red velvet

The BEST Valentine’s Day Recipes from Willow Bird Baking

The BEST Valentine's Day Recipes from Willow Bird Baking
Thanks, Foodie, for sponsoring this post showcasing the BEST Valentine’s Day Recipes from Willow Bird Baking.

Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite food holidays. Everything’s so CUTE and CHOCOLATE and CUTE and PINK. Since it’s my fave, I go all out on heart day recipes. See the caption under each recipe for a description and difficulty level.

Red Velvet Cheesecake-Stuffed Cake Balls

That’s right. They’re STUFFED WITH CHEESECAKE. This was one of the best ideas I’ve ever had. You should pretend it was yours. Difficulty level: Intermediate.

Gooey Chocolate Coconut Cream Skillet Cake
Gooey Chocolate Coconut Cream Skillet Cake

Not all of the best Valentine’s desserts are red. This is a romantic favorite, eaten straight from the skillet! Difficulty Level: Easy.

Gooey Turtle Brownie Sticky Buns
Gooey Turtle Brownie Sticky Buns

Brownies + sticky Buns = Love. Difficulty Level: Intermediate.

Raspberry Cheesecake Morning Buns
Raspberry Cheesecake Morning Buns

Incredibly indulgent Raspberry Cheesecake buns that are perfect for breakfast or dessert! Difficulty Level: Intermediate.

Gooey Chocolate Skillet Cake Ice Cream Sundae
Gooey Chocolate Skillet Cake Ice Cream Sundae

Another incredible, chocolate skillet dessert that’s quick and simple to make. Difficulty Level: Easy.

Samoa Monkey Bread with Ganache Dipping Sauce
Samoa Monkey Bread with Ganache Dipping Sauce

So romantic. Trust me. Difficulty Level: Easy.

Sparkling Raspberry Lemonade
Sparkling Raspberry Lemonade

A sweet, puckery way to brighten your sweetheart’s day! Difficulty Level: Easy.

Spiked Mocha Mousse Bars
Spiked Mocha Mousse Bars

A little sassy, a little sultry, a lot delicious. Difficulty Level: Easy.

Lemon Cheesecake Morning Buns
Lemon Cheesecake Morning Buns

The absolute 100% perfect Valentine’s breakfast. Like, don’t even wake me up if these aren’t sittin’ in the kitchen. Difficulty Level: Intermediate.

The Ultimate Moist, Fluffy, Ridiculous Coconut Cake
The Ultimate Moist, Fluffy, Ridiculous Coconut Cake

Coconut is for lovers. Difficulty Level: Intermediate.

Deep Dish Pizza Cupfakes
Deep Dish Pizza Cupfakes

A fun dinner idea for your Valentine. It’ll look like you skipped right to dessert! Difficulty Level: Intermediate.

Heart-Shaped Palmiers
Heart-Shaped Palmiers

Another lovely savory treat for Valentine’s Day. Difficulty Level: Easy.

Chocolate & Coconut Cream Pie Bars
Chocolate & Coconut Cream Pie Bars

I would marry someone immediately if they made me these. And I weren’t already married or whatever. Difficulty level: Easy. (NOT ME, THE BARS.)

Gooey Carmelitas
Gooey Carmelitas

I don’t know if you should make these, actually. Your girlfriend might love them more than you. Difficulty level: Easy.

(Freshly Picked!) Strawberry Cream Pie
(Freshly Picked!) Strawberry Cream Pie

A stunning and indulgent pie. Difficulty level: Intermediate.

Strawberry Coconut Cream Pie
Strawberry Coconut Cream Pie

Mike likes this version with coconut cream even better. It’s nuts. Well, really it’s strawberries. Whatever. Difficulty level: Intermediate.

Itsy Bitsy Berry Cream Pies
Itsy Bitsy Berry Cream Pies

Teensy, adorable mini pies! Difficulty level: Intermediate.

