As it happens, I spend an exorbitant amount of my time thinking about cake. While it’s not surprising, it’s a little embarrassing to say, when talking to people who are not sweet/cake/baking-obsessed, that I spend at least a portion of everyday thinking about cake. These kinds of things cease to be embarrassing, however, when you have a legitimate excuse. It was my birthday last Wednesday, making it totally reasonable for me to think about cake for, oh, the better part of June and July. Totally reasonable, I assure you.

 When I started thinking about my birthday cake in June, I had great aspirations. I’m going to make a super duper tall layer cake! It’s going to somehow contain everything I love, hazelnuts, chocolate, strawberries, buttercream, jam, like some sort of Mary Poppins magical bag. Except a cake. I researched cakes up and down, finding really awesome recipes, like this one and this one.

Time comes for me to bake a cake and, guess what, it’s over a hundred degrees outside. Anyone living in the continental US, and especially in the Northeast, knows how it was. In Boston we’re just not prepared for that kind of heat, mentally, emotionally, or physically. The thought of eating chocolate cake made me wince, as I was sitting in my kitchen beading sweat (a beautiful image, I know). What’s a birthday girl to do? She needs a cake! I remembered my roommate’s herb garden and wanted to somehow incorporate mint leaves, maybe chocolate? I was dead-set on chocolate until finding lemon-mint cake with lemon syrup.

As soon as I stumbled upon this recipe, I knew it was the one. Making it was a funny thing, to me, because the mint leaves made the batter, before adding whipped egg whites, look like quiche filling. I giggled, asking myself “cake or quiche” over and over, until successfully killing the joke. I wanted to whip the whites by hand, even though it was sauna-hot in my kitchen, so ended up doing that and taking forever, but spend the time listening to my favorite music and singing for my roommates. My kitchen shenanigans continue until the very last step, making the syrup, where I pretended to be Chef. Making this cake was so much fun that I forgot the heat. It ended up being a perfect birthday-cake experience, making the cake in a leisurely and ridiculous manner, then eating the cake with my friends- who are the bestest and funniest and most wonderful people you can imagine. Happy Birthday to me!

Lemon-Mint Cake with Lemon Syrup

(Recipe adapted from Giada de Laurentiis at the Food Network)

Yields one 8 inch or 9 inch round cake, enough for 8 to 10 people

Notes: I zested and juiced 4 lemons, ending up with just a tad more juice and zest than the recipe desires. I added the teaspoon or so of extra zest to cake batter and the extra tablespoon lemon juice to syrup, and everything seems to have worked out!

For the Cake


3 eggs, separated

1 cup granulated sugar, divided in half

¼ cup vegetable or canola oil

1/8 teaspoon salt

Scant ¼ cup chopped mint leaves (8 mint sprigs)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 cup all-purpose flour


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare an 8 inch or 9 inch round pan by buttering and flouring bottom and sides.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whip egg whites to soft peaks. Add one half cup of the divided sugar and beat until stiff peaks.

3. In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk together oil, remaining one half cup of sugar, and salt. Add egg yolks one at a time, then chopped mint, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Fold in flour until just combined.

4. Add one half egg white mixture to flour mixture and stir just to loosen batter. Gently fold in the remaining half of egg white mixture until combined.

5. Evenly pour batter into prepared cake pan. If using an 8 inch round pan, bake cake 40 to 45 minutes, and if using a 9 inch round pan, bake 30 to 35 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.

6. Let cake cool to room temperature before slicing.

Cake will keep, covered in plastic wrap at room temperature, up to 3 days.

For the Lemon Syrup


1 cup granulated sugar

¼ cup water

¼ cup lemon juice


1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring all ingredients to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves.

2. Remove syrup from heat and cool at least 20 minutes before serving.

3. If desired, strain zest from syrup before serving.

Syrup will store, refrigerated in an airtight container, up to a week.


You know those people who keep the recipes from every butter, margarine, cool whip, graham cracker box, pudding box? Those people who have shoeboxes of cardboard recipe clippings dating from god-knows-when until the present? I’m one of those people, guilty as charged. Except the shoeboxes would be a step up on the organizational level for me, right now my cardboard pieces are shoved awkwardly into folders, and the folders shoved wherever there’s space on my bookshelf. I took it upon myself to do some organizing the other day, and part of that plan was to go through my recipe clippings, sort them, then place them into a notebook somehow, making it easier to flip through them and make notes if need be.

As I’m sure you’re all aware, because we live in the world and things happen, my plan started out clear as day and ended up as… nothing. I ended up just sorting through them, oohing and ahhing over the ones that looked good, fondly remembering the ones I’ve made, and not remembering at all why I clipped some recipes in the first place. I think I might have been on the verge of grabbing a notebook when I saw a recipe for sugar-topped brownie cake, peaking it’s head out of the “looks crazy delicious” pile. Not sure why it didn’t stop me before (probably because I was still enthralled by the going-through of recipes instead of starting to organize, hooray for procrastination), but I scooped up the recipe and stuck it to the fridge. This baby’s gettin’ made. No question.

