Sour Cream-Fudge Layer Cake

Happy Valentines Day!

Sour Cream Fudge Layer Cake

My valentine made this cake for dessert tonight. I know Sour Cream Fudge cake does not sound that appealing but really this is an amazingly good cake. The cake is light and moist with a rich heavy icing that will make any chocoholic happy. The recipe was dug out of the Baking Illustrated cookbook. A book we highly recommend.


Sour Cream Fudge Layer Cake
1 cup natural cocoa powder
2 tsp instant espresso powder , or instant coffee
1 cup boiling water
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream
16 Tbs unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs , at room temperature
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp table salt

Chocolate Butter Icing
9 oz bittersweet chocolate , or semisweet
8 Tbs unsalted butter (1 stick)
1/3 cup light corn syrup

1. For the Cake: Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-by-1 1/2-inch round baking pans with butter or shortening. Line pan bottoms with waxed or parchment paper; grease the paper as well. Dust pans with flour removing the excess.

2. Mix the cocoa and instant coffee in a small bowl. Next add boiling water and mix until smooth. Cool to room temperature.

3. Beat the butter in bowl of an electric stand mixer set at medium-high speed until smooth and shiny, about 30 seconds. Gradually sprinkle in sugar beating the mixture until fluffy and almost white (3 to 5 minutes). Add eggs one at a time, beating 1 full minute after each addition.

4. Stir in vanilla and sour cream into cocoa mixture. Whisk flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. With stand mixer on lowest speed, add about 1/3 of dry ingredients to batter, followed immediately by about 1/3 of cocoa mixture; mix until ingredients are almost incorporated into batter. Repeat process twice. When the batter appears blended, stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl with rubber spatula. Continue again at low-speed; beat until batter looks satiny, about 15 seconds longer.

5. Divide batter evenly between pans using a scale (weigh each pan first). Smooth the batter to pan sides with an even top. Bake the cakes until they feel firm in center when lightly pressed and skewer comes out clean , 23 to 30 minutes. Transfer pans to wire racks; cooling for 20 minutes. Run knife around perimeter of each pan inverting the cakes on to racks, and peel off paper liners. Flip the cakes on to additional racks and cool completely before frosting.

6. For the Icing: Melt the chocolate and butter in a medium bowl set over pan of almost-simmering water or any double boiler setup. Stir in the corn syrup. Set bowl of chocolate mixture over a larger bowl of ice water, stirring occasionally, until the frosting is just thick enough to spread. Apply icing on to first cake layer and spread with a long metal spatula, top with second cake layer, top second layer with icing, spread and then ice sides.

Servings: 12


Basic White Bread

Basic White Bread

Baking bread is an easy way to put smiles on faces. The smell and texture of this basic white bread is wonderful. Folks at our house were getting cabin fever after another 12 inches of snow put us to an all time record for snow in one winter. Smiles were on the decline so it was time to bake some bread.

The bread recipe is from Beautiful Breads and Fabulous Fillings: The Best Sandwiches in America. This is the basic foundation bread recipe for a collection of other flavored breads. I have changed the measures and yields of the recipe from the book because most people do not have stand mixers that hold 16 cups of flour! I am not sure where the editor for this book was during the proofing. Maybe the editor does not cook.

Get the butter out and spread some on this wonderful bread; you will not regret it.


1 Tbs yeast
2 cups warm milk
2 cups half-and-half
1/4 cup butter melted (1/2 stick)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
8 cups all-purpose flour or bread flour
1 1/2 Tbs salt
1 egg
2 Tbs water
2 Tbs butter for coating pans
1 Tbs Honey (optional)

1. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the milk and half and half (liquid needs to be warm). Let stand at least 5 minutes until the yeast is foamy. Add butter and mix with a whisk. Add powdered sugar and mix well to break up the clumps.

2. In a large bowl or stand mixer bowl combine flour and salt. If using a stand mixer attach the dough hook. Slowly add the liquid mixture to the flour mixture and knead well. If using a stand mixer, knead for 3-4 minutes. If by hand, 4-7 minutes.

3. Place the kneaded dough in a generously buttered bowl, cover with a towel and let rise in a warm dry place for 60 minutes.

4. Punch the dough down with your fist and divide into 2 equal portions.

5. Generously butter two 9 inch loaf pans. Roll the dough out into a 9 by 11 rectangle and then tightly roll the dough into a loaf, folding in the edges as you roll. A tight roll will ensure a good crumb and minimize air pockets. Form as a loaf and put them in the pans. Let rise another 45 minutes. (At this stage you can freeze one of the portions for future use.)

6. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

7. Beat the eggs and water together to make an egg wash. Brush over the dough. Alternatively, you can choose your own topping. Bake for 55-60 minutes.

8. Carefully remove loaf from the pan and tap bottom. If sound is hollow it is done. Let loaf cool for 30 minutes in pan on wire racks. You can optionally brush honey on to the top at this point. Cool another 30 minutes before slicing.

