Bobby’s Surprise 30th Birthday Dinner (and Reese’s Cake)!

Throwing a surprise party is not for the faint of heart. All the planning and subterfuge is exhausting, particularly when you’re virtually incapable of asking for help. I had planned to go all out with a huge party for Bobby’s 30th, but then realized that I had neither the money nor the will to pull that off, so I changed tack – I threw him a surprise dinner with all of his closest friends. It was easy to switch since I realized this early enough, and a small gathering fit his personality better than a giant blow out would have anyway – thank goodness for my sanity.

I made a dinner reservation at The Smith in Penn Quarter, DC, which is an incredible spot. It’s got a very bright, lively atmosphere and the decor is all subway tiles and huge, open windows. It’s very New York cool. The food and drinks are great too – for cocktails I like the “Smoke ‘Em if You Got ‘Em” because I’m a mezcal fan – it’s fruity and smoky and perfect for a warm summer evening. I didn’t take a lot of photos at dinner because I’m just plain bad at remembering to do things like that. I get caught up in the moment and somehow always regret not having photographic evidence – there’s got to be a sweet spot between living in the now and capturing it for later, but I haven’t quite found it yet.

. ……  

I had our friends go to the restaurant and get seated, and then I brought Bobby a few minutes later. We walked in, and I made a bee-line towards them. Bobby followed, confused of course, because we hadn’t even asked for a table, and then realized what was going on. If you’ve ever thrown a surprise party, you’ll know what a pleasure it is to see all the planning finally come together. I turned around to watch Bobby’s face break into a huge grin as everyone shouted “Surprise!” Or, more accurately, I think they shouted “Bobby!!!” – I was a little distracted at that point, overwhelmed with sheer relief that we’d pulled it off. There was lots of hugging and Bobby shouting “Holy shit! You guys tricked me!” Some of our friends live a few hours away, so it was especially nice to be reunited with everyone for such a fun occasion.

After dinner, we went to the hotel suite I’d booked, so that we could have a few more drinks – and cake! – without spending all of our money. Spending all of your money on drinks at bars in DC is absurdly easy to do if you start too early – pre-gaming is the only way to avoid it. We toasted to Bobby, and to turning 30, and to all being able to celebrate together, and watched him blow out the candles on his birthday cake. The cake I made was always going to be a Reese’s cake, because as far as Bobby is concerned, there is no other flavor profile worth his time. When you’ve been with someone long enough, and made a good number of peanut butter and chocolate birthday cakes, you have to stretch a little to make the concept seem fresh and exciting. Thankfully, there are more than a few ways to cake a Reese’s, and the internet led me to this beautiful cake from Life Love and Sugar. 

I didn’t realize at the time that I was going to post this as anything other than a quick Instagram, or I would’ve taken a better picture!

The issue with making the cake was that, although I’ve made plenty of cakes in the past, I am in no way a professional at decorating them. I don’t think I understood crumb coats at all until about two years ago. Two days before the party I was at Michael’s buying a cake turntable so that I could attempt to frost this all-important 30th birthday cake with those pretty, intentionally textured, Instagram-worthy sides. After a little trial and error, and a batch of  peanut butter frosting that separated for some frustratingly unknowable reason, it was done, and I’m definitely not mad at how it turned out. It’s gratifying to know that the hours I’ve spent watching cake frosting videos on Insta have contributed to my life in such a tangible way. I’m not including the recipe here because I didn’t change anything about it – follow the link above for directions!

We did a little bar hopping later in the night – checking out Cuba Libre to make fools of ourselves attempting to salsa dance, and then heading to a couple of much quieter places near Chinatown. Our friends are all in that stage of life where they’re getting married or buying a house or getting a new puppy, so we had a lot to catch up on. A little after one we all piled into an Uber to pay a visit to Mr. Abe Lincoln. The DC monuments at night are breathtaking in a way that they never are during the day. There are little-to-no crowds, and everything is lit up with spotlights. It’s incredibly peaceful, and a perfect way to wind down the night, after you’ve spent a lot of time in noisy bars. You can walk down along the reflecting pool to the WWII memorial, and revel in the warm summer air – sans the sun making you all sweaty and 8,000 other tourists hurrying you along. If you’re like us, you’ll bring a “water bottle” with you to keep your buzz going – just a suggestion.

When we were all too hungry and tired to continue our impromptu tour, we returned to our hotel to stuff ourselves with pizza (shout out to Papa John’s for being open until 4am) and more cake, and eventually pass out. The surprise went exactly as planned, and the whole night was relaxing and fun, and about as unpretentious as you can get in a city full of hipsters and politicians. Bobby has said over and over that he truly had no idea that the surprise was going to happen. I never realized I was so sneaky. Even if you don’t have sneaky plans to throw a surprise dinner/party anytime soon, make sure you check out that Reese’s cake – and definitely see the monuments at night if you’re in town.





