2013′s Most Popular Posts

Hubby and I prefer to stay home for a quiet and calm New Year’s Eve. We celebrate by cooking something special, usually lobster. However, two years ago I saved a recipe for Beef Wellington, and this year I’m finally going to try it. Hence, I’ve spent the entire day in the kitchen prepping. If all goes well tonight, I’ll share the recipe later this week.

Anyway, I decided to rest my weary feet a bit and catch up on some emails. Lo and behold, I received my annual report of the most popular posts for 2013 (all sweet treats, by the way), so I thought I’d quickly share them. A couple of the most-searched posts go back to 2011 and 2012!

Wishing each and every one of you a very healthy, happy, and peaceful 2014.

Most popular posts of 2013:

Kahlua Cheesecake

Kahlua Cheesecake

Kahlua Cheesecake: graham cracker crust, ganache layer, velvety Kahlua-flavored cheescake, sour-cream layer, and drizzled ganache topping. Can you say decadent?

Oreo Cheesecake Bites

Oreo Cheesecake Bites

Oreo Cheesecake Bites (2012): Still popular a year later, and rightfully so. These little babies pack a ton of chocolate-y flavor amidst tangy cheesecake. And oh-so-easy to make, too.

Ho Ho Cake

Ho Ho Cake

Ho Ho Cake: This light and airy layered cake garners a lot of oohs and aahs from its recipients. Very yummilicious cake.

Magic Custard Cake

Magic Custard Cake

Magic Custard Cake: Magic indeed as three layers appear from one batter!

Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread

Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread

Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread (2011): Still going strong two years later, this pull-apart bread is simply fun with layers of dough stacked so they pull apart easily after baking. Drizzle with lots of glaze for a glorious treat.

What’s Cooking in My Kitchen (cakes, cookies, cupcakes, mini pies, and ice cream)

With potlucks, work luncheons, and Thanksgiving on the horizon, I thought I had best get busy baking up some goodies ahead of time, most of them stocked in the freezer.

Sweet and Salty Butterscotch Pecan Cookies

Sweet and Salty Butterscotch Pecan Cookies

I have Sweet and Salty Butterscotch Pecan cookie dough in the freezer, ready for baking. These cookies receive the most rave reactions every time I share them.

Pecan Tassies

Pecan Tassies (mini pecan pies)

Pecan Tassies, bite-sized pecan pies, will grace a potluck at the gym. These freeze well in an airtight container, but that means I can easily sneak a tassie or two each night. I hope they last until the potluck later this week!! By the way, this time I added about 5 chocolate chips to the bottom of each crust before adding the filling. Extra yum!

Pumpkin Buttermilk Pound Cake

Pumpkin Buttermilk Pound Cake with Caramel Icing

A scrumptious Pumpkin Buttermilk Pound Cake with Caramel Icing, sans icing but tightly enveloped in plastic wrap and housed in the freezer, awaits Thanksgiving festivities, returning for a repeat performance after its highly successful debut last year.

Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes

Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes

I baked Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes recently, falling in love with their espresso and pumpkin combo. Truth be told, it’s the frosting that stole my heart. I knew these would grace the table at the next salad club lunch at work, taking place this week.

Although these aren’t stocked in the freezer, I just have to share about these Apple Fritters I made recently for a book club meeting. Oh my goodness, this recipe makes the heavens sing. Check out Nicole’s post at Galley Gourmet for pics and recipe. I modified her recipe slightly, using grated apples rather than diced. I made it both ways, actually, and prefer the grated version. These are best eaten shortly after frying.

Finally, I tried my hand yet again at caramels, only to add another tale to my list of caramel woes. However, this time the caramels almost set properly. They are a bit too soft and every time I cut them, they morph back into one large blob after a few minutes. Sigh…

Since the Apple Cider Caramels still tasted yummy despite their blobby status, I decided to give the Browned Butter Caramel Stuffed Cookies a try and rescue the caramel. Failure. Sort of. I must have made the cookie balls too small and/or the caramel pieces too big; the caramel simply oozed out the bottoms of the cookies. Bummer because the browned butter cookies bake up outta-this-world-crazy-divinely-delicious and the apple cider caramel pairs perfectly with it.

As I held the tray of ruined cookies in my hand, about to toss them into the trash bin, I had a rescue idea flash into my brain: crumble the cookies and toss them into a batch of vanilla ice cream. So I did. Truthfully, I think it’s just a so-so combo, but my hubby loves it.

Vanilla Caramel Cookie Ice Cream

Vanilla Caramel Cookie Ice Cream

I tried another vanilla ice cream recipe for this, though, that hubby claims is better than his beloved Hagen Daaz. At Galley Gourmet, Nicole used the French Vanilla Ice Cream from David Liebovitz’s book The Perfect Scoop, but she modified it by adding some corn syrup and vodka. It certainly does create a soft, creamy, rich, and easy-to-scoop ice cream.

Oh, and if you ever have a ruined cake, you can try a trifle for a rescue mission. I had to do that with a burnt chocolate bundt cake a couple years ago, but I successfully turned that disaster into Chocolate Berry Trifles. I got the idea from Michelle at Brown-Eyed Baker and her carrot cake disaster rescue: Carrot Cake Trifle.

