taking time to celebrate

It’s crazy to think that I’m three-quarters of the way through my first rotation. It’s been an incredible experience thus far: constantly humbling, challenging, and inspiring. On a daily basis I’m reminded of the importance of taking time to celebrate and appreciate the health, friends, and family I am so lucky to have. Most recently, a very special celebration was in store. Sugar Cured’s own Kate had a birthday, and no amount of work or studying was about to stop us from marking the occasion in the way we know best—through good food.


True to her generous spirit, Kate invited us to her home for dinner where she cooked a smorgasbord of incredible Middle Eastern dishes from the pages of Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. Although I’d usually fight the birthday girl on working in the kitchen on her big day, I knew that nothing would make Kate happier. But I at least compromised on two things: 1) getting to bring dessert and 2) doing the dishes.


In my family, there’s only one cake that’s fit for a birthday celebration. My grandma has been making this chocolate bundt cake for decades, and I can’t remember a birthday at my house (or in college, when my amazing mom would ship it cross-country) that hasn’t included it. I’m not sure what the original title on my Grandma’s recipe card read, but through years of whipping out this decadent creation for all manner of “special” occasions, we’ve lovingly dubbed it “Special Chocolate Cake.” As fate would have it, it turns out that half a country away, Kate’s family has also been making this cake recipe for birthdays for many years, although they call it Tunnel of Fudge Cake. So when deciding what dessert to make for Kate’s big day, it really was a no-brainer.


As special as this cake is, it’s really one of the easiest things to bake in the world. It involves doctoring up a cake mix (Duncan Hines Butter Recipe Fudge is our family’s go-to, and when I’ve tried other mixes, I’ve regretted it) with sour cream, pudding mix, extra eggs, and chocolate chips, and topping it with a rich ganache. An added flourish of sprinkles and a flaming crown of candles made this a fitting cake to toast to a sweet and wonderful  year ahead.

Happy Birthday Kate!

Special Chocolate Cake

1 box chocolate cake mix (Duncan Hines Butter Recipe Fudge highly recommended)

½ cup oil

½ cup water

4 eggs

1 box instant chocolate pudding mix

8 oz sour cream

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Coat bundt pan with cooking spray and dust with sugar (we use this in lieu of flour to make a nice crunchy crust).

Add all ingredients besides chocolate chips into a large mixing bowl. Use an electric hand or stand mixer to beat on medium speed for 1 minute to combine all ingredients. Scrape down bowl. Beat for another 4 minutes on medium-high speed (<– sounds like a lot, but it’s what makes it super moist and fluffy!). In the last minute of mixing, add in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 1 hour, until knife inserted in middle of cake comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack in pan for 30 minutes. Run a knife along the middle and outer edges and invert onto a wire rack to cool completely. Top with glaze.

Chocolate Ganache Glaze

½ cup semisweet chocolate chips

¼ cup half and half

1 tbsp butter

In a glass measuring cup or microwave-save bowl, microwave chocolate chips and half and half for 1 minute on low power. Stir until chips are fully melted (if necessary, microwave for another 30 seconds on low power). Add butter and mix completely. Pour glaze over cake, allowing it to fall gently over the sides. Decorate to your liking.


study break

In my perfect world, all nights would end like this…

Such was the case one evening last week, when I decided to take a little study break to do some baking. What I had envisioned being a brief endeavor turned into a two hour long extravaganza of grating, chopping, melting, whisking, and glazing.

Was it worth it? When I got to accompany my studies with Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread the next day, you bet.

I had bookmarked this recipe from the beloved pages of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home To Yours a while back, but due to the shear volume of ingredients involved in making it, I hadn’t gotten around to it until now. With three different types of ginger (fresh, powdered, and candied), molasses, buttermilk, chopped and melted chocolate, coffee, and cinnamon, this cake boasts a complexity of flavors. It is delightfully moist and has a definite gingery punch. It begs to be paired with a hot cup of coffee or tea, and if you close your eyes while savoring a bite of this cake, its warm flavors almost make you forget that it’s the dead of winter.
If you’re a ginger lover, this cake is for you. While it takes a bit of time, the results are well worth every minute.

Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread
from Baking From My Home to Yours

For the Cake
2 tablespoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate – 2 ounces melted and cooled, 4 ounces finely chopped
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon finely chopped stem ginger in syrup (available in Asian markets and supermarkets; optional)

For the Icing
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon strong coffee
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

Getting Ready:Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan and put it on a baking sheet. (Pan must be a full 9-inch square size or batter will overflow – measure first).

