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This is the latest version of my favorite chocolate cake recipe. It has been used (extensively) for layer cakes, sheet cakes, and cupcakes. Why a new recipe? With tweaks to the fat portion of the ingredients, this version has even more flavor (sorry, Canada, flavour), than the original, and is still simple, easy and quick to make. Oh, and if you happen to forget the butter and coconut oil in the microwave, this works as a fat-free recipe too. Ask me how I know;) I’ve also included an updated frosting recipe, because that’s what friends are for. It’s metric, because these days, that’s how I roll.

I like it. I hope you do too!

Truly Excellent Chocolate Cake, v. 2.0

Cake:
2 C. sugar (400g), half white, half brown
2 C. all-purpose flour (250g)
3/4 C. cocoa powder (88g)
2 t. (11.5g) baking soda
1 t. (4.3 g) baking powder
½+ t. (5g) kosher salt
2 eggs
1 C. buttermilk (or 1 scant cup milk, warmed with 1 T. white vinegar)*
1 C. coffee
2.8 oz. (80g) butter, melted
1.16 oz. (33g) coconut oil, melted
2 t. vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare one 9″ x 13” pan, two 8/9” cake pans, or 24 standard muffin tins, with butter and flour/cocoa powder or line with parchment paper (a lot less trouble).
2. Mix sugar, flour, cocoa, soda, powder and salt in a large bowl.
3. Add remaining ingredients, beat for 2 minutes.
4. Pour into baking pans and bake until tester comes out clean (30-35 minutes for cake pans, 35-40 minutes for large pan, or 22 minutes for cupcakes).
5. Let cool 10 minutes and remove from pan. Frost when cool.

* Note: I usually make a cup of coffee in a 2C glass measuring beaker, then add the vinegar and fill up to the two-cup line with milk. Voila!

. . . . . .

Buttercreamcheese Frosting:
100g butter, softened
160g cream cheese, softened
560g powdered sugar
pinch of salt, to taste
~½ t. vanilla
2 T. lemon juice, or some combination of lemon, orange juice concentrate, milk, cream, and/or Grand Marnier; this is the flavoring portion so tweak at will!

1. Cream butter and cheese together until whipped smooth, fluffy and white (can take up to 5 minutes but it’s worth it).
2. Sift powdered sugar, add to butter mixture in two parts, blend.
3. Add flavorings and beat another ~3 minutes until smooth, light, and spreadable. Adjust liquid as necessary to reach desired thickness.

Works well for anywhere you need a mostly white frosting, and colors well. Just ask my friend Uni the Unicorn!

Uni the Unicorn was a present for a six-year old’s birthday: Six layers of chocolate cake with buttercreamcheese frosting, a little marshmallow fondant for the eyebrows, and magic!

 

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Making yogurt is easy, affordable, and (if you’re a kitchen nerd like me) fun. It can also give you a much better product than you’ll find in stores. The process is simple: heat milk to get rid of existing bacteria and denature the proteins, cool it, then add good bacteria and give it some time to work. That’s it.

I like writing, so this recipe will be wordier than strictly necessary. Don’t let that make the process feel daunting! It isn’t.

The tricky bits, and there aren’t many, are in the details. It helps to have a thermometer. It helps to have an oversized heavy-bottomed pot, a few things like a canning funnel and conveniently-sized jars, kitchen towels to help keep the yogurt warm as it cultures, and a Post-it to keep you from hitting the oven’s on button with your yogurt inside (ask me how I know!).

None of those things are necessary, however.

Search for information on yogurt-making and you’ll find a variety of alternate recipes and methods, from counter-top to Crockpot. We’ve distilled that information and found a way that makes thick, tangy lactose-free yogurt and works for us. Tweak at will!

 

Yogurt, Plain but not Boring

Ingredients:

  • 1 gallon/4 Liters milk, whole or 2%
  • ½ C. plain yogurt with live and active cultures (~2 T. per quart)

1. Scald the milk: add milk to a large pot over low to medium-low heat. Cover and heat to 195℉, or until just simmering with bubbles forming around the edges.
2. Denature the protein: reduce heat to the lowest setting and hold the milk at 190-195℉ for 15 minutes.
3. Cool: remove from heat, uncover and cool to 115℉, or pleasantly warm to the skin.
4. Inoculate: Preheat the oven to 115℉, then turn off. Add a half cup of the milk to your yogurt starter, whisk together, then add the mixture to the milk and whisk until smooth. Leave in pot or move milk to containers. Fill one jar with ½ C. to use as starter for your next batch.
5. Culture: If using jars, place on a cookie sheet. Insulate containers with kitchen towels. Place in oven or other warm spot. Let sit for 6 to 20 hours, then store in the refrigerator.

