Thursday, March 30, 2017

Mixed Berry Scones

Last week I felt the need or rather had a strong urge to make some scones. I had gotten it in my head that a brunch would not be a real brunch without scones. However, the brunch without them happened. In retrospect, this was a mixed blessing. Had I gone forward with the scone recipe I had intended to make, I would not have made THESE. And I definitely would not have spent hours of my life reading even more scone recipes. What would cause me to become so scone recipe obsessed? Well, I started to second guess my initial scone recipe choice. While entrenched in the scone recipe world, I came to realize there didn't seem to be any crystal clear butter to flour or dry to liquid ingredient ratios. And then, to make it a bit more frustrating, recipes calling for 2 or 3 cups of all-purpose flour all called for using one tablespoon of baking powder. My quest to find the 'perfect on the first try' scone recipe was making my head spin. Not to allow all of the time invested in scone research to go to waste or worse yet, turn into recipe paralysis, I ended up doing what I usually do. Trusting and listening to my instincts (which have been known to fall somewhere between 95% and 100% of the time). In this case it meant incorporating techniques and/or ingredient amounts from one recipe into another based on what made the most sense. And then keeping my fingers crossed this would not be one of those times when I got it completely wrong.

The time spent on the deep dive into the scone world resulted in THESE Mixed Berry Scones. On a side note, they can also be made into blueberry scones, single berry scones, or plain no berry scones. But since I had my heart set on Mixed Berry Scones, Mixed Berry Scones it was going to be! Even if that meant making another trip to the grocery store shamelessly dripping wet after an hour long hot yoga class. There are probably grocery store rules prohibiting people from entering the store looking as I did, but they weren't posted anywhere and none of the grocery store employees would be comping my grocery bill.

The recipe for these Mixed Berry Scones ended up being a hybrid version of two scone recipes: The Royal Wedding Scones (shared by a community member on the Food52 blog) and the Mixed Berry Scones shared in the September 2015 issue of Cook's Country. In case you are wondering, it leans much closer to the Royal Wedding Scone recipe. The idea of using less butter and heavy whipping cream versus more butter and whole milk was what swayed me. I am easily tempted by anything with heavy whipping cream in it. If anyone called me a whipping cream slut I would take it as a compliment.

Scones are rustic, crumbly, buttery, slightly on the dense side, and have a less discernible flaky layer. While sometimes referred to as a biscuit-like pastry,  they are quite different than a biscuit. At least the American version of a biscuit. Scones can be round, triangular, or square (there don't seem be any shape rules for them although some scone purists might tend to disagree). They can be eaten plain or slathered in butter, jam, preserves, lemon cured, or clotted cream. The origin of scones has been attributed to Scotland. Primarily due to a 1513 print reference. Ironically not in the form of a recipe, but in a poem penned by a Scottish poet. England and Ireland have also laid claim to being the ones to create the first scone. Considering there were very few culinary outlets back in the 16th century, it is quite possible any of the three could hold the title of Scone Creator. Over the past five centuries the scone has undergone various iterations. From shaped as round cakes to wedges, to being made with oats to being made with flour, to being cooked over an open fire to being baked in an oven. The scones originally eaten at the end of the Medieval Age are a little different than the ones we are eating today.

Well chilled butter and frozen fruit are key in the making of these scones. To minimize the bleeding of the frozen fruit into the dough, toss them with a tablespoon of confectionary sugar and return back to the freezer while you are measuring out your other ingredients.

The dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, baking powder) come together in the food processor with a few quick pulses. That very well chilled butter is added and pulsed (10-12 times) until it is transformed into pea sized pieces. If you over process the butter, your baked scones won't have those heavenly biscuit-like butter pockets. Transfer the dry ingredients to a large bowl, then toss and mix in the frozen fruit. Make a well in the center of the mixture before adding the liquid.

After whisking the heavy cream, egg, and vanilla together, pour into the well you have created.

Begin bringing the dough together with a large fork. Think folding rather than stirring here. When the dough begins to gather, use a plastic dough scraper or spatula to gently knead the dough into a ball. If by chance there is any flour remaining on the bottom of the bowl, drizzle in a tiny amount of heavy cream (a teaspoon at a time) until it all comes together. Don't panic if your dough takes on a pink or blue color, it will work itself out when the scones are baked in the oven.

