Focus in on the delights of the kitchen and the table with ...

When my friend Sarah Copeland, author of the wonderful blog Edible Living, told me that she was writing a cookbook, I made room on my kitchen shelf right away. Sarah’s many readers and fans know that her food and spirit are one and the same: generous, vibrant, and inviting, and I welcomed the opportunity to bring Sarah’s words and ideas ‘into my kitchen’. Then I found out that her book is The Newlywed Cookbook: Fresh Ideas & Modern Recipes for Cooking With & For Each Other , and I paused. Newlyweds?  Well. With 26 wedding anniversaries behind me and another coming this summer, my bride-days are a distant memory (True, a few of my readers out there are still awaiting that thank-you note for long-cherished wedding presents I’ve been fixing to write; but that doesn’t mean I’m still a bride). But of course I do need this book, and love it, too. Sarah’s concept is a welcoming one; this book is celebration of cooking for love, and with love, and all the “oldie-weds” like me fit right in just fine.

Cooking for and with my husband has been both pleasure and pastime for us since we first met. That has never changed, even as we welcomed children to our little family, went from apartment to house, and moved around, from New York City to Southern California and eventually to North Carolina, my home state, where we’ve lived for the past twelve years. Sarah’s book not only offers up an abundance of recipes for multiple occasions and plain-to-fancy menus — it’s a guide to truly cooking with love: considering where our food comes from, how it’s grown, and what I can do in my kitchen, garden, and food community, to treat Mother Earth right.

When Sarah invited me to join her circle of food bloggers celebrating her lovely book with a Valentine’s Blog Tour, I was thrilled; and when she let me make her Better Than Boxed Chocolate Cake, I felt like I’d gotten the peachiest dish of all. Cakes are my favorite, chocolate is an essential food group at our house, and I knew my sweetheart would adore it, no problem.

For an illustrated play-by-play of the cake I baked using Sarah’s recipe, scroll down past Sarah’s recipe, and you can  follow along.*

You will love this book: Not only is it an abundance of fine recipes, it contains Sarah’s you-can-do-this advice on gardening, menus for celebrations, and gorgeous photographs that inspire and delight me beyond words. This Valentine’s Day celebration includes a glorious gift from Sarah Copeland and Chronicle Books to you, dear readers: A copy of The Newlyweds Cookbook for me to share. I’ll be giving away a copy of Sarah’s book to one of you trusty readers out there, and soon. If you’d like to win the book, simply leave me a comment between now and 11:59 p.m. on February 15. I’ll draw a winner from you commenters on February 16th, and get a copy of this marvelous book out to you in the mail, so you can put extra love in your kitchen, too. Meanwhile, Happy Valentine’s Day, and lots of love to you and yours.

The Newlywed Cookbook ‘s Better-Than-Boxed Chocolate Cake
This recipe comes from Sarah Copeland’s lovely, practical and heart-warming new cookbook, a beautiful handbook for cooking, feasting, and sharing life’s pleasures in the kitchen and at the table. What did the author have to say about this divine, intensely-chocolate, simple-to-make cake, which I now know for a fact is most definitely better than boxed? Here’s Sarah’s introduction to her recipe, along with one of photographer Sara Remington’s breathtaking images from The Newlywed Cookbook :

{not just for birthdays} This cake is completely delicious, and not the least formal, which I’ve learned, from the staunchly loyal, old-fashioned cake lovers in my family, is a very good thing.It is filled with the love of my mother whose chocolate cake was never, ever remiss at a birthday or milestone even if it meant staying up past midnight while the rest of us slept. Her chocolate cake has flown miles and ridden over mountains in the backseat of a car to make it to our most special meals or occasions just in time, and it even made it on the menu at our wedding. And it’s kept my dad never far from her side for over forty years. 

For the ones you love, you won’t mind putting in the extra effort to make them a cake from scratch, especially when it’s almost as easy as cake from a box. This one is based on ingredients from your pantry and comes together all in one bowl. And when you taste its luscious textures, you may just swear off your old mix for good.  The rich, silky, buttery chocolate icing is what really takes this over the top and makes it just the thing to make your chocolate cake legendary.