 

 

 

Triple Chocolate Hearts

Triple Chocolate Hearts

This recipe really counts as four recipes, because there are four homemade components that go into it. Triple Chocolate Hearts begin with a gooey brownie base. Next is a layer of smooth, pink, vanilla buttercream, followed by a layer of fluffy, moist, chocolate cake. The whole thing is topped with rich chocolate ganache, dripping down the sides of the cake. I wanted to create individual desserts of a similar size and cuteness as cupcakes, but in a more interesting form. I think these fit the bill perfectly.

Before you go running away because there are way too many parts to this recipe, let me make it easier. You can use a box brownie mix, a box cake mix, and a can of frosting if you so desire/don’t happen to have some extra time on your hands. Your treats will still be adorable and delicious, and you’ll only need to make a quick ganache from scratch. That said, baking is clearly my favorite hobby, so if I can find the time, I like to do it all from scratch. If you do have a little extra time, a quick way to improve canned frosting is to whip it with your mixer. This gives it a lot more volume, so you can put a nice thick – yet light and fluffy – layer between the brownie and the cake.

Triple Chocolate Hearts are extraordinarily rich, but I feel that Valentine’s Day calls for it. What is Valentine’s Day, if not an excuse to eat a lot of decadent chocolate-y desserts? Yeah, yeah it’s about love and all that, but the rest of the year can be about love if you make it, and wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing? Letting yourself indulge in desserts like this all year is definitely not going to work out as well. Love all year, eat extraordinary treats on Valentine’s Day.

These fit perfectly in little individual cupcake boxes, so you can package them with a pretty ribbon and hand them out to your favorite people. Be careful who you give them to, though – as soon as they take the first bite, I pretty much guarantee they’ll fall in love with you all over again.

You’ll be left with scraps of brownie and cake, and maybe extra frosting and ganache. I think it would be an absolute crime to waste all of this. Instead of just eating all the leftovers the very same day, I like to work them into other recipes. You can make mini triple chocolate parfaits, cake pops, or use the extra bits to top off yogurt or an acai bowl if that’s your thing. Of course, I’m not always the best at following my own re-purposing advice. I ate basically all of the scraps myself when I made these for co-workers last year. I was in the thick of planning my wedding; I promise I needed to eat the extras to keep from losing my mind. You can easily freeze the leftover cake and brownie pieces for self-medication purposes down the road, if you don’t want feel like turning them into something else.

You can change the concept here, and make adorable non-heart-shaped cakes with different sprinkles and white or chocolate frosting in the middle instead. These would make perfect birthday treats if you’re looking for something to make besides cupcakes. The only thing that won’t change is how delicious they are.

Every layer of Triple Chocolate Hearts has a different level of sweetness, so they aren’t overwhelmingly sugary. The varying textures of the layers make them much more interesting than a typical cake,  so you’ll keep coming back for another bite, and another. Just, do yourself a favor and have some milk on hand – anything this chocolatey requires milk.

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Triple Chocolate Hearts

I use the standard Hershey's Collector's Chocolate Cake recipe for Triple Chocolate Hearts.  I didn't invent this one, but I wish I had!

The brownies and frosting are just typical recipes for brownies and buttercream - nothing super special or innovative (but extremely delicious).

The ganache is an original recipe. 

Ingredients

Hershey's Collector's Chocolate Cake

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cups cocoa
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/3 cup water

Brownies

  • 2 oz unsweetened chocolate (I used Baker's)
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Fluffy Pink Buttercream

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar - divided use
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 2 dashes salt
  • 1/2 Tbsp milk
  • 4 drops red food coloring

Chocolate Ganache

  • 4 Tbsp melted, unsalted butter 56.5g
  • 6 Tbsp cocoa 30g
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips 85g
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

Instructions

Hershey's Collector's Chocolate Cake

  1. Cream butter and sugar in large mixer bowl. Add eggs and vanilla; beat 1 minute at medium speed. 

    2. Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt; add alternately with water to creamed mixture (quickly, with the mixer running - takes about 3 minutes).

    3. Pour batter into two greased and floured 8-inch or 9-inch layer pans, or 13x9 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 - 40 mins for 8-inch; 30 - 35 mins for 9-inch; 37 mins for 13x9. 

Brownies

  1. Melt together butter and unsweetened chocolate, stir until smooth. Add sugar, eggs, vanilla, and chocolate chips. 

    2. Stir in salt and flour. Pour batter into a greased and floured 8x8 pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 35-40 minutes. Do not over-bake. 

Fluffy Pink Buttercream

  1. Cream together butter and 1 cup of the powdered sugar. Stir in vanilla, salt, and milk.

    2: Stir in remaining powdered sugar. When sugar is completely incorporated, add food coloring and stir until frosting is uniform. 

