Roasted Beet Chocolate Cupcakes with Raw Cacao (Vegan)

Oh that stupid, stupid, moment! 

Being one step ahead of my fingers, my brain began to shout, “ABORT! ABORT!” but my dopey digits continued to run the all-too-thin wad of paper towel over a very brand new knife blade. The brain cursed the finger, as both processed the immediate flow of blood.

SHIT! 

Roasted Beet Chocolate Cupcakes with Raw Cacao (Vegan) // www.WithTheGrains.com
Roasted beet puree.

For a brief instant, there was no pain. I wadded paper towel around my now gory finger, and for one blissful moment of denial, the cut was out of sight and out of mind. However, the paper towel quickly failed to belie the wound. I shall stop here with knife-on-flesh details, lest you become as ghostly white and nauseous as I later did.

Roasted Beet Chocolate Cupcakes with Raw Cacao (Vegan) // www.WithTheGrains.com

There’s nothing like an injury, even something as minuscule as a paper cut or a sore muscle, to cause one to appreciate loss- the loss of feeling, mobility, independence. I am fully aware my ridiculous, gauzed mummy finger is hardly anything on the scale of loss, but it did make me pause and think just how lucky I am. 

Roasted Beet Chocolate Cupcakes with Raw Cacao (Vegan) // www.WithTheGrains.com

My one stupid moment could have caused major, lasting damage. Or worse, what if I were so unfortunate as to need surgery at this moment in my life? Learning to type with 9 fingers and avoid shaking hands is hardly a setback, but nonetheless, my bloody finger pointed to all I had been taking for granted. 

Roasted Beet Chocolate Cupcakes with Raw Cacao (Vegan) // www.WithTheGrains.com

But alas, we humans, or at least yours truly, all too frequently take too much for granted, never appreciating the tip of the finger until it’s hacked. And THIS, is where my bloody finger becomes relevant to cupcakes. There is a connection!

Roasted Beet Chocolate Cupcakes with Raw Cacao (Vegan) // www.WithTheGrains.com

As the Creative Director for the 10th Annual CMU International Film Festival, I found myself passionately working day and night to bring together countless details. The film festival fulfills me in so many ways, but being the marathon that it is, it also requires me to shut off several other elements of my life. For months, I skipped holidays, barely made birthdays and tethered myself to my desk. 

Roasted Beet Chocolate Cupcakes with Raw Cacao (Vegan) // www.WithTheGrains.com

For the most part, the intensity only amplified me, but as we neared the third week, burn out loomed, and what I found missing the most was my oven and this blog. With The Grains has always been such an extension of me. To ignore this corner, my corner, of the web left me throbbing as much as my finger after the knife wound. I had taken this space and the comforts of baking for granted, so I carved out time I didn’t have but needed.

Roasted Beet Chocolate Cupcakes with Raw Cacao (Vegan) // www.WithTheGrains.com

I measured, I whisked, I pureed, and I truly appreciated the simple joys of transforming ingredients into a sweet moment to savor. I appreciated how much I appreciate baking and sharing, both physically and digitally. As a person whose passions and interests are often sporadic (a multipotentialite if you will), the longevity of this space comforted me even more. It took feeling completely cut off from baking and blogging to realize how integral they are to my wellbeing.

Roasted Beet Chocolate Cupcakes with Raw Cacao (Vegan) // www.WithTheGrains.com

Maybe you feel similarly, so here’s to the calming side of baking and the comforting corners we create for ourselves!

Quelcy Signature

Roasted Beet Chocolate Cupcakes w/ Raw Cacao
adapted from Minimalist Baker
Yield: ~20 cupcakes

About this recipe: Rich, chocolatey, vegan cupcakes with pureed roasted beets and a dusting of raw cacao for a healthier sweet indulgence. Beet haters (those crazies!) won’t even know there is a root veggie lurking in their dessert!
(more…)

2 Comments

Self-Filled Mint Brownie Bars / Mint Chocolate & Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies

Most nights I harbor a little guilt for our dinnertime tv habit. I was raised at the dinner table. We conversed. We listened. We passed plates. Now, we pass judgment on the Underwoods while trying to understand Doug Stamper’s self-loathing.

