Tag Archives: Decadent Desserts

29 Cakes for 29 Years: Mocha Cake Recipe

February 2013

To say I like planning theme parties is an understatement, so when I decided to have an Amélie Themed Anniversaire, I crafted many small, film-inspired details (that perhaps were mostly apparent to me?). One of those details was the birthday cake…or cakes, rather. Combine the espresso and chocolate flavors from Amelie’s waitressing job at Café Des 2 Moulins with the opening credits, in which little Amélie bites raspberries off each of her fingers, and you have the inspiration for my birthday cake tradition!

Cake Side View

Chocolate Espresso Cake with Coffee Glaze & Mocha Buttercream

Note About Size: In order to get 29 little cakes, I doubled the recipe and used a large, sheet pan, but your everyday dessert craving or small get together probably doesn’t call for that much cake. However, your everyday dessert craving or small get together probably does call for a rich chocolate dessert with the bold accent of espresso. The recipe below is for two, 9″-round, cake layers.    

Coffee Glaze

Coffee Glaze


1/4 cup raw cane sugar
2 Tablespoons boiled water
1 Tablespoon instant espresso powder or instant coffee granules


Combine the raw sugar, water and instant coffee in small bowl. Stir until sugar and coffee are dissolved.

Raspberry Garnish Cakes

Mocha Buttercream Frosting


1 bar (4 oz.) Dark Chocolate Baking Bar, melted

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder or instant coffee granules
3 Tablespoons organic heavy cream

1 cup (2 sticks) organic, unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 cups organic powdered sugar


Dissolve instant coffee in cream.

In a separate bowl, beat butter, vanilla extract and salt in large mixer bowl for 3 minutes.

Beat in melted chocolate until blended, scraping occasionally. Gradually beat in powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in coffee mixture, 1 Tablespoon at a time, until desired spreading consistency.

Birthday Cake Assembly 01

Chocolate Espresso Cake


5 oz Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips, melted

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups organic, packed light brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) organic, unsalted butter, softened
4 organic large eggs
2 Tablespoons instant espresso powder or instant coffee granules
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup organic buttermilk


Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease and line two 9-inch-round baking pans with wax paper.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl.

Beat brown sugar, butter, eggs, instant coffee and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl for 3 minutes.

Gradually add melted chocolate and continue beating for an additional minute.

Beat flour mixture into creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk. Pour into prepared pans.

Bake for 33 to 38 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Run knife around edges of cakes. Invert onto wire racks; remove wax paper. Cool completely.

Brush coffee glaze over cake layers.

Spread Mocha Buttercream Frosting between layers and top of cake.

29 Cakes For 29 Years (A Birthday Cake Tradition)

February 2013

There is something about a celebration that calls for layers of cake, and there’s something about me that thought my own birthday called for a mini, layer cake for each year of life! I’m not old by any means, but that is a fair bit of cake! However, this layer cake tradition of mine continued (as did my twenties for a little bit longer).


That last candle was a bugger! If you’re curious why I called upon a garden gnome for candle-blowing-out assistance, this should explain it. Recipe to follow in a subsequent post.

Homemade Chocolate Pudding & Whipped Cream

January 2013

I enjoy watching my mom move about the kitchen. She has dog-eared magazines and books full of recipes, but her intuition is really what guides her through most meals. When I’m home, I mostly want to watch and admire my mom, but sometimes I find myself craving the kitchen action as well. This Christmas, I moved from the spectator seat to the center of the action. In the midst of the chocolate melting and the cranberries popping, I lost track of the mixers (and my mom for that matter). Once I was able to track down my mom, she pointed me to the freezer.

Freeze Mixers for Whipped Cream

She had put the mixer blades in the freezer! Brilliant! When making whipped cream, a cold temperature is a baker’s best ally, but depending on the age and efficiency of your mixer, a long round of whipping can create some excess heat. I usually chill my mixing bowl in the freezer, but here was one more easy tip for the magical [shhh to all those super science geeks who may scoff at my childlike wonder for this] process of transforming cream into delicious whipped cream! Since you’ll be making so much whipped cream from scratch, you might as well make some chocolate pudding too!

Chocolate Pudding

Chocolate Pudding


2 1/2 cups whole milk, divided
1/2 cup raw sugar
1/3 cup natural cocoa powder

4 teaspoons cornstarch
3 large egg yolks (local/free-range)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon fine salt


Put 2 cups of the milk, the sugar, and the cocoa in a nonreactive saucepan. Bring to a simmer, over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, whisk the remaining 1/2 cup of the milk, cornstarch, salt, egg yolks, and vanilla in a bowl.

