Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting (and a story about burnout)

Hi. Is anybody still here?

I’ve been a little MIA recently, owing mostly to the burnout I’ve been rocketing toward for the last year. It happened gradually—I went down to one post a week in February, quit posting to social media in June, didn’t do anything blog-related during my vacation in August, then took three more weeks away. I tried everything in my power not to disappear completely from this place, but nearly seven years into this endeavor, I was just…tired.

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting (and a story about burnout)​

Running this one-woman show isn’t easy. Between testing, photographing, writing, posting, and promoting, each post takes about twelve hours start-to-finish. I make income from this blog, but throwing all the daily tasks of running it on top of my day job, trying to have some semblance of a social life, and regularly scheduled introvert hours had me on the verge of a breakdown. So, I stepped away.

I didn’t stop baking though. In fact, I have baked more. I have baked, dare I say, *better.* With more passion, without any expectations. I made things I wanted to make, whether or not they were seasonally appropriate or trending.

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting

Take this Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting, for instance. I wanted to make it for months, and finally did it once I took the pressure off myself. It’s old-fashioned and simple, made with my go-to chocolate cake recipe and finished with a silky, tangy chocolate frosting. It’s rich and chocolaty, unfussy and unpretentious, with a glossy finish usually reserved for the cover of Southern Living Magazine. In short, it’s everything I want in a chocolate cake. I’m just glad I finally took the time to make it. I hope you will, too.

I am a little hesitant to dive back in here, but I think I am ready to get back to blogging. I’ve missed it. Posts may be twice a week or may just be once depending on how the rest of my life is going. For now though, I am back and oh-so glad to be in this little corner of the internet.

Hello, out there.

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting
Chocolate Cake
makes two 9-inch round layers

Cake:
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch Process)
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light or dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon espresso granules (optional, but recommended)
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup neutral-flavored oil (I use canola)
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk (low fat is fine)
1 cup boiling water

For assembly:
1 recipe Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting (below)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment and grease again. Set aside.

Make the cake batter. In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, granulated sugar, brown sugar, espresso granules (if using), baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to distribute ingredients evenly. Set aside.

In a separate medium-large mixing bowl, whisk together oil and eggs, followed by vanilla and buttermilk. Whisk half the egg mixture into the dry ingredients, just until combined. Add half the boiling water. Whisk in the remaining egg mixture followed by the remaining water. Batter will be thin.

Divide batter evenly between the pans. Tap full pans on the counter five times to release any air bubbles. Bake 25-27 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Let cakes cool in their pans for at least 30 minutes. Run a small, thin knife around the edges. Invert cakes onto cooling racks and discard parchment. Allow to cool to room temperature.

While layers are cooling, make the frosting (recipe below).

Assemble the cake. Place one layer on a cake plate. Top with about 3/4 cup frosting, then sandwich the other layer on top. Frost and decorate cake as desired.

Frosted cake will keep covered at room temperature for up to two days, and in the refrigerator for up to a week.


Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting
makes enough for two 9-inch round layers

2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
6 tablespoons (heaping 1/3 cup) full-fat sour cream

In a medium mixing bowl, sift together confectioner’s sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Whisk together to distribute evenly.

In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Beat in half the dry ingredients, scraping down the bowl as necessary. It may seem like too much, but it will incorporate. Mix in remaining dry ingredients. Add vanilla and sour cream, then beat on high for 2-3 minutes, until smooth and fluffy. Use to frost a 9-inch round layer cake (or whatever).

Crispy, Crunchy Sprinkle Sugar Cookies

How has it been more than six months since I posted a rainbow sprinkle recipe?! I hardly know who I am anymore!

Just kidding. I know exactly who I am: a woman with a drawer in her kitchen that is only for sprinkles. I’ve got my priorities in order.

Crispy, Crunchy Sprinkle Sugar Cookies​

Today’s sprinkly recipe? Crispy, Crunchy Sprinkle Sugar Cookies! They’re a take on my go-to crunchy cookie formula, this time scented with vanilla and bursting with colorful sprinkles inside and out. Though I was once a soft-cookie-only person, I can’t help but love these crispy, colorful cookies!