Red Velvet Cheesecake
Red Velvet Cheesecake

This recipe is easy if you make it over a few days. It’s got some serious curb appeal! Difficulty Level: Intermediate.

Thick Chocolate Cake with a Big Red (Velvet!) Heart
Thick Chocolate Cake with a Big Red (Velvet!) Heart

LOOK AT THE HEART. Difficulty level: Easy with the right cake pan!

Chocolatey Red Velvet Pull-Apart Bread with Cream Cheese Glaze
Chocolatey Red Velvet Pull-Apart Bread with Cream Cheese Glaze

Another idea I’m unabashedly proud of. Difficulty level: Intermediate.

Gooey Butter Strawberry Shortcake
Gooey Butter Strawberry Shortcake

This is one of my favorite desserts everrrr and so easy to make! And so pretty! Difficulty Level: Easy.

Brownie-Bottom Coconut Chocolate Cream Cake
Brownie-Bottom Coconut Chocolate Cream Cake

This dessert seems fussy, but it’s incredibly easy and everyone loves it! Difficulty Level: Easy.

Want some amazing Valentine’s Day recipes from other blogs around the interwebz? I have you covered there, too. Here are some I collected:

Valentine’s Day Dessert Recipes from Willow Bird Baking

It’s that time again: Valentine’s Day. You either love it or you hate it, but you have to admit . . . at least it’s an excuse to eat dessert? Here are a few that will definitely score you brownie points with your sweetheart (or your own solitary tummy as you sit on the couch and watch reruns of 30 Rock, thank you very much.)

By the way, I’ve included a difficulty rating after each recipe so you can pick one perfect for your skill level and schedule. And how much you love your partner. JUST KIDDING, just kidding.

1. Gooey Butter Strawberry Shortcake (very easy)
2. Thick Chocolate Cake with a Big Red (Velvet!) Heart (not hard, but probably easier as a 2-day process.)
3. Gooey Chocolate Skillet Cake Ice Cream Sundae (very easy)
4. Chocolatey Red Velvet Pull-Apart Bread with Cream Cheese Glaze (includes rising time; a 2-day process)

5. German Chocolate Cheesecake (not hard, but probably easier as a 2-day process.)
6. Red Velvet Cheesecake-Stuffed Cake Balls (advanced; easier as a multi-day process)
7. Heart-Shaped Palmiers (sweet or savory; very easy)
8. Red Velvet Cheesecake (not hard, but probably easier as a 2-day process.)

9. Boozy Icebox Cake (very easy)
10. Caramelized Banana Upside-Down Coconut Cake & Coconut Whipped Cream (intermediate)
11. Red Velvet and Oreo Kisses (advanced; easier as a multi-day process)
12. Valentine’s Truffle Heart (advanced; easier as a multi-day process)

13. Strawberry Sour Cream Pie (very easy)
14. (Freshly Picked!) Strawberry Cream Pie (intermediate; multi-step process)
15. Homemade Hot Chocolate & Marshmallows (easy)
16. Red Berry Pie (intermediate)

…and four more for the coconut lover like me:

1. Chocolate & Coconut Cream Pie Bars (easy, but do require 30-minutes of stirring)
2. Tres Leches Coconut Cake Trifle (intermediate; easier as a multi-day process)
3. Brownie-Bottom Coconut Chocolate Cream Cake (very easy)
4. Moist Fluffy Coconut Cake (intermediate; easier as a multi-day process)

Willow Bird Baking’s Top 12 Recipes of 2012

Last year I tried to wax a little cheerful about 2011, but I was really ready to move on. I had no idea that 2012 would bring some of the happiest times and some of the hardest times of my life to date. To say I’m ready to move on from this year is an understatement, and yet I know there are friends and even strangers who have had a much harder year than I’ve had. I also know that even my hardest times are part of a story God is weaving around me, and I thank Him for His faithfulness and sovereignty over everything that has happened this year. Never once did I ever walk alone.

