Baking 101: The Chocolate Cake


My beautiful picture

Dear Friends,

I could just post this most wonderful chocolate cake recipe, and you could be happy.

But I’m a certified home-ec educator, and I can’t just let this go. I have to teach you about cake.

Really, this post should be called “You Think You Don’t Like Cake, But You Haven’t Had Homemade” or “Why You Should Stop Taking Recipes Off of Blogs and Start Taking Recipes out of Betty Crocker Cook Books”, but that seemed hypocritical. Instead I want to give you a basic no-fail chocolate cake recipe and talk about what a cake needs to be successful. Then, instead of being disappointed every time you try a recipe on pinterest that turns out dry and lack luster, you can modify these great basics. It’s like clothes and fads, but recipes and fads… Lets just say, Mr. Wood and I disliked cakes until recently when we started making our own (with out box mixes).

So yes, you will go through some education. But you will be glad.

First, let me tell you a little about Betty Crocker. Betty Crocker is really Marjorie Husted—Home economist and business lady born in 1892. Although a lot of information you read will tell you that Betty Crocker never existed, she did in a long series of home-economists dedicated to improving the homemaker’s life. Betty Crocker first materialized in the 1920s with General mills and quickly became a commercial icon. People would write to Betty with problems about recipes, dinner and marriage life. At the high point of her career she was getting up to 5,000 letters a day.

Marjorie Husted

Marjorie Husted (holding a cake)

We now recognize Betty Crocker as a red spoon. All of her feminine-wise-homemaker essence wiped away by “so easy even I can do it” boxes of sugary treats. Where is the empowerment in that? When the woman Betty Crocker was at her prime she helped homemakers, gave them power to learn their craft, showed them respect for what they did and helped the world admire their skills.

So why does betty Crocker matter now? We might not have the image of a strong homemaker that takes pride in what she does in the home any longer, but we do have the tried and true recipes of the thousands of Betty Crockers who made it their job to simplify and improve recipes till they reached a stage of elegance. They developed recipes where one could actually learn how to make something sweet, delicious and special.

I know that was a pretty tall soap box and I don’t think Betty Crocker is the only answer, however, for the person who is trying to gain basic skills and understanding of recipes a staple like Betty Crocker that has been around for almost a century is a good place to start.

You are probably thinking: what about Martha Stewart? I love a good solid crafter. She makes beautiful foods and has wonderful taste, but often her recipes are too complicated, confusing or missing basic information that only an advanced baker would know is necessary. Often her recipes have left me and others frustrated before the thing is even out of the oven. So, in terms of looking for a good source for simple but delicious recipes I would turn to someone with good street cred, or scientists… (America’s test kitchen and Alton Brown will have to consume another blog entry). Avoid going after fad chefs. Remember, Betty Crockers mission was to help the every-woman be successful in the kitchen—that’s us. So, just want to learn how to bake well?

Then lets get back to the basics.

A cake needs some basic things. Structure (flour), Leavening (baking powder, soda or eggs), liquids, and tenderizers (sugar, butter, oil, molasses, eggs etc). Without one of those pieces you have something odd (e.g. no liquid=cookie, no leavening=spongy rocks). By balancing them we get a wonderful product. The ideal cake should have a moist crumb, but not be dense (like dense? I will talk about how to alter texture in another post) but not so moist it falls apart when you frost and serve it. A cake by itself should taste good, and frosting is only the compliment. Below is the recipe for chocolate cake from Betty Crockers cookbook published 2006. Because the newer edition favors fast-paced, quick and easy I’ve altered the recipe in 2 ways.

First, I prefer to mix the cake with the shortening method where you beat the fats and sugar until fluffy, and then beat in 1 egg at a time keeping a thick mixture. Then you alternate adding in the dry ingredients and the liquid. This way your cake gets some air incorporated into the batter for a lighter texture, and your flour won’t get over beaten. If you over beat cake batter once the flour is added you get a gummy chewier texture--aka not good. This method is the best for good cake crumb. Second: I added some brown sugar because I like a hint of molasses to help make the chocolate flavor rich.

I’m sure there are other great cake recipes out there, maybe even some better. But, I promise you this cake is simple, easy, reliable, moist and delicious. You shouldn’t stress about making wonderful cakes, but you should make them.

My beautiful picture

Chocolate Cake (with ganache and hazelnuts)

My beautiful picture


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour pans (either 13” x 9” or two 9” cake pans).

