chocolate flecked layer cake with milk chocolate frosting

From the moment I saw a photo of this cake in the February issue of Martha Stewart Living I knew I had to make it.  The combination of bittersweet chocolate chunks in the cake and sweet milk chocolate in the frosting spoke to me in a way that only chocolate can.

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The cake is a beautiful mixture of chopped up bittersweet chocolate and many of the usual cake batter suspects (flour, butter, eggs) along with sour cream which adds an unexpected tang and makes the cake extra moist.

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After folding the chocolate chunks into the batter you pour the results evenly in two cake pans that have been buttered and lined with parchment paper that has been buttered and lightly floured.

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It bakes into a beautiful golden cake with flecks of chocolate dotting it throughout.

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While the cakes cool you melt milk chocolate in a bowl over simmering water (I didn’t mess around in the chocolate department and used Milka chocolate bars.  The German I made the cake for was especially appreciative.)  After the chocolate has cooled slightly, mix it with softened butter, confectioners’ sugar, a pinch of salt, and more of that gloriously tangy sour cream.

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Though you only use two pans for this cake, it is actually a four-layer cake which means you have to divide the two cakes in half lengthwise with either a bread knife or I have also heard of people using non-flavored dental floss though have never tried it myself.  Frost between layers with the frosting and then around the outside of the cake as best you can.  NOTE: the frosting recipe easily makes enough for two layer cakes.  I put my leftover frosting in the freezer for use at a later date.

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It was a hit with all who sampled it and there were many Europeans in attendance who don’t like things too sweet so were pleased with the tangy/sweet/bittersweet thing going on within this majesty of a cake.  The pieces went in such a hurry I never managed to take a photo of one!  Such a problem to have.

Chocolate Flecked Layer Cake with Milk Chocolate Frosting (from http://www.marthastewart.com)

Cake:

  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk plus 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (61 to 70 percent cacao), finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans, and line with parchment. Butter paper, and flour pans. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

Beat together butter and sugars with a mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in yolk and eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture in 3 additions, alternating with sour cream and milk, beginning and ending with flour. Fold in chocolate.

Divide batter between pans, and spread evenly with an offset spatula. Bake until deep golden brown and a toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Let cakes cool in pans 20 minutes. Invert cakes, remove pans and parchment, and let cool completely, right side up, on wire racks.

Cut each cake in half horizontally with a serrated knife. Place 1 bottom layer on a platter or cake stand, and spread evenly with 3/4 cup frosting. Repeat with a second layer and another 3/4 cup frosting. Place third layer on top, and spread with another 3/4 cup frosting. Place fourth layer on top. Spread entire cake with remaining frosting (about 2 3/4 cups), smoothing top and sides. Serve immediately, or refrigerate, uncovered, up to 2 days; if refrigerated, let cake come to room temperature before serving.

Frosting:

  • 1 pound milk chocolate, finely chopped
  • 4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • Pinch of coarse salt
  • 1 cup sour cream

Melt chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Let cool slightly. Beat together butter, sugar, and salt with a mixer until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Gradually beat in chocolate, then sour cream, and beat until thoroughly incorporated. Frosting should be spreadable. If too loose, refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Use immediately, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 3 days. Before using, bring to room temperature, and beat until smooth.

spring risotto

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This is such a gret time of year– things are blooming and turning green outdoors and after a winter of nothing but root vegetables at the farmer’s market you start to see fresh green things.   This risotto uses some of those fresh farmer’s market ingredients and truly tastes like spring.

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Peas, leeks, chives, (okay, not exactly from the farmer’s market, but still fresh!) and crimini mushrooms are where it’s at.  The recipe calls for fennel as well, though I am not a huge fan so omitted it but you should totally add it if that’s your thing.

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All of the vegetables get blended with arborio rice which turns creamy and luxurious upon cooking in a combination of chicken broth (you could make it vegetarian and use vegetable broth) and a little bit of dry white wine.  I think many shy away from making risotto because they get intimidated by the amount of stirring that’s involved, but it’s really not that bad!  And the end result is totally worth any amount of stirring anyway.

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This particular recipe calls for a poached egg to be served on top and it’s a great idea.  When you break the egg the yolk is still soft and melds in with the rest of the risotto so nicely.  I think the egg also takes it from being a side dish to the main feature.  And what a nice main feature it is!

