Tag Archives: chocolate cake

Kids In The Kitchen: Cutting Down Cross-Contamination in a Shared Kitchen (and Molten Chocolate Lava Cake)

Yes, this is wheat flour on my blog...but let me explain...

This weekend, Brittany wanted to make molten chocolate lava cake. She’d had a version of it at a restaurant for her birthday, and wanted to recreate it at home. I researched and found several gluten-free recipes and was confident we could make a tasty version. But during this past week, she stated that she wanted to make it “with gluten”. I explained to her that it’s very likely it would taste just as good gluten-free, and that since I had zero molten chocolate lava cake experience, gluten-free or not, that gluten would not necessarily guarantee good results any more than gluten-free. But it was her decision. She insisted this was what she wanted to do. I agreed. (After all, the reason for the kids in the kitchen is to teach them cooking skills. Since they are not gluten or dairy-free, it is their decision whether they want to make their recipe gluten-free and dairy-free or not.) I started to make plans.

Some background: our kitchen is not 100% gluten-free. I know there are varying opinions on this out there in the gluten-free community. However, I do imagine that there are as many people out there with celiac disease that have to share kitchens with gluten-eaters as there are people with entirely gluten-free kitchens, maybe even more. Regardless, those of us with sensitivities to gluten must take steps to ensure they remain healthy if there is a decision to keep gluten-containing ingredients in the home.

For those new to a gluten-free diet, the idea of cross-contamination is often overwhelming at first. Cross-contamination is a term usually reserved for things like keeping raw meat separate from other foods and the like, not gluten. But even residual amounts of gluten can wreak havoc on the health of someone sensitive to it. So in an effort to remain healthy, steps must be taken to reduce or eliminate the risk of cross-contamination of gluten in food.

One solution is to make the kitchen entirely gluten-free. If there are gluten-eaters, they can get their gluten “fix” outside the home in restaurants and such. On one hand, this is a simple solution from a cross-contamination perspective. But many times, not everyone in the family agrees this is the most feasible.

We opt to keep some “gluten-y” foods around the home, mostly in the form of packaged bread, the occasional cracker, and beer. It’s all kept on one shelf in the pantry (with nothing underneath, in case somehow crumbs were to fall into other food). There are separate condiments in the fridge for gluten foods (such as mayonnaise, peanut butter, etc.) and the gluten-free versions are clearly marked on the lids. (Why have separate condiment jars? Well, if you’re like most people, when spreading something such as mayonnaise on a slice of bread, you will dip the knife in the mayo, spread it on the bread, and stick the knife back in the mayo again to repeat. Once that knife touched the bread, it’s VERY likely crumbs were clinging to it, and you then put crumbs into the mayonnaise jar. Crumbs = gluten = bad! Hence, the separate jars.) While I have heard that some people have opted to dedicate a counter space for the gluten foods to be prepared, our kitchen is too small for me to give up any space. Instead, the counters are thoroughly cleaned, and gluten-free items are never laid directly on the counter unless I have cleaned the counter immediately beforehand. If something with gluten needs to be cooked (occasionally, someone makes a grilled cheese sandwich or a frozen pizza in our home), there is a drawer below the oven that contains the “gluten-only” cooking utensils, such as a frying pan, spatula, pizza cutter, etc. There is a separate sponge used exclusively for cleaning the “gluten” dishes so no residual gluten is transferred from one plate to another. 99% of the time, this works for us. Other than my husband’s beer, gluten isn’t even consumed more than about once a week in our home, so while this sounds like a lot, it’s rather routine for us and not something we have to deal with every day.

But when Brittany brought up the molten chocolate lava cake, I knew this was time for that additional 1%. While I knew I needed to take extra steps to ensure that there wasn’t flour everywhere in my kitchen (Flour can stay airborne for many hours, and could settle on just about any surface. Not to mention, I didn’t want to breathe flour for any length of time.), I will admit, I was stressing a bit on how to best accomplish this. I needed to get a game plan together, because I didn’t want to be overly stressed during the time we were baking – this was about teaching Brittany to cook (and enjoying each other’s company!), not “freak out” time for yours truly. So I reached out to some of my best gluten-free friends, and they gave me a wonderful idea. So great, I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it myself.

What was the idea?

Just take it outside.

Duh. It seemed so obvious. There wouldn’t be any flour in the air in the kitchen, no flour on the counters, no obsessive-compulsive cleaning (although I did do a top-to-bottom cleaning of the kitchen the following day, but that was just because it needed it!). Best of all, no worrying. I could be calm and relaxed and enjoy our time together.

And so we did. After dinner last night, we gathered all of our “gluten-only” cooking utensils (measuring cups, spoons, wooden spoon, whisk, etc) and began. We started in the kitchen, melting butter and chocolate in the bowl, and stirring in powdered sugar and eggs. When it came time for the flour, though, we headed outside.

whisking the last bit of flour into the batter

(Forgive the less-than-ideal photos – it was 8 PM when we were working on this treat last night!) Only once we had the flour fully incorporated into the batter did we come back inside, where Brittany immediately washed her hands well to get the flour off. The ramekins were set on a piece of foil inside the “gluten-only” baking sheet, so that in the chance there were drips of batter, the batter wouldn’t be all over on the counters or in the oven.

