This is one of those recipes that is so well-loved I have a hard time putting it into words. Except to say I’m sorry for keeping it from you for so long. It’s one of the first successful cakes I ever made when I started cooking, using my Granny’s old springform pan (which is still in use, by the way).
Many flourless chocolate cakes contain ground nuts, but this cake gets its structure from cocoa powder and lots of eggs. So if you happen to be entertaining dinner guests who are allergic to nuts AND on the gluten-free bandwagon, look no further. And also, you might want to steer clear of these crackers.
The flourless chocolate cake is amazing all on its own or just dusted with cocoa powder, but I like it best with a tart raspberry sauce drizzled across the top. It creates a beautiful pop of color and flavor that is perfect for Valentine’s day, or any day.
It’s also ridiculously easy to make, but you don’t have to share that with your guests.
We’ve barely begun 2014, but the sun sets a bit later each day and I can feel the promise of spring on the horizon.
The hens are feeling it too; egg production is ramping up and it’s getting harder to enforce their early winter curfew.
Most of the chickens follow me right out to the coop, but I almost always have to round up a few stragglers at bedtime. It’s normally a quick and easy affair, but the other day was something else entirely.
It was sunny when I let the chickens out, so they happily plowed through an acre of snow just to get to the bird feeder. Then, a cold front came through and they didn’t want to walk back through the snow to get back home.
A couple of the hens started to follow me out to the coop, but I came back to find they’d given up and planted themselves in the garden, fluffing their feathers like little down jackets. One after the other, I scooped them up and carried them to the coop, their feathers warming my hands as they settled into my arms. I’m pretty sure they were grateful.
I soon realized I wasn’t done giving free rides out to the chicken coop, and that not everyone would be as cooperative. The other hens huddled together, eyeing me uneasily, reluctant to be picked up but not wanting to run out into the snow.
Most allowed themselves to be caught without any trouble, but not Shelly. She dodged me several times, but finally I managed to come within an inch of grabbing her. That is when she completely freaked out.
Shelly is a pretty small chicken, and I knew from her past adventures that she is better at flying than most. But I was shocked when, with a series of loud squawks, she launched herself off the ground and flew across the entire garden, about 150 feet. And then she started gaining altitude and fluttered up onto a tree branch, about 8 feet off the ground.
I scrambled up onto a piece of lawn furniture and grabbed hold of her tail before she could fly up to a higher branch, prompting her to go hide under the big spruce tree instead (with four of her friends). It took me over an hour to get them all in for the night.
Today, most of the hens are out in the snow again, pecking at the door and lurking on the back steps. Probably waiting for me to give them a ride home. Or maybe they’re just hoping I’ll let them in, where there’s freshly baked gingerbread and chai tea, and it’s (slightly) warmer than outside.
As excited as I am for the spring weather to get here, I’m always sorry to see gingerbread season end. In case you’re wondering, gingerbread season starts when the first chill of autumn creeps into the air, and ends after the last blizzard of April — if to you gingerbread means houses and cookies shaped like little men, you’re definitely missing out on the best part of the season. Fortunately, you still have time to catch up.
It’s summer squash season, and the piles of fresh zucchini are starting to lose their novelty. So when I’m staring at a fridge full of squash or a zucchini the size of my leg, I usually resort to shredding and hiding them in baked goods. Or at the very least, shredding and hiding them in the freezer for a snowy day.
Zucchini does wonderful things for muffins. It makes for a soft, delicate crumb; and more importantly, it enables you to call them “muffins” when really they taste like cupcakes.
I used black cocoa powder, which is basically Dutch-processed cocoa taken a step further so that it’s even darker and less bitter. It’s great to have on hand if you want baked goods with a mellow chocolate flavor and super dark color, i.e. Oreo-type cookies or ice cream sandwiches.
A note on cocoa powder: You can usually use natural cocoa powder in place of Dutch (NOT vice versa, at least for cakes and cookies). But be warned that the natural acidity will react with the baking soda in this recipe and your muffins will have a reddish tint, like Devil’s Food cake. And I can’t promise they won’t be a little taller or flatter than they should be, since I haven’t made that substitution in this particular recipe.
Finally, I find that coconut oil makes these extra delicious and “healthier,” giving us all the more reason to eat cake for breakfast. You’re welcome.
Good neighbors are a wonderful thing to have, and we’re lucky to have quite a few of them. But our friends across the street are the absolute best. They care for our animals when we’re away, they let us borrow their hatchet, and they even drop by with surprise deliveries of spring flowers and little custard tarts. And did I mention the rhubarb?
For Mother’s Day this year, Mom had a special request: A cake she recently tasted at a friend’s birthday party, which they special ordered from a bakery in the Bay Area. I’d never thought to put the combination together, but I make all the components regularly:
Yellow cake, filled and topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream, and the key ingredient: Honeycomb candy.
I make honeycomb (also known as seafoam, angel food, sponge candy, and hundreds of other names), every year for part of my Dad’s Christmas present. It’s essentially a hard caramel that has a little bit of baking soda whisked in at the end, so that it foams up and hardens into a spongy, crunchy, almost-too-sweet candy.
Honeycomb is simple, in the sense that it has only 4 ingredients and a few steps, but it’s easy to screw up. A little extra humidity or barometric pressure, a bit too much stirring, and you’ve just wasted a bunch of sugar. Recipes like this cake are a good way to use honeycomb that’s a little too dense, since you’re crushing it anyway. Good thing, since I was prepping the cake in the middle of the night and wasn’t about to make another batch. Sorry, Mom.
I’m still trying to find the perfect recipe that doesn’t involve corn syrup, but unfortunately it seems to produce the most consistent results. I once made a perfect batch using honey instead, but all my other attempts burned — maybe I’ll revisit that again someday in another post.
I did a quick search for “honeycomb cake” and found a few similar recipes — some that used buttercream frosting, and one that included a hefty dose of ground up candy in the cake batter, too. I suspected those would be too complicated and way, WAY too rich based on my experience with the stuff. I think I was right.