Blueberry Cardamom Scones

I love using herbs and spices in cooking. To me, it is the difference between a good dish and a great one. Likewise, it’s amazing how the same food is completely transformed by the addition of a single fleck or sprinkle from another part of the world.

Bluberry Cardamom Scones

These Blueberry Cardamom Scones are the perfect example of the almost magical power of spices. Most of us will recognize cardamom from our favourite Indian curry or chai tea latte but it is also used in some Nordic baked goods, Middle Eastern spiced tea, and is becoming increasingly popular in fusion cooking. Cardamom is extremely aromatic and has subtle hints of citrus so it pairs really well with anything sweet or savoury that might ordinarily use lemon. Although, it is expensive (much like saffron and vanilla) its intense fragrance means a little goes a long way.

I recently had the honour of talking to a local coffee shop about providing baked goods for their new venue. In my meeting with one of the owners, she specified that they wanted their food to mirror their unique personality; each offering needed to be  different to the usual cafe fare. Unfortunately, I was not able to find the kitchen style necessary for such a commitment but I was left with a surge of crazy ideas that I wanted to test out; one of which was this unusual twist on the classic coffee house scone.

Blueberry Cardamom Scones

1 cup fresh washed blueberries (I don’t recommend frozen as these tend to bleed purple all over the dough)

2 cups of self raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 cup butter

1 egg

1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/4 cup milk)

1/3 cup sugar (plus extra for dusting)

1/2 tsp cardamom

Zest from 1/2 lemon

(Note: my experienced baker friends might be confused as to why there is no salt in the recipe but the addition of cardamom makes this step unnecessary.)

Blueberry Cardamom Scones

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix flour, cardamom, sugar together. Rub butter into flour mix until it looks like breadcrumbs. In a separate bowl, whisk together lemon zest, eggs and milk. Add whole blueberries into wet mix. Make a well in the center of the dry mix, and add the egg mixture. Gradually combine all the ingredients with your hand until a dough is formed. (If it seems too dry, add a couple of drops of milk.) Turn out the dough onto a flat surface lightly dusted with flour, and gently form into a flat ball. This is the tricky part. You will need to roll out the dough into a circle about 3/4 inch thick without bursting the berries otherwise the whole thing will turn purple! Slice the dough across (like a pizza) to get 8 triangles. It is important to press and cut straight down with your knife (instead of sliding back and forth) or the scones will not rise during baking. Brush each scone with milk and sprinkle sugar liberally over the tops. Bake for 15-16 minutes until they are golden. Allow to cool completely before serving as the blueberries are full of boiling hot juice.

Blueberry Cardamom Scones

I loved the addition of cardamom and felt that it really elevated these scones from something simple to something spectacular.

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How to Succeed at Baking Projects

Top tips to confidently tackle any baking project

Recently I had the pleasure of designing a cupcake tower for the wedding of a sweet young couple here in Waco. We looked over some ideas that the bride had highlighted and I gathered other pertinent information like wedding invites, colours etc until we came up with the perfect design.

Cupcake Tower

Despite remaining calm and cool, I have to admit I was a little nervous at first simply because up until that point, I hadn’t actually experimented much with cupcakes let alone made 175 cupcakes at one time. However, I am always surprised how my confidence suddenly kicks in when it comes to being in the kitchen. I am not an overly confident person at other times, and in fact, there were things I did not attempt in life because I let my fears or worries overshadow those moments of adventure. But, when I am faced with anything in my kitchen, I believe in myself wholeheartedly. (This doesn’t mean I haven’t made any mistakes- I have had some major disasters!- but I learnt to think quickly on my feet to correct or try again.) When I first started taking risks that paid off in the kitchen, I  found that this confidence began to trickle into other areas of my life. I started to see that I can accomplish things that seemed really daunting at first and the same skill set I used in the kitchen was still with me when faced with other projects.

Although some intuition is involved, this success is not completely by chance and so today I want to share the tips I have developed from tackling projects like my recent wedding cupcake tower. I believe these tips are applicable to any new baking venture, big or small.

