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Christmas trees and death by chocolate

18 Dec

Some of the things I love most about Christmas are the family traditions.

Ever since I can remember, my family has waited until after my brother’s birthday to get our tree – so that his birthday will feel like a birthday and not Christmas.

Yesterday, my family went out to get our Christmas tree.

We’ve gone to the same place for about 10 years now.

We always see the perfect tree within the first five minutes.  We always leave that tree thinking there will be better ones further up the hill.  That tree is usually the best one we see all day.

We have to walk around for at least half an hour.

Someone has to cry.  Usually that someone is me, although we’ve broken that tradition for the past four or five years.

My mother has to take pictures of the tree being cut down, and a couple of holdouts of me and her.  And her and my brother.  And her and me and my brother.

My dad always cuts down the tree.

My brother always helps him carry it down to the car and tie it on.

Afterwards, we always have hot chocolate and coffee in the crazy-tacky gift shop that sells ornaments and salt and pepper shakers and lots of fudge.

This year, I won.  My family finally liked a tree that I picked out, and now it’s sitting in our living room.

While my dad and brother brought the tree in and set it up on the stand, I baked these.

Chocolate ganache cakes for my brother’s birthday.

These cakes are death by chocolate.  But honestly, if you’re going to die, isn’t that the way to go?



  • 1 1/2 c. AP flour
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/3 c. canola oil
  • 1 tbsp. white vinegar
  • 1 c. cold water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Prep your cupcake tins.  combine dry ingredients.  Combine wet ingredients.  Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the wet.  Mix just until combined.  Bake for about 30 minutes.  I baked mine in little 3 or 4 inch pans (this recipe made 6, each one feeds about 2 people).


  • 8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1/4 c. milk + 1/2 c. creamer
  • 2 tbsp. margarine
Heat the milk and creamer in a sauce pan until it boils.  Turn off the heat and add the chocolate.  Let it sit and don’t touch it for a minute or two.  Then stir until it’s nice and smooth.  Add the margarine and stir until it’s all melted. (side note:  other amazing things you can do with ganache – stick it in the fridge until it’s completely set, then whip it up in your stand mixer and you can frost cakes with it, pipe with it; or just eat it with a spoon, that works too)



  • 1 c. margarine
  • 4 c. powdered sugar
  • 2 – 3 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • enough milk to bring the mixture to the right consistency

Cream the butter with an electric mixer.  Add the powdered sugar and cocoa powder a cup at a time.  Add the vanilla and milk.

To assemble your cakes,  flip them over and carve out part of the top.  Pipe some frosting into the cavities and smooth over the tops with a spatula.  Then, pour the ganache over the cakes and wait for it to set.  After the ganache has set, you can pipe designs on top of it with the buttercream if you so desire.


Apple Bundt Cake

5 Dec

This post will be short, sweet, and to the point.  Just like the cake I made for you.

I’ve been a terrible blogger the past few weeks.  Sorry about that.  But now that it’s dead week, and I have finals to study for, papers to write, and pots to glaze, I’ve decided to start up again.  So here you go, eat your heart out, and to all my fellow students, may you not perish in the fiery inferno that is dead week.

APPLE BUNDT CAKE (adapted from this recipe)

  • 4 medium apples, shredded (I shredded 3 and finely chopped 1 just to get larger chunks of apple in the cake)
  • 1 c. white sugar
  • 3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 1c. applesauce
  • 4 tbsp. ground flax seeds + 12 tbsp. water, mixed
  • 1/2 c. non-dairy milk (I used coconut)
  • 2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a bundt pan.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. In another bowl, combine the apples, applesauce, flax mixture, sugar, vanilla, and milk.  Add to the flour mixture and stir just until combined.  Pour into the bundt pan and bake for about 1 hour, until it passes the toothpick test.  Once cool, dust with some powdered sugar.

Putting the “Cup” in Cupcake

6 Oct

This week was something special – not in a good way.  In a crazy, sort of awesome, super hectic stressful yet satisfying sort of way.  And there’s still more to come.

