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chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream frosting

My middle daughter just turned 9. To say, I don't know where the years went, sounds so cliche, but it's true. It's difficult to believe that next year she'll be in double digits. She is one of the most unique people I've ever met, quick-witted and inherently equipped with a dry sense of humor that constantly has us laughing. Her bedroom holds a found vintage pine bed covered in Star Wars and Avengers blankets and pillows. Posters of Darth Vader and Captain America adorn the walls. An army of action figures stands sentinel on top of a bookshelf overflowing with graphic novels and an abandoned marble collection. Her black vintage desk, which she requested be left unpainted and facing the window - "so I can look out at the woods while I sketch" - is a jumble of drawing books, charcoal pencils, glitter pens, stickers, twine, rocks, putty, handmade every craft imaginable from empty toilet paper cardboard holders, and piles of half-filled spiral notebooks.

From the time she was a toddler, she has played multiple back-to-back soccer seasons with the fierce intensity of a middle school competitor. One day, about a year ago, she decided she was done. She is happiest at home, with us, reading or writing and drawing. She loves to help me cook; she has amassed a small collection of her own cookbooks and, even at our local library, gravitates to the cookbook section there and eagerly chooses new recipes to make together. She loved the chocolate cake that I made for her cousin's high school graduation party recently; she was so fascinated by the stunning layers of cake and buttercream topped with crushed candy bars that she asked me to make that same cake for her birthday too. No one complained.

In little more than a week, she will begin fourth grade. Soon, she will be exposed more often to the inevitable behavior and attitude changes present in her peers. There will probably be a mean girl or two whose snotty behavior will prompt me to have a conversation with the teacher. I will feel both relief and anxiety as I watch the bus pull away from our stop in the morning. I will think about her while I'm writing, while I'm catching up on home renovation projects that have been shelved during the busy summer months. We will begin a new after-school routine of snacks and homework, and try to balance all of it with enough snuggles and play and crucial downtime.

We will continue our long-standing Friday night tradition of the indoor living room sleepover, complete with movies and popcorn. We will continue to bake together; I'll keep teaching her what I know, as long as she wants to learn.

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Adapted from my sister's recipe at Curly Girl Kitchen
I've made this cake several times. It mixes up quickly, and is consistently moist and flavorful. I think it's the perfect party cake, easily customized with your favorite frosting and candy topping. My favorite buttercream frosting is this one that I've adapted from Savory Sweet Life.
Yields: 10 to 12 large slices

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat 3 (8") cake pans generously with nonstick spray. Set aside.

For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbsp espresso powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp coarse kosher salt

In a large bowl, whisk together all of the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center of the ingredients and set the bowl aside.

3 large cage-free eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened cashew milk
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups boiling water

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, oil, and extract. Slowly whisk in about 1/2 cup of the boiling water to temper the eggs, then whisk in the remaining water and keep whisking until the wet mixture is very smooth. Stir into the dry ingredients until well combined but not over mixed. The batter will look very thin.

Divide the batter evenly between the 3 prepared pans. Bake 18 to 22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean; rotate the pans halfway through the baking time.

Cool the cakes completely in the pans before removing and frosting. 

For the frosting:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 tsp coarse kosher salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp pure vanilla bean paste
2 to 4 tbsp heavy whipping cream

In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter for a minute or two on medium speed. Add the powdered sugar and cocoa powder; and mix on low speed until the sugar and cocoa have been incorporated with the butter. The mixture will look lumpy at this point. Add the salt, extract, paste, and 2 tbsp of the cream; beat on high speed for 3 or 4 minutes until the frosting is light and fluffy. Taste, add a bit more salt if needed and, if your frosting needs to be thinned out, simply add the remaining cream 1 tbsp at a time, beating on high speed again for a minute or two, until you reach the desired frosting consistency.

Frost the cake as desired, and crumble crushed Kit Kats over the top, leaving a few large pieces sticking out at random angles for an easy yet impressive party cake.

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