Spring has sprung and most of us are coming out of hibernation. There is yard work to do, repairs to be made and outdoor activities are the focus. It appears that this year will require that I invest in some new patio furniture. Liz will be investing in what I call new dirt. She refers to this as refreshing the mulch and preparing the beds for new flowers and such.
Why the flowers need a new bed is beyond me. I am not getting a new bed. But yes, the flowers will have a refreshed bed. The other confusing thing is why I have to shape the bushes. Last fall, I cut all of this stuff back. Now it is growing again and Liz claims that all of these bushes and plants need to be shaped. Don’t bushes grow into whatever shape that they are intended to grow? I don’t get it. But, if it makes my wife happy, I will comply. All of my fellow husbands know the deal. “Happy wife, happy life.” No truer words have ever been spoken.
I do enjoy spring. I get to clean up my grill and my smoker. Soon the aroma of delicious food will be wafting through the neighborhood. I will set up the patio just right to relax with a glass of wine or an ice-cold beer. It will become a place where I can watch the smoke from my fire intermingle with the clouds. I may even light up a fragrant and mild cigar or fill that beautiful Meerschaum pipe that my son bought for me years ago. Spring is one my favorite seasons of the year. The temperatures are just right. The breezes blow, making the world around me fresh and new.
Spring is also a great time to bring family and friends together under the bright sun, clear skies and star-filled nights. We are also celebrating birthdays for three of our seven grandchildren this month. It is frightening and at the same time amazing that Ali will be 14, Nolan will be 13 and Riley will be 12.
As you would expect, I will be doing some cooking to help celebrate these auspicious occasions. Another of my favorite things to do is a bit of baking. Once in a while, I volunteer to bake birthday cakes for the kids. When it comes to birthday cakes, chocolate cakes are my personal favorite. The truth of the matter is that I could easily purchase a chocolate cake mix. There are some very good mixes out there in the marketplace. Even some commercial frostings happen to be pretty darn good. When it comes to cake, a boxed mix is not how I roll.
Let me ask you a question. When was the last time you bought a box of Hershey’s Cocoa? If you have a box, when was the last time that you looked at the recipe on that box of cocoa? I may shock you when I tell you that the recipe on the box of Hershey’s Cocoa is one of the best. I use Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa to produce what Hershey has dubbed “Especially Dark” Chocolate Cake filled and frosted with “Especially Dark” Chocolate Frosting. Yes, both recipes are on the back of the cocoa box. In fact, I will share both of those recipes with you here in this column. The process is not difficult. Just follow the steps and you will have astounding results. I do have to add a small cautionary note. This particular chocolate cake is not for the average chocolate cake eater. If you are this person, heed my warning and go with the recipe on the traditional Hershey’s Cocoa box. That too is a great recipe for the regular normal individual. I, as most of you know, am not what one would consider normal when it comes to food. If I am making chocolate cake, it will be that deep, dark, intense, rich chocolate flavor that chocolate purists tend to seek. The finished cake has that bold appearance that just screams chocolate. When you run your knife through the cake for that first slice you can feel the resistance of dense, moist cake and thick rich frosting. Make no mistake. I am not talking about the sickly-sweet flavor that some other cakes deliver. I am talking about perfectly balanced semisweet richness that brings you back for another slice. If I am going to enjoy a slice of chocolate cake, this is the flavor that I want and need.
I will readily admit to you that I generally have to bake a second cake for the “regular” birthday cake eaters. But, in my family there are a select few of us who can’t wait to dig into one of these “Especially Dark” Chocolate Cakes. KUDOS to those folks at Hershey who came up with this awesome recipe. It certainly is a winner.
A note for the adults who are bold enough to give this cake a try: Pair your slice of cake with either a red Zinfandel or Shiraz. The combination of these wines with this deliciously intense cake is an experience that you will not want to miss. Just be careful to avoid any wines that have a heavy oak finish. The oak will mask the intensity and depth of the chocolate and you will defeat the purpose of the pairing.
Next time that you are in your favorite store, pick up a box of Hershey’s Cocoa with the red band and the gold Special Dark trademark. Be bold, be daring and give this “Especially Dark” Chocolate Cake recipe a try.
“Especially Dark” Chocolate Cake
Courtesy of Hershey’sKitchens.com
2 cups sugar
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
½ cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees, grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.
2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.
3. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla extract, beat on medium speed of mixer for 2 minutes.
4. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin), pour batter into prepared pans.
5. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center of each layer comes out clean.
6. Let cool on rack for 10 minutes, remove cake layers from pans and continue cooling on racks until completely cool.
7. Frost with “Especially Dark” Chocolate Frosting, Serves 10 to 12.
“Especially Dark” Chocolate Frosting
½ cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
2/3 cup Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Melt butter, stir in cocoa.
2. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency.
3. Add small amount of milk if needed, stir in vanilla extract.
4. Yields about 2 cups of frosting.