Ultimate Chocolate Cake

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This is one of the best things I have ever made. Ever. Seriously. A super moist, nearly-underbaked chocolate cake paired with the most amazing, thick, milk chocolate-y frosting. So forget further descriptions and cute stories, although I certainly could share those… Instead feast your eyes and then bake this and just feast, period.

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Cinnamon Blueberry Tea Cakes

I’ve got a food blogger conundrum.

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(This is a weird situation to be in, since I’m still sort of bemused that I can call myself a food blogger at all.)

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Anyway, here’s the question: What should I do with all this food!?

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I mean. Don’t get me wrong. I definitely had these cinnamon blueberry tea cakes for lunch. And I love sharing goodies at Anthropologie each month.

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But there’s only so many cakes I can eat, only so many cookies I can bring in to work, only so many cupcakes I can pawn off on pals… only so many friends I physically even see in a week!

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Should I mail goodies to faraway friends? Organize reader treat swaps at local coffee shops? Offer sweets to a random commenter? Donate to charity? I don’t have endless money to spend on postage, and who knows if anyone from Milwaukee I don’t already know even reads this little blog (introduce yourself, Milwaukeeans, for goodness’ sake!). Plus, I’m pretty sure charities usually only accept canned goods or at most treats made in a pristine kitchen with no cats running around underfoot.

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So: What do you all think? What do you do with extra food when you bake it? What do you think I should do with these goodies?

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And lastly, does anyone want these extra tea cakes!?

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Lemon Raspberry Cake + Cupcakes

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You guys! Let’s make a cake!

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I’ve been thinking about cakes for weeks now, ever since my mom sent me two coveted 6″ cake pans that I’ve been searching for for months! (It’s that darn Miette book–the recipes are made for 6″ pans and no larger.) I even got a guilt trip when I made lemon loafs last week instead of 6-inchers… so here you go, Mom. A cake! At last! A pretty little 6″ cake.

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Except… it’s not for you. (Sorry, Mom. If you were closer, I sure would love to make you a cake.) It’s for a friend who’s leaving Milwaukee for a little while. I’m not sure what kinds of cake flavors she likes, but I hope she likes lemons and raspberries, because that’s what this cake is: a fluffy white vanilla bean cake filled with raspberry preserves and covered with a bright sweet lemon frosting.

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Are you dying to get a closer look at the inside of the cake? Me too, but we can’t do it. Nope. It has to wait for the party.

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But happy day: This cake makes extra batter for cupcakes! Hurray! They are perfect for snacking on while you wait for the big cake to cool and chill.

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This cake is light and fluffy and very softly flavored. It’s not too sweet, it’s very simple, and it takes on just enough of the flavor that you pair it with.

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The frosting is tart and bright and sweet and if you are anything like me you will eat 5 spoonfuls of it over the course of your decorating and finish your evening on a sugar high.

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And of course we all know how well raspberry goes with lemons, don’t we? Look! Cupcake guts! (I’ve been wanting to type that all day.)

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In short, this cake and these cupcakes mean that all week I have had that “if I knew you were coming I’d’ve baked a cake” song stuck in my head. This makes no sense in terms of the circumstances of this particular cake (no one is coming to my house for the party, they are all expecting me at the party, and I actually did plan in advance to bake a cake). But it’s catchy. So let’s go with it. Go make yourself a cake already! Continue reading

Lemon Lavender Tea Cakes

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Let’s keep this simple.

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No frills. No plates. No pretty napkins.

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No lemon slices leaning on a tea cake. No scattered lavender buds anywhere, except on the wooden spoon you use to stir them into a simple syrup. (Because really, although they look nice, who really enjoys eating the little lavender bits meant for decoration? Baker confession time: I always pick them off…)

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No, not even a mug of tea nearby. Even though these are the most perfect tea cakes I’ve made yet.

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It’s bare bones today. Just lemons, lavender, and a slice of cake. Perfect.

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These little things look like pound cakes, but they are light and moist and bouncy.

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And pouring on a bright, tart simple syrup infused with lemon juice and lavender buds gives the cakes a juicy burst when you take a bite.

