Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Chocolate Butter Cake

Today marks my last day before a glorious two-week stay-cation.  This means I won’t be posting for a few weeks, but I couldn’t leave without one last post!

Mom’s 3 layer chocolate butter cake with homemade chocolate fondant Photo © 2010 Sassy Sampler

My friends and family expect yummy results when I announce I’m baking a cake, and I really hate to disappoint!  The last couple years my specialty has been Rose Levy Beranbaum’s chocolate butter cake from one of my favorite books, The Cake Bible.  I’ve made the cake for special occasions (see photo of a birthday cake for my mom and below from my 10 year wedding anniversary) and just because I wanted cake!  It is a little bit more involved than some other cake recipes, but sooooo worth the effort.  It is a denser cake that holds good structure, and packs good chocolate punch without being too fudgy.

My goal over my time off is to convert this recipe to a “you would never know it” gluten-free cake.  I will gladly share my successes (and hopefully very few disasters!) upon my return.  I have included the original recipe below – it was the inspiration for the recipe I made and demo’d with the Swan Cafe’s GF Chocolate Cake mix (which will be a Member Owner Deal next month!).  I usually weigh all my ingredients for this cake, but I have included the measure as well.  If you make this yourself, use one system or the other for the best results.  I have only made this as a layer cake, and don’t recommend using a sheet pan, but what fun is cooking without experimentation, right?

Chocolate Butter cake with local blueberry/blackberry sauce and vanilla buttercream. Photo © 2010 Sassy Sampler

Perfect All-American Chocolate Butter Cake

by Rose Levy Beranbaum The Cake Bible

2.25 oz or 1/2 c + 3 T unsweetened cocoa powder (lightly spooned into cup)

8.25 oz or 1 liquid c boiling water

5.25 oz or 3 large eggs (weighed without shells)

2 1/4 t vanilla (no weight measure for this)

8.25 oz or 2 1/4 c +2 T sifted cake flour (I always used well sifted organic unbleached wheat flour)

10.5 oz or 1 1/2 c sugar

1 T baking powder (no weight measure)

3/4 t salt (no weight measure)

8 oz or 1 c unsalted butter

All ingredients should be at room temperature, except boiling water.

Prepare cake pans : (2) 8″ or 9″ cake pans – grease the pan, line bottom with parchment paper and grease the paper.  Flour pans.

1.  Preheat oven to 350° F.

2.  In a medium bowl, whisk together cocoa and boiling water until smooth.  Cool to room temperature.

3.  In another bowl, lightly combine eggs, 1/4 of the cocoa mixture and vanilla.

4.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients and mix on low-speed for 30 seconds to blend.  Add the butter and remaining cocoa mixture.  Mix on low-speed until the dry ingredients are moistened.

5.  Increase to medium speed (high-speed if using a hand mixer) and beat for 1 1/2 minutes to aerate and develop the cake’s structure.  Scrape down the sides.

6.  Gradually add the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure.  Scrape down the sides.

7.  Scrape the batter into prepared pans and smooth the surface with a spatula.  The pans will be about 1/2 full.

8.  Bake 25 – 35 minutes or until a tester inserted near the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center.  The cakes should start to shrink from the sides of the pans only after removal from the oven.

9.  Let the cakes cool in the pans on wire racks for 10 minutes.  Loosen the sides with a small metal spatula and invert onto greased wire racks. To prevent splitting, re-invert so that the tops are up and then cool them completely before wrapping them airtight.  Finished cakes will be about 1 1/2″ tall.

Store airtight:  2 days room temperature, 5 days refrigerated, 2 months frozen.  Texture is most perfectly moist the same day as baking.

Neoclassic Buttercream

Makes 4 cups

4 oz or 6 large egg yolks

5.25 oz or 3/4 c sugar

5.75 oz or 1/2 liquid cup corn syrup (we have organic corn syrup at the Co-op)

1 # or 2 c unsalted butter (must be softened)

1 to 2 oz or 2-4 T liqueur,  eau-de-vie (I add 2 t vanilla)

All ingredients should be at room temperature.

Have ready a 1 or 2 c greased, heat-proof glass measure near the range.

This recipe is easiest with a stand mixer, but you can also use a heavy-duty hand mixer.

1.  Place egg yolks in the bowl of your stand mixer and beat until they are light in color (this will take several minutes in a stand mixer, and several more with a hand mixer).

2.  Meanwhile, combine sugar and corn syrup in a small saucepan (preferably with a non-stick lining, but my stainless steel one has always worked well for me) and heat, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves and the syrup comes to a rolling boil (the entire surface will be covered with large bubbles).  Immediately transfer the syrup to the glass measure to stop the cooking.

3.  If using a hand-held mixer, beat the syrup into the yolks in a steady stream.  Don’t allow syrup to fall on the beaters or they will spin it onto the sides of the bowl.  If using a stand mixer, pour a small amount of syrup over the yolks with the mixer turned off.  Immediately beat at high-speed for 5 seconds.  Continue with the remaining syrup.  For the last addition, use a rubber scraper to remove the syrup clinging to the glass measure.  Continue beating until completely cooled (this will take several minutes – use the time to clean your glass measure and saucepan before it gets too sticky!).

