Wellesley Fudge Cake Re-Visited

Wellesley Fudge Cake RecipeI have been so absent here on the blog, and my apologies to all.  Life has been crazy busy, and with so many good things happening.  One very exciting piece of news will have to wait for an upcoming post (no, I wasn’t offered a cookbook deal) but for now I will share the most exciting thing happening at the moment.

I have been flying to Kentucky and New York a lot lately –  Kentucky (which has to do with my soon to be shared exciting news), and New York to visit my Girl.  The most exciting of those trips was to attend J’s graduation from Grad School.  She did it!  She’s completed what she set out to do in the Big Apple, receiving her masters in Art Therapy a few weeks ago.  If you have followed along here at Sifting Focus from the beginning, you will remember that I began this blog as a way to fill the empty-nest blues I was suffering when she left for college nearly seven years ago.  I had them BAD!  On the other side of that journey now, I am happy to report that I survived, as did she, and as I type these words, I sit among stacks of boxes in her NYC apartment awaiting the movers to return their contents to our home in LA.  My heart is jumping for joy!  My Girl is coming home!!
Wellesley Fudge Cake II recipeSo, on now to the real reason for this post.  Over two years ago I posted a recipe for Wellesley Fudge Cake.  That recipe has stirred up as much controversy on my blog as the original cake did at Wellesley College way back when.  (Read the original post and you will understand what I am am referring to.)  Since originally posting this recipe, there have been a considerable amount of  comments made by readers who attempted baking this cake.  Many of the comments have been positive, even glowing at times.  Unfortunately, I have received too many comments from readers who have struggled, enough so that I decided to re-test the recipe.  I followed my directions exactly as originally posted, except I used round cake pans, since so many readers asked if the cake would work in round pans.  As you can see from the photos of my cake, it turned out beautifully once again.  So, what was happening that it wasn’t working well for a number of others?  Although some found fault with the cake part of the recipe, most of the failures had to do with the frosting.  Since I believe this is a cake worth making (especially that fudgy frosting), I will share some hints to success for anyone who wants to give this cake a go.

To ensure that the cake layers release from the pans, in addition to greasing and flouring the pans, line each with a square or round of parchment paper.

To achieve the deep dark brown color and rich chocolate flavor intended for this cake, use a high quality brand of cocoa, such as Valrhona or Callebaut.  Using a store bought brand is fine, you just won’t achieve the same deep dark brown color of cake as the one in my photos.

Biggest hint!  You cannot rush this frosting!!

Thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly, sift together the confectioners sugar and cocoa.

When initially heating the butter, brown sugar, salt, and 1/2 cup half and half over medium-low heat, stir slowly and very frequently.  Stirring constantly is fine also.

Once the butter and brown sugar mixture has thickened, and before transferring it to a large bowl, slightly cool a couple drops of the mixture and rub it between two fingers.  If it feels gritty at all, continue to cook the mixture and test again until no grittiness remains.

When adding the confectioners sugar and cocoa to the other ingredients, add it in small amounts and stir it in thoroughly before adding more.

And one more thing!  This cake truly benefits with a day’s rest before serving.  The decadent frosting begins to seep into the cake layers, adding just the right amount of moisture and additional chocolate flavor.
Wellesley Fudge Cake Recipe

Pear Apricot and Cherry Galette

Pear Apricot and Cherry GaletteWith the rush rush and hurry up pace that is my life most days, I find myself especially appreciative when I awake to find an empty calendar block staring back at me from my computer.  Today was one such day.  I stayed in jammies, and did what I do most days when I find I have no errands to run, chores to perform, or appointments to keep.  I baked.

With a well stocked pantry and a bowl of perfectly ripe pears, I revisited  a recipe I dog-earred earlier this month while doing research for Pi Day.  I chose this savory tart to post for Pi Day but I knew I would return to this galette recipe at another time.  There was no resisting a flaky, buttery crust cradling  juicy pears and sweet-tart apricots.
Pear Apricot and Cherry Galette RecipeThis galette was harvested from the book Pie*ography, which is a treasury of 42 varying recipes, inspired by 39 different women, each sharing their ‘pie story’ and a favorite recipe. One such story is shared by Rebecca Pelfrey.  Just as Rebecca’s oldest daughter was entering kindergarten, she decided to trade in her career as an art director for life on a farm.  As a farmer raising lambs, hogs, chickens, turkeys and more,  she began to cook and bake more from scratch.  Rebecca wanted to perfect her pie baking skills, believing that “a good farm woman should not be intimidated by mere pie”.   This  galette is her riff on a recipe she found in Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home.  I have left my own imprint by further adapting it to suit my tastes and ingredients on hand.
Pear Apricot and Cherry Galette Recipe 