Self Filled Brownie Bars by With The Grains 01

Yet, as I balanced my dinner plate in one hand and pressed the projector power button with the other, a feeling of gratitude defeated the guilt. It was a time-pausing feeling, similar to déjà vu, but unlike déjà vu, this feeling of “been here before” was very identifiable.

Self Filled Brownie Bars by With The Grains 03

Night after night, one of us carries out the plates or the wine glasses, and the other hits the power button. As I turned on the projector, our guilty habit filled me with comfort. This was our routine, our normal, our guilty habit (well, I may be alone in the guilt factor). Powering the projector made me realize just how intertwined we had become, how comforting normal can be. Some might cast self judgment and bemoan, “oh god, we’re getting so old,” but if age is what snaps us into the little moments worth appreciating, then let’s be old souls with a few routines!

Self Filled Brownie Bars by With The Grains 05

Or, better yet, let’s have the chocolate snap us into the moment! Chocolate and cheesecake swirls take me back to elementary school, when my mom would ask me what I wanted to bring to school for my birthday. Year after year, my answer was the same- self-filled cupcakes!

Self Filled Brownie Bars by With The Grains 06

Those swirls were my tradition, so when it came time to share an extra birthday treat back in January, the choice of what to make was an easy one!

Here’s to the comforts of repeated routines and recipes!

Self-Filled Mint Brownie Bars / Mint Chocolate Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies

About this Recipe: I grew up calling the cupcake equivalent of this a “self-filled cupcake,” but the bar form adds a more grown-up feel and really showcases the swirls. Pure mint extract adds that coveted thin mint flavor, and sprouted spelt flour makes these a whole grain indulgence! They taste just like childhood only better for you!

(more…)

3 Comments

Mini Mint Chocolate Layer Cakes for a Birthday Cake Tradition

Being the imaginative child I was, I appointed myself playwright and director, and each year, my best friend and I put on a Christmas “production” for our families, complete with a snack reception. (Oh the joys of ring bologna and cheese after giving your all on stage!) Though our families may have approached these plays with a little more hesitation (I did, after all, assign many of them roles as well), I thrived off the plays’ place in our holiday schedule. The plays became tradition, and that mattered.

Mini Mint Chocolate Layer Cakes for a Birthday Tradition // www.WithTheGrains.com

The happiness guru Gretchen Rubin emphasizes the need for tradition in her book The Happiness Project. On her blog, she explains, “Studies show that routines, rituals, and traditions are good for people’s physical and mental well-being. They help make life seem predictable, under control, and meaningful, and they provide family cohesiveness and predictability, which people—especially children—crave.”

Mini Mint Chocolate Layer Cakes for a Birthday Tradition // www.WithTheGrains.com

As an adult, long after the plays had faded away, I devised new traditions to give me that predictability and meaning Rubin describes. Starting at age 25, each year I would make one mini, layered birthday cake for each year of life. Why mini? There’s something extra memorable about mini cake details. Why so many? All the better to share! (50 is going to be one hell of a party!)

Mini Mint Chocolate Layer Cakes for a Birthday Tradition // www.WithTheGrains.com

These mini cakes have taken on many flavors and forms. They remind me of where I was, how I spent my birthday, and who helped me to eat all that cake. (They also document my progress as a photographer- eek!) This tradition gives me a plan for my birthday, even when everything else is frenzied, and a January birthday following the holiday haze always seems to be frenzied. However, last year I let stresses and frenzies get the best of me, and there were no mini cakes.

Mini Mint Chocolate Layer Cakes for a Birthday Tradition // www.WithTheGrains.com

Last year I was in the final weeks of a bad business relationship, but I didn’t yet know the end was in sight. I felt weak, voiceless, judged and confused. Wasn’t this what I wanted? I kept asking myself, “is this hard because this work is hard or because it’s not right?”

Mini Mint Chocolate Layer Cakes for a Birthday Tradition // www.WithTheGrains.com

Deep down I knew the answers, knew the discontent was significant, but I wasn’t quite ready to voice those gut feelings. I risked sabotaging my relationship with the Urban Farmer, I risked becoming a true bitch (not even in the unfair sense of a powerful woman either), and I risked spoiling the little joys I had come to cherish. So I quit.

