buttermilk and mix again. Repeat with remaining flour and buttermilk, ending with flour. Mix in melted chocolate and chocolate syrup until well mixed, with no streaks of plain batter remaining. Stir in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth top. The batter will almost fill the pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 45-60 minutes, until the top springs back when touched. Bake the shorter amount of time if you want the middle to be slightly fudgy.

Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes. Loosen the edges of the cake with a knife or thin spatula and turn out onto a serving plate. Place the plate on a wire rack and cool until room temperature before covering.

Dust cake with powdered sugar just before serving. Cake keeps well at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage.

Creamy, Decadent Chocolate Mousse

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I guess I should have posted this yesterday, when it was National Chocolate Mousse Day. Who comes up with these days? And should we really care? I get Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Grandparents’ Day – I am all for showing appreciation to the special people in our lives. But does chocolate mousse really care if it has a day? And there isn’t a chocolate mousse council that needs to make sure people know about chocolate mousse so they can get their daily serving. Hmmm, I’d serve on that council if there were one. Heck, I’d serve on the dairy council. I like cream, butter and cheese.

I have been planning to blog about chocolate mousse since we had it a few weeks ago, to use up our cream supply. I had the post all ready to go and I wasn’t going to delay posting it just to avoid going along with the crowd on Chocolate Mousse Day.

I have always wanted to make chocolate mousse, but I never got around to it, until Rich suggested it as one way to use up some of our lovely cream surplus. Lots of recipes called for a ton of butter and others called for just chocolate and cream. I am all for a pure chocolate flavor, but I wanted something a little different than what is basically whipped chocolate ganache.

I found a recipe at Joy of Baking that was just what I was looking for: a nice balance of chocolate, butter, sugar and cream. It did call for eggs, which were not cooked, but I used pasteurized eggs to eliminate any possibility of salmonella. The recipe went together in no time, with just a bit of whipping and melting.

It was hard to wait for the mousse to chill, but it really made a difference in both the texture and flavor. The little (let’s get real: big) tastes we took were wonderfully creamy and rich, but the mousse was so much better after chilling for a few hours – creamy but still light and airy, with just the right amount of sweetness balanced with deep, dark chocolate. What more can you ask of a chocolate mousse?

Note: I am not posting the recipe here because I didn’t change it at all. I know some people post unchanged recipes, giving credit, but I am just not comfortable with that unless I have permission from the original authors.

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies with a Twist

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I have a favorite chocolate sandwich cookie that I make every so often. It started out as a basic cookie, until I tinkered with the recipe. I increased the cocoa and decreased the flour. Later, after more taste testing, I replaced some of the cocoa with some black, extra dark cocoa I had ordered from King Arthur Flour. Perfection. Darkly chocolate, slightly crunchy cookies surrounding creamy vanilla filling that tastes slightly of butter. After a day or two in an airtight container the cookies get slightly softer, which I really like.

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If you don’t want to buy special cocoa for these, they are perfectly good with only natural cocoa powder. I have seen a few different kinds of darker cocoa in the grocery store, next to the regular cocoa. I have only used natural cocoa and a little of the black cocoa, as noted in the recipe, but feel free to experiment. If you use only natural cocoa your cookies might be a lighter brown than the pictures, but they will still taste fabulous.

The last time I made the cookies, we were brainstorming different fillings we could try. We came up with cinnamon, cherry and bacon. Cherry and bacon were a little more complicated than we wanted to mess with that day, so we decided to try cinnamon. I will tinker with the bacon and cherry possibilities some day soon.

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I wanted some cookies with plain vanilla filling, so I divided the filling in half and added cinnamon. I started with ¼ teaspoon, but it was barely discernable. So I doubled it. The cinnamon flavor was stronger, but I thought it might get lost against the dark chocolate of the cookies. So I added another ¼ teaspoon. Perfection – richly cinnamon without straying across the line into too spicy.

I started out dolloping a tiny portion of filling onto the middle of a cookie and then gently squishing the filling flat with a second cookie. While this made a pretty cookie, with smooth edges on the filling, there wasn’t enough filling. I went back to my old method of smearing the filling on and adding the top cookie. Not as neat, but definitely a better ratio of cookie to filling.

