a cake for january

Hello friends! It’s been a very long while since we’ve given this blog some love. A combination of finals, a trip to South Dakota, a week at home with family celebrations nearly every day, and a running start to the new academic quarter all contributed to blog delinquency, but we promise that we are back and ready to shower Sugar Cured with plenty of recipes, stories, and drool-inducing photos in 2013.

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One of my goals in this new year is to make more recipes from my cookbook collection, especially more baked goods from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours. I received this beloved baking bible over five years ago, and everything I’ve made from its pages, from lemon cream tarts, to towering layer cakes, to fudgy brownies, has been a resoundingly sweet success. In my down time, I love leafing through the pages of this book and imbibing the delectable pictures and poetic stories that accompany the recipes. Each time I peruse the pages, I find myself drawn to one recipe in particular: Cinnamon Squares. A cinnamony cake batter rippled with a chocolate, espresso, cinnamon sugar filling, capped with a melted chocolate glaze. As someone who finds the combination of coffee and cinnamon irresistable and is always in the mood for a healthy dose of chocolate, this recipe has screamed my name from the moment I first read it. Yet for some odd reason, I had never made it. I resolved to end this madness for once and for all, and last night I baked this humble, yet complex cake for a dessert party.
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The result: really, really good. And, as Kate said upon tasting it, “This is the perfect January cake,”—reminiscent of the recently passed holiday season with its cinnamon spice and chocolate decadence, but standing in a flavor realm of its own and emboldening the new year with a caffeinated jolt. This cake is perfectly suited to snack on all day long (say, while you’re at home studying on a Sunday), yet is sophisticated enough to serve as a dinner party dessert. Please don’t do as I did and wait five years to make this.
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Wishing you wellness, happiness, and of course, good eats in this new year!
Cinnamon Squares

Cake
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp plus 2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp instand espresso powder
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
3/4 cup milk
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
10 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped or 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
Frosting
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and line the bottom with parchment or wax paper. Place the pan on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake: Stir 2 tablespoons of the sugar, 2 1/2 teaspoons of the cinnamon and the espresso together in a small bowl.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, the remaining 1 1/4 cups sugar, the baking powder, salt and the remaining 1 tablespoon cinnamon. In another bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs and vanilla. Pour the liquid ingredients over the flour mixture and gently whisk until you have a homogenous batter. Now, using the whisk or a rubber spatula, fold in the butter with a light touch, just until the butter is absorbed. You’ll have a smooth, shiny batter.

Scrape half of the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle the chocolate over the batter and dust with the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Cover with the rest of the batter and smooth the top again.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the cake is puffed and beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan; a thin knife inserted into the center will come out clean. Transfer the cake to a cooling rack and let it rest for 15 minutes before unmolding it onto another rack. Peel off the paper, invert it onto the first rack, and cool to room temperature right side up.

To Make the Frosting: Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and fit the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Cook, stirring gently and often, just until they melt. Be careful not to overheat the mixture so much that it thins out; the chocolate should be smooth, very shiny, thick and spreadable. (If it thins, leave the frosting at room temperature for a bit, until it thickens a little.)

Using an offset metal icing spatula or a table knife, spread the frosting in generous sweeps and swirls over the top of the cake. Allow the frosting to set at room temperature, then cut the cake into 9 squares, each about 2 1/2 inches on a side.

For Cappuccino Squares (I did this): If you like the cappuccino flavor combination of coffee and cinnamon, you can easily switch the balance in this recipe by adding a jolt of coffee flavor to the batter. Just mix 1 tablespoon instant espresso into the milk and warm the milk in a microwave oven until it is hot enough to dissolve the coffee. Cool the milk and carry on.
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