Maxwell’s for hair, the beginning

I was at work about two and a half years ago when I felt me phone vibrating in my pocket. It was my beloved husband Russell, so I stepped outside to take the call.

“I think I just quit my job.”…

“WHAT?!?!?!?!?”

I picked my jaw up off the sidewalk, dusted it off, and resisted the urge to reach through the phone and smack some sense into my darling spouse.

I don’t remember exactly what words were exchanged in the minutes that followed, but along with plenty of colorful language that I shouldn’t repeat here, I can assure you that our conversation was filled with pointed questions such as, “What on earth are you thinking?”, “What are we supposed to do now?”, and “Are you out of your #@*%-ing mind?”

Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker

When Russell and I first met, he was working in a doctor’s office that specialized in ophthalmology and cosmetic surgery. He was great at his job, and had a way of making customers feel welcome and completely comfortable in spite of whatever procedure they were having done. He’s always had a special gift, the ability to make people fall in love with him from the moment they meet.

While he was good at his job, his job wasn’t necessarily good for him. The pay was okay and it could be fun sometimes, but it didn’t particularly interest him and they didn’t treat their employees with nearly as much kindness and respect as they deserved. (I know, it probably sounds like just about everyone’s job.) It wasn’t his dream job by any stretch, but he was comfortable and it was easier to stay than to start over.

Little by little though, for many reasons I won’t get into here, he became more and more unhappy. I knew that he wanted to find something else, but by that point we were newlyweds with two dogs, no savings, and plenty of wedding-related debt. I wanted to be rational and realistic about it. Of course I wanted him to be happy, but I also wanted a roof over our heads and plenty flour, sugar, and cocoa in the cupboard.

Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker

About a year earlier, Russell had found us a new barber after our former barber (and dear friend) moved away, and it didn’t take her long to recognize what an outgoing and friendly personality Russell had. One day he mentioned that he was unhappy at work and she said she’d be willing to train him in her shop if he ever left. Ever the enterprising business owner, she knew that anyone could learn how to cut hair, but the real skill was knowing how to talk to people and get them to come back to you again and and again. She already owned two shops, was opening a third, and was always on the lookout for new people, so she tried to help cement the deal by mentioning how much money he could be making.

We discussed it for a bit and as tempting as it sounded, we decided that an apprenticeship would take too long, and the faster option of going to barber school was just out of financial reach for us. Russell wasn’t sure he’d like it any more than where he already was, and while she promised easy money, we had no idea what the reality would be.
So, level heads prevailed and he decided to keep pushing along where he was and try to find something in a line of work he was already trained to do.

Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker

Then, on that fateful day, there was a great big heavy straw and a frail old camel with an overloaded back.

I was furious (and absolutely terrified) at first but I knew why Russell had to quit and what a relief it was to him. I also knew hoped that everything would work out in the end and we’d be just fine when the dust settled.

Finding ourselves between a rock and a hard place, we reached out to some friends and family to borrow a little money. Within a few days, Russell enrolled in barber school and we were off to the races. He got his license, started learning the ropes and building up his clientele, and before I knew it he’d paid back all the money we’d borrowed in those scary first days. In less than a year he was one of the busiest and most requested barbers in the company.

Even since that fateful phone call, Russell’s been happier and better off than he’d been for all the time that I’d known him. Things have been going just swell for over two years now, but you’ve probably guessed by now that that’s not where the story ends.

Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker

Earlier this summer Russell mentioned that he’d like to start considering, one day in the distant and unknown future, opening a shop of his very own. While we were definitely better off than we’d been two years earlier, we still had very little money in savings and hadn’t really ever considered the idea before, so this discussion was entirely hypothetical. We ultimately decided to start putting away a little extra money here and there and open ourselves up to the possibility that this might, just might, eventually happen way down the line.

