Mocha Cake with Caramel Frosting

When I was a kid, my grandmother used to make a caramel cake so good that my mom begged for it every year for her birthday. When I was old enough, and we no longer lived in the same town as that grandmother, I got the recipe from her and used to make it every year for my mom's birthday. I can't remember the recipe anymore, but I do remember that the cake took two sticks of butter and the frosting took another two. It wasn't... a diet cake. I liked it, but the star was definitely the caramel frosting, and something about the richness of caramel almost begs to be offset by a lightweight cake with a bitter tang to it- something with coffee and dark chocolate, not unlike this cake.

And this cake, you guys. I've never tasted anything so plush. It's literally the softest cake I've ever tasted, and while I usually equate that with a heavy texture and a lot of moisture, this one is actually really light and fluffy, which is a nice contrast with the heavy frosting. Also, the dark chocolate gives it a deep flavour with a hint of bitterness- perfect to complement the strong coffee (I used espresso) and contrast with the dense frosting topping it all off.

The most difficult part of this recipe is trying to spread incredibly thick icing onto the softest cake imaginable. It's not impossible, but you'll fare better if you plan to go a bit heavy-handed on the icing. I'd also recommend skipping the sides of the cake- the icing is so rich that the sides don't need the frosting, and you'll want the additional amount to help you cover the top of the cake completely.

It's a perfect cake for a celebration- deep, grownup chocolate cake with just enough coffee flavour coming through to persuade even the strongest anti-desserter among you that it's worth it and sweet, rich and buttery frosting to appeal to the sweet tooths in the group... which is why I found myself making it to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of The Recipe Box Project!

While year 2 has been markedly slower paced than year 1 was, I've still radically enjoyed working, reworking and writing up these recipes. There are moments when it feels like Eleanor is in my kitchen cooking along with me and the tiny hints she left behind on her most-used recipes are like little clues to guide me along this project... and then there are other times when it feels like she's sitting next to me yelling at me because I a) used all of the coffee at once instead of splitting it in half or b) measured out white sugar instead of brown or c) forgot to soften my butter or d) screwed up the conversion from imperial to metric before I added the butter to my cake.*

Icing-in-progress. Final version was not so sticky.

Icing-in-progress. Final version was not so sticky.

In two years I've learned that it's easier to keep posting regularly when I hate my job than it is when I actually enjoy my day job and the people I work with. I've learned that my kitchen in Scotland is never, ever going to be warm enough to make bread dough rise and I've learned the exact temperature I need to put the oven at in order to get my dough to rise correctly when I set it in a bowl on top of the oven. I've learned good substitutes for buttermilk, cake flour, instant yeast, Club crackers, zwieback, graham crackers and a host of other things I can't get either in Scotland or, in some instances, in the 21st century. I've also figured out exactly which recipes I can convince Judson to get excited about (anything involving marinades, meat loaf or chili) and which ones he'll whine about enough to make it worth the extra time to cook it when he's away (anything involving canned meat, Jell-O or Spam). I've got a long way to go if I'm going to make it through Eleanor's box, but it took her a lifetime to assemble those recipes, so I figure I've got time on my side.

*All of these, by the way, are mistakes I made on this cake before it was even in the pans, so don't panic next time you're facing a stupid cooking conundrum. Instead, just think of me and know that there is no way I haven't done something stupider.

The verdict:

4 spoons out of five. This cake is awesome. I knocked off a spoon because it's hard to frost and it's so rich that you couldn't have it every week, but it's still perfect for a celebration and I hope you'll give it a try on your next one.

One year ago: Swiss Chocolate Cake (still a favourite!)
NEW! two years ago: Airy, Crustless Cheesecake (not a favourite)

the recipe:

Mocha Cake with Caramel Frosting

the directions:

Divide coffee in half and put ½ c in freezer to chill.
Melt chocolate and ½ c coffee in double boiler until thick, stirring constantly.
Add ½ c brown sugar and cook 2-3 minutes more, stirring.
Set aside.
Preheat oven to 175C/350F and line two round cake pans (9”) with paper on the bottom.
Cream butter and remaining 1 c sugar.
Add vanilla, then add eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition.
Sift together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Beat cooled chocolate mixture into butter mixture.
Add dry ingredients alternately with remaining ½ c cold coffee.
Beat until smooth, then pour into prepared pans and cook 20-30 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely before frosting.


Melt butter on the stove over very low heat.
Add brown sugar and let bubble over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add cream and bring to a gentle boil, continuing to stir.
Remove from heat and, using an electric mixer, beat in powdered sugar and vanilla.
If too thick, add more cream or milk to thin. If too thin, add more powdered sugar until desired consistency.
Allow to cool until lukewarm before frosting cake.

the ingredients:
the cake:

2 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 c very strong coffee, divided
1 ½ c brown sugar, packed and divided
½ c butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 ¾ c cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt


the frosting:

½ c butter
1 c brown sugar, packed
¼ c cream
2 c powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla

Crazy Chocolate Cake

2017 has been a busy one so far. Despite the fact that yesterday was spent curled up on the couch, listening to the wind outside and reading my book for the better part of the day, we’ve been busier than usual in our neck of the woods, with protests, rallies, work events, and a cheeky girls’ trip to Paris already in the bag. This weekend we’re heading to Bath to celebrate Valentine’s Day a little early, and then seeing my favourite band in concert in Glasgow on actual Valentine’s Day evening, so I'm gearing up for another week of awesome. With such a busy month, I was stoked to find a recipe that dirtied only one bowl, was totally delicious (and tasted ‘complete’) even without frosting, required no ingredients I didn’t already have in my pantry AND let me try out a new and weird way of making a cake. Basically, this is the perfect thing to make when you’re craving chocolate cake but trying not to go overboard on labour, ingredients, time or dishes (Oh, and it's dairy-free, in case that was one of your goals for 2017!).