Practice and research in advance. I had never really tried my hand at cupcakes before this order. Yes, I had made them and they were good but I knew they could be better so I researched recipes until I knew what would work best and then tried a few different things before finding the perfect cupcake. I did this a week before my tasting with the bride and groom so I had time to keep working if it wasn’t up to par. My first crucial piece of advice is to research and test first! It is also imperative that you test out the recipe in your particular kitchen, with your appliances and your oven. For example, I preferred hand mixing several parts of the batter and adjusted cooking temperatures a couple of times until I was really happy. This isn’t just true of making a wedding cake order but of any new baking venture- I don’t recommend presenting your first try on unsuspecting friends unless you are experienced with the process involved. It’s not like cooking where you can add or easily recreate at the last minute. For the sake of being completely vulnerable, I do not follow this advice all the time but I have certainly been more successful when I spend time at least researching even if I can’t actually practice.

Blue flower cupcakes

Organize your research: Although there are so many wonderful people out there sharing advice and tips, you need a place to keep all this info for the right time. I have a secret board on Pinterest where I pin my on-line research such as great tutorials, tips etc so I can refer back to them during the project. (I keep the board secret in case I am planning a surprise for a friend.) Because of all the variables that can throw you off during practice, (or on the day) it’s so helpful to have those websites on hand  to refer to them in a flash.  Create a system that works best for you.

Plan supplies and ingredients ahead of time. This may sound obvious but taking time to think through every aspect of the project is crucial. Sometimes you might need a particular item that is only available on line and needs to be shipped. Practicing helps to think through all the logistics and ingredients needed. If you are making something for an event you will also need to consider how to store, transport and display your baked goods. Don’t leave anything to the last minute! It’s the worst feeling of panic when you realize you forgot something crucial or worse, you have run out of time.

Plan time going backwards. It is imperative that you plan your time meticulously so that everything is completed and you can remain calm. The best advice is starting backwards. Let’s say for example your baked items need to be ready for 5pm, you should plan your time beginning at 5pm i.e.

cupcake planning

You will note how I calculate the time needed for each step and also allow time for any mishaps or issues at each point where possible. I used to have a terrible habit of calculating time in my head and finding I was completely off in practice so after several panic moments, I learnt to use this method and it has been extremely helpful.

Stay calm, don’t give up, and always have extra. I can’t stress enough how helpful it has been to follow this step. You never know what might happen in the baking process so make sure you have some ingredients to start over if needed. In some cases it’s also best to just make an extra batch. When you have extra on hand, not only do you get to bestow leftovers upon other loved ones, you have a back up plan in case disaster strikes. On one order recently, I had everything ready to go and at the last minute, I dropped a whole box of cupcakes upside down. Although the box was closed and none hit the floor, when I opened the box, they were one messed up clump of cake and frosting! Fortunately, my husband was with me and reading the look of horror on my face, helped me remain calm and think through my options. I had an extra batch set aside and extra frosting in the fridge so all I had to do was prepare another box and off the order went with no further drama. 

I hope you find these tips helpful and it provides you with some motivation to tackle a new baking venture with increased confidence. After all….you could end up creating something you’re mighty darned proud of!

ready for eating

Chocolate Almond Baklava Rolls- in loving memory of Aunt Ellie

My Aunt Ellie recently passed away. It was rather quick and a shock to all of us when she got sick as we knew her as a very vivacious and lively woman. She was the wife of my dad’s eldest brother, Tony, and they lived in Canada or America throughout my childhood. They would occasionally pass through on their way to Greece/Cyprus, or sometimes he had a conference to attend in England and they would spend more than a few days. I didn’t really know them very well during this time but one thing I always remember is that she had the funniest stories, mostly about crazy things that had happened to her (like greeting a waiter at a reunion thinking he was one of the family, praying aloud for a young person referring to them as ‘he’ only to discover later that ‘he’ was a ‘she’, and many more). I loved that she could laugh at these things and her accounts were extremely entertaining.

