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. 

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Valentine’s Day: Chocolate Chip Pancakes & A Honey Themed Gift

Outside, the sloppy mix of rain and ice falls at an intense angle, and the distant hillside has lost its detail, now appearing as a giant, sleepy, gray elephant. Inside, the sunset painted hyacinths fill the room with their intoxicating perfume. The scent transports my mind to lavish gardens and flowering trees in California and that narrow window in the spring, when the campus lilac bushes bloomed and lightened an otherwise stressful commute. We give flowers to lift spirits, a power I am appreciating more and more.

Valentine's Day: Chocolate Chip Pancakes & A Honey Themed Gift // www.WithTheGrains.com

These hyacinths are fragrant remnants of a Valentine’s Day well celebrated, of brunching, of sappiness and of lazing away a Sunday as Sundays should be. I know there are commercial ties to this holiday, but I love it anyways. I love the extra incentive to show a caring gesture, like a card that reads “You’re Perfect (even if you cut your sandwiches like an idiot).” I love champagne toasts, pajama dress codes and puns on top of puns. I love my beekeeper, and I love to show it.

Valentine's Day: Chocolate Chip Pancakes & A Honey Themed Gift // www.WithTheGrains.com

As the Urban Farmer pointed out, Saint Valentine was the patron saint of lovers and beekeepers, appropriate, since I was inspired to celebrate my favorite beekeeper this February 14th.

Valentine's Day: Chocolate Chip Pancakes & A Honey Themed Gift // www.WithTheGrains.com

Valentine's Day: Chocolate Chip Pancakes & A Honey Themed Gift // www.WithTheGrains.com

In my ode to my favorite beekeeper, I wrote:

Here’s to history (a beekeeping poster), here’s to sweetness (honeycomb chocolate & Honey Lavender ice cream), here’s to health (fresh bee pollen), and even to a little buzz too (wine)! 

Valentine's Day: Chocolate Chip Pancakes & A Honey Themed Gift // www.WithTheGrains.com

And because beekeepers need to eat, there were Multigrain Chocolate Chip Raspberry Pancakes with Raw Cacao Whipped Cream spiked with Snap and a ruby red champagne toast!

Valentine's Day: Chocolate Chip Pancakes & A Honey Themed Gift // www.WithTheGrains.com

Valentine's Day: Chocolate Chip Pancakes & A Honey Themed Gift // www.WithTheGrains.com

Valentine's Day: Chocolate Chip Pancakes & A Honey Themed Gift // www.WithTheGrains.com

Valentine's Day: Chocolate Chip Pancakes & A Honey Themed Gift // www.WithTheGrains.com
Multigrain Chocolate Chip Raspberry Pancakes with Raw Cacao Whipped Cream spiked with Snap Liquor, topped with a Dark Cherry

Valentine's Day: Chocolate Chip Pancakes & A Honey Themed Gift // www.WithTheGrains.com

Valentine's Day: Chocolate Chip Pancakes & A Honey Themed Gift // www.WithTheGrains.com

It was a Valentine’s Day well spent with gifts that will keep giving. I hope your Valentine’s Day was just as sweet! Did you give any edible or themed gifts of your own?

Quelcy Signature

Chocolate Chip & Raspberry Multigrain Pancakes with Spiked Cacao Whipped Cream

About This Recipe: You will never see me recommend a box cake mix (sacrilege!), but when it comes to pancakes, I do like to use Arrowhead Mills Multigrain Pancake Mix. The blend combines corn flour, whole grain wheat flour and brown rice flour, packing a lot of grains into one mix without over burdening your pantry. Alternately, you can use my Whole Wheat Pancake Recipe (skip the bananas).

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Chai Tea Concentrate for Lattes & Cocktails

It PAINS me to admit I have a Starbucks drink because it pains me to wait in line at Starbucks and listen to “half caff” and “macchiato” and “frappuccino,”- syrupy abominations I could stomach if the coffee weren’t so over roasted and unpalatable. Admittedly, I am what you call a coffee/coffeeshop snob. (Before you condemn me completely, I’m not alone in thinking their drinks are obnoxious.) I have principles and rules, and no matter how much I like it, I just can’t bring myself to revel in Starbuck’s stronghold on Tazo Chai unless I am:

  1. At an airport
  2. At a rest stop

I am neither of those right now.

