Easy One-Bowl Chocolate Cake with Boozy Chocolate Frosting

Were you ever kind of jealous of the boy in Matilda who had to eat an entire chocolate cake with his hands in front of the whole school as a punishment? I know I was.

I used to take every chocolate option at the sundae bar – ice cream, sauce, M&Ms, even chocolate sprinkles. Chocolate sprinkles: what sadist thought those up? You’re just gonna make these things brown and pretend it’s chocolate? Are you kidding me?

Making Stuff Brown and Pretending it’s Chocolate: The Story of All Chocolate Cake Everywhere. You can’t stop me now, I’m already up on my soapbox.

The dominant cultural narrative is that chocolate cake is the best, the richest, the most decadent. Restaurants are selling huge slabs of Seven-Layer Death By Chocolate Devil’s Food Indulgence cake, with ganache filling the approximate taste and texture of brown shoe polish. I have seen grown adults take dry little square nubs of brownie from the spread in the breakroom, just to feel something during an all-day meeting, even if that “something” is disappointment. (It was me, I took the Sadness Brownie.) Red velvet cake was a trend: that only happens in a culture deeply divorced from what actual chocolate should taste like.*

Think about the chocolate cakes that you like best. Answers on the board, please, Family Feud style:

  1. Flourless chocolate cake
  2. Chocolate lava cake
  3. Some kind of cream cheese brownie situation?

Flourless chocolate cake is just a mousse on steroids, and I’m not mad at that, but it doesn’t count. My grandad makes a chocolate whiskey gateau that’s essentially a large creamy slab of alcoholic truffle filling, with ladies’ fingers stuck on the outside for modesty’s sake. Is it perfect? Yes. Is it cake? Uhhhh…

Chocolate lava cakes – or fondant cakes as they’re called here – only work because you get the tender comfort of cake wrapped around the gooey richness of a chocolate fudge sauce. They’re hot, they’re tasty, and they’re disqualified: you can’t defend chocolate cake when your favorite kind is 70% sauce.

Cream cheese brownies are amazing, but 1. Brownies aren’t cake and 2. They’re good because of the contrast (we’ll be coming back to that).

It makes sense! The essence of chocolate, which is rich, luxurious intensity, is diluted by the essence of cake, which is light, tender delicacy. This relationship is just doomed to fail. These two love each other too hard and their child… sucks. There’s a reason the best brownie recipe in the world only calls for ¼ cup of flour.

But why were we promised a perfect chocolate cake that just doesn’t exist?  Where does that leave us? Where is the rich, dark, soil-damp chocolate cake of our Augustus Gloop dreams?

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Fried Chicken

Fried chicken is one of those foods that you’re just straight-up “not allowed” to have as an adult, according to bullshit diet culture. You learn to convince yourself it’s not that good. Fried chicken is for children, drunk college students, and people stuck at bowling alleys.

You can have chunks of over-breaded industrial protein composite, aka “boneless wings” (they’re NUGGETS, just call them what they are!!!) while “watching the game”, or you can have an artisanally-priced sandwich with too many garnishes and breading that slips right off that greasy thigh like a stocking off of an overheated lady at a brothel in the Old West.

What is even the point. This is why everyone gets all riled up when the good chicken sandwiches come from people who suck (Chick-Fil-A).

The best fried chicken is, of course, homemade. Having a Southerner in the family means that all of a sudden you have access to an entire repository of new powers, like being able to make fried chicken from scratch. This is why I love my brother-in-law Dave’s fried chicken: you just cut boneless, skinless chicken breasts (yeah, I know, spare me your gasps of horror) into tendo-sized strips, coat them with milk, egg, and flour, and fry them until they’re “brown enough” (his words), which usually means just a hint browner than golden. Boom. Done. Good.

I don’t want to hear it about how you’re only supposed to fry bone-in chicken. That is terrifying and I do not want to, even though I have seen it done well with my own eyes (at the best house party I’ve ever been to, because said party featured a beautiful handsome man frying bone-in chicken for everybody because he “didn’t want to talk to anyone.” Marriage material. Anyway.)

What? The Far Side is timeless.

Frying stuff in a vat of hot oil is scary enough, and I’m not here to tell you the “right” way to cook. I’m here to tell you how I cook. I want you to be able to have fried chicken as god intended: hot, fresh, light, crispy, with the Right Amount of breading and a Minimal Amount of fuss.

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Bolognese

Every person who has or ever has had a “functioning” uterus understands that there comes a point in your life when it becomes very clear that you are nothing but a soaked sponge held in the vice grip of cruel fate. You are merely a tragic bag of hormone-laced seawater being systematically wrung out like the sweaty gym towel of some uncaring god. You are both metaphorically being squeezed in the iron grip of and also punched in the gonads by that stupid giant steel fist statue they have in Detroit.

Yeah. Sucks to be you.

Cheer up, they tell you. It’s not so bad, they say. After all, what could possibly compare to the beautiful, mystical, earthy dignity of having your viscera vigorously pumped like a straining accordion in the meaty hands of a busker who thinks people tip by volume. It only happens every month!

But you did not come here to read about the cosmic injustice that is menstruation. This is, ostensibly, a food blog. “Gross”, you may be thinking to yourself. “Yuck. This is, as recipe preambles go, decidedly unappetizing.” And you would not be wrong.

But, as my insides are performing an orderly evacuation via their nearest emergency exit, I am here to extol to you the virtue of patience and to remind you that this blog is free. During the course of my current agonies, only two things adequately soothe: watching people die crunchily on various supernatural television soap operas, and meat sauce.

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Chocolate Babka

Well. Are we having fun yet? This week I feel, more than usual, like a bug smashed on the windshield of world events.