Tony and Ellie moved to Cyprus a couple of years before my family did in 1993. I was 15 and finally at an age where my relationship with them began to deepen. One thing I soon learned was that Ellie welcomed everyone into her home with a lot of joy and a full plate of food! Although they moved away the following year, we ended up living in the same town again for about 6 months when I came to the States for my graduate degree in 2002. Every Sunday lunch featured a table full of people she had invited for a delicious meal and a dose of her amazing hospitality. All of my roommates soon loved being invited to Auntie Ellie’s and even when I went alone they would wait eagerly as I came home with several bags of Tupperware packed with leftovers every week. (Greek people always plan food for about 20 more people than they invite and Ellie was no exception!) She and I would have discussions about life and faith, and even though we may not have agreed on everything, and although I would arrive each week to find that she was trying to set me up with whatever single guy from church she could find (without warning me!), I had a lot of fun getting to know her better as a real person and not just ‘some relative that comes to visit.’ I have two very vivid memories of my time with her during this period. The first was when she took me out shopping for 10 hours straight (my feet still hurt thinking about it!), and the second is when she taught me to make her famous baklava rolls. Tony and Ellie moved permanently to Greece in the middle of my first year of grad school. When she passed away this summer, numerous people (around the world!) poured out their happy memories of her cooking and hospitality among many other qualities they admired in her. I only hope I have impacted half the number of people that shared their thoughts after her passing.

I have carried on her baklava legacy by making these rolls for tons of friends throughout the States and have helped teach others how to make them too. It was a little sad making these and writing about this recipe but I hope it will be one that you greatly enjoy.

Ellie’s Baklava

One thing every one should know is that there is no rule to making baklava. Much like eliopita (olive bread), it is primarily based on people’s family recipes. However, the basic formula is always a combination of nuts, sugar, spices, phyllo dough, and syrup (honey or sugar). This is Ellie’s recipe, which uses almonds, and the only change I have made is that I don’t include rose water because it’s an acquired taste and not always popular with non-Greeks.

Recipe

When I made Baklava this week, I decided to try a chocolate version as well as Ellie’s classic, so I have included both below.

(Makes about 40 pieces)

Syrup:

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves

squirt of lemon juice

Almond Filling:

1 1/2 cup almonds

2/3 cup of sugar

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

pinch of salt

1 tbsp water or syrup.

(For Chocolate Baklava: add 1 cup of very dark chocolate chips)

Rolls:

1 box of Phyllo dough (two rolls)

3 sticks of unsalted butter

Yes, there is a lot of butter and sugar in this recipe. This is one dessert that you cannot skimp on and have a great result. However, it does make 40 small rolls, so instead of eating a whole square as with normal Baklava, you can nibble up a couple of pieces. They also keep for a week in the fridge so there is no need to eat them all at once! And, they make great gifts and are perfect for pot lucks.

Method:

Place all syrup ingredients into a small pan, mix well and then put on low heat and gently simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Set aside to cool.

Combine nuts, sugar and spices into food processor and slightly pulse. Do not pulverize the almonds – you just want them to be chopped down a bit. Transfer into a bowl and stir in  water/syrup to help bind the mixture together.

Baklava Fillings

If you are making the chocolate version, pulse the chocolate chips first to break them down a bit and then add the almonds and continue as above. Because of all the sugar in this recipe, it is important to use very dark chocolate. My favourite at the moment is Guittard extra dark. Not only are they delicious, but they care about cocoa farmers and the environment.

Guittard

Melt 1 stick of butter in a microwave safe bowl for 40 seconds. It should be melted but not really hot.

Melted butter

Brush the bottom of your baking pan with butter to prevent sticking during baking. You can spray the bottom if you like, but I find this actually changes the flavour and the bubbling filling that leaks onto the pan makes the baklava stick.

Buttered Pan

Set up your rolling station with your filling and butter bowls on one side, and your sheets of phyllo dough on the other. I like to roll my baklava on a cutting board in the middle.

rolling station

Phyllo dough is rather intimidating. One of the main problems people have is that the very thin sheets tend to dry out if not used swiftly. However, if it gets damp, the sheets will stick together and be impossible to separate. Here are a few tips to help you manage this delicate balance

  • Get good quality phyllo dough (Athens is pretty good and easy to find at major grocery stores)
  • I recommend defrosting the dough overnight in the fridge. I find it tends to get wet on the sides when defrosting at room temperature and this makes it harder to work with.
  • Only open one of the rolled packets at a time.
  • Be gentle. If the sheet tears, don’t panic, you can always ‘glue it’ back together with the butter.
  • Some suggest placing a layer of plastic wrap over the sheets you are not using and then a damp towel on top to help prevent the dough drying out in the air. (Be careful to make sure the dough is completely covered in the plastic wrap so it doesn’t get wet). I have worked often enough with the dough that I find this just slows me down, but if you have never used phyllo before, I recommend trying this method.

