This is NOT a Valentine’s Day Cake

Ok, yes, well maybe it looks like that. But trust me, it’s not.

This is Julia Turshen’s ultra luxurious and wicked simple coffee-scented chocolate cake. It’s filled with cherry preserves, drenched in a sour cream chocolate frosting, and topped with chocolate amaretti cookies, gold sprinkles, and freeze-dried strawberries. And it just so happens to be shaped like a heart, deal with it.

So why is this chocolate heart cake not a Valentine’s Day cake? Because Valentine’s Day puts people on edge and I don’t want that energy associated with this cake. Single people feel left out for the entire day, couples worry about making sure they are “doing enough,” and if you’re not fretting over it, you’re enraged by made-up-holiday consumerism. It’s ridiculous and nobody wins, especially when you’re me at age 13 and just bought a pair of heinous red suede Nike sneakers with hearts on them because you’re stupidly obsessed with this holiday for some reason. So that is why this is not a Valentine’s Day cake.

However, being in the shape of a heart, and being such a sweet and tasty and happy cake, maybe when we eat it we can remind ourselves of the importance of love and compassion. And not just for this one day, but for every day and everyone. A life of love, towards others, towards the planet, towards our own self, is always something to be happy about. And a definite cause for cake, especially this magical little cake. So tell people you love them, do something that makes a difference, and don’t be afraid to even treat yo self, because why not. Happy…er…um… Day. Yes, Happy Day… or whatever. Just make this cake.

Not a Valentine’s Day Cake / Quasi Black Forest Cake
Slightly adapted from Julia Turshen’s Small Victories

For the Cake
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
¾ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs, lightly whisked
1 cup strong coffee, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the Frosting
¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips
¾ cup room temperature sour cream
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract

To assemble and decorate
½ cup cherry preserves
crushed amaretti cookies
freeze dried strawberries (optional)
gold sprinkles (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch cake pans (or one heart pan) and line the bottom with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add in the melted butter, eggs, coffee, buttermilk, and vanilla. Whisk until combined.

Divide the batter between the two pans or one pan if that’s all you have. Bake for 30 minutes (40-45 if you’re just using the one pan) until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Place on a cooling rack and once completely cool, remove from the pan and peel off the parchment paper. If you baked in just one pan, horizontally cut the cake in half after it cools.

While the cakes are baking, make the frosting. Set up a double boiler by placing a mixing bowl over a simmering pot of water without letting the bowl touch the water. Add the chocolate chips to the bowl and stir until completely melted. Remove the bowl from the pot and stir in the sour cream, maple syrup, and vanilla. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

To assemble the cake, spread the cherry preserves over half and place the other half on top. Use a small offset spatula to spread 1/3 of the frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate for 15 minutes until the frosting sets a bit. This keeps the final layer of frosting from picking up cake crumbs. Spread the rest of the frosting over the cake and refrigerate at least another hour. Serve with the garnishes sprinkled overtop.

Chocolate Buttermilk Waffles

So I bought a waffle maker about a month ago. I had absolutely no need for one; I already had one in perfectly good working condition. I hate to admit it but I fell victim to Williams Sonoma’s advertising stunts that they break out around Christmas and somehow their catalog convinced me that I needed a “smart waffle maker.” Whatever that means.

The restaurant where I worked a few years ago had a similar, if not the same one, and I was always captivated by the perfectly square, deep-dish look of those waffles. I frequently told myself that one day I would have a waffle maker like that. So when Black Friday came around this year and deals were abound, I traded out my poor old simple waffle maker for a smart one… so I guess that meant I should probably make some waffles.

I saw these chocolate waffles in Bon Appetit magazine 2 years ago in a spread about the Mast Brothers, creators of Brooklyn-based Mast Brothers Chocolate. The recipe comes from their gorgeous cookbook, one that still only exists on my wishlist, and I’ve been meaning to make them since.

