No Jars Sous Vide Chocolate Layer Cake with Fresh Strawberries & Chocolate Ganache Cream Cheese Frosting

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One of the most difficult things about baking is getting a consistent result from one kitchen to the next. Nothing illustrates this better than the baking competitions held at local and state fairs. I remember judging a cake contest sponsored by King Arthur Flour and was amazed how given the exact same recipe 50 cakes from 50 bakers could be so drastically different in taste, texture and appearance. From one kitchen to the next and from one baker’s technique to the next the variables are infinite. What if you could take the guesswork out of baking? What if we could eliminate improper measuring technique? What if we could eliminate the worry of oven hot spots or an oven that’s too hot or too cool? And what if we could choose the exact baking temperature and time and have it never fail no matter the kitchen?

Say “Hello” to baking using weight measurements and the sous vide method of cooking. Now baking by weight is nothing new, but here in the old US of A some are slow to grasp the concept. In all it’s creativity baking is still an exact science, so get on board with weighing ingredients for consistent results.

Lots of desserts are made with the sous vide method of cooking, but typically they are cooked in canning jars and not cake pans. The jars work great for creme brulee and other custard type preparations, but I have yet to eat a sous vide jar cake that I like. First, most of them take up to 3 hours to get fully cooked. Second, I find the dumpy, cylinder shape of a jar cake off-putting. To their creative credit, some bakers like to crumble the cake into modernist clumps for better appearance, but, well, that’s just not a luscious layer cake in the way a cake is meant to be.

Now lets measure out all our ingredients and bake a cake in a cake pan sous vide style (a time and temperature controlled water bath). In addition to your sous vide equipment, you will need: a 6-inch cake pan, a 1-gallon Ziploc brand freezer bag (the only brand recommended for sous vide cooking), a set of at least 25 pound strength magnets and a heat proof plate that is same diameter as your cake pan.

As far as the filling and frosting for this deliciously moist and full-flavored chocolate cake you can use what I suggest here or pick and choose your own favorites. I think a peanut butter filling and frosting or black forest version would be fantastic, but simply dusted with powdered sugar and a dollop of whipped cream is just as good.

No Jars Needed Sous Vide Chocolate Layer Cake

71 grams (1/2 cup) all-purpose flour

15 grams (2 ½ tablespoons) unsweetened cocoa powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

99 grams (1/2 cup packed) light brown sugar

1 egg

¼ cup strong black coffee

¼ cup buttermilk

3 tablespoons melted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1-2 cups Cream cheese frosting

4 large fresh strawberries, stems remove, diced

3 tablespoons strawberry jam

¼ cup chocolate ganache

Set up your water bath and immersion circulator according to your equipment. Heat water bath to 198F and set cook time for 1 hour. Lightly coat a 6-inch round cake pan with non-stick spray. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper and spray with no-stick spray. In medium bowl, whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt; set aside. In another bowl, whisk brown sugar and egg, about 30 seconds, making sure there are no lumps. Add coffee, buttermilk, butter and vanilla; whisk until well blended. Add flour mixture; gently whisk until dry ingredients are just moistened. Pour batter into pan. Insert pan into a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag centering pan over bottom of bag. Add a magnet, facing out, from side of pan. Cover pan with an inverted heat proof plate. Seal bag pushing out as much air as possible. Drop sealed cake into water bath attaching magnet to side of container making sure cake pan is submerged to the level of the pan rim . Make slight adjustments, if needed, to be sure cake pan is level. Cook cake for 1 hour. Remove from water bath and open bag to let heat escape. Carefully remove cake from bag and remove plate. Let cake cool in pan for 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge and invert on to cooling rack. Remove parchment paper. Cool completely.  Cake is delicious on its own served with whipped cream, but I like slicing it in half, horizontally, and turning it into a layer cake. I filled this one with a mix of fresh strawberries and jam and then frosted it with cream cheese frosting. I then swirled chocolate ganache (melted semisweet chocolate and heavy cream) through the frosting. Serves 6.

You saw it here first and I couldn’t be more excited! Now us bakers who also sous vide can consistently make the same cake from one kitchen to the next. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

Salted Chocolate Pear Pound Cake

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I am taking part in the “USA Pears Blogger Recipe Challenge”. It’s holiday time and I am delighted to share my delicious recipe entries with you! 