Basic White Bread Loaf

Batata Charp – Potato Cakes with Meat Filling

As promised earlier this month we tried our first recipe from the Middle East Cookbook – Batata Charp. We had prepared our Baharat spices and since there was no required ingredient for lambs brains we were good to go. To be honest, it also looked like one of the simpler recipes from this book. Continue reading

Vadalia Onion Soup

Soup production is back in full swing in our house now that the winter months are here. The decision is always which one to make this time. I often look to the many soups already posted in our database. The list of flavors range from Acorn Squash and Apple soup to Zucchini soup. However, when I am not surfing the web for a soup recipe, my favorite soup cookbook, the New England Soup Factory Cookbook is what I grab from the bookshelf. I have yet to make a soup from this book that was not a keeper. I am not sure if it still remains in print.

Monday evening I turned to page 12 for a favorite of ours, Vadalia Onion soup. It is very similar to a standard french onion soup, but with added sweetness from the onions and tomato paste. If you find it too sweet, you can cut back on the tomato paste. It has always been a hit with our guests and family. The picture below is shown without the cheese so you can see the texture and color of the soup.


6 tbsp salted butter
8 large Vidalia onions, sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 cups cream sherry, divided
3 tbsp tomato paste
16 cups beef stock
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 3 tbsp water
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
grated Gruyere cheese

In a stockpot melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and saute for 20 minutes, stirring frequently to keep from sticking. Add garlic and continue to saute for 20 more minutes. Add 1 cup of the sherry. Deglaze the pan, stirring to loosen the cooked pieces at the bottom. Add the remaining 1 cup sherry, tomato paste, beef stock, and bay leaves. Increase heat to med-high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 1 hour. Add corn starch mixture and increase heat to high. Turn off the heat adding the vinegar and salt and pepper.

Remove the bay leaves. Ladle into soup bowls or a large ramekins. Add croutons on top and then cheese. Put bowls on a cooking sheet and place under broiler until cheese is bubbly and brown.

Note: If you buy the onions at Costco, those are jumbo not large.

Baharat – A Mixed Spice

We are continuing to progress through The Complete Middle East Cookbook and found an interesting spice in the Gulf States section. The mixed spice is Baharat and is an ingredient for the recipe Batata Charp with meat filling in the Iraq section. It looked like I had all the ingredients to make the spice except one; Cassia Bark.

I have never heard of cassia bark before so I was going to have to do without or figure out a substitute. A quick google search lead me to the Gourmet Sleuth website for answers. It explains that it is a bark similar to cinnamon, but darker. The spice is represented as cheaper than cinnamon but I am not sure that would be the case here in the United States. So any ground cinnamon substitute should work as a substitute. If it was only that easy. The recipe calls for a 1/4 cup of cassia bark. How much ground cinnamon is that? My answer was to take out cinnamon sticks and put them in 1/4 cup and weigh it. The cinnamon sticks came to 1/2 oz. So I will use 1/2 oz of cinnamon as the substitute. Here is the recipe to make a yield of about 2 cups:

1/2 cup black peppercorns
1/4 cup coriander seeds
1/4 cup cassia bark (or 1/2 oz ground cinnamon)
1/4 cup cloves
1/3 cup cumin seeds
2 teaspoons of cardamom seeds
4 whole nutmegs (~1/4 cup ground nutmeg)
1/2 cup of paprika

Place the first six ingredients into a blender and grind to a powder. I use a basic coffee grinder to grind my spices. I also cut my quantities of spices to 1/4 of the above which just fit my grinder. You may need to mix it all together and grind in batches. Next grate the nutmeg and blend into the spices and add the paprika (Note: If you are using ground cinnamon instead of cassia bark blend it in at this stage). Store it in an airtight jar or container.

Haloumi Cheese – The Cheese for Grilling

We added another cookbook to the bookshelf this month and will detail our trials and errors over the next few months. Having recently returned from the Middle East region, we searched for a general book on the cuisine and found The Complete Middle East Cookbook. The book is broken up by region and has a good mix of text on the local food culture and plenty of recipes.

The Cheese for Frying and Grilling

Our family lived on the island of Cyprus for a short period of time when I was growing up so I immediately turned to that chapter for a look. The first recipe was for Haloumi cheese which is a favorite of this household and Cypriots. This goat milk based cheese is great for grilling as it won’t melt like many others. Just cut 1/4 to 1/2 inch slabs and fry it in a non-stick pan on a medium-low heat adding olive oil if you wish. Brown each side and serve warm with a drizzle of fresh lemon juice. The cheese is mildly salty and has some tang to it. You can also top it of with some spreads, herbs or vegetables. Thicker slabs can be put directly on a grill. If you like to cook kabobs, next time cut some Haloumi into cubes, put it on the skewer and grill it with the vegetables. We have found this cheese at Whole Foods and Wegmans, but any shop with a large cheese selection should carry it. Someday I might be adventurous and make the cheese as the book describes but for now we will just enjoy the unique texture of this cheese from the the local grocer. If you would like the recipe just drop a note and I will share that with you.

A scan of other recipes in the Cypriot section of the book noted an interesting ingredient for many; lambs brains. I am sure if I really tired I could find some in the greater Washington DC area, but I think we will pass on those and just keep reading. Anyway we will keep you posted on our progress and post a full review of the book.