molten chocolate cake

close upThe last time I did this (all the way back in July), I had just moved to New York City and I was consuming alarming amounts of pastries. Fast forward 5 months, and I’m doing much the same thing. But now at least I’m baking them first.

Given the responsibility for Thanksgiving dessert, my mind started wandering into the realm of pumpkins and apples and spices and pies. But in the name of appeasing a picky cousin, I turned away from these happy autumn treats and steered towards an even happier star ingredient: chocolate.

ingredientsIt took all of 30 seconds for me to settle on these dangerous little cakes – I’ve made the recipe several times before and it has never failed to make people continue reaching for more bites even when there is simply no more real estate available in their stomachs.

I’m happy to say that this time was no different, and even after a delicious dinner (during which unspeakable amounts of mashed potatoes were consumed), no one could turn down at least a few bites of dessert.

chocolate butter meltingThis dessert starts by melting chocolate and butter together. Don’t worry if you don’t own a double-boiler, any heat-proof bowl placed over a saucepan filled with boiling water will work. The basic idea is that the chocolate/butter shouldn’t come into direct contact with the heat source.

combiningI’m slowly trying to get into the habit of baking and taking pictures again, but time is becoming an increasingly rare and precious commodity in my life. I begin to fear I’m turning into an adult.

ramekinsIn the name of staving off adulthood, dinner tonight will be Diet Coke and jellybeans.

Molten Chocolate Cakes recipe (adapted from Joy of Baking)

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 2/3 cup granulated white sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Prepare 8 individual ramekins by buttering the bottom and sides. Set aside.

Melt the butter and chocolate in a double boiler (or in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water). Once the mixture is completely melted and smooth, set aside to cool.

Using an electric mixer or hand mixer, beat the egg yolks and granulated sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the vanilla stir until blended.

Combine the chocolate mixture and the egg yolk mixture in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form.

Using a rubber spatula, incorporate egg whites into the chocolate mixture GENTLY – do not overmix or this will deflate the batter.

Divide the batter evenly between the ramekins. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the outside of the cakes are done but the insides/middle remain a little wobbly. If you want less “lava” in the middle, bake the cakes a few minutes longer.

Remove from oven and let rest for a minute or two. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream, or just by themselves.

Makes 8 individual ramekins.

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chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting

Happy Halloween! Here in Italy, Halloween is not really celebrated at all, which is very sad for those of us who view Halloween as an excuse to consume a horrific amount of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in the name of “celebrating a holiday.” To make matters worse, my extensive searches all over this city have yielded exactly zero peanut butter cups, so I can’t even sit in my room and eat them by myself while watching Halloweeny movies (read: Harry Potter movies).

There is really only one solution to a problem like this. Step 1: get together with American friends here in Rome. Step 2: Order pizza, eat popcorn, watch movies, and have your own Halloween, Italian indifference be damned. Step 3: find something to replace the peanut butter cups.

Enter chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting. It’s not quite the same as the Reese’s cups from home, but since I definitely consumed all the ones I brought back with me within about 72 hours, it was the best I could do.

The chocolate cake part of these cupcakes was amazing. Since there were no cupcake liners to be found here, I had to bake the cupcakes in little tin foil cups, but then remove them before frosting them. Because the cake was so moist, this resulted in a little bit of stickiness when handling the cakes, but again, cupcake liners would solve that problem. The cake itself was chocolatey without being overly sweet, and was even *marginally* healthier than the Contessa intended, because I substituted Greek yogurt for the buttermilk.

The frosting recipe is one that I’ve used a couple of times before, and so far I haven’t had any complaints. It starts like a cream cheese frosting, with peanut butter being the final addition. Because peanut butter can get so dense and rich (and delicious!), I think the cream cheese is the perfect way to introduce a little lightness and tang into the flavor, while still letting it stay plenty peanutbuttery.

This time (as the pictures show), the frosting didn’t come out perfectly smooth and creamy when I piped it, probably due to the fact that I had to mix it by hand, and I was doing so while simultaneously watching the Friends halloween party episode. Despite appearances, I didn’t notice much of a difference in the texture, so it all worked out! Overall, the cupcakes were a success, and I succeeded in eating too many of them. The Halloween tradition lives on.

