Retirement Cake

I thought a “Book Cake” would be an appropriate choice for a school principal’s retirement party. I was told she likes to read and likes chocolate cake, so….

I didn’t have a rectangular cake board of the appropriate size (13”x17”,) nor did the local stores, so I made one from cardboard and food quality cellophane.

I made two 11×15” Extreme Chocolate Cakes and refrigerated them for a couple of days. When crumb coating, I like to cool (and firm) the cakes. Also, I make my buttercream frosting a little thinner when using it for crumb coating..

One batch of marshmallow fondant was divided 4:1. The large portion formed the edges and were striated to resemble pages of a book. The small portion was colored with the school color “yellow.” The white fondant was wrapped in plastic and left to rest for a couple of hours. The yellow portion was rolled out between parchment paper sheets. I use chopsticks of various sizes to roll the fondant into the desired thickness. The yellow fondant sheet was left to dry slightly, uncovered on a thin bed of powered sugar. After an hour or so, brush some additional sugar on the top of the sheet and flip it over, letting it rest until dry to the touch. I used the yellow to make the letters for the title and spline. (See the top of the pictures below. If they are dry, they are easier to punch out.

When the white fondant is firmer, roll three pieces long and wide enough to cover the edges of the cake. Use a sharp tool to score the fondant lengthwise to represent the pages of the book.

Before covering the cake with fondant smooth the surface of the crumb coat by wetting gloved hands and rubbing them over the surface. This also helps wet the crumb coat so the fondant will stick.

Cut the sheets of white fondant to be an inch longer and wider than the sides of the cake. Press them on, smoothing the joins on the corners and trim the top to be just wider than the book. Cut the bottom off even with the bottom of the book.

Make another batch of fondant. (Note to self: be sure to use fresh, mini-marshmallows. Life will be much easier.) This batch will be the book cover and can be colored “school blue” in the mixer. Once the consistency and color is correct, transfer the fondant to a vegetable-shortening-coated-surface and knead the fondant with gloved and grease covered hands to be sure the fondant is a uniform consistency and color. Let it set for an an hour, wrapped in plastic.

Roll the fondant out on a well sugar dusted table to be two inches wider and longer than the book. In my case it was 16”x16” and I used a 1/4” chopstick to roll it an even thickness. Fold it in half and carefully transfer to the cake. Trim to size and cut thin long pieces to be the bottom cover of the book. Paint water along the bottom edge and apply the thin pieces.

Use the yellow fondant and apply as reinforcements to the corners of the top of the book and thin pieces on the bottom corners. Two more short thin pieces were added to the spline. Wipe the book cover with a damp paper towel. This removes any residual sugar and makes the fondant sticky so the letters will adhere. If the fondant is still too soft, push a toothpick into the top corners to hold it in place. Just remember to remove the toothpick before delivering the cake.

If you have the talent you can brush or pipe the lettering on after the fondant dries. My handwriting is all but illegible so I opt to punch them out and place by hand.

Extreme Chocolate Cake

Makes two 9” round cakes

(Makes one 10’ ROUND CAKE [and two 5”] – quantities are in parenthesis. Or one 11”x15”x2” sheet cake.)
• 2 cups white sugar (3)
• 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (2 2/3)
• 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (1 ¼)
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda (2 ¼)
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (2 ¼)
• 1 teaspoon salt (1 ½)
• 2 eggs (3)
• 1 cup milk (1 ½)
• 1/2 cup vegetable oil (¾)
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (3)
• 1 cup boiling water (1 ½)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour two 9 inch cake pans. (SEE QTY FOR 10” CAKES)
  2. Use the first set of ingredients to make the cake. In a medium bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, cocoa,
    baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla, mix for 3 minutes with an
    electric mixer. Stir in the boiling water by hand. Pour evenly into the two prepared pans. (For cupcakes,
    portion ¼ scant cups in each cupcake paper.
  3. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes in the preheated oven, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean or 205F internal temp. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to cool completely.

Marshmallow Fondant

• 1 package (16 ounces) white mini marshmallows
• 2-5 tablespoons water
• 2 pounds (about 8 cups) sifted confectioners’ sugar
• 1/4 cup solid vegetable shortening


  1. Grease your mixing bowl and a glass bowl that can be used to melt marshmallows in the microwave.
  2. Place the marshmallows, water and flavoring of your choice in greased glass bowl and microwave on high at 30 second intervals.
  3. Stir every 30 seconds until marshmallows are completely melted, about 2 minutes.
  4. Sift one half of the 2 pound bag of confectioner’s sugar in a greased mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the confectioner’s sugar and pour in the melted marshmallows.
  5. I use the paddle attachment for my KitchenAid mixer for this first part of the mixture.
  6. Mix until all the melted marshmallows are incorporated in the confectioner’s sugar.
  7. Mixture will be thick but still runny.
  8. Sift the remaining half bag of confectioner’s sugar into the melted marshmallows.
  9. Mix on low until it comes together.
  10. Change to your dough hook attachment as this will get extremely thick.
  11. Fondant will be very thick and have a dough like consistency
  12. Wrap fondant in saran and make sure no air gets to it.
  13. Rest fondant for at least an hour before use.

