Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cake

"Cake," I told a friend over the phone, "is really only good if it's off-season. You know, when you randomly decide to make a cake and it's just amazing?"
I've never been a fan of birthday cake. Cake should be clandestine. Cake should be unexpected. Cake should be that friend who shows up at 11 PM and kidnaps you for a spur of the moment sleepover. I don't know what it is, but if you announce cake it's's just meh. But when you decide that THIS will be a weekend for making cake and that the cake you're making will be inspired by your favorite ice cream flavor which is inspired by another dessert, you're on the right track. I took the precaution of vetting my idea past by five year old student who wants to be a pastry chef:
"So I have this idea for a cake."
"Yeah. It's going to be a vanilla cake with mini chocolate chips."
"And have vanilla buttercream between the layers. And chunks of chocolate chip cookie dough."
"And I'll cover the top with chocolate ganache. Sound good?"

As you can see, we really talked it out. But I came home and I trotted the plan through all its paces and nothing failed except the fact that you can't put hot chocolate ganache on top of buttercream frosting and expect it to stay put. Mine slid all over creation like some hot fudge lava stream and it was inglorious but delicious. Thus it's very important to let your chocolate ganache cool before spooning it overtop of your cake layers. I want to prevent Vesuvius from happening to your cake project. Trust me on this.

One of the best parts of this recipe is the fact that all the steps (apart from whipping the buttercream frosting) can be done in a single bowl with a wooden spoon. If you're anything like me the idea of hauling out a giant mixer and washing it afterward can easily overwhelm any baking inspiration. Good news! This recipe requires minimal cleanup and a killer final product. Moist, perfect layer cake made with browned butter and miniature chocolate chips. Fluffy vanilla buttercream so light it's almost imaginary. Chunks of silky, egg-free cookie dough tucked between layers. Suave chocolate ganache cascading over the sides. When chilled, this cake is a chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream flavor doppelganger - only you can enjoy it nice and slowly because it'll never melt! The recipe should either make four small layers or two large (9") layers. Feel free to make it either way - I prefer using a smaller pan because more layers = more cookie dough-to-cake ratio! And I don't know anybody who is against a high cookie dough ratio. My recipe for the layer cake is generously adapted from this recipe from Sally's Baking Addiction, the main difference being adding brown sugar, browning my butter, and omitting the raspberries.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Layer Cake
makes two 9" or four 6" layers

the cake:
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour (measured correctly)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup miniature chocolate chips
1 cup unsalted butter, melted and browned over medium-low until a caramel color
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cups brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups milk*
2 Tablespoons lemon juice*
(* if desired, substitute with buttermilk. Otherwise mix lemon juice with milk and allow to rest a few minutes until thickened)

the frosting:
1 cup unsalted butter
6 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup + 1 Tablespoon heavy cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extractg
salt, to taste

the cookie dough:
5 Tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/8 cup granulated sugar
1/8 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup + 1 Tablespoon all purpose flour
1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips

the ganache:
8 ounces good dark chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules

For the cake:
  1. In a large bowl combine dry ingredients. In a smaller bowl combine wet ingredients. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix with a few quick strokes, being careful not to over-mix.
  2. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease cake pans and line with parchment paper. Divide batter evenly into pans and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  3. Cool on wire rack for five minutes before removing from pan to finish cooling.
For the frosting:
  1. Soften butter to room temperature, then whip in mixer until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add in the powdered sugar, cream, vanilla extract, and salt.
  2. Whip until well combined, then cover and set aside till assembly.
For the cookie dough:
  1. Combine all ingredients by hand in a large bowl. If too soft, allow to chill in fridge until set, about 30 minutes.
  2. Pinch off chunks or roll into small balls the size of green peas. Save any remaining cookie dough for decorating the outside of the cake.
For the ganache:
  1. Cook chocolate, heavy cream, and instant coffee granules in the top of a double boiler until warm and glossy. Allow to cool until almost entirely cold before assembling cake!
  1. level all cakes by slicing across tops with long knife to make an even surface. Layer cake in this manner: cake + frosting + cookie dough + cake + frosting + cookie dough, etc. "Dirty ice" the outside and top of cake with buttercream frosting, then allow to chill in fridge 1/2 hour to set frosting.
  2. With a clean off-set spatula, ice sides of cake with remaining frosting, finishing it off as desired but leaving top thinly frosted so as to not be overwhelmed when ganache is added.
  3. Spoon cooled ganache over the top of the cake and allow to cascade as taste dictates. Decorate with remaining cookie dough, chocolate chips, or frosting as desired! Have fun.

