Pharm Fresh

The foodie alter-ego of a pharmacy student

Banana Cake with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting November 9, 2009

Filed under: cake,dessert,fruit,sauces etc. — pharmfresh @ 4:02 pm
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I know I’ve professed my love for banana flavored baked goods before, but let me reiterate: I love them!  I think it has to do with the fact that I have so many happy memories of my Nana Dee and her famous banana muffins and banana bread.  Banana bread and banana cake have always been really homey foods to me, and I find them incredibly comforting.  I happened to have some over-ripe bananas attracting fruit flies in my kitchen, so I decided to branch out from the usual banana bread and go for banana cake.

The recipe will make either one 9×13 inch sheet cake or two 8 or 9 inch round cakes.  I like to go with the sheet cake because it’s simpler.  The vanilla bean is completely optional in the frosting, but I think it gives this otherwise very simple, no-frills cake a little bit of fanciness.  Oh, and it tastes good, too.


Banana Cake with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting


Makes: 1 (9×13 inch) sheet cake or 2 (8 or 9 inch) round cakes


Adapted from: my Nana Dee


For the cake:
1/2 c. vegetable shortening
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 bananas, mashed
4 tbsp. milk
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. walnuts, chopped (optional)
1 tsp. cinnamon (optional)


For the frosting:
1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese (reduced fat is fine, I wouldn’t use fat-free)
1/2 c. (8 tbsp.) butter, softened
3 c. powdered sugar
1-2 tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out

1) Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

2) In a large mixing bowl, cream the shortening and sugar with an electric mixer until combined.  Add the eggs and vanilla, mix until smooth.

3) Mix in the bananas, vanilla and milk.

4) Stir in the flour, baking soda, walnuts and cinnamon (if using), mixing until smooth.

5) Pour into a greased 9×13 inch baking pan or divide into two greased 8 or 9 inch round cake pans.

6) Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the cake is golden brown.  Cool completely before frosting.

7) For the frosting: In a medium mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter until combined.  Add the vanilla, vanilla bean seeds and powdered sugar and mix until smooth and fluffy.  If the frosting is too thick, add enough milk to reach the desired consistency.  Frost cake.


Triple Chocolate Cupcakes March 23, 2009

Filed under: cake,chocolate,dessert — pharmfresh @ 12:16 pm
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So, remember last time when I posted and said that I was trying out delicious but healthy desserts?  These definitely do not fit into that category.  They are amazingly delicious, but definitely not healthy!

I’ve been toying around with the idea of a filled cupcake for a few weeks now, but never got around to making them because I didn’t want to have to eat them all or tote them to class to give away.  Luckily for me, I had a study group at my house last night, and that was the perfect opportunity to try them out and pawn them off on others.

These cupcakes are amazing.  Amazing.  I think the best compliment I got all night was when one of my friends told me he wanted to go home and brush his teeth with my cupcakes.  I’m not sure why he’s brushing his teeth with cupcakes, but whatever…to each their own, right?

I used the recipe for Hershey’s perfectly chocolate cake and frosting for these, and let me tell you — those Hershey’s people sure do know how to make a cake!  The cake was super moist and chocolately, and every single one of the cupcakes rose and formed a perfect domed top.  They were also firm enough so that I could easily cut out the middles (to make room for the filling) without the cake pieces crumbling and falling apart.

I have also found my go-to chocolate frosting from here on out.  I’ve made quite a few chocolate frostings over the years, but this one is hands down the best.  I was a little skeptical at first because it only calls for cocoa powder, and I was concerned that I wasn’t going to get the real punch of chocolate flavor, but I was so wrong!  It was chocolatey, sweet and smooth, and it piped wonderfully, holding it’s shape very well.  I will never use another chocolate frosting recipe.  Ever.

For the filling I made a simple chocolate ganache and filled the cupcakes using the cone method (which I’ll show you how to do below). I really liked having the filling in these cupcakes, because it had a different texture than the cake and the frosting, and brought the chocolate flavor up one more notch.  I have a very high tolerance for chocolate, so if you’re thinking you don’t want such a rich cupcake you can easily leave the filling out and just frost the tops.  But if you’re going for super rich and decadent, definitely go for the filling!


