After carefully checking it for lingering traces of peanut butter, I plunge the blunt-end of a butter knife into my tall thermos. A simple twirl creates a brief and sophisticated tie-dye, eventually settling into a comfortable brown with a glossy finish. As I stare blankly into the stilled thermos, I am reminded of a time when I truly appreciated black coffee. A time when I would scoff at the thought of cream and considered sugar a distasteful addition to the palette. Back then I liked my coffee to be a pure, deep, dark river of liquid caffeine; portioned between no fewer than two pots over the course of the day. I would overfill unsuspecting filters as I prepped my brew and flood the kitchen with the aroma and the grounds, both spilling from the counter and into the cracks of our ancient hard-wood floors.
I considered the bitterness a treat.
I liked the bite.
I grew quickly immune to the effects of the caffeine, ritually downing the remnants of the final pot before brushing my teeth.
There were no issues with this near zero-calorie indulgence.
But things have changed.
I’ve come to realize that it’s no longer the coffee that I love, but the silky cream and the warm sugar instead. And as I load up my mug with these additions, I feel almost guilty for having once considered myself a “coffee lover.” The milky contents of the thermos hardly resemble the ones of its past, and the same goes for the taste.
The frequency in which I drink the stuff has decreased, too. My two + pot a day habit has dwindled to a mere thermos-full in a week, entirely reflective of my sudden sensitivity to caffeine. So when the thirst for warmth comes in the early hours of the morning, I often ignore the urge to make a pot of “coffee.” I’ve taken to sipping spiced chai, a drink I was recently introduced to by P, in it’s place; relishing the sweet creaminess and thankful for its low caffeine content. I find it a suitable substitute – hitting all the right notes – with which to start (and oftentimes end) my day.
Still, those familiar coffee-like rings still manage to find their way onto my homework. Simple reminders of quiet mornings passed with a “fancy” drink in hand and accounting homework before me.
But, unfortunately for me, the chai never lasts as long as the homework.
And when the chai is gone… Well, that, my friends, is when I start seeking out other distractions.
Pecan Praline Cake from Mrs. Charles
This cake is fabulous with coffee, tea or milk. I think you’ll find that all of the textures are an amazing combination! Makes 1 (9-inch) 2-layer cake.
1/2 c (100 g) sugar
1/4 c (60 ml) water
1/2 c (120 ml) pecans, chopped
Prepare baking sheet (with edges, preferably) by lining it with aluminum foil and greasing it lightly. Set aside.
Combine sugar and water in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Cook (without stirring) until golden. Remove from heat and quickly stir in pecans. Rapidly spread mixture onto prepared pan. Cool completely. Break into small pieces and store in an airtight container up to 1 week.
3 1/2 c (495 g) cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 c (235 g) butter, softened
1 3/4 c (345 g) sugar
1/4 c (35 g) light brown sugar
6 eggs, room temp
1 tsp vanilla
1 c (240 ml) milk
Preheat oven to 350F (177C) and grease two 9-inch round cake pans. Line with greased parchment.
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside.
Place the butter in a large bowl and beat until lightened. Add the sugars and beat at medium speed 5 minutes or until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in vanilla.
Add flour mixture and 1 cup milk alternately to butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture and beating at low speed after each addition.
Pour into prepared pans and bake for 30-35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire rack 10 minutes, then remove from pans and cool completely on wire rack.
Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting
1/4 c (35 g) light brown sugar
10 tbls (140 g) butter, softened and divided
1/3 c (80 ml) heavy whipping cream
8 oz (225) cream cheese, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 c (275 g) powdered sugar
Melt brown sugar and 4 tablespoons (55 g) butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil over medium heat; remove from heat. Whisk in cream; blend well. Transfer to a heat-resistant bowl and cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.
Place remaining 6 tablespoons (85 g) butter and cream cheese in a large bowl; beat with a mixer on medium-high speed until smooth. Beat in vanilla and salt. With mixer running, slowly pour in cooled brown sugar mixture and beat until smooth. Add powdered sugar gradually, beating well after each addition until completely smooth. Chill slightly for a firmer texture, stirring occasionally.
Brown Sugar Fudge Filling
This stuff tastes great but sets up pretty quickly. Because of this, it is imperative that you wait until you are ready to frost the cake to make it. Also, be sure that your cakes are ready/cooled when you start, and have one resting on your cake plate so you can pour the finished fudge on top.
1 1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c evaporated milk
1/4 c butter
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Continue cooking, without stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 238F (115C). Transfer to a heat-resistant bowl, and beat 3 minutes or until thickened and easy to spread. Quickly spread filling over cake layer on plate. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; chill 15 minutes or until set.
After the fudge has cooled, spread a thin layer of Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting over filling. Top with second cake layer and crumb coat the cake. Frost as desired and chill 20 minutes to set frosting, then cover and chill 4 hours or overnight. Let stand 10 minutes at room temperature before serving. Garnish with the praline.