My grandmother Jackie and her brothers used to roast potatoes in a clean trashcan of fire outside their home until the skin was charcoaled black. Then they’d peel back the blistered skin to reveal a hot, creamy white inside. They’d savor that potato with a bit of salt. “It was such a treat,” my grandmother’s told me. (I’ve heard the story a million times.) My grandmother was the oldest kid of four, 2 younger brothers and 1 younger sister, just like me.
During their "block-party" potato roasting, there were some neighborhood boys who would come around and stomp on her brother’s hot potato, smashing it into an inedible mess. This brother was a kind and gentle soul, a boy who wasn’t ever looking for any trouble so he never fought back. They’d also pester and tease him all the way home after school until he arrived at his doorstep.
Fed up with the bullying, one day my grandmother raced home from school faster than her brother. She waited for the mean boys to follow her brother home again and poised herself quietly on top of the roof. When they arrived at the doorway, she hopped down from the roof with a baseball bat and drove them away from her home, yelling to leave her brother alone and never come back.
She was 11.
I love this story as much as I love my grandmother because it shows how fierce and fiery she’s always been.
When I was little I’d ask her to make me toast with butter, and she always told me that white bread is made of nothing but garbage. Then she’d slather some butter on a seed-filled, whole-wheat, hearty piece of bread and insisting that I eat the crusts too because that’s where all the nutrients were. I hated grandma’s toast growing up, but now, I find myself buying the same kind of seed-filled bread.
She hates all fast food joints, especially hamburgers made with american cheese and never ever eats the stuff. She hides little chocolate candies throughout her home in candy jars saying they're for the grandkids but, well, we all know better. ;)
Grandma grew up in a very humble home, sometimes relying on preserved vegetables and other canned goods for a meal. She didn’t like it. She’s made it point to feed differently than her upbringing; to always serve fresh vegetables, to eat wholesome + healthy and insists everyone around her do the same.
Typing this out makes me realize we have a lot more in common than I thought.
She has good taste and ever since my grandpa passed, I’ve found myself cooking for her often. She loves my food, and always says, “Robyn, you’re so talented, I just don’t know how you do it. You cook better than any restaurant.”
This chocolate cake is for her. It’s one I’ve made a million times at not just her request but my entire family’s request as well. It’s a cake that brings out this girlish smile in my grandmother and for a split second, as she beams from all of the “happy birthday to you” attention, I can see that little mischievous girl who was brave enough to defended her brother.
Happy birthday gram, I love you.
And love to you friends. xo
chocolate birthday cake with chocolate buttercream frosting
adapted from ina garten's barefoot contessa at home
makes one, 2 layer, 8 inch cake, serves about 10
This cake, is the cake my family refers to when they ask if I’ll make “The Cake”. This is Ina’s recipe, but I’ve been making it for so long, that I’ve added my own spin on it. It’s a little richer, less spongey, more buttery and bittersweet than her original recipe. It’s been Robyn’ified (or Sweetish'ed?) I tried to make it extra special for grandma's birthday with handmade sugar-paste letters, and if you follow me on instagram you'll know grandma kept "wowing" at the fact that I made her something so special. (I'll be offering these letters for purchase soon.:) There's nothing better than a scratch-made chocolate cake for a loved one, no? I hope you save this one and make it for years and years to come. xo
note: make sure all of the ingredients are room temperature while making the batter to ensure a perfect cake. Also, if you don't have pastry flour, unbleached all purpose flour will do, but pastry flour makes for a fantastically moist and delicate crumb. My family actually notices when I used all-purpose flour vs. pastry flour now, LOL. #lookwhativedone
time saving tip: Mix all of the dry ingredients together and store it in an air tight container for up to 3 days, so when it comes time to bake the cake, you only have to add the wet ingredients.
1 ¾ cups / 224g unbleached, pastry flour (I love Bob's brand)
2 cups / 400g sugar
¾ cup / 64g high-quality cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup / 240ml organic buttermilk, shaken
½ cup / 113g melted organic, unsalted butter, cooled slightly
3 large eggs, at room temperature, beaten slightly
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup / 240ml freshly brewed coffee, cooled
chocolate buttercream frosting:
6 ½ ounces / 187g bittersweet chocolate (think at least 70% cocoa content, i love callebaut)
½ pound (2 sticks) / 453g organic, salted butter, softened to room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ¼ cup / 150g powdered sugar
1 tablespoon freshly brewed coffee, cooled
Preheat oven to 350° F / 180°C.
Prepare a large cup of coffee, and let it cool.
note: I'm not a coffee drinker, but I do use instant coffee all the time in my baking. I usually use Trader Joe's instant coffee brand. Caffeine or Caffeine free work just the same.
In a large bowl, sift all of the dry ingredients together: flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, baking powder and soda.
note: if your cocoa powder is clumpy, you may want to sift it first before adding it to your dry ingredients.
Mix all cooled, room temperature, wet ingredients together slightly, before adding them to your dry ingredients.
With a whisk, stir your wet ingredients into your dry ingredients until combined. Be careful not to over mix. It should just come together.
Prepare two 8" / 20cm round cake pans lining the bottoms with parchment paper, and grease with butter and flour.
Evenly distribute the batter into prepared pans and bake for 35-38 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean.
Cool cake completely in their pans before frosting.
In a medium sized bowl, melt chocolate over a simmering pot of water, making sure the bowl of chocolate does not touch the water.
Set chocolate aside to cool to room temperature.
Beat butter until light and fluffy, for about 3 minutes. Do this even if your butter is very very soft. We want to get some air in there.
Add vanilla + coffee.
Add powdered sugar, mix until incorporated.
Add cooled, melted chocolate. If your chocolate is too warm it will melt your frosting into a beautiful but sad pool of shiny chocolate.
Place frosting in fridge for about 20-30 minutes to "set" before frosting cake.
Frost, serve and decorate how you please. xo