Triple Chocolate Cupcakes

Adapted from: Hershey’s

Makes: about 12 cupcakes


1 c. granulated sugar

1/2 c. + 6 tbsp. all-purpose flour

6 tbsp. cocoa powder (I used 3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder and 3 tbsp. dark cocoa powder)

3/4 tsp. baking soda

3/4 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 egg

1/2 c. heavy cream

1/4 c. vegetable oil

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 c. boiling water

Chocolate Ganache Filling

1 c. semisweet chocolate chips

1/4 c. heavy cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Chocolate Frosting

1/2 c. (1 stick or 8 tbsp.) butter, at room temperature

2/3 c. cocoa powder (I used 1/3 c. unsweetened and 1/3 c. dark)

3 c. powdered sugar

1/3 c. heavy cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract

For the cake:

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a 12 cup muffin tin with cupcake liners.  Grease the liners with a small bit of cooking spray (optional, but I find that it helps).

2) In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Add the egg, cream, oil and vanilla and beat with an electric mixer for 2 minutes.  Beat in the boiling water.  The mixture will be thin.

3) Pour batter into prepared muffin tin.

4) Bake for 20-24 minutes, until a knife inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean.  Remove from pan and cool completely.

5) While the cupcakes are cooling, place the chocolate chips in a small heat-proof bowl.  Heat the 1/4 c. heavy cream in a small saucepan over low heat until it is almost boiling.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate chips.  Let the mixture sit for about 30 seconds, then stir until the mixture is smooth and silky.  Refrigerate while you make the frosting and core the cupcakes.

6) For the frosting, place the butter in a medium bowl.  Beat until smooth.  Add in the cocoa powder, vanilla, 1 cup of the powdered sugar and a little bit of the cream, beat until smooth, adding more cream if necessary.

7) Beat in the remaining powdered sugar and enough cream to reach the desired consistency.

8) Once the cupcakes have cooled, core them using the cone method (shown below.)

9) Fill the cupcakes with about a teaspoonful of the chocolate ganache, and place the tops back on the cupcakes.

10) Frost with chocolate frosting and garnish as desired (I just sprinkled mine with a little bit of raw sugar).

The Cone Method


1) Using a thin knife, cut a circle in the middle of your cupcake about 1/2 inch in.  Keep the edge of the knife pointing towards the middle of the cupcake as you go around, creating a cone shape from the piece that you’re cutting out.


2) Gently pull out the cone-shaped piece of cake the you just cut.  Set it aside, but do NOT throw it away (or eat it!) — you’ll need part of it later.


3)  Put about 1 tablespoon of the chocolate ganache into the hole of the cupcake, but make sure that the filling doesn’t quite reach the top of the hole.


4) Grab the cone piece that you cut out and carefully tear off most of the cake, keeping the part that was the top of the cupcake intact.  Place that piece back on top, covering up the filling.


Bailey’s Chocolate Cake January 5, 2009

Filed under: cake,chocolate,dessert — pharmfresh @ 4:02 pm
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My family is finally starting to recover from all the Christmas and New Years festivities.  Most importantly, we’re back to actually cooking dinner at home, instead of running out to a restaurant every night.  I get sick of eating out really quickly — even when we go on vacation, I can only make it two or three days before craving a home-cooked meal.  So, needless to say, I’m happy with this development.

I made this cake for Thanksgiving, and then promptly forgot to post about it until I found the picture of it on my computer this morning.  I really, really liked it — I think it was my favorite thing that I made this year.  The process is a little more involved than the normal cake-and-frosting cake, but it’s well worth it, and very do-able.  I tweaked the recipe in a few places. First, the original recipe calls for you to make a chocolate cake from scratch.  I actually did do that, but the cake was terrible – super crumbly, and half of one layer stuck to my greased and floured nonstick cake pan.  It tasted really good, but there was absolutely no way to salvage it.  So I went out and bought a devil’s food cake mix, and that worked out just fine…and as an added bonus, the pieces of the first cake made a really good snack while I was cooking!  You can definitely forgo the from-scratch cake — there’s so much else going on in the cake, you’ll never be able to tell the difference.

Next time I make this (and there definitely will be a next time!), I think I’m going to make double the amount of ganache, so instead of one layer on ganache on the inside and two of buttercream, there will be two layers of ganache and only one of buttercream.  The ganache is fabulous.  It originally was supposed to be caramel chocolate ganache, but since I wasn’t using the caramel flavored Bailey’s, I left out the caramels and added a tablespoon of Bailey’s.  I really like the fact that the buttercream isn’t incredibly sweet.  I usually like my cake frostings very sugary, but with the ganache in the middle, it counteracts the richness really well.