The most interesting part about this recipe is that it turned out RED, as in, red-velvet-cake red. Once upon a time I read that red velvet cake started out as a thing because the cocoa powder reacts with the leavening agent, creating a red color instead of normal chocolate-cake brown, and thus far the phenomenon had remained an abstraction to me. My red velvet cakes didn’t turn out red if I failed to use food dye or some sort of natural coloring agent, and my chocolate cakes didn’t turn out red. This is the first time I’ve seen it in my own baking, with my own eyes. So it really does happen! I can totally understand how red velvet cake became a ‘thing’ and can now appreciate, yet another, example of how science-y stuff applies to baking. Be forewarned that this comes out more like a cake than like brownies. I know the title says “cake”, but it also says “brownie”. Didn’t want you going into it and being disappointed. Now that I’m thinking about the sugar and chocolate crust, though, I doubt you’ll be disappointed, regardless.

Brown Sugar-topped Brownie Cake

(Recipe taken from a Land-O-Lakes package of margarine)

Yields one 9 by 13 inch pan of brownie cake and brownies can be sliced large, around 15 servings



1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

½ cup butter, softened (almost melted)

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

1 ¼ cup chocolate chips or chopped chocolate, dark to semi-sweet



1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and prepare a 9 by 13 inch pan by greasing or lining with foil.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.

3. Add milk, butter, egg, and vanilla to dry ingredients and stir until well mixed.

4. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over top of batter, then do the same with the chips or chopped chocolate.

5. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. (Check around the 27 mark if you want your brownie cake to be slightly under-baked; I baked it for 30 minutes exactly and got an even cake-like texture but might under-bake it next time.)

6. Let brownie cake cool completely in pan, and cool completely before cutting.

Store brownies at room temperature, in an airtight container for up to 4 days and just covered up to 2 days.

It all (and by “it all” I mean “this post”) started in the used book basement at the local bookstore, where I spend most of my free time and/or that weird in-between time born of serious procrastination before/after/during errands. This used book basement not only has used fiction and poetry and everything nice, but also has used cookbooks. Do I peruse their selection at least once a week?  Without a doubt.

Sometimes the selection of used cookbooks is not as exciting as you think it’d be, and sometimes it’s downright boring, so I try to go in with my only expectation being to have fun looking at pictures, or just touching spines of used books. I was browsing, not ambitiously, when something shiny caught my eye. It doesn’t take much. Much to my delight, the book was a Ghirardelli chocolate book. There was potential and I got excited, opening the book as soon as I plucked it off the shelf. I’ve been disappointed by shiny cookbooks in the past, but the first recipe I saw in this particular shiny slice o’ heaven was for mashed potato chocolate cake. Boom. Consider the purchase done and the cake made.

It’s Variety Flour Thursday, but since this is my very own part of the vast and crazy interwebs things will slide this week. Consider it a Variety Ingredient Thursday? Mashed potatoes are kind of like flour, right? Starch? Now I’m just stretching it. The cake itself is not as dense as you’d think it would be because of the whipped egg whites, and the crumb is light. Definitely not at all like some fudgy chocolate cakes you encounter. The cinnamon is a really interesting touch because you don’t taste it as such in the finished product but I really believe the chocolate flavor would be less complex if you forgo the spice.

Chocolate Potato Cake

(Recipe adapted from the Ghirardelli Original Chocolate Cookbook)

Yields one 9 by 13 inch or one bundt cake (if you half the recipe, you can use an 8-inch square pan)



1 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 cups granulated sugar

4 eggs, separated

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup mashed potatoes*, room temperature

½ cup chopped walnuts

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup milk

*I had to make some mashed potatoes specifically for the recipe, so mine were just plain potatoes mashed with a potato masher. The recipe simply calls for “leftover mashed potatoes”, leading me to believe you could use any sort of mashed potatoes you have lying around.



1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and butter a 9 by 13 inch baking pan or bundt pan.

2. In a medium-size mixing bowl, sift or whisk together flour, baking powder, ¼ teaspoon salt, and cinnamon.

3. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, by hand or with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer.

4. Beat in egg yolks one at a time, beating well and scraping the bowl after each addition.

5. Add cocoa powder and mashed potatoes and mix until smooth. Stir in walnuts

6. Starting and ending with flour mixture, add flour mixture to batter in three parts and alternating with 2 additions of milk. Stirring until just incorporated between each addition, making sure to scrap bottom of bowl.

7. Whip egg whites to stiff peaks and carefully fold whites into batter until incorporated.

8. Pour batter evenly into pan and bake in preheated oven 50 to 60 minutes. If halving the recipe and baking cake in an 8 inch square pan, only bake 35 to 40 minutes.