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They are also insanely easy. You won’t even need to break out your Kitchenaid. Exactly right for a cold, snowy day in the middle of winter. If you close your eyes while you eat a slice, you might be able to convince yourself that spring is around the corner…

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Mini Brownie Cake with Vanilla Bean Frosting

Happy birthday… to my blog!

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Have you ever made yourself a cake? I’m not talking a sad, I’m-making-only-one-pathetic-but-beautifully-decorated-cupcake-because-I’m-oh-so-depressed-about-my-crazy-friend’s-wedding-and-confused-about-my-hot-Irish-cop-love-interest-ala-Kristin-Wiig-in-Bridesmaids kind of cake.

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I’m talking a smile-on-my-face, accomplishment-celebrating, yes-I-am-a-totally-awesome-person-so-I’m-making-myself-a-cake-and-I-might-just-eat-it-all-by-myself-because-I-deserve-it kind of cake.

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A year ago I decided that I wanted to share my love of baking with more than just my poor coworkers and friends, who were stuck listening to me describe my creations in person. In September, I concocted some pretty cupcakes, valiantly attempted macro-style photos of them with my cell phone camera, and wrote a little missive about lemons and lavender on a super-secret blog that no one knew about.

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Then I kind of forgot about it… Until I made some peppermint brownie cookies. They were so good that forcing my friends to listen to me rave about the combination of dark chocolate and crushed peppermint before they tasted it themselves seemed cruel, so I pulled up my super-secret little blog and wrote a post, complete with fuzzy faux-macro cell phone photography.

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Then, on December 31, almost exactly a year ago, I spent most of the day in my PJ’s and made the most wonderful salty oatmeal cookies for a New Year’s Party. Before I got fancied up, I took pictures of them on my coffee table. And I wrote about it on my super-secret little blog. And I realized I really liked doing this weird thing where I wrote about food on the internet.

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So I took a deep breath, steeled myself for the credit card bill, and invested in a fancy camera as a post-Christmas present (it was totally worth it, for the record).

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For the first few months of the year I baked every weekend (nothing new), took the prettiest pictures I possibly could, and wrote little online love letters to my baking in an attempt to share them with more people than just my Milwaukee friends. And eventually I started a Twitter account for it, and a Facebook page, and got some recipes onto Tastespotting–and all of a sudden people who weren’t my mom or my friends started coming to this little site (hello to you, new internet pals!). And I even started baking for Anthropologie, which is wild and dreamy and so much fun and still feels unreal.

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Weird things happen when you blog. You start collecting mismatched plates and napkins you use for no other purpose than to put cookies on for “food styling.” You start occasionally calling yourself a “blogger” instead of your real-life professional title when introducing yourself. You make yourself blog calling cards–a.k.a. business cards. You buy yourself a Pro account on Flickr because without one, you don’t have enough space every month to upload all the photos you need to. You start looking at the world a little differently–noticing the different qualities of light, wishing you had your camera with you in random places, getting way too involved in Top Chef Just Desserts, and critiquing plating techniques at unsuspecting restaurants.

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And you make yourself tiny little celebratory cakes. Out of fudgey, cakey, dense, chocolatey brownies. With creamy vanilla bean frosting. And you sit on your couch with your flour-loving cats while it snows big fluffy flakes outside, and you have yourself a happy little start to the New Year.

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But the weirdest and most wonderful part of this whole blogging thing is unexpected. Instead of being shuffled to the side, only discussed in comments and Facebook posts and tweets, things start to happen outside of your computer. When you put your dorky hobby out into the internet world, people in the real world actually start to talk to you about it. Your mom texts you when she sees a new post. People you barely know compliment your photography. You start to tell your friends about something you made this weekend, and they politely interrupt you to say, “Yeah, I already saw that on your blog… Did you bring me any?” And people you don’t know call you by the name of your website. As in: “Oh! You’re Chelsea Bakes!” And you just smile and nod and giggle to yourself, because, of course, your name isn’t actually Chelsea Bakes.

