A tale of two cakes

 Not one, but two delicious dessert recipes. First up, a rich chocolate bundt cake soaked with whiskey. Then, whole grain zucchini cupcakes topped with a cream cheese frosting. 

This past weekend, we celebrated my husband’s 29th birthday.  Lucky kid, with all the people who care about him, he ended up with three days of celebration.  As you can imagine, that put a strain on our generally healthy eating patterns. 

On Friday, his actual birthday, we enjoyed his birthday just the two of us at home, then met up with friends.  Normally I prepare something splurgy for his birthday dinner, like last years beef tenderloin with tomato and Madeira confit.  I knew the next two days would be full of indulgence, so I asked if he would mind if I stuck to our usual, more nutritious (but equally delicious) fare.  Being a good dietitians husband, he said he didn't mind at all.  So, for dinner, we ate a big plate of vegetarian Southern fare, his favorite cuisine.  And yes, there is such a thing as vegetarian Southern food and no, I did not make it up.  Since we knew there would be plenty of cake to come, we opened a bottle of our honeymoon wine from Chile for dessert.

On Saturday, we celebrated with his friends in Greenville.  Scott is blessed with a group of three friends he has known since elementary school.  Two of them, David and Chuck, have birthdays in the same week as they all live in South Carolina, we try to do something together each year for their birthday.

This year, David’s awesome girlfriend Helen took the lead and planned a craft beer tasting and college football party.  Can you think of a more perfect celebration for three 29 to 30 year old guys?  I certainly couldn't!  We tasted eight different beers from Community Tap, a popular beer store in downtown Greenville.  Some of the beers I had tasted before, including one of my local favorites, Westbrook White Thai, and the Grand Tetons Sweetgrass I had on our recent trip to Yellowstone.  Others were new like the spicy, caramelly Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin and Sierra Nevada's Narwhal Stout.

For food, we ate tailgate-style apps, which for those of you who don't come from the football lovin' South, that means everything was some combination of meat, cheese and refined flour.  And then it's deep fried.  Don't get me wrong, everything was delicious, it just wasn't exactly health fare!  I prepared a couple healthy appetizers, spicy roasted chickpeas (waaay better than potato chips for munching in every single way) and avocado hummus.  I was worried they would go untouched at such an event, but I had more than a few people thank me for bringing something they could feel guilt free about.  For those who requested recipes, the links take you to the recipes I used.  

I was also in charge of the birthday cake.  I could have taken the healthy route...but I didn't.  After stumbling across this recipe for whiskey soaked dark chocolate cake, I knew it was the right cake for the celebration.  It was rich and chocolately, with intense flavor from the espresso powder and dark cococolate.  Even though I overcooked it a smidge, it didn't dry out.  Served with a dollop of real whipped cream, it was the perfect way to cap off the party.

 The next day, we celebrated Scott and his aunt's birthday at his mom’s lake house.  His family is working hard at changing their diet.  For dinner, his mom prepared healthy dishes like roasted Brussels sprouts, sauteed sweet potatoes and my Greek greens pie.  I offered to bake dessert to help her out, but also because I wanted an excuse to bake.  To stay on the healthier side, I found a recipe for whole grain spelt cupcakes, sweetened with maple syrup and studded with  zucchini and crunchy walnuts.  Instead of the typical buttercream from a jar (or should I say partially hydrogenated oil-cream), this recipe uses lighter Neufchatel sweetened with pure maple syrup and with lime juice.  The cupcakes were super moist from the mashed banana and zucchini and the frosting added the perfect amount of creaminess.  Tart lime juice in the frosting was the perfect contrast for the fall spices in the cupcake.

So which cake did I like the best?  Honestly, both were incredible, but so very different it would be impossible to compare.  If I could force a moral out of the story (cause really I just wanted to share two cake recipes), it's this - making a few healthy choices this holiday season won't ruin the fun.  While it's true, the holidays might not be the same without a decedent cake or mom's best sweet potato casserole, it doesn't mean we should treat them as a comfort food free-for-all.  Don't be afraid to prepare a few healthy dishes.  I promise you, others will appreciate you for it!

Whiskey Soaked Chocolate Bundt Cake
Author: Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE
Serves: Serves 12-14
If you like, you could substitute bourbon. Make sure you use one you would drink. Don’t be tempted to pick up the cheapest bottle because a.) the flavor will come through and b.) we’re not in college anymore. Feel free to stir in dark chocolate chips to make an adult version of my childhood favorite, chocolate yummy cake (creative name, no?). Adapted from [url href="http://orangette.blogspot.com/2008/12/like-winter-and-warmth.html"]Orangette. [/url]
  • 5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken
  • 1/4 cup instant expresso powder
  • 2 tablespoons dark cocoa powder
  • 1 cup whiskey
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened, preferably organic from grass-fed cows
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Powdered sugar for garnish
  • [b]Whipped cream:[/b]
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a bundt pan with a 10-cup capacity.
  2. Place a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water. Add the chocolate and melt until smooth, stirring occasionally. Set aside and cool.
  3. Put the espresso and cocoa powder in a 2-cup measuring cup. Add enough water to bring it up to the 1 cup line. Stir until dissolved. Add whiskey and salt. Set aside and let cool.
  4. With an electric mixer, beat the butter at medium speed until fluffy. Add sugar and beat until well combined, scraping down sides as needed. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until combined after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract, baking soda, and melted chocolate, scraping down the sides with a spatula.
  5. Reduce the mixer speed to low. Add a third of the whiskey mixture and beat until absorbed, then beat in 1 cup flour. Repeat with one third of the whiskey mixture, another cup of flour and ending with the rest of the whiskey mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan and tap against the counter to smooth down the top. Bake about 70 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
  6. While it’s baking, prepare the whipped cream. Beat together cream, sugar and vanilla at high speed until stiff peaks form. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  7. Let cool in the pan about 15 minutes, then cover with a serving plate and flip over to unmold. If you like, sprinkle with about three teaspoons of whiskey. Cool completely and garnish with powdered sugar. Serve with whipped cream.
Zucchini Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Author: Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE
Serves: makes 10
Adapted from [url href="http://www.greenkitchenstories.com/zucchini-cupcakes/"]Green Kitchen Stories [/url] To make these vegan, you could use coconut oil and vegan cream cheese or coconut whipped cream with a little lime zest. If you can't find spelt flour, substitute white whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour, but it will likely create a heavier, more muffin-like cupcake.
  • 5 tablespoons organic butter or coconut oil
1 ripe banana
  • 3 large eggs
5 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup spelt flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cup shredded zucchini (from 2 small or 1 medium-large)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
  • [b]Frosting:[/b]
  • 8 ounces Neufchatel or reduced fat cream cheese (what's the difference? Mystery solved!)
  • 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 lime, zest and juice
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Melt the butter or coconut oil and set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Mash the banana in a bowl. Add the eggs, maple syrup and vanilla then beat together when an electric mixer on medium speed. Add the melted butter or coconut oil while beating the mixture on medium speed.
  4. Sift the flour, spices, baking powder and baking soda into the wet mixture and beat at medium/low speed until just combined. Stir in shredded zucchini and walnuts.
  5. Divide batter between 10 muffin tins lined with cupcake liner. Bake 20-25 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Set aside to cool.
  6. While the cupcakes are baking, blend together the cream cheese, lime zest and juice and maple syrup with an electric mixer on medium.
  7. After the cupcakes have cooled, dollop the frosting on the center of each cupcake. Garnish with additional cinnamon if desired.

Howdy, Rachael Hartley