Crispy, Crunchy Sprinkle Sugar Cookies are super easy to make, but the method is a little different from most drop cookie recipes. Instead of being creamed with the sugar, the butter is added to all the dry ingredients—a method called reverse creaming—and the dough is bound with a spoonful of light corn syrup rather than an egg. Together, these things keep the gluten from developing and the moisture level low, resulting in crunchy cookies. The lack of chill and longer bake time help too, and they also mean that these cookies can be made in under an hour start-to-finish. Score!

Crispy, Crunchy Sprinkle Sugar Cookies

Crispy, Crunchy Sprinkle Sugar Cookies are just what they sound like: crispy, crunchy, and chock full of sprinkles! In addition to providing tons of color, the sprinkle coating adds even more crunch—so good. That said, if you’re not ready to come over to the crispy side just yet, I’ve got your back. You can never have too many sprinkle cookie recipes, you know?

Crispy, Crunchy Sprinkle Sugar Cookies
Crispy, Crunchy Sprinkle Sugar Cookies
makes 22 cookies

1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 tablespoon light corn syrup (or golden syrup or mild honey)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup rainbow sprinkles (jimmies, not nonpareils)

For coating:
1/3 cup rainbow sprinkles (jimmies or nonpareils)

Arrange oven racks in central positions. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Cut softened butter into 8 pieces and add them to the mixing bowl. Starting at low speed and increasing as ingredients become incorporated, use an electric mixer to mix the butter into the flour/sugar mixture until powdery and wet-sandy. You may need to stop a time or two to break up larger pieces of butter.

Add corn syrup and vanilla and mix to combine. Dough will look crumbly, but should hold together well when pinched.

Add the sprinkles to the dough and mix them in with a silicone spatula (or wooden spoon) until evenly distributed and the dough is a cohesive unit.

Pour sprinkles for coating into a shallow bowl.

Scoop the dough by the tablespoon and roll into balls. Roll each ball around in the bowl of sprinkles until completely coated. Place dough balls 2-3 inches apart on prepared pans (I fit 12 on each half-sheet pan). Bake for 9 minutes, then rotate the pans top-to-bottom and front-to-back. Bake another 7-8 minutes, until a bit puffy and turning golden at the edges.

Let cookies cool for 7 minutes on the pans. Remove to a rack to cool completely. Serve.

Leftover cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week. Depending on your area’s weather, they may soften a bit over time.

Sour Cream French Toast

Sour Cream French Toast

There are pancake people and waffle people, but I am 200% French toast people. Do I like pancakes and waffles? Sure do! But when Sunday morning rolls around and I go to make myself a special breakfast, nine times out of ten, it’s French toast. I’ve made it so many times at this point that I can do it without having coffee first—a miracle. I always have some form of the basic ingredients (bread, eggs, milk, maple syrup) on hand…or at least almost always.

Sour Cream French Toast

You see, if I were a person who prepares, this recipe might not be here right now. One Sunday morning last month, I had run out of dairy milk, almond milk, and heavy cream, leaving me with few options to get my French toast fix. Just when I was preparing to pack it in and go get a bagel, I noticed a half-empty container of sour cream, thought “that might work,” and ten test batches later, here we are. Sour cream is the secret to my go-to waffles and now my current favorite French toast—you know it won’t be long before I’m making sour cream pancakes!

Sour Cream French Toast is super easy to make and incredibly delicious—buttery and eggy with the slightest sour cream tang. The method is the same as classic French toast: mix together a quick vanilla custard, dip day-old bread into it, then fry in butter until golden. Finish with maple syrup and fruit (and a sweetened sour cream topping) and call it breakfast. Like I said, it’s so easy I can make it before I’m caffeinated.

Sour Cream French Toast

I need to give a little disclaimer that the batch pictured is double the written recipe. I wasn’t having a party or anything—I just like cold leftover French toast. It gives me the same vibe as cold leftover macaroni & cheese, but without all the cheese and pasta. Does that make sense? Probably not. But the best things in life (and breakfast) don’t have to.

Sour Cream French Toast

Now, tell me. Are you pancake, waffle, or French toast people? Or do you have another go-to sweet brunch? Inquiring bakers want to know!

