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.

Funfetti Millefeuille

Spring, at last! Though it was a relatively tame winter (not including that snow storm I happened to miss out on) the sun and mild weather already feels rejuvenating, bringing with it a shift in the winds, the arrival of a new phase.

I realize that I mention this feeling of “rebirth” and starting another revolution of an ever-evolving cycle of life maturation each time spring comes around but it truly does happen. I mean, look at the evidence. 3years ago in the spring, a year out of college and just finding my first “real job”, I was going through a new phase of acclimation. 2 years ago I entered a major phase of personal growth and trying things that I was maybe too scared to try beforehand. And 1 year ago, the spring was the start of a lesson in healing and a long and slow process of realizing that hurt and sadness do indeed go away.

So what about this year? When spring arrived I still wasn’t sure yet. Unlike other years, this spring didn’t start off with a huge change or clear-cut moment defining the beginning of a new phase. That is, until I came across this quote by Emily Dickinson on Instagram of all places.

“The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.”

That’s when I realized that the phases of my life these past three years and what I’ve learned from them have all been leading up to this, the stage where I really begin to just start living. It’s almost as if I’ve been spending my time getting to know who I am, deep down to the core and now that I’ve done that, I am free to take risks, be a bit reckless, and just let myself go without risk of losing sight of the self. And that made me excited! So excited I couldn’t help but make a 4 layer cake complete with rainbow sprinkles for Easter dessert this past weekend. Because I couldn’t possibly claim to be living it up to the fullest extent if rainbow sprinkles weren’t involved, amiright. Thus, Funfetti Millefeuille.

Millefeuille, a classic French dessert meaning “thousand leaves,” is composed of alternating layers of crispy and flaky puff pastry with a creamy custardy filling and a layer of icing on top. It’s best eaten immediately if it’s the crispy texture you crave, but I found it really nice once it softened too, almost éclair-like. This particular version, filled with a rainbow sprinkle-infused sweet mascarpone filling and decorated just as frivolously, is probably as far as you could go in terms of bastardizing the original version, probably causing Julia Child to roll over in her grave with each layer added. But do I care? Nope! Because this looks like springtime and tastes like birthday cake with a sort of cavity-inducing sweetness that can only be complemented by a cup of strong black coffee. So, if it’s ecstatic experiences I‘m opening my soul to this year, well, I’d say I’m off to a pretty good start.

Funfetti Millefeuille
Recipe from Tasting Table


For the Pastry
1 17.3 oz package (containing two sheets) of puff pastry thawed in the refrigerator and cut in half, lengthwise, creating 4 rectangles of puff pastry.
2 Tbs. powdered sugar

For the Filling
2 cups mascarpone cheese
½ cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup heavy cream, whipped
½ cup rainbow sprinkles

For the Icing
1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbs. milk
2 Tbs. butter, melted and cooled
2 tsp. corn syrup
red, blue, green, and yellow food coloring

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place 2 rectangles of the puff pastry on each baking sheet and prick them all over with a fork. Use a fine-mesh sieve to dust them on each side with powdered sugar. Bake until golden, 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and use another baking sheet to press down lightly on the pastry to flatten them some. Once flattened, transfer the pastry to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Make the filling by combining the mascarpone cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and whipped cream in a bowl until well blended. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To make the icing, combine the powdered sugar, milk, butter, and corn syrup in a bowl. In 4 small bowls place 1 Tbs. of the icing. Add 2-3 drops of one color of food coloring to each bowl of icing and mix well. You’ll end up with a tablespoon of icing for each color. Transfer each of these to a separate sandwich bag and seal shut. Leave the rest of the white icing in a bowl until ready to use.