I will say that they are waffles you should only make when you are craving decadence. The taste resembles chocolate cake entirely but translated into a fluffy, chewy, and crispy waffle texture. The buttermilk is what makes these really stand out. When combined with the baking powder and baking soda the resulting chemical reaction makes for a batter completely filled with air bubbles. Add in whipped egg whites and you’ve got amazingly light-as-air waffles. A combination of cocoa powder and lots of chopped dark chocolate creates an deep chocolate flavor while olive oil adds an earthy tone that keeps the waffles from becoming sickly sweet. They taste fantastic with the classic butter and maple syrup combo but I expect that I’ll be eating them for breakfast with a swipe of peanut butter many times this week. Or maybe this peanut butter caramel sauce… now that would be interesting…

Chocolate Buttermilk Waffles
Serves 4-6
From Mast Brothers Chocolate Cookbook via Bon Appetit Magazine

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cocoa powder
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
3 eggs, separated
2 cups buttermilk
½ cup olive oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
6 oz. finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
butter and syrup for serving

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees (this is for keeping the waffles warm while waiting for others to finish). In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Once combined, make a well in the center and add the egg yolks, buttermilk, olive oil, and vanilla extract. Use a fork to mix the liquid ingredients together, gradually incorporating the dry ingredients in the bowl. Switch over to a rubber spatula to give the batter a final mix, making sure there are no more spots of dry ingredients.

Using an electric mixer or a metal whisk beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Fold the egg whites into the waffle batter and then carefully fold in the chocolate.

Heat up your waffle iron and cook according to the irons instructions. For mine, I used a half-cup of batter for each waffle. Place the cooked waffles on a sheet pan and keep warm in the oven until all of the waffles are made. Serve with butter and maple syrup.

Cherry Chocolate Protein Shake

In less than 6 weeks I’ll be taking on my 3rd half marathon, this one with three of my best friends on Halloween. As with the other two, it is at this point where I suddenly have an “oh, crap!” moment, realizing that the twice weekly three-milers I’ve been doing aren’t quite going to cut it for my training regimen. But now that the optimum running weather is starting to make its way in, the transition into those seven and eight mile practices should (hopefully) go smoothly.

Most long-distance runners will agree that when the training becomes intense, so does the eating, but in the best way possible. So thus begins the days where I’ll load up on carbs, protein and potassium with a side of yellow Gatorade, of course.  Over the summer I’ve really gotten to know my Vitamix well and have taken to drinking the many forms of protein shakes and power smoothies after my runs. They are cool and refreshing, the fruit works fast to replace the sugars in the body and the protein satiates tired muscles.

Though my smoothies usually end up as a conglomeration of the random bits of appropriate ingredients found in my fridge in freezer, I have recently found a combo that is really tasty and energizing too. Chocolate whey protein alongside powdered peanut butter provide tons of protein, a banana adds creaminess while preventing muscle cramps with potassium, frozen cherries provide many vitamins, antioxidants, and carbs while almond/coconut milk is the soy-free glue that holds it all together. And though there are many ways to change up this basic combination, with a simple substitution of different flavors, types of protein, and fruits, I have a feeling this one will be sticking around for quite a while.

Cherry Chocolate Protein Shake
Serves 1-2
Below are the brands I used but feel free to substitute you favorites

1 cup Califia Toasted Coconut Almondmilk
2 Tbs Tera’s Whey Dark Chocolate Whey Protein Powder
1.5 Tbs Bell Plantation PB2 powdered peanut butter
1 banana
½ cup frozen sweet cherries
a handful of ice cubes

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender. Turn on to high speed until the ice is totally crushed and everything is well blended. Add more ice if you a want a frostier texture. Pour into a glass, dust with a little cocoa powder on top, and drink right away!

