Coffee Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans + Sour Cream frosting

I'm constantly waffling—wait, pause, mmmmm....waffles— between the person I am and the person I want to be. You know, the classic battle of the shoulds and ought-tos against the want-tos and gonnas?

Like how I should order a salad with grilled chicken, but the burger is screaming my name. Or how I ought to go to yoga to help with my anxiety/posture/flexibility, but Hulu just put up all the seasons of Beverly Hills 90210. Truth be told, I'm rarely in the mood for salad and I hate yoga. I can appreciate why some people like yoga and what it brings them—and I appreciate its spiritual roots. But for me the room smells like sweat and rubber and, well, it's just not for me.

But you know what is for me? Leaving work on a rough day, driving about six miles on a backcountry road, and ending up at the flower farm between my town and the next. And coffee. And chocolate. (But we'll get to that in a minute.) The flower farm is several acres of annuals and perennials and each month between April and October brings new color and new growth. It's by far my favorite place in the area—but, shhhhhhhhhh—don't tell anyone about it.

I like to spend an hour or two wandering up and down the rows of blooms, listening to the bees, not listening to the Journey and Bon Jovi (no offense, guys) that incessantly plays at work, and snip flowers until my bucket doth runeth over. 

Then I come home, shew my cat away a hundred times from eating all the flowers, and put together as many arrangements as I can. We have to get our kicks where we can, right?

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Two of life's other joys? Coffee and chocolate. My parents drank coffee everyday while I was growing up—they still do. So, I was used to the house being filled with the scent of a fresh brew each morning. I still get warm and fuzzy feelings when I smell coffee. Every day. And a raging headache when I don't get my fix. I often feel un-human until I've had my first sip. 

And chocolate? My mom isn't a chocolate person (and I really want to say something snarky about how "those" people should be shipped off to an island somewhere to live a meaningless, chocolateless existence together, but she reads this thing). But my dad? Chocolate is his kryptonite. Want to bring this man to his knees? Give him a piece of really good dark chocolate—or even better, a piece of really good dark chocolate cake, baked by his daughter. 

I baked this cake for a friend's birthday and it was a big hit. It's my go-to chocolate cake recipe, which happens to be vegan and is then made extremely un-vegan with big swoops of tangy chocolate sour cream frosting. In between the layers are chopped chocolate covered espresso beans. Chopping them is kind of a pain in the ass, so only make this cake for someone you really like. 

Let's get our chocolate on.

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TO MAKE THIS CAKE YOU WILL NEED:

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup cocoa powder
1 ¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup safflower oil
3/4 cup strong coffee
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1 cup chocolate covered espresso beans, chopped

FOR THE FROSTING:

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Get prepped. I made a six-inch three-layer cake, but you can make a two-lay 9-inch cake if you'd like. This recipe has enough batter for either. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line cake pans with parchment and grease lightly with oil. 

Dries and wets; wets and dries. In a medium mixing bowl add all dry ingredients and whisk until well combined. In a large mixing bowl add wet ingredients and whisk until combined. In several additions, add the dry mixture to the wet mixture, making sure not to over mix.

Bake, bake, bake. Pour batter evenly into prepared cake pans and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool in pans for 10 minutes before turning out onto cooling rack.

Make your frosting. In a small sauce pan over low heat, slowly melt the chocolate and butter, stirring continuously. Remove from heat and let cool. Transfer mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer. Blend in sour cream, vanilla, and salt until smooth and well combined. With the mixer on low, slowly add in powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time. Gradually increase speed to medium and blend until smooth. Reward yourself by licking the beaters. You worked hard!

Assembly time. Build your cake with a thin layer of frosting on each layer of cake. Then top with the chopped espresso beans. Cover the whole cake in more frosting.

Buttermilk Blackberry Cake (and Best Friends)

The great poet Beyonce Knowles once said, "Who run the world? Girls, girls."

And for those of us ladies with a badass best friend it feels all too possible. I met mine, Ashley, about 13 years ago when we were 20 and worked for Boys and Girls Clubs. I invited her to lunch with several other people and the rest is history made in sarcasm heaven.

We haven't always lived in the same place—in fact, we've lived apart more years than we've lived in the same city, but one thing is for sure—this woman gets me.

Most recently—in 2013—I convinced her to move from the big city to a tiny-ass town in Idaho, so we could start an adventure. We opened a catering company with a mobile wood-fired pizza oven, so we could bring beautiful, freshly prepared, local food to the masses. 

If anyone appreciates food as much as I do, it's Ashley. She's curious about how things are made, where they come from, and loves to watch people's faces as they enjoy the first bite of something we've made—it's a weird voyeuristic trait that I've noticed we both have. And she's an amazing cook and baker to boot. She's also insanely funny, wickedly witty, and has a B.S. meter unlike anyone I've ever met—so watch your back. 

We had our oven at farmers market, festivals, and catered weddings and parties. We worked with local farms, made our dough and sauces from scratch, and worked our asses off in front of an 800° oven (with the help of a lot of friends and family—what up free labor?!). We both worked full-time jobs on top of our catering business, and tried to figure out some other creative enterprise for ourselves in this fickle town, but ended up closing up shop and selling our oven.

Not long after moving here and starting our business, Ashley met Kyle and fell and in love. I love Kyle like a family member, not only because he's one of the most genuine people I've ever met, but because he loves my best friend so fully.

They've recently decided to move to Arizona for work and to be closer to Ashley's family—and while I'm happy for them and their new adventure—I'm also really selfish.  I've been without her before, but this time feels different. We're adults now. We know more about life and people and the way the world works—and how best friends don't just happen. 

