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  1. Tuesday, August 8

    Chocolate Ganache Praline Cake, a.k.a. The Viking Lite

    Each year for my birthday Nate buys me a cake called the Viking from Extraordinary Desserts in San Diego. I’m pretty sure this cake was the actual ambrosia of the gods on Mt. Olympus. IT IS SO GOOD. Also, I will never make this cake in its entirety. I have the Extraordinary Desserts cookbook (now out of print) and the cake requires SIX(!!!!!) separate recipes in order to make the entire thing. Yeah, not gonna happen. I am perfectly happy waiting for September to roll around each year in order to indulge in the goodness that is the Viking.

    Chocolate Ganache Praline Cake, a.k.a. The Viking Lite from @janemaynard

    That said, for Nate’s birthday I wanted to make something decadent and delicious. I decided to cut down the original Viking recipe and just use three of the elements, rather than all six. The final product was awesome. Nate couldn’t believe how much his birthday cake tasted like the Viking, so we named it the Viking Lite. While the Viking Lite is a bit of a labor of love it is totally worth it…and much less a labor than the original recipe!

    Chocolate Ganache Praline Cake, a.k.a. The Viking Lite from @janemaynard

    The Viking Lite is made up of layers of chocolate sour cream cake and semisweet ganache, then coated in crushed chocolate praline. When I made the cake I only put the praline on the outside of the cake but we decided a layer of the praline inside the cake would have made it even better. I had leftover praline so we would just sprinkle it on each of our slices. Also, I recommend splurging for high-quality chocolate, like Guittard brand (they make baking chocolate and cocoa powder). Good-quality chocolate really will make a difference in your final product.

