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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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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Raspberry-Rose Lamingtons

As you know, I’ve always had a thing for cute desserts, particularly if they’re tiny and pastel-colored. When considering what kind of sweet to make for this year’s historical picnic, I came across a recipe for strawberry lamingtons, and suddenly couldn’t get them out of my mind.

I admit I’d never actually had lamingtons before, much less made them, but they looked easy enough– cubes of sponge cake dipped in glaze and coated in finely shredded coconut. Traditionally the glaze is chocolate, but apparently strawberry is a common variation– and it’s made with jello!

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Maple Cake With Maple Rum Glaze

After a recent trip to Montreal I wanted to bake something as a thank-you for our catsitter– after spending time surrounded by images of maple leaves, a maple cake seemed like the perfect gift!

I wanted to be mindful of potential nut allergies, so I looked for a recipe without pecans or walnuts, both of which were very common pairings with maple syrup. I ended up with a recipe from King Arthur Flour that was billed as a pound cake, but which was ultimately too light and delicate to really count as a pound cake in my opinion. That being said, the texture of the cake was perfect for a layer cake, and I will absolutely be trying to figure out how to replicate it (without the use of maple syrup) for future adventures! Can I just note that the batter smelled amazing while baking? I’d be tempted to make this just to make my house smell good… and the finished cake was buttery and maple-y, very reminiscent of pancakes with syrup (in a good way). I sprinkled a touch of kosher salt on top, just to emphasize the sweet-salty combination.

I wanted to make a pretty bundt cake, but also wanted to make another cake to eat at home since I can never give something away without taste-testing first! I doubled the recipe to make an 8-cup bundt as well as a loaf cake. (quantities below are for a single recipe) Sadly, the bundt cake refused to release cleanly from the pan and it literally fell apart on me, so it was in no condition for gifting– we’ve been eating it out of the pan with a spoon, and it’s delicious that way too! Luckily I’d lined my loaf pan with a parchment sling, so the loaf was much easier to lift out in one piece!

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Pink Peppercorn Cake with Raspberries and Rose Buttercream

So this was one of the treats I brought with me to my casting session for The Great American Baking Show. Given the timeframe I really only had a day or two to come up with the idea, but the flavor profile had been marinating in my head for a while, so it only remained to figure out how to implement it!

After some experiments with flavoring I concluded that rose-flavored cake was only mediocre and the pepper didn’t come through all that well in the frosting, so I used crushed pink peppercorns (which are really not peppercorns but are an unrelated berry) in the cake batter and made a buttercream flavored with rosewater to set it off. The floral notes really complement each other well (pink peppercorn cake may be a new favorite of mine), and adding fresh raspberries really added a punch of flavor to make it light and refreshing. I really, really like this cake as a whole, and will totally be making it again at some point.

I confess that out of paranoia over flavor and texture, I eventually made no fewer than four different versions of my cake layers for the big day, deciding at the last minute which one to use (the first one– go figure). And then my favorite cooked-flour frosting was too loose to properly frost the outside of my cake, so I had to make a second batch of frosting, this time with powdered sugar, for the outside. And while I made my initial batch of meringues with freeze-dried raspberry powder, the resulting grayish-purple color was very unattractive, so I made a second batch that was plain vanilla. So to summarize, there was a LOT of stuff leftover from making this perfect-looking cake!

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