Peach Scones

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Summer fruit is by far my favorite. Our peach trees produce the sweetest, juiciest fruit that I eagerly await each year. And, I greedily hog the first ones of the season for myself. We have a system here that works out very well for me. K prunes and tends to the trees, watering and patiently taking care of them throughout the season. I am nowhere to be seen during this time. As soon as the fruit comes in and becomes ready to pick, I swoop in and select the best ones.

This year we were on track to get the largest yield yet. Sadly, that did not happen since we had a reverse spring and the weather was all out of whack. Many of the flowers fell off and the  few that hung on to turn into fruit turned out small and many cracked since we got a deluge of rain over two days right before picking time. I did not have high hopes for these peaches. Thankfully, I was proved wrong and despite their smaller size and not looking as pretty as in previous years, they were just as sweet and delicious.

We love scones with our morning coffee and a warm batch first thing in the morning is a treat. The addition of fresh peaches makes them even more rich and creamy. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did.

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Scones

adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

Yield: 8 scones

1 ½ cups fresh peaches, diced
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen whole + 2 tbsp melted butter
½ cup sour cream
½ cup whole milk
½ cup sugar+ 1 tbsp for sprinkling
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional for work surface
¼ teaqspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
½ teaspoon table salt

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Grate 8 tbsp of butter on large holes of box grater. Place grated butter in freezer until needed. Melt 2 tbsp of remaining ungrated butter and set aside. Place diced peaches in freezer until needed.

Whisk together sour cream and milk in medium bowl; refrigerate until needed. Whisk flour, baking powder, 1/2 cup sugar salt, baking soda, and lemon zest in medium bowl. Add frozen butter to flour mixture and toss with fingers until thoroughly coated.

Add milk mixture to flour mixture; fold with spatula until just combined. With rubber spatula, transfer dough to liberally floured work surface. Dust surface of dough with flour; with floured hands, knead dough 6 to 8 times, until it just holds together in ragged ball, adding flour as needed to prevent sticking.

Roll dough into approximate 12-inch square. Fold dough into thirds like a business letter, using bench scraper or metalspatula to release dough if it sticks to countertop. Lift short ends of dough and fold into thirds again to form approximate 4-inch square. Transfer dough to plate lightly dusted with flour and chill in freezer 5 minutes.

Transfer dough to floured work surface and roll into approximate 12-inch square again. Sprinkle peaches evenly over surface of dough, then press down so they are slightly embedded in dough. Using bench scraper or thin metal spatula, loosen dough from work surface. Roll dough, pressing to form tight log. Lay seam-side down and press log into 12 by 4-inch rectangle. Using sharp, floured knife, cut rectangle crosswise into 4 equal rectangles. Cut each rectangle diagonally to form 2 triangles and transfer to parchment-lined baking sheet.

Brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with remaining tablespoon sugar. Bake until tops and bottoms are golden brown, 18 to 25 min. Transfer to wire rack and let cool 10 min before serving.

To Make Ahead: After placing the scones on the baking sheet, either refrigerate them overnight or freeze. When ready to bake, for refrigerated scones, heat oven to 425 degrees and follow directions in step 6. For frozen scones, heat oven to 375 degrees, follow directions in step 6, and extend cooking time to 25 to 30 minutes

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Plum Palate Cleanser

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I have fond memories of Santa Rosa Plums. In fact, these memories run so deep that I am forever ruined when it comes to other plum varieties, they are just not good enough. When we were growing up, our neighbors in the back had a row of these plum trees all lining the dividing wall. In the summer time, the trees would blossom full of plums and the branches would hang way over the wall onto our side. I’m sure you can guess what happened to those plums that crossed over.

Santa Rosa’s are unique in that their flesh is deep red and super juicy while the purple skins remain very tart. I like this combination and spent many a summer enjoying this overflow of free fruit. I also spent even more years without these plums and gave up trying to find them at the local grocery stores. No luck at all, except one time and I bought a bag full, it was like gold. Then, we decided to plant our own trees and now we are lucky enough to enjoy our very own crop, year after year.

Since this sorbet is tart, I like it best as a palate cleanser. In between courses, a very small scoop is a great way to wipe away any remaining strong flavors  from the previous course and prepare for the next. Hope you enjoy!

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Santa Rosa Plum Palate Cleanser

Yield: 3 quarts

3 cups sugar

3 cups water

8 cups sliced plums, seeds removed

2 ½ cups simple syrup plus additional

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 large egg, washed and dried

Make the simple syrup by combining the sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stir to dissolve all sugar and continue to boil 1 minute. Remove from heat and let cool completely. When cooled to room temperature, place in the refrigerator. This can be made days in advance.

