2017 & cake for dinner.

friends, i’m fairly certain that i could sit here for hours looking at the screen with this post 75% ready to go with the cake picture, link, and recipe written & formatted. days, even. maybe weeks? because the other part of the post – the part where i jump back in to this little old blog spot-o-mine – that part i feel like i need to do “right.”

“right.” oy! such an unnecessarily heavy word sometimes, isn’t it? but we’re going to shake off all of that & jump in. just like that :o) small steps, one at a time.

a few things have happened since that last post just shy of two (two?!) years ago. i tried writing about 15 different posts after that one, as we stepped into IVF, and i don’t know what it was, but it just didn’t work to post them. so to fast forward: we are one of the incredibly, overwhelmingly, beyond-any-words-ever blessed couples that it worked for. and i have to tell you: we have spent the last year watching the most ridiculously awesome little boy grow & learn & basically amaze us daily. we are for sure THOSE cliché parents.

we also moved into a new house (1.5 weeks before the babe arrived. totally sensible!) on the exact opposite side of town. so, you could say that 2016 was full to the brim with learning  & all the new things all at the same time. it was wonderful. and it was busy. and it was exhausting.

i love every ounce of what 2016 held for us – how we grew together as a family, how it shaped us more into who we are created to be, how we learned about each other & ourselves as husband & wife, parents, creatives…and i am looking so forward to 2017. to slowing down, savoring this sweet, fleeting season, loving well & focusing on each other,  doing some new things.

and how better to start a year than with cake for dinner on new year’s eve, right?

to back up a few steps, my permanent christmas eve job is bringing dessert. i hadn’t even started thinking about what to bring when i stumbled upon this recipe, but there was immediately no other option once i saw it. in the interest of full disclosure, the cake itself is easy to make, but the marshmallow fluff & buttercream frosting take some time. it’s not an every day, one bowl & done recipe, but for a special occasion, it’s absolutely worth the effort. plus, the recipe as written made extra fluff & buttercream, so i made an extra cake on new year’s eve. which gets us back to that cake for dinner thing. there’s a first time for everything!

:: hot chocolate cake ::
adapted – barely – from the cake blog (a recipe by olivia bogacki)

IMG_1253

i joke that there are certain female “musts” that i wasn’t born with – one being i don’t love chocolate. i’ve never been one for chocolate cake or chocolate frosting, much less the two together, so the fact that this cake recipe & this chocolate frosting recipe are now my go-tos says something. the cake is dense & rich while the frosting is light & rich. both in their own way that i can only best describe – as strange as it may sound – as luxurious.

the recipe as written made three times more marshmallow fluff and two times more buttercream than i used to assemble the cake – and i don’t think i skimped on either one. we used the leftovers in hot chocolate & took little tastes by spoonful before making a second cake & still having fluff left over.

the original recipe didn’t mention anything about making components or assembling the cake ahead of time, but i don’t see any reason why you couldn’t do either of these things. if you would like to do either of these things, i’ve made notes at the bottom of the recipe.

ingredients

cake
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup light brown sugar, packed
¾ tsp salt
2 large eggs
¼ cup vegetable oil (i used canola)
½ cup buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup hot chocolate, made with milk

marshmallow fluff
⅓ cup water
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup light corn syrup
3 large egg whites
½ tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp vanilla

chocolate buttercream frosting
5 large egg whites
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 ½ cups butter, at room temp, cut into ½” cubes
4 oz dark chocolate, melted & cooled (i used bittersweet)

instructions

cake

  1. preheat oven to 350ºF.
  2. grease two 8″ round cake pans. line bottoms with parchment & dust with cocoa powder.
  3. measure all dry ingredients into the bowl & mix until combined.
    * i recommend mixing by hand with a whisk. both times i used my electric mixer i ended up with a thin layer of cocoa powder all over my counters…even when i was really careful the second time.
  4. in a separate bowl or large measuring cup (4 cup works well), mix the eggs, oil, buttermilk, & vanilla. slowly add the warm hot chocolate while whisking constantly.
  5. add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients & mix on medium speed for 2-3 minutes (or by hand until everything is combined & there is no sign of dry ingredients). the batter will be very thin.
  6. pour batter evenly into prepared pans. bake for 30 minutes (checking at 25 minutes) or until a toothpick  inserted into the center comes out mostly clean.
  7. cook cakes on wire rack for about 10 minutes, then take them out, peel off the parchment, & let them cool completely.