The Newlywed Cookbook‘s Better-Than-Boxed Chocolate Cake

Makes one 9-inch/23-cm layer cake; serves 8


3 cups/ 385 g all-purpose/plain flour

2 2/3 cups/530 g granulated sugar

1 cup/100 g cocoa powder, plus more for dusting

1 1/2 tsp baking soda/bicarbonate of soda

3/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

1 3/4 cups/420 ml warm water

1 cup/ 240 ml vegetable or grapeseed oil

4 tbsp/ 55 g melted butter, plus more for the pans

5 large eggs

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Chocolate Frosting

1 1/2 cups/340 g unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 tbsp/45 ml agave nectar or honey

1/2 cup/50 g confectioners’/icing sugar

1 1/4 cup/120 g cocoa powder

1/4 cup/60 ml warm water

1/4 cup/60 ml cold heavy/double cream

Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F/180˚C/gas 4. Lightly butter two 9-inch/23-cm round cake pan/tins. Line with parchment/baking paper. Butter the parchment/baking paper. Dust the inside of both pans with cocoa powder and knock against the side of the counter to settle a thin dusting of cocoa inside the pans; discard any extra cocoa.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda/bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, and salt together in the bowl of a stand mixer.

Add 1 cup/240 ml of the warm water, the oil, and melted butter and mix on medium speed until combined. Stop the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl and make sure all the ingredients are fully incorporated. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions to incorporate and aerate the batter, which gives the cake a more even crumb. Add the remaining 3/4 cup/180 ml warm water and vanilla and beat until smooth and aerated, about 2 minutes. The batter will look loose and watery, about the consistency of heavy cream or hot fudge.

Divide evenly between the prepared pans and tap lightly on the counter to smooth the top. Bake until the cakes are evenly domed and spring back lightly when touched, about 40 minutes. Test the cakes with a toothpick inserted into the centers; if it comes out clean your cakes are done.

Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool on a wire rack until they are just warm to the touch, about 15 minutes. The cakes will pull away from the sides of the pans slightly as they cool. Flip the pans to unmold the cakes onto a rack to cool completely, 1 hour.

Make the frosting: Before you begin, check to make sure the butter is room temperature, just soft enough to press easily with your finger. Beat together the butter, agave, confectioners’/icing sugar, cocoa powder, and warm water with a stand mixer until light and creamy and evenly combined, about 2 minutes. Stop to scrape down the sides and make sure all the butter is fully combined. Add the cool cream and beat on medium-high until fluffy and creamy.

When the cakes are completely cooled, slice off the dome from one of the layers with a serrated knife so that you can stack the layers easily. Lay the trimmed cake layer on a cake stand or serving platter, trimmed-side up. Tear four sheets of parchment/baking paper or wax/greaseproof  paper into long strips and tuck under the edges of the cake around all the sides {this will help to keep your serving platter clean as you frost}. Scoop about one-third of the frosting onto the top of the cake. Using an offset spatula or the back of a spoon, spread the frosting evenly over the top of the cake and around the sides. Cover with the second cake layer, domed-side up, and press down slightly to flatten. Look down at the cake and slide the top cake layer until it lines up perfectly with the bottom layer. Add another one-third of the frosting to the top and spread evenly over the top. Spread the remaining one-third of the icing around the sides of the cake to create a smooth, even layer.

Make careless swirls of icing all over the top of the cake using the back of a large spoon. Serve immediately or store in a cool place until ready to serve.

If you plan to make ahead and refrigerate, note that the icing will set up in the fridge and will sweat slightly when it comes out. Remove from the fridge about 1 hour before serving to restore the frosting to its luscious, creamy state.

P.S. If you want a deep, dark chocolate flavor, use Dutch-process cocoa. For an old-fashioned-quality cake, use natural cocoa.”

This recipe comes from The Newlywed Cookbook: Fresh Ideas & Modern Recipes for Cooking With & For Each Other by Sarah Copeland. (Chronicle Books) Copyright: 2012. All rights reserved.