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And then you stop your giggling because, well, now it kind of is. And that’s just fine by you. Continue reading

Birthday (Almost) Dobos Torte

Allow me to introduce myself. Kari Couture, self-proclaimed Best Friend of All Time to Chelsea Kelly (sorry other besties, it’s my 15 minutes of fame here!). I am guest blogging to bring you the story of the Birthday (Almost) Dobos Torte – which, come to find out, was not really an all the way Dobos Torte… but we’ll get to that in a sec!

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You may think it cruel of me to let one of my best friends make her own birthday cake, but when someone loves baking the way Miss Kelly does, you would just never dream of getting in the way. AND, when I saw the cake she had her birthday sights set on, frankly, I was pretty sure that neither of us (especially me) could take on this endeavor alone without coming out a very bitter and beaten down cake-less creature.

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So, in order to show my love and appreciation, I let Miss Kelly bake her own cake. But I separated ALL the whites from yokes, I chopped chocolate until there was (literally) no chocolate left, I kept the cats off the table (save for one tail in the icing), I swept the kitchen floor (I don’t even do that at my own house!) and I photographed the hell out of every single step of this cake – as evidenced in this post by the series of twelve photographs documenting each of the twelve layers. Just call me Kari Sue Chef-ture.

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Here is the recipe that inspired and struck fear into us. And here is the recipe and blog that provided comic relief and many insights, albeit AFTER we baked the cake. We found out one of the characteristics that makes a Dobos Torte a Dobos Torte, is the caramel layer, which we did not do, hence the (Almost) in our Dobos Torte.

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Both the cake batter and icing were mysteriously made of almost all egg. Do you have a dozen eggs in your refrigerator right now? Well if you do, that is not enough to make this cake, so go get more. 7 egg whites and 10 egg yolks, and that’s just the batter… more to come.

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The consistency of this batter goes through change after weird change. From slimy to thick and dense to frothy but somehow also sticky. Pouring and spreading it out as thinly and evenly as possible was a bit tedious.

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Watching it through the oven window, we saw it bubble and grow in places while it seemed to fall in others – reminding me of the eerie landscape of Yellowstone Park.

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After the first one came out, although impressed with how thin and even it was, we were pretty underwhelmed. It smelled a bit like scrambled eggs and looked a little weird. There was some debate at this point as to whether we should even continue. Miss Kelly was ready to revert to a trusty old cupcake recipe. I admit, I almost gave in. But I just couldn’t let us turn back!

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We found that baking the second one until it was golden with some brown spots made the cake smell, look and taste much better. It was spongey and sweet and the scraps went down easy.

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Once both layers were baked and cooling, we started the icing. Chocolate and butter, a match made in heaven.

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In case you all don’t know this about Miss Kelly, she hates eggs. In every form except baked into cookies, scones and cakes. So this cake already had her on edge. Then to make matters worse, the icing recipe called for raw eggs!! Her response: “EEEEWWWWW” accompanied by a shudder.

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After presenting a lengthy argument for putting the raw eggs in the icing, she was still putting up a fight. (Her issues with raw eggs and eggs in general go way back to a childhood instilled with fear of Salmonella. Sort of like how my Grandmother told me you can bleed to death from your belly button and to this day I am convinced I should have some kind of protective cushion around my belly button, just in case she was right. And yes, belly button piercings horrify me.)

Much to Miss Kelly’s dismay, I went ahead and just put the egg yolks in. I compromised though and only used two when the recipe called for three. Thank goodness because that third egg MIGHT have been the one with Salmonella! (Later, she shared this link with me to add some evidence to my totally unsubstantiated claims that she will be FINE if she eats raw eggs.)

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The quote of the baking day, “WHAT HAVE WE DONE!?” escaped from Miss Kelly’s mouth after sampling the icing. The uneasiness about eating raw eggs was quickly overshadowed by the mind-blowing chocolately, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth goodness that is this icing.

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Cake – check. Icing – check. Now plating and layering. After much deliberation and sorting through the box cleverly labeled “Box” with miscellaneous kitchen stuff in it, we decided to make a square cake and the trusty round cake stand. Cutting our two 11×17 cakes into six pieces each… that’s where the twelve layers come in! Yup. TWELVE.