Chocolate Cake recipe (adapted from The Barefoot Contessa)

  • 1 3/4 cup AP flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup good cocoa powder (I used Lindt)
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease cupcake pan/prepare cupcake liners.

Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, combine yogurt, oil, eggs and vanilla.

While mixing (or while using an electric mixer), slowly add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.  Once combined, slowly add the coffee and stir to combine.

Pour batter into prepared pan/liners. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (Note: because this cake is very moist even when fully cooked, the toothpick may have some crumbs on it, but as long as there is no uncooked batter on it, the cake should be done). Cool cupcakes completely (I cooled them overnight, but this is not necessary) before frosting.

Peanut Butter Frosting recipe (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

  • 10 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter (preferably a commercial brand, so that the oil doesn’t separate out)
  • 1 – 1.5 cups powdered sugar (according to taste)

Combine cream cheese and butter and mix until light and fluffy. Gradually add the powdered sugar and mix until thoroughly combined. Add peanut butter and continue to mix until combined. Spread/pipe onto fully-cooled cupcakes and enjoy!

chocolate-covered shortbread

It’s not socially acceptable to just eat sticks of butter, and that is why the Scots invented shortbread. They could have just called it butterbread, but the use of the word “short” is due to the fact that the old meaning of “short” is actually “crumbly”. And the reason shortbread is crumbly is because of ALL THE BUTTER.

Traditional shortbread is composed of sugar, butter and flour in a 1:2:3 ratio. Traditionally, oat flour is used, but nowadays it is often substituted with regular AP flour.

Though they really need no topping, I decided to add a layer of melted chocolate and some sprinkles to these shortbread bars. The easiest way to do this is just to dump chocolate chips on top of the shortbread the minute that it comes out of the oven. Usually, the heat from the pan alone should be enough to melt the chips, but in case it isn’t (or you are getting impatient because Say Yes to the Dress already started and you are missing it), just stick the pan back in the oven for about 20 seconds.

Once the chocolate chips got that shiny, melty look, I pulled the pan out of the oven, smoothed the chocolate with a knife, threw some sprinkles on top, and then went to the back patio to take pictures.

Sometimes taking good pictures means lying flat on your stomach and getting up close and personal with a stack of cookies. This can cause people (such as the guy mowing the lawn) to look at you with a mixture of amusement and concern, prompting you to try and relieve the awkwardness by greeting him with what can really only be described as a salute. The best thing to do in these situations is grab the cookies, run inside, and drown the embarrassment by shame-eating 3 or 4 of those chocolate-covered butterbombs.

Once the shame-eating is complete, I advise burning off this massive caloric intake is with a nice, long walk. I recommend starting at Il Vittoriano on Piazza Venezia and working your way down the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II until you get to Ponte Sant’Angelo, and find yourself face to face with this:

The Castel Sant’Angelo, also known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian. Originally commissioned as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian and his family, the castle was later used as a papal fortress, occasional papal residence, and prison. Nowadays it is home to Il Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo.

It could also be a wedding cake covered in mocha buttercream, thus making it a perfect way to book-end the walk from Piazza Venezia.

I submitted this recipe to the My Baking Addiction and GoodLife Eats Holiday Recipe Swap sponsored by Scharffen Berger!

Shortbread bars recipe (adapted from Joy of Baking)

  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • rainbow sprinkles for decorating (can also use toffee bits, chopped walnuts, etc.)

Preheat oven to 350° and line a 9×9″ baking pan with parchment paper (or grease with baking spray).

Using hand mixer (or stand mixer), beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract, then flour and salt and mix until dough comes together.

Press dough into pan, forming an even layer. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until shortbread becomes light golden-brown.

Remove pan from oven and evenly distribute chocolate chips on top of shortbread. If desired, place pan back in oven for 20 seconds to speed up the melting process. Once chips begin to look melted, use a butter knife or offset spatula to spread chocolate in an even layer. Immediately top with sprinkles (or topping of choice), and allow chocolate to harden before cutting.

brownies for grown-ups

Brownies remind me of being a little kid. I hate milk, so I have no nostalgic memories of enjoying a plate of brownies and a cold glass of milk. That sounds like a good way to ruin a plate of brownies. Even so, the crackly tops and chocolate-y interiors and fighting the good fight for a corner piece (this was before those all-corner brownie pans were around) reminds me of bake sales or classroom birthday parties.