Lay out 1 sheet of Phyllo. Using a pastry brush, spread some butter all over. You don’t want the sheet to be saturated, just covered. I usually put on a couple of globs and then spread the butter around, making sure to cover all the edges and corners.

Brushing Butter

Buttered Phyllo Sheet

Lay a second sheet of phyllo over the top and butter again. Spoon a small amount of the filling mixture in a line along the bottom of the sheet. Leave a tiny gap at the edges because the filling will bubble up and expand.

Chocolate Filling

Roll up tightly to the very top

Rolling BaklavaRolling Baklava

and then slice into three sections.

Cut Baklava

Brush the top with more butter and place tightly together on the baking sheet.

Baklava in Pan

It is tempting to skip this step because it means more butter but this serves an important purpose other than amazing flavour. As the rolls sit and you continue to work, they can get dried out, and the butter helps to keep them moist so make sure to lightly coat the edges especially. It also, helps them brown in the oven much like an egg wash.

Brush Corners

Repeat until you are out of filling mixture. Melt more butter as needed, one stick at a time.

Chocolate Filling

If you chose to do both flavours of Baklava, make sure you use two separate pans so chocolate doesn’t leak onto the plain ones.

Almond filling

Make sure they are all tightly snuggled into the pan. This is important to ensure that your edges don’t burn (especially for the chocolate ones).

Baklava Snuggle

Place in the oven at 350 for 50-60 minutes. They should be golden brown. Remove and immediately pour the cold syrup over the top.

Baklava

The syrup needs to be cold and the baklava piping hot so that the syrup is absorbed well without making the baklava soggy.

Chocolate Baklava

Allow to cool and then serve. These keep for a week in a sealed container in the fridge. Just remove the amount to be eaten and bring to room temperature before serving.

Chocolate and Almond Baklava

Chocolate Coconut Banana Oat Drops

For the first time in a very long while, I have a regular job. Not that I haven’t been working regularly since I graduated college (and way before) but what I mean is that I have now joined the ranks of the 8-5 masses. The age of shift work, or live-in 24-7 days have passed and I am finally seeing the routine of the ‘others’. Especially after the last three years of no personal/professional divide (as a college Resident Hall Director), it is glorious to know that at 5pm I will get into my car, be funneled into the nearest artery of traffic and arrive home with my lovely hubby to my welcoming comfy soft slippers, time for me and the occasional  glass of wine. It may not sound like much to many of you but at this moment, it is just what I have been craving.

With this foreign routine, I am being challenged to rethink and organize my eating schedule for the day and as a result have been experimenting with new dinner, lunch and snack recipes. To save you all the non-essential details of my daily hunger cycle, I will basically say that I need something mid-afternoon to stave off the embarrassingly ravenous grumblings echoing around my office and capturing the attention of all the passers-by. I have been researching snack options and recipes from Pinterest and found some very helpful suggestions that are all working well. One of these were various kinds of home made granola, oat bar concoctions that all looked and sounded great.  During my latest trip to the store, I had accidently forgotten to identify one recipe and add the necessary ingredients to my shopping list. So, in my usual spontaneous fashion, I decided to create my own version with all the things I love and below are the results.

