Well hello there, it’s been a minute hasn’t it? You’ll forgive me for not writing for a bit. I’ve been all over the place—from a quick jaunt to Italy (okay, just kidding it was nearly a week but I just wanted to try out saying “quick jaunt to Italy”, similar to how I’d like to say “had dinner al fresco at George’s villa”) to a couple days celebrating my 10th college reunion (YOU DO THE MATH OKAY).
In between, there was so much good food, I barely know where to start in telling you about it all. But between the dozens of plates of fresh pasta and the bowls of firm, dewy green olives and what seemed like one endless glass of an Aperol spritz, there wasn’t much time to cook or bake over the past few weeks.
Combine the busyness of my days with the summer heat that’s crept up on us here in New York City, and you’ll understand that I haven’t been doing much in the way of whipping up cakes or baking scones.
But I have done a bit—we do still have to eat dinner, after all. And on that front, it’s been a mix—if I’m being perfectly honest—of Sweetgreen salads and simple-to-make recipes. Simple doesn’t mean unexciting, at least not in my kitchen usually, so I’ve been getting particularly excited about summer produce, although the garden has yet to yield much beyond radishes and some herbs, and the selection at the farmers’ market is still pretty sparse.
I did an excellent take on shrimp and grits, seasoning the shrimp with celery seed and dry mustard and paprika, and using cauliflower rice cooked in coconut milk for the grits.
I liked the shrimp and cauliflower rice idea so much, that I made another version a few days later—this time, seasoning the shrimp simply with sumac and cooking the cauliflower rice with mushrooms and shallots, before stirring in fresh peas, Parmesan, fresh mint, and a sweet pea pistou (a puree of spinach, peas, garlic, Parmesan, and olive oil). Yes, it is just about as good as it sounds. Could you make it with rice? WHY YES, you could.
I’ve made some pretty killer brown butter chocolate chunk cookies, and a bourbon pound cake that was addictive to the point of…well…let’s not talk about how many slices one could eat if one were me.
I’ll get into everything soon—the trip to Italy, the recipe for that shrimp, and more. There’s a lot I want to tell you about after being away for a bit, like some smart grilling tips I’ve picked up just in time for summer or the coolest trick for making better pizza I discovered in Italy or how the ingredient I’m most excited about baking with is sumac.
And as if I hadn’t gotten my fill of eating out at restaurants (god almighty, we’re overdue for some seriously simple home cooking and grilling this summer), I had a fantastic dinner with my dad at Loring Place in Greenwich Village. We shared lots of very good things: a charred snap pea salad with thinly shaved radishes and a buttermilk dressing, a crisp-crusted mushroom pizza with white wine and two cheeses (fontina and Parmesan,), and grilled arctic char brightened with orange and salty with sea beans.
For dessert, my dad eyed the list of options. He hemmed and hawed, pointing out that the sundae (a behemoth made with walnuts, fudge chunks, Meyer lemon, and pretzels) sounded good but…he paused. I jumped in, “you just want the vanilla ice cream, right? With chocolate sauce?”
He grinned, knowing how well we all know him. “Ask for it, Pa!” I said, as the waiter approached. He did, and shortly thereafter was presented with just that. I love that wherever we go, whether it’s a diner in Baltimore or the Bar Room at the Modern, he just wants vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce.
So in honor of him, being the gem that he is and in time for Father’s Day, I’ve made a cake inspired by his favorite dessert (a close second for him is a classic root beer float, so I’ll have to figure out how to turn that into a cake next).
This cake has deep, rich, fudgy chocolate layers swathed in a fluffy sweet cream frosting. It’s what I imagine the frosting equivalent of vanilla ice cream to be—and here’s the secret of why it isn’t just a regular buttercream but a real translation of a sundae: it’s made with MELTED ICE CREAM.
So, I have to tell you to drop everything and bake this cake. And while you’re baking it, you must (no excuses, just do it) put on the song “Truth Hurts” by Lizzo and sing it very loudly and revel in what an absolutely perfect song it is in every single way.
Sorry, am I being a little too emphatic? Do you think that’s a bit too much enthusiasm for one single song? Well, go listen, and see if you disagree.
Oh, and read this before you bust out the flour and sugar and chocolate:
Unforced Error [meghan o’rourke]
Once: those long wet Vermont summers.
No money, nothing to do but read books, swim
in the river with men wearing their jean shorts,
then play bingo outside the church, celebrating when we won.
Nothing seemed real to me and it was all very alive.
It took that long to learn how wrong I was—
over the rim of the horizon the sun burns.
I used to think pressing forward was the point of life,
endlessly forward, the snow falling, gaudily falling.
I made a mistake. Now I have a will. It says when I die
let me live.
A life can be a lucky streak,
or a dry spell, or a happenstance.
Yellow raspberries in July sun, bitter plums, curtains in wind.
Okay, onto the cake!
**Note: Since this is a sundae-inspired cake, you could get really creative with it. I didn’t add sprinkles to the frosting but that would be super fun, or you could add any sundae toppings you like into the frosting, think crushed Oreos or toasted nuts or graham cracker crumbs or chocolate chips. You could also have fun decorating: top the cake with crushed waffle cones or maraschino cherries.
Sundae-Inspired Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream Frosting
Makes one 9” double-layer cake or 6” triple-layer cake
For the cake
1 cup (222g) boiling water
2 ounces (57g) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (99g) vegetable oil
2 cups (396g) granulated sugar
1 cup (227g) milk
1 1/4 cups (106g) cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon espresso powder, optional for enhanced chocolate flavor
1 1/4 cup (150g) all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the vanilla ice cream frosting
1 pound (4 cups) confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup (170g, 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup melted vanilla ice cream (pick a good-quality one!)
**adding sprinkles would be a GOOD IDEA, but I did not here
pinch of salt
To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line with parchment paper two 9” round cake pans or three 6” round pans. Grease the paper and sides of the pans well.
In a small bowl, pour the boiling water over the chopped chocolate and stir until smooth. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the eggs until foamy. Add the oil and beat on medium-high speed until very well-mixed.
Add the sugar, milk, and melted chocolate and beat briefly until combined.
Add the cocoa powder, espresso powder (if using), flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and use a spatula to gently fold it all in until the batter is smooth and no streaks remain, but don’t overmix.
Divide the batter between your prepared pans and bake for about 25 to 35 minutes (will depend on pan size so start checking after 25 minutes). When ready, the cake should be pulling away from the sides of the pan and the top should spring back lightly when touched.
Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before turning the cake layers out onto a wire rack to cool completely. I like to freeze the layers for 20 minutes before frosting—this makes them easier to frost and tends to be neater with fewer crumbs. You can also make the layers ahead of time, cool completely, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze for up to a couple weeks.
To make the frosting: Place the confectioners’ sugar and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat with the whisk attachment until well-combined and fluffy. Add the melted ice cream and salt (and sprinkles if using!) and beat until smooth. Add a bit more melted ice cream or sugar to achieve your desired consistency.
Spread the layers generously with frosting, and frost the sides too, if you like.