This cake is from a party we recently had to celebrate Ashley and Kyle and the amazing mark they left on this community. It's a dense buttermilk cake, not too sweet, with roasted blackberries between the layers, and slightly sweetened whipped cream for frosting.

I wish I could fully express how much Ashley means to me, but there just isn't a way to do that. This recipe (and others that'll pop up from time to time) will hopefully convey my gratitude and love for her—and the hundreds (maybe thousands) of meals we've shared together.

TO MAKE THIS CAKE YOU WILL NEED:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

FOR THE BERRY FILLING:

2 cups blackberries
2 tablespoons honey

FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM:

1 1/2 cups cold heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon honey

First things first. Preheat your oven to 350 and grease two 8-inch cake pans. I also cut out parchment circles and place them in the bottom to avoid stuck cakes and tears of frustration. 

Second things second. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, soda, and salt. In the bowl of a mixer, lightly beat the two eggs. Add in the buttermilk, vinegar, oil, and vanilla. Mix on medium until combined.

Dry meets wet. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, being careful not to overmix. Divide batter evenly among the two pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in pans for ten minutes before removing cakes and letting cool on cooling racks.

Roast your berries. Turn your oven up to 425. Place berries on rimmed baking sheet. The rim is important otherwise you will have blackberry runoff in the bottom of your oven, causing your kitchen to fill with black smoke, and your cat's eyes to fill with fear. Drizzle with honey. Roast for 25-30 minutes. Place hot berries in a bowl and slightly mash.

Whip (and nay nay) your cream. Place cold cream and honey in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, start slowly beating the cream and gradually increase the speed to medium high. Whisk until the cream has thickened, but stop before it turns to butter.

Build-a-cake. Assemble your cake with berries in between the two layers. You can either top your cake with the extra or serve them on the side. Cover cake in whipped cream.

 

 

Dark Chocolate Cake with Blood Orange Frosting

My husband once tried to set me up with a very short rodeo clown named Jed.

When we first met he was dating someone else and asked me to double date with his then—girlfriend and her cousin—the aforementioned cowboy. We met at an establishment famous for their baby back ribs, and I drank a lot of tequila. Like, a lot.

No one at the table talked but me and Matt—about what I can't remember—but needless to say there was no romance with the rodeo clown. 

Several months later, Matt was single and asked me to watch his band play. He played bass in a cover band and by this point I'd begun to think he was pretty cute. So I agreed, and when I walked in and watched him jamming it was basically over—ladies, amiright?

December 2, 2006 we had our official first date.

Drinks and a snowball fight in the park. 

Since that day I've known how he's felt about me. He's always respected me, supported me, been my equal. He was supposed to graduate that December—and thanks to a royal screw-up on his adviser's part—he had to stay an extra semester.

We always joked that we would invite his adviser to our wedding—thanking him as the indirect cause for the success of our relationship—but our wedding came and went and we forgot to invite Roger.

We lived apart for a year—I eventually joined him in Kentucky—and even though that year was tough (and really expensive traveling back and forth) it made us really strong.

We've now celebrated ten birthdays together, which feels like a lot of birthdays. That's ten different cakes. The first cake I made for him was German Chocolate and was it awful. But Matt doesn't care about stuff like that. To Matt, cake is cake. He's extremely balancing to me—thank god. To me, every meal feel like it needs to be special. And to Matt, as long as it makes him full, he's grateful. I need more of him.

If I'm ever on death row—not that I can ever think of an instance why I would be—and I need to pick a last meal, they better start the conversation with me at least two weeks before I'm set to die. 

My relationship with my husband is special. He climbs giant mountains, I like my feet planted right here on the ground, thank you very much. He prefers to do a lot of research about something before making a purchase, I'm much more impulsive. He's cool under pressure, I'm more of a firecracker.

But one thing is for sure, we love each other even when when we don't. I can always count on this one person in my life to love me and laugh with me—even when life feels so completely unfunny. I can always count on him to make me pretty and loved. And I can always count on him to leave his eBay searches open so I can see what hiking boots he wants to buy, but doesn't need.

This cake, his favorite combination of flavors, is in celebration of his 32nd trip around the sun.

TO MAKE THIS CAKE YOU WILL NEED

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup cocoa powder
1 ¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup safflower oil
1 cup strong coffee
1 cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

Get prepped. I made a six-inch three-layer cake, but you can make a two-lay 9-inch cake if you'd like. This recipe has enough batter for either. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line cake pans with parchment and grease lightly with oil. 

Dries and wets; wets and dries. In a medium mixing bowl add all dry ingredients and whisk until well combined. In a large mixing bowl add wet ingredients and whisk until combined. In several additions, add the dry mixture to the wet mixture, making sure not to over mix.

Bake, bake, bake. Pour batter evenly into prepared cake pans and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool in pans for 10 minutes before turning out onto cooling rack.

FOR THE FROSTING

(This was enough for a naked cake. Frosting is not Matt's favorite. But if you like a more even cake to frosting ratio, go ahead and double it.)

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons blood orange juice
1 tablespoon blood orange zest
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

In the bowl of an electric mixer beat cream cheese and butter until completely smooth. Beat in juice and zest and neat until well combined. With the mixer on low, beat in sugar. Gradually increase the speed on the mixer and mix until frosting is smooth. Use to frost completely cooled cakes.

Adapted from Rooted Magazine, Winter 2015.