4.  Gradually beat in the butter and, if desired, any optional flavoring.  Place in an airtight bowl.  Bring to room temperature before using.  Re-beat to restore texture.

Pointers – The syrup must come to a rolling boil or the butter cream will be too thin.  Don’t allow the syrup to fall directly onto the stand mixer paddle as it will spin the syrup around the sides of the bowl and create a giant mess.  Using a hand mixer for this portion can make this easier.

Perfect All-American Chocolate Butter Cake PDF

Neoclassic Buttercream PDF

4H Super Saturday Cooking Class

Last Saturday was a whirlwind!

I was asked to teach a cooking class for the 29th 4H Super Saturday, held at Meridian High School.  For those of you that don’t know, 4H Super Saturday is an annual event organized by the Washington State University Extension office in beautiful Bellingham.  4H is a youth development program run by WSU in partnership with the US Department of Agriculture and our local government.  It is a program open to everyone, and is the largest youth organization in the nation.

I decided early on that granola bars would be a great recipe to share with the kids.  I make them all the time, and thought that they would be fun to make.  My mom taught home ec for Bellingham Public Schools so I knew that I would have a great resource since I have no experience teaching anything to anyone (at least in a classroom setting).  She gave me some fantastic pointers that made things so much easier for a novice!

Saturday was a beautiful day, and I wasn’t nervous until I got up that morning.  All week long I reminded myself to not forget to bring the eggs that the recipe requires, and you guessed it, I forgot the eggs.  Thank goodness that Meridian High School is only 5 miles from the Cordata Co-op, so I was able to scoot back to the store and grab them.  My friend Janae was volunteering that day in the class with me, so she held down the fort as the kids arrived for the class (she is a teacher as well – that’s right,  I know who to gladly accept help from!).  We had fourteen kids in the class – 12 girls and 2 boys.  The average age was about 10 years old, and they were hungry and eager to start cooking!  I had brought my camera, but in the hustle and bustle of getting everyone settled, I totally forgot to get it out for Janae to use.  I’ll just tell you that all the kids were super cute and proud of their accomplishments of the day!

They loved the recipe, and seemed like they had great fun measuring all the ingredients (note to self – don’t use sticky ingredients around a room of energetic kids, as honey gets EVERYWHERE!).  We  only had an hour for me to explain how to make them (I prepared a quickie batch at the beginning to show them what the steps would look like) and for them to actually prepare the recipe and get them cooked.  Wonders never cease, and we actually had all of them done on time!  Only two didn’t turn out perfectly, which I would say is pretty amazing for setting a bunch of kids loose on over a dozen ingredients and asking them to create an edible product!  I think they were thrilled that they were able to spend an hour creating their own snack, that they then got to take home and share with their family.  I could see it on their faces and in their thank-yous on the way out at the end of class.

I had so much fun that I hope to do this again for the 30th annual Super Saturday.

White Bean, Chard and Emmer (Farro) Soup

My husband recently challenged me to find recipes that use ingredients from as many departments in the Co-op as possible to demo in the store (I will admit that he had an ulterior motive for this since he is the Grocery Manager at the Cordata co-op).  Recently, the Member Affairs Committee had a retreat meeting at Ciao Thyme Catering, and they had a bunch of back issues of Edible Seattle that they offered up to us.  I took a few because I thought that they might have some great NW recipes in them, and indeed, that is where I found my challenge winning recipe!  It was published in the March/April 2009 edition, and it made my mouth water just reading the recipe.

White Bean, Red Chard and Emmer soup was a winner for many reasons.  It has ingredients that can be found locally in season, with the exception of the white beans, olive oil, and tomato paste (chicken stock can be made from WA chickens in your own kitchen).  This recipe has ingredients from six departments in the Co-op, which is why it was the winner:

  • Salmon Creek Farms pork shoulder from the Meat Department
  • Dry white wine, of course from the Wine Department (this gave the soup an intoxicating aroma!)
  • Tomato paste and chicken stock from Grocery
  • Organic red chard, carrots, celery, yellow onion, thyme, rosemary, parsley, and local garlic from Produce
  • Parmesan cheese from the Deli Cheese department (for garnish, yum!  I love the Reggiano from Italy the best)
  • Emmer and white beans from Bulk

Emmer is a pretty cool grain that most of us don’t have much knowledge of – it is an heirloom wheat variety that is grown by the Lucy family on Bluebird Grain Farm in the beautiful Methow Valley.  Emmer, or Farro as it is called in Italy, is a low-gluten, high protein wheat whose structure is so different from modern wheat that many people with wheat/gluten sensitivities can eat it (every body is different, and if you have Celiac or a high gluten-intolerance, you shouldn’t eat this grain).  I have only been “off the gluten” for a little over two months, so I won’t be trying Emmer myself for at least another six months or so, but I am excited at the prospect of being able to use the flour in baking if I am able to tolerate it!

