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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

eggcess

When life gives you egg whites…

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Make meringues!

After making a giant pan of tiramisu for a dinner party last week (recipe and story forthcoming), I was left with a container of egg whites begging to be whipped into light and airy peaks and transformed into something sweet. I perused my shelf of baking books for inspiration and finally settled on a recipe from Alice Medrich’s Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy, Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies. I’ve had this book for years, but despite fawning over the pages, hadn’t made a recipe from it yet. The success of this inaugural recipe has me already planning out my next cookie baking adventure.

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There are about ten or so recipes for meringue cookies in this book, with variations listed for each, so for an indecisive person like myself, settling on just one was not easy. And in a way, you can say I didn’t even do that. Rather, I baked a version that combines all sorts of flavors. It’s a white meringue spiked with espresso powder and cinnamon and speckled with bittersweet chocolate crumbs that are made by pulverizing dark chocolate and sugar. Although it may sound like there’s a lot going on, the combination of coffee, chocolate, and marshmallow-y meringue melded together into delightfully crisp, airy bites—a simple, delicate, yet decadent use of leftover ingredients.

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“Not-So-Plain” Mocha Meringues

adapted from Alice Medrich’s Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy, Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies

5 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

⅔ cup sugar

⅛ tsp salt

3 lg egg whites at room temp

¼ tsp cream of tartar*

2 tsp instant espresso powder

⅛ tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 200. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. In a food processor combine chocolate and ⅓ cup sugar and pulse until the chocolate is in crumb-sized pieces. In a large bowl use a hand mixer (or use a stand mixer) to whip egg whites and cream of tartar until they are opaque and forming soft peaks.  At this point, add espresso powder, cinnamon and remaining ⅓ cup sugar slowly while continuing to beat egg whites until they are forming very stiff peaks. This will take another 1 ½ – 2 minutes. Drop rounded teaspoonfuls of batter onto parchment paper, about 1 inch apart. Bake for 2 hours, rotating pans halfway through. After 2 hours of baking, turn oven off and allow meringues to cool in the oven. Remove from the oven once cool and store in an airtight container.

*I subbed a squeeze of lemon juice (about ¼ tsp) for the cream of tartar, and it worked just fine!

unleavened and unloved

Matzah is perhaps the most innocuous yet polarizing food I have ever known. For many people, the mere mention of matzah conjures looks of complete disgust and utterances of descriptors such as “bland,” “gag-inducing,” and “cardboard-box-like.” Then you have people on the opposite side of the spectrum, like my father, who buy matzah in bulk every spring so they can eat it year-round. It’s likely not matzah itself that people hate so much. After all, it’s really just a giant plain cracker. But rather, it’s what matzah represents: eight long days of unleavened torture, where soft slices of sandwich bread, tender cakes, and oodles of noodles are uniformly wiped out and replaced by a crispy, flat, and admittedly sub-flavorful food.

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I personally am a member of the matzah loving camp and would argue that this poor little unleavened creation deserves a bit more credit for all its versatility. While my enjoyment of matzah will never near that of my father’s, I do happily eat my fair share come Passover time: scrambled with eggs as matzah brei, as a scooper for hummus, or simply spread with butter and a topped with a sprinkle of salt.

However, in our family, there is one ultimate way to eat matzah:

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That would be Chocolate Toffee Matzah, a Passover confection that my mom and I have been making for over a decade. This indulgent matzah treat is clearly a Passover dessert darling of many beyond our family, as I have seen countless similar recipes printed across the internet. However, I would be remiss to not share this delicious family tradition here on sugarcured.

A quickly boiled toffee topping of melted butter and brown sugar is placed on sheets of matzah, baked for a few minutes, and then topped with chocolate chips. The softened chocolate is spread atop the toffee and allowed to set in the fridge. In a couple of hours, chocolate toffee matzah bliss in yours.

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If you are a matzah hater, this recipe will make you a convert. If you’ve never had matzah before, I hope this recipe makes you run out and buy a box (although word on the street is that you can adapt this same technique with saltine crackers). And if you are a matzah lover, I hope this recipe will only make you show it all the more lovin’.

Chocolate Toffee Matzah

5-6 sheets of matzah

½ cup (1 stick) butter

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup chocolate chips.

Preheat oven to 400. Line a large cookie sheet with foil. Lay down sheets of matzah to cover the entire surface of the pan (you’ll have to break the sheets to make them fit). In a medium saucepan, melt butter and brown sugar together. Allow mixture to come to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to boil for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Pour toffee mixture over matzah and spread it to evenly coat the sheets. Bake for 4 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle chocolate chips on top. Return to oven for 1 minute. Remove from oven and spread the melted chips out evenly across the matzah. Allow to cool for about 30 minutes at room temperature and then place pan in refrigerator for at least 3 hours before breaking into smaller pieces. Store broken pieces in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

study break

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

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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.

