Chocolate Cake Pan Cake + 5 Lovely Cake Links for Mother’s Day

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I think of her most often when the lilac bushes bloom in May.  I inhale their sweet floral scent deeply and see her as she was: short, dark curly hair framing her square face, beautiful brown eyes shining below thick eyebrows; strong hips sitting wide, above long skinny legs.  Her easy smile.

I kneel on the damp ground, searching for a four-leaf clover while blades of grass, small stones and drying mud stamp petrified impressions on my bony knees.  Looking haphazardly for luck, searching, minute after minute, for a clover windfall.  She walks by, the white rubber soles of her navy Keds grass-stained, her khaki chino shorts a bit stained with the morning’s bacon grease spatters and long tan arms brushing past her hips as she moves towards the grape vines and lilac bushes.  She pops a grape into her mouth, smiles. She pulls a pair of shears out of her back pocket and cuts a few clusters of lilacs, gathering them in her tanned, slightly wrinkled hands.  I love her absolutely, as only a child is able to love.  She is the great love of my life.

“What are you looking for, Kel?”

“A lucky clover.”

“You won’t find any luck around here.”  She says with a quick laugh and a half hearted smile.  [Decades later I will understand the multiple meanings of that one powerful sentence.]

Thirty years later, hip to hip, we inch across the driveway to my father’s car.  I carefully hold her twiggy arms.  Veins, tendons, bones now evident underneath her bruised paper-thin skin.  The weight of her body leaning against mine is barely felt.

[Time passes.  Time is an unsparing critic.]  

I want a chocolate cake for my birthday,” she says out of the blue.  I kiss her on the cheek and breathe in her powdery scent, hoping some of her smell will latch onto my shirt.  

“Ok, I’ll make you a chocolate cake.” I say as I ease her into the passenger seat pulling the seat belt across her concave chest, buckling her in like I do with own my children.  She smiles, turns away from me and stares straight ahead through the bug splattered windshield.  I know she is moving away from me, letting go.  She knows I understand this.  And yet, come August, with some luck, I’ll make her a chocolate cake.

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Chocolate Cake Pan Cake with Whipped Chocolate Ganache Frosting

cake recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour’s Original Cake Pan Cake

whipped ganache recipe barely adapted from allrecipes.com

serves 8-10

Cake Ingredients:

1 + 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

3/4 cup vanilla sugar

1/4 unsweetened natural cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon espresso powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 cup milk ( I used 2%)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease an 8 inch square pan and set aside.  (You may also use a 9 inch round pan.)

Place dry ingredients in a medium size bowl and whisk together.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the vanilla extract, vinegar, oil and milk.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until well combined.  Pour the  batter into your prepared pan.

Bake the cake for about 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean with just a few moist crumbs.  Begin checking the cake around 22 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan sitting on a wire rack.

While the cake cools make the whipped chocolate ganache frosting.

Fluffy Whipped Ganache Ingredients:

9 ounces of semisweet  chocolate, chopped or use chips

1 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon dark rum

Directions:

Place the chocolate in a medium bowl and set aside.  Heat the heavy cream in a sauce over medium heat until it just begins to boil.  Pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand for 5 minutes.  Add the rum and whisk until completely smooth and shiny.  Cool the ganache until thick.  (I let it sit on our counter at room temperature for a couple of hours.)  Once cool whip the ganache using a stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment until very light and fluffy.  Spread evenly over cake.  Slice the cake and serve with a cold glass of milk.  Enjoy!  (Cake will last up to two days stored in air-tight container at room temperature.)

5 Lovely Cake Links for Mother’s Day

Treat your crazy mom to a crazy cake: strawberry pazzo cake with herbed creme fraiche. Pazzo means crazy in Italian which describes this cake well; balsamic vinegar drizzled over a sweet strawberry cake.  I’m intrigued!

Speaking of strawberries, check out my recipe for a cold oven strawberry pound cake mom is sure to love.  Or head to My Name Is Yeh for Molly’s cardamom vanilla cake with strawberry filling and cream cheese frosting.  I’m drooling.

Looking for a simple yet delicious cake recipe?  Head to Food 52 for their olive oil cake recipe.

Don’t feel like baking? Check out Baker’s Royale lemon ice box cake.  Yum!

Baked Strawberry French Toast with Oat Crumble Topping + 5 Can’t Miss French Toast links!

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“I held my breath as we do sometimes to stop time when something wonderful has touched us…” Mary Oliver

I sat on the cold hardwood floor in my office furiously sifting through a box of photos as if my life depended on finding this one particular image taken so many years ago.

