Cranberry Cake with Butter Sauce

A white cake studded with bright red cranberries and coated in butter sauce, with a bite taken out of it

Jordan: Oh man, what a year.

Kitra: Y I K E S

Do we actually need to say anything about 2020?

N O P E

Great. Moving on.

Cake!

We make this cake pretty much every year. It’s a good cake!

Tradition cakes are good, but they’re better when you pour hot sweet butter over them.

This is a very simple white cake with beautiful pockets of cranberry. It’s simple, not outrageously sweet, and—most importantly—is a great vessel for butter sauce. (Which is the less disconcerting name for “hot sweet butter.”)

Basically, it’s an antidote to the complicated winter foods. You toss it all in the mixer and then bake it in a rectangle.

We see your yule logs and frosted bundts and raise you a one-bowl sheet cake.

It takes as long to make as the oven takes to preheat, and there is truly no more easily transported cake. Gift it! Leave some on a doorstep! Put a lid on your pan and cut slices off for days on end!

If you truly want to eat this in the traditional fashion, that last one is the way to do it.

I eat mine sliced in half horizontally with the sauce over them, and treat it as a breakfast/lunch/snacking cake.

More surface area = more butter sauce.

I’m usually staunchly anti fresh fruit in cakes, but this is my exception. Cranberries are self-contained in a way that most fruit is not, so they don’t make everything mushy and gross or wind up flavorless husks. They stay pretty, and are a great fresh burst of tartness. I love them in this.

Cranberries are strongly underutilized in their non-jellied forms, honestly. And while this is a great Christmas cake, it’s also a great New Year’s Eve cake. Or a great “I want to make cake but it needs to include fruit for the people around me who are on ‘diets’” cake.

Is it though? Because again, B U T T E R   S A U C E.

This is like the time my roommate did the “Master Cleanse” (where you only have lemon water and cayenne pepper) and one day in I made brownies and she gave up. You’ve got to have some sort of an in to get people back on your side, and here the “in” is fruit and the “side” is eating cake.

Can you tell we’re… not really diet people? Happy New Year, I will serve this year with butter sauce.

Last year we set the goal of “do less” for 2020.

In many ways, I feel like we did that. I work from my couch now and haven’t worn mascara since March. But also we did more of things that are good! And we worried more, probably. Whatever, this year was a whole lot and I refuse to judge anyone for it.

Look, in 2021, just do what makes you happy. If you really want to diet? Sure, whatever. Do it, but promise you’ll stop if it makes you miserable.

What makes me happy? B U T T E R   S A U C E.

Life is not a binary choice between Master Cleanse and butter sauce. It’s a spectrum, and somewhere in there is the spot that’s best for you. In 2021, we hope you find that spot.

A white cake studded with bright red cranberries and coated in butter sauce
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Brown Sugar Spice Cake

Two slices of brown sugar cake, one with apple butter spread on top, with a jar of apple butter open next to the plate

Kitra: Goals for today’s cake:

  1. Easy
  2. Can be eaten with apple butter/my hands
  3. Breakfast cake/snacking cake
  4. Small
  5. Did not require a trip to the grocery store

Jordan: This cake ticks all of those boxes and y’all, it is a Good Cake(™). It’s heavily spiced, soft but with a bit of texture, uses 1-2 bowls (depending on how much you follow the instructions), and goes from preheating the oven to eating cake in less than an hour.

This cake was everything I didn’t even know I needed, and I will make it again! No complaints, and I’ve already eaten half of it.

It’s also a pretty flexible recipe. The original recipe had plums (or other fruit) baked into the top.

I nearly swirled my apple butter into it, which I think would work! Or use up some leftover cranberry sauce!

Want more/less/different spice? Go for it. I dialed back the sugar for an even more breakfasty cake, which made it kind of like a well-spiced cornbread. (Not a bad thing!)

This seems hella adaptable. I’d make it again and serve it at a fall brunch with sauteed apples on the side.

We both made tiny cakes in loaf pans using a half batch, but you could double the recipe below in a round or square pan, or even in a loaf pan for a thicker cake.

This was the cake that my tired brain needed. (Even though I ran out of ground ginger and crushed up a tea bag instead.)