These brownies have nothing to do with those brownies. These brownies grew up, got a job, and became productive members of society. Apparently, I’m expected to do the same at this point in my life. Fortunately, I believe that making brownies for friends does, in fact, make me a productive member of society.

There is no baking chocolate in my grocery store, but I found some unsweetened cocoa powder at Castroni, an international foods store. So began the search for a brownie recipe calling for cocoa powder in place of actual chocolate. I found a recipe over at Smitten Kitchen, but Deb’s pictures didn’t look like the brownies that I’m used to. I made it anyways, because the lady is never wrong, and wowww, I’m going to be making these again.

They are super dense, almost like fudge, but less sweet than any brownie I’ve ever had. In my mind, I have chocolate separated into two categories: sweet and bitter, so because I knew these wouldn’t be that sweet, I figured they would be a little bitter. Not the case. They are just…chocolate. There’s no other word for it.

To ease the transition from childhood to adulthood, I threw a couple of m&ms on top – baby steps, right? As you can see, the brownies have a wonderful dark chocolate color, so the m&ms give a nice splash of brightness, plus an added bit of sweetness to those of us who might still be jonesing for the brownies of yore. White chocolate chips might also make a good addition these, if you really can’t leave well enough alone. Better yet, throw in some liquor, make these really grown-up.

Now for the usual dose of Rome, this the view from Ponte Garibaldi, bridging the gap between the centro storico and the neighborhood of Trastevere. In the background is the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. More pictures of St. Peters to come soon!

I submitted this recipe to the My Baking Addiction and GoodLife Eats Holiday Recipe Swap sponsored by Scharffen Berger!

Cocoa Brownies recipe (adapted from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet)

  • 9 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup plus 3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Lindt)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, cold
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • m&m candies for decorating

Preheat oven to 325° F. Grease an 8×8” baking pan and set aside.

Combine butter, sugar, cocoa and salt in a medium-sized saucepan. (Note: the original recipe called for heating these in a double-boiler arrangement, but because I had no heatproof bowl, I just heated these ingredients directly over low heat in a saucepan.) Stir until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot. Remove from heat and set aside.

Stir in the vanilla, then add the eggs to the mixture one by one, stirring vigorously upon each addition. Once batter looks smooth and well-blended, add flour and stir until fully incorporated. Transfer batter to baking pan. Top with m&ms.

Bake for 25 – 35 minutes, or until an inserted tester comes out clean. Allow to cool (or freeze) fully before cutting.

baked chocolate donuts

I have a confession. I’m not a huge donut fan. I don’t mean that I do not like huge donuts, although I suppose I don’t.  But also, I do not like normal-sized donuts. I think its because, when I was younger, during our road trips, we would stop at Krispy Kreme a lot, back when it was a rare treat and a novelty, before they began to appear at every mall in the form of some fundraiser or the other. I get carsick really quickly, so I began to associate donuts with feeling nauseous (through no fault of their own) and hence the donut-aversion.

I don’t, however, have any aversions to cake. Nor do I have the ability to resist really cute cake pans. Especially pans that cost less than $10 and, thanks to my student Amazon Prime membership, promise to be at my door in two days. As if that weren’t wonderful enough, these super cute donut shaped pans also come in a mini size!

Traditionally, donuts are fried, so I’m not sure that I can really call these donuts, but I think that if you, unlike me, found yourself craving a donut, these would do the trick. I know that there are recipes out there designed specifically for baked donuts, to give them a more true donut-like texture, but for these I just used chocolate cake batter. I’ve now used the word “donut” so much that it has lost all meaning.

I made these for my little sister’s birthday party this past weekend, and although they didn’t receive overwhelming verbal enthusiasm (because that is desperately uncool when you are a teenage girl), they were gone pretty quickly, so I can only assume they were acceptable to the discerning palettes of my sister and her friends.

I topped these donuts with a simple homemade chocolate ganache, and a few sprinkles to brighten things up, but because the donuts themselves are really cake, anything that you would top a cake with is fair game as far as decorating these goes. For the base, just use your favorite chocolate cake recipe, or, better yet, brownie recipe. Next time I make these, I’m definitely going to try using a brownie base, for a denser, fudgier donut.