To Make the Cake: Put the fresh ginger and sugar in a small bowl, stir and set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking soda and spices together.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment,or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar and butter together at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. Don’t worry if the mixture looks curdled at this stage. Pour in the molasses and beat until smooth. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the melted chocolate, along with the sugared ginger. Still on low speed, add the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the buttermilk in 2(begin and end with the dry ingredients),mixing the batter only as much as needed to blend the ingredients. Fold in the chopped chocolate and the ginger in syrup. Pour the batter into the pan.

Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Don’t be concerned if the cake has domed and cracked-it will settle down as it cools. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 10 minutes, then unmold the cake. Turn right side up to cool to room temperature before icing the cake. (The edges of the cake might be quite brown, but don’t fret-you can trim them after you ice the cake.)

To Make the Icing: Set a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, put the chocolate and coffee in the bowl, and stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted. Remove the bowl and, using a small whisk, stir in the butter one tablespoon at a time. Sift the confectioners’ sugar over the chocolate and stir in. Transfer the bowl to a counter and let the icing sit for about 10 minutes.

Put the gingerbread, still on the rack, on a piece of wax paper or foil (the drip catcher). Pour the icing onto the center of the cake and use a long metal spatula to spread the icing evenly over the top. Allow the icing to set for 30 minutes (you can hurry it along by chilling the cake briefly). If the edges of the cake are overbaked, now is the time to trim them. Then cut the gingerbread into 9 even pieces.

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.


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.
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.
Wishing you wellness, happiness, and of course, good eats in this new year!
Cinnamon Squares

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
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.

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.
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!
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.

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.
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.
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.
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.

le almond

If I had to choose one pastry to eat for the rest of my life it would be an almond croissant. To me, it is pastry perfection: flaky dough that is slightly crisp on the outside yet pillowy soft on the inside, filled with a heavenly concoction of almonds, butter, and sugar. The waste-hater in me is also endeared by the fact that almond croissants are made using the previous day’s leftover croissants, a tidbit I learned from my sister who lived in Paris for nearly a year during college.
My fondness for almond croissants is bolstered by the memories I have of eating them. In high school, my friends and I frequented a a French bakery for after school snacks, putting our newly minted driver’s licenses to the most indulgent of uses. When my sister was living in Paris, I had a two-hour layover in the Charles de Gaulle Airport and she came and met me at the terminal. We hadn’t seen each other in nearly six months, and she brought us almond croissants from her favorite Parisian bakery to share over coffee and catch-up conversation. Four years later, I visited Paris myself and made it a priority to get a croissant from this very same bakery. To this day, I don’t think I’ll ever find anything that rivals its butteriness, flakiness, and all-encompassing decadence.
While I have not yet gained the courage or dough-making prowess to tackle baking almond croissants myself, I recently made a cake that was deliciously reminiscent of the filling of an almond croissant. I found the recipe in a great  new baking cookbook and it’s name, “Le Almond,” immediately stuck out to me. This cake uses four pure ingredients for its flavor profile—almond paste, vanilla bean, lemon, and orange—and allows each of them to shine through one and a half whopping sticks of butter and a scant amount of flour, resulting in an exceedingly moist, rich cake. I’d suggest cutting this cake into small squares to serve. A little bit of this cake goes a long way in adding a special sweet touch to a brunch spread and to bringing a little bit of my favorite French pastry to life.
Le Almond
From The Sugar Cube cookbook
Recipe makes 2 loaves (I halved it to make 1)
3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 7-oz tubes almond paste, broken into pieces
1 cup + 1 tbsp sugar
2 lemons
2 oranges
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter at room temp, cut into chunks
7 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Citrus soak:
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of 2 oranges
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp water
1/4 vanilla bean
Confectioners’ sugar
Preheat oven to 325. Butter and flour two 9×5 loaf pans.
For cake: Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl (or use a whisk to mix them together).
Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat almond paste and sugar on low speed until mixture is sandy and only small lumps remain, 3-5 minutes. Turn mixer off and grate zest of 2 lemons and 2 oranges into mixing bowl to catch the oils. Turn mixer to medium and gradually at the butter. Increase mixer speed to medium-high and mix until fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl and remix in any clumps. Add eggs one at a time with mixer on medium speed, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Scrape down sides of bowl again. Add in flour and mix in on low speed until just combined. Scrape down bowl one last time and the pour batter into prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake in center of oven until knife inserted in center comes out clean, 50-60 minutes. Cake will be darkish red-brown in color when ready.
For citrus soak: combine lemon juice, orange juice, sugar, and water in medium saucepan. Split vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out seeds. Add seeds to pan along with pod and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 1 minute to thicken and concentrate flavors. Remove from heat and discard pod.
Let cake cool in pan on wire rack for about 20 minutes. Invert it onto a parchment-lined wire rack. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. Brush liberally with citrus glaze and let cool completely before cutting into thick slices.