I could have pulled out a piping bag to pipe the larger amount of filling into the middle of the cookies, but that was way more complicated than I wanted to get. Full disclosure: I have used my piping bag just a handful of times over the 10 years I have had it. Maybe someday I will get inspired to use it more often, but I’m not holding my breath. If you want picture perfect cookies, you can certainly use a piping bag. But I’m in favor of saving the time and cleanup and eating my slightly less-than-perfect cookies that much sooner.

Download or print just the recipe.

 Chocolate Sandwich Cookies
Adapted by The Cook’s Life
From 365 Great Cookies and Brownies
Makes 45 small sandwich cookies

If you want to bump up the chocolate flavor a bit, you can substitute 2 tablespoons of dark or black cocoa for 2 tablespoons of the natural cocoa. This is totally optional, but really good.

Cookies:
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ cup natural cocoa powder (see headnote)
¼ teaspoon salt

Vanilla Filling:
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoons milk, approximately

Cinnamon Filling:
1½ teaspoons cinnamon for the full recipe
¾ teaspoon cinnamon for half the recipe

Do not preheat the oven. The dough needs to chill before baking.

Beat the ½ cup butter and granulated sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat again until well combined and light. Add the flour, cocoa powder and salt and mix on low speed until dough is smooth.

Divide dough in half and shape each half into a long log, about 1¼ inches in diameter. Make the logs as smooth and uniform as possible so your cookies will be uniform. Wrap the dough logs in parchment paper or plastic wrap and freeze for at least 30 minutes.

While dough chills, make the filling. Beat the 2 tablespoons butter until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined. Add milk, a teaspoon at a time, until the filling is light and fluffy.

If you are making the cinnamon filling, add the cinnamon now. Use 1½ teaspoons cinnamon if you want to make all the filling cinnamon. If you want half vanilla and half cinnamon, divide the filling in half and use ¾ teaspoon cinnamon in one half. Beat the cinnamon filling until uniform in color with no lighter streaks. Cover the filling(s) and leave at room temperature until ready to use.

When the dough is chilled preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly grease.

Work with one log at time, leaving the other one in the freezer until ready to slice. Use a sharp knife to cut the log into ¼-inch, or slightly thinner, rounds. Try to keep them uniform so they all bake at the same rate. Place the rounds fairly close together on the prepared baking sheets. They do not spread or rise very much at all.

Bake cookies, one pan at a time, for 5-6 minutes, or until they are firm to the touch, but not hard. The cookies will not change color, but they will puff very, very slightly.

Remove baked cookies to racks for cooling. When cookies are room temperature, spread 1-2 teaspoons of filling on the flat side of one cookie. Top with another cookie and gently press the cookies together. Leave filled cookies on the wire racks until the filling dries and sets up a bit, at least an hour. Store cookies in an airtight container for several days, or freeze for longer storage. The cookies will soften slightly after the first day.

Note: If you want to make the dough ahead of time, make four shorter logs and slip them into a ziploc bag. If it is tightly wrapped, you can freeze the dough for a month or so before using. Slice directly from the freezer and bake as directed.

Crepes – Not Scary At All

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I have wanted to make crepes for years, but put it off because I thought they were hard to make. I’m not sure what magic skills I thought I needed to make what really are just egg-rich, very thin pancakes. If you can make pancakes, you can make crepes.

There is a crepe cart in the town in Colorado where we have vacationed with Rich’s parents. They have the crepe-making process down to a science, with special crepe griddles and a spatula to spread the batter out in an even layer. In the past we have tried their cheesecake crepes, s’mores crepes and simpler crepes filled with melted chocolate or sugar and butter. This year when we went for crepes, the line stretched halfway down the block and the wait was over an hour. We skipped the crepes and vowed to make our own when we got home.

Once I made the leap and decided to try my own crepes, I figured I needed a new skillet to make them in. We got rid of all our nonstick pans a few years ago, after wearing out several sets. We only have stainless steel pans and I thought we might have trouble with sticking. I picked up a 10-inch nonstick skillet at Marshall’s for $10 and we were ready to make some crepes.

Calvin and I mixed up the batter Friday afternoon, in less than ten minutes. We heated the pan while we mixed the batter and then started making our crepes. Once we figured out the swirling technique, we were fighting over who got to make the next crepe. In about half an hour we had 12 crepes stacked up, ready to fill. They weren’t all pretty, but even the most irregular and pale of the bunch still looked pretty good to us. And no matter what they looked like, each delicately thin crepe was deceptively rich, deliciously eggy and fragrant with vanilla.