Chocolate Berry Trifle

Chocolate Berry Trifle

With all this baking, I can hardly wait for Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite of the holidays because it’s all about family, friends, and food. And I look forward to making Turkey Tetrazzini again from the broth I’ll make from the leftover carcass and all the meat I’ll get from those bones. It ranks as one of the most delicious savory recipes, I think, to come out of my oven.

Turkey Tetrazzini

Turkey Tetrazzini

What’s your favorite food at Thanksgiving? Try asking that at the dinner table. Not one person said turkey the year someone posed that question! My favorite: my mom’s sauerkraut. Or maybe Ladera’s stuffing.

Okay, only 11 more days until Turkey Day!! Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday filled with gratitude.

Magic Custard Cake

MagicCake1

Three magical layers that appear during baking: crusty bottom, custard middle, airy meringue top

Day One…Wednesday

I spy the picture of the Magic Custard Cake. I devour the blog post. I’m totally intrigued.

Day Two…Thursday

I’m dreaming of that Magic Cake. I’m exhausted after dealing with adolescents all day. I mix up and bake the Magic Cake anyway. It’s good. Really good. Will I manage to save some until Saturday to take pics for the blog? Immense tug-o-war between willpower and desire…

Day Three…Friday

I resist eating the rest of the Magic Cake for breakfast. Must get pics; must get pics.

Dreaming of variations of Magic Cake on drive to work: vanilla bean, orange zest, cinnamon…

I get home very late and sneak a bite…or two. Total willpower to resist eating it all. Still need to get some photos.

Day Four…Saturday 

Ahh, the weekend. Glorious weekend. Sleeping in. No rushing. Must take picture of Magic Cake. First, sneak a bite…or two. Snap. Snap. Snap. Pictures done. Ahh, delicious forkful after forkful of Magic Cake.

Uh oh…no more Magic Cake!

Magic indeed, folks! Magical in taste as well as form.

Let’s talk taste first. Light–in texture and taste and sweetness. A bit eggy, yes, but less so after a stint in the fridge. Over the top with a dusting of powdered sugar. I can imagine how stellar it would taste with some slices of strawberry or a drizzle of berry sauce. I had totally planned to make some blackberry sauce to test out my idea, but hubby ate the few berries I had set aside. Next time…

Now let’s talk form. That’s the totally fun and magical part about this cake. The batter magically transforms to make a crust, a custard middle, and an airy meringue-like top. How in the world does that happen??? Any science buffs out there who can offer an explanation? I’m thoroughly fascinated and want to know what’s going on.

So, the batter has two components: egg whites beaten to stiffness and a liquid-y portion. The eggs whites get folded into the liquid. As I was folding, the egg whites just looked like big glacier chunks floating around. I didn’t want to overmix, so I just left the chunks, but I did fold until they were about 1-inch bits. It ended up creating a slightly mountainous terrain finish to the top of the cake, but I liked the look. It gave it lots of golden peaks and valleys.

I’m guessing the magic layering happens from a separation of the ingredients. Here’s my explanation: the heaviness of the flour settles to the bottom to make the crust; the lightness of the egg whites rises to create the meringue-like top; the yolks get stuck in the middle to form the custard. Sounds logical to me. But hey, I’m not a science buff. Just hypothesizing here.

I have visions of flavor variations for the cake. Wouldn’t flecks of vanilla bean add a smidge of heightened flavor? How about a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg for a fall flair? Or orange zest to brighten the cake for spring?

Well, two days after reading about the Magic Cake, the same bloggers from whom I found this delightful cake posted their variation: Chocolate!! Woo hoo!!! Now that’s a flavor variation that scores a homerun. You can bet I’ll be making that one sooner rather than later, for sure.

Now go have some fun and whip up this Magic Cake. Watch it transform. Be amazed.

MagicCake2

Magic Custard Cake

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 cups milk
  • 4 room temperature eggs, whites and yolks separated
  • 1 1/4 cups (150 g) powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp. water
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp. distilled white vinegar (or 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly butter an 8×8-inch baking dish.
  2. In bowl of stand mixer, whip egg whites until stiff peaks form, about 10 minutes. Begin at low speed and as whites begin to foam, increase speed to medium high. As egg whites are mixing, add vinegar (this helps to stabilize the egg whites as well as make them fluffier while baking).
  3. While egg whites are mixing, melt butter; set aside to cool a bit.
  4. Also while egg whites are mixing, heat milk to lukewarm (between 98-105 degrees F); set aside.
  5. In a separate large bowl, mix yolks and sugar at medium-high until light.
  6. Add melted butter and water; mix at medium-low until blended, about 2 minutes.
  7. Add flour; mix at medium-low speed until evenly blended.
  8. Slowly add milk and vanilla extract, mixing on low (or by hand), until blended. Batter will be liquidy.
  9. Gently fold egg whites into batter in three batches (be sure to fold; if you stir, you will deflate the egg whites). Expect egg whites to float around, but mix until the chunks are about 1-inch in size.
  10. Pour batter into the 8×8-inch dish; bake for 45-60 minutes, until the top is golden. Due to custard middle, expect a slightly jiggly final product.
  11. Cool cake completely before cutting. You can expedite the cooling process by placing cake in the fridge.
  12. Serve as is or adorn with a dusting of powdered sugar, fresh fruit, or a fruit sauce.