this i believe

It’s hard to top a day on which I get to hang out with my mom and dad and watch my beloved St. Louis Cardinals beat the Cubbies in extra innings at Wrigley. Buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks and I don’t care if I every come back…

Even though there were at least as many Cards fans as Cubs fans in the stands, and even though the Cubs are a miserable 33 games out of first place, it’s clear that nothing can shake the beliefs of a true baseball fan. We sat behind an octogenarian Cubs fan who I overheard say he had been coming to the stadium since he was 8 years old. When I hollered for joy at Carlos Beltran’s game-tying homer in the late innings, this gentleman turned and said to us, “Sit down! You seemed like very nice people until I found out you were idiot Cardinals fans.”

This elderly gentleman’s loyalty to the lovable losers, even after (as my roommate puts it) “104 years of shame and embarrassment” since the Cubs last won the Series, got me thinking about the unshakable beliefs that baseball fans have in their clubs.  It got me thinking about this monologue from probably the best baseball movie of all time, Bull Durham.

Crash Davis Believes In….

I certainly believe that the DH should be outlawed and I certainly have my own list of beliefs that are questionable importance to anybody else in the world and of utmost importance to me. At the top of my personal list is “I believe that everybody should have a homemade cake on their birthday.” If you are my friend and I am aware that it is your birthday, this is a non-negotiable point.

Sometimes I am so busy that I forget about my own rule until 1 hour before I am supposed to be at the birthday party and the “cake”  is Pizookie, one of the laziest but most delicious desserts I know (Recipe= Tollhouse cookie dough baked until warm but still gooey and topped with vanilla ice cream).

Sometimes I make my very favorite chocolate cake of all time and then forget to take pictures of the finished product. And now I have a wonderful excuse to make it again soon so I can post it.

Sometimes I want to serve birthday cake for breakfast and so I make this coffee cake. I believe that any cake can be a breakfast cake if it tastes good with coffee, but not all people share this belief and so I am forced to make a cake that is socially acceptable for breakfast.

I believe that the combo of sour cream, chocolate chips, and cinnamon-sugar is as sweet as the perfectly executed 4-6-3 double play. I bet that even that crochety old Cubs fans would agree with me on this one and I bet you will too.

Classic Coffee Cake

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 stick butter, at room temperature

1 1/2 c granulated sugar

3 large eggs, separated

1 1/2 t vanilla

2 c sour cream

3 c all-purpose flour

1 t baking powder

1 1/2 t baking soda

3/4 t salt

1-2 c semisweet chocolate chips (adjust depending on how chocolatey you want it to be)

1/2 c sugar

1 t cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter or spray a 9×13 pan and cover the bottom with a sheet of parchment paper.

Cream butter and 1 1/2 c sugar in a large bowl. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla. Sift together flour, soda, baking powder, and salt. Alternate mixing in dry ingredients and sour cream until the mixture is smooth and very thick. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff and fold into batter.

Mix together the remaining cinnamon and sugar. Spread half the cake batter in the prepared pan. Sprinkle with half the cinnamon-sugar and half the chocolate. Dollop on the remaining batter and spread it carefully. Top with remaining cinnamon-sugar and chocolate, pressing the chips into the batter slightly. Bake for 40-50 minutes until a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Serve with coffee (duh) and revel in eating cake for breakfast…

Happy Birthday Kate!

Something you must know about Kate is that she loves celebrating birthdays.

Her birthday was the first to occur in our class after the start of med school last August. This was before we had become close friends and before I knew just how much import she placed on the fact that everybody has a homemade birthday cake. I will forever regret the fact that Kate baked her own birthday cake in 2011. But this year, things were made right. I had the privilege of spending Kate’s birthday with her in her hometown and indulging in a delicious cinnamon-tinged chocolate cake baked by her mom, every bite proving that baking prowess is certainly genetic. The next night, we had a celebration in Chicago and made sure that Kate did not lift a finger—a difficult task given her much-respected inclination to always provide for others.
So, what do you bake the girl who has poured her heart, soul, and countless bowls of batter and frosting into baking birthday cakes for friends all year long? One of the most decadent desserts out there: Double Chocolate Torte.
This torte was not a new recipe to Kate and I. In February, attempting to remedy Kate’s self-baked birthday cake situation, I made this rich torte to celebrate Kate’s half birthday. When her actual birthday rolled around, she requested the torte again, and I was more than happy to spend a rainy morning taking on this multi-layered baking challenge.
Layer 1: a nearly flourless chocolate cake, so dense it is almost brownie-like.
Layer 2: a fluffy semisweet chocolate mousse with that begins with a custard base and is lightened with egg whites.
Layer 3: slightly sweetened fresh whipped cream, topped with some of the plumpest and juiciest cherries I have encountered all summer.
Three layers are not nearly enough to encapsulate all the sweetness that Kate deserves for her 24th year, but they helped give a small slice of love, appreciation, and indulgence to her on her special day.
Double Chocolate Torte (recipe adapted from Bon Appetit)
8 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup all purpose flourMousse:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
8 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 lb cherries, pitted and halved

