Darn Good Chocolate Cake


This recipe is actually called Darn Good Chocolate Cake. I didn’t make that up.

When you eat it, you take a bite and just kind of go wow, that is darn good chocolate cake.

I first made this for my mom for her birthday one year. Since then, this has become THE chocolate cake recipe in our family. If someone asks for chocolate cake, this is the one they get.

I like this recipe a lot because 1. you don’t need to separately mix the wet and dry ingredients and 2. it starts with boxed cake mix. Score.

This cake is heavy and rich. But it really is like the ultimate birthday cake.

You will need:

  • 1 package devil’s food cake mix
  • 1 package chocolate instant pudding
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1.5 cups chocolate chips
  • Chocolate Frosting (The cake really does not need frosting, but if you’re feeling decadent – and if this is for a celebration of some sort then decadence is required- pile on the frosting.)

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour two round cake pans or 1 bundt pan.



Throw all of the ingredients except the chocolate chips into a bowl a stir until well combined.


Then fold in the chocolate chips.


And pour the batter into your pan or pans.


Bake for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cakes cool for at least 30 minutes before removing them from the pans









Chocolate Coma.

Cakes and Study Breaks

Since I was a kid, homework has been synonymous with baking.

Growing up, both my parents worked, so my grandma used to pick me up from school.

My mom’s mom is not a baker. My dad’s mom is the grandma of the pies. My mom’s mom is the grandma of the meatballs.

But my grandma has a sweet tooth. So she would pick me up from school and then ask me if I wanted to “help” her make brownies. Being 6 and naive, I thought I was a big deal, helping make brownies then sitting at the table and doing my homework while the kitchen was filled with the smell of warm chocolate.

But no.

My grandma just really hated baking and really liked brownies.

But what happened is that baking and homework have become linked in my mind. The time it takes for brownies or a cake to be baked is the time it takes to write a five page paper or read a twenty page article.

So, now, twenty years later and back in school for a graduate degree, I’m still baking while doing my homework.

Maybe because of the connection at an early age it has become part of my thinking process.

See, that’s not just a box of a cake mix and a mixing bowl below; no sir. That’s my brainstorming and rough draft.


And this bowl of homemade buttercream frosting, it’s me formulating a thesis statement.

By the way, I see no problem with boxed cake mix cakes. They’re delicious and they remind me of childhood. To jazz it up, just make your own frosting. This one’s a snap.

  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-2 tablespoons of milk

Whip the ingredients together with your hand mixer and voila, homemade frosting.


Scoop out the frosting and cover the cake when it’s cooled. Think about your introductory paragraph as you spread the fluffy white frosting.


And then, let the cake sit while you finish the paper. The frosting will get a touch of hardness so there’s a bit of crunch when you bite into the cake.

Speaking of which, the best part of this whole baking and writing thing?

There’s a beautiful cake waiting for you.


But only when you’ve finished your paper.

Lemon Cheesecake Squares

A few years ago my cousin Diane gave me this fantastic book called the Cake Mix Doctor.

Every recipe in the book begins with a box of cake mix. I can’t tell you how fantastic this is if you entertain a lot or if you have kids and have to bake for school function a lot. A box of cake mix and some extra ingredients and you are on your way to a great dessert!

We’re heading to a family Labor Day barbecue. And we were asked to bring a dessert.

This means two things.

1. We’re engaged and so are adults and need to contribute


2. We’re engaged so I’m part of the family and can’t just hang out anymore (which is not a bad thing!)

SO I turned to the Cake Mix Doctor. And found this recipe for Lemon Cheesecake Squares.

I like lemony desserts at barbecues because they’re light and cut through all the richness of all the foods you ate throughout the day.

So here it is.

You will need

  • 1 box classic white cake mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1 8 oz package of cream cheese
  • The juice from 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a 9×13 baking dish.

Pour the cake mix, vegetable oil and one egg into a large bowl.


Stir until combined. The mixture will be crumbly. Almost like sugar cookie dough.


Pour the mixture into the baking dish and press it down. This will be the crust. Pop it in the oven and bake for about 13 minutes.


While that bakes, stir together the cream cheese, sugar, remaining egg and the lemon juice until the mixture is smooth.


Remove the cake from the oven and pour the cream cheese mixture over top.


You get a cakey crust on the bottom and a tangy lemony cheesecake on the top. Two desserts in one.


Pop the pan back in the oven and bake for another 13-15 minutes, until the cheesecake is set.


Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Then slice up into bars. I got 24 out of the pan. (The below is only half)


Rainy Day Cookies

Memorial Day Weekend!

A three-day break from work.

The unofficial start of summer.

Time for barbecues and picnics and ripe peaches and watermelon and strawberry pie.


Here in New York, it’s 53 degrees and cloudy and windy.

So my plans for a hefty slice of cold strawberry pie after a burger and coleslaw had been thwarted. (I promise to tell you how to make the strawberry pie though once the temperatures rise).

All we can think about are movies on the couch and a big bowl of popcorn.

And cookies.

Gray and cold days scream for cookies.

Trouble was, I had planned on making pie. The strawberries were washed and sitting in the fridge, ready to be baked into a slice of summer. The butter was cubed for the pie crust.

So, we improvise.

Remember my pantry staples? Yup this is why you have them.

If you have cake mix, vegetable oil and eggs, you can make cookies.