Whole Wheat Mint Chocolate Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache & Lingonberry Sauce // www.WithTheGrains.com
Once I had all my mini cake layers cut, there was still leftover sheet cake. In the spirit of “and one for good luck,” I used a larger sized biscuit cutter to create this medium-sized “mini” layer cake.

Though the Urban Farmer spoiled me properly last year, the absence of my tradition really weighed on me, as if I had let the painful business relationship take something all too personal from me. I learned a lot from that failed partnership, learned more about myself, learned to trust my instincts more, learned what true friendship looks and acts like. I needed the return of my mini cakes to celebrate how far I had come!

Whole Wheat Mint Chocolate Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache & Lingonberry Sauce // www.WithTheGrains.com

This year, there were plenty of big projects and nagging items on my to-do list, but I turned a blind eye and turned on the oven. I ignored the snowpocalypse 2.0 weather predictions, and somehow, it all worked out. I filled my table with cakes and our home with friends.

A Winter Birthday Dessert Party // www.WithTheGrains.com
Julep is always in the shadows, in case I need a last-minute taste tester.

A Winter Birthday Dessert Party // www.WithTheGrains.com

Parlor Games // www.WithTheGrains.com

We relished my favorite things- wine, cheese, cake and a good parlor game. Round and round went the hat with scribbled names of obscure pop-culture references, religious figures and actors, and I returned to the living room stage once more.

Parlor Games // www.WithTheGrains.com

Competition and theatrics all in one, “Celebrity” is one of my favorite games and quickly becoming a tradition in the making.

Parlor Games // www.WithTheGrains.com

Parlor Games // www.WithTheGrains.com

These traditions, the intentional time taken away from work and obligations, finding the good eggs and holding them tight, laughing until it hurts- that all matters! And for this baker, mini layer cakes matter too. I’m ever grateful for my return to tradition.

What are your steadfast traditions?

Quelcy Signature

Whole Wheat Mint Chocolate Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache & Lingonberry Sauce

About This Recipe: No, I do not have 32 mini springform pans. I baked two, thin sheet cakes and used a biscuit cutter to create the mini layers (here’s the behind-the-scenes shot). If you want to follow my mini cake tradition and make A LOT of mini cakes, double the recipe below. If you’re simply fulfilling a whole-grain, mint-chocolate craving, follow the recipe and assembly instructions below for a variation on my Whole Wheat Chocolate Chestnut Layer Cake. Bake the cakes, then while the cakes cool, make the whipped cream. Allow the whipped cream to chill while making the ganache. 

(more…)

6 Comments

Whole Wheat Chocolate Layer Cake with Chestnut Cream & Dark Chocolate Ganache

While waiting with unreasonable anticipation for Fuller House to hit our streaming channels, the Urban Farmer and I have nestled into Mozart in the Jungle. It’s over-the-top in its portrayal of a free spirit, the “chemistry” feels forced, and if I hear Lola Kirke giggle impishly one more time, I might be forced to call it quits on this binge effort. Yet somehow watching Gael García Bernal with hippy hair is enough to merit the lost winter hours, and critiques aside, the show did leave me with one golden nugget.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Layer Cake with Chestnut Cream & Dark Chocolate Ganache // www.WithTheGrains.com

The prodigy conductor, Rodrigo (Bernal) encourages the symphony director (Bernadette Peters) to sing publicly. After she dismisses her vocal talents as “amateur,” he admonishes, “You say that as if it was a dirty word or something, but ‘amateur’ comes from the Latin word amare, which means love- to do things for the love of it.” In a show about an orchestra, this, my friends, provided the most music to my ears!