There was a paper written last night:  four hours, five pages, in Spanish.

There was a hyper-mega-inspiring lady speaking in my Sign Language class:  deaf and legally blind (called Usher syndrome); she’s been losing peripheral  vision since she was in her early twenties, and her night vision left her when she was a teenager.  Now, she only has ten-degree vision.  That’s like looking through a hole that’s about 2 centimeters in diameter.  You have to stand directly in front of her and four feet away to sign with her so she can see you.

She was hilarious.

She made me wish I was deaf so I could be that funny and inspiring.

There’s an art history test tomorrow.  There’s 26 images I have to memorize; to be able to regurgitate the title, location, and date and be able to speak intelligently about it.

It’s timed.  Gross.

There’s fruit flies.  Also gross.

There’s traps all over our room trying to make them die.

They’re not working.

There’s mug cakes.  Tonight.

I’d heard of them.   I’d stashed them away in that little file cabinet in the back of my head to maybe make someday.

Tonight it happened, and me-oh-my, it was fabulous.

This is what happens in real life.  Cooping yourself up in your room with a mugful of cake in one hand and a mugful of coffee in the other.

Trying to put off studying for just a few more blissful minutes of chocolate hazelnut coffee goodness.


(serves 1)

  • 4 tbsp. flour
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. ground flax seeds mixed with 3 tbsp. water
  • 3 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1 heaping tbsp. Justin’s chocolate hazelnut butter
  • 3 tbsp. vanilla soy milk
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3/8 tsp. baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • dash of instant coffee granules.
Mix it all up in a mug with a fork.  Stick it in the microwave for 1 1/2 to 3 minutes.  Enjoy.

Petits fours

27 Aug

Hey.  It’s me.  I’m back – finally.

I have things to teach you today.

But don’t worry – they’re fun things.

They’re things like petit fours and chocolate and marzipan.

Petits fours are little baby cakes that you can eat in one or two bites.  The name literally means small ovens.  There are two kinds of petit fours:  sec, or dry petit fours and glace, which means iced petit fours.  Today we’re making petit fours glace.  These puppies are pastries that are filled with cream, chocolate, or jam.  Then they’re iced or dipped and decorated with marzipan, fondant (blech), or chocolate.  They’re usually eaten during afternoon tea which makes them even more fancy shmancy.

Basically, they’re classy hoho’s.

We make petit fours at the bakery.  And I can say from experience, we do them right.

This is what a petit four should look like.  No fondant, more buttercream, more chocolate.  Yum.

Here’s the low-down, step by step:

1.  Bake up my chocolate cake in two cookie sheets or jelly roll pans.

2.  Make a 1 1/2 batch of your favorite buttercream or cream cheese frosting (if you want, you can do two different flavors).

3.  Spread half of the frosting on top of one of your layers.  Flip the other layer on top of the first.

4.  Spread the other half of the frosting on top of the second half.

5.  Roll out your marzipan – thin.  Use two packages of the Odense brand you can find at Fred Meyer.

6.  Transfer the marzipan on top of the two cake layers and frosting and roll it on – be sure you press down hard, because that’s what gives your petit fours that density.

7.  Freeze your cake sandwich until it’s chilled all the way through.

8.  Take your sandwich out of the freezer and flip it out of the pan so that the marzipan is on the bottom.

9.  At this point, how you cut your petit fours is up to you.  You can use a ruler and make squares, or you can just use a cutter, like I did.

10.  Melt down whatever chocolate you’re going to use and dip all the bottoms of your petit fours in the chocolate.

11.  Set them on a cookie rack and pour the melted chocolate over them.

12.  Decorate and place in cupcake papers and they’re ready to serve!

CHOCOLATE CAKE (double this recipe to be able to bake up two cookie sheets)


  • 1 1/2 c. AP flour
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/3 c. canola oil
  • 1 tbsp. white vinegar
  • 1 c. cold water


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Prep your cupcake tins.  combine dry ingredients.  Combine wet ingredients.  Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the wet.  Mix just until combined.  Bake for about 15 minutes.