Just to get an idea of what it might take to make this dream a financial reality, he started looking at commercial real estate online. He wanted to see what kind of spaces were available where, and for how much. About a week later he found a listing that was so close to our house, and so reasonably priced, that he couldn’t get it out of his head. Mind you, this wasn’t supposed to happen for another year or two at least, and we were in no way prepared for what we were about to get ourselves in to, but once he knew the address there was no stopping him. He started by walking by just to see what the foot traffic was like and what else was around it, and within a few days he contacted the listing agent.

Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker

The day we saw the space was a complete emotional whirlwind. We saw it in the morning and even though the agent was there the whole time and we couldn’t speak privately, thanks to a few excited glances we knew exactly what was going through one another’s minds.

First, the space was much smaller in person than we imagined from the photos. Second, it was absolutely disgusting beyond belief and needed a ton of work. Third, it had an obvious pest problem that the listing agent tried to cover up in the most hilarious way ever. Fourth, it was barely over a block from our house, in a great location, and really well priced.

Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker

We saw it, took some photos, and told the agent we’d get back to him if we were still interested. We tried to play it cool but we were both wrecks. The space required soooo much more work than we had originally anticipated and we didn’t know if we could afford it or handle making it happen. Holes in the front facade, big chunks of missing drywall, weird blue plastic covering where the drywall had once been, and piles of whole acorns inside the framing behind said missing drywall. When we casually mentioned the acorns, the listing agent, with a completely straight face, said that they were probably just left there by the previous tenants who were probably just eating a lot of nuts before vacating the space.

Like….
What????

Yes.
Sure.
Of course, Mr. Smarmy Listing Agent.
After ripping out an entire panel of drywall exposing the framing and exterior brick for some reason, then covering the hole with thin blue plastic, the previous tenants decide to sit down for a nut break in the vacant space and toss (whole) acorns inside the wall cavity exactly behind the framing.
There were more holes in his explanation than there were in the walls, and I had to bite my tongue not to laugh in his face.
Cool story Bro, but civilized human beings don’t eat raw acorns…

But I digress.

Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker

In the following 24 hours we both flipped positions for and against the idea multiple times. Ever the realist, I was against it at first. It was too much work, it would be too expensive, and we had no significant savings to speak of. Russell was all for it. It was so close, so affordable, and was such a perfect (small) size for his first shop on his own. He called a friend of his who specializes in commercial real estate in Manhattan, told her about the shape the space was in, and I could sense that he was beginning to realize that we might be in over our heads with this place. Oddly enough, as reality was setting in for Russell, my imagination was beginning to run wild. I’m a handy guy. I love DIY projects, and this would (eventually) be the ultimate blank slate for me to put my touch on. What was left of the drywall was in rough shape under the crappy crumbling cabinets and cheap chippy mirrors, but that wasn’t anything a little white subway tile and a splash of hutzpah couldn’t fix. Was it?

By the end of the day me and my imagination had talked him back into it.

The next step was to get an estimate from a contractor to help us with the things I couldn’t do myself. To our novice eyes, this was a daunting job, but our contractor actually said differently. The space had previously been set up as a nail salon, so much of the plumbing and electrical we’d need was already in place (or so we thought…). A bit of demo, a bit of drywall, and figuring out what to do with the floor. Everything else we planned to do ourselves.
We ran some numbers, figured some figures, and started considering our options. Our situation definitely wasn’t ideal, but we could put some of it on credit cards, and between family and friends we hoped we could scare up the rest.

Of course there was also the uncomfortable task of actually asking for money, but once we’d figured that out we were off to the races. Thank you thank you thank you to everyone who believed in us enough to help us out, especially you Mom! Seriously, there aren’t enough words in the English language for us to thank you properly.

And then things really got moving…

Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker

Once we’d finished with the lease negotiations (UGH!), it was time to finalize our plans with the contractor and figure out a timeline.

To our extreme surprise (and delight), he was able to start the day we got the keys! It all happened so fast in fact, that I never even had a chance to take any official “before” photos, besides the quick iPhone snaps I took the first day we saw the space. (SORRY FRIENDS.) After that, there was so much dust and debris and commotion that I was afraid to bring my camera over until it was all done. So, unfortunately, the only evidence I have of this whole crazy process exists in the form of grainy, poorly lit iPhone photos taken at bizarre angles.