The dishes were all washed with the “gluten-only” sponge, and the table outside washed down and cleaned. And as for the molten chocolate lava cakes? They were enjoyed by the gluten-eaters in the home – they were described as tasting brownie-like on the edges, and while different than the ones at the restaurant, they were delicious.

forgot to take a shot of the molten lava inside, but trust me, it was there!

One day soon, I’ll attempt a gluten-free version. (I do have this part of me that wants to prove that a gluten-free, dairy-free, even refined sugar-free version can be just as delicious!) But until then, I’ll share that we used this recipe over at Tasty Kitchen. It’s a really easy recipe, so it was perfect for Brittany.

What about you? If you have someone with food intolerances/allergies, do you eliminate that item entirely from the home? If not, what do you do to ensure cross-contamination issues don’t occur?


Filed under Baked goods, Quick and Easy

Kids In The Kitchen: Vanilla and Chocolate Cupcakes

We were late in our planning for Kids in the Kitchen this weekend. Usually, we know in advance what we’re going to make. However, Brittany was unsure the last time we spoke – she wanted to think about it. So when I picked her up yesterday afternoon, I asked her. “No idea,” she said. But after a minute, she’d already decided on dessert – cake, specifically. What kind of cake? Chocolate? Vanilla? (She’s not much for complicated flavors.) Cupcakes? “Cupcakes!” she said. And almost simultaneously, we knew exactly which cupcakes to make.

You see, these cupcakes have made their appearance in our kitchen several times before. Back in May, I hosted a baby shower for my sister (She had identical twin girls, Zoe and Charlotte, on July 6). We needed gluten-free cupcakes that would be baby shower worthy, so I performed a few trial runs before the big day. Brittany was a taste tester during those runs, and had her fair share the day of the baby shower. I don’t blame her – these cupcakes were tasty. Tasty enough to fool even gluten-lovers. They don’t taste gluten-free.

Today, we went one step further. We made them dairy-free as well. Even the buttercream frosting. Of course, this isn’t to say that they’ve become health food – they’re still sugary and made with starchier, whiter flours. So they’re still a treat. Just a treat that won’t make those of us with gluten and dairy issues sick!

Of course, all of this doesn’t matter so much to Brittany. What she is most concerned with is how they taste. And they taste like cupcakes – sweet, simple, and loved by kids and adults alike.

Vanilla and Chocolate Cupcakes, adapted from The Baking Beauties

Makes 1 dozen cupcakes, half vanilla, half chocolate

2 eggs

1/3 c coconut milk

1 t vanilla extract

1/4 t almond extract

6 T virgin coconut oil

1/2 c sweet white rice flour

1/3 c plus 1 T tapioca starch

1/3 c potato starch

1/4 t xanthan gum

3/4 c granulated sugar

1/2 t salt

1 1/2 t baking powder

 1 1/2 T cocoa powder

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with cupcake papers. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, coconut milk, extracts, and coconut oil. (warm the coconut oil slightly, if it’s solid, by microwaving for 10 seconds in the microwave.) In a large bowl, combine the sweet white rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, xanthan gum, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Mix together the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until combined. Spoon batter into 6 of the cupcake papers, filling half-full. Mix in the cocoa powder into the remaining batter, and spoon remaining batter into remaining 6 cupcake papers.

Bake for 16-18 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, and then remove cupcakes from pan and allow to come to room temperature on a wire rack.

When cool, frost as desired.

Vanilla and Chocolate “Buttercream” Frosting

1/2 c Earth Balance buttery spread (soy-free)

4 c powdered sugar

1/4 c coconut milk

1 t vanilla extract

1/4 t almond extract

1 T cocoa powder

In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, add the buttery spread, 2 cups of the powdered sugar, the coconut milk, and the extracts. Turn the mixer on medium speed and beat for 2 minutes, scraping down the sides, until well-blended. Add the rest of the powdered sugar in batches, whisking in each addition, until the frosting is stiff enough to hold its shape.

Frost some of the cupcakes with the vanilla frosting as desired (we frosted the chocolate cupcakes with the vanilla frosting). Add the cocoa powder to the remaining frosting, and whisk in until well-blended. Frost remaining cupcakes with chocolate frosting.


Filed under Baked goods, Dairy-Free, Desserts, Gluten-Free

Devil’s Food White-Out Cake

food-1516This year, for each of our kids’ birthdays, I will bake a cake. Not just a cake-in-a-box, with store-bought icing, no, no, no. I must step outside of my comfort zone in the kitchen, and *gasp* actually bake.

Baking, to me, is scary. You have to measure. You have to follow steps. I know that experienced bakers can improvise, but I’m not there yet. I must follow each and every step, which forces me to read, and read again, just to make sure I know what I’m supposed to do. And the worst part? There’s not a lot of places where I can “taste test” and understand what the finished product will be like. I just don’t have the experience.  Sure, I can make cookies, banana bread and Angel Food Cake  (my Mom made these so much for us when I was little, so I learned) and that kind of stuff, but fancy cakes? Breads? Pastries? Those are foreign to me.