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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.
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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.

school is sweet

I tend to have an optimistic outlook on life. Which is why, even after today’s 12-hour lecture/lab/review session marathon, I can honestly say that there are some really great things about spending so much time in class as a second year medical student. For one, these long days of study provide protection from the frigid temperatures outside. When most of my activities are housed in one building or in the hospital, which is a short underground tunnel walk away, I can almost forget that it’s zero degrees outside! From a nerdier standpoint, it’s pretty rewarding to walk away from day of class knowing that I’ve accumulated a great deal of knowledge, which I’ll be putting to use to take care of people scarily soon. But perhaps the biggest advantage of being in class so much these days is that I am constantly surrounded by my wonderful, intelligent, and most importantly, dessert-loving classmates.

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Among our class, there is a strong culture of baked-goods-passing during lecture. I couldn’t help but laugh when a few weeks ago, as we were being schooled on the detrimental effects of diabetes and the rampant pace at which it is growing in the U.S. as our diets continue to deteriorate, a box chock-full of chocolate cake and cookies was making its way around the room.   While as med students, we know the importance of eating healthily, we also know that desserts, in moderation, definitely boost our moods and make all the learning we do just that much more enjoyable. Because of this, I am never at a loss for people with whom to share my late night baking experiments, and I am a regular provider of in-class sweets.

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My most recent contribution was cranberry orange bread with dark chocolate chunks. I had a stash of cranberries in my freezer that needed to be put to a noble use. Kate had been telling me about a great recipe she had for cranberry orange bread, and while I usually consult far too many books and websites before settling on a recipe to make, I trusted Kate’s judgment on this one and I’m so glad I did. This bread was dense, but extremely moist. The dark chocolate chunks were optional, but I’d highly encourage adding them. They added depth to the bread and helped cut through the acidity of the fresh cranberries and orange. Like many baked goods I’ve shared here recently, this would be great to serve at any occasion, but from my experience, it is especially suited to serve as a mid-lecture pick-me-up.

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Cranberry Orange Bread with Dark Chocolate Chunks

Adapted from The Shared Table

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1½ teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

¼ cup butter, softened

¾ cup orange juice

1 tablespoon grated orange rind

1 egg, room temperature and beaten

1 cup fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate

One large (9×5) or two small (7½ x 3½) loaf tins, greased or Teflon. If glass, reduce oven heat to 325

In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With a pastry blender or two knives cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.

In small bowl combine orange juice and grated rind with the beaten egg. Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients and mix just enough to dampen. Don’t beat. Carefully fold in the nuts and cranberries.

Butter pan well, line the long sides and bottom with one length of wax paper, butter paper in place, for easy removal of the loaf. The mixture will be stiff and must be pushed into the corners of the pan with a spoon or spatula. Form it slightly higher on the sides to compensate for the rising crown.

While oven preheats to 350°, allow the filled pan to rest.

Bake in the the oven until the loaf tests done when pierced in the center with a metal skewer or toothpick, about 50-60 minutes. If it comes out clean and dry, the loaf is baked. If moist particles cling to the pin, return the loaf to the oven for an additional 10 minutes. Test again.

Remove bread from the oven . Carefully turn from the pan, peel the wax paper away and cool on a metal rack. An easy way to remove the loaf is to turn the pan on its side, tug gently at the leading edges of the wax paper to work the loaf loose. Allow the loaf to age overnight before slicing.

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.

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.

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.

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…

one classy cookie

On Friday night, we had a med school class mixer and were instructed to bring something “classy” to the occasion. As I conjured classy concoctions in my head—champagne cupcakes, chocolate covered strawberries, truffles—I recalled a recipe that I had bookmarked back in February for dark chocolate red wine cookies. Chocolate + red wine = quite the classy combo, and furthermore, cookies aren’t too shabby of a vehicle for a healthy dose of antioxidants.

There’s only half a cup of red wine in these cookies, but it’s enough to impart them with a subtle bitterness and depth that is utterly decadent. They are sturdy, yet slightly soft and chewy, my idea for the perfect cookie consistency. Whether you’re looking to bring class to an affair, or just need a sweet reprieve from class studies, I highly recommend adding these cookies to your repertoire!

Dark Chocolate Red Wine Cookies (Adapted from Keep it Simple Foods)

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1/2 cup red wine (use whatever kind you have on hand!)
1 bag semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 and line cookie sheets with parchment. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugars until fluffy. Add vanilla, egg, and wine. Add dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Add chocolate chips. Drop dough in tablespoon-sized rounds onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Allow to cool on pan for 1 minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.