Thursday, July 28, 2011

Chocolate Peppermint Fudge Cake

Last weekend we celebrated my mother-in-law's birthday with my husband's family.

And a fabulous woman deserves a fabulous cake.

Actually... fabulous is putting it lightly.

Let's just say that any woman who would dress up in a hawaiian shirt, flowered bathing cap, and oversized sunglasses to do a ridiculous 'photo shoot' on the boardwalk with my sister-in-law and me deserves a cake that's out-of-this-world.

(Terrifying, yes - but don't even play like you wouldn't take advantage of the wigs, clothing, and props the photo place has to offer!)

For the birthday shindig we toned the outfits down a bit.

And ate delicious, velvety, fudgy, minty, insanely fattening cake.

Pammy Vittles' favorite candy is Peppermint Patties.  So I wanted to make something that incorporated chocolate and peppermint. 

I wasn't able to find any recipes that I liked so I decided I was just going to have to construct my own 'peppermint patty' cake. 

Originally I considered a flourless chocolate cake with some sort of peppermint ganache, but I figured a birthday really calls for layer cake. 

Which was a great idea until it was an hour and a half before we had to leave, and I went to whip the chilled ganache. 

People, let me tell you something.  I went to town on that ganache. 

And whipped it too much. 

Just past the point of whipped-ganache perfection and into the realm of runny, grainy MESS.

In my panic, I turned to the internet, where Martha Stewart assured me that all was not lost and that I could just re-melt, re-chill, and re-whip.

As usual, she was right.  But I got a little gun-shy.  So there was no re-whipping, just spreading. 

And it came out perfectly lovely.

So let this be a lesson to you. 

1) No need to panic when the ganache-whipping gets out of hand. 

And 2) It's ok to wear Hawaiian shirts and flowered bathing caps.  Because they're cool.

Chocolate Peppermint Fudge Cake

Sour Cream Fudge Cake Layers
  • 1 C. dutch cocoa powder
  • 2 t. instant coffee or espresso powder
  • 1 C. boiling water
  • 2 t. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 C. sour cream
  • 16 T. (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
  • 1 2/3 C. granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 C. all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 t. baking soda
  • 1/4. salt

Adjust oven rack to center position and heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease two 9 by 1&1/2 inch round baking pans with shortening or nonstick spray.  Line bottom of pans with rounds cut out of parchment or waxed paper - grease the top of the paper as well.  Dust pans with a little flour or cocoa powder, and tap out excess.

Mix cocoa with instant coffee in a small bowl; add boiling water and whisk until smooth.  Cool to room temperature, then stir in vanilla and sour cream. 

Beat butter in bowl of electric mixer set at medium-high speed, until smooth and shiny (about 30 seconds).  Gradually sprinkle in sugar, beating until mixture is fluffy and almost white (3-5 minutes).  Add eggs one at a time, beating a full minute after each addition.

Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl.  With mixer on the lowest speed, add about 1/3 of the flour mixture to batter, followed immediately by about 1/3 of the cocoa mixture.  Mix until ingredients are almost incorporated into batter.  Repeat process twice more.  When batter appears blended, stop mixer and scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula.  Return mixer to low speed, and beat until batter looks satiny, about 15 seconds more.

Divide the batter evenly between pans.  Use a rubber spatula to spread to sides of pans and smooth top.  Bake the cakes until they feel firm in the center when lightly pressed and a toothpick comes out clean (with no more than a crumb or two adhering), 23-30 minutes.

Transfer pans to wire racks and cool about 20 minutes.  Run knife around perimeter of each pan (I didn't need to do this- my cakes separated from the sides while cooling) and invert cakes onto racks.  Peel off paper liners and cool completely before frosting. Once cooled, place one layer on a decorative plate or cake stand, with the top of the cake on the bottom of the plate (this way the flattest part is on the top).  Then make filling below.