Chocolate Olive Oil Zucchini Muffins

Living this suburban, just-outside-the-city-but-still-metro-accessible sort of life is pretty great but summer has a tendency to call me home. Home in the summer is a sigh of relief. It reminds me that there is a place in the world where I don’t have to put on appearances, where simple pleasures always exist. I can close my eyes and everything I hear, smell, and feel floods me with waves of nostalgia. A symphony of cicadas, a dozen or so mosquito bites on the ankles, the humid and hot air mingling with the smell of sunbaked grass and acrid tomato plants. If I could spend the rest of my life standing barefoot under the sun, a glass of iced tea in hand, watching that garden grow, it would certainly be a happy life.

But time is fleeting and just as I start to settle into the simpler ways of life at home, it’s time to head back to suburbia. But at least I’m usually laden with bags of fresh green beans, tomatoes, squash, and zucchini. Always so much zucchini.

And when there’s an excess of zucchini, quick breads are not far away.

I tried out a new recipe from Tara O’Brady’s book Seven Spoons. I haven’t yet had the chance to explore the book in too much depth but from the looks of it, the book is a treasure trove of delightful recipes that I can’t wait to try. But I can say that the chocolate olive oil zucchini muffin recipe is a definite win. These muffins have quite the flavor profile. The chocolate flavor is definitely there, but not in a way that makes you think you are simply eating a chocolate cupcake. It more so brings about this deep and earthy cocoa taste that pairs up nicely with the grassy component of the olive oil and the zucchini. Chocolate chunks and toasted walnuts bulk up the muffins providing a good crunch and chew to juxtapose the ultra moist aspect of the muffin itself.

I made 2-dozen muffins a few days in advance for an upcoming family reunion (they were a hit!) and I found that they froze really well too so you can stash several of them away for a day where a little taste of home is just what you need.

Chocolate Olive Oil Zucchini Muffins
Makes 24-28 small muffins
Recipe from Tara O’Brady’s Seven Spoons

1½ lbs zucchini
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups whole wheat four
½ cup cocoa powder
1½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1½ tsp. salt
1 cup toasted and chopped walnuts
8 oz. chocolate chunks
½ cup olive oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place muffin liners in two muffin tins. Using the large holes of a grater, grate the zucchini onto a clean kitchen towel. Once grated, place another towel overtop and press down to squeeze out some of the moisture. Let sit for 15 minutes and then transfer the zucchini to a bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the flours, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, walnuts, and chocolate chunks together. In a different bowl, whisk together the olive oil and the buttermilk. Whisk in the eggs, sugars, and vanilla and finally stir in the zucchini. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients and gently stir until just combined. Do not overmix.

Divide the batter between the muffin tins. I filled each so there was about a half inch of space between the batter and the top of the tins. Place in the oven and bake for 17-19 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the muffin. Let the muffins cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Krantz Cake

Sitting at home, in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon, I am in the midst of what is my third bout of illness within a two-month period. This most recent is believed to have been picked-up in the gym somewhere – so much for trying to get back into healthy habits.

With that being said, my winter days of late have been filled with more soups that I really care to recount at this point since they are all starting to taste the same.  Instead I want to tell you about a wonderful chocolate bread/cake I made a month ago for Christmas, a newer holiday tradition in the family. I would kill for a piece of it right now but the effort required to make it is probably about 25 times more than what I have available at the moment so I’ll make do with dreaming about it over the next few episodes of Serial. Sigh.

But anyway, let’s talk about chocolate krantz cake. The recipe comes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. It’s the only recipe I have made from the book (which I’ve had for about 2 years) but this recipe alone makes having the hard copy worth it. It starts out like a recipe for brioche but then the dough is filled with a thick chocolate paste, shaped into a braid, and, once baked, is doused in a sweet syrup. The result straddles the fine line between bread and cake. The syrup fuses with the chocolate filling, turning it into something kind of resembling chocolate frosting. It’s definitely sweet, but not cloyingly so. But the bread dough gives it a little more heft than a cake, therefore making it much more justifiable as breakfast food or an afternoon snack. But it works just as well as dessert too.