This is truly just a good cake to have in your back pocket. It works for any and all occasions: breakfast, dessert, tea, just because. It would make a lovely layer cake with a lightly sweet cream cheese frosting.

If you’re doing a lot of holiday baking, this is a chill-ass cake that will still fit the bill and also leave you enough energy for all the cookies in your holiday cookie timetable spreadsheet (is that just me?)

Whether you’re fitting cake in around cookie-baking (Kitra), errand-running (Jordan), or just general exhaustion (everyone), keep this one in mind.

A square piece of brown sugar spice cake with a dollop of fig jam on top.
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Chocolate-Swirled Cheesecake Pie

Three slices of chocolate-swirled cheesecake with chocolate crusts and raspberry topping

Jordan: Earlier this month, a coworker whose birthday is right after mine asked what my birthday cake plans were because if our family’s everyday cake game was strong, surely our birthday cake game was over the top. She was appalled when I responded that we don’t really… do… birthday cake?

Kitra: Yeah, it’s definitely not how most of us celebrate. Our dad gets pie, I usually opt for Eton mess, and Jordan… Jordan is all cheesecake.

I can’t recall when the birthday cheesecakes started, but once it got going, it’s been pretty regular. Of the years when we’ve actually gathered as a family and bothered to do a cake for my birthday, they’ve just about all been cheesecake.

But this isn’t *cake* month. That’s everything else. This is PIE MONTH.

Pie month! Pie month! Pie month!

And I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of the cookbook event of the decade, THE BOOK ON PIE. Which, it turns out, had a Cheesecake! Pie! Erin McDowell has a brain that I want to live inside of and eat everything that it creates.

Kitra has been sending me excited snapchats from the book and truly, if you can imagine it then Erin McDowell probably has made a pie out of it. The whole thing is nothing but brilliant mashups and genius tricks.

It’s so long and detailed that I bruised my leg with the corner reading it, and what a worthwhile bruise it is.

(This is really only unusual for Kitra in that she knows where this bruise came from. She usually has at least a dozen mystery bruises on her legs.)

In my first pass of the book alone, I marked 16 recipes for Thanksgiving consideration, immediate consumption, things I absolutely must make when they’re in season, and in one case, Jordan’s Birthday.

This is a very good cheesecake filling inside a chocolate cookie pie crust. It’s thinner—and thus less overwhelming—than a normal cheesecake, and while I love a crumb crust, the solid crust means you can pick it up and eat it like a slice of pizza if you so desire.

I do. But also I ate most of the slices I came home with standing in front of my open refrigerator straight out of the container because it was delicious and I was too tired to eat anything else.

The topping is a nice raspberry coulis, which is tart and bright enough to balance out the heavier cake. That said, it would also be delicious without if you want something a little more subdued; I actually scraped the coulis layer off of most of my leftovers to focus on a more chocolatey cheesecake experience.

YOU WHAT?????

Look, I still ate the coulis. I just ate it first. I’m not a monster.

Truly I am baffled, because you are not the chocolate member of the family. But either way, the topping is delicious and I would eat it with a spoon so I get it I guess.

My birthday cheesecake, my rules.

A slice of chocolate-swirled cheesecake with chocolate crust, raspberry topping, and four pink birthday candles
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Candy Cake

A top-down picture of a pile of chopped chocolate-nougat candies on top of a puddle of dulce de leche, on top of chocolate frosting, on a wooden cake stand on a different wooden table.

Kitra: I have never been a Halloween person. I’ve talked about this before, but I’ve generally found it to be at best an inconvenience.

Jordan: I’m sure you’re holding in a number of opinions about it.

I AM.

  1. Costumes are not worth it. Ever.
  2. “Spoopy” is the worst made up nonsense word and I hate it.

Counterpoint: Bluebs.

Fair. I’ll continue.

  1. Who even are all of you on twitter now
  2. It’s dark at 6:30, I’m tired of rounding corners only to come face to face with a shadowy figure that turns out to be a decoration.
  3. It’s a drinking holiday, which are always bad and should be ended.
  4. Usually, it’s a weeknight and everyone is tired and mean the next day, and I don’t get the right amount of sleep that night.
  5. Pressure to have fun: the real problem with all holidays.
  6. No one ever knows what anyone is dressed as, and it is a straight bummer for all involved.
  7. Somehow this is a fireworks holiday too???? IDK
  8. People should not knock on doors ever, I have a terrier and she hates it.
  9. No one has ever invited me to a Halloween party and I personally am bummed out by that.