Chop and pit the plums, leaving skins on. Place all 8 cups of plums in a large, non-reactive stockpot (8 quart pot works well) and add 2 ½ cups simple syrup. Bring to a boil and immediately lower heat to medium low and poach until tender. When plums are tender, remove from heat, cool, and puree in a blender.

Strain pureed plums through a fine mesh strainer and add lemon juice. To determine if there is enough simple syrup in the mixture to yield a smooth sorbet, carefully place the egg into the container with the puree and press it down gently. The egg should float to the surface leaving a nickel to quarter size circle of exposed eggshell. If the area is larger than a quarter, the mixture is too sweet; add water until the egg’s surface closes to a quarter size. If the area is smaller than a dime or egg is not visible at all, add simple syrup.

Completely chill the sorbet base and spin according to manufacture directions. My ice cream maker only holds 1 ½ quarts of liquid at a time so I needed to make 2 separate batches.

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Santa Rosa Plum and Cherry Cake

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Santa Rosa plums have officially taken over our fridge. This is the first year the trees produced more than 3 pieces of fruit. It was a huge surprise when we saw the countless tiny green beginnings of immature plums. I didn’t want to get my hopes up since in previous years they have been blown away by the wind or otherwise knocked off before ripening. We also had competition from the birds and probably some racoons too. But, not this year. Those little suckers ripened up all at the same time and all of a sudden we had tons of plums all needing to be eaten at once. The thing about plums is, one can only consume so many before they make their way through the system and let’s just say, we have only one bathroom.

That’s where this buttery cake comes in. Not only is it delicious as a tea time treat, but you can also get away with calling it breakfast so long as you’re washing it down with a cup of coffee or tea. The sweet, tart plums cut the richness and sugary sweetness of the cake. If you want to dress it up even more, a dollop of whipped cream will do just fine and further round out the tartness of the plums. Either way, it’s delicious.

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Santa Rosa Plum and Cherry Cake

Yield: 1, 9” cake

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

4 oz (1 stick) butter, softened at room temperature

¾ cup plus 1 ½ tsp sugar, divided

2 large eggs, room temperature

1 tsp vanilla extract

10 santa rosa plums, cut into quarters, pits removed

10 cherries, pitted and cut in half

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9” springform pan.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Whisk together to combine.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and ¾ cup sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract. Reduce mixer speed to low and add the flour, mix until just combined.

Spread the batter evenly in the pan and top with plum and cherry slices. Combine the remaining 1 ½ tsp sugar with the nutmeg and sprinkle over the fruit and batter.

Bake for 25- 30 minutes on convection setting or until the cake turns golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out almost clean- a few moist crumbs clinging to the toothpick and it’s done. Remove to a wire cooling rack and cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove the springform ring and let cool to room temperature.

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Crystal Cave and Trees of Sequoia

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A day after we made it back down the mountain from this  Pear Lake excursion and after a good night’s sleep, we returned to the park for a tour of Crystal Cave. I was really looking forward to this for two reasons: 1. checking out caves is exciting and 2. it would be nice and cool inside, chilly even. The group was large (50 people) and the cave was massive. There was more than enough room for everyone with plenty of space to spare. The downside was there were far too many people to be able to enjoy the tour and getting photos without heads and random strangers in the background proved to be challenging but worth it.

Once inside, this subterranian world will take your breath away. To start, this marble cave has streams meandering throughout it’s rooms and glistening walls of polished rock. If you’re lucky, you might see a newt or two in the stream.There are also stalactites suspended from the ceiling and stalagmites stacked up from the ground and are a true site to see. There is so much texture and natural ornate decor that could only be shaped slowly by time. This is a place that you must see for yourself since the photos don’t even come close to showing a fraction of what it has to offer.

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After the cave tour we headed to another part of the park to see the magnificent sequoias. There was more walking but this time on a path all the way down to the General Sherman Tree. Along the way we passed numerous other huge trees and meandering walking routes. You could spend almost a whole day down there climbing up and down the hills and around the trees, like an ant. Consider yourself warned, this is selfie stick land so you’ll be dodging those all the way down.

