Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake with Salted Caramel Sauce

Now I like to bake. A lot. So I was glad my mom was with us when it was her birthday--now I had the chance to make something special!
I sat and thought one night of what would be the perfect dessert for my mom. I thought about creme brulee because I know she likes it so much (but I don't know, it just didn't seem very birthday-cakey). And I thought about tiramisu because I know she likes that so much (figured it wouldn't be good with the little kiddos around though). Then I thought about how she likes salted caramel, and then I knew I had it: dark chocolate cake with salted caramel sauce. Bingo! 

Instantly in my mind I had a vision of a bundt cake drizzled in caramel sauce.

So I tried to find some recipes to compare, and I must say it ended up being quite the process! I was surprised how few recipes I found, and the ones I did find weren't really what I wanted. Or, perhaps they were but I just couldn't tell from the mixed reviews.

I was getting a little obsessive about this. I read quite a few recipes and quite a few reviews to those recipes and just wasn't getting anywhere. I mean, where was THE recipe???

 Finally, I did what I should have done in the first place and turned to my Best Recipe cookbook from America's Test Kitchen. While they didn't have a recipe for a nice, dense chocolate bundt cake, they did have quite the discussion about chocolate cake (anyone else out there just LOVE to read their extensive discussions about recipes?). After reading it I felt I had a pretty good handle on what my recipe needed to look like. I did another internet search for a chocolate bundt cake, this time one from America's Test Kitchen and voila! Pefect-o! I found one from Cook's Illustrated, the magazine that is put out by America's Test Kitchen.

Boy howdy was it good! 
Good as in intensely dark, dense yet fine-textured, moist and memorable. My first bite's reaction was, "Woaw--that's intense. Maybe too intense? This won't be what people are used to." Then I drizzled caramel sauce on it and took another bite. 

Then I knew it was just right.

Did I mention I gained 4 lbs last month? I totally think it was the cake. I couldn't stay out of it! I finally resorted to giving some away.... 
Man it was good.
If you have a think for dark chocolate, then this is the cake for you.

It truly hit the texture/flavor combination I had envisioned right on the money. 

And funny, the thing I was actually most impressed about was the funky greasing and flouring technique the instructed: they direct you to make a melted butter/cocoa powder paste and then paint it into the bundt pan. I was a bit nervous about it, but it was amazing! I've never had a cake come out so effortlessly and so beautifully smooth!

Took it out, plopped it onto the cake stand and once it had cooled for awhile, drizzled on some pretty fantastic salted caramel sauce. I used the Brown-Eyed Baker's recipe because she had great step-by-step photos, and I must say it complemented the cake wonderfully.

And sliced apples the following day. :)

Oh gosh, now I'm hungry again.

Next time you are ready for a grown-up version of chocolate cake, this is the recipe for you. 

Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake with Salted Caramel Sauce
From Cook's Illustrated and the Brown Eyed Baker

Click here to print
For the Release (for the Bundt pan)
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 tablespoon cocoa

For the Cake
3/4 cup natural cocoa
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup water (boiling)
1 cup sour cream, room temperature
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (1 1/2 sticks)
2 cups packed light brown sugar (14 ounces)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
5 large eggs, room temperature

For the Caramel Sauce
2 cups granulated sugar
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
1 scant tablespoon fine-grain sea salt

  1. Stir together the melted butter and cocoa in small bowl until paste forms; using a pastry brush, coat all interior surfaces of standard 12-cup Bundt pan. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 350°F.
  2. Combine cocoa, and chocolate in medium heatproof bowl; pour boiling water over and whisk until smooth. Cool to room temperature; then whisk in sour cream.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk the flour, salt, and baking soda in second bowl to combine.
  4. Beat the butter, sugar, and vanilla on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and add eggs one at a time, mixing about 30 seconds after each addition and scraping down bowl with rubber spatula after first 2 additions. Reduce to medium-low speed (batter may appear separated); add a portion of the flour mixture and then the chocolate/sour cream mixture in batches and mix until just incorporated. Scrape bowl and repeat alternating between the flour and chocolate mixture. Once it has all been added, scrape bowl and mix on medium-low until batter is thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds.
  5. Pour batter into prepared Bundt pan. Bake until wooden skewer inserted into center comes out with few crumbs attached, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then invert cake onto parchment-lined wire rack; cool to room temperature, about 3 hours.

