March 29, 2012

Mocha Layer Cake with Mocha Cream Cheese Frosting

     Birthdays around here mean cakes. Not from a box, and no quick breads or single pan affairs. Real, labor-intensive, time-consuming, multi-step cakes. From scratch. Of course, it's all a labor of love.

     I really look forward to birthdays, because it's my excuse to try a decadent new cake recipe. These are not usually cakes I would whip up just because. (I don't have enough free time for that anyway.) So, I must choose wisely. My first, and possibly favorite, from-scratch layer cake was a chocolate with peppermint and white chocolate ordeal. Next I tried a "fire cracker" apple spice cake, which actually had a spicy warmness to it that took some getting used to, but turned out to be delicious. There was the maple cake, and now there is the mocha cake.

     The best part of this cake is the mocha cream cheese frosting. I'm always a fan of cream cheese frosting, but this one was really stellar. Coffee, chocolate, whipped cream and cream cheese collide--what's not to like?

Mocha Layer Cake with Mocha Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups packed grown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 4 teaspoons instant espresso powder (Starbucks VIA) dissolved in 3/4 cups hot water
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder (Starbucks VIA)
  • 1 1/2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream, divided
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 2 8 oz. packages chilled cream cheese
  • Chocolate curls (optional)
  1. Position rack in center of oven. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Generously butter two 9-inch cake pans, dust with flour and tap out the excess. Line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper. (Place pans on parchment, trace the bottoms with a pencil, then cut out the circles.)
  2. Sift 2 cups cake flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat butter in a large bowl until smooth. Add brown sugar and beat until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in vanilla. 
  3. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beating until just blended after each addition. Gradually add espresso/hot water mixture, beating just until smooth.
  4. Divide batter between pans. (To remove air bubbles for smoother, more level cakes, lift each pan about a foot off of the counter and drop it back onto the counter, or tap pans on the counter a few times.) Bake cakes until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.
  5. Cool cakes in pans on rack for 15 minutes. Run a small knife around the sides of the pans to loosen cakes. Invert cakes onto racks, lift pans off cakes and remove parchment. Place wire racks on top of the cakes, then invert again so the top side is up. Cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead.)
  1.  Sift cocoa powder into a large bow. Add espresso powder. Bring 1 cup cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Slowly pour cream over cocoa mixture, whisking until cocoa is completely dissolved. Add 1/2 cup cream and sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves. Chill until cold, at least 2 hours or over night.
  2. Add cream cheese to chilled cocoa mixture. Using an electric mixer, beat on low speed until blended and smooth. Increase speed to medium-high. Beat until mixture is thick and medium-firm peaks form when beaters are lifted, about 2 minutes. Do not over beat or the mixture will curdle.
Putting It All Together
  1. Gently brush crumbs from cakes. Line the edges of cake platter with foil or parchment to keep it clean while you assemble the cake. Place 1 cake layer, top side up, on the platter.  Spoon about 1 1/2 cups frosting in dollops over top of cake. Spread frosting evenly to the edges. Top with second cake layer, top side up. Press to adhere. Spread a thin layer of frosting over top and sides of the cake. Chill 10 minutes.
  2. Using an offset spatula, spread remaining frosting evenly over the top and sides of the cake. Top with chocolate curls, if using.
Serves 10 to 12

March 18, 2012

Genius Bars

     Seven-layer, magic, hello dolly bars--whatever they happen to call them where you live... The point is they are outrageously rich, sweet, gooey bars of goodness. And surprisingly fast and simple at the same time. Genius!

     I would argue that there is not much magic here. I mean if you put a crap-ton of tasty goodies together and douse them in sweetened condensed milk, the result is going to taste good. These are out of control decadent, so make sure you cut the pieces nice and small or people won't be able to finish them. I borrowed the mini-muffin liner idea from Deb at Smitten Kitchen. That woman knows what she's doing.

     I particularly liked these bars because not only are they going to make you lots of friends at work, you do not have to slave away for hours to impress them. People will like these, and you will only have to spend about 10 minutes making them. This is perfect for me, because as a first year public school teacher--you may have noticed--I do not have an abundance of free time.

     Ok, that's it. I am officially renaming these Genius Bars. You don't have to be a genius to make these, but you will sure look like one when you bring them anywhere.

Genius Bars
  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
  • 1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk, separated (try nonfat!)
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (or semisweet)
  • 1 cup peanut butter chips (or butterscotch)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts)
  • 1 1/3 cup shredded coconut, separated
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13x9 inch pan with non-stick cooking spray. 
  2. Combine graham cracker crumbs and butter in a medium bowl. Press crumb mixture into bottom of prepared pan. Pour half a can of sweetened condensed milk over the crumbs.
  3. In a large bowl mix chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, pecans and 1 cup coconut. Spread mixture evenly over the crumb and condensed milk layer. Press down to combine. Drizzle evenly with more sweetened condensed milk, leaving a couple of tablespoons for a final layer.
  4. Spread slivered almonds in a thin layer on top. Sprinkle lightly with 1/3 cup shredded coconut and top with the remaining tablespoons of condensed milk.
  5. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until coconut and almonds are toasty, golden brown. Cool in pan on a wire rack, loosening sides while the pan is still warm. Cool completely. For easiest cutting, chill in the refrigerator for about an hour (and up to over night) before slicing into 1 and a half inch squares. Bring to room temperature and serve in mini-muffin liners.
Makes about 30 servings

March 12, 2012

Cinnamon Cocoa Candied Almonds

These are addicting. They are easy and quick, but look out--the cayenne gives them a nice kick to them. 
Cinnamon Cocoa Candied Almonds

  • 3 tablespoons real maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, plus more for coating
  • 2 cups raw almonds
  • 3/4 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tablespoons powdered sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Bring maple syrup, sugar, salt, and spices to a simmer in a small saucepan. Add almonds and stir to coat.
  3. Spread almonds in a single layer on prepared cookie sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes. Cool almonds completely, then break them apart.
  4. Mix cocoa, powdered sugar and cinnamon in a large ziplock bag. Add almonds and shake until evenly coated.