    3: Optional, but highly recommended: Whip frosting in a mixer on high until very fluffy, about five minutes. 

    - Keeps well in the refrigerator for several weeks. 

Chocolate Ganache

  1. Combine melted butter and cocoa in a small bowl. 

    2. Pour chocolate chips into another bowl. Heat heavy cream for about 25 seconds in the microwave - you can also do this over the stove. You just want it hot enough to come barely to a boil. Pour cream over chocolate chips and let sit for one minute. Stir until chocolate has melted and the mixture is completely smooth. 

    3. Combine the two bowls of chocolatey essence into one bowl of nirvana.

Tripe Chocolate Hearts

  1. Make Cake (I did a 9x13) and Brownies. While these are baking, make frosting and ganache. When cake and brownies are cool, use a cookie cutter to cut heart shapes from each. Cut off the excess cake/brownie that sticks out over the top edge of the cookie cutter so that both sides of your heart shapes are even and flat. 

    2. Use the brownie hearts as the base. Frost with a generous layer of the pink buttercream. Top with a cake heart, bottom side-up, to give you a smoother surface for the ganache. 

    3. Spread a thick layer of ganache across the top of the cake, allowing some to drip down the sides. Decorate the hearts with sprinkles, and try not to eat all of them immediately!





Chocolate Chip Crater Cake

Chocolate Chip Crater Cake

I’m going to tell you a secret that I hold close to my heart. I don’t always tell people, because they often react in shock and horror, but I think it’s time to proclaim it to the world. Click away now if you’re easily distressed. Ready?

I don’t like coffee.

I know you’re staring at your screen right now, mouth agape, wondering how this could possibly have come to pass. Who doesn’t like coffee? Most people practically live on the stuff! I don’t have anything specific against it, I’ve just never enjoyed drinking it enough to make it a part of my life.

You know what I do like? Coffee cake – all versions of it. Chocolate Chip Crater Cake makes an absolutely delightful coffee cake. You can also choose to enjoy it sans coffee, perhaps with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, as I do. It’s versatile that way.

Chocolate Chip Crater Cake is a long-standing favorite from my childhood. My mom couldn’t tell me exactly where we got this recipe, although she suspects that it came from Betty Crocker. This isn’t exactly a new recipe, but I haven’t seen it around at all lately, so I figured it was time to start bringing it back.

This cake is a different creature from a lot of typical go-to desserts. It’s got a fluffy, cake-ybase, a layer of gooey, melted chocolate chips, another layer of cake, and a buttery, cinnamon crumble topping that ties the whole thing together. It’s baked in an 8×8 pan, so the recipe doesn’t make a huge amount. I tend to prefer that in dessert recipes I know I love. If I don’t bake too much of it, I won’t eat too much of it. Seems pretty rudimentary, but portion control has never quite been my strong suit. Especially when we’re talking about something this delicious.

Chocolate Chip Crater Cake is the dessert equivalent of those tiny restaurants that don’t look like much, but serve amazing food. It’s not the prettiest or the most intricate, but the balance of flavors and textures really makes up for what it lacks in appearance.

This recipe originally calls for Bisquick, which you are perfectly welcome to use – your results will be perfectly fine. I use a homemade version of Bisquick that I like to keep on hand – it keeps well for a long time in the refrigerator. I’ve included it below the recipe for the cake, in case you decide to make it from scratch as well. I know a lot of people like to know exactly what ingredients go into their food, and commercial mixes can make that more difficult.

Whether you enjoy it by itself, with ice cream, coffee, or coffee flavored ice cream, Chocolate Chip Crater Cake is a dessert you’ll want to make again and again. It’s simple yet rich, and about as comforting as a dessert can be. Try it hot out of the oven, and I promise you won’t even remember that it’s winter.

5 from 1 vote
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Chocolate Chip Crater Cake

Course Dessert
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes

Ingredients

Cake

  • 2 cups Bisquick 216g
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Topping

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup Bisquick
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Instructions

  1. Step 1: Stir together Bisquick, sugar, and cinnamon. Add egg, vanilla, and milk, and stir until well combined. It's alright if there are some lumps; these won't matter once it's baked. 

    Step 2: Pour half the batter into a greased 8x8 pan. Top with chocolate chips in an even layer. Pour remaining batter over the chocolate chips and spread to cover them.

    Step 3: Use a fork to stir together topping ingredients, and sprinkle evenly over batter. 

    Step 4: Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes until the topping is golden brown and crispy. Cool completely and cut into squares.

 

 

5 from 1 vote
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Homemade Bisquick

Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Servings 3 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour 240g
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp buttermilk powder
  • 1/2 cup cold butter, unsalted

Instructions

  1. Step 1: Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl. 

    Step 2: Cut in butter to the size of small peas. Refrigerate if not using right away - may also be stored in the freezer.