Monday, April 09, 2007

Spring Kookin'

Yes, around this time of year - most people are talking about spring cleaning... given the choice, however, I would much rather discuss what's kookin!

Especially with the strange weather we have been having, I was very thankful to see Easter approaching on the calendar - a true mark of spring (despite snow lying on the ground). And, as this year proved - no matter the weather, Easter is always a time of happy "beginnings" with family and friends.
Chris' cousin, Debbi, and her family, were kind enough to open their house up to the extended family... yet again. And what is one to do when they are invited to spend a holiday with family? Bake!!

When the only request I got was that I make something chocolate... I knew right where to start. My mom has a fantastic basic chocolate cake recipe that's been a staple in our house. I thought her pretty whipped cream frosting would be a nice, light touch, but then we realized it would never survive the ride down to Richmond. So I searched for a frosting recipe that would do her chocolate cake justice...

Mom's "ALMOST Too Easy" Chocolate Cake
2 c flour
2 c sugar
3/4 c cocoa
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
Sift the dry ingredients together (in your mixer bowl).

1 c milk
1/2 c vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
Add to the dry ingredients; mix until just blended.

Add 1 cup hot coffee. Mix until blended. (Careful, can splatter!) Pour into 2 9" greased and floured pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes until done.

You can easily make this cake ahead of time and even freeze the layers; this time, I made it a day ahead and covered it with plastic wrap to keep in the moisture.

The frosting recipe I found was definitely a challenge... and while it did look pretty good and tasted very smooth and rich, the jury is still out deciding whether or not the effort was worth it.

Caramel-Milk Chocolate Frosting

24 oz milk chocolate, finely chopped
3 oz bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 c sugar
1/2 c water
2 1/4 c whipping cream

Combine milk chocolate and bittersweet chocolate in large bowl.

Stir sugar and 1/2 cup water in medium saucepan over medium-high heat until sugar completely dissolves without allowing the mixture to boil. Cover tightly and turn heat to high for 2 minutes; remove the cover and boil without stirring until syrup is deep amber color, occasionally swirling pan. Carefully and slowly add whipping cream (mixture will bubble vigorously). Stir over low heat until any hard caramel bits dissolve and mixture is smooth. Pour caramel over chocolate; let stand 1 minute to allow chocolate to soften, then whisk until chocolate is melted and smooth. Chill chocolate-caramel frosting until completely cool, about 2 hours. Let stand 1 hour at room temperature before continuing.

Using electric mixer, beat frosting just until color resembles milk chocolate and frosting is easily spreadable, about 1 minute (do not over beat or frosting will become stiff and grainy). If necessary to correct graininess, set bowl with frosting over saucepan of simmering water for 10-second intervals, whisking just until frosting is smooth and spreadable.This made MORE than enough frosting for my two-layer cake; I would absolutely halve the recipe if I made this again.

I also thought it'd be nice to bring all of the cousins and family some little treats... so after the suggestion of my friend, Andrea, I tried (and yes, admittedly I used a cake mix!) the Cake Mix Doctor's Lemon Cake! (I adapted the recipe below - one recipe made plenty for 5 small loaf pans)
Vegetable oil spray for misting the pan(s)
Flour for dusting the pan(s)
1 package (18.25 oz) plain yellow cake mix
1 package (3 oz) lemon gelatin
2/3 c vegetable oil
2/3 c hot water
4 lg eggs

1 c confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly mist a 12-cup Bundt pan with vegetable oil spray, then dust with flour.
2. Place the cake mix, gelatin, oil, water, and eggs in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes more, scraping down the sides if needed. The batter should look thick and well blended. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with the rubber spatula.
3. Bake the cake until it is light brown and just starts to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 40 minutes. Let the cakes cool for 10 minutes.
4. Meanwhile prepare the glaze. Combine the confectioners' sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a small bowl and stir until smooth.

The Easter celebration was perfect... great company and good food, followed by the Black Diamond of Easter egg hunts.


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