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Spring Vegetable Risotto with Poached Eggs (from www.epicurious.com)

  • 2 cups shelled fresh (or frozen, thawed) fava beans or peas (from about 2 pounds pods)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
  • 6 large eggs
  • 8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/4 pound chanterelles or crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, halved or quartered if large
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large leeks, whites and pale greens only, chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 bunch flat-leaf spinach, trimmed, leaves torn
  • 2 tablespoons crème fraîche or sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups finely grated Pecorino or Parmesan (about 3 ounces) plus more for shaving
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives plus more for serving
  • Freshly ground black pepper

If using fresh fava beans, cook in a large saucepan of boiling salted water 1 minute. Drain; transfer to a bowl of ice water and let cool. Peel favas and transfer to a small bowl.

Bring a large skillet of salted water to a bare simmer over medium-low heat. Add vinegar. Crack 1 egg into a small bowl, then slide into simmering water. Repeat with 2 more eggs. Cook until whites are cooked but yolks are runny, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer eggs to a bowl of ice water. Repeat with remaining 3 eggs.

Bring broth to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat to low; cover and keep warm.

Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large, wide heavy pot over medium heat. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to bowl with favas.

Heat oil and remaining 1 tablespoon butter in same pot over medium heat. Add leeks, fennel, and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are softened, about 4 minutes.

Add rice and stir to coat, about 2 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until evaporated, about 4 minutes. Add 1 cup broth. Cook, stirring often (no need to stir constantly), until broth is almost absorbed. Add remaining broth by cupfuls, allowing broth to be absorbed before adding more, stirring often, until rice is tender but still firm to the bite and mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes total.

Add spinach, crème fraîche, 1 1/2 cups grated Pecorino, 1/4 cup chives, and reserved fava beans and mushrooms to risotto. Cook, stirring occasionally, until spinach is wilted and cheese is melted, about 2 minutes. Season risotto with salt.

A few minutes before risotto is done, reheat poached eggs in a large skillet of simmering water, about 1 minute. Divide risotto among bowls and top with eggs, shaved Pecorino, chives, and pepper.

before and after, home edition

If there are two things I’m a sucker for they are before and after photos (doesn’t matter whether it’s of people or places) and home tours.  There’s nothing quite like peeking into how others live and particularly how they design their living spaces.  This post is a little of both.  It’s intensely personal since it’s my home, but since most of you reading this are family and the rest of you friends and I’m not personally on the Facebook, this is how the photos are getting disseminated.  For the two of you reading this who I do not know personally, well, I hope you enjoy before and afters and home tours as much as I do.

I’m renting an old house which has a lot of character like I like, but also had some paint choices that I didn’t so much like so I’ve spent a month of weekends re-painting it.  Below is the entryway and stairs leading to the second floor with carpet that as my friend Mary would say is “special.”  Since I’m renting and not wanting to invest too much, the special carpet stays.

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The living room has a working fireplace and some great wood trim details but I wasn’t too fond of the almost army green walls and floral window treatments…

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…so I painted the walls gray and put up some store-bought curtains and took down the dirty blinds.  Those things are impossible to keep clean!

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A little goth vignette over the fireplace.  The fake crow was a prop used in some Halloween store windows I helped put together years ago and I’ve always loved the way vintage silhouettes looked so it went from there.  Found the crow print at an estate sale in Wisconsin for like $1.  Gotta love that kind of art.

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Since the walls and woodwork are fairly dark I made throw pillows in vibrant colors and put up a bright vintage travel print I picked up on the MoMA website for like $3 years ago.  It cost a heck of a lot more to get it framed, but I digress.

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Yes, I color code my media.  It pleases me.

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The dining room was the least offensive room, color-wise, but the two-tone yellow paint accented the fact that there are two different shades of trim (chair rail is white and crown moulding is cream) and so it had to be painted over…

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…to a nice shade of taupe.

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The other side of the entryway, which fortunately I did not have to paint as the walls transition nicely with what’s going on in the dining and living rooms on either side of it.  Love the old light fixture.

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The solarium was my least favorite room of the house at first because it was dingy and the windows drafty and oh those floral window treatments…

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But it’s amazing what a little white paint, curtains, and some plants will do to change a room.  Now it may very well be my favorite room in the house.  Still would like to get a large area rug to cover up the grungy berber carpet but it somehow looks cleaner now that the walls have been painted.