Gradually whisk the hot milk into the egg mixture. Return to the saucepan and cook over medium-high heat whisking constantly, until the pudding comes to a full boil.

Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, and continue whisking until thick, about 2 or 3 minutes more.

Pour the pudding into 4 jam jars. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or ideally overnight until set.

Just before serving pour the cream into a chilled bowl. Whip the cream with a whisk or a hand held mixer, and continue beating until soft peaks form. Take care not to over-beat the cream or it will be grainy. Serve each pudding with a dollop of whipped cream on top.

Maple Whipped Cream


1 cup organic heavy cream
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon maple syrup


In a chilled bowl, use chilled mixers to beat the heavy cream until soft peaks begin to form. Add the vanilla and maple syrup and mix until just incorporated. Keep chilled until ready to serve.

Merry Christmas To All and To All Chocolate Cake!

December 2012

Wouldn’t it be convenient if all family disconnects and misunderstandings could be resolved in the time it takes a television family to reach the moral of the episode? Factoring in commercial breaks, the route from the heartbreaking to the heartwarming moments would be a mere twenty minutes. But life is not a conveniently timed sitcom, and despite emulating her dance moves, I am no Stephanie Tanner.

Cake and Fixings

The longer route very well may be the difficult route and the route dampened by tears, but it may also be the route that leads to growth and change. Sometimes the bitter tears of sadness give way to the sweeter tears of happiness. If that transformation lasted only twenty minutes, would we cherish the change in the same way? Would long awaited words have the same treasured ring?

Snowy Whipped Cream

The holidays can be difficult. We do not choose our families, but we can choose to fight with them or fight for them. This holiday was bittersweet for me. I shed many tears of sorrow before feeling inklings of hope and seeing glimmers of change in all of us. While the sadness swirled inside me, I swirled chocolate into a rich liquid. I separated eggs and watched with wonder as the clear, viscous egg whites began to form snowy mountain peaks. I listened for the popping of cranberries. I whipped cream until it too formed beautiful snowy trails around the chilled mixer blades. While all my emotions stirred, I stirred a batter to share with the ones I sought to love in a more meaningful way.

Christmas Cake Slices

Much like taking the long routes for growth and change, taking the long route in baking delivers a more treasured reward. There isn’t a fast track to opening someone’s guarded heart, nor is there a fast track to a dessert prepared by heart and hand. Should you be crying with sadness or crying for joy, I hope the layers of this dessert, each lovingly prepared, will remind you of this- the journey may be long, but the dedication will make the culminating bite all the richer, all the sweeter and all the more satisfying! Merry Christmas to all and to all chocolate cake!

Christmas Night

Flourless Chocolate Sunken Souffle Cake
With Cranberry-Orange Compote & Whipped Cream & Toasted Coconut


8 Tablespoons coconut oil
12 oz dark chocolate (68 – 72%), chopped
1 1/4 cup raw sugar
6 large local/free-range eggs, separated
1 1/2 Tablespoons fresh orange zest
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt


Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Grease one 9-inch round springform pan with coconut oil.

Combine the chocolate and coconut oil in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until melted.

Remove from heat and set aside to let cool briefly.

Whisk together the egg yolks.

Once the chocolate mixture is about room temperature or just barely warm, gradually pour the egg yolks into the chocolate mixture, whisking continuously.

Stir in 3/4 cup sugar, the orange zest, ground cinnamon and salt.

In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until soft peaks form.

Add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and continue to whip just until stiff peaks form. Do not overmix or lose your sense of wonder when watching the peaks form.

Stir a third of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Then, fold in the remainder of the egg whites just until there are no more visible streaks. Be careful not to overmix.

Immediately pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the top of the cake is dry, but do not let the cake crack. Remove the cake from the oven. The middle should still be a bit underbaked, but the cake will continue to set as it cools.

Place the cake on a wire cooling rack and let cool completely before unmolding.

Cranberry-Orange Compote


1 Tablespoon orange zest
12 oz fresh cranberries
1 cup local wildflower honey
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


Combine zest, cranberries, honey, juice, and vanilla in a medium saucepan.

Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until cranberries have burst and sauce has thickened, 5–10 minutes.

Serve the sauce warm over the cake.

Whipped Cream


1 cup heavy cream, chilled
1 teaspoon vanilla
Swirls of honey and maple syrup to taste


User a mixer to beat the cream. As it starts to thicken, add the vanilla, honey and maple syrup. Continue to mix until soft peaks form. Keep chilled until ready to serve.

Putting It All Together
Last but not least… toast up some shredded coconut. Slice a piece of the cake, top with a spoonful of the warm cranberry-orange compote and a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkling of toasted coconut! Serve with a glass of this egg nog and a cinnamon stick stirrer for a flavorful measure!