marshmallow fluff

  1. combine water, sugar, & corn syrup in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat. stir the mixture until the sugar is dissolved, then insert a candy thermometer and stop stirring. you are watching for the temperature to reach 225ºF.
  2. while you are waiting, place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment.
  3. when the sugar syrup reaches 225ºF, start whipping the egg whites until they reach soft peaks. *continue monitoring the sugar syrup*
  4. when the sugar syrup reaches 240ºF, remove the pan from the heat, turn the mixer speed to medium, and very slowly pour the sugar syrup into the whipped egg whites in a thin stream.
  5. once all of the syrup is in the mixer with the whipped egg whites, turn the mixer speed up to medium-high and whip the fluff until it is thick & glossy and the bowl of the mixer is no longer hot. the original recipe says this takes about 7-8 minutes.
  6. turn the mixer speed down to medium, add the vanilla, and mix until combined.

chocolate buttercream frosting

  1. place the egg whites and sugar into the bowl of a mixer with the whisk attachment and whisk until combined.
  2. insert a candy thermometer into the bowl with egg white & sugar mixture, place the bowl over a pan of simmering water, and whisk constantly (to prevent eggs from cooking).
  3. when the egg white & sugar mixture reaches 160ºF, remove the bowl from the heat.
  4. using the whisk attachment, beat the egg white mixture on high speed for 8-10 minutes – again feeling for the bowl to cool down, this time so that it is no longer warm. the meringue will be fluffy, glossy, & will hold stiff peaks.
  5. switch to the paddle attachment and, with mixer speed on low, slowly add the butter in small cubes. mix until all of the butter is mixed in & there are no streaks or chunks.
  6.  add the vanilla and cooled chocolate and whip on medium-high until silky and smooth.

to assemble the cake

  1. place one cake layer onto serving plate. pipe a dam of chocolate frosting around the edge of the cake (this prevents the fluff from seeping out; i put some frosting in a plastic bag & cut a small tip off) and the spread about a cup of the fluff in the middle.
  2. put the second cake layer on top.
  3. from here you can do whatever works for you. if you want to do a crumb coat – go for it! if you want to just frost it – go for it! the original recipe called for a crumb coat & 20 minutes in the fridge before frosting. i skipped the crumb coat & didn’t have any trouble.
  4. i used my fancy plastic bag for piping again & did little scallops of fluff on the top, but it was a little fussy, so i went with piped rounds around the bottom of the cake. the video they link to is helpful if you want to try the scallops :o)

assembling the cake ahead of time: the second cake we made was eaten over the course of a week (stored in the refrigerator), and we didn’t think it ever dried out or lost flavor. i think assembling the cake up to one day before serving it would be just fine. Store the assembled cake in an airtight container in the refrigerator, taking it out 30-60 minutes before serving to let the buttercream warm up.

making components ahead of time: each component (cake, marshmallow fluff, buttercream frosting) can be made prior to assembly.

  • cakes: the fully cooled cakes can be wrapped in plastic wrap & stored one night before assembly (i did this), or in the comments, the author of the cake blog says they can be wrapped in plastic wrap & stored in zip-top freezer bags in the freezer, thawing before assembly.
  • mashmallow fluff: can be made a day or two ahead of time, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. you can use it cold from the refrigerator for assembly.
  • buttercream: can be made a day or two ahead of time, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. let it warm to room temperature for 30-60 minutes before assembly.

yield: one 8” 2-layer cake; 12 servings

2014 in pictures & squash ginger soup.

i’ve never been one to be all that short-winded, so if a picture is worth a thousand words, it’s probably fitting that the pictures below are what i could “cut down” to as a summary of 2014. the majority showed up along the social media path, so they aren’t new, but here, together, in chronological order they remind me of the story of our year. a little year in review is after the recipe, if you’d like.