On a lightly floured surface, turn out the dough. Gently pat into a 12"x4" rectangle. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into 4 equal rectangles. Then cut each rectangle diagonally into 2 triangles. Alternately shape the dough into a 6" or 7" circle. Whether you make a rectangle or a circle, you want to end up with 8 scones.

Place on baking sheet, tightly cover with plastic wrap, and place in the freezer. Yes, I know, making you wait to bake them sounds like some Medieval form of cruelty. The freezing process doesn't sacrifice the flavor or texture of the scones. Instead it seems to enhance them. And just think, if you make the scones the night before, all you have to do in the morning is make some coffee or tea, preheat your oven to 425 degrees (F) and get the scones ready to go into the oven. And you won't have a mess in your kitchen to clean up!

The scones rise and expand during baking so place your frozen scoens at least one inch apart on your parchment paper lined baking sheet. Brush each one with heavy cream (yes more cream) and liberally sprinkle with sanding or other coarse sugar. The scones bake for 20-26 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through the baking process.

And as if by magic, you will end up with the most beautiful golden brown scones.

Transfer the baked scones to a wire rack and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

These scones are buttery, have the most tender crumbs, are the right kind of firm, have a crisp sugary crust, and are perfectly moist. They are definitely not those dry, hard scones better used as door stops. No, these are 'shut the front door' amazing! These are substantially sized scones. Although the likelihood of you not being able to finish these 'leave no crumb behind' scones in one sitting isn't very high. 

Serve the scones with butter, jam, lemon curd or clotted cream. Or simply eat them plain. Everything about these Mixed Berry Scones is perfect. And yes, if there will be any scones at the next brunch it will only be THESE.

Mixed Berry Scones (a bit of blending of the Royal Wedding Scones recipe from Scone Lady Mrs. Larkin shared on Food52 and the Mixed Berry Scones recipe from the September 2015 issue of Cook's Country) 
Makes 8 scones

2 1/2 cups (320 grams or 11.25 ounces) all-purpose flour 
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder (See note)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 Tablespoons well-chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
6 to 8 ounces frozen mixed fruit (See note)
1 Tablespoon confectionary sugar
1 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing the tops of scones
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons good quality vanilla
Sanding or other coarse sugar for finishing

1. Toss the frozen mixed fruit with the confectionary sugar and return to the freezer.
2. Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse to combine.
3. Add butter. Pulse 10-12 times until the butter is reduced to pea-sized pieces. Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Stir in frozen berries.
4. Whisk the whipping cream, egg, and vanilla until well-blended. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in cream mixture. 
5. Using a large fork, fold the wet and dry ingredients together. When the dough begins to gather, use a plastic scraper (or spatula) to gently knead the dough into a ball shape. If there is any loose flour on the bottom of the bowl, drizzle in a little more cream, one teaspoon at a time, until the dough comes together.
6. Transfer the dough ball to a lightly floured board. Gently shape into into a 12" by 4" rectangle. Using a knife, cut the dough crosswise into 4 equal rectangles. Cut each rectangle diagonally into 2 triangles for a total of 8 scones.
7. Transfer cut scones to a baking sheet. Cover tightly and place in the freezer until frozen.
8. Preheat oven to 425 degrees (F). Place frozen scones about 1 inch apart on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Brush with cream. Liberally sprinkle tops of scones with sanding sugar.
9. Bake for 20-27 minutes, turning the pan halfway through. Scones are done when an inserted wooden skewer comes out clean. Transfer scones to a wire rack and let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.
10. Serve with butter, jam, lemon curd, or clotted cream. 

Notes: (1) When baking, King Arthur Flour and Kerrygold Unsalted Butter are my preferred favorites. (2) If using Rumford baking powder, the scones will not rise during the baking of the frozen scones. (3) If using mixed berries that include strawberries, cut the strawberries in half. (4) Instead of Mixed Berry Scones, make Blueberry Scones. Use 3/4 - 1 cup of frozen blueberries, preferably the smaller wild Maine blueberries. (5) Stored in a plastic freezer bag, the frozen unbaked scones can be stored in the freezer for several weeks. (6) The scones can be baked immediately and do not absolutely need to be frozen before baking, however, I would highly recommend the freeze and bake method. (7) Any leftovers can be rewarmed in the microwave for 15-20 seconds. Baked scones can be frozen. Reheat in a 350 degree (F) oven until warm.