2. In a large bowl beat softened butter and sugars till light and fluffy (don’t be afraid to scrape the bowl down).

3. Add eggs one at time, beating each egg in well before adding the next. This should maintain some sort of fluffy texture instead of it all breaking down.

4. Add vanilla

5. In a separate bowl add all the dry ingredients left and whisk or sift until there are no lumps. Add about 1/3 of this mixture to your butter/sugar and mix till mostly incorporated. Then add about 1/3 of the water (you can use milk if you want) and mix until mostly incorporated. Continue alternating these steps till all flour and water is added (ending with water). Scrap down sides of bowl and mix till cake batter is uniform—but don’t overbeat. It sounds annoying but is really easy.

6. Pour into pans and bake. 40-45 minutes for a 13” x 9” and 20-30 minutes for 9” rounds. It is done when a toothpick or knife inserted in the middle comes out clean except for a few moist crumbs. If it is totally clean you have probably over baked it.

7. Cool on wire racks for 10 minutes, then take the cakes out of the pans to finish cooling (otherwise they will stick to the pans). Frost, serve and enjoy!

If you have any questions just ask! I’ll post the easy (low fat-ish) ganache recipe later. It is prettier then frosting sometimes, and usually tastes better. I hope you learned something knew. If not, just trust me and this recipe.


Supplementary information gathered from:





Our Life


Tuesday was weird. Mr. Wood went to take the trash out around 10:30 (yes we are those neighbors that drag 2 trashcans down gravelly sidewalks just as you are about to go to sleep). Although this particular Tuesday trash run almost made his heart stop. As he walked outside he couldn’t see the car. Luckily, he found it down by the corner (our house is on a corner lot) and happily did the trash business. Coming back he asked me why I had parked so far from the usual spot. Why indeed? I brought in the grocery's that day and parked as close as possible. I ran outside, and to my utter horror saw that the car had slid down hill just barely stopping at the corner--not where I had parked it. The brake was only half up we supposed, luckily our car didn’t slide into traffic or hit a house or something. Sigh….

The week got significantly better however.

15 minutes after scheduling an appointment for a job interview I got called back about the other job I applied for 2 months ago, and they wanted to hire me! It is only for 2 months, but it is paid handsomely and I get to go to Colorado for a 3 day training session. Basically it is part of a government project… research project on elementary kids reading skills. Fun huh!

And! Michael got a huge letter in the mail.

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I know what you are thinking. It could only be one thing! That’s right. Michael got accepted to the Sociology grad program at BYU! Yes! We are so excited! We are grateful that Michael gets to continue working with a sociology program he enjoys, and one that research things he is interested in!

Best Week Ever.

Among this amazing offers, we also did super fun things too! Like—bird watching! One of my favorite neglected hobbies. But I finally got to take Mr. Wood out, and he can’t put the bird guide down! It was a gray windy evening, but we did see a kestrel and some coots! I know right? Then to celebrate we went to a little restaurant and got beans and rice and burritos. They were good and lardy. THEN we watched “Hugo”, which comes highly recommended by most everyone, including us. I won’t say anything else, because part of the reason it was so good was because it was so mysterious.

Saturday was also full of enriching activity. Mainly, Mr. Wood got his hair cut, and he cut the roses, both were too bushy for my taste. It was St. Patrick's day (and my mom’s birthday!), we both wore green, and Mr. Wood made the best potato soup ever! Then he whisked me off to salt lake to meet our lovely friends for Contra dancing. What is contra dancing? Other then our new favorite hobby (thanks Q and Erik) it is a fantastical folk dance. Think pride and prejudice, but way faster and 9 times more spinning. Here is a video of contra dancing.

Okay, this video is great because it has some of the people we danced with in it! But word of caution, the music makes it sound a lot hipper then it is. The music we danced to was all folksy. By the first dance I was too dizzy, but some how it was completely fun and we had to keep going--luckily no one threw up. Those old men spin you fast! Mr. Wood is an excellent dancer, I always wanted him to be my partner. I was wearing a twirly green dress with metallic ric-rac, so I fit in really well. Anyways, every 3rd Saturday, we will go with you! We walked away 2 1/2 hours later, still a little dizzy, with blisters and a greater appreciation for community dance.

