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

Cooking with Beer: Beer Bread and Vegetarian Chili

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So we had some nonalcoholic beer in the fridge that I purchased to recreate beer-battered squash flowers and beer-battered avocado fries and so, I used the magic powers of Google to find some uses for it (because just drinking it would be boring).

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I found two recipes — a beer bread recipe and a vegetarian chili recipe — that fit the bill. And both are easy as could be–essentially, you just throw everything together, let it cook or bake for a while, and sit back and enjoy an episode of Entourage or two on DVD. Simple.

 Lucky for me, the day I made these was uncharacteristically cold (around 75–it felt like a deep freezer after the >95 week we’d had earlier) and so having the oven and stove running was actually comforting instead of sweat-inducing.

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The bread came out delicious–subtly sweet from the brown sugar, with a delicious crust and tender inside. The chili was a bit of an experiment, and I’m happy to report it too hit the spot–three bean, tofu, spice-heavy. Just what the doctor ordered.

Chili and homemade bread. Perfecto comfort meal.

DSCN4411Without further ado:

Beer Bread

Adapted from this recipe

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup brown sugar

4 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

12 ounces beer

Oven: 350°F. Grease and flour a 9.5×13″ loaf pan.

Sift the flours and combine with sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add in the beer and stir to combine. Pour into loaf pan, smooth out, bake 55-60 minutes or until toothpick is clean when inserted and removed from the bread.

Optional: before baking, pour 2 tablespoons of melted butter on top.

Vegetarian Chili

Adapted from this recipe

28 ounces of canned tomatoes (or fresh)

1 15-ounce can garbanzos

1 15-ounce can kidney beans

1 15-ounce can chickpeas

1 cup or half a block tofu, crumbled

1 cup tomato sauce

2 tablespoons chili powder

2 tablespoons cumin seed

1 tablespoon turmeric

sprinkle of parsley

spices to your liking (ginger, etc)

1 12-ounce can of beer

plain greek yogurt, for serving

Combine everything but yogurt in large saucepan. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20-25 minutes. Serve with a dollop of yogurt.

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This was a really, really good meal. Satisfying. Vegan if you omit the yogurt. See the melty butter (er, earth balance)… mm. It’s melty because that bread is still warm from the oven–what a rare luxury to eat homemade crusty bread. No wonder it’s all gone (within two days). The beer bread goes deliciously with the chili… even if it’s not a cold winter night. Summer has some chilly days too. And the chilly days are perfect… for chili. See what I did there…?

Sunflower Seed Butter (Sunbutter) Ginger Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Sunflower seed butter is made from roasted sunflower seeds. NOT RAW. Found this out the hard way… after trying to pulverize raw sunflower seeds in the Vita-Mix to only come out with grayish, powdery, thick … something.

I roasted the unappetizing mess at 350° for 25 minutes to try to redeem myself, and it worked! The roasted seeds dispersed their oils beautifully, and in no time I had roasted sunflower seed butter. Two cups. From 12 ounces of seeds.

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What to do, what to do? Besides shoveling it in by the spoonful taking little licks from the knife?

A paleo cookie! Naturally. A paleo cookie = a flourless cookie, usually made with a nut butter, an egg or two, some baking necessities (powder, soda, vanilla, etc), a little bit of sweetener and some spices. Generally, a very delectable treat. However, something kind of turns me off from eating what is basically straight-up nut butter in cookie form. Filling yes, but high in fat… Even though it’s good fat. I like to have fifths seconds or thirds of desserts like cookies… especially healthier cookies.

So, this led to the addition of oats! No longer strictly paleo, but I don’t subscribe to any one “diet/lifestyle” and just eat what I find works for me. And I LOVE oats.

And what goes with peanut butter, or sunbutter?

… Ginger. Obviously.

Oh, and chocolate.

 

Sunflower Seed Butter (Sunbutter) Ginger Chocolate Chip Cookies

Adapted from Eat Well, Adventure Well

1 cup sunbutter (or other nut butter) (I used my homemade one, to which I added some sea salt and roasted flaxseed)

1/3 cup honey

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 to 1 teaspoon cinnamon

dash salt

1/4 cup minced ginger, chopped finely

1 to 2 cups oats

chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350° and line a pan with parchment paper.

Mix everything but the oats and chocolate chips in a medium-sized bowl. Add the oats, more or less depending on the consistency and how you prefer your ratio of oats to nut butter.

Dollop the “dough” by the tablespoonful and top with 4-5 chocolate chips per cookie; press down to flatten a bit.

Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown.

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These were SO good… Really, truly reminiscent of the texture of Kashi cookies (but of course, much better). They are lightly sweet, and the crystallized ginger adds to much depth and deliciousness. The small amount of chocolate on top is perfect–just enough, not overdoing it.

Plus, they’re vegan [if you sub maple syrup for strict vegans], babe. Even if no longer Paleo.

Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti

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It’s always fun to try new things.

For example, biscotti. I’d never had any desire to make it. I’ve had it at restaurants and coffee shops and wasn’t that enthusiastic about it–it’s a super dry, hard & crunchy, rather bland biscuit/cookie, and I knew I could fulfill my sweets craving with much “better” alternatives (um, molten chocolate lava cake? chocolate chip cookies? chocolate…).

However, then I tried my friend Sarah’s homemade chocolate chip biscotti.

Let’s just say, I was converted.

Having been on a pistachio kick lately and always in the mood for (dark) chocolate, I found a recipe for chocolate biscotti with pistachios. Not only that, I had a willing audience: a small shindig was being held at my house (read: one of my mom’s friends came over to do scrapbooking) and I took this as a sign that I should bake.

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I’m pretty glad I did.

Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti

Adapted from SkinnyTaste

1 2/3 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

pinch salt

3/4 cup whole pistachios

1/4 cup Earth Balance

3/4 cup powdered sugar

2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt in one bowl. In a mixer, cream butter and sugar and then add the eggs one at a time.

Add the dry ingredients in increments and mix on low speed until just combined. Stir in the pistachios.

Divide the dough into two or three and form into long flat shapes about 8.5 x 1.5″ wide. Place on the baking sheet and bake 20 minutes. Remove, and allow to cool.

Gently cut the loaves on an angle into 1/2 inch slices. Use a serrated bread knife, but don’t saw, merely press down. My dough crumbled easily.

Arrange the slices on the baking sheet and bake another 3-4 minutes per side. Let cool and serve.

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I actually halved the above recipe using volume measurements (and my digital scale!) and it made about 12 pieces. They were really yummy–not too sweet and felt more wholesome due to the whole wheat pastry flour.

Plus, they weren’t overly crunchy. Homemade biscotti is where it’s at. I really liked the combination of pistachio and chocolate. The only thing I would do differently is add dried cherries or dried cranberries–that would just bring out all the flavors even more, or add sea salt on top. But, no cherries didn’t mean that these weren’t scarfed by my family (and my mom’s friend) the same night!

Sarah, however, reigns queen of biscotti-making–hers are just so good.

Candle 79

 

 

On the last day of spring, my friend Roe and I dined at the famous vegan restaurant, Candle 79, tucked away on 79th street and Lexington. After hearing rave reviews from the rising musical entrepreneur, we decided to go and eat to our stomachs’ content.

And boy, did we.

First off, I had the Housemade Ginger Ale, made with fresh ginger, lemon, agave, mint, and sparkling water… I love ginger and this hit the spot. The drink was almost like a (more delicious) ginger mint mojito.

Roe had the Cherry Fresca which included cherry purée, lemon, agave, chia seeds and sparkling water… A plus about this drink was that it was not overly sweet–I (took a sip and) could totally taste the tart Montmorency cherry flavor, not the typical syrupy-sweet cherry medicinal flavor. It was really refreshing and different.

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We also got an appetizer to start: the Smoked Hummus, which included grilled paratha bread (so delicious), olives, a roasted garlic bulb, and red pepper oil. I devoured the roasted garlic bulb. Roe ate the olives to her heart’s content. We were two happy campers. This appetizer was DELICIOUS!  The bread was warm and flaky, and the hummus super smooth and delicately flavored with red pepper. The garlic was perfectly roasted as well.

Roe also recommends the Guacamole appetizer–“their guac here is SO GOOD!”

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I got their signature dish, the Seitan Piccata: creamed spinach, grilled potato cake, oyster mushrooms, and lemon-caper sauce. This was odd, at first; capers galore and a very liquidy sauce that was challenging to eat with a fork. But somewhere along the way, all the sauce got soaked into the potatoes I believe, and the combination was really, really good. The seitan was also cooked very well and was very reminiscent of chicken cutlet–the best seitan I’ve tried.

Roe had the Burrito, which looked and was very good but too much to actually finish–it includes seitan, black beans, and brown rice and was just too much for one dish.

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We also indulged in post dinner tea: I the vanilla chai, she the coconut cream. The tea came out in individual cast-iron kettles, which was really whimsical and fun. However, the tea was also piping hot and while waiting for it to cool, the tea grew extremely bitter (due to the fresh tea leaves/petals/herbs) and undrinkable.

For dessert, we devoured the Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss, which was chocolate and peanut butter mousse, salted peanut-caramel crust, and berry coulis. The chocolate mousse part was decadent and super chocolaty–it really tasted like dairy chocolate (but was, in fact, vegan). The peanut mousse was really mild in comparison and almost undetectable.  The berry coulis offered a nice flavor contrast and cut through the richness of the mousses, and the presentation was lovely.

