I love, love, love me some Bloggess, y’all, so when I found out that she’d added a stop in North Carolina to her book tour, I *had* to go, even if it was over two hours away.

And then I thought – you know, wouldn’t it be fun to bring cake?  And to try my hand at making something fun for the topper?

I’ve never made an edible taxidermied mouse before…

There were at least a hundred people there.  There was spontaneous applause as I brought the cake up and put it on the table up front.  Here’s the inspiration for the cake:

And a closeup of Mr. Hamlet von Schnizzle (sp):

The details:

Cake is Chocolate Buttermilk Cake from Maida Heatter’s Chocolate cookbook.  Filled and frosted with chocolate ganache and some strawberry puree I made the other day. [ Note: never, ever make this cake again.  The taste was wonderful, but the texture was pure crumb!  Cutting it caused it to explode into a pile of crumbs.  Tasty crumbs, but still.  Horrible to try and serve without getting cake everywhere.  Sorry, Books a Million. ] 

Hamlet is made of marzipan rolled in coconut, his hands, feet, teeth and ears are gumpaste.  The eyes are redhots, and the cape (thank you for the great idea, George!) is a fruit rollup enhanced with some sparkle dust.  The metal pole up his butt holding him upright (marzipan mice are rather topheavy) is a flower nail.  🙂  I tried to make the ruff out of marzipan, but it was big and clunky so I left it off.

This was tremendous fun, and I’m so glad I got to meet Jenny and bring a smile to her face!  I had slipped away during part of her Q&A to go pick up a copy of the book so I could have it signed, which is of course when she said something about the cake, so I missed my big moment, but it was fine.  Great crowd!

And I got to listen to the audiobook on the way there and back with my friend Kelley, which was hilarious and there’s enough added content and fun in it that I highly recommend it, even if you already have the book.  Seriously.

Double Rainbow Chocolate Sorbet

In my continuing efforts to deal with the “no dairy, no soy” dietary restrictions, I’m always on the lookout for desserts that  I can both eat without guilt, and with pleasure.  So when I saw this on the shelf at my local Harris-Teeter, I picked it up.

The ingredients are thus: Sugar, Non GM corn syrup, cocoa processed with alkali, natural cocoa, carob bean gum, guar gum, carrageenan.

It’s 99% fat free, has no dairy, uses no soy (yay!), is gluten-free, and the calorie count is reasonable for a snack (120 calories for a 1/2 cup serving, 5 of them from fat). (More info about the company and their products here.)

So, how did it taste?

Obviously, the lack of butterfat means that it doesn’t taste like ice cream.  No getting away from that.  But the chocolate flavor is rich (although with a hint of that weird plastickiness that I associate with carob – this isn’t belgian chocolate, folks, and doesn’t pretend otherwise), and the sorbet is creamy and has good mouthfeel.

Honestly, the closest thing I can say that this comes to in flavor/texture is the Fudgesicle Fudge Pops – remember those?

Fudgsicle Fudge Pops

Mind you, I like fudge pops.  So for me, having an entire tub of solid fudgepop isn’t a bad thing, but ymmv.



It’s been a few months since I’ve managed to make the CSB cake, but I’m back on track!

This month’s cake presented some challenges.  The cake recipe itself came out very moist, almost wet – which made it a bit of a handful to work with while decorating.  The white chocolate mousse failed entirely the first time around (mostly because I misread and added all of the cream to the chocolate – hence the white chocolate ‘sauce’ you’ll see in a later pic), but I made  a milk chocolate mousse the second time around (being out of white chocolate) and it was still really soft – the extra chocolate liqueur should have helped it hold up more, but others reported soft mousse as well, so if I were making this again I’d use some other mousse recipe.  The frosting came out fine, although it took longer to set up for the final coat than I’d like, and it was un-pipeable.  I wanted to do something more interesting for decoration, but it really wasn’t going to happen with this frosting.

The taste was great, though – the cake was soft and flavorful, the frosting was dense and fudgy, and the mousse had soaked into the layers enough to make nice gooey mess.  Incredibly rich – I’ve had two parties now with this cake and still have some left over.  Help!