How can we make 2013 the best year of our lives so far? I wonder if I can persuade you, while making your New Year’s resolutions, to make living with empathy a goal. I’m going to try it: in everything I do and every way I interact with others, I’m going to try and make a sincere effort to see their point of view, to imagine myself in their shoes.

My other resolutions? Focusing on scripture each day, continuing my newfound enjoyment of exercise. But I think living with empathy is what actually has the potential to change me.

To conclude a wonderful year on Willow Bird Baking — a year in which I have so appreciated befriending you and all of our lovely discussions — here are the top 12 recipes from ’12.

12. Gooey Butter Strawberry Shortcake
11. “Magic” Chocolate, Coconut, and Pecan Pastry Braid
10. Caramelized Banana Upside-Down Coconut Cake & Coconut Whipped Cream
9. Buttery Coconut & Almond Morning Buns

8. German Chocolate Cheesecake
7. Milnot Cheesecake Cheesecake
6. Tres Leches Coconut Cake Trifle
5. Chocolatey Red Velvet Pull-Apart Bread with Cream Cheese Glaze

4. Chocolate & Coconut Cream Pie Bars
3. Red Velvet Cheesecake-Stuffed Cake Balls
2. Brownie-Bottom Coconut Chocolate Cream Cake

And the top Willow Bird Baking recipe of 2012 is . . .

1. Gooey Chocolate Skillet Cake Ice Cream Sundae!

Happy New Year!

Chocolatey Red Velvet Pull-Apart Bread with Cream Cheese Glaze

“I changed my mind.”

My mom shifted the car into park and turned off the ignition before looking over at me. “What do you mean? You can’t change your mind now; we’re already here.”

I looked out the window at the hair salon and then turned back to my mom. “Can’t I just get a trim, though? I really don’t want short hair. Please.” My 5-year-old voice teetered on the border between whining and shouting.

My mom shook her head. “We already made the appointment and told her what we wanted done. We aren’t spending all this money for just a trim. It’s just hair; it’ll grow back. Come on.”

Before I knew it, I was seated in a pleathery chair in front of a giant mirror, looking at my long blonde locks. Jessica, our hair stylist, sensed my unease. “Let’s just get it over with all at once, okay?” she asked as she tugged it into a ponytail. I could barely nod. A few snips later, my ponytail dropped to the floor with a whisp of finality, and the newly free remnants of my hair fell around my face. They barely reached my ears.

Silent tears began rolling down my cheeks as I calculated how long I’d have to wait to have long hair again.

My hair was really only one facet of my style troubles. In addition to bowl cuts, my mom had a penchant for “hammer pants.” She made many of my outfits by hand, including a hammer-panted onesie (I couldn’t make this up) with candy-pink stripes and gigantic, ceramic ice cream cone buttons. I think it might’ve also had a big lace collar. I posed in it with my bowl cut and a reluctant smile for many a photograph.

Then there was the red-and-denim hammer-panted contraption with the ceramic cow buttons. God bless my mother for sewing clothes for me, seriously, but I considered running away.

At least I was loved? Indeed, my childhood style woes remind me of this quote from food writer Angie Mosier about red velvet cake: “It’s the Dolly Parton of cakes: a little bit tacky, but you love her.”

Incidentally, I think I would’ve rather dressed like Dolly Parton than M.C. Hammer, but that’s neither here nor there.

This red velvet pull-apart bread has all the fun, tacky redness of red velvet with some extra chocolatey goodness thrown in. It began life as a chocolate yeast bread recipe that I modified into a pull-apart loaf. It’s sweet, melty, gooey, and with a cream cheese glaze drizzled over the top, reminiscent of your favorite red velvet desserts. As a plus, there are no hammer pants or bowl cuts in sight.

Tell me about your tackiest fashion choices (or the tackiest fashion “choices” imposed upon you by parents).