For the base, use your favorite chocolate cake/brownie recipe!

The baking time for the larger donuts was around 5-6 minutes, and for the smaller donuts the baking time was around 3 minutes.

Ganache recipe:

  • 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

Combine the chocolate chips and heavy cream in a double boiler and stir until completely smooth and melted. Remove from heat and top each donut with desired amount of ganache. Add any desired sprinkles or decorations.

beaucoup bars (a.k.a. hello dolly bars)

These bars are known as Hello Dolly bars. I have no idea where that name comes from – perhaps Satchmo loved these, and used his large mouth to eat as many at a time as he possibly could. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

They also can be called Magic Bars, Seven-layer bars, or probably lots of other things. I choose to call them Beaucoup Bars because that is exactly what they are. Too much.

I made these as a dessert for a dinner party, intending for them to be easy to eat, a nice hand-held alternative to a cake/pie/tart. I grossly underestimated the power of these tiny little artery-cloggers.

You start with a graham cracker crust. Then you put every single delicious thing you can find on top of it. Some people choose to layer their toppings nicely, but I follow the mix-it-up school of thought, because this way you never know what each bite will contain. Anyways, whichever method you prefer, once you are done adding your fixings, you dump a can of sweetened condensed milk over the whole thing, stick it in the oven, and for the love of god, jump on a treadmill till they are done. And for about 5 hours more afterwards.

Traditionally, toppings include chocolate chips, shredded coconut, butterscotch chips, and pecans. I skipped the butterscotch chips, and instead incorporated Heath toffee bits. This worked really well, because the toffee provides a little much-needed saltiness to the mix.

These were so delicious, but a little too rich to be a regular indulgence. Next time, I would try using fat-free sweetened condensed milk, and maybe upping the amount of toffee bits, and cutting down on the chocolate chips a little bit. Also, I have no official measurements of toppings for this recipe, because I just eyeballed how much I would need. Go with your soon-to-be-slightly-larger gut.

Graham Cracker Crust Recipe

  • 2  1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 9 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs and melted butter. Press mixture evenly into the bottom of a greased 9×13 baking dish.

Add desired toppings on top of crust (layering if desired). Pour a can of sweetened condensed milk evenly over the entire pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until top is slightly golden brown.

chocolate raspberry cake and too many birthdays

There are too many people I like who were born in June. My spatula has grown weary, and the oven is threatening to revolt. No. More. Birthdays.

These pictures are decidedly sub-par, even for my less-than-stellar photography skills. Some days you just can’t make things look good. But when those things are covered in chocolate ganache and filled with raspberries and soooo shiny, you eventually have to put down the camera and pick up a fork. My limited sense of coordination makes it impossible to do both at once.

This cake is for a Nice Boy. He likes chocolate and raspberries, so he wasn’t too surprised to be presented with a chocolate cake filled with raspberries and topped with more chocolate (and more raspberries).

I confess to using box cake mix for this cake. I’m not sorry – I think box cake mixes are great, especially if you doctor them up a bit. For this cake, instead of adding water, I added milk (buttermilk is also a popular substitution). I also grated a couple ounces of semi-sweet baking chocolate into the batter, to make it extra chocolate-y. Due to poor planning and estimation, one of those cake layers is regular chocolate cake, and one is German chocolate cake. Calm down, it was fine. For the filling, I warmed chopped fresh raspberries in a saucepan with a little bit of this amazing jam I found in my fridge:

I filled the cake with the raspberries, and topped it with homemade ganache, stuck more raspberries on top, scowled at the mess in the kitchen, and that was that.

For the cake, use whatever chocolate cake recipe you can find, or use a box!

Raspberry Filling Recipe 

  • 1 box fresh raspberries
  • 2 Tbsp. Baco Noir jelly

Chop the raspberries into small pieces, then add to a saucepan along with jelly. Heat over a low flame for 2-3 minutes until jelly is melted and mixture is slightly warm. Remove from heat and spread over bottom layer of cake.

Add top layer of cake. Prepare ganache.

Ganache Recipe

  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Melt chocolate chips and heavy cream together in a double boiler until chocolate is thoroughly melted. Pour mixture over cake and spread to ensure that entire cake is covered. Top with fresh raspberries if desired.