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We used some of the batch for dessert that night ­– reheating them one at a time in a lightly buttered skillet. Calvin had a s’more crepe, with chocolate chips, marshmallows and crushed graham crackers. We covered half with the toppings and then folded the other half over. A few minutes in the hot pan for each side and the chocolate was melted and the marshmallows were warm and puffy. Rich and I brushed ours with melted butter and then sprinkled them with brown sugar and cinnamon before folding them in quarters.

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The rest of the batch we saved for Saturday’s breakfast. In the morning we sweetened ricotta with a little honey and vanilla and spread it over half of each crepe. A sprinkling of blueberries gilded the lily. We rolled them up and browned them in a little butter to make a decadent breakfast. What a way to start the weekend!

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Don’t let the mystique of crepes turn you off from trying these. They take minutes to whisk together and not much longer than that to make. Make a batch when you have a spare thirty minutes and then store them in the freezer for when you want a quick, elegant breakfast or dessert. Or sprinkle them with a few chocolate chips, heat them in a pan until the chocolate melts and eat them while you stand by the stove. I won’t tell.

Download or print the recipe here.

Basic Crepes
Adapted from Farm Journal’s “Homemade Breads”
by The Cook’s Life
Makes 10-12 crepes (8 inch)

¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla (omit if making savory crepes)
1 tablespoon butter, melted, for pan

Heat a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat while mixing crepes.

Stir flour, sugar and salt together in a bowl with a whisk. In a separate bowl beat eggs until well combined. Add milk and vanilla and beat again. Add about half of the egg mixture to the flour mixture and whisk until smooth. Add the remaining egg mixture and whisk again.

Lightly brush the hot skillet with melted butter. You don’t need much.

Pour slightly less than ¼ cup of batter in the middle of the pan. Quickly pick the pan up and swirl it in a circular motion until the batter forms a thin circle, about 8 inches in diameter. Don’t worry about any tentacles that form around the outside of the circle. You can trim them off later if they bother you. Every crepe will be closer to round as you get the hang of swirling the pan.

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Cook the crepe until the edges start to brown lightly and the top looks dry all over. Ease a spatula under the edge and use your fingers to help you turn the crepe over. If it folds up on itself, just spread it back out as you turn it over. Cook the second side until lightly browned.

Remove crepe to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining batter to make 10-12 crepes. As the crepes cool, you can stack them to keep them from drying out.

Use immediately, or cool them on the rack. Store crepes in a stack in an airtight container or ziplock bag at room temperature. If you are keeping them more than a day or two, freeze them. Thaw at room temperature for a few hours or in the fridge overnight, still in their container.

Snickerdoodle Bars

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Me: How can we stage a different kind of picture of snickerdoodle bars?

Rich: [long silence] We have to make them first.

Why the snapshot of an inane conversation in our kitchen at 11:30 on a Saturday night? Mostly because I found Rich’s truly serious answer to be hilariously funny. Don’t judge me – it was way past my bedtime. And because there isn’t a whole lot I need to say about snickerdoodle bars. They are delicious. They go together in no time. And did I mention that the cinnamon sugar perfectly sets off the buttery goodness that is a snickerdoodle? Snickerdoodles in a bar, ready in less than half an hour. Enough said.

P.S. We didn’t make the cookie bars that night. But I did make them in the morning, after breakfast and before we left for church. They really are quick.

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Download or print the recipe here.

Snickerdoodle Cookie Bars
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 60-80 bars, depending on size

Cinnamon sugar:
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Dough:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1½ cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease a 12 by 17 inch pan or two 9 by 13 inch pans. Mix the cinnamon and sugar together in a small bowl. Sprinkle about half, or a little less, evenly on the greased pan(s). Set aside remaining cinnamon sugar.

Beat butter and sugar together until completely combined and no longer gritty. Add eggs and beat again until light and fluffy.

Add flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Mix well.

Press the dough in an even layer in the prepared pan(s).  You may have to flour your hands so the dough doesn’t stick. Sprinkle the top of the dough with the remaining cinnamon sugar. You may not use it all – the rest is tasty on buttered toast.

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the edges feel firm and are just starting to turn golden brown. The middle may not be completely set, but it shouldn’t be completely raw.

Cool in pan on a rack for a few minutes before cutting into squares. Store in an airtight container – these dry out faster than regular cookies. Freeze if you aren’t going to eat them within a couple of days.