USA Pears are at the peak of freshness right now, so I’m simply happy to accept this challenge using this beautiful versatile fruit. The fact that northwest pears come in 10 varieties and work well in both savory and sweet dishes got my creative juices flowing. I personally love Bosc and Anjou pears for baking. 

First up in the Baking category is what I like to call my “bake two share one” recipe. This recipe allows you to indulge yourself as well as a friend. Friendsgiving is a thing. Wrapped and tied with a bow it makes the perfect hostess gift or teacher present. No better way to show your gratitude than with this stunning homemade cake.

I can’t tell you how much I love this gorgeous moist and flavorful Salted Chocolate Pear Pound Cake. Scented with the warmth of cardamom, coffee and a burst of chocolate flavor this cake is filled with chunks of juicy pears and simply dusted with flaked salt and powdered sugar.

Salted Chocolate Pear Pound Cake

4 firm ripe USA Pears, 2 Bosc pear plus 2 Anjou

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 cups hot water

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder

12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

Flaked finishing salt

Powdered sugar

Heat oven 350F. Spray two 8-9 inch x 5-inch loaf pans with baking spray. Line pans with strips of parchment paper and lightly spray paper. Slice the Bosc pears in half lengthwise just off center from the stem. Do not peel. Place the pear, cut-side down, on a mandoline and thinly slice. You will need 6 slices of pear for each pan. (I like to cut 3 slices from each half.) Remove seeds from slices, if needed. Gently press 3 slices of pear along each side of the long side of loaf pan. Peel, core and small dice the Anjou pears. Toss diced pears with 2 tablespoons of flour until coated; set aside. In a small bowl, whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom and salt; set aside. Stir water and espresso powder together until espresso is dissolved; set aside. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar for 3 to 4 minutes or until well combined. Add eggs; blend well. With mixer at low speed, gradually add half of the dry ingredients. Slowly add coffee until combined. Add remaining dry mixture; blend well scraping down sides of bowl and beater as needed. Fold in diced pears and excess flour. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake 65 to 70 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan before turning out on a wire rack to cool. Remove parchment and turn cakes upright. Sprinkle top of cake with flaked salt while cake is still warm. Coll completely. Dust with powdered sugar just before slicing and serving.

And here is a tip on how to tell if a pear is ripe. Just press your finger into the neck end of the pear. If the stem moves it’s perfectly ripe, juicy and delicious. For more pear tips and delicious recipes check out the USA pear website at: and social media pages (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram) @usapears.

Friends First Competitors Second

My favorite kitchen helper at work measuring out the hot chocolate mix

One of the big advantages of being a competitive home cook is the meeting of like-minded people. In my recipe contest travels I have been fortunate to make friends all over the country. My competitors inspire me nearly every day with their creativity not only as winning cooks, but also as parents, craftsmen and entrepreneurs. Their ability to juggle family life, full time jobs and their desires to extend themselves even further in finding their passion is remarkable. Today, I just feel lucky to know so many kind and generous ladies and gents some of which I have never even met face to face.

Let me tell you about the award-winning cook and Etsy shop owner Shannon Imlay. Shannon and I are FB friends. I believe I first came to know and admire her in an online cooking group better known as The Real Women of Philadelphia. I will never forget my first impression when seeing her online profile photo and saying, “WOW”. Shannon is strikingly lovely. She is also an extremely talented party hostess and certified floral designer all the while taking care of a special needs son on her own. She is impressive.

Shannon has had her share of grief, but truly maintains a positive outlook on life. Her generosity of spirit never ceases to amaze me. Recently, she kindly sent me a most glamorous and decadent giftbox filled with products from her Etsy shop, Shannon’s Romantic Life. 

I could not wait to try both of her hot chocolate mixes inspired by the romantic-comedy movie Chocolat (thus the spelling of her products). Made from just a few high quality and organic ingredients her sipping chocolate is like none other I have tasted. Rich and creamy this is a luscious dark chocolate blend with just the right amount of sweetness. The Spicy Kiss version has a touch of chipotle chili which adds a smokey subtle burn in the back of the throat which was thoroughly enjoyed. All you have to do to make this decadent drink is add milk, whisk and bring to a boil.

If you need a gift (Easter & Mother’s Day) or a reason to spoil yourself then check out Shannon”s Romantic Life on Etsy. Everything in Shannon’s shop is crafted with love, kindness and the highest quality ingredients. She is also very happy to customize any order.

one of the many beautiful pieces Shannon makes…customized with me in mind