Peppermint Buttercream Filling
  • 1/2 C. butter, softened
  • 1 T. + 1 t. milk
  • 1 1/2 t. peppermint extract
  • 1 t. pure vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 C. powdered sugar

In bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter, milk, and extracts on medium speed until well-combined.  On the lowest speed, gradually add powdered sugar until combined.  Then increase speed to medium-high, and beat mixture until fluffy and white.  Spread evenly over top of first layer and top with second layer (top of the cake facing down into filling, so again the flattest side is facing up).  Then make ganache.

Chocolate Ganache
  • 8 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate*, chopped in small pieces
  • 3/4 C. heavy cream
  • 2 T. butter (unsalted is recommended, but I used salted & it was fine)

Place chopped chocolate in a medium-sized heatproof bowl and set aside.  Heat the cream and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, and bring just to a boil.  Immediately pour the cream mixture over the chocolate and let sit, without stirring, about 3 minutes.  Then stir gently (and sparingly, so as not to incorporate too much air) with a spoon or whisk until smooth.

Let the ganache sit until it firms up to a spreadable consistency (sort of like peanut butter).  If you are in a hurry you can put it in the refrigerator, stirring occasionally, for about an hour.  (Heck you could even put it in the freezer for a bit, if you're REALLY pressed for time).  Spread evenly over top and sides of cake with an offset spatula.  If desired, use the back of a tablespoon to swirl patterns into the ganache.

Serve, or cover for later.  You can put the cake in the refrigerator if necessary, but it's not recommended.  It should keep at a cool room temperature for a couple of days, covered.  Serves 12.

*Note: I know there are really amazing brands of chocolate out there, but my problem is that the are usually also really expensive.  If you are looking for a brand that's good and affordable, I would recommend Hershey's Special Dark.  And (unfortunately) I am not being paid to say that.  :)

Recipe for Sour Cream Fudge Cake adapted from Cook's Illustrated; Recipe for Chocolate Ganache from Joy of Baking

Friday, July 22, 2011

S'mores Bites

I was recently contacted by the publishers of the book Sweet Chic: Stylish Treats to Dress Up for Any Occasion by Rachel Thebault (who is the founder & head confectioner of Tribeca Treats in NYC) about doing a review for the blog.

Naturally, I agreed; who in their right mind would turn down a free copy of a fun new cookbook?

I have never been to Tribeca Treats, but by the looks of their website, it seems they have some pretty amazing desserts.  And the book is really cute in that it likens each of the treats to a piece of clothing or accessory that's considered a staple in every stylish woman's wardrobe.

For instance, scooped cookies like Chocolate Chip and Snickerdoodles are the basic white tee.  Brownies like Mint Swirl and Peanut Butter are considered the cashmere sweater.  Chocolate truffles are the leather jacket.

And when Devils Food Cake is paired with Caramel Buttercream... the Little Black Dress meets knee high boots.

To be honest, I'm not much on fashion, but I still thought that was a fun touch.

The only complaint I had was that not every recipe was accompanied by a photo.  I base a lot of my decisions on the way a finished product looks (hence my sick obsession with sites like foodgawker) so I'm thinking the book might benefit from a few more photos?

Nevertheless, the recipes themselves did not disappoint!

I've actually been wanting to make homemade graham crackers for a while now, and when I saw that this recipe had ingredients like whole wheat flour and wheat germ I was very intrigued.

And what better to pair with homemade graham crackers than some marshmallows and chocolate?

I also found a new pearl of wisdom amidst the 'basic techniques' chapter of the book.  I am pretty awful at tempering chocolate (no patience) so I'm interested in trying a shortcut the author shared - apparently, adding 1 T. canola oil per 2 C. chopped chocolate helps avoid the notorious "blooming" effect.

Hate when that happens.

And, umm... just FYI, graham crackers are considered 'the perfect-fit jeans' of your culinary wardrobe.

Which I found rather ironic, because I think I might have eaten so many of these addictive little morsels that I no longer fit into my real jeans.

