Absolutely the Best Chocolate Cake Ever

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Basically after everything I bake, I say to myself, okay, no more baking, Sam, because really, it’s just not doing anyone any favors. So many (not everyone [hey if you live close to me please come by and get a piece of cake if you so desire], but lots) of my favorite people kind of live far away, and if I’m not baking cookies, well, it’s hard to mail anything else. Which means that I’m basically eating what I make. And my family, who are happy to eat it, but I know it’s not really *healthy* to be constantly making desserts to eat. Subsequently, I force myself to look only at the cooking/savory sections of cookbooks and not think about potential concoctions of flour, cocoa, sugar, and fat du jour.

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Hah. So I think all these things. And then I find myself feeling a little cabin-fevery, freezing, bored, unfocused.

Then, what happens?!?!!? I’m preheating an oven to 350˚F and greasing some pans and mixing wet separately from the dry and mashing avocado…

Wait. What?

Oh yeah. And I turned it into *THE BEST FREAKING CHOCOLATE CAKE + FROSTING EVER.* Also, it’s whole wheat and vegan, but… you SERIOUSLY would N.E.V.E.R. KNOW!      It’s just …

Absolutely the Best Chocolate Cake Ever

Adapted from Avocado Central

Cake:

6 oz high quality dark chocolate (i used a mixture of Baker’s bittersweet chocolate bars, and leftover dark chocolate bars. I’m a dark chocolate fiend. There’s plennnty of sugar to round it all out, don’t worry).

1/4 cup cocoa powder

3 tablespoons water

1 large Hass avocado

2 cups water

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons almond extract

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

2 tablespoons white vinegar

1 cup granulated sugar-in-the-raw (or whateva sugar)

1 cup packed brown sugar

2 1/2 cups (or 300 g) whole wheat pastry flour (or all purpose)

1/2 cup ground flax seed (original calls for almond meal, but I was too lazy to make some)

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

Frosting:

Here’s what *I* did, based on what I had on hand. Refer to original recipe for…well, the original recipe.

1.5 Hass avocados

2/3 cup powdered sugar

4 Medjool dates

1 banana

2 small packets of honey (either ‘borrowed’ from Panera, or 2 teaspoons form the jar you bought in honesty)

Several grinds of sea salt or a pinch or two of salt

Lots of cocoa (1/4-1/2 cup, or until it’s chocolatey enough. Original recipe does *not* add enough, for sure.)

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder

Strawberries and whipped cream for serving

Directions for cake:

Preheat oven to 350F.

Grease two 9 inch cakepans and dust with cocoa. Seriously. This will give it an amazing crunchy ‘crust’ (wrong word for cake but that’s what it is).

In a glass bowl, combine the chocolate, 4 tbs cocoa powder, and 3 tbs water and set over a pan of simmering water to melt. Stir and melt chocolate until combined and melted.

In a large, high-lidded bowl, add the avocado, 2 cups water, oil, 1 teaspoon espresso powder, the melted chocolate, almond extract, white vinegar, and the sugars. Tip: use an immersion blender to blend it all up, or food processor, or a whisk + strong arm muscles. Get that alllll good and blended.

In a separate, large bowl, mix flour, flaxseed, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt.

Add wet to dry and mix until just combined; don’t overmix even if there end up being little blobs of unmixed flour here and there. It won’t affect the taste or anything.

Pour evenly into the cake pans (this is where having a kitchen scale reallllly comes in handy) and bake for 45 minutes.

When a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, take out and allow to cool. 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a cake stand + plate (one for each layer) and let cool as long as humanly possible. AKA, like, barely an hour, in my case. In the mean time, do those dishes and whip up some frosting:

Frosting: 

In a food processor, add avocado, dates, and banana and mix for a while until as broken down as possible. Then add the rest of the ingredients and adjust to taste.

Put half the frosting on the middle layer, then put the second cake layer on top and frost the top of this. You really don’t need to frost the entire cake; the cake is supremely moist and delicious and you really won’t miss anything. Plus it lets the “crust” stay nice and crispy and delicious.

Decorate with strawberries (I removed the stem, then I cut each in half lengthwise, then again, to make hearts!). Serve with some whipped cream if desired and more strawberries!!