Whole Wheat Chocolate Layer Cake with Chestnut Cream & Dark Chocolate Ganache // www.WithTheGrains.com

Most of my early to mid-twenties were filled with a crippling doubt as I tried to pinpoint my passion, my purpose, my place on this massive spinning globe, etc- that typical cocktail of honor roll meets intense university collides with real world. I felt an immense pressure to find and stick to something with the devoutness of a nun. As the rocks gradually diluted that stress cocktail, I began to embrace this fact about myself- I don’t want to be an expert.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Layer Cake with Chestnut Cream & Dark Chocolate Ganache // www.WithTheGrains.com

I don’t want to be an expert. I don’t have one single passion. I do not seek precision. I want to bake, but I don’t want to understand every single chemical reaction and perfect every process. I don’t want to repeat recipes. I want to be a photographer, but I don’t want to invest in lighting and elaborate setups. I want to draw and silkscreen and play with flowers, and restoring the passion within the word “amateur” frees so much pressure from these activities.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Layer Cake with Chestnut Cream & Dark Chocolate Ganache // www.WithTheGrains.com

So be an amateur cook and make horrible mistakes. Buy a camera, take pictures, take ugly pictures and keep taking pictures! Be an amateur baker, and share your layers of cake with those around you. Some of the best recipes come from amateurs- the grandmothers, mothers and dads who vaguely followed instructions, heaped spoonfuls, threw ingredients together and made it work because their hearts were in it.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Layer Cake with Chestnut Cream & Dark Chocolate Ganache // www.WithTheGrains.com

Fittingly, this recipe was adapted from my new favorite read, Sift Magazine, which I can’t stop raving about (no, they are not sponsoring my fanaticism- I wish!). Its beautiful pages are all about celebrating the love of baking, in other words, they celebrate the amateurs!

Quelcy Signature

p.s: If juggling multiple passions and curiosities rings a bell, I recommend this TED Talk for more inspiration- “Why Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling

Whole Wheat Chocolate Layer Cake with Chestnut Filling & Dark Chocolate Ganache
Recipe adapted from Sift Magazine (Holiday 2015)/King Arthur Flour

About This Recipe: You’ll need a large sheet pan (18”x13”) to bake this spongey, chocolate cake, which is then simply cut into fourths and stacked with layers of delicious chestnut cream as a filler. I found chestnut cream at Whole Foods, as well as my local grocery chain, but if you can’t find it, you can substitute Nutella for the filling. 

(more…)

6 Comments

Whole Wheat Apricot-Almond Coffee Cake

Can you come down with a case of the comparisons?

Whole Wheat Apricot Almond Coffee Cake Ring // www.WithTheGrains.com

As sniffles and sneezes are to the common cold, the comparisons flare up with equally telling warning signs- frowning while scrolling through social media, looking at a particular photo with a self-deprecating sense of awe, searching Amazon for better lenses, hovering motionless over the keyboard without a single word to type. The triggers of this nasty ailment are sneaky. They can even be ever so sweetly rolled in a coffee cake ring like this one.

Whole Wheat Apricot Almond Coffee Cake Ring // www.WithTheGrains.com

After flipping through my new favorite magazine, I sourced the featured ingredient list, kneaded with care, rolled gently, patiently waited and then looked with disgust at the denser rings and apricot oozes that emerged from the oven. I knew I had made some ingredient changes that would explain such a density, but still, all I could think was, “whhhhhhhhhy?” As a commercial food stylist, one might expect me to have a certain immunity from the real-life-vs.-magazine discrepancies. Yet there I was, coffee cake in one hand, magazine in the other, lamenting dough imperfections like some sort of voluntary martyr.

Whole Wheat Apricot Almond Coffee Cake Ring // www.WithTheGrains.com

I almost hid these imperfections. I almost refrained from picking up the camera. Then I sat down to breakfast with my friend, who is attempting to say “thank you” instead of “I’m sorry” and not sound like a snarky bitch in the process. “Thank you for bearing with my baking experiments,” I said, taking the theory for a test spin. (It’s not as easy of an adjustment as you’d think!) Then, my wonderfully creative, animated friend took her first bite.

Whole Wheat Apricot Almond Coffee Cake Ring // www.WithTheGrains.com

Her face continued to react like a grand finale of fireworks- one enthusiastic expression right after the next, praising the glaze, then the filling, then ceasing to speak so as to savor the bite. My variations, for all their visual imperfections, tasted really good. They deserved to be relished, dense crumbs and all.