Bailey’s Chocolate Cake

Adapted from: Culinary Concoctions by Peabody


1 Devil’s Food cake mix

Water, oil and eggs as called for in the cake mix


10 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

1 c. heavy whipping cream

1 tbsp. Bailey’s Irish Cream (or more, to taste)

Bailey’s Buttercream

3 eggs

4 egg yolks

1/2 c. water

2 c. granulated sugar

3 c. butter (6 sticks), at room temperature

1/2 tsp. salt

4 tbsp. Bailey’s Irish Cream

1) Prepare the cake as directed on the package.  Bake as directed for two 9 inch round cakes.  Cool completely.  Once cooled, cut each cake layer in half lengthwise so that you have four thin layers of cake.

2) For the ganache, place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl.  Heat the heavy cream over medium heat until steaming, and just barely bubbling.

3) Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, and let sit for one minute.  Add the Bailey’s and stir until smooth.  Refrigerate about 1 hour, or until the ganache has reached a spreadable consistancy.   If it gets too hard, microwave at 10 second intervals until softened, or let it sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes.

4) For the buttercream, whisk the eggs and egg yolks in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment for about 5 minutes, or until light yellow and foamy.

5) In a saucepan, simmer the water and sugar until it reaches the soft ball stage, about 234 – 240 degrees F on a candy thermometer.

6) Immediately transfer the syrup to a heatproof measuring cup.  Pour the syrup in a slow, thin stream into the egg mixture, whipping on low speed the entire time.  Once the syrup has been incorporated, increase the speed to medium and mix until the mixture has cooled – about 7 minutes.

7) Still mixing on medium speed, add the butter, half a stick at a time.  Let each piece get incorporated before you add the next.  Once all the butter has been added, continue mixing for about 2 minutes, or until the buttercream has thickened slightly.  Stir in the salt and Bailey’s.

8) To assemble the cake, place one of the four cake layers on the serving platter.  Cover with buttercream (you’ll have a ton of buttercream, so don’t skimp on the middle layers!).

9) Place the next layer of cake on top.  Cover with all of the ganache.  If desired, save about half a cup of the ganache to decorate the top the cake.

10) Place the third layer of cake on top, cover with buttercream.

11) Place the last layer of cake on top, then cover the entire thing with the rest of the buttercream.  Decorate as desired.  You can’t see it in the picture, but I piped a shell border in buttercream along the base of the cake, and piped little stars of leftover ganache on the top.


Nana Dee’s Coffee Cake November 2, 2008

Filed under: cake — pharmfresh @ 9:27 pm
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I’ve actually been cooking quite a bit lately, and even better, I’ve remembered to take pictures!

This past weekend I decided to skip my class on Friday and head into Grand Rapids.  I needed to pick some stuff up from a friend who is in her third year of pharmacy school here at Ferris.  She offered me this huge box of old notes and exams and books, and how could I say no?  It was like winning the lottery!  Then I had lunch with my best friend Beth and her girlfriend Angela, which was a lot of fun.  I don’t get to see those two nearly enough anymore, and I got my Qdoba fix for a while, as well!

After lunch, I went in to Allendale to visit the place on campus at Grand Valley where I used to work.  My entire four years at GVSU I worked as a student assistant at the SMART Center (Science & Math Advising, Resource and Transition Center), and it was by and far the best job I’ve ever had.  The work was easy and enjoyable, I got to meet, work with, and make friends with a bunch of other students, and the advisors I worked for were awesome.  The best part of the job was that once they found out how much I liked to cook, they let me designate one day a week as “baking day” where I would bring in food to share!  So not only did I get to try baking something new every week, I didn’t have to eat it all, either! This coffee cake was by and far the office favorite (out of everything I made for four years!), so it was only fitting that I bring some with me when I came to visit.  And, true to form, I was greeted with “Hey, it’s Katie!  AND SHE BROUGHT CAKE!”

This coffee cake is probably one of my top favorite foods of all time.  It was one that my grandma would make every once in a while when I was little, and one that I rediscovered again during high school.  She passed away two years ago, so it’s something that I make every once in a while as a way to remember her.

It is very similar in it’s make-up to the crumb cake that I posted previously, but about 100 times better tasting, and much more moist.  The difference in taste comes from the graham cracker crumbs that are used in the streusel layer, which give it a sweet, nutty flavor that just can’t be obtained using flour alone.  The original recipe didn’t call for a glaze, but I’ve tried it both ways, and the coffee cake with the glaze is definitely much better, and tends to make the cake a little bit more moist.  But really, when is glaze ever a bad thing?

I managed to convince some of the people at work to pose with the coffee cake.  Joanie is on the left — she was pretty much the office mom, and makes the best banana bread I’ve ever had, which will definitely be making an appearance on here at some point.  Brianna is in the middle, and Rachel, my protege (and favorite coworker!) is on the right.  I trained Rachel when she was just a wee freshman, and we always had WAY too much fun working together.