Unforgettable Chocolate Ice Cream

When Calvin and I experimented with mint chocolate chip ice cream last week, I really thought I had posted on chocolate ice cream the week before. I know we made it, and I know we ate it, but there were no pictures and no post on chocolate ice cream. I guess I was so dazzled by the deep, dark chocolatey-ness that I dreamed writing about it. Since we ate the first batch before I took pictures, I had to make it again. The sacrifices we have to make.

I like to keep ice cream as a quick to make dessert, other than the freezing time. I have tried cooked custard bases a few times, but they never taste as good as I think they should, especially based on the time they take and the amount of dirty dishes they make. I have settled on a base recipe we like, that is easy to change for different flavors. And it couldn’t be easier – stir everything together until the sugar dissolves then freeze in the ice cream machine.

I can never get enough chocolate, so I like to make a sundae with chocolate ice cream, hot fudge sauce and either crushed pretzels or crushed Oreos, if we have them. Bring on the chocolate! It is also just fine in a bowl, with no other adornments. How do you like your ice cream – plain, topped with everything under the sun, or full of mix-ins and swirls of fudge or caramel?

Chocolate Ice Cream
from The Cook’s Life
Makes 1½ quarts

This makes a deep, dark chocolate ice cream. You could reduce the cocoa to 1/3 cup if you want a milder chocolate flavor. Because of the cocoa, this ice cream does get a little harder in the freezer than some other flavors. The optional vodka will keep the ice cream a little softer and more scoopable, but feel free to leave it out.

1/3 cup granulated sugar*
½ cup cocoa
Dash salt
2 cups half and half**
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon vodka (optional)

Stir sugar, cocoa and salt together in a medium bowl.

Gradually add half and half, making a paste at first to get all the cocoa mixed in thoroughly.

Add vanilla and stir until sugar is dissolved.

Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions – ours takes about 25 minutes. Add vodka, if using, during last 5 minutes of freezing.

Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and freeze for several hours before serving.

*Use ½ cup sugar for a sweeter ice cream. But try it once with less sugar and see how you like it. You can also use an equivalent amount of Splenda for sugar-free ice cream.

** You can use all cream, which will make a richer ice cream. Half and half makes a creamy ice cream, with a little less fat and without the greasy mouth feel you can sometimes get with all cream.

 Download the recipe here.

Cinnamon Ice Cream

Before we had our ice cream maker, well even after, we had only eaten cinnamon ice cream in restaurants and ice cream shops. I’m not sure why we hadn’t tried making it ourselves – it is a nice change from vanilla ice cream for topping apple pie or chocolate cake. That is, if you like cinnamon as much as we do.

We don’t buy cinnamon at the grocery store, not in those little jars. We are lucky enough to have a Penzey’s spice store about twenty minutes away and we are regulars. They sell cinnamon in four ounce bags for refilling your spice jar and we buy two of those every four months or so. I know, that is half a pound of cinnamon in four months. But we use a lot of it. And it is certainly cheaper to buy it in bulk. And the Penzey’s cinnamon is fresher and just better than the grocery store cinnamon. (I am not in any way affiliated or compensated by Penzey’s – I just like their products.)

Back to the ice cream – the recipe is basically our vanilla ice cream with added cinnamon. We use a heavier hand with the cinnamon (see the above paragraph) so use the lesser amount of cinnamon if you want a less intense flavor.

Homemade ice cream can sometimes get pretty hard after the first day in the freezer. One way to offset this is to add a little bit of vodka at the end of the freezing process. It doesn’t affect the flavor, just the texture. The alcohol has a lower freezing point than the ice cream, so it keeps the ice cream from freezing as hard. You are only adding a tablespoon to the whole batch, so there are no worries about serving this to everyone, including kids. But if you are uncomfortable using it – don’t. Your ice cream will be wonderful without it. We use it sometimes, and not others. It is totally optional, but if you have no objection to the alcohol, try it once and see how you like the texture of your ice cream after a day or two in the freezer. This is also assuming you don’t eat all the ice cream in one sitting, in which case the vodka is totally not necessary.

Cinnamon Ice Cream
from The Cook’s Life
Makes about 1½ quarts

Use the larger amount of cinnamon if you want your ice cream spicier. You can always taste your mixture before you freeze it in your ice cream maker and adjust the cinnamon level. Flavors will be a bit more muted after freezing.