Relatedly, every time I pull a recipe out of the recipe box and it has a title with 'crazy' or 'impossible' or 'unbelievable' in it, I am immediately suspicious that the recipe will contain something weird, like mayonnaise or gelatin or courgettes or Oleo. But this one contains only totally normal ingredients!* It's definitely the weirdest technique I've used to make a cake in recent memory, but it's easy and leaves you with only one dirty bowl, and it's so delicious I'm already thinking up excuses for making another one.

*Recipe does include vinegar, but if you haven't made a chocolate cake with vinegar before, fear not. It seemed so weird to me the first time I made one several years ago (for Judson's 30th birthday) that I phoned my grandmother when I got to that step of the recipe to ask if that seemed normal to her. She assured me that it was, I proceeded, and I quickly learned that the best chocolate cake recipes always contain a spoonful or so of vinegar. The flavour obviously evaporates completely but the texture it leaves behind is moist, light and fluffy- a total win!

The verdict:

4 spoons out of five. Interestingly, Judson, who hates frosting, gave this a three, and I, who literally can't be trusted in front of a bowl of frosting and a spoon, give it a four. I swore I wouldn't do ½ spoons when I started the Recipe Box Project, and it's my blog, so we're going with four spoons. Even Judson acknowledges that 'people who like cake would give it a four or five.'

one year ago: Broccoli So Nice, We Cooked It Twice

the recipe:

Crazy Cake

the directions:

Preheat oven to 175C/350F and grease a 9x9-inch square pan.
Sift flour, then set aside.
Sift cocoa into a separate bowl, then sift flour, cocoa, baking soda, sugar and salt together, directly into the greased pan.
Mixture will likely have a hill in the middle, but try to sift as evenly as possible.
Make three grooves in the dry ingredients with your finger or the handle of a piece of cutlery.
Pour oil into first groove, pour vinegar into second groove and pour vanilla into third groove but DO NOT STIR YET.
Pour cold water over entire mixture, then beat with a spoon until nearly smooth and no visible flour remains (try not to scrape the bottom or sides of the pan too much as you do this).
Bake for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the middle comes out only slightly sticky.
Once cool, sift powdered sugar or coarse sanding sugar over the cake and serve warm.

the ingredients:

1 ½ c flour, sifted
3 tbsp cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1 c sugar
½ tsp salt
5 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
1 c cold water
Optional: powdered sugar or sanding sugar

Smash the Patriarchy Party Mix

It's been a rough 6 days to be an ex-pat. Living in Scotland is amazing, but being the Representative American in every. single. situation. is not always easy, and it's not always fun. I've listened to a lot of dumb jokes, I've accepted (with as much grace as I can muster) a lot of blame and I've tried my best not to make any of the stereotypes flying around any worse than they already are. Whatever your feelings are on things happening in the US right now, it's worth noting that the rest of the world is confused, scared, and angry as all get out at the current state of affairs- after all, as the saying goes, America sneezes and the world gets a cold.

So when the opportunity came around last weekend to put my money where my mouth is and show up at the Edinburgh Women's Rally, I happily went, husband and American friend in tow. It was awesome. We listened to speeches (intersectionality!), ran into friends (so many friends!) and felt like part of what's happening in the US in a way we often don't over here across the ocean. It was great to feel like something bigger than ourselves and great to remember that there are so many women who have come before us and so many, many women ready to fight the good fight now. And while I made this Party Mix with the specific intention of bringing it to the rally for snacks (and to insulate my pockets on what proved to be a sunny but frigid Edinburgh winter morning), I opted to forego it when I realised how early in the morning we had to leave our flat.

So basically, this is the perfect snack to bring when you're on the go- whether that's heading to a Women's March or out for a day of running errands- but it's equally great to put out for a party. Especially if you live in Edinburgh where most shops don't sell pre-made Chex Mix so loads of people have never even tasted it. And if you're one of those people who've never tasted it, then know this: as a kid, I thought it was so weird that my family made this for every party: who wants savoury breakfast cereal? But it turns out tonnes of people make this and everyone loves it- especially if you make it with brown butter instead of plain... and the best part is Eleanor's recipe was written in such a hurry I'm guessing at 60% of the words listed. So if something sounds good to you to add (Brown sugar? Worcestershire sauce? Mustard? Honey? Onion powder? Garlic powder? Pumpkin Seeds?), go for it. Be a nasty woman and get this done.

The verdict:

4 spoons out of five. Only taking off a spoon because it's so much better warm and I wish I had known that before I took mine to a party and tried to serve it room temperature.

One year ago: ASian Chicken two ways

the recipe:

Party Mix

the directions:

Preheat oven to 120C/250F.
Cut butter into small cubes and set aside.
Pour cheese crackers, cereal, nuts and pretzels into a cookie sheet with sides.
Scatter butter cubes around baking sheet and use your hands to mix together until butter is evenly incorporated.
Sprinkle with salt.
Place in oven and cook for 45 minutes, shaking every 15 minutes.
Serve warm for best results.
Keeps well sealed in an airtight container for 3 days.

the ingredients:

2/3 cup or 140 grams butter
2 c cheese crackers (Mini Cheddars or Cheez-Its)
2 c plain cereal (Shreddies or Chex)
1 ½ c mixed nuts (unsalted)
1 c pretzels
2 tsp salt