    Chocolate Ganache Praline Cake, a.k.a. The Viking Lite from @janemaynard

    Chocolate Ganache Praline Cake, a.k.a. The Viking Lite
     
    Based on the original Viking cake created by Karen Krasne of Extraordinary Desserts. Her cookbook is now out of print. I am sharing only the parts I used of the original Viking recipe below, along with my notes and modifications.
    Author:
    Serves: 1 8- or 9-inch cake
    Ingredients
    • GANACHE:
    • 24 ounces (4 cups) semisweet chocolate chips
    • 2 cups heavy cream
    • CHOCOLATE ALMOND PRALINE:
    • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    • ¼ cup whole milk
    • ⅓ cup unsalted butter, cubed (I used salted so that there was a bit of salt flavor in the praline)
    • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
    • ½ cup granulated sugar
    • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
    • 1 cup slivered almonds
    • CHOCOLATE SOUR CREAM CAKE:
    • ⅓ cup unsalted butter (I used salted because the recipe doesn't call for salt and I like a bit of salt flavor), room temperature and cut into ¼" cubes, plus ~2 teaspoons at room temperature for greasing the pans
    • 3 ounces (1/2 cup) unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
    • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
    • 2 teaspoons baking soda
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1½ cups granulated sugar
    • ½ cup sour cream, room temperature
    • 1 cup water
    Instructions
    1. GANACHE:
    2. Put the chocolate chips in a medium, heatproof mixing bowl.
    3. Bring the cream to a boil in a small, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let sit for 5 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, stir slowly and gently in a circular motion until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is fully combined. Set ganache aside for later. You will want the ganache to be thickened and at a spreading consistency when it's time to assemble the cake. I put mine in the fridge, covering the bowl with plastic wrap, and checked it every half hour or so, stirring it each time.
    4. PRALINE:
    5. Generously coat a baking sheet with oil or line with a silicone baking mat (I highly recommend using a Silpat or similar mat if you have one).
    6. Toast almonds on another baking sheet in a 350ºF oven for 5-10 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside.
    7. Bring milk, butter, corn syrup and sugar to a boil in a medium, heavy saucepan. Insert a candy thermometer or instant-read thermometer and cook over medium-high heat until the mixture reaches 310ºF, about 7-8 minutes (I think it took a little longer than that for me). The mixture should be thick and have started to lightly color. Remove the pot from the heat and set the thermometer aside.
    8. Add the cocoa powder and mix well with a whisk. (I added the cocoa powder through a fine mesh sieve, shaking it into the pot to avoid large lumps from forming.)
    9. Stir in the toasted almonds.
    10. Using a rubber spatula, carefully spread the hot mixture onto your oiled or Silpat-lined baking sheet, making sure the mixture is spread into an even layer. Set aside to cool.
    11. Once praline is completely cool and hardened, either blast it in a blender or food processor or place in a ziploc bag and hammer with a meat pounder on a wood cutting board, breaking the praline up into small bits.
    12. CAKE:
    13. Preheat oven to 275º F. Grease bottom and sides of two 8-inch or two 9-inch round cake pans with butter. Place a parchment round the size of the bottom of the pan in each cake pan, butter the top of the parchment, then lightly flour the pans. Set aside.
    14. Place chocolate in a heatproof mixing bowl. Bring a pot of water to a simmer, place bowl on top of the pot (do not let bowl touch water surface), and melt chocolate, stirring occasionally.
    15. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and baking powder. Set aside.
    16. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs and sugar at medium-high speed until the mixture is very thick and light in color, about 7 minutes.
    17. Add the cubed butter and then the sour cream, mixing until full incorporated after each addition, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
    18. Pour in the melted chocolate and mix until fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
    19. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed, just until fully incorporated, being careful not to over mix.
    20. Bring water to a boil then add to the batter. Mix on low to medium speed until full combined and smooth. Batter will be much thinner after the addition of the water.
    21. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans, dividing evenly. Place pans in the center of the oven and bake until cake springs back slightly when pressed in the center and a cake tester comes out clean. Bake time could be up to 60 minutes, but start checking around 40 minutes for doneness.
    22. Remove cakes from the oven and allow to cool completely in the pans sitting on a cooling rack. Once completely cooled, run a thin knife around the edges and invert pans, carefully knocking the bottom of the pan if cake doesn't fall out immediately. Cakes can rest on the cooling rack until you are ready to place them on the cake platter. Remove parchment from bottom of cakes. If you are not immediately assembling the cake, wrap the cakes individually tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate, but cake can also remain wrapped at room temperature for up to 2 days.
    23. ASSEMBLY:
    24. Place one of the cakes on your serving platter. Place pieces of waxed or parchment paper under the edge of the cake all around. This will prevent icing from getting on your serving platter as you decorate the cake.
    25. Coat top of the first layer of cake with a nice thick layer of ganache.
    26. Optional (but recommended!): Add a layer of the chocolate almond praline layer on top of the ganache.
    27. Add the second cake layer. Spread a ganache layer on top, then frost the sides of the cake with the ganache. Once you have finished icing the sides with ganache, using your hands press the praline pieces on the sides of the cake all the way around to coat the sides of the cake. Carefully remove wax/parchment paper, using a knife to hold the frosting in place as you pull out the paper in spots where it gets stuck.
    28. If you did not put a layer of praline inside the cake, reserve the extra praline and sprinkle on each cut slice when serving.

     

     


  2. Tuesday, August 11

    Perfect Chocolate Frosting + One Pan Chocolate Cake

    Today is all about chocolate.

    PERFECT chocolate frosting with one pan chocolate cake from @janemaynard

    When we were on Cape Cod a few weeks ago, my mother-in-law Pat made a chocolate cake, complete with homemade frosting that was TO DIE FOR. When it comes to cake, I generally like the cake more than the frosting. Not in this case. In this case the frosting, well, takes the cake. (Sorry! Couldn’t resist that one.)

    PERFECT chocolate frosting with one pan chocolate cake from @janemaynard

    And, if you’re looking for something to put that perfect chocolate frosting on, let me introduce you to the one pan chocolate cake. This recipe comes from a 2009 issue of Everyday Food and was originally called “dump cake,” since you just dump everything in the pan and then bake. The cake turned out beautifully.

    one pan chocolate cake from @janemaynard

    There’s only one drawback to the cake recipe: since you mix the ingredients directly in the pan, you can’t butter and flour the pan ahead of time. This means you’ll be serving the cake directly from the pan. Plus, you kind of have to scrape the servings out with a spatula to keep them in one piece, and the first slice of cake will be a bit tricky to get out of the pan. Because of this, the one pan cake may not be the best choice for serving guests or for special occasions. Or maybe it is. You decide. All I know is that this cake recipe is easy and delicious, and maybe that’s all that matters in the end.