Sesame Pot-Stickers & Puppies

  February has basically been like a parade of gorgeous April days around here! I'm headed to the beach as soon as I finish writing this post. The beach! In cover up my confusion (like laughing instead of commenting on an anecdote an acquaintance wails at you from across a crowded room because you have zero idea what was just said), I'm giving you a recipe for sesame-seed-sprinkled pot-stickers! If you've never had a pot-sticker, the easiest way to explain it as that it's like a more accessible egg-roll. A savory filling of ground turkey, mushrooms, water-chestnuts, ginger, and more all tucked into a chubby little won-ton wrapper, folded like an origami puppy, and pan-fried in sesame oil. The aroma that fills the kitchen just from prepping the filling is enough to make anybody the time you've pan-fried them into crispy little golden purses you're ready to devour them standing up by the stove. The testing stage for this recipe may or may not have developed expressly because of this urge.

Can you smell it yet? I can. Or maybe that's just because I have some leftover in the kitchen. And that's the beauty of this recipe. Since it makes forty-eight darling little pot-stickers you've got endless options: throw a party, eat them all yourself, pan-fry half and freeze the other half. I'm telling you, this is the best little most helpful little, most delicious little recipe I have in my arsenal. The folding process is deceptively easy! You could google how to fold an origami puppy or you could simply place a dollop of the (raw) filling inside the won-ton wrapper, wet one edge, fold the top left corner to the bottom right corner, then fold the triangular ends down and the very bottom point up. Here is a visual if you're still confused!

I was also a lucky woman and had leftover Chinese takeout from the night before so guess who really won here? My recipe is adapted from the one that can be found at Damn Delicious, tweaked according to my taste and presented to you here! Enjoy the recipe - I can't think of anything yummier than sitting down to a late dinner of pot-stickers and stir-fry in front of a vintage movie.

Sesame Pot-Stickers
(makes 48)
1 pound ground turkey
3 ounces shiitake mushrooms, diced, wrung out in tea towel
3 ounces water chestnuts, diced
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 Tablespoons ginger, minced
2 green onions, sliced
2 Tablespoons soy sauce or coconut aminos
4 Tablespoons sesame oil, divided
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon black or white pepper, ground
1 package won-ton wrappers (36-48, usually)
1 teaspoon sesame seeds for topping
Soy sauce or coconut aminos for serving
  1. In a large bowl, use hands to mix together ground turkey, mushrooms, water chestnuts, garlic, ginger, green onions, soy sauce, 1 Tablespoon sesame oil, rice vinegar, and pepper until well-combined.
  2. Spoon a generous teaspoon of filling into each wrapper and fold as desired or as described above. I prefer the puppy method because who doesn't want a cute puppy pot-sticker? Fold all pot-stickers. If cooking all of them, proceed to next step. If freezing some, spread pot-stickers in single layer on wax-paper covered tray and freeze overnight, then store in a ziplock bag.
  3. Heat remaining sesame oil in large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Cook pot-stickers in single layer for about two minutes on each side, flipping once. They will be done when both sides are golden and crispy. Feel free to lower heat if the outsides are cooking too quickly. Test the first pot-sticker to see how your stove is cooking.
  4. Set finished pot-stickers on paper-towels to absorb excess oil, then sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve immediately. Dip in soy sauce or other sauce of choice.
These babies make me think of P.F. Chang's, though I've never had pot-stickers there. Where did you get the best "Chinese food" you've ever eaten? I'm always on the lookout for suggestions!

But What If I Never Get Married? + Party Pics

Happy Pre-Valentine's Day, guys! I know you probably expected dinner party photos (yay, here they are!) but I also wanted to break the fourth wall and reach out in a personal way to those of you are spending another Valentine's Day without a date. Awkward to come across on a food-blog, but I really felt like sharing something deeper than a recipe this time. And forget only single people, I also am reaching out to those of you who do have a date but are somehow missing a purpose. I hope you'll forgive the lapse and enjoy the post and the photos taken by my long-suffering, light-chasing friend, Arielle.