To assemble the millefeuille begin by adding the sprinkles to the filling and mix well. Transfer to a piping bag or a gallon plastic bag with one corner snipped off. Place one piece of the puff pastry on your serving platter. Pipe a third of the filling onto the pastry and spread evenly with a knife or offset spatula. Repeat this step 2 more times. Add the final piece of pastry to the top and use an offset spatula to spread the white icing on the top. Snip the very tip of the bottom corner of each bag of colored frosting and work quickly to pipe thin lines across the top of the cake, alternating colors. Once you’ve covered the entire length of the cake with stripes of colored frosting, use a toothpick and drag the tip across the length of the cake. Do this, alternating direction each time, until you’ve reached the other side of the cake. Slice crosswise to serve.

A Year Ago Today: Loss, Remembering, and Bonnie Butter Cake

On my dad’s side of the family, I don’t think a birthday went by without a celebration at my grandma’s (well, I called her Nanaw) house. If I close my eyes and concentrate just enough, I swear I can almost take myself back there. From turning into her long gravel lane and up to the small house on the hill to the end of the boisterous family affair full of jokes and laughs, I can envision every detail as if it happened yesterday.


The candles are lit, the lights go out, all sing, then darkness. If it’s my birthday, the July heat settles thickly in the room, occasionally interrupted by a pathetic breeze that drifts through and rustles the thin white cotton curtains. The dulled sounds of… maybe it’s Jeopardy?… drift in, unwatched, from an adjacent room. Someone switches the light back on and lifts the darkness.

My parents, my sister, aunts, uncles, cousins, and Nanaw all reappear, crammed around the floral vinyl tablecloth-covered kitchen table, most likely doubling up in the chairs to make room for us all. It’s about that time that the all too familiar smell of freshly extinguished birthday candles hits my nose. That smell, Pavlovian in its effect, triggers the only response I know: prepare for cake. And if it’s a birthday at Nanaw’s house, we’re eating Bonnie Butter Cake.

My Aunt takes charge of slicing the cake, divvying it out onto paper plates alongside a massive scoop of Edy’s vanilla ice cream. Nanaw passes out cups of Coke or ginger ale. There’s a 97% chance that it went flat about 2 weeks ago but I drink it anyway. The cake is the same as it’s always been and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s buttery, as its name implies, sweet, and fluffy but the real star is the caramel icing, the sort that gets an ethereally thin crispy and flaky shell that shatters as my fork breaks into it. It’s an intense toffee sort of flavor and needs the cake and ice cream to mellow it out a bit.

If I’m lucky, there will be a few slices left that I can wrap up to take home with me. I’ll nibble on it bit by bit, drawing out its existence as long as I can. In the meantime, all of us, dazed in a post-cake coma, continue chatting around the table. I hear stories from my dad and his siblings. We all laugh as they regale us with tales of the antics they got up to as kids growing up on a dairy farm. Nanaw, the last to sit down with her slice of cake and ice cream, sits by quietly, shaking her head occasionally at the rowdy rest of us. We continue for hours, long after the residual bits of ice cream have melted on our plates, yet the sweet taste of Bonnie Butter Cake seems to linger on the palate, a taste I’ll never forget.


When Nanaw died one year ago today, I worried that my mind would not be able to move past the memories I had of her in her final years. She was still the same person, of course, but old age and illness took their tolls. But time went on and before I knew it those final images trickled away and the happier memories returned. Memories of the woman who watched as I learned how to ride a bike in her backyard, who watched over me during the summer while my parents were at work, withstanding the countless hours of The Price is Right I put her through. The woman who let me sit in the middle of her old white pickup truck and shift gears when she pressed the clutch (which probably was not legal), who let my cousins and I parade through her garden to find rotten vegetables to make our “witch’s brew” in a 5-gallon bucket. The woman who made us Bonnie Butter Cake year after year because we all knew it wouldn’t really feel like a birthday without it.

Other than knowing that Nanaw made this cake for more family birthdays than I can remember, I hardly know any more about it. Where did she get the recipe? When was the first time that she made it? Was it her favorite cake? I may not ever know the answers, but rather than dwell on the questions I can no longer ask, maybe remembering what I do know is the most important thing. I know that Nanaw lives on in the blood that runs through my veins, in my memories that I have and share with others, and through the things she’s left behind, things like a cake recipe scratched onto an old bit of paper.