9. Let cake cool in pan for 10 minutes before removing to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Store cake in an airtight container up to three days or freeze up to a month.

Mini Coconut Cakes

February 16, 2011

Do you ever have mornings when everything seems really arduous? Things like getting out of bed, turning on the coffee maker, letting go of your blanket even when you are sitting at the kitchen table trying to eat breakfast? I wanted to bake today, to share another new and exciting recipe, but kind of wanted the baked goods just to appear, and the recipe just to be typed, and oh look! I only have an hour and a half before needing to leave for work!

This recipe for mini coconut cakes makes my day. It’s simple, quick to prepare, doesn’t yield a ridiculous amount of baked good, and is almost infinitely adaptable. Instead of coconut, you could substitute ground almonds, or ground hazelnuts. I ended up using 1 cup unsweetened dried coconut and ½ cup ground almonds, but you could mix and match these ingredients exactly to your liking. Instead of lemon zest, I zested a blood orange and the cakes turned out beautifully. I love recipes that allow for you to be creative, personalizing your own treat exactly the way you want, or exactly the way your recipient would want. I could see myself making these over and over, bringing them to parties and picnics and all the other fun things that will happen when it isn’t so ugly and cold outside.

The only bad thing about this batch of cakes was that they browned quickly, because the only mini-muffin pan I own is a very dark, non-stick metal, so I would keep an eye on yours around the 13 minute mark and make sure you get the golden color they are meant to be instead of looking like they have a dark brown mini-cupcake liner. They are kind of interesting, though, in that the browned outside acts like a crust and the middle is still soft and decadent. That being said, they were delicious, and a great pick me up to motivate me for work.

If this recipe is of interest to you, I highly recommend making financiers. I made these over the summer and NONE of them left my apartment. Dangerously good.

Mini Coconut Cakes

(Recipe adapted from Bake! Essential Techniques for Perfect Baking)

Yields 24 individual cakes, made in mini-muffin tins


¾ cup granulated sugar

½ cup all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups unsweetened dried coconut (or 1 ½ cups ground almonds, or combination thereof)

4 egg whites, as close to room temperature as possible

Pinch of salt

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (I used blood orange zest)

½ cup, or 8 tablespoons, unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

About 2 tablespoons sweetened shredded coconut and/or slivered almonds to adorn the tops of the cakes before baking


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter and flour two 12-cavity mini-muffin pans. (Note: I totally forgot to prepare the pans, but mine are non-stick and the cakes turned out fine with just a little more care in removing them from the cavities.)

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, flour, and coconut (and/or ground nuts). Set aside.

3. In a larger bowl, whisk egg whites and salt until combined, then whisk in the zest and slowly whisk in the melted and cooled butter.

4. Whisk in half of dry ingredient mixture, then fold in the rest with a spatula.

5. Split batter evenly between the 24 cavities of the mini-muffin pans and top with shredded coconut and/or slivered almonds.

6. Bake for 15 minutes in preheated oven, or until cakes are firm when pressed and deep golden in color.

7. Invert cakes over a cooling rack, then turn them right side up to cool completely.

Store cakes lightly covered for one day at room temperature. For prolonged storage, store cakes refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 more days. Bring to room temperature before serving/eating.

2011 and Chocolate Cake

January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

My cat, Turkey, is not NEARLY as excited as I am about this pan.

No matter what, I’m always a mess during the week before the New Year. This year was no exception. Last week was full of my laying in bed, thinking too much about the things I can’t change, eating too much, and worrying about the year to come. I sound like a pleasant individual, right?

There is good news. Even though it means I’m getting older, which is terrifying, it also means I’m growing up. Thank goodness. All that worrying and being upset turned into my realizing that the only way things can be different is if you make choices and do something to help yourself grow.

I’m ushering in the New Year with something very simple, in a beautiful pan I got for Christmas from one of the people dearest to me. Every day, easy peasy, pajama chocolate cake. Part of growing up means really, truly appreciating the simple, wonderful moments that make up your day, instead of seeing everything as the be-all end-all of the world. How many times have you heard that in your time on this Earth? I’ve been hearing it since I could remember, but it wasn’t until this year that I’ve embraced it, and welcomed it into my way of thinking in a (hopefully) permanent manner.

Now I’m sitting back, eating cake, drinking tea, and looking at the snow. Looking forward to everything.


I couldn't think of a better shape to express my feelings towards chocolate cake. My favorite shape, my favorite feeling.

Easy Peasy Chocolate Cake

(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Yields one cake in a 9 inch by 5 inch loaf pan, but you could probably do this in an 8 inch by 4 inch pan. Or a sweet heart pan. Just keep an eye on it after 45 minutes if you decide to go crazy and use a shaped/differently size pan.