Maxwell's for Hair | Brooklyn Homemaker

I know things look totally crazytown in these pictures, but to us, this was progress. Sweet, chaotic, tangible progress. There was no turning back, and every piece of debris pulled from down from the walls, and every heap of rubble piled in the corner, was one step closer to independence. The weeks and months that followed were some of the longest, most hectic, and most stressful of my life, but now that it’s all behind us it seems like it came and went in a flash!

I know this is one hell of a place to end things, but there’s still soooo much more ground to cover and I’ve been rambling for way too long already.
Sorry friends! But I promise I’ll be back in the next couple weeks to show you some actual progress and pretty stuff!

nectarines and cream icebox cake

Why hello there friends! Remember me???

nectarines and cream icebox cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Yes it’s me! Tux!

I’m back! (well, sort of.)

nectarines and cream icebox cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Russell and I are still plugging away at the project I mentioned in my last post, and while we’re (hopefully) nearing the finish line, we’ve still got plenty of work to do so I’m not exactly back for good. I just happened to get a little down time recently and I couldn’t bare to stay away from you for one more second!

I’ve missed you guys SO MUCH that I jumped at the opportunity to get back in the kitchen when I finally had a moment to myself. We’ve been so completely consumed with our project in the past few months that my poor kitchen has felt almost as neglected as all of you probably have.

nectarines and cream icebox cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

As it turns out though, my little bit of down time just happened to fall smack dab in the middle of our SECOND heat wave in the past couple months. For almost two weeks the daily weather forecast included “Excessive Heat Warnings”, and the city even set up “cooling stations” for the sick and elderly without air conditioning to be able to escape (and survive) the oppressive daytime temperatures.

To make matters even worse, unlike my brown-lawned family upstate, we’ve also had plenty of rain (and thunder and lightning) here in Brooklyn so along with the heat we’ve also had plenty of soupy, steamy, thick, and swampy humidity. In other words, we’ve just been sweating our butts off here in Brooklyn!

nectarines and cream icebox cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

As you can imagine, that meant that turning the oven on to bake a cake has been sort of out of the question.

nectarines and cream icebox cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

With actual baking off the table, my first thought was to make some kind of ice cream or frozen something-or-other to help cool us off and keep me as far as possible from the oven. It didn’t take me long to realize though, that I hadn’t thought far enough ahead and my ice cream maker bowl requires overnight freezing before I could even get started.
I briefly considered popsicles but I couldn’t seem to get inspired. What I really wanted to do was bakeor at least make something that felt as homey and satisfying as something fresh from the oven. I’d been out of the kitchen and away from my oven for so long that my head kept going back to the idea of a fruity crisp or crumble or skillet cake.

Then it suddenly hit me!

Icebox cake!

nectarines and cream icebox cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

If you’re not familiar with an icebox cake, the concept is fairly simple. You layer thin crisp cookies with whipped cream and let the whole thing set up in the refrigerator (or icebox as it were). While the cake sets up, moisture is pulled from the whipped cream, softening the cookies and firming the cream until the whole thing is transformed into a dreamy, wonderful, lick-the-plate-clean dessert with a perfectly cake-like sliceable texture.

The original recipe has been around since the first world war and was most likely inspired by similar desserts like the Charlotte or the Trifle. The first icebox cakes were made with thin chocolate wafer cookies that are increasingly difficult to find (Smitten Kitchen has a recipe if you want to make your own), but these days you can basically make them with any thin, crisp cookies you like.
The filling options these days are just as limitless as the cookies, so I knew I’d find a way to make something bright and summery and satisfying.

nectarines and cream icebox cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

I wish I had some sepia-colored story about the nostalgic icebox cakes my grandmother used to make me as a boy growing up in the countryside in 1764, but the truth is that I’d never even tasted icebox cake until I made one with gingersnaps and maple cream this past December.

