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.

Adventures in Cake – Easter 2013

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I am making it a tradition to make a cake in my lamb mold for Easter dinner. Some might call it an obsession, but I am going with tradition. My grandmother (my mom’s mother) made a lamb cake most years when I was a kid and I like continuing the tradition. I don’t remember Grandma ever talking about having any trouble baking her cake, or with it sticking to the pan. Not sure what that says about my cooking skills, but I’ll leave it to you to draw conclusions.

My mother did mention this year that she isn’t sure that the pan I have is the one Grandma had. She has a vague memory that Grandma had a cast iron pan, which has long disappeared. That might explain the problems I have getting my cake baked evenly – the pan I have is thin aluminum. Cast iron would heat more evenly than my pan does.

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But pans aside, I am still in search of the perfect cake recipe to bake in my lamb mold. I want the cake to have enough structure to stand up, but to still be moist. It is a fine line that I am trying to walk, and it is still a work in progress. I think the lamb shape works against me every year – baking it long enough to get the middle done dries out the edges. This year I used an eight-yolk cake from “Joy of Cooking.” I had yolks left over from making an angel food cake for my mom’s birthday (so many recipes, so little time to post them!). I have made the cake before as a regular layer cake and liked the results – moist, buttery and yellow from all the egg yolks.

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This year I also decided I didn’t want to bake the cake in the closed mold. I thought maybe the large diameter of the middle of the body was working against me. I baked the two halves separately and planned to glue them together with icing for the finished cake. I’m not sure it made a whole lot of difference. The ears, head and rear end all baked faster than the middle and were a little bit dry. If I weren’t worried about the sturdiness of the cake, I would soak the whole thing with sugar syrup to deal with the dryness, but I am afraid that might make the whole thing slump down onto the plate.

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I repeated last year’s grease job with melted shortening, though I must not have been as diligent with the shortening, as one ear and the head on the back half stuck in the pan.

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For a bit I thought I wasn’t going to get the back half of the lamb to come out of the pan at all. Better to lose the head than to have to dig the whole thing out in pieces, I guess.

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I was able to stick everything back together with icing. And the lamb survived the night intact, unlike last year. See last year’s results in the pictures below.

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The cake was fragrant with vanilla, the cream cheese icing was all I could wish for and everyone was impressed that it held together without the benefit of skewers.

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Somehow though, everyone will remember last year’s reattached head a lot longer than this year’s (relative) success. It’s funny how failures become family stories and successes are just tasty desserts.

Adventures in Cake

Baked cake, ready for icing.

When we were growing up, my brother and I loved the years when our grandmother made a lamb cake for Easter. It always looked so cool, standing up on its plate of green coconut grass, with jelly beans scattered around it. I can’t remember what kind of cake she used, or what kind of icing, other than white, but it was always a treat for us kids.

Fast forward to now – I have the mold Grandma used, but sadly never asked her what cake recipe she used in it. So I have been on a quest for the last few years to figure out what kind of cake works best. I have tried pound cake, yellow cake, chocolate cake and this year, carrot cake. Some years it is dry, some years I have trouble getting the middle done and this year – well, read on!

I was determined the cake wouldn’t stick at any point, so I melted shortening and carefully brushed it into every crevice of both halves of the mold. Then I carefully dusted the whole thing with flour. Now onto the cake…which has about 1000 ingredients. I’m kidding, but it does involve a lot of measuring and every measuring cup and spoon in the drawer, I think. Don’t let this turn you off from trying it – it is a deliciously spicy carrot cake that is moist, and low fat in the bargain.

I put the cake in the oven, in the wired-shut mold, with the extra batter in a custard cup. I was working my way through the dishes and I realized I had totally forgotten to put in the oil. So my low-fat cake was virtually fat-free now. Not an experiment I really wanted to try, when I was working to avoid dry cake! But there was no way I was going to try to take the whole contraption out of the oven and add the oil.

Ready for the top and the oven.