Sour Cream French Toast
Sour Cream French Toast
makes 8 slices (3-4 servings)

Sour Cream Topping (optional):
1/3 cup full-fat sour cream
1 tablespoon light brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

French toast:
1/2 cup full-fat sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
2 large eggs
8 thick slices day-old brioche (or challah)
2-3 tablespoons butter, for cooking

For serving (optional):
pure maple syrup
fresh fruit of choice
sour cream topping (recipe above)
confectioner’s sugar

Make the sour cream topping, if using. Combine sour cream, brown sugar, and vanilla in a small bowl. Use a fork to whisk until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

Preheat oven to 200F. Set an ovenproof cooling rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Set aside.

Make the French toast. In a small-medium mixing bowl, whisk together sour cream, vanilla, brown sugar, and salt. Add eggs one at a time, whisking until smooth. Pour mixture into a shallow dish.

Heat a large (10-12 inch) heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and swirl to coat.

Working with 3-4 slices of day-old brioche at a time, dip them in the custard, coating on all sides. Let them soak for 20-30 seconds before placing them in the skillet, making sure not to crowd the pan. Let cook until a golden brown crust forms, about 2-3 minutes. Flip slices and cook an additional 2-3 minutes. Remove French toast to the prepared rack/sheet pan and place the entire contraption in the oven to keep warm.

Repeat soaking and cooking processes until all slices of brioche have been used. Add more butter to the pan as necessary.

When ready to serve, remove sour cream topping from the refrigerator and uncover.

Divide French toast over 3-4 plates. Top with sour cream topping, maple syrup, fresh fruit and/or confectioner’s sugar, as desired. Serve immediately.

Leftover French toast may be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or foil and refrigerated for a couple of days. Warm before serving (or eat cold if you’re weird like me).

Easy Homemade Almond Croissants

Easy Homemade Almond Croissants

I make almost every baked good I consume from scratch with the best ingredients available to me. I’m a bit of a snob when it comes down to it. Even at the height of the pandemic, I was inspecting different brands of flour to see their protein counts because I care that much.* That said, when it comes to store-bought baked goods, I have one glaring weakness: Costco croissants.

*4% or bust. King Arthur, Heckers & Trader Joe’s only.

Easy Homemade Almond Croissants

I will go out of my way for a Costco croissant. They are shockingly delicious, especially when eaten like a wild animal mid-shopping trip, somewhere between produce and electronics. I was introduced to them by my friend and certified Costco enthusiast, David, and I’ve been ruined ever since. The finest French pastry they are not, but I defy you not to enjoy one while it’s still warm, as they almost always are when I sling them into my cart. For $6 (and a Costco membership) you too can have 12 big, buttery Costco croissants in a giant clamshell package. Twelve seems like a lot, but if you’re anything like me, that means one for now, one for later, two for tomorrow, and eight to sit out on my counter to get stale for Easy Almond Croissants.

You see, Almond Croissants, while a bakery favorite, are frequently just another way to use up leftover bread; think of them as the even more sophisticated cousins of French toast and Bostock. Imbued with almond flavor inside and out, they’re deceptively simple to make and even easier to eat.

Stale croissants are split and soaked in simple syrup, smeared with homemade frangipane, sandwiched together, and topped with sliced almonds before baking. They emerge from the oven fragrant and flaky with the best crisp almond edges and rich, dense centers. You may leave them plain—as if there’s a way for Almond Croissants to seem plain!—or you may dust them with a little confectioner’s sugar for flair. I like flair.

Easy Homemade Almond Croissants

While I am a Costco croissant purist, these may be made with any pre-baked or store-bought croissants you may have on hand. Please keep in mind that your croissants may differ in size from mine, so you may end up with a larger or smaller quantity of Almond Croissants than I have. Not that I’ve ever found such a thing to be a problem. It is the summer of frangipane, after all.

Easy Homemade Almond Croissants
Easy Homemade Almond Croissants 
makes 8-12 (I made 8)

Simple Syrup:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup water

Frangipane*:
2 cup blanched almond flour or 8 ounces blanched almonds
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold-ish room temperature, cut into cubes
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure almond extract

For Assembly & Garnish:
8-12 store-bought croissants (I used 8), preferably a little stale
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar, optional

The simple syrup and frangipane may be made up to a day in advance. Just cover and refrigerate until you are ready to bake.

Make the simple syrup. Combine sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and stir until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool until you can comfortably hold your finger in it. Transfer to a bowl or dish (I used a pie plate) that is slightly larger than your croissants.