I’ve made a commitment to learn, however. Learn to bake. Bake yummy breads, pretty cakes, and I dream about being able to do so one day with nary a glance at a recipe. I envision myself being able to feel the dough, and know just how much I need to knead it, if it needs more flour, and understand how the bread will bake. I imagine myself relaxing while baking, the way I do when cooking other, more familiar dishes. I will get there. I am determined!

So, for now, I have committed myself to birthday cakes. There will be other experiments, of course, but for me, built-in expectations help me stay on track with my goals. This cake was for Matt’s 14th birthday. He wanted chocolate. (smart boy!) So I found Dorie Greenspan’s Devil’s Food White-Out cake, found in her cookbook Baking: From My Home to Yours. What a delicious cake! It has fudgy, moist chocolate layers, and a fluffy, marshmallow frosting. For someone like me that has little experience decorating cakes, this one’s easy to decorate: simply crumble part of the cake and sprinkle over the frosting. Easy! It’s not the most elegant cake out there, but it is indeed delicious. I opted to go the easy route and made only 2 layers instead of Dorie’s 3, partially because I used 9-inch round pans instead of 8-inch and my cakes were relatively thin, and because it made things easier. Dorie suggested slicing each cake in half, and using one half for the crumbled topping. For my crumbled topping, I simply used the leftovers from when I sliced the domed tops from the cakes off to level them.

All in all, this is the best cake I have baked so far. I was happy with it, so I will chalk that up to a success in the baking department!

For the cake:

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled

1/2 cup buttermilk or whole milk, at room temperature

1/2 cup boiling water

4 ounces semisweet or milk chocolate, finely chopped, or 2/3 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips


For the filling and frosting:

1/2 cup egg whites (about 4 large)

1 cup sugar

3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup water

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract


GETTING READY: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 8-x-2-inch round cake pans (I used 9-inch), dust the insides with flour, tap out the excess and line the bottoms with parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.


TO MAKE THE CAKE: Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugars and continue to beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla; don’t be concerned if the mixture looks curdled. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the melted chocolate. When it is fully incorporated, add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, adding the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the milk in 2 (begin and end with the dry ingredients); scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and mix only until the ingredients disappear into the batter. At this point, the batter will be thick, like frosting. Still working on low speed, mix in the boiling water, which will thin the batter considerably. Switch to a rubber spatula, scrape down the bowl and stir in the chopped chocolate. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops with the rubber spatula.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans at the midway point. When fully baked, the cakes will be springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the centers will come out clean. Don’t worry if the tops have a few small cracks. Transfer the cake pans to a rack and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up. (The cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.)


When you are ready to fill and frost the cake, inspect the layers. If the cakes have crowned, use a long serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to even them. With the same knife, slice each layer horizontally in half. (I did not do this, so I only had 2 layers) Set 3 layers aside and crumble the fourth layer; set the crumbs aside. (I crumbled the crowned tops only)


TO MAKE THE FILLING AND FROSTING: Put the egg whites in a clean, dry mixer bowl or in another large bowl. Have a candy thermometer at hand.

Put the sugar, cream of tartar and water in a small saucepan and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, cover the pan and boil for 3 minutes. Uncover and allow the syrup to boil until it reaches 242 degrees F on the candy thermometer. While the syrup is cooking, start beating the egg whites.

When the syrup is at about 235 degrees F, begin beating the egg whites on medium speed with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer. If the whites form firm, shiny peaks before the syrup reaches temperature, reduce the mixer speed to low and keep mixing the whites until the syrup catches up. With the mixer at medium speed, and standing back slightly, carefully pour in the hot syrup, pouring it between the beater(s) and the side of the bowl. Splatters are inevitable — don’t try to scrape them into the whites, just carry on. Add the vanilla extract and keep beating the whites at medium speed until they reach room temperature, about 5 minutes. You should have a smooth, shiny, marshmallowy frosting. Although you could keep it in the fridge in a pinch, it’s really better to use it right now.


TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE: Put a bottom layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or on a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Using a long metal icing spatula, cover the layer generously with frosting. Top with a second layer, cut side up, and frost it. Finish with the third layer, cut side down, and frost the sides and top of the cake. Don’t worry about smoothing the frosting — it should be swirly. Now, cover the entire cake with the chocolate cake crumbs, gently pressing the crumbs into the filling with your fingers.

Refrigerate the cake for about 1 hour before serving.


SERVING: I think the cake is best at room temperature or just cool, but many people prefer it cold (the texture of the cake becomes fudgier after it has been refrigerated). No matter the temperature, the cake is so pretty it should be cut at the table, so bring it out on a platter and cut it into generous wedges using a serrated knife and a sawing motion.


STORING: The frosted cake can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days; let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving, or longer if you have the time.


Filed under Baked goods, Desserts