happy birthday noura!

Yesterday was my wonderful roommate Noura’s birthday. As you may have noticed, no birthday around these sugar cured parts goes without the creation of a cake, and Noura’s birthday was of course no exception. Kate and I had every intention of making a rich chocolately creation, but Noura’s parents beat us to the punch by bringing her a gorgeous giant chocolate cake. While I’d like to think a girl can never have too much chocolate on her birthday, I figured a change of cake plans might make things a bit more interesting. I wracked my brain for Noura’s favorite desserts and one of the first things that came to mind were milkshakes. A liquid cake seemed a bit messy, but what if that milkshake were frozen, sandwiched between brownies, covered in ganache, and topped with whipped cream? A birthday ice cream cake was born.
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I won’t be winning any awards for my melted chocolate penmanship anytime soon, but what this cake lacked in decor it made up for in flavor. I used my all-time favorite Ghirardelli double chocolate brownie mix and Breyer’s cookies and cream ice cream, which made for a winning combination. While a bit of assembly time was required, this creation came together in less than two hours from start to finish. As for the taste, imagine a brownie sundae compacted into a six layer slice of decadence. The only thing that could have made it better would have been warm hot fudge sauce to pour on top… but that’s what next year’s birthday (or next week’s finals period?) is for!
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Happy Birthday, Noura! Here’s to a sweet, happy, and fulfilling year!
Double Decker Brownie Ice Cream Cake
1 box Ghirardelli double chocolate brownie mix
1 egg
1/3 cup oil
1/3 cup water
1 cup chocolate chips
8 oz. heavy cream
1/2 gallon ice cream (any flavor of your choice)
1 tbsp powdered sugar
Brownie: Preheat oven to 325. Grease a 9” springform pan and grease and line with parchment a round cake pan of similar size. Combine brownie mix, oil, water, and egg and divide evenly into the two pans. Bake for 22 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool in pans on a rack for about 10 minutes. Transfer to the freezer to cool for another 30 minutes.
Chocolate ganache: Meanwhile, in the microwave melt 1 cup of chocolate chips with 1 tbsp heavy cream for 1 minute on power level 6. Stir until melted (if needed, microwave in 30 second increments at low power level until completely melted). Set aside to cool down.
Whipped cream: Using a handheld electric or stand mixer, beat remaining heavy cream with 1 tbsp powdered sugar until stiff peaks form. Cover and strore in refrigerator.
To assemble: Take out ice cream from freezer and allow to soften. Remove springform pan brownie layer from freezer and spread a layer of chocolate ganache on it (use 1/3-1/2 of ganache). Return pan to freezer for 10-15 minutes, until ganache has hardened. Once ice cream has softened to a point where it can be spreadable but isn’t liquidy, take out both brownie layers from the freezer. Place entire 1/2 gallon of ice cream in springform pan on top of brownie+ganache layers. Spread to edges and smooth out the top. Remove second brownie round from pan and place on top of ice cream layer. Place remaining ganache on top of brownie layer. Return pan to freezer for another 10 minutes so that ganache hardens. Finally, add whipped cream on top and decorate as desired. Cover entire pan in plastic wrap and foil and place in the freezer for at least 2 hours before serving.
To serve: Remove from freezer 15 minutes before serving. Remove sides of springform pan. Cake cuts easiest with a knife dipped in hot water.
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on the cusp

Right now, I feel like I’m on the cusp of many things. In school, we’re on the cusp of final exams, although we still have an entire body system to learn about in the next week (expect lots of stress-baking to appear around these parts). Weather-wise, Chicago is on the cusp of having long-standing bitter winter cold, but until that hits, I’ve enjoyed basking in the downtown holiday decor amidst deliciously mild temperatures. Calendar-wise, we’re on the cusp between Thanksgiving and all of the festivities that December brings. And food-wise, my palette is on the cusp between craving the pumpkiny spice of fall cuisine and beginning to experiment with the rich indulgences of the holiday season.
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This latter cusp is what inspired last night’s midnight baking project. For the past few weeks, the combination of dark chocolate and fresh cranberries has been dancing in my head. Sultry dark chocolate paired with plump tart cranberries just seemed like a winning match. I’ve also been wanting to make pumpkin bread, and I had half a can beckoning to be used up in my fridge. I decided to pair these two sugary visions together to make a marbled pumpkin chocolate cake, studded with tart cranberries and loaded with semisweet chocolate chips.
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I used pumpkin in both parts of the batter to keep things extra moist, and what resulted was a soft, spicy, and light-yet-rich cake that I think is one of my favorite creations to date. I am glad I had plenty of people to share this cake with today, or else I might have devoured the entire pan myself. I encourage you to celebrate this cusp-y part of the season and indulge yourself in a slice, or two, or three of what I’ve dubbed as the On the Cusp Cake.
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On the Cusp Cake (Marbled Pumpkin & Chocolate Cake with Cranberries)
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 cup + 1 tbsp sugar
2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup soy milk (or regular milk or buttermilk)
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1 cup fresh whole cranberries
Cinnamon sugar for sprinkling on top (optional)
Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9×9 square baking pan.
Place cranberries in a small bowl and mix with 1 tbsp sugar. Set aside while making batter.
Get out two separate medium mixing bowls, one for the pumpkin batter and one for the chocolate batter. In each bowl, mix 1/4 cup vegetable oil with 1/2 cup sugar. Add 1 egg to each bowl and mix. Add 1/2 cup pumpkin to each bowl and mix.
In pumpkin spice batter bowl: Add 3/4 cup flour, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt, 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice, and 1/2 tsp cinnamon. Mix until just incorporated. Add 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1/4 cup soy milk and mix until just combined.
In chocolate pumpkin batter bowl: Add 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp cinnamon. Mix until just incorporated. Add 1/2 tsp vanilla, 1/4 cup soy milk, and 1/2 cup chocolate chips and mix until just combined.
Pour half of the pumpkin batter into the pan and spread to cover the whole surface. Using half of the chocolate batter, drop large spoonfuls of the chocolate batter over the pumpkin batter. Spread all of the cranberries evenly on top of the batter currently in the pan. Pour remaining pumpkin batter into the pan. Drop remaining chocolate batter in large spoonfuls on top. Swirl the batters together using the edge of a knife to make a marble pattern. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup of chocolate chips on top and sprinkle a bit of cinnamon sugar on top, if desired.
Bake cake for 40-50 minutes, until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Allow cake to cool on rack in pan. Cut into squares to serve.