Nana Dee’s Coffee Cake

2 c. graham cracker crumbs

1 c. butter, melted

2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 c. brown sugar

1 box french vanilla cake mix (if you can’t find french vanilla, you can use yellow or white cake mix)

Oil, water, and eggs as called for on the cake mix box

1 1/2 c. powdered sugar

2-3 tbsp. milk

1 tsp. vanilla

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 13×9 inch pan.

2) Mix together the graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar and cinnamon.  Add melted butter and mix to combine (the mixture should be relatively wet — about the consistency of wet sand)

3) Prepare cake mix as instructed on the box.

4) Pour half of the cake batter into the prepared pan.

5) Sprinkle half of the graham cracker crumb mixture evenly over the cake batter.

6) Pour the remaining cake batter into the pan, and sprinkle with remaining graham cracker crumb mixture.

7) Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the top of the cake is browned and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

8) During the last few minutes of baking time, combine the powdered sugar, vanilla, and enough milk to make a thin glaze (it may take more or less milk than called for in the recipe).  Drizzle glaze over the cake while it is still hot, right after it comes out of the oven.


Crumb Cake October 22, 2008

Filed under: cake — pharmfresh @ 5:39 pm
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I’ve been finding that during most normal weeks, studying definitely trumps cooking for the use of my spare time.  However, after taking a horrific biochemistry exam on Monday, I decided to give myself a little “me” time, and cook this cake.  I happened to find it while I was perusing the Livejournal food community that I’ve mentioned before, Food Porn, and I noticed that I had everything in the house to make it.

This is a pretty basic crumb cake.  Actually, there’s no “pretty” about it, it is a basic crumb cake.  I like that it has less cake, and more crumb to it.  The cake layer turned out very moist, and the crumb layer is very buttery and rich.  The only complaint I have about this cake is that it’s not quite spicy enough for me — next time, I will probably double the amount of cinnamon in the crumb layer, and add some to the cake layer as well.  It has a very light cinnamon taste, which is nice if you plan on eating this for breakfast, but I like my crumb cake to be more of a dessert.  A nice basic powdered sugar glaze would be nice on this, as well.

Crumb Cake

Makes: one 9×13 inch pan (approx. 24 pieces)

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

4 c. all-purpose flour, divided

1/2 c. granulated sugar

2 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 egg

1/2 c. milk

2 tsp. vanilla

1 c. light brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 c. butter, melted

1) Grease a 9×13 inch pan and preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

2) In a medium bowl, mix together 1 1/2 c. flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt.

3) In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, vegetable oil and vanilla.

4) Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and mix until well blended.

5) Spread the mixture evenly into the 9×13 inch pan.

6) Mix together remaining 2 1/2 c. flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  Melt butter and add to brown sugar mixture, mixing until it forms large coarse crumbs.

7) Sprinkle the crumbs evenly on top of the cake mixture in the pan.

8) Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the cake layer is done and the crumb layer is lightly browned.


Death by Chocolate Cake August 7, 2008

Filed under: cake,chocolate,dessert — pharmfresh @ 11:49 pm
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My boyfriend Matt, and his twin brother Marc’s birthday is this Tuesday.  The past few years they’ve had a bonfire at their house, which has always been a good time.  There’s always lots of people there, not to mention lots of beer!  In some ways it’s like a mini high school reunion, because there are always the inevitable friends-of-friends that show up, most of which I haven’t seen since graduation.  Sometimes it’s awkward, sometimes it’s not, but it’s always a surprise!

I just finished making their birthday cake – death by chocolate cake.  It’s huge, dense, and has over two pounds of chocolate in it.  So, in essence, it’s my dream come true.  Luckily, Matt and Marc like chocolate, too.   I’m also a (relatively amateur) cake decorator.  I love decorating cakes – its so much fun.  And now that my family and friends know that I do it, it can be profitable at times, too!  I actually got interested in cake decorating before I was interested in baking.  I started to bake because I got tired of using cake mixes, and everything snowballed from there!

