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Happy New Year everyone! To celebrate new beginnings I bring you a mini version of one of the first desserts I’ve ever made in this here space. Using ratios (thank you, thank you Cynthia) I scaled it down to mini and manageable proportions. I also made an awesome chocolate buttercream. My new year’s resolution is to experiment with more of these mini cakes in as many flavors as I can come up with! And maybe to figure out how to decorate them in a less “rustic” manner. I’m seriously excited about this.

This recipe has its origins in the pre-war Depression era, a time where love was measured bit by bit, celebration squeezed out of frugality. Vinegar and baking soda create a chemical reaction as impressive as a love itself that makes the cake more moist and fluffy than if you had used the traditional combination of the usual suspects, eggs, butter and oil. It serves as an example of the best results through simplicity and simple science, not to say that going over the top isn’t called for once in a while.

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When I can, I avoid marking the passage of time, a phenomenon both friend and foe. I like to forget about time, happily fixed in the moment, though also grateful that moments can’t last forever. This is what makes them precious or brings comfort when they’re hard. Time dulls memories and distances you from feelings, both good and bad. It erodes, but also fosters evolution. Its subtlety is both its kindness and its most dangerous weapon. Time is the only factor, aside from distance and our loved ones, by which we orient and measure ourselves. And yet, it can only be known in the moment. The past is set in stone, the future unknown. We cannot predict how our actions now will effect the future and for that we should be both thankful and fearful.

If I think too long about the passage of time I’m overcome by a bone-deep anxiety attendant to days frittered away. It pierces the veil of denial with which I fortify myself against the inevitable and renders me useless. And this is why we must celebrate. Bubble over with excitement. Make our mistakes. Find a calm center. Time brings new people, new challenges, rich imagination, goals, miracles, art and travels. It baffles us with growth and surprise. How we fill our time from the exciting to the mundane makes all of the unpredictability worthwhile, even magical.

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And so, a chocolate cake with a hint of dulce de leche, as rich, sweet and flavorful as the promise of a new year. And if we must acknowledge time, this little mini cake takes less than 30 mins to make (if you already have the dulce de leche made). You can fill this cake with anything you want. You’re not tied down to dulce de leche. I just had some left over from the alfajores.

Happy New Year and thank you for spending your time here with me!

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Moist Chocolate Vinegar & Dulce de Leche Butter Cream Mini Cake adapted from Two Red Bowls


For the cake:

  • 7 tbsp (55g) unbleached all-purpose flour (if you don’t have a kitchen scale, use 6 tbsp, fluffed, lightly scooped, and leveled)
  • 3 tbsp white sugar
  • 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/8 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp tsp vinegar
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup cooled coffee (or 1/4 cup water and 1 tsp instant espresso)

For the dulce de leche:

  • 1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk

For the chocolate buttercream:

  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

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For the cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line three 4-ounce ramekins with butter or parchment paper circles. Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.

In a medium bowl, whisk brown sugar, vanilla extract, vinegar, vegetable oil, and coffee until blended. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet and fold just until incorporated. Divide batter evenly between each ramekin and bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes, or until domes spring back when touched and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Let cakes cool briefly, then run a sharp knife around the edges and invert the ramekins. The layers should slide out easily. Let cool for another 5-10 minutes, or until barely warm to the touch. You can wrap well in two layers of plastic wrap and freeze until ready to use or you can start the dulce de leche and chocolate buttercream process.

For the dulce de leche: 

This yields more than you’ll need, but I like to keep it on hand.

If you’re using the sweetened condensed milk in a can method you can make this up to 3 weeks beforehand if stored in the fridge tightly covered. I’m starting with this instruction because you basically just have to boil the can for 3 hours.

Bring a large pan of water to a rolling boil. Make sure that you put enough water in the pan to completely cover the can you’re about to cook.

Remove the label from the can of sweetened, condensed milk and carefully submerge it into the boiling water using a pair of tongs or a slotted spoon. Make sure you place the can on its side, so it can roll around. If you place the can bottom or top-side down, the boiling water can cause it to bounce up and down..annoying.

Cook the can for 3 hours, making sure the can is covered with water at all times. Add more boiling water if necessary.

Using a pair of thongs, a fork or a slotted spoon, take the can out of the pan and place it onto a heatproof surface to cool. Make sure it has cooled to room temperature before you open the can, otherwise the dulce de leche will squirt out like a fountain. Once cooled, stir until smooth.

For the buttercream:

Use an electric mixer or plenty of arm strength to cream the butter and confectioners’ sugar together until thick and fluffy. Add the cocoa powder and the milk (water or coffee will do if you want to keep it vegan). Beat until the buttercream reaches your desired consistency. Add more liquid if necessary.

Frost the cake as desired. I piped the buttercream in a circle around each layer and filled the remaining open space with dulce de leche. Add the next layer, repeat. Then I spread the remaining buttercream around the outside. If it becomes too runny, put in the fridge for a few minutes and resume.


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