    PERFECT chocolate frosting with one pan chocolate cake from @janemaynard

    Perfect Chocolate Frosting
     
    Prep time
    Total time
     
    Recipe from my mother-in-law Pat, adapted from the back of the Hershey's cocoa powder container
    Author:
    Recipe type: Dessert
    Ingredients
    • ½ cup butter
    • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 2½ - 2¾ cups powdered sugar
    • ⅓ cup milk
    Instructions
    1. Melt the butter in a large bowl in the microwave, in 20 second increments until butter is just melted.
    2. Whisk in cocoa powder and vanilla extract.
    3. Add 1 cup of powdered sugar to the bowl. Using a hand mixer, start on low and beat in the powdered sugar, increasing the speed to medium and mixing well. Add half of the milk, following the same blending technique. Add 1 more cup of the powdered sugar, mixing as described, then the rest of the milk, mixing once again starting on low and increasing to medium speed.
    4. Add ½ cup of powdered sugar (this brings you to 2½ cups) and blend well, starting on low then moving up to medium speed. If you want the frosting to be a little thicker, add up to ¼ cup more of powdered sugar.
    5. Makes enough frosting for a 9" x 13" cake.

    One Pan Chocolate Cake
     
    Prep time
    Cook time
    Total time
     
    Originally from a 2009 issue of Everyday Food, written in my own words
    Author:
    Recipe type: Dessert
    Ingredients
    • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • ½ teaspoon coarse or kosher salt
    • 6 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
    • 1 cup cold water
    Instructions
    1. Preheat oven to 350º F.
    2. In an 8-inch square casserole dish or baking pan (I like to use a pyrex casserole so I can see if the batter is full mixed), whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.
    3. Make a well in the middle, then add the vegetable oil, vanilla, vinegar and water in the center. Whisk those ingredients together, then start to incorporate the dry ingredients, whisking until well combined.
    4. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a fork or toothpick comes out clean.
    5. Let cool completely before frosting. If you use the chocolate frosting recipe above, you will have some frosting left over.

     


  3. Wednesday, September 26

    An Amateur’s Guide to Making Super Cute Cakes

    If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I love making cakes for my kids’ birthdays. The birthday cakes my mom made for me as a child are cherished memories, so it’s something I want to pass on to my own children.

    When I started making cakes for our kids, they never came out quite how I envisioned, but I’ve gotten better with every cake and finally feel like I have a handle on the process. I suppose I could have just taken a class at some point, but where’s the fun in having someone who actually knows what they’re doing share their wisdom with you? 😉

    Owen’s 1st birthday party was on Saturday. I made a doggie cake for him because, as a 1-year-old, there are only two things in the world he loves: things with wheels and doggies. I spent several hours getting the cakes ready for the party and when I was finally able to show Owen the final product, he got super excited and giggled, just like when he sees a real dog! That excitement made all the hard work totally worth it. The cake ended up being a huge hit at the party, and not just because it was cute (which it was!). It was uber delicious, too, so I will share the recipes at the end of this post!

    After all these years of figuring out how to decorate cakes on my own, I wanted to share my learnings with you. Remember, I’m an amateur…but I think most of us are, so hopefully these tips will be as helpful to you as they are to me!

    1. Make the cake two days in advance and freeze it.
    When you start decorating you want the cake to be frozen, so for time-saving purposes, it’s a good idea to bake the cake at least two days in advance. After baking, let the cakes cool completely on a cooling rack, wrap in plastic then freeze.

    2. Use cake strips!
    Have you tried the cake strip trick yet? I will forever be indebted to my friend Lindsay for sharing this trick with me. I get flat cakes out of the oven EVERY TIME. Click here for all the details.

    3. Decorate the cake the day before you are going to serve the cake.
    The times that I’ve saved the cake decorating for the day of the party were always far more stressful times and the cakes were not as well done. I HIGHLY recommend decorating the cake the day before you need it!