2014 in pictures

:: squash ginger soup ::

squash ginger soup

per usual, this recipe is highly adaptable. if you don’t have a leek, you can throw in another ¼ cup of diced onion. we didn’t have a full 4 cups of butternut squash, so i used buttercup squash, too. for the ginger & curry, i recommend starting on the lower side of the measurements, unless you have strong feelings about either ingredient. use more or less depending on your preference. for example, we do 3 teaspoons of ginger because we like the kicked-up flavor it offers, and we do about 1 ½ teaspoons of curry. the orange juice may seem to be an unusual addition, but it blends all of the flavors really well.

ingredients

2 thick cut slices of bacon, optional (if not, 1 tablespoon olive oil)
2 cups carrots, sliced
1 medium leek, sliced
½ cup onion, diced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
2-3 teaspoons ginger, peeled & minced
4 cups butternut squash, peeled, seeded, & cubed (1 – 1½” is good)
1 medium celeriac, peeled, trimmed, & cubed (1 – 1½” cubes is good; approx 1½ cups)
1 medium apple, cored & diced (you can keep the peel on)
4 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves (not powder)
4-6 cups stock (vegetable or chicken) or water
1-2 teaspoons curry powder
½ cup orange juice
½ cup milk, milk alternative, or cream, optional
salt & pepper, to taste

instructions

  1. in a large stock pot over medium heat:
    if you’re using bacon, cook it until crispy. place on a paper towel to drain until cool, then crumble into small pieces. if there is more than a tablespoon of bacon fat, pour it off & discard.
    if you’re not using bacon, heat one tablespoon of olive oil.
  2. add carrots, leek, onion, garlic, & ginger to pan. sauté 2-3 minutes (your kitchen will smell dreamy!).
  3. add squash, celeriac, apple, & thyme to pan; stir to combine.
  4. add stock to cover vegetables, depending on how you want your soup: 4 cups will result in a thicker soup; 6 cups will be less thick. even 6 cups will not result in a runny soup, though.
  5. increase heat to medium high & bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. simmer until squash & celeriac are fork tender – 15-20 minutes.
  6. remove pot from heat & stir in curry powder & orange juice. if you have an immersion blender, you can purée the soup until smooth in the pot. if not, wait until the soup is cool & blend it in batches in a blender or food processor.
  7. serve warm; we love it in any number of ways – plain, with a dollop of plain yogurt, bacon, & croutons, or with a little hunk of crusty bread.

yield: approximately 10 cups (depending on amount of liquid used)

– – – – – – –

2014 was a pretty quiet year. i struggled for the first few weeks of last january to settle on a word to focus on for the year and was actually just fine with not having one. the point of having one was if something came to mind & felt fitting, so there was no need to force one…and then one day it hit me: abide. if it’s even possible, i think my soul sighed in sweet relief – “abide” felt perfect looking ahead to 2014.

i am the vine; you are the branches. if you remain in me and i in you,
you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
john 15:5  

this year has been one of deep, deep thankfulness for my incredible husband &, fittingly, having wonderful things to celebrate him for throughout the year. we’ve tried new things [knitting socks (me), calligraphy (both), homemade bitters (him), a fantastic class at the kitchen window (both), & lots of new recipes (both)], explored our city, traveled well-worn paths at our favorite farmer’s markets, & got outta dodge for a week-long, wonderful road trip to see friends (in chicago) & family (in ann arbor) this summer. the cherry on top of our summer was a visit  from nieces cuter than you could fathom, full of adventures & fun.

i got a few more stamps in my passport, soaked up encouraging words & quotes that resonated truth, and was attuned to growth all around me. part of that was in the patio garden we had – i was mildly obsessed with having my hands in the dirt & watching everything sprout & blossom. the rest seemed to purely be nature’s gift. our house plants grew like crazy, our wedding lemon tree continued to be a rockstar, & even our christmas tree sprouted! have you ever heard of that?! it’s for sure a first for us! they were the simplest, often tiniest little things, but seeing the sprouts & buds kept reminding me in quiet, consistent ways of the new things always waiting just around the corner.

the unrivaled highlight of this year, however, was celebrating our first wedding anniversary. we looked back on our first year full of deep love, true heartache, & the sweetest comfort in knowing that we are richly blessed to do this life together. in the same way, looking back on 2014, we see a year full of those very same things. i cannot imagine going through this past year with anyone other than dustin by my side. this year was filled with more joy & more laughter-until-i-cried thanks to him.

here’s to deep, abiding love, hope, & the new things in store for 2015!