A walk through the woods on an early spring day in March, 2017 (Fullerburg Woods)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Fruit Trifle w/ Candied Almonds

As much as I like going out to eat in restaurants, I love even more the intimacy of a meal shared with family and/or friends at home. Sometimes after traveling and eating out at restaurants for several days in a row, I long for a home-cooked meal. Even if that home-cooked meal is simply a plate of scrambled eggs topped with some goat cheese, a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich on white bread with the crusts cut off, or a container of pineapple yogurt topped with almonds and dried cranberries. In other words, home-cooked doesn't have to mean a three or four course meal or one taking all day or even days to make. It definitely doesn't have to be 'fancy' or 'gourmet', it just has to be satisfyingly good or whatever my current version of comfort food might happen to be. Whenever my niece stays overnight during one of her breaks from school or friends are in from out of town, I like to make at least one homemade meal for them. Something a little more than my simple versions of homemade. I don't usually make these homemade meals 'easy' on myself, however, I recently had one of those moments of clarity. You know, the moment when you finally see the obvious and come to realize (or rather truly believe) simplicity can be a really good thing.

This long overdue epiphany came after making brunch for some friends recently. Everything about the meal was simple. The table was set simply with my favorite white dishes and the menu consisted of only three things. Okay, so there might have been linen napkins and fresh flowers on the table, but if you lived in my world you would understand this was 'simple'.

After going through and trying to sort a bin of saved recipes (not a simple endeavor), I rediscovered the recipe for a Fruit Trifle w/ Candied Almonds. It was one a friend gave to my friend who gave it to me. As soon as I looked at it, I immediately knew it would be one of the three things I would make for the brunch.

I had almost forgotten how beautiful and delicious this fruit trifle was. Fortunately I was able to have my memory jogged. Granted this trifle might be a little more decadent than the fruit platter you might normally serve at a brunch, but we all need a little decadence in our lives. Some of us more than others.

The trifle can be made with any number of fruits or fruit combinations. Although strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and/or blueberries lend themselves to be the best fruit options. Use all of them or use at least a couple of them. The trifle would lack flavor, texture and taste dimension if you used only one fruit. Personally I think this is one of those 'the more the merrier' kind of trifles, so I used all four 'berries' when I made it. Equal amounts of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries create the perfect trifecta: color, texture and flavor. This trifle needs at least 3 pints (or 6 cups) of fresh fruit, although depending on your preferred fruit to whipped cream cheese/whipped cream ratio, 7 cups may be more to your liking.

The luscious, creamy, decadent other layer is made with cream cheese, whipping cream whipped to beautiful stiff peaks, confectionary sugar, and some freshly squeezed lemon juice.

If you don't have a trifle bowl, use a clear bowl to alternately layer the whipped cream cheese/whipped cream mixture with the fresh fruit. The first and last layers will be the whipped cream cheese/whipped cream mixture. Try to create at least 3 layers of fruit between the filling so that the fruit is evenly distributed when spooned out. You can completely finish the trifle with a full layer of the whipped cream cheese/whipped cream mixture or pipe it along the edges of the bowl using a pastry bag fitted with the pastry tube of your choice.

The sugared slivered almonds are the trifle's proverbial finishing touch. In a pan of melted butter and sugar over medium-low heat, the almonds are sautéed until lightly golden. Once caramelized the sugared almonds are transferred to a piece of parchment paper and allowed to cool. You will have more than enough of the almonds for this trifle. Serve the 'extras' in a bowl on the side so everyone is sure to get some of the 'crunch'. They can be made the day before and stored in a sealed container.

You can make the Fruit Trifle w/ Candied Almonds several hours before serving. It comes together relatively easily and takes less than 30 minutes to assemble.

Make this trifle for your next Sunday brunch or bring it to your next office/friend breakfast potluck. Okay, so this Fruit Trifle might not win any healthy awards, but it will for taste and presentation. And I promise it will be incredibly well received and devoured. Scouts honor.