Caramel Sauce:
I’d recommend heading over to the Brown Eyed Baker’s website to see her step-by-step photos. Here are her instructions for the caramel sauce though. I had made other types of caramel sauce before, and this one I thought was a bit tricky but it worked well and tasted great.
  1. Add the sugar to a heavy saucepan, with a capacity of at least 2 or 3 quarts. Heat the sugar over medium-high heat, whisking it as it begins to melt. The sugar will begin to form clumps, just keep whisking and as it continues to cook. Stop whisking once all of the sugar has melted, and swirl the pan occasionally while the sugar cooks.
  2. Continue cooking until the sugar has reached a deep amber color. It should look almost a reddish-brown, and have a slight toasted aroma. This is the point where caramel can go from perfect to burnt in a matter of seconds, so keep a close eye. If you are using an instant-read thermometer, cook the sugar until it reaches 350 degrees F.
  3.  As soon as the caramel reaches 350 degrees, add the butter all at once. Be careful, as the caramel will bubble up when the butter is added. Whisk the butter into the caramel until it is completely melted.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour the cream into the caramel. Whisk until all of the cream has been incorporated and you have a smooth sauce. You may need to continue to gently heat and stir if it is clumpy or formed a glob. Add the fleur de sel and whisk to incorporate.
  5. Allow to cool for about 15 minutes, then you can pour it into a jar to keep, into a nice sauce cup, or directly onto your cake.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Summer Craft: Reversible Sun Hats

Wow, I can hardly believe I made these. Would you believe me if I told you I don't know how to sew for beans? I've dabbled a bit for simple home crafts or tooth fairy bags but never any REAL project. And, let me be honest, I struggled quite a little bit with these hats. I guess that struggle makes it so much more fun that they actually turned out OK. :)

I mean, sure little baby cake's hat is a bit big, but she grows, right? :)
And she doesn't mind one bit.

I also made one for my third little girl, the middle sister, but, well, she just wasn't in the mood for having her picture taken. 'Nough said, right?

But these two were willing subjects. :)

And what fun hats they are! They are perfect for keeping the sun off of faces and shoulders in the hot summer months (which are oh so close, yay!) and also perfect for expressing some sweet style.

And, I have a bit of a confession about these hats. See, I originally saw the pattern for them in a Martha Stewart Living magazine that I was thumbing through at the car dealership where I was getting my oil changed. Saw them and loved them. Oooo, I wanted that pattern! So, I admit it, I totally tore the page out of the magazine! Yikes. In my defense, the magazine was years old....I figured I it was going to end up in the garbage soon anyway, right? RIGHT? Either way, I did the deed and kept it hanging around for a few months before I started working on the hats, mostly because I was nervous about making them.

And where to go to get adorable fabrics? The Ribbon Retreat, of course. :)
Goodness, they had so many great choices. I ended up sticking with a basic color scheme so all the girls' hats would coordinate. The Ribbon Retreat is great at carrying full lines of fabric, so it was really easy to get a variety of fabrics that still look great together. I mostly used Riley Blake fabrics for the hats, but pulled from a few others as well. 

At our blog, Emily is the real seamstress--truly, that girl can sew and she makes the cutest stuff for her kids. And her house. 
Me, I'm a newbie. I dabble in sewing crafty home stuff, but this project was definitely the most difficult sewing project I've ever tackled, but I think they turned out just as I had hoped.

  • 2 pieces medium-weight fabric in coordinating colors and patterns, 3/4 yard each (I decided to instead use light-weight fabric and either fusible interfacing or a 3rd heavier fabric to make the hats stiffer--I used an old pair of my husband's cargo pants) 
  • iron 
  • fabric scissors
  • sewing machine, thread, pins
  • pattern
To make these hats, I followed good ol' Martha's instructions
Essentially, you 1) print out the pattern, 2) tape it together, 3) cut it out, 4) then use it to cut out your fabric.

Then, you sew together the pieces for the inner part of your hat and the outer part of your hat separately so that you have two hat-shapes. 

For example, ere is an image of my outer layer of hat, with the heavy canvas fabric sewn to it to add sturdiness, pinned together, ready to be sewn. 

 Then I sewed the inner liner together in the same manner, leaving a 4-inch gap between the brim and the side of the hat so I could pull it right-side out and stitch it up when I was finished.

Once the two sides are sewn, place the right sides together, sew around the brim and then pull it right-side-out through the 4-inch gap between the brim and the side. Hand stitch it up and voila, cute reversible summer hats!

I hope you are having as much fun as I am getting ready for summer. :)

And if you are interested in more fun summer sewing projects, check out Emily's Simple Summer Bags. 
She has a great (and detailed) tutorial on how to make one for yourself. Lucky me, she made one for me. :)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Watching Seeds Sprout

This is one of those fun activities I've seen on Pinterest a few times. I've been waiting for Spring--I thought it'd be fun to plant the seeds in the garden and watch them sprout in the house at the same time. 
My good friend Sally did this with her children as well. I think we'll start more!