There have been many articles written on “ the blessing of being single.” There have been many more written on the pain of it. This one isn't going to be a disclaimer of either one because joy and pain go together like dark chocolate and sea-salt. Amiright? Okay, let's get down to the details:
Guys, I am reaching my mid-twenties. I don't have a boyfriend. I've never had one. Unless you're strangely un-tempted by the idea of marriage, to be twenty-some years old and very much single is probably not where you pictured yourself when, as a little girl (or boy), you thought about grown-up life. At least it's not where I pictured myself.

Every time February 14th rolls around I seem to be given a merciful break from feeling particularly, ridiculously single. Maybe I realize the holiday is over-hyped or that I can buy myself flowers and chocolate if I actually want it. And yet, every February 14th the thought crosses my mind,
“You know, I'm going to enjoy this year an extra bit. It could be my last Valentine's Day as a single girl and I know I'll miss these solo missions once I'm married.”
And, ironically, every February 14th I realize that I'm still as single as I was the year before, only older and wiser and hopefully farther along in the things that really matter. For all this unexpected contentment which oddly descends on me just at the time I probably ought to feel most single, there is one question I used to avoid answering entirely. I had never wanted to make eye contact with this thought because I wasn't sure what little corners packed full of doubt it might upend. I wasn't sure that I would have the strength to meet the idea face to face because it was an idea that I disdained my entire life.

Disdain: the feeling that someone or something is unworthy of one's consideration or respect.

Yes, I disdained this idea so much, I feared this idea so much that I would never ask it to myself outright. I would only speak of it in the negative, as a sort of anti-idea. One of those things that “of course would never happen.” What idea held so much sway over me? What question did I hold in such frightened contempt that I would never ask it?

What if I never get married?

There it is – just a little phrase that my mother laughs at. So many, many, many girls before me have thought the same thing and have lived to be married and have families and laugh in their turn at their daughters who won't look a little question square in the eye.

Sometimes it turns out that we don't really want what we thought we wanted. I did not get several of the things I thought I wanted this year. But as I stood beneath the blue-white moon tonight wrapped in a pink plaid blanket with my heart laid open, I found myself overwhelmed with gratefulness for not being given those things. Because a year down the road I no longer want what I thought I did - that position, that friend, that relationship. And I wonder how different my life would have been if I had got my way. Because of not getting what I thought I wanted, I have grown stronger. I have grown wiser. I have grown more capable, truer, and more tender-hearted. And most importantly, I've seen Jesus cultivate in me a great joy in just...being His and learning to care for what He cares for and to see what He sees.

So it has only been recently – in this last year mentioned– that I have been able to really consider that one forbidden question with abandon. And the moment I considered it, I found it lost all of its spooking-power. As of publishing this article, the male population has exactly one day to keep me from spending my twenty-fourth Valentine's Day "alone." That's not much time, is it? And somehow, the idea of spending twenty-five, fifty, seventy more of these holidays alone does not frighten me. Because here's the funny, funny nature of forever: it's only today bound to tomorrow and multiplied forward. Forever is only today. It is the only math problem I look at with excitement rather than dismay. Forever is only today. May I tell you about today?

I woke up to my 6:30 alarm of "Another Day of Sun" from La La Land. Early, rose-colored light peeked through cracks in my curtains. I stumbled out of bed into the bathroom to brush my teeth and stare in stupid satisfaction at the pink lemonade sunrise. You can't just let that sort of thing go by without watching it because there'll never be another one like it. I grabbed my Bible and journal and tried to avoid the creakiest steps as I crept downstairs. Without turning the lights on I made a breakfast out of the leftovers from the dinner party (holla) I hosted the night before: good bread and butter. Some dill Havarti and Jarlsberg. Strawberries. Cara Cara oranges same color as the sky. Reheated coffee. Sweet memories of laughter and old friends and new ones. I pulled a fuzzy blanket over my lap and sat under the fairy-lights (also left from the party) and met with Jesus. I took my time with my few chapters, writing down the quiet thoughts His word had placed in my heart, lifting up in prayer the things He brought to mind. Specific people and situations. The things I think I want right now that may or may not play out. My morning quickened. I drove to work and the familiar collage pieced itself together: little girls, lesson plans, deep questions, classic literature, gorgeous art, chili on the stove, muffins in the oven, tickle fights, dance parties, finches outside, pure white pansies and green, green grass. I drove home, cleaned my room and my walk-in closet, lighted a honeysuckle candle, chose outfits for a photo shoot. Enjoyed a hot shower. Ate Domino's with my family (not all food is posh). Washed a sink full of dishes. Laughed for the twentieth time at a YouTube video of ridiculously adorable British kids. Opened my laptop and started to write the words that I'm sharing with you now because if I could persuade you to understand anything this Valentine's Day it is this: you are never alone. Not today. Not forever. Never.

