malbec chocolate cake 3

Oh boy, it's been a while. As it turns out, when you have to plan a wedding in three and a half months, buy a condo, make improvements on said condo, have a few scattered trips to various places, and are super busy at work all at the same time....shit gets a little crazy.

I feel like such a grown-up right now. I OWN LAND. Okay, I really just own a piece of a building, but still. Landed gentry. We've been buying real people furniture, too. Not "sofa that came out of Brandon's parents' garage and is possibly from the 70's" furniture. Like, real expensive furniture. That matches. And isn't torn up by cats (yet). 

malbec chocolate cake 5

AND we're getting married in 36 days. We got our marriage license today. It was literally the easiest government office visit in the history of ever. I expected DMV-style hellishness, but was pleasantly surprised. Also, I thought marriage licenses came on fancy paper with seals and all that. Ours definitely came from a black and white copier. Boring.

We decided to get our marriage license today because it has officially been one year since my mom passed away. That might seem like a weird thing to do, by my mom was never one to want people to be sad. I mean, she left explicit instructions that we were to have a celebration lunch for her instead of a funeral (complete with a specific guest list, too). Anyway, I know she would've wanted us to turn today into a better day, and this was a nice way to do it. My mom's marriages with both my dad (until he passed) and my stepdad were full of love and happiness, and the marriage license was an effort to commemorate that, in a way. And then we went out to have celebratory (and memorial) drinks and burgers...cause that's the way mom would have wanted it.

malbec chocolate cake 2
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malbec chocolate cake 1

If you're lucky enough to have your mom around this Mother's Day (or someone who's like a mom to you), make them this cake. It's rich and delicious and moist (sorry!), and the Malbec wine adds some deep fruitiness that complements the chocolate incredibly well. The orange-cream cheese frosting gives some tanginess to cut through the richness of the chocolate, and almost lends a sangria-type vibe to the cake. You can make the cake in one bowl (super easy!), and you can substitute any red wine you like if you can't find Malbec. It only lasted three days around here, but it stands up well to the fridge, and maybe even got better overnight. I'm pretty sure it'd make great cupcakes, too!

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Malbec Chocolate Cake + Orange-Cream Cheese Frosting

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

for the cake:

6 TB unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup Malbec wine (or, sub any red wine you prefer)
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp orange extract
1 cup + 1 tablespoon  all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder (I used the Onyx cocoa powder, but dutch is fine too)
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
a pinch ground cinnamon

for the frosting:

8 oz cream cheese, softened
4 TB unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp orange extract (or orange blossom extract)
zest of 1 orange
a pinch of salt
about 2 1/2 cups of confectioners' (powdered) sugar


  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom of two 6-inch round cake pans with parchment, and spray the interior with a nonstick spray. 

  2. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. 

  3. Add the sugars and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. 

  4. Add the egg and yolk and beat well, then the red wine + vanilla and orange extracts. Don’t worry if the batter looks curdled. 

  5. Scrape down the sides/bottom of the bowl.

  6. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt together, right over your wet ingredients. 

  7. Mix until 3/4 combined, then gently stir the rest together with a rubber spatula. 

  8. Spread batter in prepared pans. 

  9. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. 

  10. Cool in pan on a rack for about 10 minutes, then flip out of pan and cool the rest of the way on a cooling rack. 

  11. Once they're completely cool, you can either even out your layers, wrap them well in plastic wrap, and freeze them until you want to use them, or even them out and frost them immediately.

  12. Make your frosting: Beat cream cheese and butter until smooth, light, and fluffy (3-4 minutes).

  13. Add in extracts, zest, and salt, and beat for another minute. 

  14. Scrape down the sides/bottom of the bowl AND the attachment (sometimes zest will get stuck to it, especially if you're using the whisk attachment.

  15. Sift in one cup of powdered sugar at a time, mixing well in between, until you have a frosting that is your desired consistency. It took about 2 1/4 cups for me, but it can vary depending on the type of cream cheese you use (light cream cheese makes a looser frosting and will need more powdered sugar to stiffen it up, just FYI).

  16. Decorate cake as desired! I frosted mine, and then covered the sides in cake crumbs from when I evened out the layers, and topped with orange slices.



pumpkin spice-1

IT'S SEPTEMBER. Where has this year gone? Actually, with all the stuff that has happened this year, I'm completely ready for a new year, so it's really okay with me if this year keeps speeding by.

Because it is now September, I can declare it officially PUMPKIN SEASON! It's perfectly acceptable to make all the pumpkin goodies now! Pumpkin season is my favorite. Fall is the best season, and I wish it would just show up already. Parts of the country are already having fall-ish weather, and we're just over here with all this mid/upper 80's and gross humidity nonsense. It's like Chicago is resisting a weather change because according to the farmer's almanac, we're going to get majorly shit on by winter. Is the farmer's almanac accurate? I don't even care. Cooler weather now please!

With all the "controversy" (don't we have better things to obsess over these days? Read the news.) around the Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice Latte...carcinogens, caramel coloring, no real pumpkin, blah blah blah...I thought it might be pertinent to share an important bit of information with you:

You can make your own pumpkin spice syrup!

And it is obscenely easy.
And it is delicious.
And it will save you a boatload of money.

Maybe if you give less of your money to Starbucks, you can spend more money on pumpkins. Or pumpkin beer. Or something else cooler than a $5 latte.

If you feel so inclined, you could dial back the pumpkin a bit. You can adjust the spices to your liking, too, if you want more/less of something. It's adaptable. I also imagine you could use pumpkin pie spice instead of all the spices separately, but I'm not sure how the spice ratio stacks up there. I think it'd be worth a shot, though.


Pumpkin Spice Simple Syrup

recipe adapted from Cynthia over at Two Red Bowls

makes one pint.

1 ½ cups water
1 cup granulated (white) sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1/3 cup pumpkin puree
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 cinnamon stick
½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground ginger
a scant ½ tsp ground cloves (shoot for closer to 1/3 tsp)


  1. Combine water and sugars in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugars dissolve, then turn heat to low.
  2. Whisk in pumpkin and spices until smooth. Simmer for 10 minutes (but don’t let it boil!).
  3. Remove from heat, and allow to cool for 20 minutes.
  4. Remove cinnamon stick.
  5. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.
  6. Use as desired in coffee, tea, etc. I usually use 1-2 TB per cup of coffee.
  7. According to my calculations (nerd alert), the homemade syrup is about 36 calories per tablespoon. A 16oz PSL with 2% milk and NO whipped cream at Starbucks clocks in at 310 calories (according to their website). I'd be willing to guess that most of those calories are NOT coming from the milk. So there’s that.