Slice of cake with some white chocolate 'sauce'

Slice of cake with some white chocolate ‘sauce’

Recipe: Triple Chocolate Fudge Cake
(from the Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes cookbook)
Makes a 9″ triple layer case – serves 16 to 20


2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour [I used White Lily]
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder [I used Ghirardelli]
2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup milk
1 1/4 cups hot, strongly brewed coffee
2 eggs
1 cup mayonnaise (use real mayonnaise and not a low fat or fat-free version or anything labeled “salad dressing”)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups sugar

White Chocolate Mousse (recipe below)
Sour Cream Chocolate Icing (recipe below)

Finished layer


1. Heat oven to 350F. Butter bottom and sides of 3 (9-inch) cake pans. Line bottom of pans with parchment or wax paper and butter the paper.

2. For batter, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside the dry ingredients.

3. Put chopped chocolate in heat-proof bowl. Bring milk to a simmer. Pour the hot coffee and milk over the chocolate. Let stand 1 minute, then whisk until smooth. Let the mocha liquid cool slightly.

4. In a mixer bowl, beat together the eggs, mayonnaise, and vanilla until well blended. Gradually beat in sugar. Add dry ingredients and coffee liquid alternately in 2 or 3 additions, beating until smooth. Divide batter among pans.

5. Bake 25-28 minutes, or until pick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cakes cool in pans on wire racks 10-15 minutes. Unmold cakes. Peel off paper lining and cool completely, at least 1 hour. (The layers can be baked a day ahead, wrap well, and refrigerated)

To Assemble the Cake:

1. Place one cake layer flat-side up on cake stand. Cover top with half the white chocolate mousse, leaving 1/4 -inch margin around edge. Repeat with second layer.

2. Set third layer on top and pour half the sour cream chocolate over the filled cake. Spread all over the sides and top. Don’t worry if cake shows through. The first frosting is to seal in the crumbs which is whey professinal call it a “crumb coat”. Refrigerate cake uncovered for at least 30 minutes to allow the icing to set. Cover the rest of the icing and set aside at room temperature.

3. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining icing, which should have the consistency of mayonnaise. If the icing becomes too soft, chill briefly. If icing becomes too stiff, microwave on high 2 or 3 seconds to soften, and then stir to mix well. Use an offset palatte knife or the back of a spoon to swirl the frosting decoratively around the cake.

White Chocolate Mousse:

4 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1 egg white
1 tablespoon sugar

For mousse, melt white chocolate with 1/4 cup cream in a double boiler or in a small metal bowl set over a pan of very hot water. Whisk until smooth. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

When it has cooled, beat the remaining 3/4 cup heavy cream until soft peaks form. In another clean bowl, whip egg white with sugar until fairly stiff peaks form.

Fold the beaten egg white into white chocolate cream. Then fold in the whipped cream just until blended (do not overwhip or your icing will split).

[I tried this with milk chocolate and it was still too mushy; after refrigerating for an hour, I was able to get some of it into the middle of the cake using the big gaps made by the sunken cake bits to hold it in.  Still, it was tasty.]

Egg white awaiting folding into ganache

Egg white awaiting folding into ganache

Sour Cream Chocolate Icing:

12 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 stick unsalted butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 cup half-and-half, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature

Melt chocolate with butter and corn syrup in a double boiler over barely simmering water or in a heavy pan over very low heat. Remove from heat and whisk until smooth.

Whisk in half-and-half and sour cream. Use while soft.

Chocolate Basil Tartelet

Chocolate Basil Tartelet

We went to the Farmer’s Market yesterday, our first time to the one in Durham.  We’ve lived in Durham for over two years now and never had been – either we go to the one we’re used to in Carrboro (huge and wonderful), or (much more likely) we don’t wake up on Saturday until far too late to bother going at all.

But, we’re still mildly recovering from being five hours ahead of ourselves in Scotland, so we were up bright and early on Saturday, and decided to give it a whirl.

It was much smaller than the one in Carrboro, but also much closer to us, with a good mix of vendors.  We got some mixed greens for stir-frying, a pint each of muscadines and scuppernongs, a loaf of whole-wheat artisinal bread, and a bunch of fresh basil.

Normally, I’d have a huge forest of basil growing out in the herb garden, but this year I didn’t end up planting anything, so all we have are rosemary and sage.  So limiting!  So I couldn’t resist a bunch of delicious-smelling basil.

But, what to do with it?  (Oh, the horror, what a conundrum)  We were planning to go to a Beatles-themed rock band get-together, and I wanted to take something sweet, so I pulled out Desserts From an Herb Garden and found this recipe.  It was delicious!  and a big hit – the hosts had made strawberry sauce for other purposes, which went lovely with these little tarts.