Oh well.  I'm over it.

Now where are the rest of those s'mores bites?

S'mores Bites

Graham Cracker Dough
  • 1/2 C. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 C. whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 C. untoasted wheat germ
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/8 t. salt
  • 1 stick (8 T.) butter
  • 1/2 C. packed brown sugar
  • 2 T. honey
  • approximately 3/4 C. mini marshmallows
  • 4 oz. dark chocolate, chopped

In a small bowl, combine flours with wheat germ, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.  Whisk to combine well.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter on high until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).  Add brown sugar, crumbling it with your hands as you add it to remove any lumps, and mix on medium-high until smooth, about 1 minute.  Add honey and mix until well combined.  Scrape down sides & bottom of bowl with rubber spatula halfway through mixing to ensure even distribution.

Add about half the flour mixture and mix on low until just incorporated, about 30 seconds.  Repeat with remaining flour, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.  Cover & refrigerate dough one hour.

Once dough is chilled, preheat oven 350 degree and grease the cups of a mini-muffin tin.  Distribute dough evenly amongst cups using a heaping teaspoon and press dough into bottom of each cup.  Then poke 2 rows of holes in each dough round using the tines of a fork.

Bake in preheated oven 12-14 minutes, rotating pan halfway through, until they are a dark golden brown color.  (Dough will puff up, maybe even above the top of the tin, but don't be alarmed - when you take it out it should deflate into a nice little cup to hold your marshmallows :))

Remove from oven and turn your oven's broiler on high.  Immediately fill each graham cup with 3-4 mini marshmallows.  Once all cups are filled, place pan under broiler until marshmallows puff and brown (since all broilers are different, I would not walk away from the oven - keep an eye on them!)

Remove pan and place on wire rack. Let sit 15 minutes, then remove cups from tin to cool completely.  Once cooled, microwave 3/4 of chopped chocolate in 15-second intervals, stirring after each, until just melted & smooth.  Then add remaining 1/4 of chocolate and stir until completely melted.

Drizzle chocolate over tops of cups (or spoon over, as desired).  Place in refrigerator about 10 minutes to set, then return to room temperature and serve.  They are best eaten that day, but they will keep in an airtight container up 2-3 days (perhaps longer in the refrigerator).  Makes 24.

Recipe for Graham Cracker base slightly adapted from Sweet Chic

Note: While I did receive a copy of the book from the publisher, I did not receive any other compensation to write this post- the opinions are my own.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream

Growing up, I had just about every summer job you can imagine.

I always babysat, but I got my first 'real' job at 14, the summer before I went into high school.  I worked in the gift shop of a local aquarium on the boardwalk.

From there, I went on to work as a chambermaid in a bed & breakfast, an assistant manager of a frozen yogurt stand, a counselor at a day camp, a typist at a newspaper, an inventory-taker (!), and even a telemarketer (!!).  I also worked in a tanning salon, and the nursery of a gym where parents would drop off their kids while they worked out.

But one of my personal favorite employers was a Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop I worked at during college.

First of all, I got a really cool bulging forearm muscle from scooping hard ice cream.  And secondly, I got to eat delicious ice cream every day, which is basically a dream come true.

To be honest, I took advantage of that perk much more at the frozen yogurt place than Ben & Jerry's (let's not lie, a cup of ice cream on a daily basis would be a little much).  But I did treat myself at least once a week.

And I probably tried 75% of the flavors there, but I always came back to Oatmeal Cookie Chunk.

Ummm... whoa.  Cinnamon sweet cream base with chunks of oatmeal cookies and fudge.  What could be bad about that?

So when I realized that July is National Ice Cream month, I decided I needed to try & replicate my old favorite.

But I wanted it to be completely homemade and I didn't feel like first whipping up a batch of oatmeal cookies just to crumble up for ice cream. So I devised a sort of crispy, sugary oatmeal crumble instead.

And while it's not a dead ringer... it's pretty freaking close.

