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Food & Recipes

Ultimate Chocolate Layer Cake // Joe’s 29th Birthday Cake

September 13, 2016


Every year I make my husband a birthday cake, and every year Joe asks me to bake a chocolate cake. One of Joe’s favorite recipes of all time is a recipe I developed a couple years ago when I was working for Betty Crocker. Let’s be clear when I say that yes, this cake starts with boxed cake mix, but it’s anything but ordinary.

Actually, I should clarify that I have nothing against boxed cake mix in certain situations, including this one, where using boxed cake yields some of the best cake around.

This was my first attempt at baking this cake in layer format rather than in a bundt pan, and with a few adjustments and adaptations, it turned out really well! I would make this cake again and again, and you should, too, if you’re looking for a chocolate cake recipe that will blow your guests minds.

Plus, the leftovers taste pretty great, too. Not that I would know anything about eating leftovers after taking photographs in the middle of the day or anything. 😉


Ultimate Chocolate Layer Cake // Joe's 29th Birthday Cake
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 8 slices
  • Cake
  • 1 box Betty Crocker Devil's Food Cake Mix
  • 1 box (4-serving) chocolate instant pudding and pie filling mix
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup water
  • 3 eggs
  • ¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • Frosting
  • 3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 oz semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  1. Make the cake layers:
  2. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch cake pans. Line bottom of pans with parchment paper and set aside.
  3. In a bowl, combine the cake mix, pudding mix, oil, water and eggs and beat until smooth and well combined. Batter will be thick. Beat in the chocolate chips just until combined.
  4. Divide batter between the two pans and spread evenly in pans. Bake on the middle oven rack 22 to 28 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Cool 10 minutes on wire racks. Run a knife around the edge of the cakes and remove from pans. Cool completely on wire cooling racks, about 1 hour.
  6. To Make Frosting:
  7. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the chocolate and beat until well combined, about 1 minute more. Beat in the milk vanilla and salt, followed by the powdered sugar, beating about 2 minutes or until the frosting is smooth and spreadable.
  8. To Assemble Cake:
  9. Place on cake layer on a cake plate or serving tray. Spread some of the frosting on the top of the cake evenly. Top with remaining layer. Use remaining frosting to frost top and sides of the cake. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.

Cake recipe adapted from One-Bowl Strawberry Bundt Cake 
Frosting recipe adapted from Magnolia Bakery Cookbook 

Food & Recipes

Yellow Cake + Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting

September 22, 2015


Joe recently celebrated his 28th birthday. I can’t believe that we’ve been celebrating birthdays together for the last 6 years. Where in the world has the time gone? This husband of mine, well I have to say that I think he’s the best. The nearly 4+ years we’ve been married and the years we dated before that (including a little while in high school, too!) have been some of the most wonderful, heartbreaking, difficult, joy-filled years of my life. Isn’t that what doing life with someone else is all about? It’s a study in contrasts, it’s work and elbow grease and it’s always, absolutely worth it.

So, my love, this year and every year I celebrate you. Your go-get-em attitude, your stubborn nature, your zest for life, toughness and compassion all rolled into one. You’re the best dad for Ainsley and the best husband for me. We couldn’t be more thankful for your presence in our life and I pray for many, many more birthdays to come. Here’s to making 28 our best year yet!


Also: I made yellow cake with chocolate sour cream frosting for Joe’s birthday. And, gasp!, I used a boxed mix. Because I love Betty Crocker and because sometimes it’s really all about the frosting anyway. 🙂 The recipe below is just for the frosting, because I’m sure you don’t need me to repeat the instructions for making cake from a box!

Yellow Cake + Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting
Recipe type: Dessert
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 to 3½ cups powdered sugar
  • Milk, if necessary to reach spreading consistency
  1. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the chocolate chips and butter, stirring frequently until smooth. Remove from heat and cool.
  2. In a large stand mixer or a large bowl with a hand mixer, combine the butter-chocolate mixture, sour cream, vanilla, salt and powdered sugar. Beat until smooth and well-combined. If necessary, add a little milk to reach a firm but spreadable consistency. Store frosted cake or frosting in the refrigerator.



Low Sugar Banana Bundt Cake

June 16, 2014

Banana Bundt Cake 1 | Espresso and Cream

Last night I flew into NYC for work for a couple days. As I flew into the city, I got a little nostalgic thinking about all the memories that I’ve made in this place. My first trip to New York was when I was a freshman in college and my dad took our whole family here over Christmas and New Year’s. I remember how overwhelmed and shocked I was as we flew in, seeing the density of the buildings in such a tiny amount of space, unlike anything I had seen before.

