True Confessions of a Mid-Life Cook

There's a definite correlation between my profound love of music and how and what I've taught myself to cook. My favorite music to listen to and to perform is soulful, sensual, sometimes funky and always bluesy in nature . . . and that's exactly how I cook. I like to get my hands in the food. I chop, I knead, I stir with my hands. Sometimes I wear my big rimmed cowboy hat, nightie and Old Gringo boots in kitchen, sometimes a coonskin cap when the mood strikes and sometimes just an apron and a smile. Using the freshest of ingredients, I love to bringing a new spirit to old favorites. I am so to drawn dishes seeping in both Texas and Southern tradition,with a special affinity for those authentic old jewels found in South Louisiana.
Because they, too, are so powerfully soulful?

I've discovered being a good cook is a journey and not a destination. (Yes, I stole an over-used corporate slogan and made it my own--but it's still the truth) Every time we screw up, we learn. And in part, that's what this blog is about. Cooking fearlessly. With heart, with soul -- and with some damn good music to inspire. (If your three layer chocolate cake ends up looking like a Jerry Springer rerun or you cut the tip of your thumb off while making New Year's Day gumbo, WHO CARES?Proclaim Francine Reed's "I'm a Handful" your theme song. She would like that.)
We cook because we find ourselves kinda empty if we don't.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Let Them Eat . . .is that a cake?

It is no secret. I am a BAD cake baker. I'm not talking about single layer Pyrex dish cakes. I'm talking about pretty, layered cakes like the six layer coconut beauties that my beloved Shirley Mae Collier used to bake for my birthdays when I was little. Each of my attempts have proven to been disastrous, beginning with first one I baked for my new husband on his birthday when I was great with child some sixteen years ago. (I swear I had chocolate icing in my hair and ears.)

It has now become a Zaruba/Halfmann tradition for Mom (me) to bake ugly birthday cakes. Like Dillon says, "They look like crap but they taste great!"

"It looks like a Jerry Springer birthday cake," Zach observed one year. Whatever that means.

"What the hell?" said Bruce when I lovingly presented his first to him.

This year Zach and Dillon's cake will not disappoint, even though I did buy three new cake pans last week in hopes that they will help me out some.

The following is my exceptional chocolate cake recipe that I use every year for Zach and Dillon. (Ben prefers strawberry shortcakes for his birthday. Smart kid.)This recipe is 'da bomb' and can be easily made 'your own' by adding nuts, fruit, liquor, whatever you want.

UPDATE on 2/2: This is one damn good lookin' cake! The best lookin' cake I've EVER attempted!


* 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
* 3 cups light brown sugar, packed
* 4 eggs
* 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
* 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
* 1 tablespoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 3 cups sifted cake flour
* 1 1/3 cups sour cream
* 1 1/2 cups hot coffee


* 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
* 16 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature
* 8 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
* 1/4 to 1/2 cup cooled coffee (start slow, can be runny if you use too much)
* 4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
* 6 cups confectioners' sugar


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 3 (9-inch) cake pans. Cut 3 circles of waxed paper or parchment paper to fit the bottoms of the pans, then press them in.

In a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or using a hand mixer), cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and eggs and mix until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla, cocoa, baking soda and salt and mix. Add 1/2 of the flour, then 1/2 of the sour cream and mix. Repeat with the remaining flour and sour cream. Drizzle in the hot coffee and mix until smooth. The batter will be thin. Pour into the prepared pans and bake until the tops are firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (a few crumbs are okay), about 35 minutes. Halfway through the baking, quickly rotate the pans in the oven to ensure even baking, but otherwise try not to open the oven. Let cool in the pan 10 minutes. Turn out onto wire racks and let cool completely before frosting.

Frosting: In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and cream cheese together until smooth. Drizzle in the melted chocolate and mix. Add the coffee and vanilla and mix. Add the sugar, 1 cup at a time, mixing after each addition. Mix until well blended and fluffy. To frost the cake, use a spatula to cover 2 of the cake layers with frosting. Stack them together. Flip the third cake layer over and rest it on the top to create a very flat top for the cake. Frost on the sides and top. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.