Not to mention pretty freaking delicious.

And the cool part about it is it's an eggless ice cream! I've never made one of those before, but it came out really well.

Which reminds me- don't be tempted to replace the corn syrup, that's part of what keeps it scoopable (if you're like me & try to avoid the stuff whenever possible, this might make you feel better).

Either way... I think my former employer would approve.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream

Oatmeal Crumble
  • ½ C. old fashioned oats
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 T. brown sugar
  • 1 T. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
  • pinch salt

Cinnamon Ice Cream
  • 2 C. lowfat milk
  • 1 T. plus 1 t. cornstarch
  • 2 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 C. heavy cream
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 2 T light corn syrup
  • ½ t. cinnamon
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 C. chocolate chunks

Make the oatmeal crumble: Preheat oven 350 degrees and grease a baking sheet.

In a medium skillet, heat the butter over medium-low until melted. Remove from heat and stir in the oatmeal, sugar, cinnamon, and salt.

Spread oat mixture on prepared baking sheet and cook for 8 minutes, stirring halfway through baking.  Empty oats back into skillet to cool.

Make the ice cream:
  Measure out the 2 C. milk then take 2 T. of it and mix with the cornstarch in a small bowl. In a large bowl, whisk the cream cheese until smooth.  Prepare an ice bath in a container big enough for the bowl with the cream cheese to fit in it.  (An ice bath is just cold water with ice).

In a large saucepan, combine the remaining milk with the heavy cream, sugar, corn syrup and cinnamon over medium heat. Whisking occasionally, bring the milk mixture to a boil, then reduce heat slightly and simmer, about 2 minutes. Off the heat, gradually whisk in the cornstarch mixture.  Return to a boil (watch carefully so it does not boil over) and whisk over medium heat until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 1 minute.

Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Whisk in the salt and vanilla. Set the bowl in the ice water bath and let stand, stirring occasionally, until room temperature (about 30 minutes).  Then refrigerate mixture until chilled, about 2 hours.

Freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. With ice cream maker still on, add chocolate chunks & about 2/3 of the oatmeal, and mix to evenly distribute.  Pack the ice cream into a plastic container, and press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the ice cream. Close with an airtight lid, and freeze the ice cream until firm, about 4 hours.  Use remaining 1/3 of oatmeal for sprinkling on served ice cream, if desired.

Ice Cream recipe adapted from Jeni Britton Bauer on Food & Wine; flavor inspired by Ben & Jerry's

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Chipotle Chicken Tostadas

Ok so... seriously?

With this heat?

I can't even even.

I have no idea how Mr. Vittles works outside on days like this.  Although he must be a glutton for punishment because he just got home from work... and decided to go for a run.

Isn't that what everyone does when it's 96 degrees out?

But hey, the longer he's out of the house the longer I have to finish watching last night's episode of the Bachelorette on the DVR.

Er... I mean... who watches that garbage?

As you can probably imagine, Mr. V is not a fan of the show. 

I know he's right, it's hardly 'reality' and the couples never even stay together.  But that doesn't stop me from watching every silly episode of every silly season.

I just have to do it by myself.

Similarly, my husband's surprising distaste for these tostadas probably will not dissuade me from making them again. 

For myself.

He thought the chipotle was too much, I thought it was absolutely delicious.  But he also prefers more Americanized Mexican dishes and while I love me some sour cream and loads of shredded cheese, these were good in a totally different way.

Ah well.  We can't like all the same things.

Chipotle Chicken Tostadas

  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken (about 2 breasts)
  • 2 small yellow onions, divided
  • 1/2 C. + 1 C. diced fire-roasted tomatoes in a can (14.5 oz), drained
  • 2 garlic cloves, divided
  • 1/2 one 7-oz. can chipotle chiles in adobo
  • 1 t. salt
  • 8 prepared tostada shells
  • queso fresco, for sprinkling (I used feta)

Cut one of the small onions in half.  Place one half in the bottom of a medium stockpot, and add 3 C. water, 1 t. salt, 1.2 t. minced garlic (or 1 garlic clove, cut in half) and chicken breasts.  Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Simmer 25-30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.  Remove chicken, but reserve stock for later.  Cool the chicken and shred.