A couple years later I visited New York quite regularly on my own while filming for The Rachael Ray Show. Although I was well taken care of, I’m sure my parents were a little bit nervous sending their 21-year-old daughter off on her own week after week to film a television show.

I remember being in Rockefeller Center on election night in 2008 and then back there in 2010 getting engaged to Joe next to the tree with a crowd full of strangers cheering as he got down on one knee.  And then back to NYC for another round of The Rachael Ray Show’s All-Stars edition in 2011.

Without a doubt, I love visiting this place and remembering everything I’ve experienced here, but I always really, really love going home, too. And I realize what a gift it is to love your home and what you have more than anywhere else you could possibly travel to our visit. (Although if Joe told me we were moving to Italy, I wouldn’t be all that upset…)

Banana Bundt Cake 2 | Espresso and Cream


I suppose I’ve gotten terribly off track with my little walk down memory lane. This post is really supposed to be about this Low Sugar Banana Bundt Cake. It didn’t take long for us to fall in love with this recipe in the Hofmeyer house. I’ve been playing around with using a lot less sugar in my baking at home but sometimes I’m disappointed with the texture of lower sugar treats. Thankfully this cake doesn’t disappoint! It’s absolutely light and fluffy and delicious, with just a hint of sweetness from the bananas and a small amount of honey.

After I turned the bundt cake out, I decided to add a drizzle of dark chocolate. This is only really necessary if you plan on serving this cake as a healthier dessert or want it to taste a little sweeter. You could easily leave off the chocolate drizzle, or even turn the batter into muffins for a healthy breakfast on the go!

Low Sugar Banana Bundt Cake
Recipe type: dessert, snack, breakfast
Serves: 16
This batter would also make fantastic low-sugar muffins for kids and healthy adults!
  • 3 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ⅓ cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped (optional)
  • Chocolate Drizzle
  • ⅓ cup dark chocolate, melted
  1. Heat oven to 325°F.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine all the above ingredients except the dark chocolate. Stir until just combined and ingredients are evenly mixed. Pour batter into a well-greased 10- or 12-cup bundt pan.
  3. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes in pan. Turn cake out onto wire cooling rack and cool completely, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  4. Once cake has cooled, drizzle with melted chocolate, if desired.



First Birthday Smash Cake and DIY Bunting

April 16, 2014


Eli Smash Cake 1
A few weeks ago my dear friend Laura asked me if I would be interested in making her son, Eli’s, first birthday smash cake. Laura and I have been friends for years and she has the most amazing blog about life as a stay-at-home mom and DIY/craft expert. Seriously, some day I hope to do half the projects she completes around her house.

Joe and I both agree on the fact that Laura and Mike’s son, Eli, is one of the cutest kiddos we’ve ever seen. He has this adorable little natural mohawk hair and the sweetest personality. So of course I was trilled to be asked to make his cake!

I was also excited to do a little blog collaboration with Laura, something we’ve wanted to do for a while. So I made the cake, and Laura made the adorable flags/bunting on top of the cake. In fact, if you want to know how to make the flag, hop on over to Laura’s blog, Oakland Avenue, today to learn how!

Unfortunately we were planning on being out of town for the actual birthday party, but I made the cake in advance and gave it to Laura a few days before the party. Which, now that I think about it, is a great make-ahead tip for moms who are busy with other party details and want to make their cake in advance. It can be done!

EliCharles_1stBirthday_April2014 (95 of 95)

Laura didn’t have a lot of requests for the cake, but she did want it to be slightly healthier in nature. That said, Laura didn’t want to sacrifice having a beautiful cake just to have a healthy cake, so the goal was really to fall somewhere in the middle. For the cake, I made a lower-sugar yellow cake with mashed banana in the batter to add natural sweetness. Since I wanted the cake to still be “smashable” I decided not to use whole wheat flour since that adds denseness.

For the frosting I focused on lower sugar content and went with a Swiss Meringue Buttercream. This type of frosting isn’t healthy by any means, since it does have plenty of butter, but it is much lower in sugar, in fact the entire batch only had 2/3 cup sugar. And since I used organic butter, I figured a little fat is good for babies, right? This is by far my favorite frosting for decorating because it’s so smooth and spreadable, resulting in a very beautiful cake.

