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.

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Stop and Smell the Cookies

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We have been baking for Christmas for the past few weeks. At last count we made sixteen different kinds of sweet treats – mostly cookies, but also toffee bars, marshmallows and fudge. And we came up with a few new recipes that I will be sharing with you soon, after a few more test batches to tweak them a bit.

I am done with the Christmas baking for this year. At least I think I am. We have enough cookies for gifts. We have enough cookies for holiday parties. We have enough cookies to set out when family comes over. And I don’t have any more time to bake – the schedule is full until after New Year’s Day. But I keep thinking of new cookies I want to bake – maybe just one more batch of almond shortbreads or cocoa snowflakes. I need to stop.

Along with reining in my compulsion to bake, I am also trying to rein in my need for perfection. Several batches didn’t turn out like I wanted this year – even the ones that I didn’t royally mess up with obvious mistakes. The gingersnaps tasted fabulous this year, but about half of them were flat, flat, flat. And the cocoa snowflakes spread out too much and were flatter and crunchier than I would have liked. And I messed up the Russian teacakes. And…

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All through the baking, and the packaging, and the gifting I have to talk to myself. I know no one will look at the cookies with my critical eye. I tend to forget that I am making the cookies for family and friends, as a gift of love and time. That is all they see, and that is all I should be giving. Not the worries that they aren’t perfect, or that last year’s were better, or that someone else could do better than I could.

I know I’m not alone in doing this. Maybe not about baking, but about finding gifts for our families and friends. We worry that we won’t have enough presents for people, or that we spent too much, or too little. Or that it’s the wrong color, the wrong size or just the wrong thing. I know it’s cliché to talk about finding the reason for the season, but sometimes the clichés are spot on. We all need to take a deep breath, step back a bit and relax about the whole thing – the to do lists, the parties, the gifts, the wrapping. It will all come together in the end and it will all be wonderful.

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The whirlwind of fun starts tomorrow for us, and it goes pretty much until after New Year’s Day. My brother and sister-in-law are visiting for Christmas week. Then we leave for Florida to spend a week with Rich’s parents. We are in for two weeks of family game nights, way too much food and plenty of visiting time. And you know they’ll be plenty of cooking and baking going on, just maybe no cookies.

In the spirit of letting go and enjoying the season, I’m taking a couple of weeks off from writing blog posts. Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

Easy Fudge for Last Minute Treats

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Everyone needs a go-to recipe for those holiday dessert emergencies. And, yes, there are dessert emergencies – those times when you forgot you said you’d take dessert to a party, when you need a quick hostess gift or when the stresses of life call for an indulgence. This fudge fits the bill. Yes, it takes a few hours to set up, so it truly isn’t a last minute, but the hands-on requirements are short and then you can rush around doing whatever else you forgot while it sets. And it keeps for days, so you can make a batch and have it ready for when you need it.

This was the only fudge we made when I was growing up, and it is pretty much foolproof. As soon as my mother trusted my brother and me around a hot stove, she let us make it totally on our own. And it always came out right. The marshmallows ensure the fudge will work. Someday I will make real fudge, with no marshmallows, but not during the busy holiday season.

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Yes, this is one of those annoying recipes that use half a can of evaporated milk. Feel free to double the recipe so you use the whole can. I imagine you could buy the small five-ounce can and make up the rest with regular milk, but I have never tried that. I think it would probably work, but don’t quote me.

There isn’t much else to say. The fudge is sweet, very, very sweet. And it is chocolatey and well, fudgy. Use the darkest chocolate chips you can find, and good vanilla extract, as they are the only flavors beyond sweet. Then cut the whole shebang into tiny squares and wrap them up for gifting. Or eat them.

Print the recipe here.

Five-Minute Fudge
Makes 30-45 small squares
Doubles easily

If you want to make a double recipe, use a 5 to 6-quart saucepan and pour the fudge into a 9 by 13 inch pan.

¾ cup (6 oz.) evaporated milk
1⅔ cups sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups chocolate chips, semisweet or dark
1½ cups mini marshmallows
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Lightly grease a 9-inch square pan. Line the pan with parchment if you want to turn the fudge out of the pan to cut it. Set aside.

Combine evaporated milk, sugar and salt in a 3-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. When mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium low and cook for 5 minutes, still stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and add chocolate chips, marshmallows and vanilla extract. Stir until marshmallows melt and mixture is smooth.

Pour into prepared pan and level top. Let cool to room temperature for about 4 hours, or until firm. Cut into small squares, removing from pan first, if desired. Store in an airtight container for about a week.

Get the Scoop on Chilling Your Dough

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The weeks leading up to Christmas are cookie-baking time around our house. We give cookies for presents, take them as our contribution to potluck holiday parties and package them up for hostess gifts. We have done this since the first year we were married, and I don’t see us ending the tradition any time soon.

We make about twelve different kinds of cookies every year. Most of them are drop cookies, or the kind you roll into balls before baking. Some of them require a little more effort, but none of them are complicated or time consuming. As I write this, I realize many of our favorites are the roll-into-balls recipes – gingersnaps, Russian teacakes, chocolate chip doodles and snickerdoodles. The recipes instruct, “chill the dough before forming into balls for baking.” This often ends up with me using my forearm muscles of steel to scoop rock hard, chilled cookie dough.

The other day, when I was fiddling around, fixing my Russian teacake mistake, I had a revelation. If I scooped the dough balls first and then chilled the dough I would be getting the best of the process. I could scoop soft, creamy dough with ease and then chill the balls. Then, when I was ready to bake, the heavy lifting (so to speak) would be done and I could just place the balls on the pans and bake.

It works beautifully. Mistakes lead to innovation. And no, I’m not comparing myself to an inventor of say, rubber or the Slinky. It did kind of rock my cookie-baking world, though.

Try the method with any dough that calls for an hour or two of chilling. Portion out the dough right after you mix it and then chill the balls in an airtight container for up to a week. You can freeze them if you want to make them further ahead.

Oh, and in the free time that you will have if you use my revelatory method, you can kill some time on the internet. Try typing, “mistakes that led to inventions,” into any search engine and you will get some interesting reading.