Everyone should have a dynamite chocolate layer cake in their repertoire – this is it. Karen Schneider / For The Forecaster

Let’s make a birthday cake. Don’t have a birthday coming up? Sure you do, even if it’s 364 days away, you have an excuse to make and eat chocolate cake. This one was made for my recent birthday by my youngest daughter. (All my daughters excel at cake baking – I raised them right.)

Karen Schneider cooks and writes in the village of Cundy’s Harbor. You can reach her at [email protected]

If small children are eating the cake, you may want to use hot water instead of coffee, but the caffeinated beverage really enhances the chocolate flavor.

And if you don’t keep buttermilk in the fridge – who does? – pour one tablespoon of lemon juice or distilled white vinegar into a liquid measuring cup, then add milk until it reaches the 1-cup line and stir. Allow a few minutes for the milk to thicken and curdle a bit before adding it to the mixing bowl.

This cake is wondrous beyond measure with this luscious fudgy icing, but if you want something different, try vanilla buttercream, or how about peanut butter frosting?

Now to offset that sugary extravaganza, let’s have a bountiful fruit salad combined with savory, salty ingredients and refreshing cucumbers. If the nectarines are looking especially delectable at the market, you can substitute them for peaches.

Summer in Maine is so worth celebrating. Do it every chance you get with seasonal, beautiful, abundant produce. And chocolate.


Watermelon & Peach Salad with Feta

4 cups seedless watermelon, cut into 1-inch cubes or melon balls
1 shallot, finely chopped
4 tablespoons torn mint, plus extra for garnish
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
1/2 cup feta cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 peaches, peeled and chopped
2 European cucumbers, peeled and chopped

Combine watermelon, shallots and mint in a large bowl with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Marinate in the refrigerator for one to three hours.

Just before serving, add peaches, feta and cucumbers. Toss to combine. Transfer to a serving platter, drizzle with vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with more mint. Yield: 6 servings


4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 teaspoon oregano
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients and drizzle over salad. Season to taste. Yield: 4 servings


The Best Chocolate Cake

1 3/4 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup natural cocoa (not Dutch-processed)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup canola/vegetable oil
2 large eggs and 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup hot coffee (or 1 teaspoon instant coffee dissolved in 1/2 cup hot water)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line the bottoms of two deep 8-inch-round cake pans with parchment paper. Lightly butter and flour sides.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, whisk together flour, sugars, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add melted butter and oil; stir well. Add eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Occasionally scrape down sides and bottom of bowl. Mix in vanilla. Gradually add buttermilk and mix well. Add hot coffee, mixing until ingredients are well-combined. (Be sure to scrape sides and bottom of the bowl again.) Evenly divide batter between prepared pans.

Bake for 35-40 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out with a few moist crumbs. Cool for 15 minutes before inverting onto rack to cool completely before frosting.

Silky Chocolate Buttercream

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons heavy cream

In a microwave-safe bowl, microwave chocolate chips at 15-second intervals, stirring in between, until completely melted. Set aside and allow to cool slightly (about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally).

Cream butter with an electric mixer. Stir in cooled chocolate and beat well. Gradually add sugar, scraping down the sides and bottom of bowl occasionally. Add salt and vanilla; stir well. Gradually add heavy cream, increase speed to high and beat for 1 minute.

Spread a thick layer of frosting over the top of one cake. Top with second cake round and frost top and sides. Yield: 12 servings

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