Transfer the starter to the refrigerator after ~6 hours to keep bacteria healthy. Longer cultures produce thicker and tangier yogurt. If you’re lactose-intolerant, culture for 18 to 20 hours to give the bacteria time to digest the lactose for you. No pills necessary!

Bacteria at work. Yum.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Those are the basics. For a distillation of the tips and tricks we’ve learned over the years, read on!

Notes:

  • You can make yogurt with lower-fat milks but the resulting taste tends to be chalky and not as nice. We use 2% because Mr. Man is reasonable. I prefer whole milk myself;)
  • We bump this up to 5+ liters of milk (that’s four bags if you’re in Canada) but keep the amount of starter the same; it works fine.
  • For your starter, you want a plain yogurt with minimal additives and no sweeteners. We’ve had the best luck with more industrial-strength brands like Dannon or Stonyfield or (in Canada) Astro or Western than with some of the boutique varieties. There are other culture sources (like chili peppers!) but the grocery store is the easiest way to get started. Whatever you choose, you want bacterial cultures that are tough and ready to work. Rawr!
  • The heating and cooling cycles are somewhat time-consuming. I don’t recommend rushing the heating part of this process as that way lies hard-to-clean pans and nasty flavors, but you can speed cooling by sitting the pot in a sink of cold water. Be careful not to splash or otherwise contaminate the milk.
  • There are ways to make mesophilic yogurt at room temperature without the heating and cooling cycle but this thermophilic method works for us.
  • Precise measurements aren’t required. You need enough starter for the bacteria to get off on the right foot, but as long as you have live cultures and eliminate any competitors by heating the milk, the good bacteria will have room to work. If the yogurt isn’t thickening as fast as you like, feel free to start your next batch with an extra tablespoon or so of starter, or give it another hour or two to set up.
  • The longevity of your starter will depend on the strength of the original bacterial strain and how you treat it. We often go six or more months before buying replacement starter, and we make yogurt about once a week. If your finished product isn’t as thick as before, takes longer to set up or (heaven forfend) smells off, it’s time for new starter. We keep the starter in its own container to avoid contamination, try not to let it culture longer than ~6-8 hours, and whisper encouragements. Your mileage may vary.
  • The jars we use (see below) are perfectly sized for our needs (Mr. Man strains one for breakfast, I now use two per smoothie) but you can use any option you like so long as it’s clean and non-reactive. You could re-use quart-sized yogurt containers or, if plastic isn’t your thing, mason jars, jam jars or the pot you used to make it.
  • If you like additives, add them just before serving. Jam, honey, fruit or other flavors are great additions.
  • Straining the yogurt to make a Greek-style thick version is also easy. Use a yogurt strainer, a bag of cheesecloth in a strainer over a bowl or with a filter in your drip coffee maker.
  • Strained yogurt is a great base for dip too. I like to add grated cucumber, lemon, minced garlic, salt, pepper and herbed Boursin with a sprinkling of bourbon-smoked paprika.

Optional: for your information only, here is the list of the tools we use to make yogurt:

  • 8-quart stainless pot
  • remote thermometer
  • stainless whisk
  • stainless cup measure
  • canning funnel
  • glass jars with lids
  • cookie sheet
  • kitchen towels
  • yogurt strainer
  • one yellow Post-it

We didn’t get all of these things at once, but as we realized we needed them and that we were in it for the yogurt long haul. I’ve found the remote thermometer to be the most useful tool for this, as it lets us be precise and to do other things while the milk is coming to temperature. We use an older version of this one, but there are a lot of options out there. Your needs may vary!

