December 26, 2012

Christmas Chex Mix

Every December (for the past 6 or 7 years) Andy and I host a Christmas Cookie Party for all our friends, meaning we get to bake all our favorite Christmas cookies, and our friends come help us eat them all! It's a win-win situation. Last year I found a recipe in Food Network Magazine for a holiday Chex Mix, and it reminded me of a mix my Aunt Cindy used to make for holidays. I thought I'd give it a try. Little did I know the power of this mix. At our party people posted up around the big bowl on our coffee table and spooned in scoop after scoop. It's sweet, a bit savory, and incredibly addictive. This year for the party I almost forgot about the mix, since it doesn't fall within my usual cookie category, but several friends mentioned it before the party so I knew I needed to find this recipe again and try to not disappoint their expectations. All you need to know is this mix takes about 15, maybe 20 minutes to make, and is so yummy and always a hit. It also makes for a good gift in treat bags for coworkers or friends. You can also vary based on taste.

What's in it
1 box Chex cereal (I prefer the rice or the kinds with all three mixed together)
1 jar (smaller one, not big one) Nutella or other chocolate nut spread (TJ's has a chocolate almond spread)
1 stick butter
1 to 2 cups confectioners sugar
red and green M&M's
colored sprinkles
chocolate covered peanuts
yogurt covered raisins
any other tasty bit you think would be good in the mix

How it's made
In a large microwave safe bowl melt Nutella and butter at 50% power until you can easily stir to mix together. Stir in Chex cereal to coat with chocolate mixture. If you think you have too much chocolate mix, you can add in peanuts as well, or another nut, and coat with chocolate. Transfer mix to large ziplock bag (may need to do in two batches). Add confectioners sugar to bag and shake to coat (I add in increments). Transfer to a large bowl and add M&M's and any other additions, and toss to combine. Enjoy!

Note: you can also sub Peanut Butter for the Nutella, and coat peanuts with the chocolate/PB mixture as well.

December 23, 2012

Mocha Layer Cake with Mocha Cream Cheese Frosting

I love birthdays. Not for the reasons you would first suspect, but because birthdays mean birthday cake. I love making fancy cakes from scratch. I rarely have the time to do this just for the fun of it, though. I need a legitimate excuse to bake one, so birthdays are perfect.

This year, I was fortunate to have tons of family and friends come up to Portland to celebrate my 30th birthday. It was extraordinary and memorable in every way. At one point a friend asked me incredulously, "You have to make your own birthday cake?!" To which I replied, "Yep, I get to make my cake! I can't wait."

This cake really was a perfect cake. The balance of chocolate and coffee, cream cheese frosting, moist layers, good ratio of cake to frosting... I received a lot of compliments and requests for the recipe.

Well, here it is! Adapted from a recipe I clipped from Bon Appetit years ago, this cake was just waiting for an excuse to be baked. Turns out turning 30 was the perfect excuse.

Mocha Layer Cake with Mocha Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp.
  • 2 cups (packed) brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 4 teaspoons VIA instant espresso powder dissolved in 3/4 cup hot water
  • 1/3 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon VIA instant espresso powder
  • 1 1/2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream, divided
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 2 8oz. containers Philadelphia cream cheese
  • Chocolate covered espresso beans or chocolate curls (optional)
  1.  Generously butter two 9-inch cake pans with 2-inch sides. Dust with flour, tapping out the excess. Line bottom of pans with parchment paper. Position rack in the center of the oven; preheat to 325 degrees.
  2. Sift or whisk cake flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt into medium bowl; set aside. In 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 one. Mix in vanilla. Add flour mixture in 3 additions alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beating until just blended after each addition. Gradually add hot espresso-water mixture, beating just until smooth.
  3. Divide batter evenly between pans (use a scale to measure the weight for precise results). To eliminate air bubbles, drop each pan flat onto the counter a few times from about a foot.   Bake cakes until tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on rack for 15 minutes. Run a small knife around the side to loosen the cakes. Invert cakes onto racks; lift pans off cakes and remove parchment. Place a wire rack on each cake and invert again so the top of the cake is up. Cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap in plastic and store at room temp.)
  1. Sift or whisk cocoa powder into a large bowl. Add espresso powder. Bring 1 cup cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Slowly pour the hot cream over the cocoa mixture, whisking until cocoa is completely dissolved, about 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup cream and sugar, stirring until sugar dissolves. Chill until cold, at least 2 hours, up to 1 day.
  2. Add cream cheese to chilled cocoa mixture. With an electric mixer, beat on low speed until blended and smooth. Increase speed to medium-high, bet until mixture is thick and medium-firm peaks form when beaters are lifted, about 2 minutes. (Do not overbeat or the mixture will curdle.)
  1. Using a pastry brush, brush off crumbs from cakes. Place 1 cake layer top side up on a platter. (Lining the sides of the platter with tin foil will help keep it clean.) Spoon 1 3/4 cups frosting in dollops over top of the cake. Using an offset spatula, spread frosting evenly to the edges. 
  2. Top with second cake layer, top side up, pressing to adhere. Spread thin layer of frosting over top and sides of the cake (this is the crumb layer). Chill 10 minutes. Using offset spatula, spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake, swirling decoratively. 
  3. Top with chocolate covered espresso beans or chocolate curls.