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Pear Lake

We just returned from a rigorous backpacking trip that was my first introduction to extreme outdoors adventure (I am inexperienced in backpacking and much of outdoor activity, so this was extreme for me). While I recover, K will tell you all about it here:

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I’d been wanting to do a backpacking trip for some time now. I asked S if she’d be interested in going to Sequoia to see some big trees, hike to an alpine lake and do some easy fishing. She grudgingly accepted and the planning began.

Pear lake is located at over 9000 feet and surrounded by cliffs. The water is unbelievably clear and fed by snow that melts off of the many peaks surrounding the lake.

The hike to the lake itself is an arduous 6.7 miles. There is over a 2000 foot elevation gain and you feel every inch. Once at the top its a breathtaking site. You’re surrounded by massive granite peaks, fish that breach the water as they go for their next meal and ancient foxtail pines that can live for thousands of years.

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Our plan was to stay for two nights but this was not to be as the weather turned foul mid-day the following day. As we were rushing to pack up our gear it started haling. There was no way we’d make through the day, much less the night. The decision had been made and it was a mad dash in the rain to get 6.7 miles down from the back country to the trail-head.

The more time that passes between me the trip, the more I think it was worth every second. It was such a great experience to be in a place most people would never visit or see with their own eyes. My good friend Frank said something about his visit to Macchu Picchu a while back which was, “I’ve never seen a photograph which does it justice.” I agree and can say the same thing about Pear Lake.

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Cocoa Nib Macarons with Bourbon Vanilla Buttercream

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It’s been a while since I’ve had macarons and I am especially missing the fabulous Pierre Herme kind from this trip. I haven’t found anything remotely close in my part of town so I decided to make my own. At least this way I could get the flavors I wanted, go a little crazy with experimentation, and fix that craving. Done and done.

Since the cocoa nibs worked out so well in this recipe, I decided they would make a reappearance here in the macaron shells. They really intensify the chcocolate flavor and pair especially well with… bourbon! Yes, indeed chocolate+ vanilla+ bourbon = pure satisfaction.

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Macarons

Recipe adapted from I Love Macarons by Hisako Ogita

Yield: 2 dozen

2/3 cup ground almonds

1 ½ cups powdered sugar

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

3 large egg whites at room temperature (aged for at least 24 hrs)

5 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 tablespoons cocoa nibs

 

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a food processor, grind almonds, powdered sugar, and cocoa powder to a fine powder. Sift through a fine mesh sieve. Set aside.

In a stainless steel mixing bowl, beat the egg whites on high speed until frothy. Add the granulated sugar and continue beating until the whites turn glossy and stiff peaks form.

Add the almond flour mixture all at once and fold to combine with a rubber spatula. Scoop batter from the bottom and fold over the top. Continue until the batter is smooth, but do not over mix. Test a small amount, the size of a quarter by dropping onto a plate. If the batter spreads nicely and does not have a peak, it is ready. If there is a stiff peak, continue folding the batter for a few more turns.

Fill a pastry fitted with a medium size tip with batter. Squeeze the batter onto the prepared parchment lined sheetpan forming 1” circles and spacing at least ½” apart. When the pan is full (you will have 2 separate batches and repeat this process twice), rap gently on the countertop to release any air pockets. Sprinkle cocoa nibs on top of the piped batter. *The second batch will be plain and not have cocoa nibs.

Let sit for 1 hour at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake macarons for 12- 18 minutes until slightly crisp on top. The tops should not wiggle when pressed slightly. If they wiggle, reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees and continue baking for 2 more minutes or until they are slightly firmer.

Place the sheetpan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes.

 

Vanilla Bourbon Buttercream

Recipe adapted from Cook’s Country

Yield: 3 cups

1 vanilla bean, scraped

2 tablespoons milk or heavy cream

Pinch of table salt

2 ½ cup powdered sugar

2 ½ sticks (9 oz) unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons bourbon

In a standing mixer fitted with the whip attachment, beat butter at medium-high speed until smooth, about 20 seconds. Add powdered sugar and salt; beat at medium-low speed until most of the sugar is moistened, about 45 seconds. Scrape down bowl and beat at medium speed until mixture is fully combined, scrape bowl and add the vanilla seeds, milk, and bourbon and beat until incorporated. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.

Assembly:

Sandwich the buttercream between one plain macaron shell and a cocoa nib topped shell. Continue until all shells are filled. Place in an air tight container and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight to let the flavors meld. Bring to room temperature before enjoying.