In a blender, combine other half of onion, 1/2 C. fire-roasted diced tomatoes, chipotle chiles, and another 1/2 t. garlic.  Add 1/2 C. reserved chicken stock, and blend until smooth.  Set aside chipotle sauce.

Dice remaining onion.  In a large saucepan/skillet, heat 2 T. canola oil over medium heat.   Add onions and saute about 5 minutes until translucent.  Reduce heat if necessary, and add remainder of drained tomatoes.  Saute 5 minutes over medium-low.

Add shredded chicken and chipotle sauce, and increase temperature enough to bring to a boil.   Then reduce heat back to medium-low and cook 7-10 minutes until most of liquid is absorbed.

Serve on tostada shells with sprinkled queso fresco.  Serves 4 (2 tostadas each).

Recipe Adapted form Muy Bueno Cookbook

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Coconut Rum Horchata

So on my way home from work today, I got into a car accident.

Really it was just a fender bender - both cars were completely drivable, and thankfully no one was hurt.

And, it was in no way my fault.


(Just sayin'.)

But get this - I was hit by a woman making an illegal left turn into a Dunkin' Donuts.

Who, as it turns out, did not even have a license to drive a car.

I guess she really needed some donuts?

I can kinda relate though.

After waiting an hour in the heat, humidity, and impending thunderstorms for the officer to do his thing, I was wishing like Cher that I could turn back time and pour me some of this coconut rum horchata I made over the weekend.

I mentioned I had something up my sleeve for "Rum Day" at the beach, and let me tell you - this drink did not disappoint.

If you've never heard of horchata, it is a traditional sweet Mexican drink made with rice and cinnamon.  Which sounds kinda weird, but trust me when I say it basically tastes like rice pudding in liquid form.

Now I honestly have no idea how 'traditional' the original recipe is that I adapted, but I decided to take it to another level and use coconut milk & coconut rum.

Holy smokes.

Even people who said they do not like coconut thought this drink was awesome.

FYI - it's also quite scrumptious without the rum, so don't feel compelled to add it.

Unless you had an afternoon like mine.

In that case, feel free to double the amount!

Coconut Rum Horchata

  • 1 C. uncooked long grain rice
  • 2 quarts warm water
  • 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1 C. coconut milk
  • 1/4 C. fat free half & half
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 1/2 t. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 C. coconut or light rum, or to taste (this is optional – drink is great virgin!)

Mix the rice and warm water together in a bowl, and let stand for half an hour. Reserving the water, drain, and place the rice in the bowl of a food processor. Add the cinnamon and process until a paste forms. Return the rice to the water and let stand at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally as the water turns milky white.

Strain the rice through a very fine sieve (I used a coffee filter) into a bowl or pitcher, and discard the solids. Re-strain liquid to ensure all particles are removed.  Stir in coconut milk, half & half, condensed milk, vanilla, and rum (if desired) until evenly blended. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.

To serve, divide ice cubes between eight glasses, and pour the chilled horchata over the ice.  Serves 8.

Recipe Adapted from

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Red, White & Blue Berry Trifle

Happy 4th of July, everybody!

Despite the rain we had all day, Mr. Vittles and I went to a cookout at my dad & stepmom's house tonight.

The weather didn't get us down one bit.  We ate a veritable feast of grilled steaks, sweet corn on the cob, grilled zucchini & carmelized onion, and mozzarella di bufala with basil, tomato, and balsamic glaze.

Woooo wee.  I had to practically roll myself outta there.

As Mr. V put it, my dad doesn't know how to cook for less than 50 people.

But... that didn't stop me from eating it all.

Plus this trifle.