This Fruit Trifle w/ Candied Almonds paired incredibly well with freshly brewed coffee, a pitcher of orange juice, some roasted thick-cut bacon, and this Baked Praline French Toast Casserole. If there was a way to make this menu a little more festive, it would be to open up a bottle of champagne or prosecco and turn the pitcher of orange juice into mimosas. With Passover, Easter, graduation parties, birthdays, anniversary celebrations, Mother's Day, Father's Day or reunion gatherings coming in the weeks and months aheads, consider making this Fruit Trifle w/ Candied Almonds your 'fruit' dish.

Fruit Trifle w/ Candied Almonds
Serves 8-10 

6-7 cups (3-4 pints) fresh fruit (strawberries (cut into slices or wedges), raspberries, blueberries, and/or blackberries)
2 cups heavy whipping cream 
16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup confectionary sugar
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 cup slivered almonds
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar

Candied Almonds
1.  Sauté almonds in butter, adding sugar in after the almonds have sautéed for at least 2 minutes.
2. Continue sautéing until almonds are lightly browned.
3. Transfer to a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil. Very lightly sprinkle with some additional granulated sugar.
4. Allow almonds to cool completely. Note: Can be prepared a day ahead. Store in a sealed container until ready to use.)

Fruit Trifle
1. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whisk heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Temporarily transfer mixture to a separate bowl.
2. In the bowl of standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese until smooth and creamy (approximately 2-3 minutes).
3. Add confectionary sugar and lemon juice into cream cheese. Beat until well blended.
4. Remove bowl from standing mixer and fold in whipped cream until well blended.
5. Beginning with the whipped cream cheese/cream, alternately layer the cream and fruit mixture, reserving enough of the cream mixture to pipe on top of the trifle. (Depending on the size of the trifle bowl, will have three to four layers of each.)
6. Using a pastry bag fitted with tip of choice, pipe reserved whipped cream cheese/cream along edges of the bowl.
7. Sprinkle candied almonds on top of whipped cream. Note: You will not use all of the candied almonds if you only pipe the whipped cream cheese/cream along the sides of the trifle bowl. Serve remaining almonds on the side when serving the trifle. 
8. Serve immediately or refrigerate several hours before serving.

Notes: (1) The original recipe also suggested the trifle could be made with green or red seedless grapes. It could, but I really think berries work so much better. (2) The trifle is best served to 'company' on the day it is made, but leftovers continue to be delicious the next day. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Smoky Cauliflower Frittata

Happy first day of spring! Here's to the return of fat-bellied robins, green lush landscapes, farmer's markets, outdoor entertaining, planting herbs, and taking my bicycle out for long rides. The older I get the more I appreciate what the change in seasons brings. Particularly feelings of self-renewal. Longer days, warmer weather, and more vibrant landscapes always increase my energy level. Not that I am a slacker by any sense of the imagination, but I just seem to operate on a slightly higher ramped up level when spring arrives. However, I am not quite sure I am ready to put all of that energy into the kind of use the person who shall remain nameless would like to see. Cleaning out and organizing closets/dresser or purging things that haven't seen the light of day in decades aren't exactly the things I like to do with my energy surge. Although life would probably be so much easier if I didn't have to spend so much time looking for things. Maybe this will be the year. Anything is possible.

For as much as I love eggs, cheese, and most vegetables it's rather surprising there are not more frittatas in my life. Considering they are so much easier to make than an omelet, quiche, a chorizo and egg piperade, uovo al forno (baked eggs), or even herb and cheese baked eggs, frittatas should be making more regular appearances at my table. Sometimes some kind of push or some kind of wake up to call is all I need to get back to making foods with great flavor and versatility. This time it came in the form of a dinner at my sister's house. Yes, that would be my one and only younger sister, the one who manages to discover some really great recipes before I do.

The recipe for this Smoky Cauliflower Frittata is one Yotam Ottolenghi shared in his cookbook "Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi". A chef and cookbook I had learned about from my sister several years ago.