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The family that lived here clearly had a daughter as one of the bedrooms was painted a pale pink that I actually could have lived with were it not for the butterfly and American Girl motifs painted on a few of the walls.  (Oh, and notice that both the crown moulding and the ceiling are also painted pink.  Yeah.  That was fun to paint over.)

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Now it is a light tan and serves as a guest bedroom.

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Clearly the family also had a son as the other small bedroom was painted blue and the son appears to have carved his name into the bedroom door.  Awesome.

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I chose a nicer, Robin’s egg blue and turned the room into my office/studio/extra guest bedroom.

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The master bedroom was painted coral and not just coral, but CORAL in ALL CAPS.  The photo below doesn’t do it justice but I swear to you it was almost neon.  It was hard to relax at night and fall asleep in a room that color.

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I sleep much better now that it is a soothing gray.

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Since the kitchen is where the magic happens I wanted to include it, even though there’s not much to it.  I’ve had larger kitchens, but I’ve definitely had smaller too.  All of the kitchens I’ve lived in have been pretty kitschy and this is no exception.  The wallpaper is interesting as are the window treatments but I left them up as I figured it would be nearly impossible to find another fabric that would match remotely to the paper.  I did a little painting in here but neglected to take a before photo.  Just imagine the lower half of the wall painted in a celery green.  Special.

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salted-caramel pineapple upside down cake

I won’t bore you with the details, but I’ve been having some car issues lately and as a result have had to borrow cars from assorted friends and family while mine has been in the shop.  Thank goodness for friends and family!

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My dad was kind enough to loan me his car for the better part of two weeks so I wanted to do something nice as a thank you.  I’ve heard him talk about how much he likes pineapple upside down cake for a long time so decided to try my hand at making one.  Only I didn’t want to make a normal one, I wanted to try one that was a little more gourmet.

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This cake starts with boiling up some butter with some dark brown sugar until it bubbles up and gets really thick.

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After you take this off the stove you add some dark rum and a little coarse salt.  Once it cools you pour the caramel mixture into the bottom of a greased cake pan and then add pineapple rings and chunks.

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The cake itself has a little cinnamon in the batter which adds a nice spiciness to the whole ordeal.

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Word to the wise: place the cake pan in a rimmed baking sheet to catch any overspill.  I did not and wound up having to scrub my oven down the next day.  Not fun!

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The cake came out great and my dad seemed to enjoy it which hopefully made up for the fact that he had to drive his old truck for longer than expected… The power of baked goods!

Salted-Caramel Upside Down Cake (found in Country Living magazine www.countryliving.com)

  • 1 cup dark-brown sugar
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 medium pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into rings; 1 ring  cut into chunks

Coat a 9-inch cake pan with cooking spray and set aside. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat brown sugar and 1 stick butter, whisking occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil and cook until caramel thickens and turns a deep brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in rum and 1 teaspoon salt. Pour caramel into prepared cake pan and swirl around to coat. Set aside and let cool completely, at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk  together flour, baking powder, remaining salt, and cinnamon. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium, beat together granulated sugar and remaining butter until light and fluffy. Add vanilla; beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Reduce mixer speed to low and beat in half the dry-ingredient mixture and 1/4 cup milk.  Repeat with remaining dry-ingredient mixture and milk.

Arrange pineapple rings atop caramel in cake pan. Fill in spaces  between rings with pineapple chunks. Carefully pour batter over pineapple and smooth, using a rubber spatula.  Tip: Place cake pan in a baking sheet to catch any overspill.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool for 30 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake; invert onto a large serving plate.

Madison, Wisconsin area dining guide

When I moved to Wisconsin from New York City I knew I would miss a few things– my friends, Central Park in the fall, spending an afternoon lost in one of the many wonderful museums, and most definitely the food.  I wasn’t expecting anything even close which maybe is why I was open-minded and consequently very pleasantly surprised by what I discovered in Madison and the surrounding area.

My favorite thing to do on a Saturday morning was to hit the Madison Farmer’s Market which is one of the largest growers-only farmer’s market in the country.  It’s a fantastic market and one of the highlights is that food carts and trucks set up around the capital square where the market takes place and sell prepared food so you can munch as you shop for produce and such.  Every week I would visit the guys at Caracas Empanadas who make some of the best empanadas I’ve ever had.  It didn’t hurt that they were super friendly and always smiling even on the coldest Wisconsin market morning.

