- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The older I get, the more I appreciate New Year’s Eve spent at home. I don’t have to squeeze into a sequined dress. I don’t have to sip cheap champagne. I don’t have to worry about being able to stay awake until midnight.

Celebrating at home is comfortable, no doubt, and yet it is still festive. Let this be the night you set a pretty table, roast beef, toast the year to come at whatever hour you choose and, by all means, fork into my favorite chocolate cake.

We like to start this cake early in the day. Make the whipped-cream filling first and chill. Bake the layers, then let them cool under a light kitchen towel. Finally, make the yummy frosting. This cake belongs on a pedestal; it’s that good. You deserve the best start for a new year.

Five time-shaving meal resolutions for the new year

Let’s save time in 2005 and still get nutritious meals on the table. Resolve to:

• Plan a week’s worth of dinners ahead of time and shop ahead when possible.

• Incorporate planned “overs” (leftover roasted chicken, for example) into the next night’s meal.

• Freeze — soups, casseroles, breads, anything for those busy nights.

• Job-share dinner preparation with another busy family. You cook for two nights, the other family cooks for two nights and so on.

• Stop ordering pizza delivered to your doorstep. Buy frozen crusts or refrigerated pizza dough. Stock up on pizza sauce and toppings. It’s fun and cheaper to make your own pizza.

Perfect chocolate cake

CAKE:

Solid vegetable shortening for greasing the pans

Flour for dusting the pans

1 18.25-ounce package devil’s food cake mix with pudding

1 cup sour cream

cup vegetable oil

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

Sweetened cream filling (recipe follows)

Perfect chocolate frosting (recipe follows)

Lightly grease three 9-inch round cake pans with solid vegetable shortening, then dust with flour. Shake out the excess flour. Set the pans aside.

Place cake mix, sour cream, 3/4 1 cup water, oil, eggs and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes more, scraping down the sides again if needed. The batter should look well-combined.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans, smoothing it out with the rubber spatula, and place the pans on the center rack of a preheated 350-degree oven. If your oven is not large enough to hold them on one rack, place two pans on the center rack and the third in the center of the highest rack.

Bake the cakes until they spring back when lightly pressed with your finger, 20 to 25 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the layer on the highest oven rack. Remove the pans from the oven and place them on wire racks to cool for 10 minutes.

Run a sharp knife around the edge of each layer and invert each onto a rack, then invert again onto another rack so that the cakes are right side up. Allow to cool completely, 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the sweetened cream filling. To assemble, place one cake layer, right side up, on a serving platter. Spread the top with half of the sweetened cream filling, spreading it to within half an inch of the sides.

Place the second layer, right side up, on top of the first layer and spread with the remaining filling, spreading it to within half an inch of the sides. Place the third layer on top and lightly cover the cake with waxed paper. Place it in the refrigerator to chill.

Prepare the perfect chocolate frosting. To finish the assembly, spread the top and the sides of the cake with the frosting, using clean, smooth strokes. Slice and serve. Store this cake, in a cake saver or under a glass dome, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Makes 16 servings.

SWEETENED CREAM FILLING:

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted, or to taste

teaspoon vanilla or almond extract

Chill a large, clean mixing bowl and electric mixer beaters in the freezer for a few minutes while you assemble the ingredients. Pour cream into chilled bowl and beat with electric mixer on high speed until it thickens, 1 minutes. Stop the mixer and add confectioners’ sugar and vanilla or almond extract. Beat the cream on high speed until stiff peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes more.

PERFECT CHOCOLATE FROSTING:

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

cup half-and-half

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into tablespoons

2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Place a large mixing bowl full of ice in the kitchen sink. Place chocolate chips, half-and-half and butter in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Stir the mixture constantly until chips and butter melt and mixture thickens, 5 to 6 minutes. Do not let it boil. Remove pan from heat.

Whisk confectioners’ sugar into mixture until it becomes smooth. Then place the saucepan in the bowl of ice, taking special care not to let any of the ice water spill into the saucepan. Beat mixture with an electric mixer set on low speed until frosting thickens and is satiny and fudgelike in appearance, 4 to 5 minutes.

Spread onto cake of your choice. The frosting will stiffen as it sets. If it gets too hard to spread, simply place saucepan back over low heat and stir until it reaches spreading consistency.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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