Eli Smash Cake 2

Eli's First Birthday Smash Cake
Recipe type: Dessert
  • Cake
  • Cooking spray and flour for the pans
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 medium ripe banana
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2¼ cups milk
  • Swiss Meringue Buttercream
  • 4 egg whites
  • ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1½ cups butter, softened and cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
  1. Heat oven to 350F. Grease and flour two 6-inch round cake pans. Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the sugar, banana and butter until smooth and well combined, about 2 minutes. Add in the vanilla and eggs, one at a time, beating until combined after each addition.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add some of the flour, followed by all of the milk, finishing with the remaining flour mixture. Beat until just combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
  4. Bake 28 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the cake and remove from pans. Cool completely on wire cooling racks, about 1 to 2 hours.
  5. Cut rounded tops off cakes with a serrated knife. Cut each layer in half horizontally to make four total cake layers. Refrigerate cake layers 45 minutes for easier handling.
  6. Meanwhile, make the buttercream:
  7. In small saucepan, combine the egg whites and sugar. Cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture reaches 160F (food safe temperature) with a candy thermometer. If you don't have a candy thermometer, the egg white mixture should be very warm to the touch and sugar completely dissolved.
  8. Transfer egg white mixture to an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat egg whites on high speed about 8 to 10 minutes or until bowl of electric mixer is no longer warm to the touch. Add the vanilla and the butter, one pat at a time, until the mixture is smooth, creamy and has the texture of buttercream frosting. If the mixture separates while adding the butter, don't worry. Just keep on whisking on high speed until it comes back together.
  9. Place one cake layer on cardboard cake round. Top with some of the buttercream. Repeat with remaining cake layers until you have a four tiered cake. Use a small amount of buttercream to coat entire cake with a crumb coat, about ½ cup buttercream total, just enough to create a smooth surface on the outside of the cake.
  10. Reserve ⅔ cup of buttercream for decorative detailing. Use remaining buttercream to coat outside of cake with a smooth layer of buttercream.
  11. Color reserved buttercream your desired shade of blue, pink or other color. Place in a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch tube tip. Pipe a dollop of frosting on the top edge of cake. Use the back of a teaspoon to pull the frosting into a petal shape. Repeat with dollops and pulls around the entire top edge of cake.
  12. Use a small round pastry tip to make small dots around the bottom of the cake where the cake meets the cardboard cake round.
  13. Make Ahead Tip: This cake can be made ahead and frosted up to 3 days in advance. Simply make and frost as directed, then store in the freezer. I recommend freezing the cake uncovered for 3 hours first, then lightly covering with plastic wrap and storing in a plastic cake container/carrier in the freezer until ready to serve. To de-thaw, remove from freezer 12 hours in advance and allow cake and buttercream to come to room temperature.



Bran Snack Cake

April 3, 2014

Bran Snack Cake 1 | Espresso and Cream
I know, I know. The whole “bran cake” probably doesn’t have you dashing to the kitchen to make this recipe, does it? Hang with me for a moment and let me explain. I’ve undoubtedly mentioned before how much I love hearty, healthier, one-bowl cake that doesn’t require a lot of fuss. This cake is all that and more.

Growing up I remember buying the most amazing bran muffins at the local grocery store. They were made by the local Dutch bakery (we grew up in a very Dutch town) and were pretty much the best things on the planet. They were huge muffins, not in paper liners, and the bottoms of the muffins were gooey and covered in some sort of caramel glaze that soaked into the muffins and kept them moist. At the time, I thought I was eating something healthy. I mean, they’re bran muffins for crying out loud. Now I realize they were more than likely loaded with sugar and butter and calories only being disguised by the bran as a better-for-you treat.

Bran Snack Cake 2 | Espresso and Cream
So last week when the urge to bake hit me hard I decided to try and recreate those muffins with a healthier twist. This bran cake is made in an 8- or 9-inch square cake pan, though you could certainly use a round cake pan if that’s what you happen to own. Instead of being loaded with sugar and butter and all those bad-for-you ingredients, I made a light glaze to go on the cake and drizzled the cake with a couple tablespoons of honey right after it came out of the oven.

Joe, who is not one for healthy desserts and cakes, was a huge fan of this cake! Although I had to warn him about portion control. One slice of cake a day is really all you should think about eating, if you know what I mean. We’re talking about bran, after all.

Bran Snack Cake 3 | Espresso and Cream

Bran Snack Cake
Recipe type: Breakfast, Brunch, Snack
Serves: 9 to 12
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups 100% bran cereal (such as All Bran)
  • 1¼ cups milk (I used 2% but you can use whatever you prefer)
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup vegetable or canola oil
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Spray 8-inch square (or 8-inch round) cake pan with cooking spray. In small bowl, melt butter. Add brown sugar to butter and stir until well combined. Pour mixture into bottom of pan.
  2. In large bowl, combine all-purpose and whole wheat flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger and salt until well combined. In second bowl, combine bran cereal, milk, egg, oil and sugar until well combined. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Pour mixture into prepared baking pan.
  3. Bake 22 to 26 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Run a knife around the edge of the cake. Invert cake immediately onto serving platter. Drizzle with the honey. Cut into squares to serve. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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