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Our cake layers were a bit uneven. One 11×17 was nice and thin and one was a little on the thick side so we were careful to alternate. The icing layers got progressively thicker toward the top. A second batch of icing was needed. (In case you’re not keeping track, the egg count is now up to 14, or 16 for those of you not so afraid of raw eggs.)

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So its wasn’t perfect. It didn’t quite look like Smitten Kitchen’s cake, but our cake had serious heart!

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And last but not least, Miss Kelly sealed it into its cocoon of rich dark chocolate and sprinkled on some celebratory stars. Tiny, delicate and golden.

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And then it was done. Twelve beautiful layers. Another baking challenge successfully conquered by this unstoppable duo.

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What is the moral of the story of the Birthday (Almost) Dobos Torte? Just remember the three Ps. Persist despite your doubts (about the eggs). Persevere (through the HOURS this will take you). And Perfection… is overrated and always trumped by taste.

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Your first bite will make it well worth the time. I promise you. But invite a lot of people to help you eat it. The cake continued to exert its power over us when we discovered how little we could eat in one sitting due to the overwhelmingly delicious richness. For me it was about 10 really, really good bites. The remainder of the piece of cake took me another couple of days to finish.

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Without further ado… Miss Kelly’s rendition of the (Almost) Dobos Torte recipe. I hope you enjoy baking it as much as we did! Continue reading

Croquembouche

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Sometimes, my friends and I get these crazy ideas. One of them was a coconut cake-inspired feast. Another, more recently, was throwing a birthday party for someone who didn’t exactly but kind of did want a birthday party. When someone feels this apprehensive about their birthday, the only thing to do is to concoct a party that is so full of friends and food and a good helping of cheesy-gushy-we-love-you-sentiments that the reluctant birthday guy cannot help but have fun.

The only cake for this kind of situation is a croquembouche.

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My birthday friend appreciates the finer things in life. He likes things that are refined and detailed and a little bit glam. He also likes food that tastes really good. All of these adjectives describe the croquembouche. So you understand–I had no choice. It had to be a croquembouche.

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What is a croquembouche, you may ask? A croquembouche is usually called a cake, but it’s really a towering, elegant cone of stacked cream puffs held together with caramel. In French croquembouche means “crunch in the mouth,” for the hardened caramel that covers each puff as you break it off the cake. Thank goodness my coconut-cake-cohort had this idea, or birthday guy would’ve been getting some not nearly as exciting cupcakes instead.

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As you can imagine, a croquembouche tends to strike fear into amateur bakers’ hearts. It combines all of the most temperamental and fussy things you could possibly bake. Choux pastry–the base of things like eclairs, profiteroles, and beignets–has the potential to puff up beautifully but is so delicate that one wrong breath or cat darting through the kitchen and everything deflates.

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Pastry cream, a sweet egg-based filling (almost pudding-like, but not quite), must be cooked then chilled and heaven forbid you don’t cook it all the way through because then you’ll be eating raw eggs in your pastries. (PS: My aforementioned party planning cohort/sous chef had the idea to cheat on that one and made a just as delicious fake pastry cream filling. Genius.)

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And then there’s caramel. Frightening, intimidating caramel that will burn your fingers and splatter on you and cool down so quickly you can barely get the cream puffs stacked on top of each other. Not to mention how caramel sticks to your pots and pans. Pots and pans shiver in fright when their owners mention caramel. Baker Tip: I highly recommend having a cohort/sous chef like mine to help you with the caramel when you freak out.

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But, if you are a baker brave of heart, you can absolutely make a croquembouche. This post is suddenly feeling a little medieval-quest-y, but it’s a worthy metaphor. Many challenges await along the way, beyond the above three hurdles: an 80-degree day that I guarantee will threaten deflation of your puffs; the chilling, waiting, and transporting entailed in constructing the thing; a few pots nearly sacrificed to caramel along the way; and of course, the realization that you did not actually make enough cream puffs to make a cone, and that your croquembouche will be more of a tapering cylinder.

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Don’t worry, though. None of these things will matter once you drizzle the thing with caramel, decorate with some raspberries, and put some birthday candles in. The look on birthday guy’s face (and your admitted self-satisfaction at actually making a croquembouche) will more than make up for burned fingers and untraditionally shaped French pastries. Continue reading