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Shrimp and Chive Gyoza

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Anytime we go out to eat at a Japanese restaurant, I always order gyoza which are dumplings filled with a combination of meat and vegetables and then steamed and fried. Alternatively, they are also made with edamame or a vegetarian filling. In my family, we make it with shrimp and sometimes pork. I really like the shrimp version and have tweaked the recipe to make it my own although gyoza can be filled with anything you want.

Something I’ve never tried before now was making my own gyoza wrappers. Usually, we just buy the premade wrappers and call it a day. Not this time. I really wanted a thicker and more chewy wrapper that would crisp up nicely in the pan. If you get a craving for crisp gyoza that are soft and chewy inside, these are the ones to try. The wrappers and dipping sauce can be made the day before. Once you get started, it goes quickly and the gyoza cook up in no time.

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Shrimp and Chive Gyoza

Yield: 12 gyoza

Filling

6 oz shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 clove garlic, minced

¼ teaspoon fresh ginger, grated

2 tablespoons chopped chives

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon sake

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

¼ teaspoon cornstarch

Coarsely chop the shrimp into chunks. Place in a bowl and add all other ingredients. Mix to combine

Wrappers

3 ½ oz all-purpose flour

2 oz hot water

¼ teaspoon table salt

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix with chopsticks until dough is shaggy. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth. If dough is too dry, add more hot water, a teaspoon at a time. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and rest for 30 minutes (or overnight). After dough has rested, roll into a cylinder approximately 1 ½ ” thick. Cut in half and wrap the other half in plastic. Slice the first half into six equal pieces. Place cut sides facing up on your work surface. Working with one piece at a time, roll into a 3 ½” circle with a rolling pin. When all six pieces are rolled out, repeat with the other half.

Assemble the gyoza

Place a scant tablespoon of shrimp filling into the center of the dough. Using your finger, moisten half of the diameter with water and fold the dough in half so that the dry half meets with the wet half- begin pleating one side and gently press to the opposite side to seal. Place onto a parchment lined baking pan. There will be unused shrimp filling which can be save for later use.

In a large non-stick pan, arrange the gyoza in a circle formation. Add 1 ½ teaspoons toasted sesame oil and just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking, until the water has evaporated and the gyoza have browned on the bottom. Remove from heat. Place a large platter face down on the pan and quickly invert, releasing the gyoza. Serve immediately with dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

Chili oil to taste

Combine all ingredients and set aside.

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Clams in Miso Ginger Broth

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This past weekend we stopped by our local seafood shop and picked up quite a variety consisting of whole fish, shrimp, shellfish, and fish ribs. It was quite a haul. This time, I thought we would try something new and since I really don’t cook clams it was the perfect thing to begin with. We wanted something light in texture with a delicate flavor. I was thinking of an aromatic broth and narrowed it down to miso and ginger- miso for subtle depth of flavor and ginger to brighten it up. Since clams are naturally salty, it is best not to add additional salt to the recipe and it is also why I kept the miso on the watery side. You just want a hint of miso. The broth will be briny and a touch salty on its own once the flavors meld. This dish comes together very quickly and makes for an easy lunch or light starter.

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Clams in Miso Ginger Broth

Yield: 2 appetizer portions or 1 serving as a main

1 dozen fresh clams, rinsed well

1 ½ cup water

1 ½ teaspoon red miso paste

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 small knob of fresh ginger, peeled and quartered

1 tablespoon sake

2 tablespoons dried wakame (seaweed)

1 tablespoon butter

1 scallion, sliced thin

In a medium sized skillet, bring the water to a boil and add miso paste. Stir with a wooden spoon until miso is dissolved. Add the garlic and ginger and cover, reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let garlic and ginger steep an additional 5 minutes. Remove garlic and ginger, discard. Add the sake and wakame and bring to a boil. Add the clams, cover and cook, shaking the skillet occasionally until clams open up. Add the butter as soon as the first clam opens, and continue shaking the skillet to melt and distribute the butter. Remove clams as they open and place into a serving bowl. Pour cooking liquid over clams and garnish with scallions. Enjoy immediately.

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Chicken and Herb Dumplings

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Chichen and dumplings… just like mom used to never make. What can I say, I love this dish for all of its comforting qualities- soft, shredded chicken, vegetables, and light puffy dumplings bobbing in a tasty soup. For someone who did not grow up eating bowls of this delicious soup,  I sure can say I’ve made up for what I missed out on. There’s a restaurant in town that used to have this on their regular menu and despite having other almost equally tempting offerings, I always chose the chicken and dumplings. No matter how much I may want to try something new, if chicken and dumplings in on any menu, guess what I’m eating? Always. Unless there’s chicken pot pie on the same menu. In that case, I want both.

