Espresso Chocolate Coffee Cake

Espresso Chocolate Coffee Cake

It was Sunday evening, the kitchen was a mess, and I was left empty-handed. It was my first weekend baking in nearly two months, and I had nothing to show for it. After traveling most of August and facing the whirlwind of starting a new school year, the longest I had spent in the kitchen up to this point was the length of time it took to fry an egg. This was going to be the weekend I would reacquaint myself with mixing bowls; it was the weekend I would remember why I held baking so dear to my heart.

Instead, I picked through the almonds in a failed batch of granola bars (I can never seem to get them to stay together) and stared at my attempted vegan caramel in disgust. When compared against the jar of bacon fat from breakfast, the similarities were a little too coincidental for my liking. I had reaquainted myself with the kitchen, true, but the scene was not quite what I had envisioned.

Espresso Chocolate Coffee Cake

I keep a few recipes on the back burner for moments like this, scribbled on pieces of scrap paper and buried between papers on my desk. I made this coffee cake back in the beginning of June, a gift for my sister and her boyfriend's family. They were going to spend a weekend at their lake home and I thought a cake would nicely round out the weekend. As it turns out, it did.

But, when it came down to it, I didn't want to post this recipe. I didn't want to share it because I didn't think the photographs were good enough. The lighting was stark; the shadows were too dark. Perhaps it is a quality reserved for creators, but the longer I spend with something I have made, the more my vision narrows, focusing only on the flaws until they are the only aspects I can see. After three months of holding onto the photographs, I could find nothing positive with them anymore. My boyfriend tried to sway me in the opposite direction, but I had already criticized my workmyselfto a point where I could no longer see the worth.

Espresso Chocolate Coffee Cake

 It has been said that artists are their own worst critics and I am inclined to agree. I often hold myself to an impossible standard with this blog, demanding only the best recipes, photographs, and writing from myself. After putting in a full work week and then some, sometimes "the best" is a little out of my reach.  I'm learning to loosen the reins, to lower the impractical standards, and to continue to keep blogging an enjoyable experience.

I sat down at the computer tonight, looked through the photographs again, and laughed at myself. With some time to clear my head, the flaws I couldn't escape from earlier seemed to fade away. I had forgotten what this cake was all about, what this blog was all about. Food is about sharing and togetherness. It is about experiencing and expressing joy with the ones that you love. It doesn't have to be pretentious or perfectthe intentions just have to be true.

I lost sight of that for a moment and it seems silly to admit all the trouble that happened over a simple coffee cake. If ever I should lose my way again, please point me back to this imperfectly perfect cake and remind me, softly, of why we gather here. 

Espresso Chocolate Coffee Cake

Espresso Chocolate Coffee Cake is a simple cake for everyday occasions. The base is a buttery cake made rich with the addition of sour cream. An espresso cinnamon topping is sprinkled on the top and in the center of the cake to add a burst of flavor. Since I can never leave well enough alone, I sprinkled chocolate chips with the topping, complementing the flavors already present. Serve this cake with a cup of coffee or a glass of milk and you cannot go wrong.

One Year Ago: Chocolate Banana Chip Cookies and Vanilla Bean Malt Cake
Two Years Ago: Dark & Stormy (with Ginger Ale), Blueberry Cream Cheese Cupcakes, S'mores Pancakes, and Maple Roasted Peaches with Coconut Whipped Cream
Three Years Ago: Plum Clafouti, Basic Pie Crust, Banana Cake with Chocolate Glaze, and S'mores Pie
Four Years Ago: Dark Chocolate Raspberry Oatmeal Muffins, Brown Sugar Coconut Bubble Tea, and Whole Wheat Baguettes

Espresso Chocolate Coffee Cake

Yields 10-inch bundt cake

For Cake:
1/2 cup (113 grams) butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup (228 grams) sour cream (or plain yogurt)
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour

For Topping:
1/3 cup (66 grams) granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon espresso powder
6 ounces (170 grams) miniature chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Heavily grease a 10-inch tube or bundt pan and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the sour cream and vanilla until uniform.

Gradually fold in the salt, baking soda, baking powder, and flour. The batter will be thick. Set aside.

For the topping, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, and espresso powder in a medium bowl. 

Pour 1/2 of the cake batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle half of the topping and half of the miniature chocolate chips over the batter. Pour the rest of the batter over the top and sprinkle it with the remaining topping and chocolate chips.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the cake is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 20 minutes before removing and transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.



The Calm of the Coast

Oregon Coast

“I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that - I don’t mind people being happy - but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down 3 things that made you happy today before you go to sleep”, and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position - it’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. 

“Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness”. Ask yourself “is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is.”

― Hugh Mackay

Oregon Coast
Oregon Coast
Oregon Coast
Oregon Coast

In August, my boyfriend and I took a long drive along the Oregon coast. It is the third time I have taken this trip in the last five years, which feels remarkable since this small stretch of coast is so far away from the place I call home. Though the company for each drive may have changed, the shoreline has stayed the same. It is the same whispering waves and coniferous trees that call me back to them, reminding me that I can never stray for long.

Reminding me that this place is a space where I belong.

The air hung heavy with fog during the three day's drive, obscuring the ocean from the vistas and beaches. I have long felt that the ocean holds many mysteries and this time it seemed to be holding its cards close. Surrounded by a thick, unrelenting fog, the world felt smaller and intimate. I could hear the vast ocean roar with its melodic fierceness, but I could not see it. Periodically another person would walk by along the beach, a shadowy ghost in the distance, the fog disguising any details. 