½ cup unsalted butter, softened (microwave a stick of butter, right out of the fridge, for 20-30 seconds)

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk/nondairy milk mixed with 1 tablespoon of vinegar)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ cup all-purpose flour

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (see note)

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

(Note: If you are using dutch processed cocoa powder, use one teaspoon baking soda)


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

2. Prepare your pan by buttering it and coating lightly with flour.

3. Cream the butter until it’s smooth. If you’re using a stand mixer, cream it on medium speed for 3 minutes or so.

4. Add both sugars to the butter, and beat this mixture until it’s fluffy, another 3 minutes.

5. Add the egg, beat well to incorporate.

6. Add both the buttermilk and vanilla extract. At this point, the batter will look separated and not so pretty. Don’t fret.

7. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and leavening agent together, and add them to the batter. Or just sift them right into the mixing bowl!

8. Mix with a spoon until the mixture is blended and relatively even looking. Be careful not to overmix, but be sure to get all the ingredients from the bottom of the bowl incorporated into the batter.

9. Pour batter into the pan, spreading it evenly.

10. Bake for 60-70 minutes. Or 55 minutes if you have a zealous oven like mine.

11. Cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes before removing it to cool completely.

It’s hard to give advice about storing when it comes to cake, because I love cake even when it’s stale. I guess the normal advice would be to store it in an airtight container, after serving, for 3 days, but I usually stretch this to 5 or 6.

Cake for Breakfast!

November 16, 2010

After two months of owning Baked Explorations; Classic American Desserts Reinvented, and after reading it just about every night, I feel prepared to attack one of the recipes. For some reason I feel the need to devour things visually and mentally before physically devouring anything, and I think this mindset dates back to reading that one of the most important things you can do when you bake is read the recipe in its entirety before starting the process. Translated into Colleen-speak, though, this important rule of thumb transforms from something simple, taking no more than five minutes, into reading entire books, or archives, multiple times. Not only do I have this recipe memorized, I also have the entire book ready for recall at any moment. Just in case. You never know.

Anyway, one of the many reasons I’m in love with this book is that it has a breakfast section! I’m a girl who not only has to have breakfast every morning, but usually has to go for a second breakfast. Much like the hobbits of Tolkien fame, in fact. It’s no wonder that the idea of cake for breakfast makes me giddy. I had to make my first baketivity with Baked Explorations a breakfast venture, and it just so happens that I’ve been eating oatmeal with chocolate every morning for the last week. The stars aligned, and pointed to this recipe.

Because I’m still working out the logistics of my blogging style, I’m offering a disclaimer, and probably not the first one you’ll read. Instead of just typing the recipe up, which I’m not even sure is allowed in terms of respecting copyrights and all that, I’m going to type it up the way I made it. The ingredients won’t differ so much as the order of the steps, and other technical things. And, really, I’m still a beginner at this baking thing, so my typing up the recipe according to my personal baking style helps me, especially in this circumstance, where the recipes from the book seem a little daunting.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake

Breakfast of champions

(Adapted from Baked Explorations, by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito)


1 ½ to 2 cups chocolate chips (I used chopped chocolate, a mixture of 60% and 72% dark)

½ teaspoon of your preferred liquor

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, and an extra 2 tablespoons

1 cup rolled, or “old-fashioned” oats if you are oat illiterate like me

1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into tablespoons

2 eggs

¾ cup white granulated sugar

1 ¼ cups dark brown sugar (or light brown sugar with an extra tablespoon of molasses)

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon


1. Prepare a 9 by 13 inch pan, glass or light colored metal if you have it, however you normally prepare a pan, be it butter and flour or baking spray.

2. Boil water, and then measure out 1 ¼ cups.

3. In a bowl large enough to accommodate the water and oats, put the tablespoon pats of butter in with the oats, then pour the water over the mixture. Wait for 30 seconds, and then stir until the butter is completely melted.

4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. You need set the oatmeal mixture aside, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, so it’s wise to let it sit while the oven is preheating.

5. Toss the chocolate chips, or chocolate chunks, with the liquor, until the chocolate seems evenly coated, then do the same with the 2 tablespoons of flour. Set this mixture aside as well.

6. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, sugars, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon. Fold in the oatmeal mixture, then gently fold in the 1 ½ cups of flour.

7. Lastly, fold in the chocolate just until the chocolate seems incorporated throughout the batter.

8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and make sure it is spread evenly.

9. Bake the bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the cake tests done. (My cake seemed to bake insanely fast, so by the time 40 minutes rolled around, it was about to burn. Make sure you keep an eye on it.)

10. Let the cake cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes.

Store in an airtight container for up to three days.

*There is a cream cheese frosting to go along with this cake, but I chose to make the cake without it. Not because it doesn’t sound amazingly delicious and perfect for the cake, but because cream cheese did not make it into my weekly grocery budget.

And… DONE.