It's such a simple thing to do. Fun, educational, easy. What could be better?

I loved it as well--who couldn't be a little moved to watch the seedlings sprout? 

Want to give it a try? 
glass vase or cup
paper towels
beans from your pantry

To Do:
Get the paper towels wet, squeeze out the excess.
Fill the glass vase with the paper towels.
Place a few beans from your pantry between the wet towels and the glass.
(I used 3 different kinds, and it was fun to watch the subtle differences)
Keep moist and somewhere warm.

In a few days you will have sprouting.

 Enjoy watching your seeds sprout!
There's something sweet about watching life begin.

Monday, May 19, 2014

What I've been up to--spinning a new hobby

Hi Everyone! 
It feels like forever since I've written a real post. We've had a great couple of weeks of guest posts for our Little One series. We saw all sorts of things from animal towels, nursery decor, sippy cup labels, you name it. It's always fun to see others' creativity.
And despite our lack of blogging, it sure was a busy month for Emily and I! Between a sick parent, a brand new sweet baby girl, husbands gone, and the usual business of life, it seems to have flown by. 

And, I must say I haven't been particularly productive because I've been learning a new hobby. :)
My husband and girls knew my love of yarn (what's the deal with me and yarn? I just love it. Love to touch it, see it, use it, stockpile it....) and so they bought me some alpaca roving and a drop spindle! yay!

As you can see, I'm not super great...yet. It's really fun though! The drop spindle is how people have been spinning fibers for thousands of years--it is so simple and I think maybe it's the simplicity of it that makes is strangely satisfying and addictive. 

It was fun to have all sorts of natural alpaca fleece colors so I could make a colorful variety of little balls of yarn.


Not long after I'd been playing with it, maybe a week, I commented to my husband one night that I just wasn't sure if I wanted to wait the pre-determined year or two for a spinning wheel. 
He and I have been looking into spinning wheels for months by now--reading about them, shopping for them, just wondering about them. I wasn't certain that spinning would be part of my future or not, but I couldn't get it out of my head. I was always thinking about it, which made me think that I would enjoy it and for sure do it someday, but it also seemed like quite a lot of work. I mean, I can just go to the store and by my yarn pretty easy sneazy. But making it? That's just a lot of work! But if I like the work....? But even if I like it, would I rather be knitting....? 
Oh such a debate.
In the end we decided to wait a few years.

Well, anyway, I mentioned that I was really enjoying my drop spindle, and that I didn't know if I wanted to wait that long. He just happened to pull up CraigsList for a look (which we had been doing quite a bit in the months prior) and to our surprise a spinning wheel had just been posted 4 hours before that!

And not just a spinning wheel, but THE spinning wheel I was pretty sure was the one I wanted. 
And not just the spinning wheel I wanted, but man was it a good deal! For about 1/3 of what buying a new one would cost, I got the gently-used spinning wheel, fantastic hand carders, a maintenance kit, a travel case, a whole fleece, a niddy-noddy, how-to books, etc. etc. So I called her up, stopped by an ATM and was the proud owner of an Ashford Joy not long after. :)


My first spindle was about the same quality as my drop spindle work had been (aka pretty shabby). 

My second spindle worth was beautiful! You can see it below. It's so even and thin and you can see all the natural variations in the wool. 

And then I had quite a break before I could pick it up again and my third spindle full was not so great. But, I'm trying to be patient. 

As my husband and I thought, even as much as I enjoy spinning, I'm not quite sure that I'm in the phase of life that allows for much time for spinning--since I have little kiddos running around and lots of other stuff I like to do. Now that I've tasted it though, I'll still do it for sure, it just seems like I only get to it once a week, if that. I know a lot of people who live the kind of life style it seems we are phasing into have weekly rhythms: Monday baking day, Tuesday spinning day or whatever. I suppose I could do that, but I'm not sure I like the sound of scheduling my activities like that. Maybe though. We'll see. To a certain extent, life just works out that way--seems like every Monday I'm at town grocery shopping and since I plan a week ahead of time, I only go that one time a week. Then with the kids' scheduled activities...

ANYWAY, I do love the gentle noise of the spinning wheel, the quite repetitiveness and rhythm of spinning. I think the whole process of having the wool, spinning, dying, all of it sounds wonderful.  I'm feeling lucky everything worked out as it did. 

Now maybe I'll stop blabbing about it, and go get some spinning in.