SOURCE: White on Rice Couple (and their chocolate version, too)

Ho Ho Cake

HoHoCake

Have you ever eaten Ho Ho’s, the cream-filled cylindrical pinwheel cakes coated in chocolate? Chocolate and cream. Oh my. I remember eating the Little Debbie version in my childhood. I loved to unroll it and savor every sugary bite. For some reason, unrolling it seemed to me to stretch out the amount of sweet goodness.

image from google.com

The ho ho cylindrical treat; image from google.com

Well, now you can recreate the flavor in pan form for a much easier and tastier version. Loaded with chocolate and layered with a cream-filled middle, this will make your eaters oooh and aaah, as my eaters did on Christmas day.

P.S. The cream filling sounds a bit strange since it’s made with flour and shortening in the ingredients, but trust me, it tastes great!

P.S.S. I found this cake to taste even better the following day…don’t know why but it did.

Ho Ho Cake

INGREDIENTS

Cake

  • use either a boxed chocolate cake mix (18.25 ounces)

or Make a Chocolate Cake from Scratch (adapted from Hershey’s Chocolate Cake):

  • 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp. (7.45 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp.Hershey’s cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 tsp. espresso powder (optional, but it helps deepen the chocolate flavor)

Cream Filling

  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 5 tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening

Icing

  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
  • 3 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled slightly
  • 2 tbsp. whole milk
  • 2 tbsp. hot water
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS

  1. To make cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 9 x 13-inch brownie pan (mine is 9 x 13 x 1.5 inches). If using boxed cake mix, use a larger jellyroll pan, 10 x 15 inches. If you have the larger jellyroll pan and make the cake from scratch, use the full Hershey’s cake recipe, so check the original link to Hershey’s. I altered it to fit the smaller pan.
  2. In a large bowl, sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Add milk, oil, eggs, and vanilla; beat on medium speed with mixer for 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in boiling water. Batter will be thin. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  5. Bake 30-35 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cake before adding other layers.
  6. To make cream filling: Combine the milk and flour in a small saucepan; cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens to the consistency of pudding, 5-8 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
  7. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream together the sugar, butter, and shortening until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  8. Add the cooled flour/milk mixture; beat on high for 7 minutes.
  9. Spread onto the cooled cake. Refrigerate until set. (I didn’t alter the ingredient measurements to fit the smaller 9 x 13 cake, so you’ll end up with some extra cream.)
  10. To make icing: Melt chocolate using the double boiler method by placing a heatproof bowl over a pan filled with water that reaches just below the bowl and heat the water to a simmer, not a boil. Alternatively, melt in the microwave by heating in 15-30 second increments, stirring between each increment, until melted. Cool slightly.
  11. In a large bowl, use electric mixer on medium-high speed to mix together powdered sugar, melted/cooled butter, melted/cooled chocolate, milk, hot water, and vanilla extract until smooth and creamy.
  12. Spread icing over cream filling.
  13. Serve either at room temperature or cold, from refrigerator. (I prefer room temperature.)

SOURCE: adapted from Brown-Eyed Baker

Pumpkin Buttermilk Pound Cake with Caramel Icing

This cake looked so lovely when I first saw a picture of it on Chris’s The Cafe Sucre Farine blog (a delightful blog, by the way). I immediately saved it and knew I would make it for one of the Salad Club lunches at work (we have a salad club lunch every three weeks and everyone brings something; I always sign up for dessert so I can tackle my mega list of desserts-to-make).

Today I shared the cake with my coworkers…and they received it well–not a slice was left! I just might make it again for Thanksgiving or maybe Christmas…

I’ve always loved pound cake–so dense and moist and buttery. Add some pumpkin and it takes it to a festive level for the holidays. Even better, pour some caramel icing and you have now taken it to a heavenly level. Festive and heavenly–quite a winning combo.

Pumpkin Buttermilk Pound Cake with Caramel Icing

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INGREDIENTS

Cake

  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup or 1 stick) butter, unsalted & softened
  • 13.5 ounces (3 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • optional but flavorful: 3 tbsp. bourbon, cognac, or rum
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla (add an additional 1/2 tsp. if skipping the alcohol)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature (let sit in warm water for 10 minutes to bring to room temp)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • optional: 4 ounces (1 cup) pecan halves, toasted and chopped

Note: I recommend mixing up extra of the ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove spices and increasing the amount in the recipe. It calls for 4 5/8 tsp. total, but I would increase that by at least half to intensify the spicy, pumpkin flavor in the cake. I found it to be rather subtle.

