Napping with my Valentine

I've come to realize that, the more I cook, the fewer kitchen tools I really need. My kitchen is equipped with all the basics and I stand my ground on the notion that buying kitchen equipment made for only one purpose is a waste of money. I've made the mistake before, buying a pumpkin shaped cake pan, and felt so guilty about the money I spent I ended up baking pumpkin cakes for two straight years just to feel like I'd gotten my money's worth. Sure, there is always a time and place for a novelty item, like I'm quite sure I will get a request for a homemade Barbie cake someday soon and I will definitely find a pan for that. But I keep the indulges to a minimum since the guilt, and kitchen clutter, is hardly ever worth the money.

However, despite my own self-control in buying only what I deem necessary, I still manage to acquire unnecessary, but really fun, pans and such from time to time. This usually happens when a thoughtful and generous friend, with my love of baking in mind, gives me something she knows I would never buy for myself. For example, last September I was given a mini-bundt cake pan for my birthday. I'll admit, I was a little perplexed by it since I have always used a regular bundt pan. When on earth, I wondered, would I ever need to produce six mini-bundt cakes? At that time I didn't have the foggiest idea. However, since it was a gift and I hadn't made the investment, I did not have the least bit of guilt about putting it in the cabinet for a few months while I looked for a reason to use it.

Luckily, last weekend, the perfect opportunity for mini-bundt cakes finally presented itself, Valentine's Day. It has become tradition in our house that we eat in for Valentine's Day, mostly due to the severe lack of available babysitters and decent restaurant reservations. Prior to the holiday it usually takes me a few days to form the perfect Valentine's menu. I flip through cookbooks, ponder different recipes, and let the weather and seasonal offerings influence my choices. This year, due to the deep cold weather and lack of fresh produce, I decided to make my father's favorite short ribs recipe with noodles, a green salad and rich chocolate mini-bundt cakes. On this particular occasion
the thought of having our favorite chocolate cake in personalized portions was very appealing. It meant that I could replicate the feeling of those indulgent individual desserts usually only had at fancy expensive restaurants, in my own home. Also, I was thrilled to finally have a reason to try my new pan and promptly added the dessert to our menu.

When it comes to making mini-bundt cakes having the the perfect recipe is equally as important as owning the proper pan. My friend Hilary gave me this recipe many years ago and it is my go-to chocolate cake recipe - everyone should have at least one. I have made it into an iced layer cake, cupcakes, a large bundt, and now, mini-bundts. I prefer to cover it with a thin vanilla glaze (which I turned pink on this particular holiday), but Hilary usually covers it in a rich cream cheese frosting which is pretty amazing. When I make this I always make sure to use a good Dutch cocoa, a true dark brewed coffee and whole milk, it makes all the difference. When you take the first bite of this cake you will understand why, the deep chocolate flavor is ratcheted up a few notches by the coffee, and the milk gives the cake it's moist, almost spongy consistency. The best part is that the assembly is a total snap, you essentially stand there with the mixer on low and add ingredients until everything is smoothed together in the bowl. How could it get simpler than that? The best news is that, though my husband had tasted this cake on many other occasions, he was a huge fan of the geometric mini-bundt shapes, which, somehow, made the dessert appear more sophisticated and decadent. While we ate it we wondered what Jack Donaghy would think, had we made our version of Lover's Delight? At the end of the evening I washed the pan and put it back in the cabinet to settle under the salad spinner. I think I'll find a reason to use it again, very soon.

Hilary's Go-To Naptime Chocolate Cake - based on a recipe from my friend Hilary
2 c. sugar

1 3/4 c. flour

3/4 c. good Dutch process cocoa
1/2 t. salt

1 t. baking powder

2 t. baking soda
1 c. sour milk (whole milk with 2 T. vinegar)
1 c. strong black coffee, brewed

1/2 c. vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 t. vanilla

Simple Vanilla Glaze Whisk together: 1 c. Confectioners' Sugar, 1 t. vanilla, 1-2 T. milk

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Grease and flour bundt pan, or mini-bundt pan.

3. Sift together dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.

4. Add wet ingredients, one at a time, into dry ingredients while mixing on low speed.
5. Mix all ingredients for a full four minutes until completely smooth.

6. Pour ingredients into pan and bake for 45 minutes or until knife comes out clean.

7. Let cake cool in pan before unmolding.

8. Once cool cover with glaze, powdered sugar, or frosting.
Yield 8 mini-bundt cakes or one large bundt cake.

Naptime Notes:
Naptime Recipe Props: This is a tried and true no-fail chocolate cake that has been passed around to all of my friends. I can guarantee that once you try it you will never go back. It is a total cinch to assemble. I prepared the batter during naptime and put it in the fridge. Then, when I was ready to bake, I pour it into the pan and popped it in the oven.
Naptime Stopwatch: Preparing the batter for this takes about 10 minutes. I have rarely met a cake that takes so little time to prepare. When it is baking your kitchen will yield the most terrific smells, you'll want to dive right in with your fork when it comes out of the oven.
Naptime Reviews: Everyone who has ever tasted this cake loves it. I will warn you though, giving a toddler even a small portion of this cake will cause her to become quite hyper, it is best to give her a taste prior to a full hour on the playground!

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