You may not know Vallery Lomas yet, but trust me when I say you should go ahead and be obsessed with her and her new cookbook, Life Is What You Bake It.
As a new lawyer and food blogger, she dropped everything to participate on The Great American Baking Show and won, only to be robbed of her victory when allegations about judge Johnny Iuzzini arose and forced producers to cancel the entire season.
At first blush this seems like a sad parable about the ways that corrupt men in power take others down with them when they fall, especially women and people of color. But as Vallery wrote in the introduction of her wonderful new cookbook, she is like a batch of dough, punched down over and over but always rising. I love that.
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Of course, the real winners of this tale are all of us, because we get to enjoy all her lovely recipes: some technical, some homespun and comforting, and all delicious. I love that her book is a colorful mix of Southern staples, French classics, and Creole influences from her upbringing in Louisiana.
I’m including the Saucepan Chocolate Cake recipe here (with permission, of course), since it’s one of my favorites from her book. Like the bulk of her treats, this one comes together simply but feels luxurious and celebratory, especially if you pair it with her amazing Creamy Caramel recipe (sorry, you’ll have to buy the book for that one!).
Saucepan Chocolate Cake from Life is What You Bake It
- Nonstick baking spray with flour
- 1 2/3 cups cake flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 large egg plus 3 large egg yolks, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Creamy Caramel (page 272) or store-bought caramel
- Preheat the oven to 350º F and place a rack in the middle of the oven. Spray a 9-inch cake pan with baking spray.
- Sift the cake flour and baking soda into a large bowl. Add the sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and whisk to combine.
- To a medium saucepan, add the butter, oil, cocoa powder, coffee granules, and the water. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the butter melts and everything comes together, in about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat–it’s important that the mixture doesn’t get too hot and start to boil.
- Pour the coca mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just combined. It will be a thick, paste-like batter, similar to box brownie mix. Touch the batter to make sure it isn’t hot (warm is okay). Stir in the buttermilk and then whisk in the egg, egg yolks, and vanilla just until combined. The batter will be loose and a little liquidy. It’s important that you don’t overmix it.
- Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean and the center is set and slightly domed, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and allow to cool completely.
- Heat the caramel in a medium heat-safe bowl in the microwave until it’s a pourable consistency, about 30 seconds. Stir in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Pour the caramel over the cake, allowing it to drip down the sides. Slice and serve, spooning additional caramel on each slice.
I’m always excited when a Great British Bake Off or Great American Baking Show winner writes a cookbook, because as bakers who have day jobs, they grasp how to develop recipes that are yummy without being too labor-intensive. Her sea salt brownies took me all of twenty minutes and were some of the best I’ve ever made.
I also love how much of her own life story she includes in the book. It’s peppered with essays on her time at the Great American Baking Show (including a very entertaining cookie debacle), nostalgic remembrances of her grandmother’s biscuits, and snippets from her study abroad in France. My favorite is her vignette on “Wartime, the Liberation of Black Women, and Cake Mix.” It explains how WWII liberated black women, like her grandmother, from their role as “domestics” in white people’s houses, and how all working parents have permission to use boxed cake mix.
A cookbook author who gets it! Yes please.
Snag your own copy of Life Is What You Bake It at our affiliate Amazon or your local indie bookshop. Recipe shared with permission from the publisher.