Chocolate Basil Truffle Rounds

from Desserts From an Herb Garden, by Sharon Kebschull Barrett


6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons minced basil leaves
3/4 lb (12 oz)  bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
3 eggs, separated
2 Tablespoons sugar


1. Preheat oven to 350F; butter or grease eight 4-inch removable-bottom tartlet tins (I used disposable tart cups); set tins on baking sheet.

2. Melt butter with basil leaves in the top of a double boiler set over (not touching) barely simmering water.  Add chocolate; stir often until chocolate is melted.  Set aside top pan to cool slightly; mixture will be very thick.

Also, I probably heated more than I should have b/c I kept seeing ‘lumps’, which were actually basil leaf chunks.  oops.

3. In a medium bowl, beat egg whites until they form soft peaks; add sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.  In a small bowl, whisk egg yolks until bubbly; whisk into chocolate mixture.  Fold in about 1/4 cup beaten whites to lighten the chocolate mixture, then gently but thoroughly fold in remaining whites.

4. Divide batter among tins.  Bake 15 minutes, until tops have just set (mixture will still be soft in the middle).  Let cool on a wire rack (the puffed tops will fall), then chill, covered, until ready to serve.

I slightly overbaked, hence my non-fallen tops and sort of crumbly texture to finished product.  I’d definitely check after  10 minutes.

5.  To serve, remove tin sides.  With a thin-bladed metal spatula, lift rounds from the bases and transfer to dessert plates.  Serve cold or at room temperature, with a dollop of whipped cream or a small pool of custard sauce (or fruit sauce!); garnish with basil sprigs.

We’re still puttering around with the various food restrictions, trying to find tasty things to make that we can all eat  (as a reminder, Jeff is gluten-free, I’m dairy- and soy-free, and we’re both vegetarian; plus we have a good friend who is gluten- and dairy-free and vegetarian who eats with us regularly. )

So you can imagine, when I saw this on the shelves at Trader Joe’s the other month, I snapped it up:

Trader Joe's Gluten-free brownies

Trader Joe's Gluten-free brownies

In the teeny fine print on front, it proudly proclaims:

“This mix is free of Wheat, Peanuts, Tree nuts, Milk & Dairy, Soy, & Corn.”

Also, no preservatives  or artifical colors or flavors.

(What’s left, you may ask?  Good question – mostly brown rice flour and cane syrup. )

You mix in oil, egg, and water (although I replaced the oil with a half-half mix of applesauce and hazelnut oil).  Chocolate chips are optional (although of course I added some! )

The finished product was very gooey and almost imperceptibly GF – we served them at our Fourth of July party and got tons of raves, but nobody twigged to the fact that they were pretty much everything-free.  Sounds like a win to me!

Gluten- Soy- Dairy-free brownies!

Gluten- Soy- Dairy-free brownies!

For another take on these, check out Baking Bites.

It’s a new month, and just in time for Father’s day comes this lovely collection of new truffles.  I hope you’ll stop by and check them out!

June’s Flavors:

Whisky Truffles

Whisky Truffles

Whisky – A dark chocolate truffle made with Dalmore 12-year Scotch Whisky. This highland single-malt has notes of citrus, spice, and cream, pairing beautifully with Belgian dark chocolate for an experience you won’t soon forget.

Half-sphere, or gold-dusted puramid.

Hazelnut Praline – Smooth and creamy milk chocolate paired with caramelized hazelnuts; covered in dark Belgian couverture.

Plain pyramid.

Ginger Truffles

Ginger Truffles

Ginger – Each truffle contains a dark chocolate ganache infused with ginger as well as a piece of candied ginger for a spicy/sweet treat.

Geodesic half-sphere, or triangle.

Truffle Squared (Truffle2) – Dark chocolate ganache with a touch of white truffle oil. Simple, earthy, and elegant.

Cocoa-dusted hand-rolled.

Espresso Cup

Espresso Cup

Espresso Cups – Espresso-infused dark chocolate ganache topped with a chocolate-covered espresso bean. A real eye-opener!

Available in 2, 4, and 6-piece assortments.  Enjoy!

Guess free chocolate’s popular 🙂 Drew and Thomas estimated we had around 180 people over the course of the evening – they ran out of wine glasses, I ran out of samples.. I also sold all but 6 of the small boxes of chocolate (that’s over 170 pieces of chocolate sold! More than that given away), making it a tremendously successful weekend.  Woot!

No pictures because we forgot the camera 😦  But I’ll get some the next time.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by, and welcome to any new readers!