Banana Pear Quick Bread

Banana Pear Quick Bread RecipeAn abundance of over-ripe bananas sat staring at me from their perch on the kitchen counter.  I over bought fruit in preparation for my girl coming home on spring break.  I forgot that she rarely eats a banana, adding one to her morning smoothy being the exception.  As for me, well I love bananas, but only in their perfectly yellow state.  Once the dark brown freckles of ripening appear,  into the freezer they go, kept on ice for another use.
Banana Pear Quick Bread RecipeBanana bread and muffins have never been my thing.  I know, weird, right?  I love bananas, but rarely do I find a bread recipe that appeals to me.  The one exception is Joanne Chang’s recipe.  Joanne is the famed pastry chef behind Flour Bakery in Boston.  I have had the pleasure of visiting her bakery and eating my way through most everything she bakes.  Her recipe for Banana Bread found it’s way to the internet long before her book Flour made it into print, so I have been making it for years now.
Banana Pear Quick Bread RecipeThree ripe bananas calling my name, I was one half banana short for  Joanne’s recipe.  Why not add the pear that was also threatening to over-ripen on me if not promptly devoured?  So that is just what I did.  Can I tell you what a wonderful addition that little pear made to this bread!  I don’t know that I will ever make banana bread again without adding a pear, or maybe an apple, or maybe…

One interesting and educational note I just had to share.  I have never liked eating the skin of a pear.  The gritty feeling I sense when the peel comes in contact with my tongue just isn’t appealing.  That grittiness actually has a name.  Stone cells.  Who knew?
Banana Pear Quick Bread Recipe


Adapted from Joanne Chang’s FLOUR cookbook

Cabbage, Leek, and Bacon Tart

Cabbage, Leek, and Bacon Tart RecipeWith Pi Day fast approaching, and St. Patrick’s Day just a few days off, I thought I would kill two birds with one stone and bring you this versatile tart, which technically isn’t a pie, but it is a close relative.   The nutty and earthy flavor of Gruyere cheese is added to the trilogy of cabbage, leek and smoky bacon, resulting in a mélange of flavors, one complimenting the other.
Cabbage, Leek, and Bacon Tart RecipeCabbage, Leek, and Bacon Tart RecipeCabbage, Leek, and Bacon Tart Recipe
The inspiration for this tart came from a recipe I found in Fine Cooking Magazine.  I tucked it away ages ago into a folder where it remained until I was scouring my pie and tart folder this weekend on the hunt for something special for Pi Day.  I could have gone with a traditionally sweet pie, but, well, why not something savory?  With cabbage as one of its star ingredients, it’s also perfect come this Thursday when we will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.
Cabbage, Leek, and Bacon Tart RecipeSometimes in baking, taking shortcuts is acceptable,  especially when the end result isn’t compromised.  The original recipe for this tart was a bit fussy.  It called for boiling an entire head of Savoy cabbage, then draining and slicing it.  I simplified that step by purchasing pre-shredded cabbage.  The instructions also instructed the bacon to be to par-boiled.  Come on!  I’m sure Fine Cooking had its reasons but I skipped that step altogether.  Another short cut I took was with the Gruyere cheese.  I bought a pre-grated bagged mixture of Swiss and Gruyere.  Finally, although I stayed true and made a traditional tart crust from scratch, I don’t see why using a sheet of purchased pie dough pressed into the tart pan wouldn’t work just as well.

So there you have it!  A ‘simply’ sublime tart!
Cabbage, Leek, and Bacon Tart Recipe




Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies with Toffee and Cashews

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies with Toffee and Cashews RecipeThis cookie was born out of a craving for chocolate.  It is what I refer to as a ‘raid the pantry’ cookie.  I started with some deep dark cocoa and bittersweet chips.  I found toffee bits, a lot of toffee bits that were suppose to have gone into holiday cookies.  Oh well,  they’d go into my pantry cookie instead.  The reason I chose cashews comes with a confession.  During a buying spree at Costco, I just couldn’t say no to an extra large container of cashew that kept calling my name.  They became an obsession and I soon realized I was eating way too many of them on a daily basis.  I wanted to make them disappear, so into the cookies they went.  Chocolate, and more chocolate, toffee and cashews.  Sounded like a winning combination to me.
Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies with Toffee and Cashews RecipeI have made these cookies with two different types of toffee.  In the first batch I used Heath English Toffee Bits.  And in the second batch, I used Trader Joe’s Toffee Chips cut into generous pieces, about the size of a chocolate chip.  Both worked perfectly well.  The Trader Joe’s toffee is basically sugar and butter enrobed in chocolate.  All that butter and sugar melted as the cookies baked, creating buttery pockets of chewy goodness.  Any toffee will work in this cookie, with slightly varying results.
Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies with Toffee and Cashews RecipePersonally, I like my chocolate chip cookies crispy on the edges and with a little chew in the center.  Using half bread flour along with the all-purpose flour helps achieve that result.  If you don’t have bread flour, by all means use all-purpose flour for the total amount of flour called for in the recipe.  One last note.  If you have any self-control what-so-ever, this cookie is much better if allowed to chill overnight in the fridge.  I don’t want to get all scientific on you, just trust me, it’s a fact.  However, if you just have to have a cookie immediately, go ahead and bake off a half-dozen or so.  Then, using all the self-control you can muster, put the rest of the dough in the fridge to rest until the following day.
Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies with Toffee and Cashews Recipe