What I enjoy about these is that the dark cocoa powder makes them really chocolatey without adding too much sweetness and you only need one or two to knock that hunger on it’s head. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get these to photograph well so for now you will have to use your imagination! 🙂

Chocolate Coconut Banana Oat Drops

2 tbsp of natural peanut butter

2 tbsp of honey

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups of oatmeal

1 mashed ripe banana

1/4 cup of dutch processed cocoa powder

1/2 cup of shredded coconut (you can use sweet or unsweetened depending on your preference)

1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips

Method

Melt peanut butter, salt and honey on very low heat in a medium pan. Add the oats and then remove from heat. This mixture will not really thicken or come together until right at the end so don’t worry if you feel like it looks a little dry. Stir in the cocoa, coconut and bananas one at a time making sure that each is mixed well before adding the next ingredient. Finally, pour the chocolate chips over the top and stir until they are melted through. (One important fact to note here is that I used good quality chocolate chips that were 66% cocoa. Semi-sweet don’t produce the same fudgey rich results but if you prefer the extra milky sweetness, by all means go with those.) It is at this point that the batter pulls together and begins to look like goey goodness. Let them cool for a few minutes and then spoon little drops onto a parchment lined baking tray. (Feel free to scoop with your clean fingers- the mess makes it more fun!)  Place in the fridge for a couple of hours until hard. This amount of mix will make around 20 drops.

Here is my favourite part about this recipe, you really can’t mess it up too bad by changing any of the ingredients. For example, if you don’t like coconut, subsitute it for something else like cranberries or raisins. The peanut butter flavour is very mild so you can always add more or any nut butter of your choosing. It may be my recipe but it’s your tastebuds so experiment and have fun.

Did a Brownie Recipe Predict my Future?

I think I was always destined to live in the States. From a young age, there were a lot more American influences in my life than most English (and definitely English-Cypriot) kids growing up in the 80s. I am not just talking about media influences when I say this as we were all consuming iconic American TV shows, music and movies of the era. You see, my family was extremely close with an American couple who were living in London. We spent a huge amount of time with them every week and, as well as many other influences they had on our lives, they shaped some of our childhood food experiences. For example, marshmallows in England were the nasty pink and white twisted sponges that didn’t seem to provide much eating pleasure. But on their visits home, our friends brought back real American style Marshmallows to toast together in our wood fireplace (of course we used Greek kebab style skewers for roasting!). On Pancake Day, they made us American style pancakes with syrup and gave Mum a box of Aunt Jemima mix for us to try at home. I deeply loved this couple and I think America felt more like home when I moved here in 2003 because of those warm memories as a kid.

This wasn’t all though. When I was in my late teens, my aunt bought an American kid’s cook book which I borrowed and started using. I tried out several recipes but it was the one for brownies that sealed my destiny. In my early twenties, I used that recipe to raise about £1000 in Sunday morning bake sales for a church youth group. It became my trademark and I should have known that a move away from England was looming!

OK so perhaps it may sound like I am being slightly extreme in suggesting that making brownies all the time in the late 90s was a sign that I was destined to live on the other side of the Atlantic BUT you have to remember that a) I was brought up in a tight-knit Cypriot community so b) no one else around me made them! At the time brownies were really only found on the newer American style restaurant dessert menus, buried under heapings of vanilla ice cream finished with a waterfall of caramel and chocolate sauce swirling into the bottom of the dish; Or, they were found on the shelves of cool bakeries in trendy parts of town. I was the brownies diva in my little London community and I moved over here in 2003 with confidence that I could make an excellent American classic.

Then, I met (through the TV of course, not literally!) Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa and my former inferior brownie recipe was completely abandoned. Our ‘friend’ from Food Network introduced me to the world of real chocolate brownies, sans-cocoa powder, and I can NEVER go back! Please understand, this is not because I had a ‘bad’ recipe but because these were so indulgent, rich and fudge-y that I would never use cocoa powder again! Brownies are still one of my trademark desserts and wherever I have taken these for pot lucks or served then at dinners, people can’t get enough. So, it seems only natural that I now share my brownie (not so) secrets with friends. Don’t be frightened by the recipe. Yes, as with all exquisite food, it does begin with lots of things that are not healthy BUT you can have your other zucchini or black bean brownie concoctions the rest of the year. Why waste that one moment of indulgence on something that is sub par? If you’re going to splurge and allow yourself a moment of true guilt free pleasure, make it count and this is the recipe you need! Also, this recipe makes a HUGE amount of brownies so you won’t be eating the whole pound of butter and chocolate in one sitting! I have only adapted a couple of very small elements over the past 5 years of making this but if you want the original you can find it here or in The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook where Ina originally adapted it from chocolate globs in the Soho Charcuterie Cookbook.


Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 sticks of butter
  • 1 pound plus 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  • 6 ounces dark chocolate chips (as dark as possible!)
  • 6 extra-large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons instant coffee granules (feel free to use decaf if you want to avoid the extra caffeine).
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups chopped walnuts (optional)

Let’s get to my favourite part- the chocolate! And this has lots of it. You begin by melting almost all the chocolate (hold back about 12 oz of semi sweet chocolate) with the butter over a double boiler (this is my sorry version of one but basically any glass bowl that can fit comfortably over the top of some gently boiling water will do)

Two important things to note: Heat is on low and the water is not touching the bottom of the bowl. Keep stirring and eventually it will become this beautiful Wonka-esque river of chocolate. See…

mmmmmmm

And if you resist drinking the whole thing, you can step aside to mix some of the other ingredients while the chocolate cools. (but licking a finger that ‘accidently’  gets covered in chocolate is acceptable as long as you don’t double dip!)

Next gently combine (no beating) the eggs, coffee granules, vanilla, and sugar. It just effortlessly comes together with a fork so no need to even think about plugging in the mixer. Take that, store-bought mix!

Stir in the cooled chocolate mixture. Don’t add the melted chocolate while it is still hot or you will cook the eggs. Sift together the cup of flour (set aside the 1/4 cup for now), baking powder and salt, then gently stir this dry mix into the chocolate abyss. Now you can begin to see from the colour of this batter that something magical is taking place!

For a final touch, toss the walnuts (if using them- I generally don’t because of so many people with nut allergies these days) and 12 ounces of chocolate chips in a medium bowl with 1/4 cup of flour.

Can we pause and just talk about how I love the sound the chips make as they tumble in and bounce off the sides of the bowl…just me?

This little secret is marvelous for a couple of major reasons. First of all, dusting them with flour helps the chips stay mixed into the batter instead of sinking to the bottom. Don’t skip this step- you will regret it when trying to remove the brownies from your pan! Secondly, even though they melt during the baking, once the brownies have cooled, the chips turn hard and offer a  bonus textural element and extra chocolatey yumminess! (which you can never have too much of in my opinion!)Then, add this dusty mix to the chocolate batter.

Pour into a 12×12 greased baking sheet or cake pan. I tend to find that if you are using a good non-stick pan, you can get away with a spritz of canola cooking spray but it’s important to cover the pan well without adding extra grease to your batter.

Place in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, then tilt the pan up towards you and then bang it down on the oven shelf.  I know this sounds weird but don’t skip this step, it forces the air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough making your batter cook evenly.Bake for about 15 more minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not overbake! Allow to cool thoroughly and then refrigerate. I recommend taking them out and bringing them to room temperature before serving.

I promise once you have tried this recipe, it will change your whole brownie life and no box or previous attempts will ever match up to this pure indulgence. I have experimented with a lot of different flavoured brownies using this as a base (such as peanut butter, raspberry cream cheese and even bacon) and some are trickier than others to figure out successfully. If you make suggestions below of brownie variations you would like to try, I will pick the most interesting, try them out and post my suggestions so you too can make them at home.

Nutella Chocolate Chip Cookies

After making my Nutella Banoffee Pie, I had some leftover Nutella and was trying to think of something simple and fun to do for my hubby. We recently made some chocolate chip cookies for a friend so I still had some little dough squares in the fridge and decided to combine the two – couldn’t be simpler but definitely delicious.

Use your thumb to turn the chocolate chip cookie dough squares into little bowls.

 Dollop a small amount of Nutell into the center of the cookie bowl

 Gently fold over the  sides of the cookie dough, squishing the Nutella into the center and almost reforming the square. It should not be completely covered but the chocolate hazelnut goodness should ooze over the top of the cookie dough. Follow the baking instructions on the cookie packet.

Once nicely golden brown, remove from the oven and let them cool for about 20 minutes before entering Nutella cookie bliss.

Triumph from disaster- the invention of the casserole cake!