Birthday cake for a *very* lucky boy

Birthday cake for a *very* lucky boy

So, my dearest darling husband turned 30 Sunday (yay!).  I’d asked him a few months ago what he wanted for his birthday cake, and he told me that his mom used to make the Death by Chocolate cake (from the Desaulniers book) for special occasions (such as his 20th bday), and that he’d love it.  So that was that!

(Actually, he said something more like, “Death!  No, wait, cake!  I meant cake!” because we’re both huge Eddie Izzard geeks in this house.)

The DbC cake is not, strictly speaking, a cake.  It consists of several layers:

(from the bottom up):
Brownie layer
Ganache layer
Cocoa Meringue layer
Espresso Mousse layer
Second brownie layer

Then you cover the entire thing in more ganache, and pipe chocolate mousse stars on the top.

Oh, and you serve it on a lake of Mocha Rum Sauce.

Cake of Death

Cake of Death

[Note: You really, really don’t want to know how many calories this thing has.  Desaulniers tells you, at the end of the recipe, and it’s shocking.  Now, his number is based on a 12-person serving size, which is ridiculous – the cake is so dense and rich that it served 20 handily with some left over – and most people still couldn’t finish their slice.  But still, we’re talking a quadruple-digit calorie count, easily.  You’ve been warned.]

I started the cake a few days early with the brownie layer, which I then froze to await slicing and construction on the day of our party (Saturday).  The chocolate mousse needed to refrigerate at least three hours, so it got made on Friday. Friday night I also made the cocoa meringue, which takes something like 3+ hours in the oven, plus outside cooling time.  It was pretty:



Saturday morning I needed to make only the ganache, espresso mousse, and mocha rum sauce.  Piece of cake, right?

Not so much.

Ganache should not look like this

Ganache should not look like this

Until my ganache broke.  Which has never happened to me before.  As there was a pound and a half of callebaut chocolate in it, I wasn’t going to give up easily.  I tried adding some more chocolate – no go.  I tried adding more fat (to soak up all of this horrid extra liquid; cocoa butter) – no go.  I went to the web and found a procedure that called for taking half of it and heating to 130F, and cooling the other half to 60F, and then whizzing them together – this also failed, at which point I gave up and stuck it in a tub to be used in making ice cream.

Ganache should *definitely* not look like this

Ganache should *definitely* not look like this

Another trip to the store to get some more cream so I’d have enough to make everything, and of course, by this time it’s less than four hours to the party, and the house isn’t clean yet, and the cake has to chill for at least four hours before you can cut it… argh!

In the end, it all got done.  The espresso mousse was more like espresso-chip mousse (how do you get the (room-temperature) chocolate and (cold) whipped cream to incorporate together without chocolate chunks?  I never can manage it), and I forgot to give people the mocha rum sauce until they’d gotten halfway through their pieces, but I netted two and a half offers of marriage (one from the description alone; the half-offer was from someone who was probably worried I might take it the wrong way), so not bad.  🙂

Maybe marriage-offers should be part of a ranking system for chocolate desserts?  1-star, offered only servitude.  2-star, at least one offer of marriage.  3-star, more than two offers.  thoughts?


side shot

My thoughts on the cake?  Although the layers were individually really lovely (I didn’t taste the espresso mousse, though, as I hate the taste of coffee) I didn’t feel that they played together particularly well.  The meringue layer, in particular, just sort of stood out as something Not Like the Others.  It was an incredibly expensive cake to make, and took a lot of work, so I don’t think I’ll be offering this one for sale anytime soon (although I’ve been informed that it will be the birthday cake that my very good friend C. purchases for his girlfriend next November).

In particular, there is a lot of folding, which I can’t do left-handed and which ended up aggravating my RSIs.  But, Jeff loved his birthday cake, so that’s what counts!

We managed to make all of the cake go away at the end of the evening, although I still have a couple cups of mocha rum sauce left over, plus a plate full of chocolate peanut-butter mousse bars.  And a tub full of beer.  Sounds like we need to have another party…

A selection of goodies

A selection of goodies

Now that I have your attention…

I am happy to announce a new collaboration between SugarPunk Desserts (specifically, Chocolates) and the Hope Valley Bottle Shop!  HVBS will be the exclusive wine-based retailer for SugarPunk Chocolates in the Triangle area – so unless you’re ordering them from me, this is the place to go to get some chocolatey love.