I mean, points 1 through 10 suggest that they would have very good reasons to think you’d be uninterested.

  1. Re: No. 11: I also don’t get to say “I can’t go because it’s also MY BIRTHDAY WHICH YOU FORGOT AGAIN, but you sure could make that costume 3 months out thanks” which is really pent up in my spirit for many, many people I’ve known.

Oh no, this was not supposed to be a sad blog post, I’m sorry I led us here.

  1. I don’t like scary things.
  2. Most of the candy is bad, no one likes Jolly Ranchers.

I feel like you added an extra one specifically so that you didn’t have 13 points there.

Surprisingly, I have no problem with 13. It’s always been my favorite number.

Sure.

However, my current neighborhood has changed my animosity these past few years. While I’m still not into “Halloween” per se, I am into 500 teeny tiny children cramming into the front gate of my yard for a mini Snickers (no knocking, I just sit on the steps). It’s adorable. And it gives me an excuse to have some friends over for snacks and to help make the 100 CVS runs as all the candy disappears. This year, however, there will be no trick-or-treaters coming around, and I have no excuse to buy 50lbs of candy.

Look, we don’t have a way to make Halloween fun this year.

Again: It is never fun, see above.

We cannot wave our magic princess/witch/princess-witch wands and make it safe to send children wandering the neighborhood. But we can help you with the candy thing.

Previously, we’ve focused on the vibes of a Halloween cake. This year, it’s about the candy. Yay! Candy!

Shockingly, despite the inclusion of literal candy in this, it’s not the most horrifyingly sweet cake we’ve made. It’s not even the most horrifyingly sweet Halloween cake we’ve made—that honor goes to the cake that was covered in yogurt-pretzel ghosts.

Frosting: Tangy. Cake: Soft and lovely. Dulche de Leche: Yes. Candy: Chopped and shoved in there thank you very much.

You might be tempted to swap in a standard chocolate fudge frosting, but don’t give into that temptation. The sour cream frosting is the perfect counterpoint to the sweetness of the rest of it.

Since this year, you’ll be free from many of the horrors of this holiday, it’s a great time to redirect the extra energy you would usually spend sewing a costume or shoving your drunk friend into a car after they get into it with someone dressed as a giant hotdog. May I suggest cake as an outlet?

And hey, it’s a small cake, but it’s still big enough to share. If the spirit moves you (no pun intended), you might invite a few friends over to have some socially distanced dessert, costumes completely optional.

A small three-tier caramel cake with dulce de leche and candy chunks in between the layers and chocolate frosting on the outside, all resting on a wooden cake stand. A slice of the cake is on a plate next to it.
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Buttermilk Honey Cake

A round honey cake with cream cheese frosting and dried blue flowers on top

Kitra: Wow, what a shitty week we had.

Jordan: Continue.

I mean, it’s just bad. Everything is bad, whole towns near where we grew up are destroyed, and I’ve worked approximately 70,000,000 hours this week. Also the dog is being really annoying this week, which is new. I guess I’ll link to some places you can donate at the end? Just, what a trash week y’all.

The world is literally on fire for once, not just metaphorically on fire, so. Let’s make a cake I guess.

What else can we do, really. The individual burden of climate change is nothing compared to the impact of corporations so fuck it and fire up that oven. Happy September. Cake time!

I’m going to change the topic before Kitra breaks something: It’s also Rosh Hashanah this week! It gave us an excuse to make a recipe we’ve been eyeballing for a while: the “milk and honey” cake from Simple Cake, which also gave us this lovely orange olive oil cake.

Which coincidentally we made during another really shitty week. We were bound to make cakes from the same book during above average shitty weeks because there have just! been! so! many! who can even keep track. Time is a never ending pit. Cake!

