Black Forest Birthday Cake

Michelle requested a black forest cake for her birthday as she loves both cherries and chocolate. I’m not a kirschwasser fan, so instead of the liquor, I made my own simple syrup with some frozen cherries to make a paint for the cake layers. You can use any good chocolate cake recipe as the base. I used my favorite sour cream chocolate cake. The cake is moist and decadently rich and goes beautifully with the cherries. Be sure the coffee is hot when adding as it jump starts the cooking process.

If you want more layers, add another cup of whipping cream when making the frosting (for 3 cups total) and increase the simple syrup to 1 cup each of sugar and water when making the cherry syrup. Cut each cake in half and just repeat the assembly directions until cake is covered with cherry syrup and smothered in whipped cream.

If you like kirsch, use it to replace the vanilla in the cake and whipped cream.

Black Forest Birthday Cake

Chocolate Cake:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and returned to room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup full fat sour cream, at room temperature
1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup strong coffee, hot

For the Cherry Syrup:
1 lb frozen pitted cherries, divided
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

For the Frosting:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

For Decorating:
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, grated
reserved cherries

For the Cake:

Preheat the oven to 350° degrees F. Butter two round 9 inch cake pans and, instead of flour, use cocoa to coat the pans to ease removal. Set aside.

Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix the oil, butter, eggs, sour cream, buttermilk, and vanilla together until combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix. Add the hot coffee and whisk or beat it all until the batter is completely combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl at least once during mixing.

Divide batter evenly between pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating the pans midway through cooking. Baking times may vary and the cakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the cakes from the oven and set on a wire rack. Allow to cool 45 minutes in the pan before removing and cooling completely on a wire rack.

For the syrup:

Set aside one cup frozen cherries. In a small saucepan, add sugar, water and the rest of the bag of cherries. Heat on medium-low, stirring constantly, for approximately 5 minutes until sugar is dissolved. Boil another 5 to 10 minutes to thicken syrup. Set aside to cool completely. For the frosting: Whip the heavy cream, slowly adding the sugar, and then the vanilla. Whip until stiff peaks form.


Generously brush cherry syrup over the top of the first layer of the chocolate cake. Add a whipped cream on top and spread out into an even layer. Scatter some of the simple sugar cherries over before putting dollops of whipped cream on top, to enfold the cherries in cream. Place the next chocolate cake layer on top. Paint the top and sides with the remaining syrup.

Once all layers are in place and coated, spread a generous layer of whipped cream all over the top and sides of the cake. Drizzle with some of the cherry simple syrup. Place the reserved cherries on top. Scatter the grated chocolate over the top and sides.

Happy birthday, Michelle!


Cocoa Pebbles Peanut Butter Chocolate Bars

I was in the grocery store the other day and saw a pallet of Cocoa Pebbles cereal boxes on sale. I remembered making a dessert years ago and, thanks to my smartphone, I was able to pull up a similar recipe there in the store so I knew how much to buy.

Coming home, I found my recipe and decided to use salted caramel chips instead of the original butterscotch chips. You could also use a microwave oven to melt everything before stirring together. Combining peanut butter, chocolate chips and salted caramel chips with the Cocoa Pebbles makes for a crunchy and delicious snack.

Store in the fridge until ready to eat.

Cocoa Pebbles Bars

1 – 10 oz package Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips
1 – 10 oz package Hershey’s sea salt caramel chips
1 cup peanut butter (I prefer Skippy Super Chunk)
1 – 11 oz package Cocoa Pebbles cereal

Butter a 9×13 baking dish. Set aside.

Combine the chocolate chips, caramel chips and peanut butter in a double boiler. Stir over low heat until the chips are fully melted and the mixture is smooth.

Place Cocoa Pebbles in a large bowl and pour over chocolate mixture. Stir until fully coated. Pour mixture into prepared baking dish. Press into corners and smooth the top.

Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.


Blackberry Bonanza

Michelle has been picking blackberries around her house and we had more than enough to make a pitcher of blackberry lemonade and a batch of lemon blackberry sorbet plus plenty for freezing for later. These recipes made a very refreshing drink and sorbet – beautiful, tasty and loaded with antioxidants.