Sunday was wonderful as usual. We taught the sunbeams all about fish, including how to fish. All you need is a magnet attached to a string attached to a stick, and some paper fish with paperclips on them. Then you grab the magnet and put it on the paper clip and you fished! Also, the sweetest boy ever informed us that he had “never been bit by a bee OR swallowed by a whale”. That is wonderful.

Here is how it is looking today behind our house with our mid-March mini snow storm.


Well, till the next update. Hopefully you don’t get eaten by a whale.



The Hungrier Games

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There is a moment in every girl’s life where she realizes that her husband (and children) will always be hungrier then she thinks a human should be.

I have reached that point.

Now I’m not sure what the answer is quite yet (as mentioned earlier I’ve been searching for high fiber and high protein meals) but on this day the answer was copious amounts of salad. But not that kind of salad…

Once upon a time, coming home from our honeymoon we stopped at my parents house in Toquerville for dinner. My sister was there and made this most delicious Asian salad (recipe from pioneer woman?). It was made in the biggest bowl my mother had, and we all ate plates of it. This was the meal I needed to make to satisfy my man’s hunger and improve his health, with huge amounts of fiber and veganism. I drastically reduced the recipe here, well… it isn’t even the same recipe so ignore that but it still makes a lot.

Naturally, I didn’t have anything the recipe actually called for, so I improvised. I knew I wanted to include garbanzo beans so I could try making them in my pressure cooker.

It was just like beans in a pressure cooker, but longer. Did you know that as you soak garbanzo beans they pop? At least mine did. I thought I was crazy, but I sat and stared at the bowl of soaking beans for 5 minutes and watched the mini explosions.

Turns out it was the tastiest idea ever!

Mr. Wood ate 3 bowls of it, and could of eaten more I’m sure. We ate it as a main course, but it could easily be a side—shoot this dish has so much nutrients who needs anything else? Except maybe lemon bars.. we ate lemon bars with it.

So here it is, the newest recipe added to the Wood Kitchen: Garbonzai Pasta Salad*

*yes Mr. Wood thinks of the names for our new invented recipes.

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Garbonzai Pasta Salad

serves 4-6 

1/2 head of lettuce chopped

1/2 lb pasta cooked

2 cups garbanzo beans

1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds

1/2 pasilla pepper

1/2 green pepper


2 tbsp Olive Oil

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 dash hot sauce

1 clove crushed garlic

1/2 bunch cilantro chopped

2 tbsp roasted sesame seeds

black pepper, cayenne, and red pepper flakes to taste

1. Prepare dressing: Mix all ingredients and let it sit for 10-20 minutes for flavors to blend.

2.  Prepare ingredients for the salad, chop veggies and rinse pasta till cool. Toss beans in lemon juice and salt, and when cooled add the rest of the salad ingredients. Toss in dressing. Let it sit for 10-30 minutes and serve. Feel free to add any other veggies like cucumbers, tomatoes or red peppers

wait, that was too easy….





Our Life

Well friends and family, here is an update of what Mr. Wood and I are up to.

First, two things we/I received

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The loveliest little flats from my loveliest friend Stephanie. Now I’m more anxious for spring wardrobe.

My beautiful picture

And—2 brand new spanking Library Cards, both for children, both portraying mystical characters with healthy lifestyles (reading and being physically active). So far they have inspired us to borrow 4 movies and 1 Americana folk CD. I know I know, but one of the DVDs is for yoga.

We ended up watching Diary of a Wimpy Kid, only figuring out 10 minutes in that it was the sequel. What? You haven’t heard of the sequel? That’s because it wasn’t very good.

The weather has been premium of late, so Mr. Wood and I took the opportunity on Saturday to get as much of it as possible. We also started weeding our land-ladies garden. We are wondering if she noticed that 12 pounds of crab grass are missing from her rose beds. We also celebrated outside by eating little Caesars pizza at a park and buying cranberry juice.

On Sunday we took our sunbeams outside to appreciate nature, as the lesson was on plants flowers and trees. We took a walk looking for all the plants around. From the squeals of excitement alone you wouldn’t know that all the plants are still dead. Mr. Wood and I absolutely love working with the sunbeams, they are adorable in every way.

Also, Mr. Wood started reading the hunger games. He is currently sitting beside me reading the last 40 pages.

Here are some things I'm working on:

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“Wedding Lace”

If you don’t know, I’m working on a wedding dress customization for a lovely lady. She wanted to wear her mothers dress, but it needed some aesthetic changes. (Don’t worry Mrs. Johnson, it will be beautiful and classy still). In due time I will post before and after pictures. Rebecca is getting married in May in Nauvoo. How exciting! she is one of the happiest most beautiful woman I’ve had the opportunity to meet at school.