All you need are

  • 1 box cake mix (I used dark chocolate)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

This gives you a basic cookie dough. Then you can mix in whatever you want.

For super decadent chocolate gooeyness, add chocolate chips to chocolate cake mix, or peanut butter chips for a play on Reese’s cups. Vanilla cake mix plays well with chocolate chips and macadamia nuts. Or coconut if you want a real taste of summer.

I think that one of the most perfect combinations, besides peanut butter and chocolate, is chocolate and hazelnuts. Nutella? One of the world’s most perfect foods.

To make the cookies, preheat oven to 350.

Combine the cake mix, eggs and vegetable oil. The mix will be really thick. It will almost resemble the Oreo crumble on dirt cups. If you never made dirt cups as a kid go talk to your mom right now about why she deprived you of such an iconic childhood treat.


When the ingredients are combined, stir in the mix in of your choice. I used about a half cup of hazelnuts, I think. I don’t really measure. I just kind of throw them in and stir and add more if I need to. I just go for no cookie being left without nuts.

Spoon out the batter onto a greased cookie sheet. You can make the cookies any size you want. A little smaller than a ping pong ball gives you two dozen cookies.

Bake for 10-12 minutes.


Your kitchen smells like chocolate. Melted, warm chocolate.

Brew a pot of coffee or some tea.

And settle into the couch for a 3 O’clock coffee break.

(My dad has coffee and a cookie at 3 everyday. He passed the habit to me. My body knows when it’s 3 O’clock)

These cookies are like a mix between a cookie and a brownie. Cakey and fudgey, but chewy and crunchy.

The gray skies don’t seem like such a damper on the weekend anymore.

Last minute visitors – Emergency Whoopie Pies

Remember that amazing, bright, springy, wonderful pesto I made this morning?

Remember how much I was looking forward to dumping it over a bowl of angel hair pasta and curling up with it on the couch after a weekend of running around celebrating graduation?

Well that went out the window.

My phone rang.

My cell phone never rings during the day.

My boyfriend is always too insanely busy at work to call me during the day, so when I saw his name pop up on my phone I knew something was either wrong or that something had come up.

I was praying for the latter.

But I’ll admit I was a bit flummoxed when he said that a bunch of his family wanted to come over tonight.


We were just with your family all weekend.

We were with them all weekend, and because we were with them ll weekend, we weren’t at our place this weekend.

Meaning, our apartment was a mess.

My mind went immediately to the still unpacked bags and the piles of laundry and the dust bunnies that needed vacuuming.

Then, my mind flew to the fridge.

Besides the pesto, there was nothing in there.

I hadn’t food shopped yet.

What would I feed these people?

I calmed down when he said everyone was cool with just ordering pizza.

But still, I couldn’t not make anything.

I’m a firm believer in offering anyone who comes to your house something homemade.

Which is why I try to keep a few key things in the apartment at all times:

  • box of cake mix
  • eggs
  • butter
  • powdered sugar
  • vanilla

With these on hand, you can at least make a semi-homemade dessert to go with your takeout dinner.

So here are my Emergency Whoopie Pies

You will need:

  • 1 box cake mix (any flavor)
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a cookie sheet.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mixing until blended. Some lumps are okay.

Drop rounded teaspoons of batter onto the cookie sheet.

They will spread a bit, so leave space. I can get 4 rows of 3, so a dozen on a sheet.


I usually don’t care about things being the same size, but in this case, size does matter. You’re going to sandwich two of these together, so you want circles that are roughly the same size.

Bake for 8-12 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

One batch of mine was done in 8, one was done in 11. Depends on how thick you made your cakes.

Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

I only have one cookie sheet, so I remove the cooked cake cookies and then dollop the next batch of batter on for round two.

While the second batch bakes and the first batch cools, it’s time to make the filling.

Super simple buttercream recipe.

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

You can double this or triple this or half this to suit your needs.

This amount fills a dozen whoopies pies.

Mix together butter, sugar and vanilla until smooth. You can add more sugar if you want it a bit sweeter, or, if the frosting is too thick for your taste, you can stir in a little bit of heavy cream.

This is one of those feel recipes. You make it and you get a feel for the consistency.

You also, I’m sorry to say, might just have to taste it.

I know.

Horrible fate it is of the baker.

Tasting frosting.

Feel free to add more sugar or more vanilla as you like.

You can also add food colorings, or if you want to be more adventurous, different flavorings like mint or coconut.

I’m pressed for time, so vanilla it is.


When the cookie cakes are completely cooled – you really have to let them cool all the way-

Patience is not a virtue I possess.

My mom gave me the middle name Grace, after my grandmother, so that’s the virtue I have.

I really think you only get one. So I am, unfortunately a very impatient person. Which is probably why I prefer cooking to baking, but I digress.

Let them cool completely. Otherwise you will have a runny, melty, sticky mess on your hands.

Flip a cookie cake over and frost the side that was face down on the cookie sheet. Find another one of roughly equal size, and, placing the cookie sheet side down, sandwich the frosting.


It should ooze out the sides a little bit.

Continue making sandwiches until you run out of frosting and cookie cakes.

If you did it right, there will be a small spoonful of frosting in the bowl begging to be eaten.

If you did it really right, you will savor the frosting for a moment, admire your plate of whoopie pies and then buzz the family up to the apartment.

Throw the cookie sheet and the bowls into the sink.

Cover your sink (and the mess) with your over the sink cutting board.

None the wiser.