Earlier this fall, two of our friends got engaged and asked me to make a dessert for their celebration. They both love peanut butter and chocolate so I decided to just make a cake with their favourite flavours. As with most things in life, the weekend of their party, I had three other projects I was helping out with so it was going to be busy. I planned and organized my time pretty well to manage everything successfully but there wasn’t much room for error.

I arrived home a few hours before the engagement party and began baking. I don’t generally use cake mixes but under the circumstances and the time crunch, it was the best option. I have found that you can really play with these pre-made mixes to enrich the flavours and make them your own so I added some Hershey’s special dark chocolate chips for great texture and extra chocolatelyness! One thing I don’t compromise on is frosting. I always use homemade because the store-bought kind is made with Crisco and I find the texture and aftertaste an unpleasant one. While the cakes were baking I mixed up a batch of my rich chocolate-peanut buttercream.

In the midst of all the rushing around, I didn’t line my cake tins with parchment paper and so when it came to turning them out, they of course stuck and fell out in pieces. For a moment, I was mortified – with only a couple of hours left, there was no time to make them again so the casserole cake was born! I quickly forked out the first layer into a Pyrex dish and then poured over the buttercream filling, crumbled the second layer of cake, covered with the remaining frosting and topped with crushed Reece’s cups. I happened to have some candy melting chips on hand, so I made some medium-sized chocolate hearts as a topper using a heart mold.

It was delicious and the couple were really happy. I have made it a few time since (on purpose) and have loads of compliments and requests for recipes. It’s a super quick dessert full of rich flavour and this basic technique can be used with any cake and frosting variation.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Casserole Cake:

Cake base:

Use your favourite chocolate cake mix (the fudgy-er the better) and follow the instructions.  Reserve about 1/4 cup of the cake mix before adding wet ingredients and mix in about 1/2 cup of chocolate chips. This helps coat the chips so they stick in the batter and won’t sink to the bottom while in the oven. Add the powedered chips into the cake mix and then separate the mixture evenly into two 9 inch cake pans. Once baked according to the box instructions, let them cool completely.

Peanut Butter buttercream:

1 stick of butter at room temperature and cut into small cubes

2/3 of a pound of sifted confectioners sugar

1/2 cup of sifted  Hershey’s special dark cocoa powder (you can use other dutch processed cocoa powder but I highly recommend this one for the very rich flavour)

1/2 cup of peanut butter (smooth)

2-3 tbsp of boiling water to help everything mix well and be smooth

Mix all the dry ingredients first until combined then make a well in the center for the butter, peanut butter  and hot water. Using a fork, mix together by working in from around the well until all the dry ingredients are just about absorbed. Then use a hand-held (or standing mixer) until the frosting is very smooth (about 7 minutes). If you feel that there is not enough moisture and the buttercream is too stiff, add some milk or more hot water; likewise if it’s too thin, just add more sugar or cocoa powder. You can also add a drop of lemon juice to help cut through the sweetness – you won’t taste it but it helps take the edge off the sugar. Feel free to put in more cocoa powder or peanut butter according to your flavour preferences. The consistency should be just a tiny bit thinner than the store-bought frosting so it will spread easily without sticking to the cake crumbs.

Method:

  •  Fork out one of the cooled cake layers into a large Pyrex dish making sure to remove any lumps. Gently flatten all the crumbs (either by hand or with a spatula) so that it forms an even layer without being too squashed.
  •  Empty half of the buttercream into the middle on top of the cake crumbs. Starting at the center, slowly and patiently work the large mass outwards with a cake spatula until you have reached the edges of the Pyrex dish. This takes a little time but it ensures that you won’t be picking up cake crumbs and getting them mixed into your buttercream.
  •  Repeat A and B for the second layer of cake and the rest of the buttercream.
  •  Put about 8 regular sized Reece’s Cups in a food processor and pulse a few times until they are broken down. If you pulse them too many times, they begin to bind together and become one big lump instead of the crumble texture which  we are going for.
  • Top the Pyrex cake with the broken up Reece’s Cup pieces.

 You can either serve immediately or place in the fridge until needed. I think this would also be amazing just slightly warmed through accompanied with your favourite ice-cream. It makes about twelve decent sized servings.