If anyone has a flair for making vegetarian dishes feel substantial, satisfying, and deeply flavorful, it would be Yotam Ottolenghi. And his recipe for this frittata does not disappoint. It is everything a frittata should be and then some. It is hearty, it is a savory custard, it feels indulgent, it and it could not be easier to make.

The smoky mozzarella, an aged cheddar, some creme fraiche, dijon mustard, and a sweet smoky paprika give this frittata a depth of flavor unlike any other frittata you have ever had. It isn't just the combination of ingredients used, it's the amount of each of them in relationship to the number of eggs (only 6).

There are two parts to this frittata: the egg custard and the cauliflower.

But let me also spend some time talking about some of the ingredients in the custard. From the smoky mozzarella (scamorza), to the aged cheddar, to the dijon mustard, to the freshly chopped chives, to the creme fraiche, to the sweet smoky paprika, the ingredients in this frittata matter.  When looking for the mozzarella, you may come across cheese labeled only as scamorza. Unless it says smoky scarmorza, you don't want to buy that cheese. The smoked mozzarella will have a very light brown, thin skin on it and it will come in either ball or sliced form. When choosing a cheddar, look for any white cheddar two years or older. The smokey sweet paprika adds a complex flavor to the frittata. The original recipe called for 2 teaspoons (which I used), however, by reducing the amount to 1 1/2 teaspoons you would still be able to keep the focus on the flavor rather than on the heat and smokiness. If you haven't cooked with smokey sweet paprika before, I would recommend you use only 1 1/2 teaspoons the first time you make this frittata. Instead of the richness that cream brings to most frittatas, this one uses creme fraiche. It's thicker, less tangy, and richer in flavor than sour cream. It is also slightly more expensive than sour cream. If there was ever a time to not think about cost, this would be one of those times. And last but not least, there is the dijon mustard. The frittata is made with two, yes two Tablespoons of it. Not all dijon mustards are the same. Choose a really good one (see note below for a recommendation).

The cauliflower goes through a two step cooking process before the custard is added to it. In a pan of boiling water, a small head of cauliflower cut into bit sized florets, are cooked until semi-cooked (approximately 4-6 minutes). Not too soft, not hard would be the non-technical way of defining semi-cooked. Drained and dried, the cauliflower florets are then cooked cooked in olive oil until lightly golden brown (approximately 5 minutes). Pressing on the florets lightly with a spatula helps to sear or brown them.

With the cauliflower lightly golden brown, the custard is poured into the pan. Working quickly, use a fork to spread the cauliflower evenly in the pan. Over medium heat, the frittata cooks on top of the stove for approximately 5 minutes. After sprinkling some of the remaining grated cheese over the top the pan goes into the preheated 375 degree (F) oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the frittata is set.

After removing the frittata from the oven, allow to rest for several minutes before cutting into wedges and serving. While it is best served hot out of the oven, I found myself picking at some of the room temperature leftovers and feeling as happy as I was taking a warm bite of it.

If making this frittata for lunch or dinner, simply serve with a peppery green salad tossed with a light (champagne or lemon) vinaigrette, and some warm bread. To make it even heartier (and appeal to the non-vegetarians in the group), bring some grilled steak to the table. And yes, the idea for the grilled steak came from my sister. The perfectly done (medium-rare) thick strip steaks served at dinner were made by my grill master brother-in-law. 

Celebrate the arrival of spring this weekend by serving this frittata for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner. Open up a good bottle of wine and invite friends or family over. When serving this frittata for brunch, day drinking is allowed and encouraged. 

Smoky Cauliflower Frittata (inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi's Smoky Frittata recipe from his cookbook "Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi"
Serves 4 to 6

1 small head of cauliflower, cut into medium florets
6 large eggs
4 Tablespoons creme fraiche
2 Tablespoons dijon mustard 
1 1/2- 2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
3 Tablespoons finely chopped chives
5 ounces smoked mozzarella or smoked scamorza, coarsely grated (including skin for extra flavor)
2 ounces aged (at least 2 years old) cheddar, coarsely grated
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 Tablespoons good quality olive oil