Right. So. Rosh Hashanah. For a traditional honey cake, I highly recommend Deb Perelman’s recipe; I’ll probably be making one to take to my partner’s grandmother later this week. The milk and honey cake is far more mild. The honey flavor isn’t strong, even with a more intense honey. Instead, it’s like a more interesting and nuanced alternative to a plain vanilla cake.

And I picked the frosting because there is not a single thing in Now & Again that I do not want to eat. (Which, by the way, was a book I read on January 1st, 2020 while my power was out for the entire day. I should have heeded that warning and prepared for this year.)

The frosting is the real star here, because let’s be honest, cream cheese frosting is usually the star. A spoonful of sour cream keeps it from being too sweet and the honey makes it more interesting than a standard frosting.

There is nothing I love more than making swoops in cream cheese frosting. I’d go to a paint-your-own-pottery type of store where I could pay to just make swoops on a table covered in cream cheese frosting for an hour. CCBT, Cream Cheese Behavioral Therapy. (#MillionDollarIdea?)

The swooping is quite therapeutic, it’s true.


To keep you busy while the cake is cooling, here are those links Kitra mentioned. Some are specific to the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon, where we grew up, but others are statewide or send aid across the Pacific Northwest.

A square of honey cake with cream cheese frosting on a yellow plate
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Mocha Cheesecake, Two Ways

A cake with thin layers of chocolate cookie, chocolate cheesecake, and espresso cheesecake

Jordan: Remember how I had a bunch of chocolate wafer cookies left over from our last cake, just waiting to be made into a cheesecake crust? Well, today is the day.

Kitra: Plus I’ve wanted cheesecake for a few weeks, and went ahead and bought 3 bricks of cream cheese figuring I’d make one whether or not Jordan wanted to. Win-win.

Cheesecake is never a bad idea, in my opinion, but my partner dislikes it so I always appreciate having an excuse to make one. And since he also dislikes coffee, I figured I might as well go all-in and suggested Smitten Kitchen’s mocha cheesecake.

Which I’ve been eyeing since she posted it because I love the layers and thought it seemed fun. I figured it’d be the kind of thing I’d make for our mom’s birthday at some point (though Jordan was always the birthday cheesecake member of the family). Instead I just packed up half of it for her so I could still make the big layered one I wanted. Also a win-win.

I, however, had enough cookie-rolling last time to last me a while, so I made a lazy variation of this cake. Which means you get two recipes today! One for a beautiful showstopper of a layered cheesecake, and one for a lovely marbled cheesecake bar that you can make for yourself and not feel overwhelmed.

We really switched roles here. For once I wasn’t just complaining that I cannot possibly eat this much. Jordan made the right choice for the times, for sure. But if you’ve got someone to share this with, the layers are pretty fun and only a little nerve wracking.

I stayed on Google Hangouts with Kitra while she assembled her cake and she barely needed my moral support at all.

Nothing broke! Nothing cracked! The only issues were when I accidentally dropped my knife onto a corner and made a dent, and when I removed some of a layer accidentally with my offset spatula while stacking. Both results of just carelessness, and both totally invisible after stacking.

So choose your own adventure here! Both use the same batter and so will be equally delicious no matter what you do.

A square of marbled chocolate/coffee cheesecake with a bite missing, next to a cup of coffee
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Chocolate Icebox Cake

A layer cake made of large chocolate cookies and whipped cream

Kitra: After several fruit cakes, it’s MY TIME. Icebox cakes are my favorite cakes. It’s half whipped cream, and if you don’t want to bake anything you don’t have to, but they’re still beautiful! I LOVE THEM.

Jordan: I’ve never been as wildly excited about icebox cakes as Kitra is, but I do enjoy them and appreciate their brilliance. I also love an old-timey dessert, and icebox cakes came out of the era where “cooking” was shifting more to be “assembling pre-made things.” (Tangent: I read JELL-O Girls this summer and it was GREAT and was in part about this shift in American culture. Highly recommend.)

Icebox cakes are the ideal summer dessert in my mind. Minimal effort (unless, like me, you decided that you’d rather make your own cookies than go to the store), cool, fun at parties (unlike me).

We’ll give you a recipe, but an icebox cake is really more of a method: Take a cookie of your choice, layer it with whipped cream, and let it sit in the fridge for a while so that everything softens together.

