Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pioneer Woman's Best Chocolate Sheet Cake Ever

Pioneer Woman calls this sheet cake "the best chocolate sheet cake, ever." While I can't confirm that with 100% certainty (there are a lot of chocolate sheet cakes out there, and I think it is my duty -- YES, DUTY -- to reserve judgment until I have tasted all of them so I can make an informed decision), I can't imagine this cake isn't at least in the running for the title.

Chocolate Sheet Cake

The cake is moist and chocolatey, with a wonderful frosting that's dotted with pecans (to be honest, the pecans were so good that next time I'd double the amount used). What I can say with some certainty is that this was one of the easiest, most rewarding cakes I've ever made. It's really ridiculously easy, and if you're someone who thinks that something easy can't be all that good, I'm here to tell you you're very wrong.

Chocolate Sheet Cake

First of all, this cake uses melted butter, instead of softened. I don't know about you, but softened butter is the bane of my existence when it comes to baking. Oh, I understand the importance of it -- it's just having some handy when I want it that's the problem. With softened butter, you have to plan in advance, and more often than not my baking is a spontaneous thing. Anyway, you mix your wet ingredients, you mix your dry ingredients, and you mix them together. Nothing tricky about it. Same goes for the frosting (which is a little sweet for me, but has a wonderful flavor, and as I said, the pecans really add something) -- you mix the ingredients together, let it cool a bit, then spread over your cake.

Chocolate Sheet Cake

The one kind of fussy thing about this recipe is that it requires buttermilk. If you don't have buttermilk on hand (and I know very few people who have buttermilk on hand on a regular basis), I have two suggestions. One is to buy Bob's Red Mill dry buttermilk. I keep some in the freezer. It's so convenient, when I need buttermilk I just whip some up, rather than having to go out and buy a carton, only part of which gets used, so then I have to think of where else to use it. The only thing is that this is a sweet buttermilk rather than sour. Which leads me to the suggestion Pioneer Woman has, which is to fill your measuring cup almost to the required amount of buttermilk with regular milk, then add white vinegar until it reaches the right amount. I haven't tried this myself, but she says it works.

Chocolate Sheet Cake

I only have photos of the whole finished sheet cake because despite the fact that immediately after it was done I wanted to cut into it -- it smelled sooooo good -- I had to resist as I'd made it for a coworker's birthday and I didn't want to ruin his cake (or at least, couldn't figure out a way to do it without the embarassment of someone noticing that there was a piece missing). Then once it got to my workplace the cake sort of evaporated.

Pioneer Woman's Best Chocolate Sheet Cake Ever (adapted from Pioneer Woman)


For the cake:
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp (heaping) unsweetened, natural cocoa powder
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp vanilla

For the frosting:
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 14 tbsp (1 3/4 sticks) salted butter
  • 4 tbsp (heaping) unsweetened, natural cocoa powder
  • 6 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 lb (minus 1/2 cup) powdered sugar
  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt.
  2. In a saucepan, melt the butter, then add cocoa (don't be shy with the amount). Stir together.
  3. Add boiling water, allow mixture to boil for 30 seconds, then remove from heat. Pour this into the flour mixture, stirring gently just until combined.
  4. In a measuring cup, pour the buttermilk and add beaten eggs, baking soda, and vanilla. Stir buttermilk mixture into butter/chocolate mixture.
  5. Pour into ungreased sheet cake pan and bake at 350°F for 20 minutes.
  6. While the cake is baking, make the frosting. Chop the pecans finely. Melt butter in a saucepan. Add the cocoa, stir to combine, then remove from heat. Add the milk, vanilla, and powdered sugar. Stir together. Add the pecans once the frosting has cooled a bit (you don't want to cook the nuts), stir together, and pour over the warm cake.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Pico de Gallo, Guacamole, and n-Layer Dip

Just because I don't care about the Super Bowl, especially this year, doesn't mean I can't enjoy Super Bowl food, right? Right.

Pico de Gallo

I took the opportunity that this fine American tradition afforded to make something I've been too intimidated to make before (though in retrospect, I have no idea why): pico de gallo. Maybe it was all the chopping involved that I thought I wasn't up to; I don't know.

Pico de Gallo Ingredients

But it actually didn't take that long, and the best thing about pico de gallo, other than it being quite delicious on its own, is that it can be easily used in two other delicious items: guacamole, and what I'm calling n-layer dip.

Guacamole Ingredients

Pico de gallo is a simple combination of tomatoes, onion, jalapenos, cilantro, and lime juice. Take that combination and mix it with some buttery avocado and you've got guacamole. And my friends -- there is absolutely nothing like homemade guacamole.


Or if you're really in Super Bowl mode, make an n-layer dip (n because you can add or subtract as many as you like from the traditional 7-layers).

n-Layer Dip

This one has 10 layers.  Really!  Doesn't really look like there's 10 layers in there, does it? It can be easily cut in half and will be delicious just the same. Just make sure you eat it with sturdy tortilla chips that won't break apart when you're scooping up the dip.

n-Layer Dip

There's no hard and fast rule about the order in which you layer, but some would argue that order matters, that when done properly it makes a significant textural (and aesthetic) difference.  You decide what works best for you.  My preferred order is listed below.

Pico de Gallo

  • 5 firm Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1/2-1 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • salt, to taste
  1. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl.  Enjoy the same day; pico de gallo doesn't keep very well.

  • avocados
  • pico de gallo
  • lime juice
  • salt
  1. Mash up your desired quantity of avocados.  Mix in a generous amount of pico de gallo.
  2. Add another tbsp of lime juice for every 2 avocados you use.  Add salt to taste.
n-Layer Dip (based on the one photographed above)

Ingredients (ordered from bottom to top)
  1. refried beans
  2. thin layer of shredded cheese
  3. sour cream
  4. thinly shredded lettuce
  5. sliced black olives
  6. chopped cilantro
  7. pico de gallo or salsa
  8. guacamole
  9. shredded cheese
  10. thinly sliced scallions