For even more information on the technique and science of making yogurt, I recommend these sources:

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I’m slowly getting back into a writing routine after the holidays. Writing is hard work, and of course glucose is critical to brain function. That means I have an excuse to bake:)

I worked up this cookie recipe for a friend who is gluten-averse. It’s based on a recipe from MasterChef Australia contestant Harry Foster and produces rich chocolate cookies with a satisfying cake-like texture.

Brownie + Cookie = Brookies

  • 350g [12 oz.] 70% dark chocolate
  • 45g [3.17 T.] butter
  • 80g [8.5 T.] cornstarch
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 50g [~¼ C.] chocolate chips (more or less as you like; I use three chips per cookie)
  • 225g [1 C.] superfine sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 t. vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350F (175C).
2. Melt dark chocolate and butter in the microwave on low (30% works for me). Stir and set aside until lukewarm.
3. In a medium-size bowl, combine remaining ingredients and beat until light and fluffy. Add cooled butter mixture and mix until combined.
4. Scoop ~1-inch balls onto cookie sheets.* Gently press chocolate chips into the tops of each ball.
5. Bake for 12-13 minutes. Let cool two minutes before transferring to rack.

Makes ~33 cookies.

* If your butter-chocolate mixture is too warm, it may look and act more like batter. Pop the bowl into the fridge for a few minutes to chill and you should be able to scoop as needed.

I’d show you a photo of the cookies but, well, I ate them all. Instead, here are some pretty examples of other lights in the darkness.

Enjoy!

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It’s like this: for the past couple of weeks I’ve spent a wee bit (ok, a lot) of time perfecting my chocolate chip cookie recipe.

(It also strikes me that I do a lot of recipe-related posts on Fridays. Food is definitely on my list of #ThingsILike:)

When I moved north of the border everything changed, including my usual butter, flour, chips, and oven. Mr. Man also likes his cookies with a bit more cakiness than I had with my previous recipe, so it was time to rethink, rewrite and retest.*

I know, I know, hard duty. How I sacrifice! But now Mr. Man (and you, fine readers!) have a new recipe to enjoy. Hope you like it!**

 

Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 1/4 cups [280g] flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt [a pinch less if you use salted butter]
2 sticks [8 ounces or 228g] butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups [300g] brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, large
1 cup [175g] semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Heat oven to 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper if you hate stuck-on cookies.
2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt [I sift, some prefer a whisk or fork, use whatever works for you].
3. In a large bowl, mix butter and sugar until creamy, about 2 minutes.
4. Add vanilla and eggs, one at a time, mix until well combined.
5. Gradually add flour mixture and mix until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
6. Scoop ~1-inch balls onto cookie sheets.***
7. Bake for 11-13 minutes depending on dough temperature and preferred crunchiness factor. Let cool two minutes before transferring to rack.
…………
* I’m still playing with this a tiny bit (for the greater good, you understand, not because I want to bake more cookies… ok yeah, I just want to bake more cookies:). I’ll add any updates here.

** If you’re interested in how tweaking various ingredients and other factors influence cookie characteristics, Handle the Heat’s Ultimate Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies (parts 1 through 4) is a good place to start.

*** At this point you can either bake immediately or chill to allow the flavors to develop. I’ll chill if I have time, but I don’t always have the patience:) My compromise strategy: bake a sheet right away, then make balls with the rest of the dough and freeze on a lined cookie sheet. When hard, store the dough in a plastic bag and voila, you’ve got almost instant cookies for the next couple of weeks days whatever:)

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I have recently discovered that stalwart of public television, The Great British Baking Show (known on the other side of the Pond as The Great British Bake Off). I don’t usually do reality programming but I was drawn in by the general aura of positivity, the educational content (so that’s how you cool angel food cake!), and of course, the food.

So I’m in a baking mood. This week I pulled out a classic recipe for Banana Bread.

For some reason teenaged me loved making banana bread. Maybe because it was easy and good, or because there always seemed to be over-ripe bananas in the house. I serve warm slices with Maple Cinnamon Butter (looking fine in a reusable Riviera Petit Pot with pretty new lid! I’d include a picture of the bread but, well, I ate it:).