Look, I get that not all days begin with raspberry sunlight. There are car accidents and bills, bad attitudes and health problems. But when the idea of living the rest of my life alone scares me, it's not the prospect of living without a husband, one day at a time, that frightens me. It is looking at forever in one sweep. Forever, bleached of all of today's color and subtleties. Forever stared at as a concrete, immovable, communistic lump of fatalistic disappointment. That is what I fear when I fear never marrying. I fear always being left. I fear always staying behind. I fear nobody to hold me when I am tired and worn, nobody to cheer me on, nobody to devote all my love to specifically, nobody to kiss me, nobody to steal my my crème brulee (en garde, villain), nobody to make a home for. But that isn't how we are meant to take forever. That is not how children take forever. That is not how creation takes forever. Forever, anyway, extends so far past my life that my human brain cannot fathom its breadth. So if I live for the rest of my life without a husband, my life will be like today. And today was beautiful; enriched; fulfilling; surprising. Tomorrow will be like it, even if I find the resemblance a little harder to see.

Why do I say that? What gives me that assurance? I speak boldly about a fulfilling life of singleness (or marriage or widowhood) because I know that just like I did today, I will walk through the next day totally abandoned to Christ. I am being led and worked in and changed by the love of Jesus. Every. Single. Day (ahhhhhh, puns). To worry about being single forever would be to worry about having a life as beautiful, purposeful, full, and specifically-created as today was. I was not put on this earth as an infant and left to stumble through it alone. I walk with my God's hand in the small of my back, guiding me along and giving me confidence to know that wherever He is, there is life more abundant than anything I could make on my own. A life full of the things I find I need rather than the things I thought I wanted. This is why I can laugh at the question I once feared addressing. The prospect of a life attuned to Christ fills me with gratitude for the chance to go where He directs. I know that today is not about drudging through my own plan but living out His perfect one. I know that forever is actually today, since tomorrow isn't even promised.

So, what if I never get married?

I can't pretend that I don't look forward with hope to the day when I'll have a companion who is wholly mine and whose I will wholly be. The nature of life is that we join together and move together. For the single among us that means we will have a lot of chances to say hello and a lot of chances to say goodbye as our friends and family members pair off and settle down and new friends come and old friends go. We don't have the permanency of settling down with a husband and raising a family. We don't have someone whose life syncs with our own over a thousand commonplace breakfasts and a thousand sweet “goodnight”s. We don't have that sort of covenant bond with another human soul and yes, some days the missing-him aches very much. I have no promise that he is even in my future, and that thought is sometimes painful to the core.

But today, my single life is joyful. Tomorrow my single life will be wonderful. Forever, my single-or-married life will be excellent. Why? Because I am spending today and I am spending forever under the Mercy of the One who created it to begin with. I'm spending my life (married, unmarried, widowed, whatever) in pursuit of more than companionship. I'm spending my life pursuing Jesus and the particular story He's writing with the ink of my life. This is why I can laugh at the days to come and look forward without regret to February 15th. Cos guys: single or not, everybody can get down with Half-Priced Chocolate Day. Amen? Amen.

Dinner Party Inspiration No. 1

I'm playing a game with myself this year: host six dinner parties. The rules are simple: invite no more than eight guests at a go, choose a different theme for each, mix social circles, then write about it. I'm thrilled to say the first of the six (or more, evil laugh) will be almost going off, by the time you read this. I'll obviously be sharing some about the parties after we have them, so you'll get a go at hearing all about how I actually pulled it off. But to tease you, here is some of my inspiration for the first round:

  • Theme: grown-up fairytale picnic/Ram Dass room makeover
  • No. of Guests invited: eight
  • Social circle mixing: achieved