So as you can see, we went all out (our bill was $93 before taxes!). The prices aren’t extremely high, but let’s just say Roe and I will be doing some less expensive activities in the impending summer weeks. All-in-all, every dollar was totally worth it–the food was super fresh (they use farmer’s market produce) and the service, outstanding. Vegetarians and omnivores alike will be happy and full after a meal at Candle 79.

After lunch, we went for a little stroll in Central Park and made the last bus before rush hour, just before it left. A perfect last hurrah to Spring and first early hello to Summer!

Candle 79 is located at 154 E. 79th Street, at Lexington Avenue.

Beer-Battered Avocado Slices

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Avocado: So delicious, that any further preparation besides peeling, pitting, and plating is unnecessary.

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But when I have beer batter left over from making these again, and half an avocado in the fridge… well… It’s time to shake things up.

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And I’m pretty happy I did.

Beer-Battered Avocado Slices

Adapted from Goat Cheese Stuffed Zucchini Flowers

1/2 avocado, peeled, pitted, sliced in long strips

1/2 cup flour

6 oz beer or malt beverage

1/2 teaspoon salt

pepper

vegetable oil

dip: 1/2 cup greek yogurt + 1 tablespoon mustard (honey, spicy, dijon… your pick)

Mix together the flour, beer, salt, and pepper. This will make more than you need, but makes for easier dipping/coating. Next time, I would add more spices to the batter–minced garlic, paprika, red pepper, etc have been used in other recipes on the interwebs.

Heat vegetable oil in a fry pan–the amount depends on the size of the pan you use; it doesn’t have to be a lot. Test the temperature by dropping a bit of batter into the oil. A sizzle means you’re good to go.

Dip each avocado slice into the batter, let the excess drip off, and then place gently into the hot oil. Be careful as the oil may spit.

Fry until golden brown, flipping for even cooking.

I recommend consuming with a dip, such as yogurt-mustard dip: mix the yogurt and mustard. Voila.

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These were pretty tasty. As stated, I would add more spices to the batter.

I used the same beer batter that I used for goat cheese stuffed zucchini flowers; while the tangy goat cheese complemented the more subtle beer batter nicely, avocado is already mild in flavor, so a more strongly-spiced beer batter would have been better.

However, eating with a mustard-yogurt dip perked things up well! Crispy, creamy, tangy, satisfying.

I don’t normally go for fried foods but there’s something about beer batter… Yum.

BLATs: “Bacon” Lettuce Avocado Tomato Sandwiches

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Okay, don’t run away upon reading the word “bacon” in quotation marks. After seeing a photo of a classic BLT on a menu or on TV or somewhere, I was thinking hmm, I wouldn’t mind having a BLT again. I don’t really like to eat too much meat, especially bacon, but that combination of sweet tomato, creamy mayonnaise, crisp lettuce and savory bacon is just oh-so-hard to resist.

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So when I had a block of tofu to use up and a chance tofu-bacon-recipe-encounter, the choice was obvious! Tofu bacon for BLTs it is!

Actually, BLATs it is–I threw on some avocado for good measure (and because I have a love affair with Avocado… watch out, Chocolate).

BLATs: “Bacon” Lettuce Avocado Tomato Sandwiches

Adapted from Allrecipes and Vegan Feast Kitchen

7.5 oz extra firm tofu (I used this sprouted tofu I got from Trader Joe’s)

4 tablespoons maple syrup

6 tablespoons of water

1/2 teaspoon of soy sauce (or, do 2 tablespoons of water instead of 6, and 4 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce)

2 teaspoons onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

Sesame oil for pan-frying

Drain the tofu and cut into very thin slices (the thinner, the better; I used a cheese-slicer). Set aside.

In a flat, shallow container, whisk together the marinade ingredients. Submerge the tofu slices and marinade for as long as you like; some recipes say 10 minutes, others say 8 hours or a few days. I did about an hour or so and the taste was delicious!

In a grill pan, heat some sesame oil to medium heat. Fry the tofu slices about five minutes total or more for extra crispiness, flipping for even cooking. The cooked tofu will be easier to handle and less crumbly. Get some grill marks on them!

Let cool and assemble the sandwiches. My BL(A)T consists of: toasted bread, miracle whip, lettuce, tomato, avocado, bacon, miracle whip, toasted bread, in that order. Ground pepper, as well, if you so desire (I dislike pepper).

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The tofu bacon was surprisingly… delicious. It didn’t taste like exactly bacon, of course, but was subtly sweet due to the maple syrup (and my much lowered amount of soy sauce–using more soy sauce may be necessary, I just didn’t have any low-sodium on hand). I would try to add more soy sauce or sprinkle some sea salt on them next time, to bring the flavor to the next level. The crispy texture of the thinner slices was really yummy and complemented the other sandwich ingredients very well.

The sandwich was truly satisfying. This is a delicious way to use up extra tofu!