Whole Wheat Apricot Almond Coffee Cake Ring // www.WithTheGrains.com

I do not dredge up these muddy waters of perfectionist tantrums as a way to fish for compliments, merely to remind myself of their pitfalls. These crumbs litter the trails to my kitchen, and collectively, each morsel accounts for the life I am living. Am I taking risks? Am I growing? Am I sharing, exchanging, conversing and savoring life? Or am I stressing and sweating the small stuff?

Whole Wheat Apricot Almond Coffee Cake Ring // www.WithTheGrains.com

2015, with all its wild twists, turns and internal tantrums, is coming to a close. The year may have been dense. The filling may have oozed. Yet, it was a sweet year, filled with many a firework! It’s time to savor and reflect, plan and progress. Here’s to a sweet start to 2016!

Quelcy Signature

p.s: What are your tips and strategies for keeping the evil perfectionisms at bay? If you too suffer from “the comparisons,” you might find this video inspiring. I like to watch it every now and then as a reminder to chill.

Whole Wheat Apricot-Almond Coffee Cake Ring
Adapted from King Arthur Flour/Sift Magazine
Yield: 2 coffee cakes, 32 servings

About This Recipe: Somewhere between a coffee cake and a pastry, this whole wheat version is a little denser than the original recipe but worth the added grainy goodness. Be sure to read the dried fruit labels and choose an organic, unsweetened, unsulphured apricot option. There are often unnecessary, unhealthy ingredients lurking in store-bought dried fruit. 

(more…)

9 Comments

Whole Wheat, Pistachio-Cardamom Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache

The holidays can mean holding your breath- in anticipation, excitement, and even in stress. In the midst of my holiday baking and cooking, I’ve often found myself holding my breath while focusing all too deeply on achieving a perfect outcome. Fortunately, there were a few serendipitous moments to make me take a deep inhale and exhale, ignore perfectionism and attempt to soak in a moment.

Whole Wheat, Pistachio-Cardamom Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache // www.WithTheGrains.com

The first came as I left Whole Foods, mentally making sure I had purchased all the ingredients on my list. All of a sudden, the scent of fresh pie FILLED the parking lot like never before. Even walking by bakeries and working in bakeries, I’ve never experienced such an overwhelming pie smell. It was as if a giant were baking an apple and pecan pie hybrid somewhere in the night sky above me. I wanted to leap into the air and inhale as many pie breaths as possible! The second moment came when my neighbor was burning wood in his backyard, pot-bellied stove, and it smelled like smoky cedar. Christmas filled the air!

Whole Wheat, Pistachio-Cardamom Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache // www.WithTheGrains.com

These overwhelming scents reminded me to inhale, to exhale, not to stress so much, and that perfection is just “fear in really good shoes” as Liz Gilbert says. So on this Christmas day, I wish, for you and for me, magical scents of giants’ warm ovens and all the freshest cedar trees distilled into a Christmas fragrance that follows you through the frenzied aspects of the day. I also wish you intense flavors of chocolate and cardamom and a table full of laughs and love!

Merry Christmas!
(or simply, a really great Friday if you don’t celebrate)

Quelcy Signature

Whole Wheat Pistachio-Cardamom Cake
Recipe adapted from Sift Magazine (King Arthur Flour)
yield: 16 cupcakes or 1 7-inch cake

About This Recipe: I can’t get enough of beautiful Sift Magazine. This is another recipe adapted from its beautiful pages! The original recipe is for cupcakes, so I included options for cupcakes or a layer cake like mine. You’ll need a food processor to grind pistachios into the flour, making a dense, moist, nutty cake to complement the rich, dark chocolate ganache.  

(more…)

6 Comments

Whole Wheat Citrus, Turmeric & Chia Seed Layer Cake

Under the weight of a nerdy backpack, I would trek up three flights of split-level stairs, to the retreat that was the Arts & Architecture floor of the university’s library. Stocked to the brim with manifestos, colorful portfolios, comprehensive histories and magazines showcasing the modern, this floor simultaneously filled me with limitless inspiration and overwhelmed me with its magnitude.

Whole Wheat Citrus, Turmeric & Chia Seed Layer Cake with Orange Buttercream // www.WithTheGrains.com

I wanted to read every single book, but at times, I couldn’t even decide which book was a worthy starting point. How could my brain possibly contain a mere fraction of this treasure trove? I would need a lifetime!