Even though I didn’t grow up with them, they feel every bit as homey and comforting as the bundt cakes that I actually did grow up eating in grandma’s kitchen in the country. While they’re relatively new to me, I would bet that a few more icebox cakes will turn up on the pages of Brooklyn Homemaker in the years to come. They just have that folksy days-of-yore feeling that lets me wistfully imagine joyful, touching family moments that never actually happened.

Not to mention they’re also freakin’ delicious, and crazy simple to put together.
If you can whip cream and open a box of cookies, you can make an icebox cake. They’re actually much simpler than I myself would normally go for, and the last time I made one I went the extra mile and made my own gingersnaps as the base of the cake. (You know I’m a glutton for punishment.)

This time around though, I wanted to take it easy, keep it simple, and highlight the other ingredients I wanted to feature in this simple summery creation.

nectarines and cream icebox cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Russell and I signed up for a CSA from Local Roots earlier this summer, but of course that was before we knew how busy we were about to get. We’ve been loving every ounce of fresh, local, seasonal produce, but it can sometimes be a challenge to find uses for everything without letting anything go to waste.

We’ve been getting pounds and pounds of white nectarines in the past few weeks, so I really wanted to do something special with them. What could be better than giving them the peaches and cream treatment with vanilla wafer cookies and mascarpone thickened whipped cream?

Nectarines and peaches are so similar in flavor and texture that you could substitute peaches without affecting the flavor of the recipe much at all. The white nectarines we had from our CSA though had a crisper, slightly more acidic zing to them than a standard peach, which I thought was a nice compliment to the richness of the cream. Honestly though, you could swap them out for strawberries or cherries and this cake would still be a little summery slice of heaven.

nectarines and cream icebox cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Nectarines and Cream Icebox Cake

2 lbs nectarines (or peaches), peeled, pitted, and roughly chopped
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Cointreau (optional) *see note
2 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
8 oz mascarpone at room temperature
Two 11 oz packages of vanilla wafer cookies, such as Nilla Wafers

Combine roughly chopped nectarines with sugar, salt, and orange liqueur in a medium bowl. Stir to combine and macerate for at least 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream on high just until it begins to thicken and form soft peaks. Add the mascarpone and beat on low speed until almost smooth, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides and fold to incorporate. Add the macerated chopped nectarines and beat on low for 30 to 60 seconds and scrape down the sides and fold again. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until the mixture is thick and holds firm peaks, another 30 to 60 seconds. Do NOT over-beat or the cream can become waxy and the mascarpone can become grainy.

On an 8″ cake board, or a cake stand or serving plate, arrange a layer of vanilla wafer cookies into three tight circles. I used 19 cookies per layer, with 1 cookie in the center, then one circle of 6 cookies and another circle of 12, but that’ll depend on the size of the cookie you use. Once you’ve arranged your first layer of cookies, place about a cup of cream over them and smooth it out with an offset icing spatula. Spread the cream almost to the outer edge, leaving just a small edge of cookies showing. Arrange another layer of cookies, trying to alternate the layers so they appear staggered above one another. Repeat another layer of cream and then another layer of cookies, again and again until you have as many layers as you desire or until you run out of cookies or cream. Finish the top of the cake with a final layer of cream. My cake was 8 layers tall, but again, this may depend on the size of the cookies you use.

If you have a cookie or two left over, garnish the cake by crumbling them in the center of the top if desired.

Try to delicately tent the cake with plastic wrap or cover with a large inverted bowl or cake dome before transferring to the refrigerator to set up.
Place cake to refrigerator for an absolute minimum of 6 hours (but ideally 12 to 24 hours) before serving. This cake will continue to improve the longer you can wait. As it sets, the cream will get firmer as the cookies get softer, and the flavors will distribute more evenly. Patience is a virtue!

Once set, the cake can be sliced and served much like a regular cake. If possible, it’s best to use a sharp serrated knife with a gentle sawing motion to avoid smooshing the cake and to get the best looking slices possible. Really though, you could dish it into bowls with a spoon if you wanted, and everyone would love it just as much.
Cake can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for 3 or 4 days.