I was told that the Emmer was a great addition to the soup because it “popped” when you bit into it and added good dimension.  I got very favorable responses from customers on the flavor of the soup, and its use of ingredients (did I mention the intoxicating aroma?).  One person said it was one of the best soups they had ever tasted, and another customer was floored because her husband (who doesn’t like chard) was enjoying his hearty sample!  All in all I say it was a great success with everyone.  You can easily make this vegetarian – just omit the pork shoulder and use vegetable stock in place of the chicken stock.

photo white bean chard emmer farro soup

White Bean, Chard, and Emmer Soup © 2010 Sassy Sampler

White Bean, Red Chard, and Emmer Soup


  • 1 pound pork shoulder, chopped into 1” stew pieces
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2T olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 5 carrots, peeled and chopped into half moons
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1T chopped fresh thyme
  • 1T chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1T tomato paste
  • 1 1/2c dry white wine
  • 8 c chicken/vegetable stock (not broth)
  • 1/2c emmer/farro grain (or short grain brown rice for GF)
  • 1c white beans, soaked overnight, or 2 cans white beans (I used Westbrae Great Northern Beans in my demo and they were great)
  • 1 bunch red chard (about 3/4 lb), chopped into 1” pieces (see below for instructions)
  • 1/2c chopped fresh parsley
  • grated Parmesan cheese, for serving


  1. Heat a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat.  Season the pork pieces with salt and pepper.  When the pot is hot, add 1T of the oil, then add the pork and cook until browned on all sides, turning pieces only when they release easily from the pan.  Transfer to a plate and set aside.
  2. Add the remaining T of oil to the pan, then add the onion, celery, and carrots.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, scraping any brown bits off the bottom of the pan.  Add garlic, thyme, rosemary, and tomato paste, season with salt and pepper, and stir for a minute or two.  Add the white wine, and cook for 3 minutes.  Add the stock, and bring to a simmer.
  3. Add the emmer (or rice), beans, chard, and reserved pork, and cook at a bare simmer, covered, at least one hour and up to three, until the grain, beans, and pork are tender.
  4. Before serving, stir in the parsley, and season to taste.  Serve the soup in big bowls with hunks of bread (or the Swan Bakery’s yummy GF rolls), garnished with Parmesan cheese and a swirl of good olive oil.

Vegetarian Version:

Skip step one, and add all the oil at the beginning.

To Prepare Red Swiss Chard for cooking:

  1. Wash chard thoroughly—two to three times.
  2. Slice chard along both sides of the stem and discard.
  3. Fold leaves in half, then fold them in half again (lengthwise) and cut into 1” pieces.

p.s.  I made the most amazing beef stew this weekend with the frozen, local, grass-fed beef from Bennett Cattle Company in Everson and some delicious gluten-free biscuits with the Swan Bakery’s Gluten Free Mix in bulk – expect a demo, or at least the recipes in the future!

My Relationship with Food

In these tough economic times, many of us have made changes to how we eat.  For a lot of people, this change has been a return to home cooking.  Something happened to our relationship with food, just in the time it took me to grow up.  When I was a kid growing up in the county, I remember that pre-packaged food was something special.  Although my mom was a self-taught cook, it seemed like she made everything from scratch, and there were always local, fresh vegetables on our plate (mostly from our neighbor across the street).  We even had our own cows and chickens (dad took care of that part).  I always knew where my food came from, and most of it was grown and prepared by people who loved me. 

By my teens, my mother had gone back to school and didn’t have the time to make all of our food from scratch.  She did the best she could under the circumstances – we still ate dinner together every night and she still managed to make most of our dinners from whole ingredients at home.  I missed those days in the kitchen with her, but I knew that things change, and I had less time as well as I got older and more involved with my friends and school.  I knew I was lucky though – she still made me a fantastic birthday cake every year, and still rarely “fixed” take-out for dinner for my brother and I.

After graduating high school and moving out, I tried my best to still cook as much as possible like my mom did.  I felt that it no matter what you were making, it always tasted better made from scratch, but once I got my job delivering pizza in college, well, pizza was a big part of my diet for many years (although it was made from scratch – we made fresh dough and sauce every day and chopped all our own veggies).  We have to have ramen and pizza years, right?

In the mid 90’s I became a vegetarian because of the issue of clean meat.  Meat had always been a big part of my diet, so I had to form a new relationship with food.  I have always been a picky eater (some due to preference, some to food sensitivities), but I had to expand my horizons or I’d wind up back on a ramen and pizza diet.  I moved into a household of vegetarians, and they introduced me to the Food Co-op.  I knew such things existed, but I didn’t realize that they sold the food I had grown up on, and was missing so much from my life.  I had a relationship with my food growing up, and here was a large group of like-minded folk that cared about the emotion that exists when you have a relationship with your food.  During the snowstorm in December of 1996, I noticed that they were hiring a cashier, and the rest is history.  I have dedicated the last 13 years to the Community Food Co-op because I think everyone should have the right and opportunity to have an emotional relationship with their food.  Now I get to cook every week for my demos at Cordata, and I can share that love of food even more extensively with our customers. 

~posted by Melissa Elkins, Cordata Sassy Sampler