Meet Cara. She’s made of rich, dark chocolate covered with creamy caramel.
I baked this cake for a fundraiser at my son’s daycare to benefit its sister programs in Nairobi, Kenya. It was also a baking contest, each person who bought pieces of cake and pie got a vote.
When the director asked what my cake was named, it came to me. This caramel-chocolate sweetie’s name was Ms. Cara Cocoa.
Perhaps I have an unfair advantage, you say, when it comes to a bake off. But I’m a cupcake baker, not a cake baker. Plus, I wouldn’t say they were too serious about it. One parent brought a delicious and beautiful but store-bought cake and wasn’t disqualified.
I don’t often bake full-sized cakes. I’m used to short baking time with cupcakes and forget how long you have to leave these in the oven. Frosting them is also still a challenge. Evening the layers, stacking, crumb-coating, smoothing… Geez. With cupcakes, it’s often just a quick swirl and done.
I made enough frosting, at least. I sometimes stress about that. I followed Ovenly‘s Salted Caramel Buttercream recipe (check out their cookbook).
I couldn’t resist adding more caramel to finish it. I used a squeeze bottle filled with caramel sauce to adorn the edge with enough excess to drip down the sides of my cake.
Ms. Cocoa didn’t win. A pie won. A pie! I mean, really…
(I love pie, too. It’s ok.)
Only crumbs were left at the end, and that’s a big win in my book.
InStyle Parties: The Complete Guide to Easy, Elegant Entertaining All Year Round is a great resource for those who like to entertain. We all need a little guidance sometimes, or just some new ideas. The book starts with a general guide to invitations, food and drinks, setting the table (serving pieces to linens) and the atmosphere (flowers, music, lighting).
There is a wide variety of party ideas including dinner, holiday, occasions/themes, and summer. Each suggests an invitation design, décor, menu, and even an activity. They provide recipes for everything and sneak in shortcuts if you don’t have time for the full deal.
Since the Super Bowl is almost here, I chose to bake the brownies from the “Game Day Fiesta” section of the Occasions & Theme Parties chapter. I have to admit, I haven’t made a lot of brownies in my time. Most were probably from a mix–gasp! These were from scratch with three kinds of chocolate (semisweet and unsweetened bars plus cocoa) and were marvelous.
The hardest part is cutting out the football shapes, and the recipe doesn’t give much guidance here–cut 10 (4-inch) football shapes. After I was disappointed by my freehand attempts, my husband looked up the exact proportions of a football and made a more precise pattern. 2 1/2 ” x 4″ is the correct size.
It’s still a challenge to cut out the shapes. Being careful not to disturb the crunchy top of the brownies (as much as possible) gives the best results.
Brownies 12 ounces semisweet chocolate baking bar, chopped
3⁄4 cup unsalted butter
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate baking bar, chopped
3 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2⁄3 cup all-purpose flour
1⁄4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
Icing 1 cup powdered sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons whole milk
Make the brownies: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of a 13- x 9-inch baking pan with parchment paper, and lightly coat with cooking spray. Place the semisweet chocolate, butter, and unsweetened chocolate in the top of a double boiler. Bring the water in the bottom pan to a light boil over medium. Cook the chocolate mixture, stirring often, until melted and smooth, about 10 minutes. Cool slightly, about 10 minutes.
Whisk together the sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl. Add the chocolate mixture to the sugar mixture, stirring until smooth. Sift together the flour, cocoa, and salt. Stir the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture until fully incorporated. Spread the batter in the prepared pan.
Bake at 350°F until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs, 32 to 35 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack, about 2 hours. Turn the brownies out onto a baking sheet; cut 10 (4-inch) football shapes, reserving the scraps for another use.
Make the icing: Whisk together the powdered sugar, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon of the milk in a medium bowl until smooth. Whisk in the remaining milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, to the desired consistency. Spoon the icing into a piping bag or a ziplock plastic bag with 1 corner snipped. Pipe the football stripes onto the brownies. Let the icing set before serving, about 20 minutes.
Thank you to Time Inc. Books, from whom I received a review copy of this book.
