like red velvet cake, but not

I had the cake layers in the oven by 9 o’clock Saturday morning. The batter was easy to prepare, almost too easy. The part I hate about baking is waiting for the butter to come to room temperature, but this recipe only uses vegetable oil as the fat, so there was no waiting. I love butter, but I very much liked the not waiting. I also liked that I had all of the ingredients on hand already.

Saturday was Valentine’s Day, which really didn’t matter to me except that it gave me an excuse to bake for my true loves. Not that I need an excuse. But for this more-special-Saturday-than-most, I baked a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting. The idea was for the cake to be like red velvet cake, but not. I wanted it to have all of the taste, but without the artificial red food coloring.

“It’s like an Oreo cake,” Oliver suggested. He made a good point, which is typical of my always-sensible son.

This Valentine’s Saturday was especially sweet because we had no plans written on the calendar, no appointments to keep, nothing we were obligated to do. Except laundry; there is always laundry. We had a great lunch out at our favorite taco place, and for dinner, we ate grilled steaks with roasted Brussels sprouts and potatoes. We capped the evening off with family movie night – Maleficent (notably better than I expected) – and generous slices of chocolate cake.

After the kids went to bed, I knit. The television was on, but I don’t recall what we watched. I focused my energy on knitting the last of stitches of the scarf I have been working on for the past month (this one). I weaved in the last bits of yarn, burying the loose strands within the orderly rows of stitches. I sat back and let out my breath, not realizing I’d been holding it.

Here is what I loved: I fell in love with a design, I made each stitch with my own two hands, I messed it up when I was three-quarters of the way through, but I discovered my error and fixed the mistake, and I finished the scarf all by myself. It is mine. I made it, and I love it.

I love days like yesterday.

*   *   *

I’m reading a new book this week. I’ve read intriguing reviews about Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Since I like dystopian fiction, I downloaded the book for my Kindle about ten days ago, before leaving for San Diego for a medical conference. I started reading it on one of the legs of my airplane trip west – with occasional breaks to read chapters of Ann Hood’s Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting – and the story hooked me from the beginning. I mostly read at night, so I’m still in the thick of the story, but it’s getting better with each chapter.

I thought you should know. You know, in case you need a good book to read.

*   *   *

As I head into a two-week stretch of “on service” time in the hospital starting tomorrow, I am so glad to have had this weekend to settle my mind and comfort my soul. I know the next two weeks will be stressful, but I am determined to heal myself in the evenings, whether with the gentle clicks of the knitting needles and the feel of yarn between my fingers, or with the tight hugs I am guaranteed to receive from my children each evening, or with immersion into the fantasy of the post-apocalyptic world of Station Eleven.

Or, maybe, with all three.

Yield: Serves 12 or more.

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Chocolate Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

The chocolate cake layers are the famous Hershey's Black Magic Cake, a foolproof and simple cake recipe that always yields excellent results. I chose cream cheese frosting to give a flavor profile like that of Red Velvet Cake (but without the red food coloring).


2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar
1-3/4 cup (219 grams) all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup black coffee

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1-1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons; 170 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 16-ounce box (452 grams) confectioners sugar, sifted



Heat oven to 350 degrees F with rack in center position. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans, line each with a parchment round, then butter and flour the parchment-lined pans.

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the sugar, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cocoa. Add eggs, vanilla, vegetable oil, buttermilk, and coffee. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes; batter will be thin. Pour evenly into the two prepared cake pans.

Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 20 minutes, then invert cakes onto wire rack and cool completely before frosting.


In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in vanilla extract. Gradually add the sifted confectioners sugar, beating until frosting is smooth and creamy, about 5 minutes.


To frost cakes, place 1 layer on a cake plate. With an offset spatula, spread top with cream cheese frosting. Place the second layer on top, centering it, and spread frosting evenly over top and sides of cake. You will have extra frosting, so reserve it for another use.

NOTE: Can be made one day ahead. Cover with cake dome and refrigerate overnight. Let cake stand at room temperature for 2 hours before serving.