    4. Make a ton of frosting.
    The frosting recipe I will share below is enough to frost a 2-layer cake. When I know I’m going to be making a “cute” cake, I usually triple the recipe to be safe.

    5. Spread a crumb coat on the frozen cake then refrigerate.
    When you’re ready to start icing the cake, do a crumb coat first. This is a thin layer of frosting that goes on before the final layer. If the cake is frozen it is much easier to ice. The crumb coat is an extra step but SO WORTH IT. It’s really wonderful to have a layer of frosting where it doesn’t matter if crumbs show…it makes all the difference. Once the crumb coat is on, refrigerate or freeze the cake again until the frosting firms up (30-60 minutes).

    Also, a quick note on carving. If you need to shape your cake, it’s helpful to carve it when it’s frozen. If it takes a while for you to get it all cut up, you may want to stick in the freezer again for 15-30 minutes before doing the crumb coat. Bottom line – frozen cakes are easier to deal with the whole way through the process!

    6. Don’t let the food coloring dictate the colors.
    I have a set of eight food color gels that I use, which provides me with lots of color options. However, I never use those colors straight up – I used to be a painter, I can’t resist mixing the colors! One of my favorite tricks is using brown to tone down the colors. I find most of the default food colors are a little bright for my taste. Adding a hint of brown makes nice, rich colors. Click here for a chart from Wilton for more color-mixing inspiration.

    This color was made using blue, brown and black.

    7. When you mix a color, make more than you think you need.
    I love making my own colors, but there is one problem…it’s tricky mixing the same exact color more than once. When you create a color, make sure you mix more than you think you need so you don’t run out halfway through the princess’s dress or Superman’s cape!

    8. Seek out inspiration for designs!
    I have a book called “Cakes for Kids” by Matthew Mead that I LOVE. Either get your hands on that book or another similar title and use it for tips and inspiration. Searching the web is a great tool, too. I always do tons of looking around for shapes and ideas when coming up with the design.

    9. Keep it Simple
    A simple design can be powerful and it’s much easier to execute, so the likelihood of success increases dramatically. And remember, cut the cake into the shapes you need when it’s frozen!

    Spiderman ended up being super simple – I just had to shave off the edges of a round cake!

    10. Draw the design ahead of time.
    Draw your design out on paper ahead of time, real-size. You can then lay that over the cake to cut it to the right shape and it’s not quite as scary when you put frosting to cake.

    11. Buy a couple flat spatulas.
    I randomly picked up a couple straight spatulas at Michael’s once, not realizing how awesome they are. They have totally changed my ability to spread icing on cakes – it looks so much more smooth and pretty than when I use a butter knife. I have two angled straight spatulas – one little, one big. They are wonderful!

    12. Buy a set of decorating tips and don’t be afraid to use them.
    You need decorating tips in order to decorate the cake, so make sure you have a set! I recommend using gallon-sized freezer ziploc bags instead of piping bags – it’s just a lot easier for clean-up. Also, I generally spread a flat layer of buttercream over the whole cake and then either use the small round tip to draw on the cake or a flower tip to fill in areas, like Spiderman’s eyes and the doggie’s nose.

    13. Use waxed paper under the edges of the cake to keep the plate clean.
    I wrote about this trick that my friend Nikki shared with me a few years ago and I still use it every time I frost a cake. Place your cake on the serving platter. Tear up strips of waxed paper, about 2″ – 3″ in length, then tuck them under the edges of the cake all the way around. When the cake is completely iced, carefully remove the paper. I use a thin knife to sort of hold the icing back so it doesn’t stick to the wax paper and pull away from the cake when I remove the paper.

    14. Cake boards are awesome!
    I love these cake boards for displaying the cake. They come in white, which looks cute, but you can always cover them with another color paper if you like (like pink for Hello Kitty). I bought a pack of big, round cake boards a few years ago and they’ve been wonderful to have handy!

    15. Have fun!
    If you don’t have fun doing this, then don’t do it. I really love doing making these cakes, so it is worth the work. Make sure you’re having fun!

    I know it seems like Wilton sponsored this post, but they didn’t (although, I should have thought of that!). They just have great products that work! Wilton also has a page on their site “Cake and Dessert Decorating 101” that is very helpful if you want even more tips.

