“Chocolate-Orange Olive Oil Cake” from “Simple Cake”

Want to know the easiest way to be the most popular person at your next meeting? Bring cake.

When I brought this chocolate-orange olive oil cake to my last meeting, it was met with pure glee. This is a nice addition to any meeting that has the potential to be stressful, long or both.

Now I say I brought chocolate-orange olive oil cake, but in the spirit of full disclosure, it didn’t have any orange zest in it because I accidentally left the orange at the self-serve till and by the time I discovered the mistake (I was finishing up preparing the batter), I didn’t have enough time to run back and rescue it. So chocolate olive oil cake it is. EXCEPT, again in the spirit of full disclosure, I didn’t use all the olive oil called for in the recipe either. I don’t know if it’s because this is an American book and perhaps the olive oil over there isn’t as peppery as the ones we get over here, but I made the mistake of using all olive oil in another cake once and the peppery aftertaste was so overwhelming that it ruined the cake. I try not to make the same mistake twice, so for this recipe, I used half olive oil and half sunflower oil. It worked a treat.

So yes, this was a great success, despite the fact that it didn’t have the requisite orange or olive oil in it. But one of the philosophies of the book is to try to mix it up and be creative when making cakes, which I certainly did here, so I think it works just the same.

“Chocolate-Orange Olive Oil Cake” from “Simple Cake”

“Chocolate Cake” from “Together: Our Community Cookbook”

In my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, the one my mother sent me off to adulthood when I would have to cook for myself, there is the most glorious recipe: Busy Day Cake. I don’t know when this recipe was first included in the cookbook, which was first published in 1933. But it calls to mind a more simple time, say the 1950s, when people (and when I say people, I mean women because let’s face it, they were the ones who were doing most of the cooking) would make the effort to make cake all the time, even on busy days.

(Click through here for the recipe for Busy Day Cake, if you’d like to try it for yourself.)

I thought of Busy Day Cake when I made this chocolate cake because on that day I myself was having a busy day, but this cake was so simple to make that I could fit it in around all the other things I had to do that day. Full disclosure: my busy day involved watching my beloved Villanova Wildcats men’s basketball team. I made this cake during the half-time break. Priorities.

This is a good-quality chocolate cake. It’s not reinventing the wheel and it won’t win any beauty contests, mind you, but sometimes all you want is a nice cake you can keep on the counter through the week as you try to battle your way through January. This is that cake. Easy to make and good to eat. Most excellent.

If I’ve got another busy day and I want some cake, this will be the one that I make.


“Chocolate Cake” from “Together: Our Community Cookbook”

“Unbelievably Dark & Delicious Chocolate Cake” from “Home Cook”

I’m not going to beat around the bush: This was a disaster.

Just look at the picture above as it really is worth 1,000 words. It’s just one big gloopy mess. It was, frankly, an embarrassment. Even worse, we had guests over for dinner, so I was mortified times 1,000.

The reason I wanted to make this was because I was intrigued (to say the least) by using melted Mars bars to make the chocolate ganache-like topping. It worked, but only up to a point, because there was no indication that I should let the topping cool a bit before assembling the cake, and thus, disaster struck.

Obviously, the instructions are lacking in some regard. Although I let the chocolate ganache on top cool before I had poured it over, (even though the recipe didn’t say to do this) clearly I didn’t wait long enough. But what is that sweet spot timing wise between having pourable chocolate that doesn’t melt the whipped cream but hasn’t solidified too much that it doesn’t pour? Alas, the recipe doesn’t say.

Consequently, it was just a big hot mess on the table.

The story does have a happy ending, though. After it had time to cool off and get its act together, the cake really was delicious the next day. It was just hard to forgive it the mess it made the previous evening.

“Unbelievably Dark & Delicious Chocolate Cake” from “Home Cook”

“Easy Chocolate Birthday Cake” from “Flavour”

It seems appropriate to start a month of cooking with a Great British Bake Off runner up with a cake. Also, I have found in life there is always a good reason to have some chocolate cake. Those truly are words to live by.

Using the word “Easy”, however, gave me pause. Baking a cake isn’t easy for everyone. I distinctly remember the first time I tried to make a chocolate cake. It was almost exactly 15 years ago and I wanted to make a cake for Tim’s birthday. I dutifully went off to John Lewis to buy the cake pans and other bits I needed to make it. The cake part went fine, but when it was time to make the icing, it was an UTTER DISASTER. The icing just poured down the sides of the cake and pooled around the cake on the cake dish. It was laughably bad.

It’s a wonder that I ever tried to make a cake again. But I persevered, and in fact, it was only two years later that I made a wedding cake– or actually should be CAKES– to feed 250 people.