Don’t be too intimidated by the recipe for this cake.  Even though it reads like a (amazing, chocolate-filled) novel, it’s really not as complicated as it looks.  It has a lot of steps because there are four different parts to the cake – it has a brownie bottom, chocolate mousse in the middle, a top layer of cake, and then ganache as a frosting.  I haven’t actually cut into this cake yet (seeing as the bonfire isn’t until tomorrow), but I have a feeling that by the time we actually do cut into it, I might be a little too inebriated to remember to take pictures.  :)  So, I haven’t tasted the brownie or cake parts, but they both looked really good and smelled fantastic as they were baking.  I did sneak a taste of the chocolate mousse part, and it almost didn’t make it onto the cake.  It took all of the willpower I had not to sit there with my spoon and clean out the bowl.  It was amazing.

I decorated the cake using a technique I learned from the book The Whimsical Bakehouse by Kaye and Liv Hansen.  If you’re at all interested in cake decorating, I would definitely recommend this book.  They make a lot of their decorations by tracing them with chocolate onto wax paper.  It works really well for me, because I can trace just about anything, but I’m terrible at actually drawing, like I would have to if I were using icing to pipe something directly onto the cake.  They have really detailed instructions in the book, and some of the things they make out of chocolate are just astounding!

Death by Chocolate Cake

Source: Confections of a Foodie Bride

Makes one 9 or 10 inch cake

Brownie layer (bottom)

1/2 c. + 2 tbsp. flour

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking powder

3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped

6 tbsp. butter

1 c. + 2 tbsp. granulated sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla

Chocolate Mousse (middle)

6 oz. semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped

2 c. heavy cream

1 tbsp. granulated sugar

Chocolate Cake (top)

6 tbsp. butter, softened

3/4 c. + 2 tbsp. flour

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped

2 tbsp. cocoa powder

1/4 c. hot water

3/4 c. + 2 tbsp. granulated sugar, divided

1/2 c. buttermilk

1 tsp. vanilla

2 eggs

1 egg yolk


1 1/2 c. heavy cream

2 tbsp. butter

18 oz. semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped

To make the brownie base:

1) Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line the bottom of a 9 or 10 inch springform pan with parchment paper.  Grease bottom and sides of pan.

2) In a small bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder.  Set aside.

3) Melt butter and chocolate in a double boiler.  Stir until smooth.

4) Remove from heat and whisk in sugar.  Add eggs one at a time, then vanilla, mixing until smooth.

5) Add flour mixture in two separate additions, folding with a rubber spatula until smooth and completely combined.

6) Pour batter into prepared springform pan.

7) Bake for 25-30 minutes, then cool to room temperature.  Do not remove the springform ring or parchment paper.

To make chocolate mousse:

1) Melt semisweet chocolate over a double boiler until smooth.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.

2) Place heavy cream and sugar into a well chilled bowl of a stand mixer.  Beat cream until stiff peaks form.

3) Fold 1/4 of the whipped cream into the melted chocolate, folding until combined.

4) Fold the chocolate cream into the remaining whipped cream, folding until well combined.

To make the cake:

1) Combine chocolate, cocoa powder and hot water in a double boiler.  Stir until chocolate is melted (mine formed a very thick paste).

2) While the mixture is still in the double boiler, add 1/4 c. sugar to the chocolate mixture and mix until smooth and shiny.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

3) In a small bowl, combine flour, salt and baking soda, set aside.

4) Combine buttermilk and vanilla in a small bowl, set aside.

5) Mix eggs and yolk with the whisk attachment in a stand mixer until combined.  Add remaining sugar and mix until fluffy and lightened in color – about 2 to 3 minutes.

6) Add cooled chocolate mixture to egg/sugar mixture and mix until well combined.  Add softened butter one tablespoon at a time.

7) Add half of flour mixture, followed by half of buttermilk mixture.  Repeat with the remainders of each, mixing until everything is incorporated and the batter is smooth.

8) Pour batter into a greased 9 or 10 inch round cake pan (make sure that the size of your cake pan matches the size of your springform pan, or you’ll have one very strange looking cake!)

9) Bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes.  Cool cake in pan for 15 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

To make the ganache:

1) Heat the heavy cream and butter in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil.

2) Place the semisweet chocolate into a heat-proof bowl.  Pour the boiling cream/butter mixture over the chocolate and let stand for 5 minutes.  Stir until smooth and shiny.

3) Let the ganache stand until it reaches room temperature and is spreadible, but not too runny.

To assemble the cake:

1) Spread the chocolate mousse evenly over the brownie base.

2) Place cake round over mousse, pressing down slightly.  Chill for one hour.

3) Remove springform ring and parchment paper.

4) Use a spatula to frost the cake in the room-temperature ganache.  You can use the remaining ganache to pipe decorations around the base of the cake, if you want.  Keep the cake well chilled.

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I thought I’d also include some pictures of other cakes I’ve decorated over the last few years.