Chai Tea Concentrate for Lattes & Cocktails // www.WithTheGrains.com

But I am resourceful! My final nudge to satisfy my chai cravings with a homemade solution came after styling the “Big Batch” article for TABLE Magazine. The article, by Jessica Server, also featured recipes for making a big batch of soup and a pancake mix. High yield recipes not only simplify weeknight menu planning, but these consolidated efforts lend themselves to my passion- entertaining.

Chai Tea Concentrate for Lattes & Cocktails // www.WithTheGrains.com

Stretching out these more intensive kitchen efforts yields more gatherings with less stress. Without having to start from scratch for each party, there’s more time to focus on other obsessive details without devolving into Mr. Hyde before guests arrive.

Chai Tea Concentrate for Lattes & Cocktails // www.WithTheGrains.com

Homemade chai concentrate not only saves me from Starbucks, but this recipe offers more opportunities to welcome friends into my home. If a big batch of chai doesn’t inspire you to host a variety of gatherings, keep reading. I’ve thought about this for you.

Chai Tea Concentrate for Lattes & Cocktails // www.WithTheGrains.com

Invite a friend over for some quality one-on-one time. Serve a pot of chai and delicacies from your favorite French bakery, or bake this apricot breakfast pastry. Make an even bigger pot of chai and warm a whole table of brunch guests with all the comforting spices. After dark, offer guests a chance to concoct their own gingerbread inspired cocktail with my favorite Snap liquor. For an even fuller bar, offer spiced rum and whiskey options too.

Chai Tea Concentrate for Lattes & Cocktails // www.WithTheGrains.com

If I seem a tad obsessive about these “Big Batch” ideas, it’s partially because I am obsessive and partially because I spoke about them in front of a live audience! For a few more of my ideas on Big Batch entertaining and styling, check out this video from my spot on Pittsburgh Today Live with TABLE Magazine:

Happy Sipping!

Quelcy Signature

Chai Tea Concentrate for Lattes & Cocktails
Recipe adapted from the graphic food memoir Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley 

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How To Use Leftover Ganache: Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Brownies (gluten free)

David lifted Didi into the air, and her satiny blue skirt’s ruffles erupted like a firework beneath his grip. They were now husband and wife, and this dance floor embrace was the moment I wanted to preserve in my memory- nothing but satin, lace and love! In the same weekend, a mere bridge away, I watched Chris and Dana embrace their 10-lb bundle of puppy joy, feeling the slipper like warmth of her fur brush against their ridiculously happy, tired faces.

How To Use Leftover Ganache: Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Brownies (gluten free) // www.WithTheGrains.com

These satin, lace, and puppy joys emerged from times of illnesses, deaths and heartaches, which only heightened these highs. In its ebbs and flows, this life can feel like one big sine curve- an alternating act of “all” or “nothing.” My kitchen corroborates these intense swings- the oven will warm, churning out fancy cake after fancy cake, for back-to-back birthdays, dinner parties and holiday gatherings, followed by the cold oven periods and slim pickings.

How To Use Leftover Ganache: Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Brownies (gluten free) // www.WithTheGrains.com

During the “all” times, we swim in desserts. The refrigerator bursts with an odd assortment of frostings, fillings and cake scraps, and even my intense sweet tooth feels overwhelmed. I give desserts away right and left, but shamefully, I’ve yet to hit the sweet spot of zero waste, and of all the morsels to hit the compost bin, dark chocolate pains my sensibilities the most.

How To Use Leftover Ganache: Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Brownies (gluten free) // www.WithTheGrains.com

In fear of a half-frosted cake, I always seem to make too much chocolate ganache- a good problem in the chocolate sense, a bad problem when it ends up as compost. As I whipped up a mid-week dessert-craving cure- my trusty nut butter blondies– I eyed the leftover ganache in the refrigerator. Sure, it could be frozen and maybe be enough for the next cake, but in the end, I’d probably end up stuck in a leftover cycle. Wanting an immediate solution, I broke off chunks of the pliable chocolate and stirred it directly into the batter. Out came an even better blondie- a brownie.

I’m still figuring out how to extend the grin-until-your-jaw-hurts moments through the sadder/stressful swings, but in the meantime, at least I am finding more ways to stretch dessert abundances more and waste less. What are your tricks?

Quelcy Signature

Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Brownies (Gluten Free)
yield: 9×13 pan

About this Recipe: If you have leftover ganache after baking a cake, save it for these brownies. If you don’t have ganache to add, simply omit it and follow the rest of this recipe to make my go-to blondies. I used approximately 1 cup of soft ganache (not liquid), but as a chocolate lover, I imagine the more, the better, so experiment! (more…)

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