While I did find this easy, I also know that I’m much better at making cakes than I used to be. So I honestly don’t know if it would be easy for everyone. It definitely was easier than the cake I made last month, the Devil’s Food Cake with Buttercream Meringue. The directions for this cake are clear and straightforward, so if you want to try your first cake, this might be a good place to start.

Most importantly, it is delicious. It is an unfussy, moist and delectable specimen of a cake. It is the type of cake that sits happily on a counter and you just take small slivers off of it every time you’re a bit peckish until suddenly there’s nothing left. I wouldn’t just limit making this cake for birthdays, either. We had no birthdays to celebrate here and yet we managed to force it down. Again to reiterate: There’s always a good reason to have chocolate cake.

Highly recommended. (Though I still don’t know if it’s easy or not.)

Try this recipe! Ruby helpfully also wrote it up for her column in the Guardian, which you can find if you click through this link. 


“Easy Chocolate Birthday Cake” from “Flavour”

“Chocolate Devil’s Food Cake” from “The Violet Bakery Cookbook”


It was a dark and stormy Sunday, and what was needed was cake. Preferably chocolate.

When he first paged through the book, Nicholas (age 12) tagged this recipe as one he definitely wanted me to make. I’m always happy to try another chocolate cake recipe. Though there are many that I’ve made that have been quite successful, we’re always happy to eat chocolate cake.

Yet again, this was another variation of a classic baked good, in this case, chocolate devil’s food cake. The verdict? Well, I have to be honest and say it was mixed. Seventy-five percent of the family thought it was fantastic. The remaining 25 percent– that was me– thought while it was good, it wasn’t Blow The Doors Off good.

Maybe I was being too picky. I was disappointed that it sunk pretty badly in the middle, which, according to the Internet, was down to having too much rising agent in the cake. (You use both bicarbonate of soda and baking powder in this recipe.) The icing covered the problem pretty well, but it still bothered me.

Also, I’m not sure I did the icing quite right. I did, actually, make a shortcut by using pre-made caramel sauce, rather than going to the trouble of doing it myself. In my defense, the caramel sauce was high-quality stuff. But maybe the icing would have been better if I’d made my own. (Doubtful. I find making caramel incredibly stressful, and I don’t think I’m particularly good at it.)

Like the rest of my family, you may agree to disagree. I may make this again, I may not. I’m not sure. What cannot be disputed, however, that dark and stormy Sundays are always improved with the addition of chocolate cake.

“Chocolate Devil’s Food Cake” from “The Violet Bakery Cookbook”

“Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake” from “Food52 Genius Recipes”

IMG_6864Maureen: Chocolate cake!

Nicholas (Now 12! Happy Birthday!): Just like I asked for!

Maureen: Your wish is my command. Well, not really, but it’s a nice thing to say. It makes me feel like Aladdin. This is yet another recipe from a cookbook I already have. This is a Nigella Lawson recipe from her “How to be a Domestic Goddess” cookbook, which I’ve loved for years, though I can’t remember if I’ve ever made this particular cake.

[Quiet descends over the table as everyone is too busy enjoying their cake to talk.]

Nicholas: This is delicious.

Andrew (15): I read something recently that decoded various British sayings. “Not bad,” means OK. “Not too bad,” means good. “Not too bad at all,” means it’s AMAZING.

Maureen: Which one is it then?

Andrew: Not too bad at all.

Maureen: Agreed. It’s like a cross between a brownie and a cake, and it works. I don’t even care that it has completely collapsed in the middle. It’s supposed to, apparently. Some people have even taken to calling this, “Ugly Chocolate Cake.” I can see what they mean. Should I make this again?


Would you like to give this “Not too bad at all” chocolate cake a try? We recommend that you do. Click through this paragraph to find the original recipe on Food52. 

“Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake” from “Food52 Genius Recipes”

“Mississippi Mud Cake” from “Hummingbird Bakery Home Sweet Home”

All: Happy Birthday Nicholas!

Maureen: I can’t believe you’re double digits now. I also can’t believe that you chose to go with a new birthday cake. We’ve been eating the chocolate cake I make for birthdays since Andrew turned three.

Nicholas (10): Well, I wanted to try something new. It might be a risk, but sometimes risks pay off. Besides, we’ve liked everything from the Hummingbird Bakery book so far.


Andrew (13): You’re right. Mom, you should make the devil’s food cake they have at Hummingbird. Is that in this book?

Nicholas: No. It’s in one of the earlier books. I checked.

Maureen: OK. I can make that. But only after we’ve finished this cake and/or this month is over. Whichever comes first.

(All begin eating the Mississippi Mud Cake.)

Maureen: What do you think?

Continue reading ““Mississippi Mud Cake” from “Hummingbird Bakery Home Sweet Home””

“Mississippi Mud Cake” from “Hummingbird Bakery Home Sweet Home”