*Here’s my Better Than Boxed Chocolate Cake. I loved making it, and will do so again. It’s a wonderful cake, perfect for Valentine’s Day, but too good to save for just one day a year. Let me know if you make it, and also let me know what particular cakes make the celebration calendar around your house.

Sarah uses butter to prepare her cakepans and that's my favorite, too. I use waxed paper rather than parchment

Dry ingredients ready for combining in the mixing bowl. No melting of chocolate here, since cocoa is the chocolate-flavor source for this user-friendly cake. Sarah notes that you can use either type of cocoa, regular or Dutch-processs. I had some from my favorite spice-purveyor, Penzey's, on hand, but my go-to cocoa is the brown box from the grocery store, because that's what you-know-who used, and she made the most wonderful cakes, pies, biscuits, and so on. Sometimes the type of cocoa makes a difference, but not for this cake.

Whisking all the dry ingredients together works just fine, but I like to do things in the lowest-tech way I can, and here, a fork worked just fine. Not quite done here: with chunks of flour and cocoa still visible, there's a little more mixing to do. A sifter would work if you have that old-school item on hand (I of course do and love its sound); but it's also a pleasure to use your hands, as we do around here for making biscuits and piecrust. A sensual touch for those of you baking with someone special...With the dry ingredients ready, I lined up melted butter, canola oil, and lukewarm water. You use about half the water at this step, and add the remainder later in the process. Sarah notes that this cake is easily made in a stand-mixer, so rest assured you can go that route as well.

The batter starts out thick, plush, more dough than batter; reminded me of brownies at this stage. Using my trusty hand mixer, it took a good session of mixing and scraping and mixing again, in order to bring things together at this stage.

....into a silken liquid batter, on the thin side as cake batters go, but velvety; as Sarah notes, "...about the consistency of heavy cream or hot fudge." Don't you love that clear, coaching voice, offering guidance so that even new bakers can stay on track and make a great cake.

Into the oven went the batter-filled cake pans, and after a good long session at 350 degrees F., out came two glorious chocolate-heaven cake layers. Sarah let me know they would dome up, even in these deep cake pans (which my sweet husband gave me for Christmas close to 20 years ago <3 ; he knew this gift would keep on giving back!. Given the generous nature of this cake batter, i may divide it into three 8-inch layers, or save out enough batter to make a few cupcakes; or two ramekins for a little romantic dessert course on the side.

After a 15-minute cool-down, I loosened the layers and turned them out easily, just as Sarah suggested. Handling them was easy; they were tender but sturdy enough to turn by hand.

Slicing off the domed top allows for the bottom layer to rest flat on the serving plate. it also provides an extraordinarily delicious snack, or perhaps one should say, a preview, of the coming attraction. A serrated knife such as a bread knife with a long blade is ideal for this job. An sharp knife will work, and speed isn't necessary; just go slowly and know that if you need to revise and reslice, that's fine too.

Note that I went back for a second round of dome-deletion on my cake. More to enjoy in advance for us, and this side goes top-down on the serving plate, so not to worry if it's a multistep process. You'll see that I neglected to take Sarah's advice and tap my batter-filled cake pans on the countertop before putting them into the oven. That step (which she TOLD me to do and I SHOULD have remembered myself) deflates air bubbles which love to hide in the batter. But not to worry; the overall cake is completely delicious, airbubbles and all, so on I went.

At this point, I realized that my timing could have been much better, since that handsome man was placing his suitcase and briefcase by the door. Lucky for me, this Better Than Boxed Cake comes with a glorious icing which couldn't be simpler to prepare. Softened butter, some honey, confectioner's sugar and cocoa, a little warm water and a generous splash of heavy cream and voila: chocolate icing worthy of the finest gateau. I adore Sarah's directions for icing the cake: "Make careless swirls of icing all over the top of the cake using a large spoon." Since I was racing to present my sweetheart with his cake rather than text him a cell-phone photo of it at the airport, I went for coverage and the smooth, buttoned-down look. Swirls are special, but smooth worked just fine and got the job done speedy-quick, in the words of Junie B. Jones.