Photographs.

My husband’s  worry-free face 14 years ago [oh how I miss you!], my girl, maybe three? curled up so small sifting through wet sand, weddings, sunsets, Fenway, misty beach mornings, graduations, forced smiles and genuine ones, baby boy 1, big chocolate-brown eyes [ you haven’t changed yet…] baby boy 2 smooth cheeks, a big under-bite, almond blue eyes [ a compilation of many generations all present in your sweet, chubby face], drunken fun with best friends, worry, innocence, love, in love and love past, Christmas, Mama [happy?] surrounded by her 3 ducklings circa 1989, Dad in the old orange rocking chair, beer in hand, absent yet physically present, school pictures of my littles…I sink momentarily into these memories, my heart full, blessed, nostalgic and then I let them go and take a giant, slow breath.  I had stopped breathing.

I didn’t find the picture I was looking for, nor is it relevant I tell you about the photograph, or the people captured in it.  It is gone just like the moments captured thousands of hours ago, the photos now scattered on the creaky wooden floor in our tiny home office.  I sat and stared at the mess of memories, grateful for almost all of them. And yet.  I carelessly tossed them back into a nondescript, beige box because that is where they belong.

Hours later I wash the kitchen floor, scrubbing away at the faint paw prints, yogurt droplets and strawberry stains left marking the events of another day.  One pound of fresh strawberries gone, consumed by my hungry little monsters before dinner.  Another pound still in the refrigerator.  I’ll need to hide them.

I empty the bucket of dirty water into the sink.  A small spider, no bigger than my pinkie nail scurries to the lip of the sink and willingly crawls in, brave yet unaware of the possibilities.  The spider explores for a bit, his movements becoming more cautious each second.  I turn on the faucet, pull out the hose and aim it right at him.  The current sweeps him off his minuscule legs, pushing him towards the drain.  I turn off the faucet. He fights, finds his sea legs, tries to avoid the impossible.  With a half jealous smile, I turn on the water.  One final flush and he is gone.

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Baked Strawberry French Toast with Oat Crumble

Recipe adapted from NYT Cooking

Serves 12

Ingredients:

9 cups good quality French bread cut into 1 inch cubes (challah or brioche will also work)

Cooking spray or butter for baking dish

8 large eggs

2 cups whole milk

1/3 cup honey

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon ginger

½ teaspoon cloves

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 pound strawberries, cored and halved

Ingredients for topping:

½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/3 cup old fashion rolled oats

1/3 cup light brown sugar

2 teaspoons ginger

1 teaspoon cloves

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup or 1 stick cold unsalted butter cut into cubes

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 450F.  Cut bread into 1 inch cubes and spread out on a baking sheet.  Toast the bread for about 12 minutes.  Cool and set aside.

Spray or generously butter a 9×13 baking dish.  Add bread cubes to baking dish.

Next make the custard.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, honey, vanilla, ginger, cloves and salt until smooth and well combined.  Pour custard over bread.  Toss with your hands until all the bread is wet.  Press down gently on the bread so it forms an even layer.  Spread strawberries over the top.  Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours and up to 48 hours.  Overnight is best!

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Prepare oat crumble.  Grab a large bowl.  Add the flour, oats, brown sugar, ginger, cloves and salt and stir together.  Add the butter.  Work the butter into the flour mixture using your fingers until the mixture resembles wet sand and is crumbly.  (Topping can be made 48 hours in advance.  Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.)

Sprinkle topping over the strawberries/bread.  Bake until golden brown about 40-45 minutes.  Turn on the broiler for the last two minutes for crunchier crust.  Serve warm with real maple syrup.  Enjoy!

5 Can’t Miss French Toast Links!

Traditional French toast dipped a subtly sweet Panko breadcrumb mixture, fried to perfection and topped with lots of butter and syrup sounds like a bit of heaven to me. Head to Pioneer Woman for her crunchy French Toast recipe.

French toast in sandwich form? Yes it exists.  Head to Handmade Charlotte for Sarah Kieffer’s French toast sandwiches with peaches and mozzarella.

Lemon French toast topped with in season strawberries screams spring.  Head to Simply Delicious for the recipe.  Yum!

Want to wow your brunch guests?  Make Smitten Kitchen’s morning bread pudding with salted caramel.  This is on my must make immediately list.

If you a more of a savory than sweet person, head to Food 52 and check out their recipe for crispy salt and pepper French toast.