Caramel Icing

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 4 ounces (1/2 cups or 1 stick) butter
  • 5 tbsp. milk
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

DIRECTIONS

Cake

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Generously spray a 10-12 cup tube pan with baking spray. Rub allover with a paper towel, then spray lightly one more time. (I used shortening and then dusted lightly with flour.)
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, and cloves.
  4. In a measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, bourbon, and vanilla.
  5. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed for 5 minutes.
  6. Gradually add the oil, beating until combined.
  7. Add the brown sugar. Increase the mixer speed to high and beat, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
  8. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well on medium-high speed after each addition.
  9. Reduce speed to low and add the pumpkin (if you add it while on high speed, the batter will splatter all over the kitchen counter, walls, floor, and yourself!).
  10. Slowly pour in the buttermilk mixture and mix until combined.
  11. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the batter, mixing just until combined.
  12. If using pecans, use a rubber spatula to fold them in at this point.
  13. Pour batter into prepared pan, smooth the top, and tap the pan on the counter a couple of times to settle the batter.
  14. Bake until a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it, about 45-55 minutes.
  15. Cook the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes, then invert the cake onto the rack, removing the pan, and cool completely, at least 3 hours.

Caramel Icing (see finecooking.com for a slightly different glaze)

  1. Combine the sugar, butter, milk, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and cook for 3 minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat; add vanilla extract. (At this point, the icing will be the consistency of thick syrup.)
  3. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for about 1 minute.
  4. Add powdered sugar and beat again until smooth. If needed, add more milk to make an icing that can easily be drizzled.
  5. Set the cake on a wire rack over a rimmed, foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle icing over completely cooled cake, allowing to drip down the sides.

Notes:

  • Sprinkle icing with toasted walnuts or pecans, if desired. Or try the sugared, roasted nuts on the finecooking.com link below.
  • For best flavor and texture, the cake should be baked at least one day before serving. Store, un-iced, at room temperature for up to two days–just wrap it tightly in plastic wrap.
  • The cake can also be frozen, iced or un-iced, for 3-4 weeks. Flash freeze first (freeze, unwrapped, for 1-2 hours), then wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then in foil. Return to freezer.

SOURCE: adapted from The Cafe Sucre Farine who adapted from Fine Cooking

Applesauce Cake

Many of the recipes I try are found from me just surfing around the food blogosphere. That’s how I came across this applesauce cake recipe. Several months ago, it piqued my interest since I had one jar of seckel pear jam (more like pear sauce)  and one jar of plum sauce (recipe below), so I thought I’d use them up by replacing the applesauce with them in this recipe. If you use unsweetened applesauce, this tasty cake contains no sugar. And it’s gluten free. Yay!

Surprisingly, this unassuming little cake packed a huge punch in both flavor and simplicity. Graced with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, this dessert combo had me looking forward to dessert nightly until, sadly, it was all gone. Boo hoo. Luckily, I can easily whip up more.

Applesauce Cake

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INGREDIENTS

Cake

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup real maple syrup
  • 4 beaten eggs
  • 2 cups unsweetened applesauce (I used one cup pear sauce and one cup plum sauce)
  • 2 cups oat flour (You can purchase oat flour, but it’s easy to make: blend oats in my high-powered blender or food processor until it turns to flour)
  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. allspice
  • 3/4 cup raisins (optional)
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Frosting (optional)

  • 4 ounces butter
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter either one 9” x 13” pan or two 8” x 8” pans.
  2. Cream together butter and maple syrup. Add eggs and applesauce and beat until well combined.
  3. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in three batches, thoroughly combining after each addition.
  5. Fold in raisins and nuts if you are using them.
  6. Pour batter into prepared pans.
  7. For the smaller pans, bake just 30 minutes. If using a single, larger pan, bake for 45-50 minutes.
  8. For frosting, combine butter and cream cheese in a medium bowl and beat with a hand mixer. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla; beat to incorporate. Spread evenly on top of the cooled cake.

SOURCE: Food in Jars

Plum Sauce

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 plums, peeled and chopped (about 3 cups)
  • 3/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 3 tbsp. packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. cardamom

DIRECTIONS

  1. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes.
  2. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then pulse in food processor to break up the plum pieces. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Delicious to drizzle over ice cream, pancakes, or even pork loin roast.

Source: inspired by allrecipes.com

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Our zucchini plant starting sprouting big giant gorgeous yellow flowers, almost tropical looking. We’ve been growing squash every season for about 4-5 years now, and it wasn’t until this year that I noticed those flowers are the beginnings of the actual squash.

I mean, I had noticed them wilting on the ends of the regular-sized squash and realized the flower was part of the veggie, but I just noticed this year how teensy tiny the zukes are on the other end of these enormous flowers. I also noticed that many blossoms are waiting their turn to burst into bloom–and burst is certainly how these flowers look. I love walking out to check on the garden in the early morning light right before I head off to work and finding those gorgeous flowers smiling at me.

Last week I picked our first zucchini. I chopped it up and tossed it into our salad. I aimed for the healthy route.

This week I picked our second zucchini and decided to make one heck of a yummy dessert recipe: Chocolate Zucchini Cake.

Yes, you read that right. Zucchini in a cake. And it actually tastes pretty darn good. You can’t even tell veggies are hiding out in there. They help keep the cake super moist and tender.