Whole Wheat Citrus, Turmeric & Chia Seed Layer Cake with Orange Buttercream // www.WithTheGrains.com

I feel about flowers the way I felt about the Arts & Architecture floor of the library- inspired and overwhelmed! I’ve only recently begun to truly appreciate the brightening, bliss-making powers of flowers. Having once scoffed at the many wasteful practices surrounding floristry, I’ve been inspired by the flower farmer movements and the way flowers can transform an entire room.

Whole Wheat Citrus, Turmeric & Chia Seed Layer Cake with Orange Buttercream // www.WithTheGrains.com

I’ve begun to scratch the surface, and like pulling a volume from that library shelf, there are so many places to start. When it comes to flowers, I have so much to learn- there are common names, scientific names, growing practices, cutting tips, so on and so forth. In an effort not to lose myself to debilitating information overload, I’m simply trying to make more room for flowers in my life.

Whole Wheat Citrus, Turmeric & Chia Seed Layer Cake with Orange Buttercream // www.WithTheGrains.com

From the vase in my bedroom, to layer cakes, to a field at the farm, I’m making more space for blooms, branches and compositional experiments. I’m giving myself the freedom to be curious (trying to at least!), which after all, is what led me to baking (that and an insatiable sweet tooth). That curiosity is also what led me to use chia seeds instead of poppy seeds and to add turmeric to practically everything. If you need a nudge to follow your curiosity more, I suggest this video. If you need a nudge toward the kitchen, I suggest this cake!

By Quelcy

p.s: This cake first appeared in TABLE Magazine, as part of my story, “Closed for the Holidays.”

Whole Wheat Citrus, Turmeric & Chia Seed Layer Cake with Orange Buttercream Frosting

About this Recipe: Turmeric yields a bright golden surface and an even brighter golden crumb! The chia seeds will pass for poppy seeds until you reveal your secret, healthy-baking weapon. The crumb is a little heartier, but the extra density works well for layering. Note: the flowers I used were not edible, merely for effect. Try an edible variety, or top with candied citrus or orange peel garnishes. 

(more…)

2 Comments

Sweet Potato Layer Cake with Sweet Potato Ricotta Frosting

What would you make with two hours’ notice?

It would have been easy to punch the on-hand ingredients into google, but instead, my mom scanned through recipe clippings and a pile of magazines with an intense fervor. As the clock counted down the two hours, she scurried around the kitchen, grating with all her might, mixing and multitasking. Like a reality cooking show challenge, she revealed the final spread with but minutes to spare. Then the mayhem descended.

Sweet Potato Layer Cake with Sweet Potato Ricotta Frosting // www.WithTheGrains.com

Six adults and six children arrived with appetites, their chaotic energy swarming around them like dirt around Pig Pen. Their focus was on the general nonsense that accompanies a gaggle of children gathered around a dinner table and on the pizza bake before them (a deep-dish, lasagna-like pizza bake with cheese and potatoes and saucy goodness!).  In the chaos, one child lingered rather awkwardly.

Sweet Potato Layer Cake with Sweet Potato Ricotta Frosting // www.WithTheGrains.com

A friend of a nephew, he lacked the aggressive swarm factor of my family members. My mom’s gaze oscillated between the food spread and the boy with equal concern. She approached him quietly and asked if he needed a plate. No one noticed but me. but I sat quietly appreciating this woman, my mother, who has always been a shining example of thoughtfulness, selflessness and hospitality. My mom is the reason I bake for others. She’s the reason I believe in making others feel special, especially when it comes to birthdays. Birthdays and celebrations call for Sweet Potato Layer Cakes! Who will you celebrate?

Quelcy Signature

Whole Wheat Sweet Potato Layer Cake

About This Recipe: Light and spongey, this layer cake has sweet potato and spices in the cake, in a syrup infusion and in a lightly sweetened frosting. Graham cracker crumbs and cinnamon sticks easily add a special touch to the layers. To make the sweet potato puree, simply boil sweet potato chunks until soft, then blend until smooth in a food processor. Alternately, you can use an organic canned version.

(more…)

10 Comments