My beautiful picture

“Garbanzo beans”

I killed two spiders today, Mr. Wood wasn’t home. Both experiences were on the floor in the front room, they could of crawled on me! They were both thick dark spiders coming straight for me. I spent the rest of the afternoon in the kitchen, away from the spiders.

And last, but certainly not least, I cooked my own garbanzo beans for dinner tonight! The best thing ever! I wanted to try a recipe my sister makes with pasta, salad and tasty dressing. To amp up the protein I decided to make garbanzos in the pressure cooker. Completely worth it! If you like garbanzo beans you will really like them homemade. It was silly. I’ll post the recipe later because it was so wonderful, and made this gorgeous day even better.

I hope you are all doing well and enjoying the changing of seasons as much as we are.



A blouse


Here is something that I sewed for myself you might like to look at.

Basically it is just a blouse, but here is a story if you are looking for one.

The fabric came from my Grandma Brimhall’s fabric stash. Like all good grandmas she is generous and has a nice stash, luckily this was a big enough piece to make something! What else do you make from a piece of striped poly-cotton? A blouse! I made the pattern from an old button up shirt pattern that was already fitted to my body, I just took away the collar, lowered the neck, added a yoke and widened the body so it was looser. If you ever want to learn pattern alteration basics and don’t like the internet I can come over and show you! It is empowering, but just as frustrating as any other sewing related thing I s’pose.

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I closed it up with buttons in the back, I like back details better then others if you didn’t know already. Which also let me learn how to use the button hole mode on my 80s sewing machine! So wonderfully satisfying!

shirt3Mr. Wood and I went on a date awhile ago to see our lovely friends (l’anarchiste) play at Kilby Court in SLC. Technically kilby court is a street, but it is also a quaint little concert garage for the up and coming, and L’anarchiste  are up and coming (they are playing at SXSW in Austin this year). So I got to dress up in my full hipster garb, which turns out included my new blouse and my most favorite corduroys and my most favorite boots from Spain (well, really from Savers). The band was fantastic. I liked the drums.

We also went to Bruges for our favorite food--Frites and andalouse mayo. Frites are really fries, but the Belgians invented fries so they should do the naming. Anyways, they are better then any french fry you have ever had, so we will stick to the name frites if only to raise them above the rest. Sorry there are no pictures, you see, I do not carry a huge nice camera with me everywhere. But even though I don’t have a picture, go and get  frites, and be sure to get the andalouse sauce, nothing else compares.

Also, we were so starving that later we got dollar menu items at burger king. It was horrible. I want to apologize to all the people we ignored, especially sorry dad—of course you were right when you said burger king didn’t make real food, that would explain why my spicy chicken tasted like tuna and spicy cardboard. Regrettably we both spent a considerable amount of the night thinking we were going to get food poisoning. We didn’t, but it was the suspense that was horrible.

My beautiful picture

To adventures and great poly-cotton prints!


Breakfast and Quinoats

For a long time now (since childhood) I've had this horrible relationship with breakfast. I really don’t want to eat in the morning, my stomach feels all weird, and I imagine all food tasting like wet cardboard—but, I am also starving in the morning. So I've never missed a breakfast, but if I'm in charge of making it at 7 am all I can think of is toast (which perpetuates the problem, see?).

Now, I’ve had the fortunate experience of Mr. Wood making breakfast for me every morning for a whole semester while I was student teaching. He is a breakfast connoisseur, 5:45 in the morning he was up like a shot making Dutch babies, french toast with buttermilk dressing, breakfast burritos with chorizo and potatoes, omelets, everything. And it was always good, and I was always satisfied.

We both have to have a solid breakfast or else we don’t make it through the morning hours (cereal leaves our stomachs grumbly and empty, it is a completely after school affair).

So back to me making breakfast. Now that I have more time I get to make breakfast, but being totally opposed to most foods in the morning it is usually pretty odd or boring. I can’t imagine what it will be like when I'm pregnant… Usually Mr. Wood gets an egg on toast and some fruit while I eat yogurt and toast, both have protein and fiber right? But are still bland and leave Mr. Wood empty by 10 o’clock.

So in my attempts to palatable creativity, yesterday we had bean and cheese quesadillas with your choice of hot sauce—great. It was  whole wheat tortilla though.