Better yet, the bread keeps wonderfully, which is nice considering that it takes a decent amount of time (2 days!) and effort to make. Can’t lie to you about that but, trust me, it’s worth it. I was still eating slices about 5 or 6 days after making it and they were just as good, if not better, with age. Cooled fresh loaves can also be wrapped tightly in foil and tucked into a plastic bag and frozen for a few months.

Perhaps this may not be quite the right recipe for all of the January gym-goers – because you are either being healthy or are also suffering the gym plague like me – but just you wait. Some day this winter the weather man is going to tell you all about an impending storm and if you plan it just right and start the night before, you’ll be pulling hot krantz cake out of the oven on your snow day. And I can’t imagine too many things nicer than that.

Chocolate Krantz Cake
From Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem
Make 2 loaves

Please note that you must start preparing the cakes the night before you wish to bake them. Though the cakes themselves don’t take too much time for the physical construction, there is a lot of idle time. But, as mentioned above, it’s well worth the wait.


For the dough
4¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
2 tsp fast-rising active dry yeast
zest of a small lemon
3 eggs
½ cup water
¼ tsp. salt
2/3 cup room-temperature unsalted butter, cut into cubes
unflavored oil, for greasing

For the chocolate filling
½ cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup dutch-process cocoa powder
4½ oz melted dark chocolate
½ cup melted unsalted butter
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
2 Tbs. sugar

For the syrup
2/3 cup water
1¼ cups sugar

Begin by making the dough. Place the flour, sugar, yeast, and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached. Mix for about a minute to combine. Add the eggs and the water. Slowly increase the speed to medium and let mix for about 3 minutes, stopping the mixer as needed and pushing some of the flour into the center of the bowl until the minute comes together. With the mixer still on medium, add the salt and then the butter, a few cubes at a time, until all are added. Keep the mixer going for about another 10 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl periodically and adding a bit more flour if it doesn’t seem to want to form into a ball.

When the dough it ready, it will have formed into a ball and be smooth and shiny and elastic. Place it in a bowl brushed with a little bit of oil to keep it from sticking. Cover the bowl with plastic, and place in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, you can assemble and bake the cakes. Begin by greasing two 9x4 inch loaf pans and line them with parchment paper. Set aside. Then make the chocolate filling by combining the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, melted chocolate, and melted butter in a bowl until you have a smooth, spreadable paste. Also set aside.

Remove the dough from the fridge and divide in half. Place one on your counter and the other back in the fridge for the time being. Lightly dust the counter with flour and roll the dough into a 15x11 inch rectangle. Position it so that the shorter edge is closest to you. Spread half of the chocolate filling onto the dough, leaving a ¾ inch border on all sides. Sprinkle with half of the pecans and half of the granulated sugar. Brush a little bit of water on the side that is furthest from you. Then, starting at the end closest to you, tightly roll up the dough, pinching to seal it shut once you reach the end. Place the log of dough on the counter so that seam side is down and one end is facing you.

Now time for the slightly tricky part. Use a serrated knife to cut off the ends on each side of the log of dough. Now, running the knife from end to end, cut the log in half, lengthwise. It helps to make long shallow cuts, repeatedly running the knife from top to bottom and gently separating the two sides. Once cut through, lay the two sides so they are both cut side up. Take the end that is furthest from you on the left half and place it on top of the end of the right half, gently pressing them together. Now “braid” the loaf by taking the right half (the one underneath) and placing in overtop the left half, and then doing this once more until the two bottom ends meet up and can be sealed together. It doesn’t have to be perfect so long as the filling of the cake is exposed at the top and both ends are somewhat secure. Lift the cake into the pan and loosely cover with a clean dishtowel. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and while that heats let the loaves rise for 1-1.5 hours, until increased in size by about 20%. Place the two loaf pans in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes until golden. While the cakes bake, make the syrup. Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Once the sugar dissolves remove from the heat and let cool slightly. When the cakes are finished, place them on a cooling rack and immediately use a pastry brush to disperse the syrup over the cakes until all of the syrup is used up. It will seem like a lot, but will all eventually get soaked into the cake. After an hour remove the cakes from the pans and let cool completely before serving.