*Note:
Peach schnapps would be great too if you have it, or you could also substitute rum or bourbon for a bit of extra warmth.
If you’d prefer to keep it completely non-alcoholic, a teaspoon or two of orange blossom water or rose water would be a lovely substitution. That stuff is potent though so start with just a little and taste to see if you’d like to add more.

grilled pork chops with vidalia onion and peach relish

Okay friends. I’m officially, like, the worst blogger in the entire world.

grilled pork chops with vidalia onion and peach relish | Brooklyn Homemaker

I literally was just saying how sorry I was about waiting so long between posts, and how much I’ve missed you and was so ready to get back into the swing of things and get back to posting regularly and often.

Then I disappear for another month.

grilled pork chops with vidalia onion and peach relish | Brooklyn Homemaker

Here it is, the beginning of summer. The beginning of fresh fruit, bright greens, a beautiful bounty I’ve been dreaming about for months. Asparagus season. Strawberry season. Rhubarb. Ramps. Snap peas. Scapes. Swiss chard. Fava beans. Fennel. Fiddlehead ferns. Vidalia onions. The first summer peaches.

This is the beginning of the best possible time for a food blogger, and suddenly I fall off the face of the internet.

grilled pork chops with vidalia onion and peach relish | Brooklyn Homemaker

So, here I am again to apologize to you. My readers. My friends.

This has been a crazy summer so far, and it’s only just begun.

grilled pork chops with vidalia onion and peach relish | Brooklyn Homemaker

See, Russell and I just started working on a really special project together. It’s in the very early stages still so I don’t really want to get into the details just yet.

Sorry to be so mysterious and leaving you hanging. We just want to get a little further along before we really share the whole thing. Don’t you worry none, I promise that I’ll spill all the beans as soon as we’re ready.

grilled pork chops with vidalia onion and peach relish | Brooklyn Homemaker

For now though, this special project is requiring almost all of my attention when I’m not at work, so as much as it pains me, that means we’re going to be missing each other for most of this summer.  I hope to be able to get at least a few fresh summer fruit pies or big fancy salads in before it’s too late, but I’m going to be posting a lot less frequently than I’d like to.
It’ll all be worth it in the end though. I promise!

grilled pork chops with vidalia onion and peach relish | Brooklyn Homemaker

All this craziness doesn’t mean that I’ve missed out completely on the bounty of the season. I’ve done my best to take advantage of the early summer. Whenever I’ve had a minute to myself I’ve tried to play with strawberries and asparagus and everything I can get my hands on.

I even got my hands on some real Vidalia onions, in season, fresh from Georgia. I haven’t had much experience with sweet onions before, and I have to tell you these puppies are unbelievable. I knew they’d be sweeter than a regular yellow onion, but I didn’t expect them to be so mild. I’ve been using them for everything I can think of, including an amazing German cucumber salad, and of course, the amazing recipe I’m sharing today.

grilled pork chops with vidalia onion and peach relish | Brooklyn Homemaker

You want to get the thickest prettiest pork chops you can get your hands on, and cook them over real hardwood charcoal until they’re seared and smoky on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside. It’s super easy to overcook pork, so I recommend using a meat thermometer.

Back in the days of yore people were really afraid of pink pork because they’d been told it’d make them sick. I won’t get into all the weird and nerdy details, but let me just say that perceived threat isn’t really a threat any longer and the USDA has recently reduced their recommended cooking temperature for pork from 160F to 145F. If you bring your pork up to 135 and remove and tent with foil for a 10 minute rest, your pork will just hit 145 to 150 and perfect. It may have a tiny touch of pink in the center but it’ll be so moist and juicy you won’t believe it. Don’t be scared. You have nothing to be scared of. I promise. So does the USDA.

I didn’t brine my chops, but I did follow this recipe from Serious Eats.