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I found a recipe that works for me and you know how I love to prepare part of the dish in advance. The night before, I prepared the chicken and stock. I put bone in chicken pieces into the slow cooker with celery, peppercorns, garlic, half an onion, and a dash of salt. Cover the entire thing with plenty of water and cook for 6 hours. Remove, let cool, and transfer to a container and refrigerate over night. The next day, all I had to do was put it all together to make the soup and whip up the dumplings.

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Chicken and Herb Dumplings

adapted from Serious Eats

Yield: 4-6 servings

For the soup:

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 ½ quarts chicken broth

1 large onion, finely sliced

2 medium carrots, medium dice

3 ribs celery, medium dice

1 pound cooked chicken torn into bite size portions

Ground black pepper to taste

Heat the butter in a large Dutch oven or saucepan over medium-high heat until melted. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until pale golden brown, about 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in broth. Add onions, carrots, and celery. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in chicken, peas, and season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

For the dumplings:

3 tablespoons butter, melted

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups thawed frozen peas

¼ cup minced fresh parsley

½ teaspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

½ cup buttermilk

1 egg

¾ teaspoons Kosher salt

In a medium size bowl, combine the butter with flour, baking powder, chives, parsley, and ¾ teaspoon kosher salt. Combine the buttermilk and eggs in a separate bowl. Pour buttermilk mixture over flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until it forms a shaggy dough.

Return the soup to a simmer. Using a tablespoon measure, drop dumpling dough in 1-inch balls into soup. Cover and cook until dumplings have puffed and feel firm to touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 15 minutes. Garnish with additional parsley and serve immediately.

Original recipe can be found here.

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Classic Chocolate Layer Cake

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This past week I had an itch I could not scratch, a craving that could not be satisfied. No amount of cookies or sweet cereal was even coming close. Every once in a while I get mean cravings for a classic chocolate layer cake. No frills, no fancy fillings, just chocolate on chocolate. Truth be told, I have fond memories of supermarket chocolate cake- the garishly decorated ones with crisco-like frosting. I am not even embarrassed to admit that.

I used to love it and up until recently, really enjoyed the indulgence. However, I found this recipe which evokes the same sweet memories of soft sponge-like chocolate cake and decadent, rich frosting (but 100x better). Hands down, this is the cake recipe for me. It’s easy and relatively quick, especially if you bake the cakes the night before. This way, all you have to do is whip up the frosting and assemble the next day.

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Chocolate Layer Cake

from Cook’s Country

Yield: 1-  9”cake, 2 layers

1 ½ cups (7 ½ oz) all- purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 ¼ cups boiling water

4 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped

½ cup (1 ½ oz) Dutch processed cocoa powder

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 ½ cups packed ( 10 ½ oz) light brown sugar

3 large eggs, room temperature

½ cup sour cream, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour two 9-inch or three 8-inch round cake pans lined with parchment. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl. In a second bowl, whisk boiling water, chocolate, coaoa, and espresso powder together until smooth.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until combined. Add sour cream and vanilla and mix until incorporated.

Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with chocolate mixture in 2 additions, scraping down the bowl as needed. Give batter a final stir by hand.

Divide batter evenly between prepared prepared pans and smooth tops with a rubber spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (a few crumbs are prefect, just not wet), 15-20 minutes (for 8-inch pans) or 25- 30 minutes (for 9-inch pans), rotating halfway through baking.

Let cakes* cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans, discard parchment, and let cool completely on rack, about 2 hours.

Chocolate Frosting

from Cook’s Country

Yield: 4 cups enough for 1 two layer cake or 24 cupcakes

2 ½ sticks unsalted butter, room temperature

2 ¾ cup powdered sugar

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted and slightly cooled

2 tablespoons milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Pinch of table salt

1 1/2 cups cocoa nibs

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter until fluffy, about 30 seconds. On low speed, add sugar, 1 cup at a time and cocoa powder and mix to combine. Beat in melted chocolate and increase speed to high, beating until pale fluffy, about 1 minute.

Reduce speed to medium-low and add milk, vanilla, and salt. Increase speed to high and beat until fluffy, 30 more seconds.

*Cakes can be baked a day in advance. When cooled completely, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The next day, trim the tops to achieve a flat surface and begin assembling and frosting the layers. To apply the cocoa nibs, hold the cake in one hand, tilt slightly and grab a nandful of nibs and press gently into the lower third of the bottom layer.

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