An Anniversary Dinner at Cure

November 2012

“What do you want to do tonight?” I asked my special one in the morning.
“Well, I don’t really want to plan anything becaaaause… we have an 8:30pm reservation at Cure!”

On the list of “Best News to Hear Before Going to Work,” being surprised with plans for a dinner date at Cure ranks very highly! Being surprised with an anniversary dinner at Cure is even better yet!

Seat at the Kitchen

We local foodies have been praising Cure left and right, but it’s always encouraging to see a deserving establishment receive national recognition. Bon Appetit (one of my trusted favorites!) listed Cure as one of the nominees for best new restaurants of the year (#15 of 50). That most certainly calls for a toast! I’m sure there were rounds of campari to celebrate!

Pain d'epice

Foie Blonde and Veal Short Rib Terrine
pain d’epices, persimmon curd, whipped lavender oil, pomegranate, pea shoots, orange

Salumi and Kitchen

calabrese, duck speck, chicken rillette, lardo


Kitchen Scene

For a relatively small space, Cure offers so many experiences from a table for two, to seafood and drink pairings, to hog butcherings and at long last [for me], the heart of it all- dining directly in front of the kitchen. Sitting at the kitchen is like watching a show during dinner. The team really shines, with each person performing his or her role while still having fun, and it’s that fun factor that makes the front row seats especially worthwhile. Why wouldn’t you want to see passionate talent and joviality combine to produce the prettiest plates from a creative menu?

Kale and Mushroom

Veal Cheeks
apple cider, bacon, chestnut- cippolini risotto, crispy maitake, royal trumpet  mushrooms, crispy collard greens, fine herbs

Squid Ink Spaghetti Florentine

Squid Ink Spaghetti Florentine
Taleggio creamed spinach, parmesan, fried garlic, golden crumb, egg

Quality Control

Panna Cotta

Roasted Red Pepper- Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta 
burnt fennel meringue, fennel marmalade, olive caramel, tomato jam, white balsamic zabaglione, candied hazelnuts

Dessert Remains

I don’t have to dissect the meal’s rich flavors, the creamy textures or the bursts of pepper in an unexpected course because everything was eye-closing, mouth-poised, enjoy-every-morsel good. Nor do I have to say I told you Cure was good, legitimately good. Cure is my very own Pittsburgh food blessing, and now it’s a beacon to the outside world; Pittsburgh’s food scene is really evolving for the best… the best of the year, in fact!

Butternut Brownies & Window Views

October 2012

How does the window delight in the season?

The winter window tries to protect our needs for sleep and nestling and hibernation. The winter window offers a curtain of darkness to keep us in a slumber, but the world forces us to push beyond the curtain to face the day. As the light emerges, we may catch quiet views in slow motion- a creek slowly flowing or neighbors slowly trudging.

Before long, spring breezes against the window, and it opens. The window stretches and awakens, perhaps creaking as it moves. The changes are not immediate but rather like a song filled with anticipation in its chords. The spring window shows more light, shows the neighbors as they too stretch and emerge from the more dormant months. The window sings with the birds and the bicycles and the children who play until the evening light slips away.

The window boasts in summer! The summer window is a full expression. Hot breezes, humming fans, active streets, and the rattling glass of an electrified sky.

Those warm breezes grow colder and begin to carry leaves until the window must close. The window grows quiet, but there is still pride in the dampening view it frames. The window is a hushed pause. It is a painting of bright hues in stark contrast with an interior darkness. The window is a temporary collector of condensation, the effect of cooling fall flavors…

Chocolate Butternut Squash Brownies


1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
8 oz. Ghirardelli 70% cacao chocolate, chopped

4 large eggs (local/free-range)
1 1/2 cups organic raw sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 cups almond flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/4 cup local butternut squash puree
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves


Preheat the oven to 350 F and spray a 9″x9″ cake pan with nonstick spray.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the chocolate and remove from heat. Let sit for a few minutes, then stir until smooth.

In a large bowl beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla for 3-4 minutes, until thick and pale yellow.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt

Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and beat until just combined.

Put one third of the batter into another bowl. Stir in the squash puree, oil, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

Stir the chocolate mixture into the remaining batter and spread a little more than half of it into the prepared pan.

Top with the pumpkin mixture, then drop large spoonfuls of the remaining chocolate mixture on top. Swirl a knife through both to create a swirled effect.

Bake for 40 minutes, until just set and starting to pull away from the sides of the pan.