The possibilities are endless! There are so many options, from graham crackers to saltines to oreos! From plain whipped cream to fruit or chocolate cream, or a cream cheese situation! Make them small! Make them giant! You. Do. You.

The classic icebox cake is made with chocolate wafer cookies. Kitra disagrees with me on this, but I think they’re kind of annoying to find. There’s one brand (Nabisco) and they’re not all that popular—the picture on the box is of an icebox cake because that’s basically all they’re used for—so you have to have access to a large, well-stocked grocery store (which my nearby stores are not). But if you can find them, you can definitely use them instead of baking your own.

I love the classic here because it’s like a giant, light, fluffy fridge oreo and that’s really all we can hope for in this world.

We’ll leave a lot of notes about strategies for making the cookies below. If you decide to go that route, definitely read through to save some headache when you make them. Though I will say that Kitra’s cookies were much easier than mine to roll out and bake, which may be because I used gluten-free flour.

And just like the flavor and cookie options, there are also a million ways to assemble these suckers. That means do what you want to. I had very little cream in my layers because I ran out of it and didn’t want to go to the store. Jordan had a lot. I made mine in the shape of a layer cake, she did hers in jars. They’re also commonly made in loaf pans. There’s no wrong answers!

And as you make more of these, you’ll learn what you like best. That does require you to make them more than once, but trust us, that won’t be a problem.

A jar filled with chocolate cakes/cookies and whipped cream, with a spoonful sitting on the side
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Berry Ricotta Cake

A cake with cherries pressed in the top baked in a flowery Pyrex dish

Jordan: Somehow Kitra has suggested a fruit-based cake for the second time in a row and y’all, I am here for it.

Kitra: In fairness, when I was looking at the photos for this post I also said “you’ll have to judge yours because I find the gooey strawberry bits very unappealing.”

Kitra finds cakes with fruit in them to be squishy and weird after about the first 8 hours (only slightly exaggerating).

Nah, that’s accurate. I also don’t like the way they discolor over time, and that in DC summers it only takes like a day to grow mold.

However, if you—like me—are fine with a slightly ugly cake that has to be stored in the fridge, summer is peak cake time. The fruit cooks down until it’s kind of jammy and delightful. You don’t need frosting, just some whipped cream or nothing at all. Summer fruit cakes are the ideal breakfast cake, which we’ve established many times is the ideal genre of cake.

And, while I prefer to use my fruit in a pie (highest calling for fruit), or ice cream (also good), I’m happy to keep trying them. This time I was drawn in by ricotta, which I love and also already had in my fridge.

It’s a good cake! The ricotta keeps it moist and tender, and the edges get a beautiful crispiness that contrasts well with the fluffy center.

It was also pretty easy. (Unless you use cherries and don’t have a cherry pitter which took… some time. I have stainable countertops.)

We offer some flavor combinations in the recipe notes, since the base takes on extra flavorings really well. Mine came out as a nice bright lemon cake.

And mine turned out like a good, classic coffee cake.

The one word of warning we have is that this is a very thick cake, as you can see below. This means it will serve well for breakfast or a hearty afternoon snack, but if you want a slice for a light dessert, we’ve suggested that you could get away with half the batter in a smallish pan.

I’d describe the current cake as hefty. It’s also delicious, so hefty is good.

A cake with strawberries baked into the top with a slice cut out and sitting next to it.
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Berry Cornmeal Cake

Jordan: It’s bluebs season!

Kitra: I cannot believe you’re still calling them that, and also that I wasn’t expecting you to do it.

In fairness, I haven’t been actively calling them bluebs. Just when I know it’s going to annoy someone.

I don’t find it annoying, just… unsettling? I don’t know. It’s fine, but I also think blueberry is a way more fun word to say. It’s like when people have nicknames that are longer than their actual name. It just seems like a waste?

We can agree to disagree on bluebs versus blueberries. However (segue alert!), I know we agree that cooked blueberries are strongly underrated.

Definitely. People go on and on about the joys of cooked strawberries (which never really break down, and are usually better fresh I will fight you all on this), and raspberries (good, but also how often do you get a really quality raspberry or any raspberry because $$$, let’s be real here) but blueberries are cheap, usually very good, and cook down PERFECTLY. Plus, no chopping!