One day’s haul

To do these two recipes, make a simple syrup with 2 cups of water and two cups of sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to make sure the sugar dissolves. Pour over 2 cups of blackberries that have been lightly mashed and let steep for 30 minutes. Press the simple syrup, juice and berries through a strainer. You should have about 3 cups blackberry simple syrup. If you’re only making one of the items, either double the recipe ingredients or drop the simple syrup ingredients (sugar, water and blackberries) to 1 cup.

Leftover syrup can be added to tea or used in cocktails.

Blackberry Lemonade

1 1/2 cup blackberry simple syrup
1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
2-3 cups water

Add blackberry simple syrup and lemon juice to a large container. Add up to 3 cups water to taste.

For an added kick, add a 1/4 cup bourbon to the final mixture.

Lemon Blackberry Sorbet

1 1/2 cup blackberry simple syrup
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest

Combine chilled simple syrup with the lemon juice and zest and pour into the bowl of an ice cream machine. Freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. After the sorbet is made, transfer to a container. Cover and freeze until ready to serve.

Chocolate Cornmeal Shortbread

I saw a recipe recently for lemon shortbread cookies that added some cornmeal for a twist. As I’m a fan of corn in almost all its forms, I thought I’d give the concept a try. Of course, I had to make the recipe my own by incorporating a few changes.

I decided to make mine chocolate. As coffee increases the impact of the chocolate, I added some instant espresso powder dissolved in a mix of creme de cacao and vanilla. Of course, if you’re not using the Creme de Cacao liquor, up the amount of vanilla extract to one teaspoon.

The shortbread cookies were crisp, with a depth of chocolate and a bit of nuttiness that was absolutely delicious.

1 1/2 cups cake flour, sifted
1/3 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 sticks butter (12 tablespoons), softened
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted if lumpy
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cream de cacao liquor, optional
1/3 cup bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, cornstarch and salt in a medium bowl.

Put the butter and confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Place the espresso powder in the vanilla and creme de cacao and stir to dissolve. Pour into the batter and mix until blended. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until the dough forms moist clumps. Mix in the chopped chocolate.

Turn the dough out onto a parchment lined surface. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough to a 1/4-inch thickness, turning, lifting, and repositioning the parchment throughout the rolling. Slide the dough onto a cookie sheet and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes.

Using a 2 1/2-inch round (or any shape) cookie cutter, cut out cookies. Arrange about 1 inch apart on parchment covered cookie sheets. Stack the scraps, gently press together, reroll, and cut as before. Slide the cookie sheets into the fridge while the oven heats (at least 15 minutes). Bake, one sheet at a time, until the tops look dry and very pale brown, 25 to 28 minutes.

Let the shortbread cool completely on the cookie sheets. Store in an airtight container.

Mississippi Mud Pie for Pi Day

I’ve had more than my share of Mississippi Mud Pies. Some are cake like (a la Dolly Parton’s version). Some are just a chocolate crust with chocolate pudding. Some are as layered as the river itself and that is where I started with my version.

Chocolate crust – check. Brownie layer – check. Pudding layer – check. Caramel whipped cream layer – check. Cookie and pecan topping – check. Remembering the feeling of Mississippi river mud squishing through my toes – check!

As this is a lot of pie (like the Mississippi River currently is), I used a springform pan instead of a pie plate. If you have a deep dish one, you could certainly use that.

So yummy!

Mississippi Mud Pie

For the crust:
25 chocolate wafer cookies (about 2/3rds of a 9-ounce package)
1/2 cup pecan chopped, plus more for garnish
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the brownie layer:
8 ounces unsalted butter
8 ounces Bittersweet or Semisweet Chocolate
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup all-purpose flour

For the pudding layer:
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups milk
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces

For the caramel whipped cream topping:
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup pecans coarsely chopped
5-8 chocolate wafer cookies, crushed


For the crust: In a food processor, grind wafers and pecans until fine crumbs form. Add melted butter; process until moistened. Transfer mixture to a 9-inch springform pan and press evenly into bottom and up sides. Bake in 375 degree F oven until fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

For the brownie layer: In a double boiler, melt butter and chocolate together. In a separate bowl whisk together eggs, salt, sugars and vanilla. Stir egg mixture into chocolate mixture, and then add flour and chopped pecans. Stir just until combined.