To compliment this smoky tender heavenly pork, you can’t go wrong with a sweet and creamy relish of caramelized Vidalia onions with peaches and a touch of bourbon and ginger.
This shit is thebomb.com

grilled pork chops with vidalia onion and peach relish | Brooklyn Homemaker

Grilled Pork Chops with Vidalia Onion and Peach Relish

2 tablespoons butter
1 large Vidalia onion, sliced thin into half circles
3 ripe peaches, peeled pitted and diced
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
1 to 2 tablespoons bourbon or American whiskey
1 tablespoon sugar (optional, depending on sweetness of peaches)
2 to 4 pork chops, thick cut (1 to 1.5 inches thick), about 3/4 to 1 pound each

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once butter is bubbling add onions and about 1 teaspoon of salt. Stir occasionally, watching carefully that the onions don’t brown too quickly, for about 20 to 30 minutes. Caramelizing onions is all about going slow and low, be patient and turn down the heat a bit if the onions are browning unevenly or too quickly.

Once the onions are softened and take on a creamy quality, add peaches, vinegar, ginger, and red pepper flakes. Cook for about 5 minutes, add bourbon, and cook 5 minutes more. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. If your peaches weren’t very sweet, or if you’d like the relish sweeter, stir in sugar and cook a few minutes more.
This relish can be made days in advance if you’d like, but should be served warm over the pork. This recipe makes enough relish for at least 4 pork chops.

Generously season your pork chops on both sides with salt and pepper.
Prepare your grill. If using a charcoal grill (recommended) try to organize the coals on one side so you have a hot side and a cooler side.

Sear your chops over the hot side of the grill, for about 3 to 5 minutes per side. Once both sides are seared transfer the chops to the cooler side of the grill with the bones facing the hotter side. Cover about 10 minutes and start checking with a meat thermometer. Once the chops reach 135 to 140, transfer to a plate and tent with foil to rest for about 10 minutes.

Serve with a generous dollop of warm onion relish, and with grilled asparagus if desired.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Forgive me.

My mother watched a lot of soaps when I was growing up.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

What I’m trying to say is, time is marching on and I’m officially older now than I was when I wrote my last post.

About two weeks ago I celebrated my birthday.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Those of you who’ve been reading along with me for a bit probably know that I look at my birthday as an excuse to make a big ass fancy layer cake.
I’ve heard it all before about how I’m not “supposed to” bake my own birthday cake, but the fact of the matter is that I enjoy baking a good cake almost as much as I enjoy eating one. A grocery store birthday cake pales in comparison to what I can bake myself, and I’d rather bake my own cake than shell out good money for something I’m not going to love.

I bake so many bundt cakes around here that I also relish the opportunity to go all out with sky high layers of cake stacked up with fillings and icings and glazes and decorations and candles, so that kind of seals the deal for me. I bake my own birthday cake, and I like it. So there.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

You’ll also know, if you’ve been reading along with me for a while, that I have a tendency to get inside my own head and overthink things. Like seriously overthink things.

To that end, I’ll be the first to confess that I’ve been planning this cake for at least 6 months. Initially I was thinking about posting this cake, or at least a version of it, around Christmas. When that didn’t work out I thought I’d make it for Russell’s birthday in January. That didn’t end up happening either, so I’ve been sitting on the idea ever since.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

My initial thought was a high contrast black and white cake with layers of deep dark chocolate cake, bright white icing, and glossy dark chocolate ganache. In some circles on the internet this contrasting black on white on black cake is called a “Tuxedo Cake”. Considering my name is Tux, I was all over that business.

Thing is, something magical happened along the way that made me rethink the white in my “tuxedo”.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

A few months ago some friends came to visit us, one of whom happens to be from England and also happened to be celebrating a birthday while he was here. Before his wife finished the sentence, “Tomorrow’s his birth…”, I was in the kitchen preheating the oven.

They were out of the house a lot while they were here, off doing the tourist circuit, and since I didn’t know exactly when they’d be around I opted for cupcakes rather than a big formal layer cake. Since I was baking cupcakes, and since our friend is British, I wanted to go for a kind of American kid’s birthday party theme.
I decided to reimagine my funfetti cake recipe as cupcakes, but wanted to skip the American buttercream frosting and go for something a bit more subtle and a bit less sugary. I thought I’d adapt the mascarpone icing from the gingersnap icebox cake I made last December, but add some strawberries to it to make it fit better with the funfetti cake.
(Have I mentioned that I have a tendency to overthink things sometimes?)