HVBS is my local wine shop – the owners, Drew and Thomas, are friendly and knowledgeable about wine – we’ve never been disappointed with something they’ve recommended.  The shop has been around for about a year, and is located in the Woodcroft Shopping Center, in Durham.  They also have an interesting selection of beers – Jeff’s been in heaven trying new things.  🙂

To celebrate our new partnership, there will be a complimentary chocolate and wine tasting on Friday, April 17th from 5:30pm-8:00pm.

Come check out my new flavors (lineup not finalized yet), meet me and the bottle shop owners, and hang out with other fine chocolate devotees!

I also encourage you to check out the website, and sign up for the newsletter – HVBS has weekly wine tastings and many other interesting events coming up that you might enjoy!

Hope Valley Bottle Shop

Woodcroft Shopping Center
4711 Hope Valley Rd.
Durham,North Carolina
Chocolate-hazelnut brownies

Chocolate-hazelnut brownies

The other week I tried Sweets Made Here’s Ferrero Rocher Cupcake Recipe, and while I loved the results (as did all of my tasters), I did feel that the cupcake part of the product got dry really, really fast (a problem with cupcakes).  Also, eating them was a messy process.

So, the idea came to me to simplify and reorganize.  I have a brownie recipe I adore, after much testing, maybe I could jazz it up?

Ohh yes, I certainly could.  The idea was simple: One pan of brownies (jazzed up with hazelnuts and Frangelico); use the back end of a wooden spoon to poke holes in the warm brownies; fill the holes with Nutella; spread chocolate chips (or callets) on top and heat to melt; sprinkle chopped hazelnuts on top.

They are… amazing.  I’ve served them at parties twice now, and after a couple of hours not a crumb was left.  Plus, I could hear people telling other folks who hadn’t had them yet about them.  There was much raving.  And now, I share with you!

Chocolate-Hazelnut Brownies

(Brownie recipe adapted from Hershey’s Easy Baking, a book someone gave me as a gift last year)

Makes 1 9×13 pan



1 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 tsp Frangelico or Hazelnut extract
4 eggs
3/4 cup Ghirardelli cocoa (I found this has the best flavor, compared with a number of other similarly-priced or cheaper cocoas)
1 cup AP flour (I use White Lily)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts, skins removed as best you can.


About 1/2 cup nutella.

About three handfuls of chocolate chips and/or bittersweet callets (I have used both Callebaut 60/40 callets, and Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips for this; both work just fine)

1-2 cups chopped toasted hazelnuts, skins removed.

1. Heat oven to 350F.  Grease 13x9x2 baking pan.  For a much easier time of life, line the pan with heavy foil and grease that.  Cutting brownies gets much easier this way.

2. Melt butter.  Stir in sugar and Frangelico/extract.  Add eggs, one at  a time, beating well after each addition.  Add cocoa, beat til blended.  Add flour, baking powder, and salt, beat well.  Stir in nuts.  Pour into prepared pan.

3. Bake 30-35 minutes or until edges begin to pull away from sides of pan.

4. After removing from oven, use the reverse end of a wooden spoon to poke holes into the brownie at regular intervals.  (depends on how much you like nutella.  I think I ended up making holes about every square inch 🙂  Fill with nutella while brownies are still warm (I used a piping bag and a medium round tip; you could use a sturdy plastic baggie.  Very sturdy, as in freezer-strength; the nutella is stiff enough that it’ll split a standard sandwich bag.)

5. Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top of the brownies, and return to oven for a couple of minutes to soften/melt.  Spread evenly over top of brownies using a spatula or some other tool.  Sprinkle the nuts on top while chocolate is melty.

6. Cool completely in pan.  Cut into bars.

Now, if you use straight-up chips for the top, when it’s completely cooled, what you’ll have is solid chocolate, which can fragment when you cut it.  Best to cut it when it’s only mostly solid; or make some kind of ganache frosting (too much work for me!).  If you don’t care if it’s melty (as in, people will be eating them in 30 seconds flat anyways), just cut  them up while it’s still gooey.  I have found, though, that the brownies are soft enough that they want some time chilling in the fridge (or outdoors) to firm up enough to cut without falling apart.  If you want to individually wrap these suckers for storage in the freezer, or gifts, I’d advise cutting while semi-solid, then chilling until fully solid, then wrapping.

But who are we kidding, like they’ll last that long!   Ha.

I mean, who could resist this:

Pan full o' brownies.

Pan full o’ brownies.