Chocolatey Red Velvet Pull-Apart Bread with Cream Cheese Glaze

Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, adapted from Chocolate Bread by Paula Oland of the Balthazar Bakery
Yield: 2 loaves

Pull-apart loaves are downright addictive. Each layer is crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. This loaf is made from yeast dough with a sweet chocolate flavor, hunks of melty chocolate throughout, and a bright red hue! The cream cheese glaze kicks it right over the top. Schedule out the recipe in advance to allow for the rising/resting times and enjoy!

Bread Starter Ingredients:
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup lukewarm water (100-110 degrees F)
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Red Velvet Yeast Bread Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) red food coloring plus 1 tablespoon water
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup minus 3 tablespoons lukewarm water (100-110 degrees F)
1 1/4 teaspoons table salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
vegetable oil for lightly oiling bowl

Filling Ingredients:
3/8 – 1/2 cup granulated sugar (depending on how sweet you like things)
2 tablespoons semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons bittersweet chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli’s 60% cacao)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Cream Cheese Glaze Ingredients:
2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
about 3 tablespoons milk as
mini chocolate chips for sprinkling

Note: In recipes that call for hunks of rising/resting time like this one, I like to draw out my schedule with different size boxes representing “hands on” and “hands off” prep time to get a visual feel for how long it will take. If you’re a visual person like me, drawing out your schedule is a great technique to try! Otherwise, a good old fashion list of what you’re doing at what time would also be beneficial.

Make bread starter: Dissolve the yeast in the 100-110 degree water for about 10 minutes. Completely mix in the flour. Cover the bowl loosely and leave it at room temperature to proof for around 6 hours.

Make red velvet yeast bread: Mix the cocoa powder, red food coloring, and 1 tablespoon water into a paste in a small bowl. In a medium bowl, mix together the paste, flour, 1/3 cup sugar, yeast, water, and 1/4 cup of your bread starter (save the rest to use for other recipes). Let this mixture rest for 15 minutes.

Knead in the salt and butter and then knead for about 10 minutes by hand or about 4 minutes on a mixer fitted with a dough hook, or until smooth and elastic. Scoop dough out into a lightly oiled bowl and cover it with a dish cloth. Let it rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. Leave the dough in the bowl at this point but fold it in thirds like you’d fold a letter. Recover it and let it rest for 30 more minutes.

Shape and bake pull-apart bread: Prepare two 7″x 3″ x2″ loaf pans by greasing them (I use Wilton’s Cake Release, but you could also butter and flour them). Flour a large work surface. Use a dough scraper or sharp knife to help you cut your dough into halves. Turn out half of the dough onto your floured surface, keeping the other half covered.

Roll your dough out to a 15 inch long and 12 inch wide rectangle, lifting corners periodically to make sure it’s not sticking. If it seems to be snapping back, cover it with your damp towel and let it rest for 5 minutes before continuing.

Spread the melted butter over the surface of the dough with a pastry brush and then sprinkle the sugar and chocolate chips over the top, patting them down to ensure they mostly stick. Some will inevitably fall out as you do the following steps — just stuff ’em back in and don’t worry too much about perfection.

With the long edge of the rectangle toward you, cut it into 6 strips (do this by cutting the rectangle in half, then cutting each half into equal thirds. I used a pizza cutter). Stack these strips on top of one another and cut the resulting stack into 6 even portions (again, cut it in half, and then cut the halves into equal thirds). Place these portions one at a time into your greased loaf pan, pressing them up against each other to fit them all in. Cover the pan with your damp cloth and place it in a warm place for 45 minutes to an hour to double in size. Repeat the rolling and cutting process with the second half of dough.

While the dough rises, preheat oven to 350 degrees F (or 325 if you have a glass loaf dish instead of a metal pan). When it’s risen, place the loaf in the center of the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes until dark on top (if you take it out at light brown, it’s liable to be raw in the middle, so let it get good and dark). Cool until just warm on a cooling rack in the loaf pan while you make the glaze.