    A word about the cake:
    For years I used cake mixes and I encourage you to do the same. They’re easy and taste good. However, I have started making my cakes from scratch just because I found some recipes that I love…and I guess I like to make things harder on myself than I need to. The chocolate cake recipe below is seriously AWESOME. Just sayin’.

    And a word about the frosting:
    I love homemade buttercream and use it for almost all of my cakes (recipe below). I hate store-bought frosting. Making buttercream is in fact super easy so you should just bite the bullet and do it! The recipe below is perfect – my frosting comes out right every time.

    I have used swiss meringue buttercream at times – it tastes fabulous and you can play around with how the surface of the frosting looks a bit more (for example, on the elephant cake I could create texture that I would not be able to do with regular buttercream). It’s a bit more work to make, so if I don’t need the flexibility of texture, I just stick with regular buttercream.

    I’ve also used 7-minute frosting because I needed to (you have to check out Anna’s ghost birthday cake…so funny), but I HATE HOW IT TASTES, so I will only ever use it again if I have need to pipe little ghosts.

    Feel free to chime in with your own cake decorating tips and tricks!

    Chocolate Cake
     
    Author:
    Recipe type: Dessert
    Ingredients
    • From Matthew Mead's Cakes for Kids
    • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus a little extra for the pans
    • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
    • ½ teaspoon salt
    • ¾ cup unsalted butter (Jane note: mine was salted, it was fine), at room temp
    • 2 cups sugar
    • 3 large eggs, at room temp
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 1½ cups whole milk (Jane note: mine was 1%, it was fine)
    Instructions
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
    2. Lightly grease two 8-inch rounds OR two 9-inch rounds OR one 10-inch round. Line bottom of pan with waxed paper or parchment paper, grease again, then coat pan with thin layer of flour. If doing cupcakes, line 24 cups with liners.
    3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
    4. Using an electric mixer, on medium to high speed beat the butter in a large bowl for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar ¼ cup at a time at medium speed and then beat 3-4 minutes more or until well combined. Scraped down sides of bowl. Beat 2 minutes more at medium. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating for 30 seconds after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract.
    5. With the mixer on low, add flour in 3 additions, alternating with milk in 2 additions, beating until just combined after each addition. Beat on medium-high speed for 20 seconds more.
    6. Spread batter in prepared pans - fill pans ⅔ full. Bake 30-35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean (make sure you don't undercook! You want no jiggling in the middle and a clean toothpick).
    7. Place cake on wire rack and cool for 10 minutes. Invert onto the rack, lift of the pan, remove waxed paper and let cool completely on rack. Cupcakes should cool in pan for 15 minutes before removing.

    Buttercream Frosting
     
    Author:
    Ingredients
    • 8 tablespoons butter, room temperature
    • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
    • 6 tablespoons cream or milk (cream is better)
    Instructions
    1. Beat butter with a mixer (I use my KitchenAid with the paddle attachment). Gradually work in the sugar, alternating with the cream and beating well after each addition. If the frosting is too thick to spread, add a little more cream, a teaspoon at a time. If it is too thin (which is unlikely), refrigerate for a few minutes; it will thicken as butter hardens. You can add up to 2 teaspoons of vanilla, but if you need white frosting leave the vanilla out!

     


  4. Wednesday, January 31

    Deep Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake

    Deep Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake
     
    From Mary “Grammy” McCarthy
    Author:
    Recipe type: Dessert
    Ingredients
    • 1 package devils food cake mix (no pudding added)
    • 4 eggs
    • 1 cup sour cream
    • ¾ cup water
    • ¼ cup vegetable oil
    • 1 package instant chocolate pudding
    • 1 package (6 oz) chocolate chips (mini are good)
    Instructions
    1. Dump all ingredients except the chips into a big bowl and mix thoroughly. Stir in chips and pour into a well-greased bundt pan (the kind with ripply edges). Bake 350 45-60 minutes. Cool 20 minutes and turn out of pan. When really cool, wrap in foil to keep it moist.

    Bonus ingredient, optional: 2-year-old to steal hunks of cake.