The occasional observations of Carolyn Kephart, writer

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Double Happiness Chocolate Cake

 Life can always use a rich bit of sweetness. Today I made my never-fail Italian chocolate cake, and feel as if I really must share it with the world. It's easy, simple, and never goes wrong, highly desirable qualities under any circumstance but absolutely heavenly in this instance.

Note: This recipe doesn't require a mixer. A wooden spoon works fine, although I use a whisk to stir the batter once it's assembled.

  Double Happiness Cake

The Yang of dark rich chocolate cake
Meets with the Yin of smooth delicate chocolate cream,
And both meld in a glazed caramel Nirvana.

This recipe makes a European-style single layer cake frosted with ganache and drizzled with caramel. Measurements are American, with the assumption that your butter is 4 sticks to a pound. The sequence of steps begins with the


1 stick butter, room temperature                                       

1 ½ cups white flour
1 ¼ cup white sugar            

1 tsp. baking soda 
1 tsp. baking powder
2 eggs                    

½ tsp. salt
½ cup Hershey’s cocoa powder        

1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup hot coffee

Cream the butter with the sugar. Add eggs one by one and beat to golden smoothness. 

Stir the cocoa into the hot coffee until blended, and pour into the butter mixture. Add dry ingredients. 

Whisk well and pour into a well-greased and floured 9-inch round baking pan lined at the bottom with waxed paper. Bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes. The critical part is not letting it bake too dry, so watch the last few minutes closely. This cake never fails. Promise.

Ganache Frosting: Heat 2 cups heavy whipping cream in a saucepan along with an 8 to 12-ounce bag of semisweet chocolate chips depending on how strong you like the flavor. Refrigerate until it’s thickened, then whip it to a fluff and frost the cake with it. Once you’ve done that, move on to the finishing touch—

Caramel Drizzle:

1 stick butter
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
¼ cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups confectioner’s sugar

Melt the butter in a small saucepan (use a nonstick one if you have it). Add the brown sugar, and bring the mixture slowly to a boil. Add the milk in a stream, whisking all the while, and bring the mixture to a boil again. Remove the pan from the heat, let the mixture cool to warm, then stir in the vanilla and slowly add the confectioner’s sugar sifted through a sieve, beating to a smooth consistency. Drizzle this in Jackson Pollock style over the cake. 

Variation if you have the time: Split the cake and fill it with the ganache, then top with French chocolate glaze, then apply the caramel drizzle. This is what I do if I'm feeling very fancy.

French Chocolate Glaze: Put a half cup of cocoa powder into a glass bowl with about ½ cup of sugar, a lump of butter, and a dash of water. Microwave about 15 seconds. Take it out and stir to get everything mixed smooth. Microwave again for about 30 seconds and stir again; add a dash of vanilla. You’ll know when it looks right. It’ll thicken a bit as it cools.

Serve each slice with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream sprinkled with cocoa. Accept the inevitable homage with grace and serenity.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Remembered Beauty

“From the withered tree, a flower.” ~Zen proverb

I've loved Japan since childhood, and the beauty of its culture has continued to enrich my life in countless ways. Its language is able to define the ineffable: wabi-sabi, shibui, mono no aware, mottainai. Visiting Tokyo and Kyoto in 2008 was the fulfillment of a dream for me, and now as I try to comprehend the horrifying news images from the earthquake, what I most remember is how kind everyone was, and how gracious and patient. Those memories give me hope.

Out of my wrung heart, the wish to live mindfully, spending each instant in the best possible way; to do all I can to help as much as I can. Out of the withered branch, a flower.

The following photographs were taken by me during my Japan visit, and reflect the spiritual strength I found everywhere. Click twice on them for the biggest view. (For a related post, see

A granite prayer wheel. Heavy as it looks,
the slightest touch moves it -- a lesson in stone.

A quiet shrine on a rainy day.

The Buddha of Old Fans,
its altar-table piled with offerings.

A favorite temple, serene and restful.

A Buddhist monk chanting in the street.

A shrine fountain with the inscription
"I live for the joy."


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Smashwords Read An E-Book Week Sale

I'm late about getting around to this announcement, but...

As part of the ongoing Read An E-Book Week celebration, all of my novels are on sale for half price at Smashwords with the coupon code RAE50, including The Ryel Saga: A Tale of Love and Magic. My short fiction, which is getting thousands of downloads, is still free (all five stories are collected in a single volume, PenTangle: Five Pointed Fables, also half price).

Mark Coker*, you rock!


*Founder of Smashwords and all-around great guy

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Springing Forward

I'm delighted to announce that Luna Station Quarterly has published my wryly nostalgic fairy tale Everafter Acres as its Spring issue Story of the Week. The encouraging reception of my first humorous work of fiction just at the start of my favorite season is inspiring the light-hearted side of me, and I can promise that more droll tales are in the offing.