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It was actually kind of funny, in a “what a funny coincidence” kind of way. Today, my parents took my brother back to school. I was working on some grad school stuff and then decided to take a study [baking] break as I am wont to do. I made the cake (with only a few minor mishaps, including a little bit of a sea salt explosion and quick thinking of what I could replace almond meal with). I was thinking, how nice would it be to have some strawberries alongside? (chocolate covered strawberries are probably tied for favorite dessert in the world, the other being chocolate lava cake, and the other being strawberry short cake, and other being mint chocolate chip ice cream…) I decided I’d forgo them since we didn’t have any. I had just finished frosting the cake when parents walked through the door, my mom holding a Costco-sized container of strawberries!

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Such perfect timing.

Since I’ll be in India for my birthday this year, my mom had been secretly planning to give me some early birthday presents tonight. I had no idea but decided to bake a cake anyway… funny how things work out!

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Anyway.

This cake was like, I can’t even describe it, the freaking BOMB. Moist. Delectable. Crunchy, crispy edges, super moist. The frosting was the perfect consistency, and you can’t really taste the espresso but I think it definitely brought out the cocoa-y ness of the chocolate like it is supposed to do. Definitely recommend the strawberries as an accompaniment. You canNOT taste the avocado at all! It’s so, so, so, so, so, so good. I literally outdid myself. I really can’t believe how delicious it came out. Seriously, you’ll never need another cake recipe again. Drooling. Dying. Loving this.

Now I’m watching “Failure to Launch” for like the 27th time (it never gets old for me, one of those movies) and mellowing out the sugar/chocolate rush. Hey, I ran and walked in this bitter icy cold this morning. Chocolate cake is totally my dinner. I’ll go back to writing my lit review tomorrow. 🙂

Other chocolate cake recipes:
Beet Chocolate Cake (with peanut butter saucy frosting)

German Chocolate Cake (Vegan)

Chocolate Pudding Cake

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Oats and Coconut Payasam

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Payasam is very similar to kheer. It’s called “kheer” in North India, while usually referred to as “payasam” or some variant thereof in South India. A lot of dishes are kind of like that: similar dishes, different names. Just to make things nice and confusing for the foreigner. But you get the hang of it pretty quickly!

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Anyway,  a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. And sweet, this is. Sweet and spicy and crunchy and smooth and creamy. Payasam (according to wikipedia) comes from a “peeyusham” meaning nectar or ambrosia… An accurate description.

You’re probably wondering, ‘okay, what is this, whatever the name is!?’ Well if you haven’t read my banana kheer post (shame on you), kheer/payasam is basically pudding/porridge made with various ingredients: usually some grain (or banana!), nuts, ghee, sugar, spices and milk.

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I got this recipe from VahChef at http://www.vahrehvah.com. His Indian cooking YouTube videos are hilaaarious and I highly recommend.

Oats and Coconut Payasam

Adapted from VahChef

1-2 tablespoons ghee

15-20 cashews, chopped roughly

1 tablespoon golden raisins

2-3 tablespoons of oats (I ended up using a bit more)

1/2 cup freshly grated coconut (You could probably use unsweetened desiccated coconut, or go ahead and test your coconut cracking skills)

2 cups or 500 mL milk

1 cup water

Sugar: I used 1 cube of jaggery and a sprinkle of granulated sugar. Original recipe says 1/2 cup sugar. Add to taste.

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

Sliced almonds for garnishing

Heat ghee in a pot, add cashews and raisins and fry until the raisins puff up and cashews are golden brown.

Add the oats and coconut and stir until you can smell some coconutty fragrance/you see a slight color change. (2-3 minutes)

Add the milk and water and cook on low heat for a while until the milk reduces and the mixture thickens. You can add more water to dilute if it gets too thick.

Add sugar and let it melt; add the cardamom and take off the heat.

Sprinkle almonds on top and serve, warm or cold. Or room temperature. It will basically taste yummy in any form.

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This was so good. I wouldn’t really mind eating this for breakfast every day. I gave some of this to my neighbors and landlords in return for goodies that they gave to me! I got good reviews from them, so let that be your guide and just go ahead and make this. MmmmMMm.