Make the frangipane. In a food processor (or very good blender), pulse almond flour, all-purpose flour, salt and sugar together. Pulse in butter. Pour in eggs and almond extract, and process until frangipane is a homogenous paste. Set aside.

Arrange oven racks in central positions. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line two rimmed sheet pans with parchment.

Assemble the almond croissants. Slice each croissant in half equatorially.

Working with one sliced croissant at a time, dip each half in the simple syrup, making sure to coat all sides. Place the bottom halves cut-sides-up on the prepared pans, and set the top halves on plates or another surface while assembly continues.

Use an offset icing spatula or the back of a spoon to spread about 2 heaping tablespoons of frangipane on the bottom half of each croissant. Top the frangipane with the top halves of the croissants, cut-sides-down. Press down lightly on each to adhere.

Spread about a tablespoon of frangipane on top of each filled croissant and sprinkle sliced almonds over the top. Bake croissants for 20-22 minutes, or until the frangipane is golden.

Let croissants cool on the pans for 15 minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely. Sift confectioner’s sugar over the tops, if desired. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Almond Croissants are best eaten the day they are made.

Note: You will have some leftover frangipane after making these. Refrigerate it and use it for these or this.

Blueberry Sour Cream Scones

Blueberry Sour Cream Scones​

If you’re on the hunt for impossibly tender scones, look no further. Beneath these nubbly exteriors lie the softest, most buttery interiors. The secret? A hefty spoonful of sour cream.

Blueberry Sour Cream Scones​

Oh, yes. Where most scones are bound with heavy cream, half & half or just plain ol’ milk, these get their delicate decadence from thick, rich sour cream. Between its texture and natural acidity, its scone game simply cannot be beat.

For those concerned that sour cream’s tanginess might overwhelm the other flavors, rest assured that it does not. The acidity is neutralized with a bit of baking soda, ensuring that the end results have a smooth, buttery flavor to accompany their perfect texture.

You can bake this scone base by its lonesome, of course, but blueberries are at their best right now, so we’re tipping a full cup into the mix today. Blueberry Sour Cream Scones? Sign. me. up.

Blueberry Sour Cream Scones start just how any other scone recipe might—cutting butter into dry ingredients—but where the next step is usually to add heavy cream or half & half, these are bound with an egg and 1/2 cup of sour cream. The dough may simultaneously seem both too wet and too dry during mixing (weird and true), but it will come together. Once mixed, it’s filled with blueberries, formed into a disk and sliced into wedges before baking.

These scones bake up craggy and golden with juicy burst blueberries throughout. You may serve them as soon as you can handle them, but you can also wait a few more minutes and give them a drizzle with a quick blueberry glaze. You know, if you’re the kind of person who needs your Blueberry Sour Cream Scones to have a vibrant purple drizzle…which I very much am.

Blueberry Sour Cream Scones​
Blueberry Sour Cream Scones
makes 8 scones

1 large egg, cold
1/2 cup full-fat sour cream, very cold
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into cubes
1 cup fresh blueberries
2 tablespoons milk of choice, heavy cream, or half & half

Glaze:
1 tablespoon pulverized freeze dried blueberries (about 2 heaping tablespoons whole)
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
3-4 teaspoons milk of choice

Make the scones. Place an oven rack in the center position. Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Set aside.

In a liquid measuring cup, use a fork to whisk together cold egg, sour cream, and vanilla. Refrigerate.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, light brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add cold butter. Use a pastry blender or clean fingertips to cut the butter into the flour until the largest pieces are the size of small peas. Stir in sour cream mixture. Add blueberries and fold them in as gently as you can. Some will break; that’s just the nature of this.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Pat it to 1-inch thick circle. Use a large, sharp chef’s knife to slice circle into 8 wedges. Place scones at least 2 inches apart on prepared pan. Brush with milk, cream, or half-and-half. Bake 21-23 minutes, until puffed and golden.

Meanwhile, set a cooling rack over a piece of parchment paper. Let scones cool on the pan on a rack for a few minutes, before removing to the prepared rack.

When scones are cool enough to handle but still a little warm, make the icing. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together pulverized freeze dried blueberries, confectioners sugar, salt and 3 teaspoons milk. Add more milk by the 1/2 teaspoon until icing is thick, but pourable. Pour or drizzle icing over the scones as desired. Icing will set quickly, and eventually harden completely after a few hours.

Scones are best the day they are made, but will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.