Usually the cure for stress is to take a bath or read a book on the couch. But sometimes all you want to do is whip your phone at the wall like a dodgeball, which is when you have to get up and take a walk.

Kierkegaard says there’s no bad mood a long walk can’t cure, and I also say this. Some weeks, though, you can’t go anywhere. Some weeks you get bee-booped by the government on your COVID app and you have to self-isolate for 14 days (I’m fine, we’re fine, everything’s fine.)

So you find yourself wearing an apron over a nightgown over a hoodie over a different nightgown and thinking, “Yeah! This is what people wear! Let’s make some brioche.”

the top nightgown is technically an oversized sweater-dress – I call her the slanket and she is precious to me

Welcome to Babka Club.

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Coffee and Walnut Cake

Sometimes you freak yourself out, and you don’t even know you’re doing it. You’re going along, doing all the right things, going for walks and doing yoga and eating vegetables and it’s all fine, and then you go into a crowded corner store (that WASN’T crowded when you went in but then like 8 people showed up out of nowhere and the owner guy isn’t wearing a mask and oh God) and your whole equilibrium is fucked.

Other times, there’s a violent insurrection/coup attempt in the city where your sister lives and works and which is also the seat of your government. Cool.

There is a particular cake I turn to when everything is fucked, when your plans aren’t going according to plan. When you need both a pick-me-up and a sit-me-down. Meet coffee walnut cake.

Fun fact: we ate almost this whole cake between the Monday when this post was first drafted and the Thursday it went up, so all the glamour shots are of The Final Slice. It’s been a week, okay?
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Traditional Challah

Dough can smell fear.

clever girl

I understand being intimidated by bread. Some doughs require you to have the patience of a saint, others need quick thinking and quicker hands, but all of them need you to have the courage of your convictions. Much like flipping a pancake, making bread only gets easier with practice.

In my humble o, there’s no better bread to practice on than this one. This recipe comes from a 70’s synagogue fundraiser cookbook that my parents got as a wedding gift. The page is marked in my mother’s perfect handwriting with a little star and the phrase “THIS ONE!”, because there are a billion different challah recipes in there. (No one wanted to be the Tzimmes Lady, apparently.)

Mum’s right, though. It is this one. This is the recipe.

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Cheesy Biscuits with Garlic Butter

Remember going to restaurants? My great aunt and uncle took me to this one place with cheese popovers so good that I blacked out and took down at least eight between one blink and the next. I don’t even remember what else they served there, and I don’t care. People always tell you not to “ruin your appetite”, but Red Lobster knows no one’s going there for the fish-fry free-for-all. It’s the biscuits. It’s always been the biscuits.

This week I present to you The Biscuits, and you don’t have to save room for anything if you don’t want to. No one cares if you ruin your appetite this year.

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Peanut Butter Pie with Chocolate Ganache

I got this recipe from a dear family friend who I think might be trying to kill us. This pie is a towering monument to peanut butter in its most decadent form: rich, fluffy mousse dotted with chopped roasted peanuts and topped with a dark, intense chocolate ganache. The original recipe was written, presumably, by demons:

“Lies” is because you put 1/4c peanut butter in the crust and 3/4c in the pie, but SOME of us measured out a whole cup all together and are still mad about it. The green arrow is because how do you whip cream before you measure it. Tell me how.

This is an all-killer no-filler situation. There are no eggs or flour, no fig leaf of pretense that this is anything other than a full whipped-cream fantasy tethered just barely to this plane of reality by cream cheese and a prayer. This dream team of creams came here to make your tastebuds an offer they can’t refuse, when you were just trying to have a peaceful, relaxing afternoon in the steam room/at the bocce courts/wherever old mob guys hang out nowadays.

This recipe creates a substance whose ideal unit of consumption is the finger-swipe, and I’m giving you three ways to make it because most of us are not strong enough to absorb it in larger quantities, as its original form dictates. If you dive straight into what would usually be a normal slice of pie it’ll melt your face right off like the Ark of the Covenant. But, I don’t know, maybe some of you are into that.

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Golden Latkes

Fried potato is one of the most delicious things you can eat, but I understand not wanting to make potato pancakes from scratch. When hours of work can turn so easily into nothing but grey-brown lumps of sadness and broken dreams, I fully understand the urge to rip off all your clothes and take to the hills, screaming, to live out the rest of your days as a hermit. Or at least, to run out to the store, pick up a pack of frozen hash-browns and call it a day.

And frozen hash-browns are delicious. They were a staple of my college dining hall brunch buffet, and they’re the one frozen potato product sold in the UK that doesn’t suck. (Why is this? This is a largely potato-based culture, you’d think they’d have it figured out by now.) But they are not the same as latkes. Hash-browns are for hangovers, and latkes are for joy.

Latkes are for special occasions. Latkes are for celebrating how great life is and how lucky we are to be living it. Your first thought on eating a latke should be “I can’t believe this is happening to me. I can’t believe I actually get to eat this. I need 5 more of these, immediately.”

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Bomb-Ass Hot Chocolate

There’s a phenomenon in British weather that I like to call “the swirly”, where a storm will come in over the Atlantic, hang out for a few days, shimmy over to France, bounce off of Norway, and come back for round two a couple days later.

I now get why small talk about the weather is a thing here. In Chicago, as unpleasant as it might get, at least you can look at Colorado and brace yourself for tomorrow. And it’s not gonna then rebound off of Pittsburgh and come back as its own sequel.

This week’s dunk in the metaphorical weather toilet MIGHT just bring us snow tomorrow, but today it’s just this:

Storm 2: The Stormening

That’s why my work-from-home setup looks like this:

This is the best hot chocolate I know how to make. Believe me when I tell you you don’t need a trendy hot chocolate bomb or a flashy pre-made mix.

This is better.

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