December 20, 2010 by buttermilkbaker
Oh my goodness. I cannot believe I let a WHOLE WEEK pass without a single post! Bad blogger. Bad blogger indeed.
I am finally at home sweet home back in Texas and couldn’t be more thrilled. After my exams were over, the Boy and I headed into NYC for a day of exploring, wonderful food, and the Nutcracker ballet! The whole weekend was magical, which you’ll just have to trust as I only took one picture the entire trip:
Oh well. During our daytime wanderings we went to the Union Square Greenmarket, where they not only had loads of winter produce but an entire village of fun crafts and prepared foods like crepes and Belgian waffles. Who knew?! If (and when…) I live in the city, the market at Union Square will in all likelihood be my very favorite spot in the city.
We also went to Eataly, Mario Batali’s new brainchild in the Flatiron district. It’s 50,000 square feet of Italian goods: fresh pasta, bread, cheese, meat, and every kind of olive oil you could ever ask for. There are wine bars, coffee bars, and gelato bars, in addition to several restaurants sprinkled throughout the megastore. If you’re in the city anytime soon, you absolutely MUST go!
And of course, the requisite trip to Williams-Sonoma. God I love that store, especially at Christmastime. The Peppermint Bark, the Hot Cocoa tins, and all of the gorgeous cookware just gets me in the mood for gift-giving and holiday-baking. In fact, one of the projects I have in store for you today is derived directly from one of my fave Williams-Sonoma offerings…but more on that in a minute.
First, the gift-giving part: the Boy and I exchanged gifts early since we’re spending the holidays apart, and I must say he did a fabo job. We put a price limit on Xmas since both of our birthdays come during this part of the year (October for him, November for me) and our anniversary is on December 8th. Aka this last quarter of the year is a little rough on the wallet. So we decided to set a limit and force ourselves to get a little more creative, which I love to do anyway. He, being the smart guy he is, went to what might be my 2nd favorite store to peruse for hours (and secretly his as well), Crate and Barrel. The loot:
1. Three big, beautiful wine glasses (for reds, our preference):
2. A nice bottle of Pinot, to go with the glasses (obvi)
3. A springform pan!!!! (for all those layer cakes and cheesecakes I’ve been dying to try):
4. A lovely new coffee mug (because I didn’t have one of my own yet):
5. A chocolate-peanut butter frog, just because.
Jackpot right?! A foodie’s dream, and so thoughtful. What did I get for him, you ask? I went with a “coffee” theme, because the Boy loooves his coffee. After much research, I opted for a new Krups 12-cup coffee maker along with a hand-painted Christmas mug (we both got mugs for each other, a little nauseating I must admit) and some homemade coasters. In all I think I was a little luckier in my Xmas booty…so excited for that cake pan!!
Alright, alright, enough with the Christmas talk–get to the food. This morning I have a few things for you, first being my breakfast, per usual. We were out of bananas here at home (sacrilege, you’re telling me) so I had to go with a berry theme: regular oats with a mix of raspberries, cherries, and strawberries on top.
I added a splash of vanilla almond milk and eventually a few scoops of Oikos nonfat plain yogurt to break up the sweetness of the berries + oats.
So festive with the red, no?
All in all, a great first bfast back.
Next I have for you the famous 20 Minute Chocolate Cake, a la Buttermilk Mom:
How cute is that.
Now how cute is this?!
I think I made this in 4th grade. I know, I’m adorable.
So I came home to a beautifully iced chocolate cake (pre-massacre seen below) and some yummy taco meat for DIY taco salads. Awesomeness all around. I know you guys love Texmex, blah blah, but the cake is really where it’s at. A photo montage:
This cake is heaven-sent. I request it every time I come home. I demand that she send it to me at school, which ain’t easy when it’s traveling thousands of miles. But she does it. Because it is that good.