For cake:
Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter 10-inch-diameter springform pan; dust with sugar. Melt chocolate and butter in heavy large saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Cool to lukewarm. Whisk in sugar. Whisk in eggs 1 at a time, blending well after each addition. Mix in vanilla and salt, then flour. Pour batter into pan. Bake until cake just rises in center (tester inserted into center will not come out clean), about 35 minutes. Cool completely in pan on rack. Cover; chill while making mousse.

For mousse:
Melt butter in medium metal bowl set over saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water). Whisk yolks, 1/4 cup cream and vanilla in small bowl to blend. Gradually whisk yolk mixture into bowl with melted butter. Whisk constantly over simmering water until thermometer registers 150°F, about 6 minutes (mixture may appear broken). Remove from over water; add chocolate and stir to melt. Set aside. Beat egg whites and 1/2 cup sugar in large bowl to medium-stiff peaks. Whisk 1/4 of beaten egg white mixture into warm chocolate mixture to lighten. Fold in remaining egg white mixture. Pour mousse over cake in pan; smooth top. Chill torte until mousse is set, at least 6 hours and up to 1 day.

Run sharp knife around edge of pan to loosen torte. Release pan sides. Transfer torte to platter. Using electric mixer, beat 3/4 cup cream in medium bowl until peaks form. Spread whipped cream over torte. Top whipped cream with cherries.

Piece Offering

Ten months ago, I moved out to Chicago bearing three oversized suitcases, a turtle shell of a backpack, and a freshly baked loaf of banana bread.

Amidst my clothes, books, and cooking utensils, it was this sugary delight that carried the greatest importance (and, not to mention, the greatest aroma to accompany me through a three-hour flight). You see, no less than four hours after disembarking the plane in Chicago, I had scheduled appointments with various local Craigslist sellers to acquire a giant plush couch, a coffee table, end tables, a full-size bed, a chair, an ottoman, two bookshelves, and an elaborate multi-piece desk. Call me crazy, but I wanted to feel settled in to my new city as soon as I could.

And that’s where the banana bread came in.

A simple post on our budding med school Facebook group’s wall requesting a helping hand in exchange for some banana bready goodness, and I was met with smiling faces, strong arms, and growling stomachs. Some may call it bribery, but it’s how I made my empty apartment a home, and more importantly, it’s how I made the first of my wonderful, generous friends here.

I’ve been making this banana bread for years, and it’s come to serve as a vehicle for my journeys in sharing the joys of baking with others. Through this bread, my mom taught me how to level flour and know the difference between wet and dry measurements when I was but a budding baker working by her side. Through this bread, I fundraised for Relay For Life by turning my dorm kitchen into an underground commercial baking operation. Through this bread, I’ve been able to ship my love cross-country in tightly-wrapped brown boxes. And most recently through this bread, I’ve brought finals-weary med students together to celebrate almost being done with our first year of this journey.

Over the years, through experimentation and taking tips from others, I’ve created something that’s uniquely my own, but always shared with others—as an offering of gratitude, friendship, and love.

Joanna Banana Bread

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 overripe bananas, mashed
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup milk (or soy milk)
1 cup chocolate chips (optional, but highly recommended)

Preheat oven to 350. Whisk together oil and sugar. Add eggs. Add mashed bananas. Add dry ingredients (flour through salt). Add vanilla and milk and whisk until just combined. Finally, lightly coat the chocolate chips in some flour and fold them into the batter (this will prevent them from sinking while baking).  Pour batter into greased 9x5x3” loaf pan* and bake for 60 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan on rack for 30 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool completely (if you have the ability to resist the temptation of just digging in!)

*Dust the pan with sugar or cinnamon sugar after you have greased it for a delicious crunchy crust!