Banana Bread

3 very ripe bananas, mashed, or 2 bananas and one apple, peeled and chopped fine or grated
2 eggs, well beaten
1/4 cup plain yogurt or 1/4 cup melted butter
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup (150 grams) brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2 cups (250 grams) flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Butter a standard loaf pan, or four mini loaf pans.
3. Mix the fruit and eggs together in a large bowl. Add yogurt or butter, vanilla, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Sift the flour, salt, and baking soda together, then stir into the banana mixture. Add the walnuts (optional) and stir until combined.
4. Pour batter into pan. If you’re feeling decadent (and I usually am) top the batter with more cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar, plus extra nuts or oatmeal if you like it crunchy. Bake for 55-60 minutes (35 minutes if you opt for the mini loaves) or until a knife or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the pan to a rack to cool.

MapleCinnamonButter

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How do I not have this recipe up here already? This rich, moist chocolate cake is delicious and (in my *ahem* extensive experience) virtually foolproof. Not only would I hate to lose the recipe, I’m also baking this weekend, so here you go!

Truly Excellent Chocolate Cake

Cake:
2 C. sugar (400g)
2 C. flour (250g)
3/4 C. cocoa powder (88g)
2 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1 t. kosher salt
2 eggs
1 C. buttermilk (or 1 scant cup milk, warmed with 2 t. white vinegar)
1 C. coffee
1/2 C. vegetable oil
2 t. vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare one 9″ x 13” pan, or two 8/9” cake pans, with butter and flour/cocoa powder or line with parchment paper.
2. Mix sugar, flour, cocoa, soda, powder and salt in a large bowl.
3. Add remaining ingredients, beat for 2 minutes.
4. Pour into baking pans and bake until tester comes out clean (30-35 minutes for smaller pans, 35-40 minutes for large pan).
5. Let cool 10 minutes and remove from pan. Frost when cool.

Frosting:
1/2 C. butter, softened (113g)
1/2 C. cream cheese, softened (116g)
3 1/2 C. powdered sugar (437g)
1/2 C. cocoa powder (59g)
1/2 t. salt (to taste, less if you use salted butter)
2 t. vanilla
2-4 T. milk or cream

1. Cream butter and cheese together until whipped smooth.
2. Sift sugar, cocoa powder, and salt onto butter mixture, blend.
3. Add vanilla and milk and beat for 3 minutes until smooth. Adjust milk as necessary to reach desired thickness.

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Today feels like a recipe day, so here is the ultra extra super top secret recipe for my favorite morning smoothie. It’s nutritious, and yes, it can taste a little like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and I love it. It’s what I have for breakfast pretty much every day.

Ingredients:

  • Strawberries, frozen, 150 grams
  • Blueberries, frozen, 150 grams
  • Bananas, 2
  • Chia seeds, 3 Tbsp, 40 grams
  • Grape juice, 150 grams
  • Pumpkin puree, 0.8 cup, 200 grams
  • Peanut butter, smooth, 150 grams
  • Yogurt, plain, 2%, 750 grams
  • Molasses, blackstrap, 1 Tbsp
  • Cinnamon, ground, .5 tsp

Makes ~4 pint glasses worth, or enough to keep a writer fueled for most of the work week.
1. Let your blender save its strength; defrost fruit in the microwave.
2. Add ~half a cup of water to the chia seeds, stir to moisten.
3. All in, blend until smooth, drink.

Recipe Notes:
— I buy bananas in bunches, wait until they are perfectly ripe, then peel and lay them out on a parchment-paper lined cookie sheet to freeze. Store hardened fruit in freezer bags for later. I also do this with fresh strawberries when I can get them. Of course, I’d use fresh fruit all the time if I didn’t live just south of the Arctic Circle (kidding, Ottawa, but you know sometimes it feels true;)
— I use organic chia seeds because they’re so water-sensitive there’s no way you can wash them. What’s on them is what you eat.
— We make our own yogurt (very easy, btw) because it’s a great way to know what you’re eating and so I can “cook” the lactose out of it by letting it ferment for ~20 hours. Because who wants to be popping lactase pills all the time?
— I’ve also started adding a dash of turmeric with a bit of fresh-ground pepper to bolster the curcumin, but that’s me;)
— Freezes well too, if you remember to leave a bit of room in your container to avoid, um, accidents. (Ask me how I know;)

SmoothieData

* Nutrition information calculated with SparkRecipes recipe calculator and may not match your specific ingredients (it didn’t match mine perfectly), so use for estimates only.

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