The cake itself is light and fluffy with a mild, sweet chocolate flavor. I think the airiness is thanks to the inclusion of buttermilk, which reacts with the baking soda to give more rise to the cake. Now, be warned: this is by no means a dense chocolate cake of the flourless or lava-filled genres. No, this is a brilliantly velvety chocolate cake topped with the most delicious chocolate frosting you will ever eat. Ever. And I have eaten more than my fair share of chocolate cakes in this world. I love chocolate cake more than anyone I know. Dare I say, I probably love it more than you.
S*&! just got real.
Okay so you get it: this cake is good. The cake-frosting pairing is absolutely genius, because as I said, the cake itself is not overpowering in its chocolaty flavor, which not only allows the icing to shine in all its rich chocolate glory, but makes for a perfectly balanced bite every time.
Make this cake. It only takes twenty minutes, I swear. It’s even in the recipe title!
Mom’s 20 Minute Chocolate Cake
Yield: 15×10″ sheet pan, Prep time: 20 mins, Bake time: 20 mins
For the cake:
1 stick butter (or margarine, doesn’t matter–we use butter now)
1/4 cup cocoa
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 400 degrees, grease and flour 15×10″ pan. Mix butter or margarine, cocoa and water in saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Sift flour and sugar in a large bowl, add chocolate mixture and beat at medium speed until blended. Continue beating, adding buttermilk, eggs, soda, salt, cinnamon and vanilla. Pour into pan and bake 20 minutes.
For the icing:
1 stick unsalted butter/margarine, melted
1 box powdered sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
6 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
Beat melted butter with dry ingredients in a large bowl until creamy. (Seriously–does it get simpler than that?!)
The money shot.
And finally, I spent my entire flight home yesterday thinking about foodie Christmas gifts. What I love about the holidays is that there’s an excuse to bake and concoct an absurd amount of food, because you can just give it all away! I am so excited to experiment with new techniques and recipes, from hot chocolate mix + homemade marshmallows to candied nuts/homemade crackers/made-from-scratch jam (perfect for wine & cheese, don’t you think?!). First on my list?
I am a die-hard fan of Williams-Sonoma’s Handcrafted English Toffee. I cannot get enough of that salty-sweet hard candy encased in a layer of chocolate and finely chopped almonds. We didn’t have almonds around last night, so I swapped ’em out for pecans, but we sure did have butter and sugar, which is basically (and I mean really) all you need.
You can find the recipe here.
In total, I think this recipe took about 20 minutes of active work as well, just like the cake. Seriously, that’s not even a full episode of The Office!
IMPORTANT: You do NOT need a candy thermometer to make toffee! We didn’t have one, so we just followed the instructions (and the words of a wise reviewer), which said to boil the sugar + water + butter for 12 minutes exactly (by this time it should be turning a light caramel color), then to pour it onto a greased-and-foiled baking sheet (already strewn with chopped pecans, or your nut of choice) and spread it as evenly as possible.
Then, while the candy is still hot, you sprinkle chocolate (I used semi-sweet chips) and the rest of your chopped nuts over it so that they stick and sink in a bit. We let ours cool for a few hours at room temperature (while we went to see Black Swan…Sweet mercy it is SO good and SO intense, I can’t even talk about it) and then I fridged it overnight. My chocolate chips didn’t melt all the way through so they retained their shape, which I’m not sure I like, but they were soft to the touch when we got back so I thought chilling them overnight would help.
And by golly, it did!
This is also a fun project to attempt with a partner. This time I had one of my very best lifelong friends with me, Matt, who was a very helpful butter-softener and boiling-caramel-stirrer. Couldn’t have done it without him.
You could also make both the cake and the toffee in less than one episode of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills…
…not that I watch that or anything.
The toffee tastes even better than it looks (and I think it looks purdy darn good, don’t you?). So easy, fun, and festive!
Whew, long post. We had a lot to catch up on…sorry about that. Now off to do some serious Christmas shopping (right now there’s only ONE PRESENT under the tree!!), see ya!