Attending a July 4th party where some guests avoid wheat, I got a chance to delve into the world of gluten-free cooking. Using fresh summer fruit seemed a no-brainer, so I opted to make a berry crisp.
A crisp is about as simple a baked dessert can get. It usually involves fruit topped with some sort of crumbly crust or pastry, often involving oats, and is a perfect summer dessert, especially topped with vanilla ice cream.
I made sure my rolled oats contained no gluten and bought some gluten-free all purpose flour from Trader Joe’s. (I’ll try actually baking with it sometime soon.) See the recipe below.
Recipe: Berry Crisp
Makes 12 servings
12 cups fresh berries (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc.) 1/2 cup white sugar 1/4 cup cornstarch 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon 1 1/2 cups rolled oats 1 cup flour blend (gluten-free flour works great) 1 cup brown sugar 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces 1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
Mix together the berries, white sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon until evenly coated and pour into the 9-by-13 dish.
Combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, salt, and butter using your hands or a pastry cutter (or both!) until the dry ingredients are well incorporated with the butter. Some lumps are fine. Add evenly over the berry mix.
Bake about 45 minutes, until the topping is browned and the filling bubbling. Cool 10-15 minutes. Serve alone or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Dawn Belisle is an attorney-turned-baker who began baking alcohol infused cakes inspired by her mother’s fruit cake and hasn’t looked back since.
“Baking with booze requires knowing what flavors work well with each other while ensuring the alcohol complements the other ingredients,” says Dawn. “In a good recipe you will taste the flavor and the alcohol of the spirit used—it will enhance the recipe but the alcohol will not overpower the final flavors. It’s all about using a great tasting spirit like Van Gogh’s flavored vodkas to create that perfect balance for the palate.”
I tried out one of her recipes recently, making her no-bake chocolate-covered caramel vodka bites. I used graham crackers and arrowroot cookies that I had on hand, but I otherwise followed Dawn’s recipe below.
They were a hit! With plenty of chocolate and caramel flavor, they also packed a punch. There was no doubt these were boozy bites.
Dawn’s alcohol-infused cupcakes and other goodies can be ordered online at www.delightsbydawn.com. You may also see her at the Georgia Dome, Philips Arena, and other locations in Atlanta.
Thank you to Delights by Dawn and Van Gogh Vodka for providing me a sample of Dutch Caramel Vodka. Van Gogh crafts 16 varieties of high quality flavored vodka. Get to know Van Gogh at www.vangoghvodka.com.
Put wafers in a food processor and process until fine. If you don’t have a food processor put wafers in a sealable gallon food bag and use a rolling pin to crush until fine. Place wafer crumbs in a bowl and add confectioners’ sugar, corn syrup and Van Gogh Dutch Caramel Vodka. Mix until well until combined. Using a small cookie scoop or a heaping tablespoon, scoop the dough and roll into a 1 inch bite-sized ball.
Melt the chocolate and then dip the bites into the chocolate until covered entirely. Place dipped bites on a wax sheet of paper to harden. To decorate, add sprinkles or colored sugar before the chocolate coating hardens. Store the Dutch Caramel Vodka Bites in an airtight container. Bites are best when made ahead of time and stored for 1 to 3 days to allow all the flavors to meld before serving.
One of my favorite desserts as a child was my grandmother’s gingerbread, which she topped with lemon sauce. The smell of this gingerbread hits me with straight nostalgia. It brings back many happy childhood memories of enjoying comforting food in cool weather and anticipating the holiday season.
The spices in the recipe are typical of gingerbread—ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. If you have Steen’s Sugar Cane Syrup from Louisiana (I can’t eat pancakes without it), that’s what you use. Molasses will do in a pinch.
I recently learned that the recipe for the gingerbread itself had been passed to my grandmother by a long ago neighbor of hers who had gotten it from her mother. So, really, it is a woman named Mattie Lou’s gingerbread (or perhaps her grandmother’s? You never know!). To me, however, it will always be my grandmother Glo’s gingerbread.
Glo recommends doubling the lemon sauce recipe. And you should always listen to my grandmother! I used bright, juicy Limoneira lemons for this batch.
You can prepare the dough ahead of time. This batter will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.
I hope this gingerbread helps your family make wonderful memories, too!