Puffed Millet Fruit & Nut Granola

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Somehow, four bags of puffed millet ended up in our house.

They just kind of magically appeared in the cart at Fairway Market. “These will be great for making healthier rice crispy treats!” I explained. In response: my parents’ dubious stares. But I managed to get not one, not two, but four bags of puffed millet.

I used up one bag by sprinkling some on top of oatmeal or yogurt every morning. This took a long time. Three bags to go.

Unfortunately, puffed millet does not make a good sub for puffed rice. Puffed millet gets soggy very quickly, resulting not in crispy treats but in chewy treats. Still tasty, just not really what I was hoping for.

Two and a half bags to go.

However, for granola… puffed millet is absolutely delectable. The millet puffs toast up in the oven, resulting in a very light and crunchy mixture, perfect over yogurt or just by itself. A few nuts and dried fruits sprinkled throughout add a variety of textures and flavors. And the only sweetener? A 1/4 cup of maple syrup for the whole recipe. The end result is more of a trail-mix sort of granola–but those oft-desired granola clusters are not missed in the slightest. 

I have since made this recipe a few more times and my alterations are noted by the strikeouts below; I like it with the non-struck-out ratios. 

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Puffed Millet Fruit & Nut Granola

Adapted from Lesser Evil

1/4 cup melted coconut oil

1/4 cup maple syrup

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 1 teaspoon almond extract

sprinkle of sea salt

3 2 cups rolled oats

1 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut, flaked or shredded

2 3 cups puffed millet

1 1.5 cup nuts of your choice – I used almonds, walnuts, and pecans

a few handfuls of raisins and craisins

Preheat the oven to 325°F. In a glass measuring cup, first add the coconut oil to 1/4 cup, then maple syrup to reach 1/2 cup; pour in a large bowl (this helps get all the maple syrup out of the measuring cup easily). In a large bowl, whisk the melted coconut oil, maple syrup and spices together. Add the nuts and coat with the wet mixture, then add the oats and millet. Coat evenly. Spread onto a large, rimmed, parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes, stir/toss/mix granola, and bake 10-15 more minutes or until golden brown; the nuts do tend to toast quickly so keep an eye on it during these last 10-15 minutes. Add the dried fruit and toss together; allow to cool completely (will take about an hour). Store in an airtight container.

Granola serving ideas: Topping for oatmeal, yogurt, frozen yogurt, banana softserve, or just simply eaten as cereal. I made a parfait, which was, in fact, parfait.

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The addition of coconut makes this granola a bit higher in fat and calories, but coconut’s saturated fat is actually composed of medium chain fatty acids, not long chain. The body metabolizes coconut’s MCFAs a bit differently than the LCFAs found in meat or dairy. MCFAs go directly to the liver and are burned off, while LCFAs, being longer and more insoluble, must be broken down by bile and are eventually transported to and stored in adipose tissue. Some studies show that coconut oil also helps with satiety. So, I would not worry too much about it. Just, as always, practice moderation. Besides, one should eat a larger breakfast and smaller dinner… which is probably the opposite of what you’ve done your whole life, but better for a more restful sleep and happier metabolism.

While the granola bakes, enjoy the wonderful aromas that come from the toasting of the nuts and coconut flakes as they Maillard from just “good” to delectable. Adding the fruit at the end maintains their chewy softness, which is a delicious contrast to the crunch. The millet, so light yet packed with protein and B12, adds yet another dimension of texture and flavor. Paired with finely chopped strawberries and pineapple layered with Greek yogurt, this granola made a perfect post-run breakfast.

Two bags of puffed millet to go now. But they won’t be there for long. Granola they shall become!

Maple-Candied Walnuts & Almonds with Coconut

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While I am at work [short story: I work at the library here on campus; I process ILLs, check out books, help patrons with research questions, and occasionally help decorate display cases or do other odd jobs],  sometimes my boss and I will talk about the current news in the field of nutrition, like the Paleo diet and gluten sensitivity and the like. We exchange recipe ideas and she gave me this one, out of a book called The Candy Counter. After hearing rave reviews from my boss, I decided to make it too!

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Coincidentally, my friend Sarah asked me to bake a little something for her Teen Vogue party just a few days earlier!