Today we had Quinoats, which were invented last week in another desperate attempt at a protein/fiber rich breakfast that sticks to your ribs (quinoa has 14 g of protein per 3.5 oz). These will stick to your ribs. I don’t bother making quinoa the morning of. Instead I’ve been supplementing meat dishes with quinoa and then saving some for breakfast the next morning. I prefer red quinoa because of its nutty flavor, but regular works too. Why whole oats? The less processed food is the more nutrients in them. Don’t worry, they are even a littler tastier then the quick.

Here is a photo, that just proves I am not a food blogger, this is real food that we actually ate in real time, no poses, no special natural light (which is not to be found at 7:30 a.m. in a basement apt)


But, these are probably some of the better oats you will have in your life. Forget the microwave kind.


serves 2 very generous (but gov. recommended) servings or 4 child servings

1/2 tbsp butter

1 cup old fashioned oats

2 cups water

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup cooked quinoa

1 tbsp brown sugar

pinch of salt

Melt butter in a saucepan and sauté oats till they smell a bit toasty. Add water, cinnamon, sugar and salt (can substitute some milk for water if you like). Bring to a boil. Once the oats have thickened some add quinoa and continue cooking till oatmeal is thick. Serve with brown sugar on top!


what’s new?

It has been an exciting week in a bunch of small ways.
I started finally learning how to do some html editing and putting photoshop elements 4.0 to some good work—thanks to the beautiful and ever inspiring Puglypixel. I couldn’t find the information I needed until I remembered this lovely little blog. I’ll keep working on it though, part perfectionism/part it is just fun.
So click some buttons, it is fun!
other happenings?
  • my machine hasn’t been working properly for sometime. It scared me because it was my mothers, and I didn’t want to lose the machine to old age. I finally took it apart and reset both tensions, did some serious cleaning and oiling. Now it is quite good at sewing again. You can easily fix tension yourself, read your manual and google “bobbin tension” which is often the culprit if upper tension isn’t working.
  • also I unclogged the shower drain of our basement rental. no pictures obviously.
  • Mr. Wood almost blacked out at school due to mysterious symptoms. Luckily his professor gave him orange juice.
  • The rubber part on our car tire ripped. It is still attached though. I know right?!
  • it snowed
  • the grocer checking out my groceries asked if my parsnip was an eggplant. I told him it was not.
There are some projects under my wing and a tutorial!, so here are some
sneak peak


Hear the Music: americana

Some of you may consider me an “old soul”. My soul is just as old as everyone else's, but today I did recognize the soul and beauty in the music of Elizabeth Cotten.

Nothing traps me like simple Americana acoustic folk songs. I stumbled across Elizabeth Cotten while listening to npr the other day..

Why Americana acoustic folk? It brings such realness into your life. The feelings are raw, humble and sincere. These folksters aren’t trying to sell you anything, they are singing what they feel. Can I get on a soap box and say that maybe we need more real music in our lives? Not all this electro-synth pop (this goes to hipsters and mainstreamers alike) so may I introduce Elizabeth Cotten if you aren’t already aquainted, and if you feel like your playlist is being less then sincere lately.

Elizabeth Cotten is a champion at pure soul acoustic.

listen to her album Shake Sugaree here 

Now while you’re listening, here is something's you should know about her:

She was born in North Carolina in 1895. She started playing banjo at age 7. Buy the time she was 11 she earned enough money as a house servant to buy her first guitar. She taught herself at this early age. When she was married at 15 she stopped playing guitar much until she was divorced in her late life. When she was 60 she was a housekeeper for the Seegers (folk family musicians). They discovered her talent and helped her record music. Her first album (in the link above) she recorded with her grandchildren. She continued touring and releasing records till her 80s.

A video of one of her first appearances

Forget the  fact that she has an amazing life story, and is one of those people you just want to sit and listen to till they tell you everything they know—but her guitar is amazing.

Which brings me to one other wonderful thing about Elizabeth Cotten: She plays guitar left-handed (self-taught you know?). And not only left handed, but upside down (a lot of left-handers re-tune or re-string the guitar). Which is how she gets the unique style of picking and sound that has influenced tons of people “cotten picking” 

If you want to hear some personal stories from Elizabeth herself go listen to this WGBH interview with her in 1973, 17 years before she died.


....Shannon wood

info learned from wikipedia