I was skeptical when a friend first shared the recipe with me, claiming its fame. “Uh huh, right,” I thought. But this is someone whose opinion I trust, so I tried it. And I liked it. Actually, I loved it. The cake, like I said, is tender and moist. The chocolate chips on top along with the walnuts add extra sweetness and crunch.

I usually bake this in a 9×13 pan, but this time I baked half the recipe in a round cake pan and the rest in cupcake form. Happy to report that it works in all forms and looks more elegant in round form for party serving while the cupcakes make a handy-dandy portable size–perfect for the lunch box.

So, if you like chocolate, try this recipe.

If you have squash galore growing in your garden, try this.

If you want to be adventurous and experience something different, try this.

I dare you to not like this Chocolate Zucchini Cake!

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup margarine or unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (substitute options: 1 cup milk + 1 tbsp. lemon juice, vinegar, or cream of tartar, then let stand for 10 minutes; will have similar sour/acid content of buttermilk but not as thick)
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tbsp. cocoa
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 cups peeled and grated zucchini (I don’t peel mine)
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS

  1. Cream together butter, oil, and sugar.
  2. Add eggs, vanilla, and buttermilk; beat well.
  3. Stir together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt; add to butter mixture.
  4. Stir in grated zucchini.
  5. Pour into 9”x13” pan; top with nuts and chips. Pat those chips and nuts down into the batter a bit or else they come loose when the cake is done baking.
  6. Bake at 325 degrees F for 40-45 minutes (30-35 min. if baking in cake pan; 20-25 min. for cupcake pan).

Cake freezes well…just wrap in plastic wrap and then foil.

SOURCE: Ann R., family friend

P.S. If you need more zucchini recipes to help you work through your garden’s abundant production of squash, check out these, which helped me use up last year’s harvest:

Zucchini and Carrot Slaw with Asian Dressing

Grilled Zucchini Greek Salad

Stuffed Zucchini in Tomato Sauce

Zucchini Melt

Lemon Rosemary Zucchini Muffins

Zucchini Cheese Bread

Savory Zucchini Fries

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

I made my first ever carrot cake for Thanksgiving. It baked up moist, tender, and tasting of fall spices. The cream cheese frosting added a final divine touch. Lots of frosting, too. I increased the original recipe to make sure I had plenty (increase reflected in recipe below).

I loved the cake.

Either most everyone else did not, or there were so many other desserts that their bellies were bursting and didn’t have room for the carrot cake. I like to think it was the bellies-bursting reason. Plus, we had lots of kids as part of the holiday celebration, and as a kid, I wasn’t fond of anything that wasn’t chocolate cake or chocolate chip cookies.

Sometimes cake layers act persnickety and don’t want to fall out of the cake pan in one piece. Never fear, for if that happens, the solution is to turn your layered cake into a layered trifle instead. To see how that looks, head on over to Brown-Eyed Baker to see how she handled a potential baking disaster and turned it into success.

Or, to prevent the cakes from sticking to the pans, grease the pans well (I love Wilton’s Cake Release product, which I buy at Micheals). Even consider lining the bottom with parchment paper cut to fit the pan.

A few other useful tools and sites to check out for frosting layered cakes: a cake spatula and a rotating cake stand and Zoe Bakes for tutorials on how to frost cakes.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

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INGREDIENTS

Cake

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. ground allspice
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 3 cups grated carrots
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup shredded coconut, sweetened or unsweetened (I omitted this)
  • 1/2 cup raisins (I omitted this)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 4 eggs

Frosting

  • 12 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 lbs. (5 to 5 1/4 cups) powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS

  1. Position the racks in the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour three 9×2-inch round cake pans. Put two pans on one baking sheet and one on another.
  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, and salt.
  3. In another bowl, stir together carrots, chopped nuts, coconut, and raisins.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the sugar and oil together on medium speed until smooth.
  5. Add the eggs one by one, and continue to beat until the batter is even smoother.
  6. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing only until the dry ingredients disappear.
  7. Gently mix in the chunky ingredients.
  8. Divide the batter among the three baking pans. Bake for 40-50 minutes, rotating pans from top to bottom and front to bak at the midway point, until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean (the cakes will have just started to come away from the sides of the pans).
  9. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes and unmold them. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up. (The cakes can be wrapped airtight and kept at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months.)
  10. To make the frosting: Beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth and creamy.
  11. Gradually add the powdered sugar and continue to beat until the frosting is velvety smooth.
  12. Beat in the vanilla extract until well-combined.
  13. To assemble, stack the layers, spreading a generous amount of frosting between layers, followed by covering the top and sides. Garnish and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving. You can garnish with chopped walnuts, or you can save some frosting to color orange and green and pipe carrots on top of the cake.

SOURCE: Brown-Eyed Baker who adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

The Chocolate Cake and Frosting Bake Off: Hershey’s Vs. Barefoot Contessa & Martha Stewart

In one corner we have the Hershey’s Chocolate Cake with Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Frosting.

In the other corner we have the Barefoot Contessa’s Chocolate Cake paired with Martha Stewart’s Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting.

And the winner is…

…well…

….both, really.

So sorry I can’t give you a clear winner. Out of 20 birthday guests enjoying these cakes for my nephew’s party, the crowd’s favorites were evenly split! I was really hoping for an identifiable winner, but alas, that was not to be had.