I won’t go into all the details of baking the cake, but suffice it to say, it involved a lot of testing, removing the top of the mold, more baking, and more baking. But the cake did come out of the mold with no mishaps or lost ears, thanks to my careful greasing and flouring job.

I let the whole thing cool all afternoon, and iced it with cream cheese icing while dinner was in the oven. We let the icing set up for a couple of hours before covering the whole thing with plastic wrap and going to bed.

When we were deciding if lambs really had wool on their ears. Icing won over bare ears.

I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves for the rest of the story! One last word – the cake was delicious and we only had a little bit left after Easter dinner.

Mr. Lamb, ready for Easter dinner.

This is how we found him the next morning – nose resting on the plate.

Repaired – complete with skewers. At least he provided everyone with a laugh.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing
Adapted by The Cook’s Life from The Complete Cooking Light Cookbook
Makes 2 8-inch round layers

I substituted white whole wheat flour for half of the all-purpose flour, added more spices than the original recipe, and increased the vanilla. I also used 2 whole eggs instead of the egg and two eggs whites called for in the original recipe. And I forgot the oil, which made a fine cake, but it would have been better with the oil. I wouldn’t recommend leaving it out.

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour*
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground ginger
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed brown sugar (dark brown preferred)
½ cup applesauce
1/3 cup vegetable oil
¼ cup plain fat-free yogurt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups finely shredded carrot, lightly packed (about 4 large carrots)**

Preheat the oven to 375 and grease and flour 2 8-inch round cake pans (or a lamb mold). Set aside.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices in a medium bowl and stir to combine. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the sugars, applesauce, oil, yogurt, vanilla and eggs and beat to combine. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir gently, until almost combined. Add the carrots and continue mixing until well combined and no streaks of dry flour remain. Do not beat.

Spread batter into prepared pans and spread evenly. Rap pans on counter once to remove air bubbles. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool in pans on racks for ten minutes. Remove cakes from pans and let cool completely on racks before icing.

*Can use 1 1/8 cup white whole wheat flour and 1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour.
**I shredded mine on the large holes of a box grater, but I think I want the shreds finer next time. I will either use the smaller holes, or grate the carrots in the food processor and then add the blade and process them to chop them a bit.

Cream Cheese Icing
Icing for an 8-inch round layer cake

4 ounces cream cheese (1/3 less fat or regular), room temperature
¼ cup butter (1/2 stick), room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoons milk, if necessary

Beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy. Add powdered sugar, a cup at a time, and mix well after each addition. Beat for 30 seconds, or until fluffy. If icing seems too thick, add a few teaspoons of milk and beat again. Be sure to add milk gradually to avoid making icing too thin.

Download recipe here.

Easter preparations are in high gear…


… Or at least they were until we all decided to take a break a little while ago. My parents are hosting Easter dinner (so they have all the really hard work!), and we are taking a lamb cake and three cheese macaroni and cheese. Mac and cheese is done and in the fridge and the cake is baked. The cream cheese and butter are soft and are waiting for me to make them into icing and decorate the cake.

We spent an hour dyeing eggs this afternoon, and I have the blue fingertips to prove it. We have our usual message from inside the egg, that Rich came up with several years ago, “Help, I’m stuck.” And the message from the chickens, “Eat more ham.” Everyone is probably tired of seeing those, but we still find them funny. I like to drip food color directly from the bottle onto already dyed eggs to make abstract shapes (thanks to my brother for the inspiration when we were kids). And Calvin is working to perfect his purple. If anyone has a tried and true formula that makes a pretty purple, let us know!

Me making my polka dot egg. It looked great until I dropped it onto the table – now it is a cracked, polka dot egg.

Calvin is also experimenting with one egg to see what happens when you leave it in the dye overnight. It should be particularly unappetizing, since he picked the red dye for his experiment. Gotta love the middle-school boy’s love of the disgusting.

Calvin's egg soaking in dye in the fridge.

No recipe today. Off to make the icing and decorate the lamb before time to make dinner.