1/3 cup sugar
1-2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Dash salt
2 cups half and half*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon vodka (optional)

Stir brown sugar, cinnamon and salt together in a medium bowl. This will help the cinnamon mix in more evenly. Add half and half and vanilla and stir until sugar is dissolved. Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions – ours takes about 25 minutes. Add vodka, if using, during last 5 minutes of freezing. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and freeze for several hours before serving.

* You can use all cream, which will make a richer ice cream. Half and half makes a creamy ice cream, with a little less fat and without the greasy mouth feel you can sometimes get with all cream.

 Download the recipe here.

Chocolate Pudding Cake

This was one of my favorite desserts when I was growing up. Mom liked it because it was easy to make, included a sauce, so no icing necessary, and it baked in about the time it took to eat dinner and do the dishes. My brother and I liked it because it was something different and, after all, what’s not to like about chocolate cake with a built-in chocolate sauce/pudding.

This is another recipe, like the Black Devil’s Food Cake, that is from the cholesterol-free baking booklet Mom had. She still has no idea where it was from or where it is now, but at least she saved these recipes. This is our fall back dessert when we want something quick that uses ingredients we have on hand.

I think I am going to experiment with using more cocoa next time. The cake didn’t taste as dark as I would like. Maybe I was just in the mood for something darker that night, or maybe the cinnamon ice cream we had with it needed a darker chocolate for contrast. I’m not saying the cake wasn’t delicious. It tasted like it always does, but if you are looking for a deep, dark chocolate – this isn’t it. It’s more of a middle-of-the-road basic chocolate. Post in the comments if you experiment with more cocoa. Or I’ll do another post for Deep Dark Chocolate Pudding Cake if I come up with something good.

Chocolate Pudding Cake
From The Cook’s Life

Serves 6-8

Cake:
1 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla

Sauce:
¾ cup brown sugar
¼ cup cocoa
1¾ cup hot water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and 2 tablespoons cocoa. Add milk, melted butter and vanilla and stir vigorously until no dry streaks remain. Spread in greased pan.

In small bowl, mix together brown sugar and ¼ cup cocoa. Sprinkle evenly over batter.

Pour hot water gently over the top. DO NOT stir.

Bake 35-40 minutes. Cake will rise to top during baking and pudding/sauce will settle to bottom. Press gently in the middle of the cake to see if it feels firm, though the whole cake will be floating on top of the sauce, so it might give a little. Just make sure the cake isn’t wet in the middle.

When done, the edges of the cake will be pulling away from the sides of the pan and the top might be cracked in spots, with sauce boiling up through the cracks.

Let the cake cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before serving. When hot the sauce/pudding is thin. It will thicken as it cools.

Serve warm. Good with ice cream.

If you have any leftovers, briefly rewarm each serving in the microwave for 15-20 seconds before serving.

Download the recipe here.

An Afternoon of Baking – White Texas Sheet Cake

Yesterday afternoon I used six sticks of butter in less than an hour. That kind of boggles my mind. A pound and a half of butter gone in no time! Well, not gone, but you know what I mean.

I was making a White Texas Sheet Cake for a dinner meeting we are having at our church tonight. I also made a batch of Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars for the people who are setting up for the meeting. The cake alone took three sticks of butter, with the icing taking one more. I made 1½ times the recipe so it would fill a larger pan and make a taller cake to serve more people.

We first started making this cake a few years ago when I was looking for something to make with Calvin on a lazy summer day. I hadn’t been planning on baking and the only butter we had was in the freezer, so I was looking for a recipe that used melted butter, or oil. I found this one in a fundraising cookbook and away we went. Based on the amounts of ingredients, I figured we could make half a recipe into twelve cupcakes that would bake in about 15 minutes. Calvin was in first grade, I think, and pulled up a stool to watch them bake through the oven door window. We made cream cheese icing for the tops and everyone was happy.

The original recipe calls for a 10 by 15 by 2 inch pan. I don’t have a pan that size, so I usually make the full recipe into 24 cupcakes. I made it in a 12 by 17 by 1 inch pan (1/2 sheet size) last week to test it, and it worked beautifully. The cake is only about ½-inch thick when you do it this way, but it makes for a nice ratio of cake to icing. Feel free to increase the recipe by 1½, if you want a taller cake in the larger pan, though be warned – this is what took three sticks of butter.