What I can offer you, though, are my observations and taste reactions:

I’ve tried several of Ina Garten of the Barefoot Contessa food show’s recipes and all have ranked successful. This cake ranks, too.

The Hershey’s recipe came out a winner on several blogger’s sites as well.

Both cake recipes are nearly identical. One uses milk; the other buttermilk. One uses 1 1/2 tsp. each of baking soda and baking powder; the other uses 2 tsp. and 1 tsp. One uses a bit more vanilla extract. One uses coffee, too. And those are the only differences. Both tasted moist, sweet, and had plentiful chocolate flavor.

I found the Hershey’s recipe to be less crumbly than Ina’s cake after baking, which was beneficial when coating it with frosting. I didn’t even need a crumb coating to frost that one, but I did for Ina’s cake (definitely check out Zoe Bakes for her tutorials on how to frost cakes).

The Hershey’s frosting is composed of A LOT of powdered sugar–3 cups–making it ultra sweet. And the cocoa makes it ultra chocolate-y. It spread easily.  I liked that I didn’t need to refrigerate the cake after frosting it with this recipe. And it mixes up dark, so it actually looks like chocolate. No need to use a mixer on this one–just melt and mix in one pot! That’s a big plus. And it takes only minutes…very quick.

The Swiss Meringue Buttercream frosting is ultra smooth and silky and creamy. The sweet factor is subtle, making this one suitable if you aren’t a big fan of overly sugary frosting. It uses 4 sticks of butter! But that is why it comes out so silky and creamy. Melted chocolate is added at the end, but the ton of butter makes the brown coloring very light, and I think it isn’t nearly as stunning as the dark color of the Hershey’s frosting. It does pipe nicely, though, for decorations. And if you are masterful at frosting a cake (which I’m still working on), this one can be made super smooth. Cakes frosted with this recipe need refrigeration (otherwise the butter in the frosting gets all melty and goopy), and you need to take it out of the fridge about 30+ minutes prior to serving; if not, the frosting will be cold and slightly hard. It does take awhile to mix it all up but the final frosting is worth the effort.

Although both cakes and both frostings have pluses, my personal favorites are the Hershey’s recipes. I love the ease, the sweetness, the strong chocolate flavor, the dark color. This one is a true chocolate lover’s cake. And if you check out the website with the recipe, it says you can bake this up as cupcakes, in a 13x9x2 pan cake, or in a bundt pan. Very versatile.

These two cakes were only my 4th and 5th attempts at layered cakes with frosting. I’m so excited to just have the cakes come out of the pan in one piece. My secret is the Wilton’s Cake Release product, which can be found at Michael’s. Prior to that discovery, to my dismay the cakes always broke into pieces and I wasn’t able to frost and layer. Sooooooo agravating!

And I finally invested in a cake spatula and a rotating cake stand. Both of those make frosting the cakes much much easier. At not too much expense, either–especially if you use Michael’s coupons.

Hershey’s Chocolate Cake and Frosting

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INGREDIENTS

Cake

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup Hershey’s cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water

Frosting 

(I increased the original recipe by half since I wanted a thicker layer of frosting between the cake layers and around the whole cake)

  • 1 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarin
  • 1 cup Hershey’s cocoa (I used 1/2 regular and 1/2 dark)
  • 4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 7 tbsp. milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS

Cake

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans (or use Wilton’s Cake Release; I found it at Michael’s).
  2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl.
  3. Add milk, oil, eggs, and vanilla; beat on medium speed with mixer for 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in boiling water. Batter will be thin. Pour batter into prepared pans.
  5. Bake 30-35 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire cooling racks. Cool completely.
  6. Frost and decorate as desired.
  7. Store at room temperature until ready to serve.

Frosting

  1. Melt butter.
  2. Sift cocoa to eliminate lumps, then stir into butter.
  3. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, mixing to a spreading consistency. Add a small amount of additional milk if needed.
  4. Stir in vanilla.

Yield: About 2 cups frosting.

SOURCE: adapted from Hersheys.com but originally found on Brown-Eyed Baker

Ina Garten’s Chocolate Cake with Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 extra large eggs, room temperature (I used 3 large eggs; you can place eggs from fridge in hot water for a couple minutes to get them to room temp)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup hot coffee or 1 cup boiling water + 1 tsp. espresso powder

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare two 8 inch x 2 inch round cake pans (I used 9 inch): line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans (or use Wilton’s Cake Release; I found it at Michael’s).
  2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined.
  3. In another bowl or large measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla; gently whisk.
  4. With mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine. Use a spatula to scrape sides and bottom of bowl to catch any pesky flour mixture hiding below. Batter will be thin.
  5. Pour batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35-40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack to completely cool.
  6. When cooled, frost cake.