Bonnie Butter Cake
Makes one 2-layer cake

Note: the ingredients list for the cake and the entire recipe for the caramel icing is written exactly as it is on my grandmother’s hand-written recipe. Instructions for making the cake were not included so I wrote those on my own.

For the Cake
2/3 cup butter or margarine
1¾ cups sugar
2 eggs
1½ teaspoon vanilla
3 cups Softsilk cake flour (I actually used King Arthur)
2½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1¼ cups milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and thoroughly butter 2 cake pans. Cream the butter and sugar together in an electric mixer for 4 minutes on medium speed until it’s light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides and the bottom of the bowl after each. Add the vanilla and mix until combined.

Add the flour, baking powder, and salt into a separate bowl and use a whisk to combine. With the mixer on a medium-low speed add a third of the flour mixture. Once combined, add half of the milk. Add another third of the flour, then the rest of the milk, and finally the last of the flour. Turn to a medium speed to fully incorporate for about 15 seconds. Divide the batter between the two cake pans and bake for 30-35 minutes until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans until just warm then transfer to a cooling rack to finish cooling completely before frosting.

For the Caramel Icing

"Mix together thoroughly in saucepan, 1½ cups brown sugar (packed in cup), 3/8 cup milk (¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp.), 3/8 cup shortening, ¼ tsp. salt. Bring slowly to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly, and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and beat until lukewarm. Add ¾ tsp. vanilla. Continue beating until thick enough to spread. If icing becomes too thick to spread, add about 1 tsp. cream. Icing for 2-layer cake."

Passion Fruit Frozen Yogurt with Toasted Coconut and Dark Chocolate Magic Shell

Ugh, March. The month leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, not at all influenced by what I’m eating (which for the record is a diet primarily consisting of Cadbury Mini Eggs because that’s what Easter is all about for us agnostics).

The dreary cold month taunts us with a few spring-like days before dipping back into frosty mornings and lifeless grey skies. Unsavory memories emerge from the graves of Marches previous and linger like an impenetrable fog that suffocates me with thoughts of stress, heartbreak, unrelenting politics and loss. The clearer skies of April seem miles away. March calls for a ray of sun to ward away the ghosts of the past and for me, that sunlight comes in the form of passion fruit frozen yogurt

Per usual, my frozen desserts come from the genius that is Jeni Britton Bauer. Her eggless creations allow for a clearer, brighter cream flavor and with her frozen yogurts, the tanginess of the yogurt really comes through without sacrificing a smooth and rich texture.

This frozen yogurt combines my three absolute favorite flavors: passion fruit, coconut, and chocolate.  The small amount of passion fruit juice that goes into the frozen yogurt still manages to permeate it with its intense tropical flavor and the acidity that comes from both the fruit and the yogurt make it more refreshing than a standard ice cream. Toasted coconut gives each bite some satisfying chew and a nutty depth of flavor while homemade dark chocolate magic shell (dark chocolate + coconut oil) tones down the bright sweetness of the passion fruit with a bit of bitterness.

Contradictory as it is, this frozen dessert, with it’s tropical and refreshing flavor, momentarily takes me to a place that is warm and sunny, where my winter coat can collect dust in the closet, and the dark worries and memories of the month can melt away for good. In the midst of March, it’s completely necessary. 

Passion Fruit Frozen Yogurt with Toasted Coconut and Dark Chocolate Magic Shell
Makes roughly a quart

Note: Pure passion fruit juice is a bit difficult to find but should be in the juice section at any Hispanic or Asian supermarket.

½ cup passion fruit juice
1¼ cups whole milk Greek yogurt
1½ cups whole milk
2 Tbs. cornstarch
2 oz. (4 Tbs.) cream cheese, softened
½ cup heavy cream
2/3 cup plus 3 Tbs. granulated sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
½ cup unsweetened coconut, toasted
6 oz. chocolate chips
2 Tbs. plus 2 tsp. coconut oil

Combine the passion fruit juice and 3 Tbs. of sugar in a small saucepan and heat over medium until the sugar dissolves. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.