1. Simmer the cauliflower in a large pan of boiling water for 4-6 minutes, or until semi-cooked. Remove from boiling water and allow to dry on a paper towel lined plate.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (F).
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs creme fraiche, dijon mustard, and sweet smoked paprika. Make sure the eggs and creme fraiche are thoroughly blended.
4. Stir in the chives and 3/4 of the grated cheeses. Season with kosher salt and pepper.
5. Heat olive oil in a medium sized (10 inch) ovenproof frying or cast iron pan. Fry the semi-cooked cauliflower for about 5 minutes, or until lightly golden brown on at least one side.  Note: Press down lightly with a spatula to get brownness on one side of the cauliflower.
6. Pour the egg mixture over the cauliflower. Working quickly, use a fork to spread the cauliflower evenly in the pan. Without continuing to stir, cook frittata on medium heat for about 5 minutes.
7. Scatter remaining 1/4 of the grated cheeses over the top and place pan in oven.
8. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until frittata is set.
9. Remove from oven. Allow to rest several minutes before cutting into wedges. Serve immediately.

Notes: (1) I used 2 teaspoons of the sweet smoked paprika (and loved the flavor), however, may consider reducing to 1 1/2 teaspoons the next time I make it. (2) My favorite dijon mustard is Maille. (3) Use a good quality frying pan (preferably one non-stick) or a cast iron pan when making the frittata. Lodge makes great cast iron pans. (4) Served with an arugula salad lightly tossed with a champagne or lemon vinaigrette you have a perfect meal. (5) Leftovers, if you have any, can be reheated in the microwave.

Winter snow shadows (Morton Arboretum, March 2017).

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Everyday Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Icing

The time-change has me feeling a little more out of sorts than usual. Quite possibly my sub-conscious has been affected by all of the recent daylight savings time stories citing the numerous impacts time-change has on our mind and bodies. Given my frequent unusually high levels of gullibility I would venture to say this more than likely partially explains my temporary altered state. Beside undergoing the recent time-change brainwashing, the winter season in the midwest has been a little outside the norm. Up until the return of the winter wonderland this week, we have been relatively snowless for almost two months. Having summer and spring-like days interspersed amongst wintery weather ones here in February has felt good, but at the same time it has also felt a bit strange. One day you are bundled up wearing layers of winter clothes and boots, the next day you are wearing flip flops and turning off the heat. It's a good thing I didn't change out my closets for the seasons this year (or truth be told any year). Even my cravings for sweets has been different lately. It seems I only want the Cadbury chocolates imported from across the pond or cake.

Kind of like this cake, this Everyday Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Icing. One that should probably be called 'Love at first sight, love at first bite' cake.

As far as chocolate cakes go, this one is the kind you want to eat when you are happy, melancholy, euphoric, out of sorts, stressed, or filled with joy. In other words, it's a cake where in one bite everything is immediately all is either right or better with the world.

The recipe for this chocolate cake comes from someone who seems to understand there is greatness in simplicity. In her first cookbook, 'Small Victories', Julia Turshen uses ordinary, easy to find ingredients and transforms them into extraordinary dishes. In reading through her recipes, you are convinced you will make each one more than once. The recipe for the the buttercream icing comes from Sarah Kieffer's cookbook, The Vanilla Bean Baking Book. Another baker whose recipes also seemed destined to go into the timeless classics category.

There are a million reasons to always keep buttermilk in your refrigerator. The million and one reason would be this chocolate cake.

If you made (or have already made) buttermilk is one of your staples, you can make this deep chocolate, moist, just the right amount of sweetness chocolate cake whenever you get a craving for it. Or, whenever the day calls for cake. Which for some of us could be pretty much almost every day. If you can boil water, you can make this cake. Not that you necessarily need to boil any water. Essentially you only need is a large bowl, a whisk, some measuring spoons, and some measuring cups (and/or a digital scale) to make it. It's a cake recipe proving great homemade cakes don't need to be complicated. They only need to made with love using good quality ingredients.

All of the dry ingredient are whisked together in a large bowl.

After all of the wet ingredients are added, the batter is whisked until it is smooth and slightly thickened. That's it. Your cake batter is ready in a matter of minutes.

The 8" inch rounds of cake bake up in approximately 30 minutes in a 350 degree (F) oven. Buttering and lining your cake pans with parchment paper helps ensure they will come out of the pan perfectly. Allow the cakes to cool completely before you begin frosting the layers.