Lavaloha Chocolate Farm

Chocolate bars do NOT grow on trees. Growing chocolate is labor intensive as most of the harvesting and processing of cocoa and production of chocolate is done by hand. We toured the Lavahola Cocoa farm yesterday (Monday, May 17,) in the rain.

The Lavahola Chocolate Farm maintains a small garden near the visitor center. It contains a variety of native plants, and houses a few ducks.

There are three types of cacao, Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario, all of which are grown at Lavahola.

Forastero is the hardiest, higher yield and most reliable strain. It is therefore the least expensive and most profitable. Unfortunately, it is bland and bitter and requires more additives to make it into a salable product.

Criolo is the connoisseurs go-to chocolate. It is quite rare and accounts for about 3% of the worlds supply, and therefore quite expensive.

The Trinitario bean was the happy result of a disaster in Trinidad. The Criollo plantations were destroyed by a hurricane (or disease) so the farmers replanted with the high yield Forastero to rebuild their industry. The new trees were planted on/near the roots of the Criollo trees and the resultant hybrid, Trinitario, is hardier than Criollo and tastier than Forastero.

Cacao grows on small trees and start producing after about 4 years. It is climate sensitive and this latitude is as far north as cacao will grow. In fact the higher elevation (200’) on one end of the farm is too cool to grow cacao.

The pods are harvested after they turn red and when scraping the outside exposes a yellow interior. They are cut open and the beans are dried for several months before being examined and selected by the chocolatier. The highest quality beans are roasted and puréed in what looks like a peanut butter mill.

If you happen to be in Hilo on the Big Island take a trip up the mountain and visit Lavahola Chocolate Farm. It’s well worth investing the hour. The staff was knowledgeable, friendly and fun.

Millennials Food Photos

Let me say up front, I am NOT a millennial. You might even say I am multi-millennial, somewhat akin to being multi-generational. That is my excuse for taking photographs of my meals before eating… and I am sticking it.

Last night we ate at Island Lava Java in Kona, HI. We asked for, and were seated, at a table with a view of the ocean. (Center picture.) We wanted to watch the sun set over the Pacific. (Right hand picture.)

We sat at the bar (surprise, surprise) waiting the few minutes for the very pleasant hostess to shoo out the previous party. They had been there for three hours. Time to leave folks. The bar had two brews that sounded acceptable, a nice porter and a Kona red ale. I settled on the porter while waiting at the bar.

I had pan-seared mahi-mahi with macadamia nut and coconut crust, herbed scallop potato, fresh wilted spinach, mango buerre blanc, and topped with an orchid. (Left hand picture.) This dinner was the second best mahi-mahi I have ever eaten. (Also, I had the red ale during dinner.)

When visiting the western side of the Big Island I strongly recommend Island Lava Java. It’s 15 minutes south of the airport and while waiting for your room to be available, swing by.

From the minute we stepped up to the hostess podium I felt we were home. The hostess, bartender and waitress were outstanding at their craft and warm and friends. Definitely a go to restaurant.

Tempering Chocolate Seminar

I attended a fascinating seminar by MOF Chef Stephan Tréand. Chef Tréand earned the prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France, or “best craftsman in France,” award in 2004. The seminar was described as “Tempering Chocolate.” Chef Tréand dispensed with that discussion in the first two minutes, then spend the next ninety minutes demonstrating how to make a pure chocolate showpiece.


Rather than try to explain the process here are a few photos from start to finish. He brought some of the pieces with him, but made most of them during the seminar.

I will say I did learn new concepts and methods about tempering and using tempered chocolate.

Jam in a Jar by Sous Vide

You may know I use a Joule Sous Vide for everything I possibly can. Last month I saw how to make raspberry jam with no fuss and nearly no mess. Right up my alley! By using the sous vide you avoid cooking the crap out of the berries and the fresh taste is preserved. (Pun intended.) Make this in small batches and store in the fridge. You won’t be disappointed.

My first attempt (following ChefSteps instructions exactly) resulted in a jam that was runny and separated when cool. Today, I increased the amount of pectin from 15g to 20g and the result was a thicker jam that did not separate. Once I open the jar I will decide if I should bump the pectin up another couple of grams.

Recipe, Ingredients and Method all in one.

Thoroughly mix 20g pectin, 125g granulated sugar, and 4g salt in a medium bowl. Add 354g fresh raspberries and mix well. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes to extract the juices from the berries. Spoon the mixture into two 8oz mason jars and put the tops on, sealing finger tight. Place in the sous vide, set the temperature to 194F and cook for 30 minutes. It truly is that simple.

After the time is up remove the jars from the water bath and shake vigorously several times as they cool.