To concentrate the flavor of the strawberries and make them less watery I decided to cook them down a bit with some sugar before mixing them into the icing.
At first I worried that I’d cooked the strawberries too long and was disappointed that they ended up tasting kind of jammy rather than super fresh like I’d hoped, but I forged ahead anyway and once I’d mixed them into the mascarpone and whipped cream…
HOLY SHIT.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Where do I begin?

This icing basically tastes like the freshest, creamiest strawberry ice cream you’ve ever had, but with the texture of fluffy whipped cream. It’s stable enough to be used as a cake icing as well, and just sweet enough to bring out the sweetness of the strawberries without being overly sugary or cloying.

After one bite, all of my big birthday cake plans changed.

My black and white tuxedo cake would be getting a chichi pink makeover.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

As much as I’d like to, you can’t have an entire birthday party and serve nothing but cake, so with the cake as the pièce de résistance we decided to have a barbecue. An amazing sustainably sourced organic butcher recently opened near us, so we got a bunch of homemade bratwurst for the grill and called the whole shindig a “sausage party”.

Still on our German kick after our recent trip to Berlin, we went all out with German potato salad, and gurkensalit (cucumber salad), sauerkraut, and whole grain german mustard. I even drank beer for the night! (I usually stick to wine or whiskey).

The food was a huge hit, and while the bratwurst put up a good fight trying to be the star of the (sausage) party, my foppish pink tuxedo cake definitely stole the show!

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

The tender layers of devil’s food cake are nothing less than super rich and incredibly moist slices of dark chocolate heaven. The strawberry mascarpone icing is ethereally fluffy and impossibly creamy, and even though the strawberries are cooked down, the icing tastes bright and fresh and summery. The dark chocolate ganache is velvety and perfectly rich and bittersweet, with a lovely glossy finish thanks to a touch of honey.

To top it all off and make it feel even fancier and ever-so-slightly gaudy, I added some white candy beads in varying sizes to the top of the shiny dark ganache. You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but why on earth wouldn’t you want to?

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Chocolate Tuxedo Cake with Strawberry Mascarpone Icing and Glossy Ganache

  • Servings: 16 to 24-ish
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Devil’s Food Cake
adapted from Brooklyn Homemaker
makes three 8-inch layers

butter and flour for pans
1 1/2 cups unsweetened natural cocoa powder (I used Double Dutch Process)
1 1/2 cups hot water (or hot brewed coffee for a richer flavor)
3 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 cups peanut oil or vegetable oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
4 large eggs
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter three 8 inch round cake pans, line bottoms with parchment paper, butter paper, and dust pans with flour.
Whisk together cocoa powder and hot water (or coffee) until smooth and set aside.
Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.
Beat melted butter, oil, and sugars together on medium-low speed until combined.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.
Beat in vanilla and cocoa mixture. Reduce speed to low.
Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk and beginning and ending with flour. Beat until just combined.
Divide batter between pans, and bake until a cake tester inserted into centers comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes.

Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes. Invert cakes onto rack, peel off parchment, and let cool completely.
To achieve a perfectly flat, professional looking cake, you’ll want to slice the very tops of the cakes off to make each layer completely flat and level. You can do this using a very sharp bread knife, or a cake leveler.

If you’re not assembling cakes right away, individually wrap each layer tightly in plastic wrap to prevent drying. Layers can be stored in the refrigerator for a day or two, or frozen (wrapped in plastic wrap first, then aluminum foil) for up to two weeks.

Simple Syrup: (optional)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar

Combine both ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves completely. Remove from heat and cool completely.