Make the cream cheese glaze: Beat the cream cheese until fluffy, and then add sugar and vanilla. Add the milk to thin it to drizzling consistency. Drizzle some of the glaze over the slightly warm bread (save the rest for drizzling over individual slices) and sprinkle it with mini chocolate chips. Serve immediately.

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Thick Chocolate Cake with a Big Red (Velvet!) Heart

Okay, confession: I’m actually starting this post on Thursday, February 8. At this moment, I haven’t taken any photos of this cake yet, because I haven’t even baked this cake yet. I’ve only just drafted the recipe. It could be a total cake flop (or another trifle?) But hopefully, by the time I’m finished with this post in a few days’ time, there’ll be a great big gorgeous cake staring at you from the photographs.


I also haven’t driven up to Raleigh for my Valentine’s weekend yet, so I may be totally off-base with the following mushiness (I’m a city girl, so I’m unfazed by your aphoristic “counting-unhatched-chickens” nonsense.)

I’m gonna take a stab at predicting the future and tell you (and hopefully confirm for you later): Mike is the best boyfriend ever.

See, Mike is planning (or, by the time you see this, planned — is this getting confusing?) our Valentine’s celebration this year.

I got him a few presents (this novel, and some astronaut ice cream, because who doesn’t want to eat weird space food?)

I also attempted to paint my toenails for the weekend, but if you follow Willow Bird Baking on Facebook, you know that I actually only managed to make my toes look like they’d been gnawed off by a possum. Romantic?

But other than those little details (and, okay, this gigantic cake), it’s all Mike.

Update, Friday, February 9: Mike just emailed me to tell me to bring something nice to wear to dinner, but that’s my only clue so far. I bought him Reese’s hearts to tuck into his present. And Scooby Doo valentines to hide around his apartment, because I am apparently 5 years old.

I finally baked the cake and filled it with red velvet goodness (spiking the cream cheese frosting with amaretto on the fly was a fantastic choice). Hopefully tomorrow morning will find me frosting, photographing, and hitting the road with Byrd (my smaller, fuzzier valentine).

Update, Saturday, February 10: My suspicions were correct — Mike wins at romantic Valentine’s dinners! He took me to fancy schmancy Coquette in Raleigh, where I had gnocci that tasted just like Thanksgiving (how’d they do that?) and he had a mind-blowing cassoulet. The wind chill might’ve been hovering around negative eleventy billion, but the cockles of my heart were as warm as a . . . well, as a cassoulet. Because I ate a bunch of it.

Update, Sunday, February 11: My suspicions were even more correct — Mike wins at awesome Valentine’s surprises! I’ve been wanting to see Hugo since it came out but haven’t gotten a chance. After Mike and I tried but failed to go see it last time he was in Charlotte, I figured I was going to miss it in theaters entirely. But after church today (and some fantastic pizza), Mike drove me to the movies! Hugo was amazing.

Actually, though, the best thing Mike gave me was a card. He knew it was good when I cried for five solid minutes after reading it (and I’ve read it 3 or 4 times since and cried every time.) The best part: “I love you with all my heart. I’m so glad we’re together this Valentine’s.”

If he thinks he’s glad . . . !

I can now happily report that the cake, also, was a smashing success. It turns out if you combine the best chocolate cake you’ve ever tasted, the best red velvet cake you’ve ever tasted, the best (amaretto!) cream cheese frosting you’ve ever tasted, and the best chocolate frosting you’ve ever tasted, the result will be pretty flippin’ awesome.

What are your Valentine’s plans?

Thick Chocolate Cake with a Big Red (Velvet!) Heart

Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, using chocolate cake and chocolate frosting recipes adapted from Martha Stewart
Yield: 10-12 slices

This is a capital-D Delicious show-stopper of a fancy schmancy special occasion cake. It’s a labor of love; however, even though it’s a lot of steps, they’re all pretty easy to accomplish! To make this cake (and so many others — it’s been a great investment for me), I used a Wilton Heart Tasti-Fill Pan. You can find this pan online or at Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, and probably AC Moore, if you’re looking for one. Or you can also use this tutorial by Amanda at i am baker to create a heart inside your cake without the pan!