In another small bowl, combine 3 Tbs. of the milk and the cornstarch and mix to make a slurry. In a large bowl, whisk the cream cheese until smooth. Set both aside.

Combine the rest of the milk, the cream, the rest of the sugar, and the corn syrup in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, while stirring. Let the mixture boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the milk and cornstarch slurry. Return to the heat and let boil for an additional minute.

Whisk the hot milk into the bowl of cream cheese until it’s smooth. Strain through a sieve if it’s a bit lumpy. Whisk in the yogurt and the passion fruit syrup. Transfer the mixture to a gallon freezer bag and close, squeezing out excess air. Fill a large bowl with ice water and submerge the bag with the frozen yogurt base in the ice water for 30 minutes.

Once the frozen yogurt mixture is cool, churn according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. While it churns, combine the chocolate and the coconut oil in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stirring after each round, until all of the chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

When the frozen yogurt is finished churning, stir in the toasted coconut. Transfer to a freezer safe container by layering spoonfuls of frozen yogurt with drizzles of the chocolate sauce until all of the frozen yogurt is in the container. You will most likely not use all of the chocolate sauce but this can be refrigerated and reheated for a later use. Place your frozen yogurt in the freezer and let it firm up overnight before scooping. Drizzle with additional passion fruit juice, if desired.

Pink Lemonade Granita

Being a summer baby, the hot humid weather of northern Virginia is something that I’ve always loved. But when this busy summer turned my Saturday into an extravaganza of 2 outdoor birthday parties and 2 winery outings, it was hard to not shake my fist at the blazing sun, cursing it for my sunburn and blaming it for my dehydration... Because I’m sure the wine had nothing to do with that…

It really does feel like we are at the peak of this summer’s heat wave though. And after a long weekend spent mostly outdoors, I needed a bit of a refresher. So, as I generally do, I turned to frozen desserts to provide that. However, this time I did not settle on my go-to ice cream. I wanted something even simpler that did not require time spent at the stove and I found my answer at the end of the August chapter of the Canal House CooksEvery Day Cookbook.

Their recipe for pink lemonade granita sounded like the exact thing I was looking for. It takes only 5 ingredients and hardly 10 minutes of actual effort and in a few hours you’re left with something like the best sno-cone imaginable. The action of using a fork to flake apart the semi-frozen lemonade makes ice crystals that are super light and fluffy, providing a satisfying texture that I find to be lacking in popsicles. This particular version is intensely lemony which is almost too tart on its own, but when paired with softly whipped cream, the tanginess mellows out and the dessert becomes incredibly refreshing and addicting, just what this heat-wave calls for.

Pink Lemonade Granita
Adapted from Canal House Cooks Every Day

The recipe recommends using a blood orange to provide the “pink” element of the lemonade, but suggested a red grapefruit as a substitute if blood oranges are not to be found. I went with the grapefruit route and really liked that flavor addition, but next time I would probably add 2 more Tbs. of sugar since it was a pretty sour grapefruit. That adjustment is reflected in the recipe below.

Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 6-8 lemons)
The juice of a red grapefruit
½ cup + 2 Tbs. granulated sugar
¼ cup water
Softly whipped cream

Combine the zest, lemon juice, grapefruit juice, water and sugar in a mixing bowl and mix until the sugar has completely dissolved. Pour the juice into a large, shallow, freezer-safe dish (I used a 13x9 inch pyrex with a lid) and place in the freezer. 

After 1-2 hours when the liquid is in a semi-frozen state (like a slushy) take a fork and use the tines to scrape across the surface of the ice, creating loose crystals. Return the dish to the freezer until it is finished freezing, another 1-2 hours. Once frozen, scrape the ice with a fork again until there are no large chunks of ice remaining. Softly whip the cream and serve the granita in a chilled glass with the whipped cream dolloped on top. The granita will keep in the freezer, covered, for a week.