Strawberry Mascarpone Icing:
1 lb ripe strawberries
3/4 cup sugar
3 cups cold heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
8 oz mascarpone cheese
pinch of salt

Hull and finely chop strawberries and place in a medium saucepan with sugar. Stir to combine and once the strawberries begin to give off liquid, transfer pan to the stovetop over medium high heat. Bring to a rolling boil and reduce to a low boil. Cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thick and syrupy and reduced by about half.
Transfer to a heatproof bowl, cover and refrigerate until completely cool. You can place it in the freezer if you’re in a hurry, but stir often and don’t let it actually freeze.
If preferred, you can substitute 1 1/2 cups good quality store bought strawberry jam to save yourself some time.

Whip cream with a mixer on high just until stiff peaks form. Add vanilla, salt, mascarpone, and strawberry mixture and beat until well combined and mixture stiffens back up. This should only take about 30 to 60 seconds. Don’t over mix or the mascarpone can become grainy. If you’re not using your icing right away you can store it in the refrigerator, but you may want to whip it for another 30 seconds just before icing the cake.

Glossy Ganache Drizzle:
4 oz good quality dark chocolate (60% works well)
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon honey
pinch salt

Chop chocolate into small, easily melted pieces and place in a heat proof bowl.
Heat heavy cream, honey, & salt in a small saucepan just until it comes to a light boil, and immediately pour directly over chocolate. Wait 2 to 3 minutes before stirring until completely smooth and melted and free of lumps. If the mixture seems very hot still it may melt the icing as you pour it so wait a few minutes for it to cool slightly. Do not let it get too cool or it will not drizzle nicely and may look messy.

*Do not make the ganache until the cake is completely iced and ready to decorate.

Decorations: (optional)
Various sizes of white candy beads, including:
white sixlets
white candy pearls (sometimes called dragees)
white nonpareils

Assemble cake: 
Place the first cake layer on an 8″ cardboard cake round, serving plate, or cake stand. Using a cake round will make it easier to ice and decorate, especially if you have a revolving turntable for decorating (I use a lazy suzan, but you can also just spin your plate or cake stand while you work).

Using a squeeze bottle or pastry brush, evenly distribute 2 or 3 tablespoons of simple syrup over the top of the cake layer. This step isn’t completely necessary but helps ensure the cake stays incredibly moist. It’s especially helpful if you’re using cake you stored in the fridge or freezer for a few days, or if you plan to wait a day or two before serving the cake.

Once the syrup has absorbed into the cake, place about 2 cups or so of icing on the first layer and spread it smooth and even using an icing spatula. It’s okay if it spreads out past the edge of the cake layer a bit. Add the next layer of cake, looking from directly over the top and from eye level at the cake to make sure each layer is directly one above the other, rotating the cake to be certain. Repeat with the simple syrup and icing again, then add the third and final layer and repeat again. Using the same amount of icing as before, start with the top of the cake but spread the icing thinner and work some of it down the sides of the cake to completely cover the whole cake in a thin, smooth, even coat of icing. This first layer of icing is called the crumb coat, and it seals the cake and keeps crumbs from being visible in the outer layer of icing.

Place the cake in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to help set the icing and firm up the cake.
After 30 minutes top the cake with about 3 to 4 cups more icing and spread it over the whole cake the same way you did the crumb coat. Start by smoothing the top and slowly work the icing down the sides to cover the cake completely. Try to get the icing as completely smooth as possible with straight sides and a flat, level top. You may have some icing left over, and I couldn’t blame you if you ate some of it with a spoon. Refrigerate the cake again for another 30 minutes (or up to a day).

Make your ganache just before you’re ready to remove the cake from the fridge.

I find it easier to get an even, professional looking drizzle by slowly pouring the ganache just around the outer edge of the top of the cake, while slowing rotating the cake. Once you’re happy with the amount of drizzle coming down the sides, use the remaining ganache to fill in the center of the top of the cake, smoothing it flat with a clean icing spatula before the ganache sets.

If you’d like to add decorations to the top of the cake, be sure to add them before the ganache sets. I used a mix a mix of multiple sizes of white candy beads, about 2 to 3 tablespoons of each, starting with the largest size and finishing with the smallest.

This cake will keep well in a cake saver at room temperature for a day or two if the weather is not too hot or humid. Otherwise, cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

If refrigerating, bring cake to room temperature at least an hour before serving.