SOURCE: Cake: Foodnetwork.com (Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa food show)

Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

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INGREDIENTS

  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp. sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • for chocolate buttercream: 4 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled (use a high-quality brand, such as Callebut or Scharfenberger, for maximum flavor; I found Scharfenberger at Whole Foods)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Combine eggs whites, sugar, and salt in the heatproof bowl of a standing mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly by hand until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved (mixture should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips).
  2. Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Starting on low and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, whisk until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Continue mixing until the mixture is fluffy and glossy and completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl), about 8-10 minutes.
  3. With mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter two tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. If frosting looks soupy or curdled, that’s okay; just keep mixing and it will come together.
  4. Once all butter has been added, whisk in vanilla. If making a chocolate variation, fold in 4 1/2 ounces melted and cooled semisweet chocolate along with vanilla. Switch to the paddle attachment and continue beating on low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 3-5 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl with a flexible spatula; continue beating until the frosting is completely smooth.
  5. Optional: To tint buttercream, first reserve some for toning down the color, if necessary. Add gel paste a drop at a time to the remaining buttercream (Americolor is my favorite brand and I buy it at Classic Cake Decorations in Garden Grove or Cookin’ Stuff in Torrance, but Michael’s sells another brand as well). Blend after each addition with the mixer using the paddle attachment or a flexible spatula until desired shade is achieved.
  6. Keep buttercream at room temperature if using the same day, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to three days or freeze up to one month. Before using, bring to room temperature and beat with paddle attachment on low speed again, about 5 minutes (expect the soupy, curdled look again–keep mixing and it will soon smooth out).

Yield: about 5 cups

SOURCE: Martha Stewart and Annie’s Eats

Chocolate Strawberry Layered Cake–Works for Lactose Intolerance!

The perfection and beauty of layered cakes evade my culinary skills, but I refuse to give up trying. Hence, I continue to attempt them, having made several cakes in the past few months but none worth blogging about. Today’s post, though, is a cake that I finally feel is semi-worthy of posting.

First of all, I’ve gotten to the point of getting the cakes out of the pan in one whole piece. They used to break into hunks with a good chunk of the cake still sticking to the pan. Argh, such frustration. But now, I’ve discovered Wilton Cake Release, a thick, squeezable oil that I rub all over the cake pan, and voila! the cake releases with no problem. Yay!! (I bought it at Michael’s, by the way.)

Second, I have yet to master getting the filling just the right thickness, for I’ve made them too thick or too thin or very lopsided. On today’s cake, I really enjoyed the roasted balsamic strawberry filling and it seemed fairly evenly spread; however, the cake layers fell apart after cutting rather than the slice retaining its wedge shape. Not quite sure what the problem was…maybe the chocolate ganache layer all around was too heavy? Maybe I made the filling too thick in the first place? Again, I’ll continue practicing.

Third, not only have I struggled to get the filling evenly spread, but I seem to have the same issue with the overall frosting. This particular cake was better…just luck, I think. And getting it spread to look pretty…well, that will take quite a few more attempts. See what I mean by looking at my photo below. Although I’m not too proud to show this, I thought I’d share my culinary journey and the bumps in the road. I do like the way the strawberry decorations on top worked out, by the way.

I have several reasons I want to share this cake, though. It contains no milk or butter, so those with any type of lactose intolerance can enjoy it. And it is super moist. And rich in chocolate taste. And very easy to mix up.

I knew I wanted to have a strawberry filling, and since lately I’m infatuated with roasted balsamic strawberries, I knew I wanted to concoct some kind of filling with this. I tried to modify a raspberry filling I saw on another blog site (recipe included below), but I think I may have made my concoction too thick. The rich, concentrated flavor of the roasted strawberries complemented the chocolate well, though, so I need to maybe cook the filling a bit less to thin it to help it make the layers stick together better.

Speaking of filling, I was going to just add cornstarch to the already roasted strawberries, but luckily I did a bit of internet research and learned that cornstarch thickens as it is heated; therefore, I needed to heat my mixture rather than just add cornstarch. For more info about cornstarch and how it works, check out this website.

Anyhow, I spread a bit of the ganache on the layers before adding the strawberry filling. My taste buds didn’t sense this too much when I sampled the cake, so either I may leave it out in the future or maybe I’d spread it on thicker. But with a ganache coating over the entire cake, which is quite rich, I think I can leave it off on the layers. Besides, the cake had plenty of chocolate flavor.

Finally, I needed some kind of frosting to cover the entire cake but needed it to work for those not able to eat milk products. Amazing how many substitutions are out there in the  internet world once you begin to do a bit of research. Since the site on which I originally found the cake used a ganache coating, I wanted to do the same; luckily I found a milk-free substitution in the form of coconut milk. Note: coconut milk comes in a can and the non-lite version is super thick. I found it in the cultural foods section of the market. The recipe below will include a dairy-version ganache as well as the nondairy version I used. Another note: if you are going for dairy free, watch the ingredients on the chocolate, for some of them include milk, too. Fortunately, I personally don’t have to consider all the ingredients, but when baking for someone who does, I learned a few things.

If you want to use some kind of regular buttercream frosting, see Annie’s Eats site for how she flavored hers to match her filling.

Overall, I loved the melding of flavors: the richness of the moist chocolate cake, the intense sweetness of the roasted balsamic strawberry filling, and the dark chocolate taste of the ganache coating. The flavor combos are a winner; however, my putting it all together and decorating it successfully are still working their way toward victory. I am determined to triumph, though!