They really need very little to make them great. Our dad used to make blueberry omelets, which were literally omelets filled with a cooked-down mixture of blueberries and lemon juice and a bit of sugar, and they were perfect. Blueberry compote? Great. Blueberry pie? Great, if you let them do their thing without adding a ton of cornstarch. Blueberry cake? Well, here we are.

I thought “this is way too many berries for this cake” but that has never been the case in the history of butter and flour (see also: all pies ever), so I don’t know why I was suspicious.

The cake itself is a lightly sweetened, cornbread-like base. It’s not anything wildly exciting on its own, but then you dump a bunch of sweetened berries on top and it all comes together. A sugary topping forms a nice crispy crust on top of it all.

I’ll be honest that I love the topping (especially because it asked me to use candied ginger, one of my all time favorite foods), but that I’m not 100% on putting it on top of cornbread. It’s definitely a breakfast cake, which is great. But also, I might do this on a regular coffee cake base another time. I’m also more of a sweet cakes fan than Jordan, who likes her breakfast cakes like I like granola. (With yogurt or milk in a bowl? Why. But, you do you.)

Yeah, I liked that this one was not very sweet. If anything, the topping was almost too sweet for me—but once it had a chance to sit and everything kind of melded together, it turned out great. And yes, I had a slice this morning topped with milk, as if it were cereal, which Kitra found horrifying.

I do agree this cake hits a peak on the second day, when the whole thing seems less arbitrary. Both days it was good, don’t get me wrong! I’m going to eat it all and think back on it fondly, but my brain just couldn’t quite wrap around how the layers worked together. A bit like when you put food on top of rice. The rice is just a base that you don’t really think about. This felt to me on the first day like a topping on cornbread. The second day it felt more like one dish.

Kitra has given a lot of caveats here, but I would recommend it. If you have a bunch of blueberries (or other berries, for that matter) and a desire for cake, you could do much worse than this.

I would also recommend it, just don’t think of it as a “cake” per se. More as a fun breakfast snack!

Which is really what all cakes dream of being, in their heart of hearts.

^^^ yep.

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Chocolate Loaf Cake

Jordan: Our criteria for picking a cake this week: 1) Includes buttermilk, because I still have a bottle in my fridge.

Kitra: 2) Uses two or fewer eggs, because I haven’t been to the store in over a month and that’s all I have now.

3) Not particularly complicated or dish-heavy, because we’re both lazy.

4) Something in a loaf pan, that seems like I could freeze slices of because I live alone and absolutely cannot eat another entire cake this week.

Enter: Smitten Kitchen’s everyday chocolate cake.

I’ve made this before, but like eight years ago and I couldn’t tell you anything about it except that it’s chocolate and a loaf cake. And both of those sounded like pluses.

I shouldn’t be the one to sell anyone on this, because I’m not a huge fan of chocolate cake. But I gave a slice to my partner and his first response was, “This is really moist! And much more chocolatey than I would have expected from something you made.”

And as someone who does like chocolate cake, I’ll tell you that this is a delightful afternoon/anytime cake. If you want chocolate cake, but are tired of washing forks and need something you can just cut a slice of and eat while you go about your day, this is it. It’s perfect for this era of our lives, where the idea of “dessert” no longer exists and all food is just for whenever you want it.

I was going to disagree with Kitra but then I remembered that I ate chips and salsa at 10:15pm last week, so.

I made fresh pasta for lunch yesterday, and dinner was a bowl of frozen broccoli that I ate with my fingers. Time, meals, and utensils are dead to me at this point. Cookie dough is lunch.

Point is: This is a good anytime cake. I had mine with a dollop of creme fraiche, and it would be just as good with greek yogurt for a vaguely kinda healthy breakfast.

Chocolate cake with yogurt on it: The breakfast of influencers and body builders everywhere, probably I guess.

While nothing with a 2:1 flour-to-cocoa ratio will ever be my favorite cake, this is a pretty good one. I will continue to eat it! If for some reason I needed to make a rich chocolate cake in the future, this would be a contender. It also has a nice thin, crispy crust on top, which both of us loved.

In summary: good cake, eat it whenever, eat it with your hands, contemplate whether time matters.

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