The icing recipe makes just enough to ice this two-layer 8" cake in the naked style. If you want a heavily iced on the sides cake, increase the recipe proportionately. A standing mixer with a paddle attachment makes for an incredibly creamy icing, but you can achieve the same results using a hand mixer and some patience. 

The original recipe for the cake called for a chocolate icing and slathered a generous half-cup of raspberry jam as the middle layer. As much as chocolate and raspberry are perfect flavor combinations, I was in the mood for just cake and icing. And almost uncharacteristically, I had a craving for vanilla buttercream icing rather than chocolate icing.

Simple cakes call for simple finishes. But it you are making this cake for a 'fancy' occasion, make it as fancy as you want.

If you have yet to have a go-to chocolate cake in your recipe file, make this Everyday Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Icing it. It will never disappoint. Never. If you have never added coffee to your chocolate brownies, cookies or cakes to enhance the flavor of the chocolate, your chocolate loving palate is in for a surprise. A really good one.

Top with candles and serve alongside your favorite vanilla ice-cream and you have a cake worthy of celebrating any birthday, anniversary or special occasion. But actually, you don't even need the ice cream. The cake all on it's own is that good. And you definitely don't need a special occasion to make it.

I completely agree with Julia Turshen. This is one of those 'decadent without being too heavy or too sweet' cakes. And we all deserve a little decadence in our lives. Chances are the Everyday Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Icing will become one of your favorites.

Everyday Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Icing (minor changes to Julia Turshen's Happy Wife, Happy Life Chocolate Cake recipe as shared in her cookbook "Small Victories: Recipes, Advice, and Hundreds of Ideas for Home-Cooking Triumphs" and not even a change to Sarah Kieffer's American Buttercream recipe as shared in her cookbook "The Vanilla Bean Baking Book: Recipes for Irresistible Everyday Favorites and Reinvented Classics"
Serves 8-12 people, depending on how you slice it

1 1/4 cups (160 g) all-purpose flour 
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (75 g) Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 Tablespoons (113 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
1 cup strong black coffee cooled or 1 rounded teaspoon espresso powder mixed into 1 cup boiling water then cooled
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon good quality vanilla

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons good quality vanilla
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups (339 g) confectionary sugar, sifted
Optional: Food coloring and/or sprinkles for decorating

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Butter and parchment paper line two 8" baking pans. Lightly butter top of parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
3. Add melted butter, eggs, coffee, buttermilk, and vanilla. Whisk until batter is thick and smooth.
4. Divide batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Lightly tap the cake pans to remove any air bubbles. Note: Using a digital scale helps to ensure each pan has equal amounts of batter.
5. Bake until tops of cake spring back when lightly pressed and edges begin to come away from the pan. Approximately 30 minutes of baking time.
6. Transfer cakes to a wire rack and allow to cool completely. 

Icing and Assembly
1. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter on medium-high speed until creamy (approximately 2 minutes).
2. Scrape down sides of the bowl, add vanilla and salt. Mix on low until incorporated. Then beat on medium for one minute.
3. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the sifted confectionary sugar until all is incorporated. Stop to scrape the bowl as needed. Increase speed to medium high and beat until light and fluffy (approximately 6-8 minutes).
4. Place one of the cakes upside-down on your serving platter or cake stand. Spoon slightly more than 1/3 of the frosting on the cake. Spread evenly over cake.
5. Place the second cake layer (again upside-down) on the frosted layer. Top cake with approximately 1/3 more of the frosting. Use the remaining frosting to frost the sides of the cake. Smooth out top layer using an off-set spatula.
6. Wait at least an hour or lightly cover cake and chill in the refrigerator before serving. This is one of those cakes that is even more delicious when served chilled.

Notes: (1) If you don't own either of the cookbooks referenced in the recipe, you should. They are destined to become classics. (2) I am a big fan of King Arthur All-Purpose flour, but use whatever high quality flour you have available to you. (3) If you want a raspberry jam filling instead of the buttercream filling, use a generous half cup of your favorite jam. (4) For the flour weight calculation, I used 128 g per cup as the starting point.

A wintery March day at Morton Arboretum (2017).