Here is what our friends in the 'reality' television business call "The Reveal", and as you will see, this cake was a delightful surprise. I presented him with two big slices in a to-go pack, for consumption in his hotel room along with room service's finest red wine or cold milk. Because this cake is wonderful rich and luscious, it will be perfectly lovely tonight when he gets home on the late side. I could probably have left it out and covered, but due to its popularity with our beloved progeny, I thought it best to wrap up a nice big slab and freeze it in an unlabled package, under the peaches, brunswick stew, and country sausage. Next time, I may ask him to make this cake for me. WIth my help, of course.


Keep it sweet, now....


About the Author
Nancie McDermott is a food writer and cooking teacher, and the author of ten cookbooks. Her passion is researching and celebrating traditional food in its cultural context, and her beloved subjects are two seemingly different places with much in common: the cuisines of Asia and of the American South. Nancie gained her Southern kitchen wisdom as a Piedmont North Carolina native,and her Asian culinary research commenced soon after college, when she was sent to northeastern Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer.
  1. katie kobayashi Reply

    Oh…how sweet, Nancie…you both look just the same as you did when you were in SO Cal….devine couple…devine, devine!

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      So sweet of you to say that, and I wish we were sharing stories over steaming mugs of La Costa Coffee. One of these days. Hope your day is sweet and good in countless ways.

  2. Jamie Reply

    The two of you are so sweet and I’ll bet it is still a honeymoon at your house! It has been (almost) 25 years since we were newlyweds but we are still on our honeymoon. And food and cooking is certainly a very strong bond in our marriage, we are both passionate eaters and cooks and love food adventures, discovering new foods, dishes and cultures. Anyway, this book sounds perfect and that cake just can’t get any better, can it? I think I’ll make it for my Valentine…

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      It’s still fabulous, that cake; just had a test-bite since his handsomeness will be back from his business trip tonight. Sounds like you are as lucky in love as I am; and of course, so’s he, that fellow traveller on the food-adventure road.

  3. Sara Reply

    Such a sweet story and the cake looks amazing! Glad to have met you! 🙂

  4. bringer of good news (@MsBMack) Reply

    OMG!!!! I WANNA WIN THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! i follow you on twitter, i respect your contributions, i’m a foodie, and giving love another chance!!! we need this cookbook!!! 😀 p.s. congrats on 26yrs of marriage.

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      Thank you, Ms. B. Mack! So glad you came by, and here’s to good news and to food and to love!

  5. Margaret Reply

    You look wonderful together, Nancie! This was such a sweet post. And that chocolate cake? It’s beckoning to me. Hope you had a wonderful Valentine’s Day–and it looks like you did! 🙂

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      How kind of you to say so! We are lucky and it was a very sweet Valentine’s Day indeed. Heed the beckoning call of that cake; it’s too chocolate-y fine to reserve for Valentine’s Day use only.

  6. Matthew Reply

    What a great idea for a book. My wife and I cook together as a date night. Of course, when I’m baking, she licks the spoon

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      I love that! Teamwork is a very good thing, in baking and in life.

  7. Jill O'Connor Reply

    Will is a lucky man, Miss Nancie! Chocolate Cake maker extraordinaire!

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      Why thank you, Ms. O’Connor! We must go look for some chocolate cake up in New York City before too long…

  8. chef renee Reply

    I can smell the chocolate off the screen! Dragging a skewer through the batter helps with the bubbles too. Congratulations on 26 sweet years!

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      Thankyou, Chef Renee, for your kind words and for that excellent kitchen tip. Next cake, I’ll be ready!

  9. iLuV_Coffecakes (@iLuV_Coffecakes) Reply

    ohhh my.. that super chocolate cake is sooo delicious. Choco cakes are my favorites. Thanks for sharing your delicious recipe.

    I can’t wait to read your book.

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      Much appreciated! I love coffeecakes too, so we are on the same page.

  10. Amanda Reply

    I love the look of this cookbook – what a great gift to give a newly wed couple – but I’m very greedy and am loving the look of this chocolate cake even more! I wonder if I have enough flour for some baking today ….

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      Sarah’s book inspires and delights me, even though I’m two decades plus past my newlywed days. I’m so glad you like that luscious chocolate cake, and that you visited my blog. Happy cooking to you!

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