Scrape brownie batter into the chocolate crust, forming an even layer. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out somewhat clean. Allow to cool at least 5 minutes before topping with pudding.

For the pudding: In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, and salt until well combined. In a slow, steady stream, whisk in milk. Once milk is incorporated, whisk in egg yolks. Turn on the burner to medium heat and, whisking constantly, cook mixture until the first large sputtering bubble forms. Reduce heat to low; continuing to whisk constantly, cook 1 minute. Remove from heat; immediately pour through a fine mesh sieve into a medium sized mixing bowl. Stir in vanilla and cold butter until combined.

Pour pudding over the brownie layer, spreading into an even layer but staying away from the outside edge so as to form a crust. Place plastic wrap directly on surface to prevent skin from forming and chill at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.

Remove from the springform pan.

Whipped topping: Prepare an ice bath; set aside. Heat sugar, water, and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Continue cooking, without stirring, until sugar turns golden amber. Remove pan from heat; slowly pour cream down sides of pan in a slow, steady stream (it will spatter and the sugar will solidify). Return pan to medium heat, and whisk until sugar is melted and the mixture is smooth and combined.

Transfer caramel cream to a mixing bowl set in ice bath; let sit until very cold, stirring occasionally. Mixture can be refrigerated overnight.
When ready to serve pie: Whip the caramel cream until stiff peaks form. Top the chocolate pudding layer with the whipped cream. Garnish with crushed chocolate cookies and chopped pecans.

Decadent Chocolate Cupcakes

I was heading to a board meeting yesterday and I wanted to take some cupcakes to help us act in accordance with the fiduciary duties of care, loyalty, and obedience. Because of where I am on my cycle, they had to be not just chocolate but chocolate on chocolate cupcakes.

The result was rich, dark and delicious. Because of the melted butter, water and buttermilk, these are super moist, too. Chop the pecans very finely, so they becomes little nutty bits within the frosting.

Decadent Chocolate Cupcakes

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

2 sticks unsalted butter
5 tablespoons good quality cocoa
1 cup boiling water

1/2 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs,
1 teaspoon vanilla

Place cupcake liners in 2 pans. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a mixing bowl, place the flour, sugar, salt and soda and stir to combine.

In saucepan, melt the butter. Once melted, stir in the cocoa and then add the boiling water. Pour the butter/cocoa over the flour mixture. Stir gently to combine.

In a separate bowl, beat together the buttermilk, eggs and vanilla. Pour the mixture over the batter. Fill cupcake liners about 2/3rds of the way full. Bake for 20 minutes, rotating pans midway through baking. A toothpick pressed in the center should come out clean.

Cool on wire racks before frosting.

The frosting is sweet without being cloying and is also deeply chocolate.

Chocolate Pecan Frosting

1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter
5 tablespoons good quality cocoa
6 tablespoons buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 cup toasted pecans, finely chopped

Melt butter in a saucepan. Remove from heat. Add cocoa and stir to combine. Add the buttermilk, vanilla and powdered sugar. Stir together until well combined. Add the pecans and stir together. Once cooled, spread over the cupcakes.

Cinnamon Chocolate Pepper Cookies

I’m still in a holiday baking mood, so I made these spicy chocolate rounds that are almost like eating a cup of Mexican hot chocolate in cookie form. I dusted some with cinnamon sugar and others with red and green sanding sugar. They’ve got a sneaky little bite to them from the black and cayenne peppers, so make sure you have a tall glass of milk handy when eating.

Instead of vanilla, I added some Rum Chata. The mixture of rum, cream and spices gave the cookies a delicious twist.

Cinnamon Chocolate Pepper Cookies

1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup Dutch processed cocoa
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon Rum Chata (or Mexican vanilla)
cinnamon sugar and sanding sugar

Whisk together the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, salt and peppers. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg and mix well. Add the Rum Chata (or vanilla) and then slowly add the dry ingredients. Mix just until combined.

Divide the dough in half and form into six inch logs. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to firm for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a shallow plate, place cinnamon sugar or sanding sugar.

Working with one roll at a time, either cut rounds off the roll of chilled dough or roll out and cut with cookie cutters. Gently toss the cookies in the sugar to evenly coat. Place on a parchment covered baking sheet.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating pan midway through. Edges will look dry when done. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely before storing in an air tight container.