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My other favorite cake in this book — the best basic yellow cake around — makes two restrained layers. If you’re going for chocolate, however, you might as well jump in with both feet: Three hefty layers, tangy with sour cream and rich with chocolate.

This recipe is mine, not Grammy’s. I handwrote it, years ago, when all my recipes fit into a half-size canvas loose-leaf binder. The title of the recipe started as plain “chocolate cake,” but after a few makings, I amended the title with the word “coma.”

When you serve this, you have about twenty minutes after the cake hits plates until your guests develop glassy stares and conversation lapses into sugar-induced silence. The cake is worth it.

Renee's birthday cake from Baking FamilyBesides pure heft, the advantage of a three-layer cake is that you can get fancy with the icing. The last two times I’ve made this, I’ve put a simple dark chocolate frosting between the layers, then topped the whole thing with white buttercream and used the rest of the chocolate icing to decorate. Fun, and not as complicated as it sounds.

(I almost called the dark-chocolate frosting a “ganache.” Then I realized that at least a few of my dear readers would laugh their heads off if I put “ganache” and “simple” in the same sentence.)

The straight-up way to serve this cake? Just wrap that chocolate frosting all around, inside and out. That’ll give you the full “coma” effect. And your guests — or family or co-workers — will love you for it.

Chocolate Coma Cake from Baking Family

Chocolate Coma Cake

Makes one 9-inch three-layer cake

  • 6 ounces (6 squares) unsweetened Baker’s chocolate
  • 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2-1/4 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 cups milk

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter and flour — or butter and line with parchment — three 9-inch cake pans.

Break chocolate into a saucepan and melt over moderate heat; don’t let it boil. Cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add cooled chocolate and vanilla.

In another bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture in three parts, alternating with three parts milk and mixing well after each addition. Pour batter into the pans, and bake for 15-20 minutes, until cakes smell good and are springy to the touch. Set pans on racks to cool, then turn cakes out onto racks to cool completely.

Photos and recipe copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC


I spent Sunday morning out at Butler’s Orchard, a great pick-your-own farm about 45 minutes from my house. My pal Lynn and I have gone there for the past few summers to pick blueberries. We’ll go for a few hours, returning home hot and laden with silvery-blue berries, most of which go in the freezer to brighten February oatmeal.

The trick is to get there early; that way, you beat both crowds and heat. This year, we arrived at 8:20 for the 8:30 opening. We were third in a line of cars waiting to drive to the parking field. The parking field, riding the wagon behind the tractor, and finally the rows of bushes. We stayed where the flag-girl first put us, letting the chatty crowd flow around and past to supposedly bigger and better bushes. After half an hour, we were on our own, picking and chatting in that way that works so well around a blueberry bush — the topic of the moment, sometimes deep and often not.

I came home with ten pounds of blueberries and began the freezing: Two cups, washed and picked over well, shaken dry and laid out on a pan in the freezer. Wait a few hours — you’ll have a panful of little blue marbles — then dump the batch into a labeled quart zipper bag, suck the air out and plop said bag in the freezer.

Blueberry Crisp from Baking FamilySome berries did not get frozen. Those privileged few — five cups-worth to be exact — became our dessert: Blueberry crisp. Just enough topping to accent the berries and bring out their best, not too much fuss for the summer kitchen. I like a crispy topping, so it’s nuts for me. I’ve tried almonds, but pecans have a kinder nature. They marry well with the sugar and butter, drifting gently into the background while still providing crackle.

This topping can be used to make a peach crisp, or a blueberry-peach crisp, or a peach-plum crisp (use a little tapioca or cornstarch in the filling if you use plums — juicy!). Just grab some of all that freshness around you and make a dessert.

Blueberry Crisp from Baking Family

Blueberry Crisp

Makes one 9-inch deep-dish crisp

  • 5 cups fresh blueberries, washed and drained
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 7 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup pecans
  • 5 tablespoons butter, cut into half-inch pieces and re-chilled

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a large bowl, mix blueberries, granulated sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice. Pour into a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate.

This is what the topping should look like

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, put flour, light brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pecans. Pulse four or five times, until everything is mixed and the nuts are finely chopped (but not pulverized). Take butter out of refrigerator and add to topping; pulse two or three times, just until the butter is chopped. If you start to see clumps, stop: You are headed for cookie dough.

Spread topping evenly over fruit. Put pan on a cookie sheets or another pan larger enough to catch drips, and put into preheated oven. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until topping is browned and the fruit is bubbly.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Or for breakfast (right, Charlie?).

Recipe and photos copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

Most of Grammy’s recipes are not detailed. Yes, they list all the ingredients, though sometimes in the text rather than the way we’re used to seeing them now, all lined up at the top of the recipe. And yes, there are usually directions — often vague on cooking times, pan type or size, or special mixing needs. So when I came across a recipe for Helen Witty’s Blonde Brownies in the typed parchment sheaf, I was curious. This recipe was remarkably detailed, with three whole paragraphs of instructions. Hmmm. Was this really a Grammy recipe?

Read the rest of this entry »

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