This recipe couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s college-kitchen friendly–and slightly addicting.

Maple-Candied Walnuts & Almonds with Coconut

Adapted from The Candy Counter, page 192

1/2 cup grade A maple syrup

1 cup raw walnuts

1 cup slivered almonds

1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Combine all ingredients in a bowl (I used a rubber/silicone nonstick bowl) and pour on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet; spread evenly (thinly as possible, to get those delicious browned edges). Bake 15-20 minutes, until golden brown, bubbling, and the coconut is nice and toasty.

Cool completely on the tray, either placed on a wire rack or just on top of the stove. Break into pieces. Store up to 1 week.

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These went over very well at the party, and made the lounge smell wonderfully mapley and delicious. Next time I think I would sprinkle a bit of sea salt to bring out the maple flavor, and perhaps roast it a bit longer… I was seriously paranoid it was going to burn.

The flavors of the nuts and the coconut and the maple syrup just complement each other so well. Crunchy, yummy finger food. The party was a lot of fun–it was a makeup/sharpie/photo-taking extravaganza! A great end to a long, post-spring-break-week.

Many thanks to Sarah for putting the party together and to Teen Vogue for supplying the makeup, Sharpie totes, and party decorations!

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…. and now it’s time for homework.

Power Peanut Butter Granola Snacks

Oats, peanut butter, almonds, honey, chia seeds, raisins… what a delicious way to start a morning. Or, to rev up a work out! Today I tried doing a Fartlek run–and these were just the ticket to get me out of bed. I threw them together last night–extremely easy recipe, with no extra oil and lots of rooms for additions and subtractions!

Power Peanut Butter Granola Snacks
Adapted from How Sweet Eats

Makes about 10-12 cupcake liners’ worth, depending how much you eat in the process of making

2 heaping cups rolled oats

2 tablespoons chia seeds

3/4 cup peanut butter, melted in microwave

1/2 cup honey (or brown rice syrup to make vegan!)

1/2 cup raisins

1/4 cup almonds

Combine oats, chia, and almonds in a large bowl. Add honey and stir. Add melted peanut butter and mix, throw in any add-ins such as the raisins (I used) or coconut, other nuts, wheat germ, flax, dried fruit, chooocccollattee…). If too dry and crumbly add more honey or peanut butter (or both) to get a good consistency. I didn’t bake these, just simply pressed them into muffin liners and refrigerated. However, if you wish to bake, do 350° F for 15-25 minutes.

These were great, unbaked–very chewy but also crumbly; the muffin liner works well for catching the crumbs! While peanut butter holds the bars together, I opted for using whole almonds instead of pieces of peanuts–giving a nice texture contrast. Honey and peanut butter taste so delicious together as well; it’s one of those combinations that just ALWAYS works (for example, tomatoes + basil, roasted red peppers + goat cheese, strawberries + chocolate, apples + cinnamon, oreo cookie outside + oreo creme inside…). I love that these don’t need extra butter or oil to hold together.

If you did bake these, I imagine some vanilla ice cream on top of a bar would be… divine. I can taste it now!

Cherry, Almond, & Chocolate Chip Granola Bars

It may be hard to believe, but some have lived their entire lives (enter boyfriend) without tasting the decadence and deliciousness that is a granola bar. Granola bars and granola itself offer myriad “flavors” of various goodies, but the base is pretty much universal: oats and nuts. One of my favorite combinations is (dark) chocolate and dried cherries. The almonds on the surface of these bars became roasted and added an extra depth of flavor.

Homemade granola bars > store-bought. Plain, unalterable fact. Unless you burn yours or something. Don’t do that.

Cherry, Almond, & Chocolate Chip Granola Bars

Adapted from this recipe

2 cups rolled oats

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup wheat germ

3/4 teaspoon ground Saigon cinnamon (it’s just more flavorful and pungent, in a good way)

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

~ 1/2 cup honey

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3/4 cup dried sour cherries

3/4 cup semisweet or dark chocolate chips

3/4 cup raw almonds, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F, and line a 9×13 inch baking pan with parchment paper (just lay a piece in it; it will stay put when you pour in the granola).