Chocolate Cake Ingredients:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/8 cups unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/8 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/8 teaspoons coarse salt
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/8 cups low-fat buttermilk
1/4 cup plus 3 1/2 tablespoons safflower oil
1 1/8 cups warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Red Velvet Cake Filling Ingredients:
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 egg
1 tablespoon cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 ounce (about 2 tablespoons) red food coloring

Amaretto Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients:
2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon amaretto or almond liqueur (optional)

Chocolate Frosting Ingredients:
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
Coarse salt
1 pound semisweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled

NOTE: This cake has a lot of steps, but it’s easy to split up over several days. The cake layers can all be made days in advance (freeze the chocolate ones to make them easier to work with — no need to thaw before you assemble your cake — and stick the red velvet one in an airtight container in the fridge until you’re ready to use it). You can also assemble the cake and refrigerate it the night before you want to frost it (just cover it in the fridge).

Bake red velvet cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 9-inch square baking pan. Cream together shortening, sugar, and eggs. Mix the cocoa and food coloring to form a paste and add this to the shortening mixture. Add the salt and vanilla extract. Add the buttermilk alternately with the flour, beginning and ending with flour. Mix the vinegar and soda together in a small bowl and immediately fold it into the cake batter. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Cool completely. Keep the oven preheated for your chocolate cake.

Make the chocolate cake: Grease the Wilton Heart Tasti-Fill Pan well (You can find this pan at Hobby Lobby or Michael’s, if you’re looking for one, or you can also use this tutorial by Amanda at i am baker to create a heart inside your cake without the pan!). I use Wilton’s Cake Release to grease my pans, but you could also use butter and flour.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and coarse salt together in a mixing bowl. Beat the dry ingredients on low until combined before increasing the speed to medium and adding eggs, buttermilk, warm water, oil, and vanilla. Beat about 3 minutes until the mixture is smooth. Divide it among your prepared pans.

Place the pans in the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with just a few moist crumbs, about 30-35 minutes. Rotate the pans about halfway through so they’ll bake evenly. Let them cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before turning them out onto sheets of wax paper and leaving them to cool completely. Stick them in the freezer so they’ll be easier to work with.

Make the cream cheese frosting: Whip cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Mix in all other frosting ingredients and mix on medium-high speed until combined. When cake is cooled and crumbled, mix the cream cheese frosting in until the mixture has a dough-like consistency.

Make your chocolate frosting: In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa and warm water. In a separate bowl, beat together butter, confectioners’ sugar, and a generous pinch of coarse salt until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the melted chocolate and the cocoa mixture. Let this sit for about 30 minutes before you use it to frost the outside of your cake. (You can assemble the cake while you wait.)

Assemble the cake: Take out your firm-from-the-freezer cake layers and stack them to see if you need to trim the sides with a serrated knife at all. Level them if they need it. Then place them cavity-side up on the counter. Knead your red velvet mixture a bit to make it soft and pliable and pack the cavities of both layers with it, making sure it gets down into the shape of the heart. I smoothed the red velvet mixture level with the back of a spoon.

Spread a touch of chocolate frosting on the middle and outside of the cake layer (not on the red velvet heart) as “glue” and then place the cake layers together (filled sides together, of course). Carefully align your heart. Smooth a very skimpy layer of chocolate frosting (the crumb coat) all over the outside of the cake, brushing away any crumbs, and place the cake in the fridge to harden the frosting and secure the crumbs. After chilling for about 20 minutes, remove the cake and frost completely. Decorate with fantastic sprinkles and lots of love. Serve immediately with ice cream or store, covered, in the fridge. If you store it, zap each slice for 20-30 seconds or let it sit out for 20 minutes or so to let the chocolate frosting soften.

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