Look at the lovely sheen on the top of the icing. Easy as pie – just pour it on, smooth it out and it levels itself and dries shiny.

The original recipe also called for sour cream, which isn’t something I usually have on hand. I don’t think I have ever used the sour cream, substituting plain nonfat yogurt in equal amounts. It works perfectly and makes a beautiful cake with a fine, moist crumb.

I apologize for not siting the source. I have since given away the cookbook and only kept a typed copy of the recipe. I did a quick Google search and every recipe that came up was exactly the same, except for slight variations in the extract amounts. Thank you to whoever came up with it in the first place!

White Texas Sheet Cake
from The Cook’s Life
serves 24-30

If you don’t like almond extract, substitute equal amounts vanilla extract for the almond extract. Do NOT skip sifting the powdered sugar for the icing, or you will have lumps in your icing. Trust me – SIFT the powdered sugar!

1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 cup water
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs, well beaten
½ cup sour cream or nonfat plain yogurt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 15 by 10 by 2 inch pan OR a 12 by 17 by 1 inch pan OR 24 muffin cups, and set aside.

Bring butter and water to a boil in a saucepan or the microwave. In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. In a separate bowl, mix together eggs, sour cream or yogurt and extracts.

Once you have everything ready, the cake stirs together in no time. No mixer required.

Add hot butter and water mixture to dry mixture and stir until smooth. Add egg mixture and stir until well combined. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 15-22 minutes depending on the size of your pan. Cupcakes and the larger pan will take the shorter amount of time. Cake is done when it is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for 30 minutes before icing.

Icing:
½ cup butter (1 stick)
¼ cup milk
4 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract, optional
1 cup finely chopped pecans, optional

In a saucepan, bring milk and butter to a boil. Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients and stir until smooth.  Pour and spread over the cake. Let icing cool and totally set up before cutting or covering the cake.

This icing really is easy, as long as you SIFT your powdered sugar. Those aren’t lumps in the icing, but bubbles. See above picture for smooth, lump-free icing.

Make this a day ahead of time, if possible. Cake improves with age and is a good keeper, staying moist for 3-4 days.

Download the recipe here.

Dessert in Five Minutes

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There are always going to be days when you NEED dessert. And those times are invariably when you have nothing in the house to bake with. Or you don’t have the time or the energy to make even cookie bars and deal with washing those dishes. Microwave Chocolate Pudding to the rescue!

There is, of course, a story. Rich and I were looking at chocolate pudding mix once in Wild Oats (that dates us, they have long since been swallowed up by Whole Foods), and wondering what made the pudding “health food.” The ingredients were cocoa, evaporated cane juice (otherwise known as sugar?) and cornstarch. That started us thinking about what Jell-O pudding was. Sure enough, the ingredients on the side of a box of cook and serve chocolate pudding were sugar, cocoa and cornstarch, along with dextrose and a few thickeners. We wondered why we were bothering to buy pudding mix (especially with the extra ingredients), when we had cocoa, sugar and cornstarch at home.

Lo and behold, we found this recipe in a book we already had and even better, it was a microwave recipe. So it’s quick, it only dirties one bowl, which is also the serving bowl, and it is the deepest, darkest chocolate pudding you have ever eaten. We haven’t bought pudding mix since.

The original recipe came from a Cooking Light cookbook. The only change I made to the ingredients was to double the vanilla. I did revise the directions a bit to make them a little more precise. Without further ado…

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Microwave Chocolate Pudding
Adapted by The Cook’s Life
from “The Complete Cooking Light Cookbook”

 6 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1½ cups 2% milk*
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine sugar, cocoa and cornstarch in a 1-quart glass bowl and stir well with a whisk to break up all the lumps. Gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk until well blended. Microwave mixture, uncovered, at 100% power for 90 seconds. Stir well. Microwave at 100% power for another 90 seconds. Stir well. Microwave at 70% power for 60-90 seconds, or until thick. Watch closely so it doesn’t boil over. Add vanilla and mix well. Pudding will thicken more as it cools. Let cool a bit before serving warm, or cover and chill. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the hot pudding if you don’t like the skin that forms as it cools.

Makes 3-4 servings.

* Works really well with skim milk, with no other changes to the recipe, but 2% tastes better, of course. Go all out and use whole milk if you have it.

 Download recipe here.