Conchas Mexicanas Pan Dulce

One of my sons asked if I could make conchas as a surprise treat for his wife for Mother’s Day. Of course, I said yes, then searched the internet to see what the hell conchas are. I found three or four recipes that seemed sensible, watched two YouTube videos on technique, then tried two “practice” batches.

The first batch was ok, but the texture was wrong. They were tight crumbed and tough, although the flavor was acceptable. Bear in mind, I had never eaten (or heard of) a concha before this week, but I do know what good bread texture and flavor is. QC reminded me I couldn’t even pronounce “concha” until a friend corrected me. My pronunciation was so off, she didn’t know what I was talking about until I showed her one and she said “Oh! Concha. I love them.” The sugar topping used vegetable shortening rather than butter. The author thought the resultant topping would be less grainy. I liked the ones with butter better.

Do not press the embossing concha press through the topping or it will slide off, even if the tops of the conchas were well buttered.

The second batch was better. I used butter based topping and bread flour rather than AP. The crumb still wasn’t acceptable but the flavor remained good. QC thought they needed a little more cinnamon so in the final batch I doubled the cinnamon from one-half to a full teaspoon.

Ingredients for yeast conditioner

If you make conchas do not over knead the dough. It will be, and should be, very slack,. Proof in a warm, dry, draft free environment. I did as one of the authors recommended, when I started, I turned one of my ovens to “Proof” then just before putting in the dough, turned it off. If you don’t have a proofing oven, just put the light on and leave it on. Proof this way for exactly two hours.

I changed how the topping was formed. After rolling, pressing and buttering the dough balls I rolled the topping out between two sheets of parchment paper, then chose a round cookie cutter the same size as the flattened dough balls. This worked much better than using my hands to flatten the topping into disks to put on the buttered dough balls. Trust me on this.

Conchas Mexicanas Pan Dulce

(Makes about 8-12 conchas it all depends on how large you want them. 10 conchas will be about five inches diameter each.)

• 1 cup evaporated milk
• 1 tbsp instant yeast-
• 3/4 cup sugar
• 4 cups (560 g) flour (remove 4 Tbl flour and add 4 Tbl cake and bread enhancer.
• 1/2 tbsp cinnamon
• 1 tbsp vanilla
• 3 eggs
• 8 tbsp unsalted butter
• 1/2 tsp salt

• 1 cup AP flour
• 1 cup powder sugar
• 8 tbsp unsalted butter at room temp
• 1 tbsp vanilla
• (Optional To add chocolate flavor add 1 -2 tsp Hershey’s cocoa)



  1. If you have a “proof” setting on your oven turn it on now. If not, turn on the oven light to create a warm environment
  2. Heat evaporated milk for 30 sec in microwave
  3. Add 1 Tbl of the ¾ c sugar and 1 Tbl yeast to the warm milk, mix thoroughly and let sit for 5-10 min
  4. Sift flour, sugar, and cinnamon into the bowl of a stand mixer and mix until well combined
  5. Add room temperature (soft) butter, vanilla, and yeast/sugar/evaporated milk mixture to the dry ingredients
  6. Add eggs on at a time start timer for 10 minutes
  7. After 5 minutes add salt and continue kneading
  8. Coat bowl with a light coating of cooking spray, form dough into a ball and cover.
  9. If you turned ON the proof setting turn the oven OFF now
  10. Place covered bowl into your OFF oven with the oven light on and set timer for 2 hours

    TOPPING – (Make the topping after the dough had proofed for 1 ¾ hours to keep it fresher and more pliable)
  11. Sift powdered sugar and flour into a medium sized bowl
  12. Add room temperature butter and vanilla and mix into a smooth paste. (I found it easiest to “knead” with my hands.)
  13. If you are flavoring the topping add the cocoa now and mix thoroughly. You can divide the topping and only flavor half)
  14. Wrap tightly in plastic.

  15. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  16. Pour dough onto a very lightly floured surface and form into a log
  17. Divide the dough into the number of conchas desired. (8 conchas will be about 5-6” diameter.)
  18. Roll each portion by cupping your hand over the portion and rolling on the table until the little dimple on the bottom disappears. (You may need to pinch the dimple together)
  19. Place the portions on the parchment lined baking sheet.
  20. Rub butter on each roll covering the entire surface
  21. Divide the topping into the same number of conchas
  22. Place each topping portion into a ball then roll between parchment paper sheets to about 1/8” thickness
  23. Cut flattened topping with a round cookie cutter just larger than the diameter of the dough ball
  24. Place a disk of topping on each dough ball and press down firmly. (some people recommend pinching the edge of the topping and dough together .)
  25. Use a concha cutter (or knife) to emboss the traditional “shell” pattern being sure not to cut all the way through the topping.
  26. Preheat oven to 325 F.
  27. Cover concha’s and let rest 30-45 minutes
  28. Bake 15-20 minutes, until bottom is light brown. Don’t be surprised if it requires 28-30 minutes for the bottoms to brown.