Combine oats, brown sugar, wheat germ, cinnamon, flour, and salt. Make a small well in the center and pour in honey, egg, oil, and vanilla.

Here comes the dirty work. Mix this all up using your hands. Or get your boyfriend to do it so you don’t have to deal with sticky hands covered in oatmeal. Add the cherries, chocolate chips, and almonds and mix them in too. It might seem a little hard to incorporate evenly, but oh well, guess that’s the spice of life.

Pour the mixture into the baking pan, and press it down; try to get everything to hold together.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the bars turn golden around the edges. Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes, and then cut; do not allow the bars to cool longer because they do get harder and will crumble. Wrap each one in plastic wrap to help it stay together as it cools.

Thoughts:

I have never made granola bars before and these came out really yummy, but not exactly what I was picturing in my mind. They are more cakey, due to the flour, and with the chocolate, are more of a crunchy sort of dessert-bar-cookie than a granola bar. I want to try another recipe without flour and see if it makes a difference. I also had trouble keeping them together, but probably should have chopped the cherries and used slivered/sliced almonds.

All in all, these were delectable and the bars that stayed perfectly bar-shaped were well-received at a recent gathering.

But of course, crumbles, and those less bar-shaped than others were sacrificed… into my belly.

Eggplant Parmesan

I attempted making Eggplant Parmesan using a slightly unconventional recipe, using almond meal rather than breadcrumbs for the eggplant slices (e.g, gluten-free). Due to very fast replies, I was able to make it the same day as I asked via comment how many eggplants were used! Thanks a lot, Katie!

(I have 4 superfluous eggplants. This recipe used 1. That’s okay. Roasted eggplant here we come.)

The sauce was really good. I topped the whole thing off with Pecorino Romano, so I guess you could still call it “faux parmesan” as in the original recipe; said recipe called instead for pepper jack cheese, of which I had none.

First, you have to make the sauce.

adapted from Nourishing Flourishing’sBest Bangin’ Marinara Sauce

~3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, diced

6 cloves garlic

2 28 oz cans of diced tomatoes and/or chunky tomato sauce

1 1/2 tablespoon oregano

1 tablespoon basil

1/2 tablespoon paprika

salt + coarse ground pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large pot to medium. Add diced onions, and sprinkle a little salt on them, and stir occasionally. Add garlic when onions are translucent.

Add spices, stir, and then add tomatoes.

After tomatoes are hot enough to bubble a bit, turn heat to medium low. Stir occasionally and let it simmer for 30 minutes. Taste test and add more spices if need be!

Remove pan from heat, and allow to sit uncovered and cool, then refrigerate. (Or set aside to use immediately.)

Then you gotta do the eggplant.

Eggplant Faux? Parmesan

Once again, from this recipe

~2 cups almond meal  (just ground up almonds in the food processor. It worked out pretty well.)

1 teaspoon salt

1 medium eggplant

2 ethically sourced eggs

extra virgin olive oil

marinara sauce recipe (above)

pecorino romano

Slice eggplant into ~1/2″ thick rounds. Sprinkle with salt.

On a plate, add 1/2 C almond flour, and sprinkle with salt. Stir.

Whisk 1 egg in a wide bowl.

Heat a pan on medium, adding enough olive oil to cover the bottom.

Dip eggplant completely in egg, and transfer to almond meal, covering both sides.

Add to pan.

Repeat, flipping pieces when underside browns. Remove once both sides are browned, but make sure they are cooked through*. Use a paper towel to remove burny bits of almond in the pan.

Use eggplant slices to cover the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking/casserole dish.

Cover with warmed marinara.

Layer leftover slices on top. Cover with marinara again.

Sprinkle pecorino romano all over.

Broil carefully to melt cheese. Serve hot… or cold, which is apparently really good too, according to my mom who had seconds later on.

I messed up on a few things with this recipe… and so will post my mistakes here so you won’t make them, should you try it!

*I didn’t always refill the pan with oil, so the eggplants slices did not always get cooked through even though both sides were browned. Make sure they are cooked! Or perhaps baking the casserole for a bit and then broiling the cheese on top would help avoid crunchy eggplant in the end product.

But, to end on a good note, this is a really good recipe and if not for my kitchen blunders would have been super amazing. I’m game to try it again.