My First Ever Wedding Cake (Part I): Proposals & Preparations

September 2012

Let me tell you about a woman I admire. She is intelligent and dedicated, as exhibited by her collection of degrees from Carnegie Mellon, Oxford, and one PhD from Berkeley in the works. She is disciplined and compassionate, having run multiple marathons for charity. She is sincere. She’s the type of woman who will listen to your woes and give very thoughtful and intelligent advice in return. She wants to make the world a better, more sustainable place. She is creative and talented, and I admire her immensely. Beyond admiration, I have the great fortune to call Renee my friend.


Photo by Photographick Studios.

Now let me tell you about a man I know. We used to be neighbors, and he welcomed me to that block of row homes with a glass of wine and a warm heart. He chose to follow creative outlets in his life and put pen to paper in a substantial way.  Ramsey mixes a childlike spirit with an intelligent mind, and he has a way of filling a room with laughter.

Dashing Ramsey

Photo by Photographick Studios.

On one fateful day, these two amazing friends of mine reconnected in my backyard. I knew Ramsey wanted to marry Renee from day one. He couldn’t contain his adoration. It was only a matter of time until Renee saw a life partner in Ramsey as well, and I was so glad to share a small part in such a love story. When the engagement announcement came, I offered my baking efforts in addition to my congratulations. To my utter joy, my two dear friends said they could not think of a better person to bake their wedding cake! So it was I came to fulfill one of my longtime goals for two very dear people, and this is how that cake began.

Renee and Ramsey were the perfect pair for my wedding cake philosophies. They both truly value whole, natural ingredients, and they left the cake details to my creativity. It was a dream experience! I chose a vanilla pound cake accented with flavors of amaretto, brandy, rum and whiskey! I added a peach compote featuring local peaches to appeal to the couple’s love of local, seasonal ingredients. Since Renee and Ramsey are avid wine drinkers, and the wedding setting was a winery, I used a red and white wine combo for the compote. I was pretty nervous about the cake, but most people went back for seconds and supported me so enthusiastically. The memory still fills me with happiness! Thank you again to this beautiful couple for including me in your festivities!

Renee & Ramsey Wedding Cake Recipe
(cut everything in half if you’re not aiming for a 3-tiered wedding cake)

Vanilla Pound Cake
adapted from Cake Love
Makes 3 layers

Dry Ingredients

5 3/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
2 Tablespoons Potato Starch
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Liquid Ingredients

2 cups (16 oz) Sour Cream (from local dairy)
½ cup local heavy cream (from local dairy)
1/2 cup Brandy
2 Tablespoons Amaretto
2 Tablespoons rum
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 teaspoons whiskey

Creaming Ingredients

1 lb (16 oz)- organic, unsalted butter, at room temp
6 cups raw sugar

10 Large Eggs (local/free-range)
2 Yolks (local/free-range)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine all the dry ingredients and whisk to incorporate.

In a separate bowl combine all the liquid ingredients and whisk to combine.

Combine the butter and sugar and use an electric mixer to cream together on the lowest speed for 2-3 minutes.

Add the eggs one at a time followed by the yolk, fully incorporating after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the dry ingredients alternately with the liquid mixture in 3-5 additions, beginning and ending with the dry mixture.

Move swiftly to avoid over mixing the batter. Scrape down the bowl and then mix for 20 seconds to fully incorporate.

Spray your pan (loaf, bundt,etc) with nonstick spray and then fill 3/4 of the way up with the batter.

Bake a 10” springform pan for 50-55 minutes and smaller muffin size loafs for 15 minutes.


Classic Buttercream
Makes 5 cups


2 cups unsalted butter (4 sticks or 1 pound), softened (but not melted!) Ideal texture should be like ice cream.
6-8 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar, SIFTED
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
up to 8 Tablespoons milk or heavy cream


Beat butter for a few minutes with a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed.

Add 3 cups of powdered sugar and turn your mixer on the lowest speed (so the sugar doesn’t blow everywhere) until the sugar has been incorporated with the butter.

Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and 2 tablespoons of milk/cream and beat for 3 minutes.

If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add remaining sugar. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add remaining milk 1 tablespoons at a time.


Peach Pinot Compote


10 cups fresh peaches, skinned and quartered
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 cups white wine
3 Tbsp. brown sugar

1 cup red wine
1 1/2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of ground cinnamon


In a medium saucepan, combine the peaches, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon and 2 cups of the white wine. Mix well. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Cover, reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Stir together the cornstarch and the 1 cup of red wine.

Raise the heat so that the liquid in the pan begins to boil.

Add the cornstarch mixture and stir for 1 minute, or until the liquid thickens and becomes clear.

Transfer to a serving bowl and add the vanilla.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Can be served on cake, on pudding or with whipped toppings.