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If I felt more like sitting down in a restaurant after the market I would hit up Marigold Kitchen around the corner.  They always had tasty scramble specials with whatever was in season at the market and delicious fancy coffee like I like.  Cause I’m fancy.

While we’re at the capital square, let me take you around it:  Graze is a beautiful, modern restaurant with floor to ceiling windows (and the ceiling is VERY tall) with delicious modern, local, seasonal food.  For the best cheese curds in town and just all-around great bar food (with excellent salads, who knew a bar could have great salads!?) head down the block to the Old Fashioned.  Around the corner from there check out the massive beer list and awesome poutine at Cooper’s.  Rounding out the best of the square head over to Nostrano for some inventive seasonal food.  I ate quail there for the first time and it was a very tasty experience.

Away from the square another notable brunch place that is a little off the beaten path, though well worth the trip, is Crema Cafe on the other side of Lake Monona.  They’re always cooking up interesting seasonal specials like the cinnamon apple waffles I consumed there last fall.  So warm and cozy while it was so the opposite outside.

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Willy Street is another great food destination with lots of varied dining options.  A Pig in a Fur Coat has wonderful small plates in a cozy environment and I knew I loved the Weary Traveler when I saw that you could get bacon in your vegan chili.  Also, their bad breath burger isn’t a misnomer and is so worth it.

I was worried that there would be a lack of ethnic restaurants in Madison but there were a surprising amount of Asian establishments which made me very happy.  In particular there are a number of southeast Asian restaurants, largely Laotian, my favorite of which is Lao Laan-Xang.  I’m an especially big fan of their acorn squash curry.  Further down Willy Street is a Japanese udon and dumpling place called Umami.  I had pork buns at Momofuku Ssam Bar when I lived in New York and I think Umami’s were just as good, no fooling.

Also on Willy Street, Lazy Jane’s Cafe make some very tasty croissants and scones and is a great place just to chill out with a chai tea and some baked goods.  That’s my kind of morning.

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I’m pretty sure I ate at every Indian restaurant in greater Madison and honestly liked them all but I think Swagat on High Point Road is the tops.  Haven’t had a dosa like that since a visit to Little India in Jersey City.

Not to be forgotten is Monroe Street as it has several good restaurants, but worth mentioning is Brasserie V which has an impressive beer list and the best mussels in town.

Now I’m going to take you west and south of Madison to some of the adorable small towns tucked away in the rolling green hills:

Sjolind’s Chocolate House in Mount Horeb (a town known as the “troll capital of the world”) is my favorite bakery in the entire state of Wisconsin.  I lived in Mount Horeb and visited Sjolind’s at least twice a week.  It was my Cheers.  Their quiche, cinnamon rolls, turnovers, scones, and yes, chocolates, were such a nice treat in the midst of some very long weeks.

Down the road from Mount Horeb is a tiny town called Blue Mounds where for a brief moment in time there was a wood-fired pizzeria/bakery that was far too good to last but definitely worth mentioning.  Naked Elm made pizzas with fresh ingredients from local farms and it was fantastic.

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Below is a picture of the Al Ringling Theatre in Baraboo, a town that is well worth a visit if you ever find yourself in the area.  There’s a circus museum there and also a great kitchen store that I literally spent hours in one day.

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New Glarus has some great beer but it’s also worth venturing a little further down the road to miniscule Monticello where you will find the Dining Room at 209 Main, a restaurant that would have a month-long waiting list were it not in a small-town in the middle of a rural area.  A very pleasant surprise.

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Bob’s Bitchin’ BBQ in Dodgeville has some truly amazing barbecue and is run by one of the nicest, hardest-working guys I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.

South of Dodgeville in Mineral Point there is a delightful little Japanese restaurant called Kusaka.  I’ve never been to Japan but my understanding is that Kusaka’s food is the equivalent of Japanese comfort food: rice, noodles, curry, homemade gyoza, and an awesome seafood pancake with fish flakes that wave as if they were alive when the dish is brought out (don’t be frightened; they are delicious and definitely not alive.)

My very last meal in Madison was breakfast at 4 & 20 Bakery on the way to the airport.  The biscuits and gravy were epic and you really can’t go wrong with any of their baked goods, savory or sweet.  And they make some very pretty (and tasty) coffees.

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Recounting all of this wonderful food makes me want to plan a trip back!  I’ll have to see what I can do…