Upgraded Easy Chocolate Cake

So my go-to chocolate cake recipe has always been this one, which is quick, easy, and conveniently vegan. However, I will admit that the cake itself is more of a base for decoration/embellishment, as opposed to being an independently delicious chocolate cake. And sometimes you just need a chocolate cake that’s delicious in its own right, you know?

I decided to branch out a little and try out a different cake recipe– one that still forgoes use of the stand mixer and avoids softened butter, but which increases the cocoa and has a few more flavor-enhancing ingredients. It ended up being excellent– more chocolate flavor than my old recipe, with a texture that stays moist even when taken directly from the refrigerator. While I’ll keep the old recipe on hand for pantry emergencies or vegan birthday celebrations, I’ll be switching to this one for my chocolate cake needs going forward!

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Brown Butter Pound Cake with Peaches, Butterscotch Sauce and Whipped Sour Cream

Well, there’s a monster of a title for this dessert… but each component is so important that I just couldn’t leave any of them out!

Now that summer is drawing to a close I’ve been trying to take advantage of summer fruits as much as possible, so when I had occasion to make dessert for a crowd I decided to center it on fresh peaches, which looked great at the market and were just squeezably ripe (but sadly did not live up to their promise flavor-wise). Since one of my favorite uses of fresh fruit is to spoon it over an otherwise basic cake, I found a recipe that was only slightly fancied-up with brown butter, and pulled out my Gothic bundt pan to make it look extra pretty. For once, the cake unmolded perfectly (see tips below) and the brown butter added some nice depth of flavor. I could have stopped there, of course, but once I tasted the peaches I knew I’d need something more.

Enter this tasty butterscotch sauce, which I got from David Lebovitz. If you recall, I’ve had previous experience trying to improve mediocre peaches with butterscotch sauce, so I knew it would help. Add a softly whipped topping made from heavy cream and sour cream, and the extra sweetness and tanginess did a lot to make this dessert a success, despite the disappointing peaches.

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Strawberries and Cream Eclairs

You know, despite having used choux pastry to make cream puffs (a LOT), breakfast pastry, and fancy French praline desserts, I’d never used it to make ├ęclairs before now. I wonder why? Perhaps because I tend to like my desserts either tiny and adorable (like, bite-sized), or big and easy to serve to a crowd. In any event, I was recently invited to a last-minute dinner party and needed something light, summery, and capable of being ready to transport in 90 minutes or less.

A quick scan of the kitchen showed that I had no fruit to bake into a crumble or cake, no thawed butter I could use to make frosting (even if I’d had time to bake and cool a cake enough to be frosted), and no leftover cake scraps or cookies that I’d ordinarily be able to use as the base for something interesting and maybe ice cream-based. And then I thought of choux– made of pantry staples, it would bake up quickly and could be filled with any number of things; plus, it would be best filled on-site, which would give me a little more time to acquire fruit or something else tasty for a filling on the way to the party.

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Soy-Marinated Eggs

Lately one of my favorite lunches has been a simplified variation on this egg and rice bowl from Smitten Kitchen— I love the refreshing combination of rice with lightly pickled vegetables and punchy vinaigrette, but I often don’t have the patience to crisp the rice or freshly fry an egg. Enter the soy sauce egg– I discovered it one day and had to try it, and once I did, it earned a permanent place in my lunch rotation.

What is a soy sauce egg? It’s an egg that’s been boiled to medium-hard (with a soft, jammy center, not a runny or crumbly one) and then marinated in a sweet/salty sauce to give it extra flavor. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the veggie-heavy rice bowl and gives a little heft and protein to my lunch!

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Cut Chenille Baby Blanket

As I’ve mentioned before, I like to make baby blankets as gifts for friends and family with new babies. The quilted kind is fun, since I get to pick a bunch of cute coordinating fabrics, but I also love cut chenille blankets– they may be a bit more trouble to make (okay, a lot more trouble), but the results are just amazing.

Making cut chenille is easy, but time-consuming. You’ll need:

  • Main fabric (the cute one that’s going to show)
  • 4 layers of flannel in coordinating colors*
  • Thread in a color that’s unnoticeable when stitched on top of your main fabric.
  • Thread in a color that’s unnoticeable when stitched on top of your backing fabric.
  • 1/2 yard fabric to make binding

*I’ve previously used three layers only, but then you sometimes end up seeing the back side of your main cotton fabric between the rows of chenille. I’d prefer not to, so I’m using four layers this time and only cutting through three of them.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Bars

I think I’ve determined that the perfect picnic dessert is a bar cookie. Usually quick and easy to prepare, they slice up into conveniently-square-shaped bars that fit nicely into packing containers, plus they are generally sturdy and don’t need refrigeration, plates, or forks. So when I had a picnic to attend recently, I eyed my stash of frozen rhubarb and decided to make strawberry-rhubarb bars to bring along!

I admit that I made a few tweaks (both intentional and unintentional) to the recipe I found online, but I think they worked out just fine.

Like many of the recipe reviewers, I doubled the recipe and par-baked the crust for 10 minutes just to ensure that the bottoms of the bars were firm and sliceable– those were the intentional changes. Unintentionally, however, I put in 2 tablespoons of cornstarch instead of 2 teaspoons, which I worried would make the filling too chewy but which turned out fine. The bars held together well even when not refrigerated, and were really delicious.

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Caramelized Apple Sausage Rolls

For some reason, for my annual historical picnic I always gravitate towards British-y foods, rather than “traditional” American fare. Tea sandwiches, mini pork pies, and now sausage rolls.

I’d never made sausage rolls before (pigs in blankets don’t count!), but I never do things halfway– so rather than just get some pre-made sausage at the store, I decided to make things interesting and try out a recipe I found from The Flavor Bender, which includes caramelized apples and onions for an extra layer of flavor and texture.

I really enjoyed these– they were perfectly sized for 2-3 bites and were nice and juicy while still remaining flaky on the outside. I did find them just a bit sweeter than I generally like my sausage to be, so I edited the recipe below to reduce the sugary ingredients for better balance. Hope you like them!

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