I was feeling in the holiday spirit, so I wanted to make a red white & blue dessert.  I found this recipe on Martha Stewart's website, and thought it was such a fun, festive dish.

But knowing that we'd be eating a ton for dinner, I wanted to use something a tad lighter than your typical store-bought pound cake.

I decided on this yogurt cake, which is really more of a quick bread - definitely not as sweet or as rich as a pound cake.  But waaaay better for you.

The lemon-lime syrup and whipped cream cheese icing probably negate that, but that's ok :)

There's also berries and those are healthy.


If you're feeling less guilty than I, feel free to use your favorite recipe or store-bought pound cake - but I included the yogurt cake recipe in case you want to give it a try.

In any event, I am pretty excited for the holiday this year.  There's a lot of good stuff on the docket for tomorrow.

For starters, my dad, stepmom & their friends all go to the same beach and it's our 2nd annual 'Rum Day' where everyone brings a rum drink to try.

Last year I made the Choco-Almond Chai Tai, which turned out to be a hit.  And this year I have something equally weird but fun up my sleeve.

Heh heh.  More to come on that soon.

I am also excited for the fireworks in Asbury Park tomorrow night - which I must admit is unusual for me.  I know it sounds awful, but growing up in a town where they put on a weekly fireworks show in the summer really desensitized me to them.

But it's been years since I was able to just go down the street to watch fireworks, until now.  This year I can see them without having to drive and deal with traffic, parking, and all the general craziness that usually comes with 4th of July at the Jersey Shore.

We live so close to the beach/boardwalk that we can just walk to see the fireworks.  And we have some friends coming over tomorrow night to do just that.

How lucky are we?

Anyway, hope you all have a safe & happy holiday! Enjoy, and Happy Birthday, America!

Red, White & Blue Berry Trifle

• 1/4 C. plus 1/3 C. sugar
• 2 T. fresh lemon juice
• 2 T. fresh lime juice
• 1 homemade (see suggested recipe below) or store-bought pound cake loaf, cut into 3/4-inch-thick slices
• 8 oz. Neufchatel or reduced-fat cream cheese, room temperature
• 1 C. heavy cream
• 1/2 t. pure vanilla extract
• 3 C. fresh blueberries (three 1/2-pint containers), rinsed and dried
• 3 C. fresh strawberries, rinsed & dried then hulled & sliced

Make lemon syrup: In a small saucepan, bring 1/4 cup sugar, lemon juice, and 1/4 cup water to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Let cool completely, then brush over both sides of cake slices. Quarter each slice.

With an electric mixer, beat cream cheese with remaining 1/3 cup sugar on high speed until lightened. With mixer on medium speed, gradually add heavy cream in a steady stream; continue beating until mixture is light and airy (mixture will be like a very soft whipped cream - should take a few minutes of mixing).

Arrange half the cake pieces in the bottom of a 2-quart serving dish. Spoon half the cream-cheese mixture over cake in dollops; spread to sides of dish. Scatter half the blueberries and strawberries on top. Repeat layering with remaining cake, cream-cheese mixture, and berries, piling berries in the center.

Cover, and refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour and up to overnight.  Serves 6.

Trifle recipe adapted from

Whole Wheat Yogurt Cake

• 1/2 C. butter (1 stick), softened
• 1/2 C. coconut palm sugar (or brown sugar)
• 5 T. agave nectar
• 1 t. vanilla extract
• 1 egg
• 1 C. whole wheat pastry flour
• 1 C. all-purpose flour
• 1/2 t. cinnamon
• 1 t. baking soda
• 1/2 t. baking powder
• 1 C plain, nonfat Greek yogurt

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, coconut palm sugar, agave, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg until smooth. Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon in small bowl; stir into the batter alternating with the yogurt.

Spread batter into prepared pan, and bake for 45-50 minutes in the preheated oven, until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then remove and cool completely on wire rack.

Cake recipe adapted from Chobani Yogurt


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