Chocolate Strawberry Layered Cake

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Cake

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp. distilled white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. instant coffee granules
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F with rack in center of oven.
  2. Grease three 9×2-inch round cake pans (or you can use two but bake a bit longer).
  3. Whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl (but don’t use a mixer).
  4. Combine water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla in a large measuring cup. Add to the dry ingredients, and whisk until just combined (a few lumps are okay). Divide batter between prepared cake pans–2 cups per pan–then bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 18 minutes (50-60 for one springform pan; 35-40 for two cake pans ).
  5. Cool cake on rack for 15 minutes, then invert them onto the rack. Leave cake upside down (to flatten any domes) to cool completely.

 

Roasted Balsamic Strawberry Filling

INGREDIENTS

DIRECTIONS

  1. Drain liquid from strawberries, then add enough water to liquid to total 3/4 cup.
  2. Add liquid to medium saucepan with cornstarch. Heat over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally until the mixture begins to bubble and thicken.
  3. Once thickened, remove from heat and fold in drained and chopped berries with a spatula.
  4. Cover and chill until ready to use (filling will continue to thicken as it chills).

Other Filling Options

Raspberry Filling from Annie’s Eats Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cake recipe

INGREDIENTS

  • 16 oz. frozen raspberries, thawed
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

DIRECTIONS

  1. Drain thawed berries, reserving juice in a liquid measuring cup. Add enough water so that the juice total equals 1 1/4 cups.
  2. Add the liquid to a medium saucepan with the sugar and cornstarch. Heat over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally until the mixture begins to bubble and thicken. Continue whisking so no lumps form.
  3. Once thickened, remove from heat and whisk in lemon juice. Fold in the drained berries with a spatula.
  4. Cover and chill until ready to use. (Filling will continue to thicken as it chills.)

Maraschino Cherry Filling from Barbara Bakes

INGREDIENTS

  • 10 oz jar maraschino cherries, chopped
  • 1/2 cup maraschino cherry liquid
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp butter

DIRECTIONS

  1. In small saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch.
  2. Gradually add in cherry liquid, stirring to dissolve sugar.
  3. Stir in cherries. Cook over medium-high heat until mixture comes to a boil and thickens.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in butter.
  5. Cool completely before using.

Ganache

Dairy-Free Dark Chocolate Ganache

INGREDIENTS

  • 16 oz. high-quality dairy-free chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used the Baker’s Squares and mixed both unsweetened and semisweet just because that is what I had on hand; however, bittersweet chocolate is more flavorful than unsweetened chocolate)
  • 1 (15-oz) can coconut milk (not the lite variety)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • NOTE: although I didn’t use Nucoa butter, which I’m told is a substitute for those with lactose intolerance, I might add some next time to more closely match the recipe below for the dairy version of the ganache…I’m curious to see what effect it would have

DIRECTIONS

  1. Place coarsely chopped chocolate in medium-sized bowl; set aside.
  2. In small saucepan over medium-high heat, heat coconut milk until bubbles just begin to appear around the edges and steam rises from the surface. Pour the hot coconut milk over the chopped chocolate and let stand without stirring for 5 minutes; stir until glossy and smooth, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the vanilla extract and stir until incorporated.
  4. Cool until desired consistency for spreading and piping. (This may take awhile.)

Dairy Ganache

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tbsp. butter, at room temperature

DIRECTIONS

  1. Place chocolate in a medium bowl.
  2. Heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until simmering. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let sit 1-2 minutes. Whisk until mixture is smooth and homogenous.
  3. Whisk in butter 1 tbsp. at a time until completely incorporated.
  4. Let the ganache sit to thicken a bit so that is it suitable for spreading and piping. (To speed thickening, place bowl in fridge or freezer and whisk every 10 minutes to ensure even cooling until desired consistency is reached. Transfer about 1/2 cup of the thickened ganache to a pastry bag fitted with a plain round tip about 1/2-inch in diameter (or place in ziplog bag and cut a bit of corner when ready to pipe). Reserve another 1/2 cup of ganache for later decorative piping.

Cake Assembly

  1. To assemble the cake, place one of the cooled cake layers on a cake board or serving platter. If you want to have a ganache layer under the fruit filling, spread 1/2 cup of the ganache in an even layer over the cake.
  2. Using the reserved, thickened ganache in the pastry bag (or ziploc bag with corner cut off), pipe a border around the perimeter of the cake layer. This will act as a well to hold in the filling.
  3. Spoon some of the filling inside the ganache border in an even layer.
  4. Top with another layer of cake and repeat process: layer with another 1/2 cup of ganache, create a ganache border, and add additional raspberry filling. Top with remaining cake layer.
  5. At this point, either frost entire cake in ganache, or frost with buttercream frosting, or simply pour ganache over top and let it drip down sides.
  6. Chill cake in fridge. If using ganache coating over entire cake, take it out of fridge about 1/2 hour before ready to serve, otherwise ganache will be hard and brittle.

SOURCES: adapted from Passionate About Baking (she has awesome pictures of her cake!), Barbara Bakes, and Annie’s Eats