It was beautifula heart-wrenching beauty that drills into your very soul.

Oregon Coast
Oregon Coast
Oregon Coast
Oregon Coast

Despite the fact that it was late summer, the beach was cold, accompanied by an uncomfortably brisk wind. I had my windbreaker zipped up to my chin, hands in my pockets to keep in the warmth. With the fog wrapped around me, I was more or less alone, left to my own thoughts with little distraction. 

After dealing with feelings of depression on and off for the last year, the smell of the ocean brine and the rhythmic waves brought on a sense of calm. I did not feel the joy I thought I would when I planned this trip months earlier, but I did feel more at peace. The beauty of nature has its own restorative powers. The laughter at the sea lions' bark, the disappointing hunt for a sand dollar, the loneliness of the fog, and the sadness of the sea all brought me closer to myself. 

I felt whole.

Oregon Coast
Oregon Coast
Oregon Coast
Oregon Coast

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

Just out of reach

When I lived in England, I was introduced to nutella for the first time. Since discovering in high school I was highly allergic to tree nuts , I kept the jar of a hundred hazelnuts at arm's length. My friends considered it the most heavenly flavor of our semester overseas (and I enjoyed wafting the smell beneath my nose), but it would never be for me. It was easy enough to acceptwithout so much as a spoonful to taste, I would never know what I was missing out on.

But then, after an accidental encounter with hazelnuts and everything turned out okay, I began to change my tune. Hazelnuts were an exception to my allergy. After a moment's hesitation, I reached for the jar.

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread
Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

Around the same time my non-allergy to hazelnuts was uncovered, I discovered I was lactose-intolerant. Since Nutella is made with skim milk, it was awarded its own place on my "forbidden foods" list.  It seemed so ironic at the time; just as the jar was firmly in my hands, I would have to set it back down again. This time, though, it was much more difficult to let go. After the few, fleeting spoonfuls, I now knew what I would be missing. I laughed so I wouldn't cry.

Just out of reach.

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

For the last two years, I have been on the hunt for a nutella substitute, a dairy-free version that I could spoon out of the jar or spread onto my favorite rolls. After a fruitless search, I finally realized it would be up to me to create what I desired. With a package of roasted hazelnuts and a can of cocoa, I set to work. I would call this a success.

I have been asked half a dozen times whether or not it tastes like the real deal. My answer to you is that it depends.

Pulverizing nuts into a silky smooth paste can be hard work for any food processor. Without a top of the line piece of equipment, the hazelnuts will not reach that coveted texture, but they can come close. My food processor worked better than I expected. The final product was slightly grainythe ground nuts are the "sparkles" you see in the photographsbut I found I did not mind it. Your texture will depend on the equipment you are using in your own kitchen.

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

The second factor comes down to the cocoa powder. I have made this spread with two different brands of cocoa powder: once with Ghirardelli, once with Valrhona. I have no idea which brand Nutella uses, which makes it nearly impossible to directly match the cocoa flavor. I prefered the spread made with Valrhona most (but that may be because I prefer the flavor of that brand to begin with). My suggestion to you is to let go of the idea that yours will taste exactly like Nutella and use your favorite brand of cocoa instead. Since the flavor of the spread comes almost exclusively from this ingredient, it is important to use what you already enjoy.

The last factor is the sweetness. Nutella is sold at different levels of sweetness to different countries depending on the region's preference.  For example, Italian Nutella is generally regarded to be less sweet, focused more on the flavor of the hazelnuts than the sugar. American Nutella is very sweet, reminiscent of buttercream frosting on a spoon. The Nutella I had smeared over crepes in France was somewhere in between, more chocolate than anything else.

The Nutella in my grocery store may very well be different from your own, which is why I hesitated on my initial answer. I prefer the spread made with about three-quarters cup powdered sugar to spread on whole grain toast. It seems the right sweetness for a weekend breakfast. However, for eating straight out of the jar, I like to bring the sugar up to a full cup so it feels a bit more like dessert. Your personal preference (and purpose) plays into the sweetness. Start low and you can always add more if needed.

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread
Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread can be whipped up in five minutes, which makes it an incredibly accessible spread. The cocoa flavor is warm, the sweetness can be adjusted to your palate, and the ground hazelnuts provide just the right base. Serve on toast, prepare for use in desserts, or simply eat it from the spoon. After so many years without, I could not be happier to hold the jar in my hands again.

Finally, finally within reach.

One Year Ago: Honeyed Apricot Granola Bars
Two Years Ago: Summer Berry Pavlova, Mango Striped Coconut Popsicles, French Silk Pie, and Blackberry Sour Cream Coffee Cake
Three Years Ago: Butterbeer, Butterbeer Cupcakes, Cherry Almond Muffins, and S'mores Ice Cream Sundae
Four Years Ago: Jean Talon Market, Blueberry Tofu Smoothie, and Strawberry Shortcake

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

Yields about 1 1/2 cups

1 1/2 cups (225-250 grams) roasted and skinned whole hazelnuts
1/4 cup (22 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 to 1 cup (95 to 125 grams) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

In a food processor, process hazelnuts until they turn into a smooth paste, about 3-6 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and continue to process until evenly mixed. The spread should have a spreadable texture; if it is too stiff, add more oil 1 teaspoon at a time until the ideal texture is achieved.

Store refrigerated or at room temperature in an airtight container. At a minimum, it keeps up to a week. It may keep even longer, but I have never had it last longer in my kitchen.