Hi guys!!! Wow, did I miss you, did you miss me too?
It was a long time away and a lot of hard work, but now I am back, and better than ever, because now I am a PhD! After 6 years, 225 pages of a dissertation, and too many days to count when I thought I had lost my mind, I am FINALLY finished. There are not words to describe how relieved and happy I feel, but just check out this big smile on my face!
It felt great to show my family and friends my more professional side, and to demonstrate to the scientific community what I have accomplished. I could literally feel my heart swelling with pride as it dawned on me just how big of an achievement this is. I actually think I surprised myself with how much I know, and how far I have come. It's funny, when you work on something for so long, and hold onto it so tight, sometimes you miss the big picture. And the big picture here is that not only am I amazed to have been blessed with the talents and determination to earn a PhD, but I am also immensely lucky to have have family, friends, and co-workers that have supported me, encouraged me, and always believed in me. They are my heart, and without them, none of this would have been possible.
The entire day of my defense was more than I could have hoped for - my boss said my talk was excellent (which is high praise), and I felt like it was hands down the best presentation I have ever given. My family and almost all my friends were there, and after everything was done, we popped open bottles of champagne to celebrate.
Can you tell how excited I was to be done?
My lab did a fantastic job of organizing food and drinks for everyone to enjoy, and my good friend Marie came with a special surprise - a lab-themed cake from Jenny Wenny Cakes!
Yes, I am a complete nerd because I totally loved this.
We relaxed, drank wine, ate lots of food, and generally were happy. Of course, the best part for me (aside from the huge weight lifted off my shoulders) was to be able to celebrate the day with my Mom, Dad, and my sister.
After everything was done, my family and I spent the rest of the weekend lounging at the pool, going to the beach, and eating amazing food. Because what is a celebration weekend without a little sunshine and good eats?
At the end of the weekend, my sister and packed up the car and headed up to Sequoia National Park for a few days of camping. After writing 225 pages for my dissertation, all I could think about was unplugging and getting away from the computer, and some time in the fresh air of the mountains was just what I needed. The weather was perfect, we saw tons of wildlife, and definitely had an adventure driving into Mineral King. (Has anyone else been there? Soooo beautiful, but seriously - that road?! Holy shit.) I have tons of photos and can't wait to tell you more about our vacation, but that is for another post and another day.
For now, I can't leave you with out a recipe, and I felt like I needed to celebrate my PhD here on The Cilantropist with a little dessert.
So of course, I turned to chocolate. Pure and unadulterated, these Individual No-bake Chocolate Cakes are the epitome of effortless indulgence. Basically just a combination of chocolate and heavy cream, you can make these in under 10 minutes and they are sinfully good.
The recipe originally comes from 101 Cookbooks, where Heidi says she makes this no-fuss dessert for guests (or herself) when she doesn't feel like taking on a big project but still wants something sweet. The chocolate and cream are heated and mixed together, and then can be poured into any mold you want; when it cools the chocolate 'cake' is almost the texture of a soft truffle.
These cute scissors I got from Etsy are perfect for cutting parchment.
To make this, the key is line your pan with parchment - otherwise you will never be able to get the chocolate goodness out of the pan and will just end up eating it with a spoon. (Which of course I am not ashamed to admit I have done, but it might not be the best for company.) In her original recipe, Heidi poured her chocolate into a cute small loaf pan, and from her pictures it seems her chocolate loaf could be sliced into pieces at least 2 inches high. I tried this recipe in my standard loaf pan, and only ended up with slices less than 1 inch high, more like small chocolate bars.
That was all well and good, but I wanted something a little different. Then I had a genius idea. (Because now that I am a PhD, I will, of course, have many genius ideas.) I decided to try this recipe in square muffin tins to make individual chocolate cakes. I was a little worried about getting the cakes out, but it seriously worked like a charm - way better than using the loaf pan.
Smooth and sinful chocolate.
Shiny chocolate setting up in square muffin tins.
Because of the parchment, the individual chocolate cakes unmold easily from the muffin tin.
Since these came out so beautifully, I couldn't resist topping each cake with some salted caramel ice cream for an extra treat. These individual cakes are super rich, so actually I think some whipped cream, berries, or ice cream are a perfect addition to round it out.
These no-bake chocolate cakes were a small way for me to celebrate a big accomplishment, but this now this make-ahead recipe will definitely be on rotation for dinner parties and nights with friends in the future. Because when it is as simple as this, do we really even need a reason to celebrate?
Enjoy, and thanks so much for all your support and encouragement over the last few months!
You might also like: Dark Chocolate Truffle Tart
One year ago: Dense Dark Chocolate Ice Cream (apparently this time of year I have chocolate on the mind!)
Individual No-bake Chocolate Cakes
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks
Heidi originally made this dessert in a loaf pan, but you can make it any pan or tin you want as long as you line it well with parchment paper. The recipe makes about 2 cups total chocolate volume (yum!) so calculate that when you chose your dish. Also, the coffee and spice flavors are a great pairing for the dark chocolate, but you could also think about other ones like orange or cherry for different occasions.
8 oz quality chocolate, at least 60% cacao, finely chopped
8 oz (1 cup) heavy cream
1/4-1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 packet Starbucks Via instant coffee, or 1-2 tsp instant coffee
1/4 tsp sea salt
For serving: Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream
Special equipment: A square muffin pan, parchment paper to fit inside each square and up the sides (see photos above)
First prepare your pan by greasing the bottom of each muffin square, then fit a piece of parchment across the bottom and up the sides. The bottom and two of the sides will be covered with parchment. Then lightly grease the parchment again, and then fit another piece of parchment over the top of the first one, going in the opposite direction. Now the bottom and all sides of each tin should be covered with parchment.
Melt the chocolate over a double boiler until it is smooth. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, heat the heavy cream over medium-low heat until it is just hot (Do not boil). Remove the cream from the heat, and stir in the cinnamon, coffee, and salt. Then slowly stir in the melted chocolate, and mix well until everything is completely smooth. Use a ladle or a large spoon to transfer the chocolate cream to the prepared muffin tin. Each tin will hold about 1/3 cup, and this recipe will fill about 6 cups (with some leftover).
Cover the tin with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled and solid, a few hours or overnight. To serve, remove the tin from the refrigerator, let it sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes, then remove each individual chocolate cake from the tin using the parchment sides. Unmold onto a small plate for serving, and top with salted butter caramel ice cream if you like.