Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Chocolate Desserts, Book Challenges and Narrative Non-fiction

I have a big collection of recipes bookmarked, pinned, marked with sticky notes in cookbooks, sometimes printed or torn out of magazines- all waiting patiently for a chance to be debuted in my kitchen. One of them is a showy chocoflan, a composite dessert of chocolate cake and flan that I have wanted to make for years. I own the right-sized bundt pan for this and everything; all it needed was an occasion, and because it makes over a dozen servings, it needed a big enough crowd of eaters, not easy to come by in pandemic times. 

This past weekend, a small group of families did get together. Our Brazilian friends cooked up a tasty and comforting lunch of rice, black beans, collards, and farofa. My daughter and I decided to make the chocoflan for the occasion. 

I used the chocoflan recipe from the Smitten Kitchen blog. With a can of store-bought dulce de leche, and a couple of kitchen appliances (stand mixer for the cake batter, and a blender for the flan), this dessert was very easy to make and not at all the big, complicated project that I had imagined. 

The chocoflan easily serves 12-15 people. The only modifications I made to the recipe:

  • Used decaf instant coffee instead of brewed coffee (because kids would be eating this)
  • Cut down sugar in the cake from 1 cup to 3/4 cup
  • Baked for 1 hour, 40 minutes only (Next time, I'll test at 1 hour and 30 minutes.) 

This recipe is referred to as a "magic", "impossible" dessert because of what happens during baking. When you first set up the bundt pan, the cake batter goes in first, followed by the flan mixture. During baking, they switch places because the flan mixture is denser than the cake mixture, and so when you lift off the foil cover after baking, you see the chocolate cake now on top. Pretty cool! 

To serve with the chocoflan, I made this easy caramel sauce. The taste is about what you would expect- two really good desserts on one plate, a total crowd-pleaser. This dessert is a keeper. 

* * *

My daughter owns a couple of kids' cookbooks and enjoys leafing through them. For Valentine's Day, she made us a chocolate mug cake that was the absolutely perfect sweet treat. The recipe is from America's Test Kitchen's The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs. It makes 2 servings in big mugs but she divided the batter into 4 coffee cups for the four of us and it was a lovely serving size with some vanilla ice cream, and topped with a chocolate kiss! 

This recipe uses simple pantry ingredients. The mug cake is made entirely in the microwave oven, much safer for kids to use on their own as compared to conventional ovens. You just have to remember to use 50% power while making this recipe to avoid scorching the chocolate.

Fudgy Chocolate Mug Cake (For Four)

1. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup flour and 1/2 tsp. baking powder

2. In medium microwave bowl, combine 4 tbsp. butter (cut in a few pieces) and 3 tbsp. dark chocolate chips. Melt in microwave, 1 minute at a time at 50% power.

3. Add 2 large eggs,  scant 1/4 cup sugar, 2 tbsp. cocoa powder, 1 tsp. vanilla extract and 1/8 tsp. salt and whisk in. 

4. Add flour mixture and whisk until smooth.

5. Use a spoon to evenly divide the mixture between 4 coffee cups. 

6. Cook 2 mugs at a time, placing them on opposite sides of the microwave turntable. Cook for 1 minute at 50% power, then stir, and cook for another 45-60 seconds at 50% power. 

7. Let mug cakes cool for 3-5 minutes, then serve! Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream is highly recommended as a topping.

* * *

I’m doing two reading challenges this year- the POPsugar 2022 reading challenge and the Book Riot 2022 reading challenge. The first has 40 prompts and the second has 24 prompts, and I feel 0 pressure to do all or even most of them. I’ll just enjoy the challenges at my own pace. I love hunting down books to fit prompts, and time and again, reading challenges have stretched my reading muscles and led to great reads that I would have otherwise missed out on. 

I just finished The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking, a 2013 narrative nonfiction book by the American author Brendan I. Koerner. It fit the POPsugar prompt Book set on a plane, train or cruise ship, AND also the Book Riot prompt Read a history from a period you know little aboutThis book is a fascinating history of the "golden age" of aircraft hijacking in the United States from 1961 to 1973, when there were hundreds of hijackings in US skies. These incidents were shockingly routine, with sometimes two separate hijackings occurring on the same day. The book is a great romp through the history and politics of the time, and the factors that drove airline policies that we see even today. 

Narrative non-fiction is informative or factual writing that uses storytelling to make it interesting and even entertaining, and is one of my favorite genres. Just for fun, I made the graphic below showing some of the gripping narrative books that I remember vividly, years after reading them. 

6 memorable narrative non-fiction books

What are you cooking and reading this month?


  1. Hi Nupur, Im listening to Frank Bruni's The Beauty of Dusk, and I'm really enjoying it so far. Its very beautifully written ( rather narrated by him, since Im listening to it)

    1. Ah, I will have to look for this book! I loved Frank Bruni's columns in the NYTimes.

  2. Hi Nupur! The chocoflan looks delish! I just ordered the cooking book for kids :) :).
    I am just finished reading Oona out of Order. I would give it 5 stars as the concept was very interesting. Although the book was a little slow and I was frustrated with Oona many times, I could not put it down and wanted more! I am going to start Dava Shastri's Last day. Enjoy your Spring!

    1. I have to look for Oona out of Order- the premise sounds very interesting! I hope your kids enjoy the book :)

  3. Mug cake was a fad some time ago, then kind of went into eclipse, and comes back again from time to time. Most recently, mugs printed with the recipe and cake mixes for mug cake have re-popularized it (showing that maybe people are REALLY lazy?) It does seem kind of amazing that it cooks so quickly.

    Your bundt pan recipe looks really good.

    best... mae at

    1. Yes, I remember the whole mug cakes fad a while back! I never made them at the time. I think the mug cake is a really quick and fun cooking project for kids though. Not having to fuss with the oven is a plus, and also the instant gratification.

  4. I really admire your commitment to these reading challenges. It does sound like you read some interesting books as a result. I love the sound of the book about hijacking - I heard a fascinating podcast about hijacking in the 1970s last year and would love to read more about it.

    I am not quite clear on narrative non-fiction but if it is lyrical and intelligent non-fiction with the author present as narrator then I highly recommend poppy by drusila modjeska and the invisible woman by claire tomalin.

    And that cake sounds so lovely - as does your get together with your friends

    1. Hi Johanna, yes, I truly find some gems via these reading challenges. I'm reading another great narrative nonfiction right now- Miracle in the Andes, an amazing survival story following a plane crash in the mountains.

  5. Hi, nupur, happy birthday month and hope you are having a good spring. I've slowly been getting back to the kitchen since Feb occasionally making lunches in the instant pot for my 6 year old. I've made maplechutney's instant pot tomato rice, veg pulao, upma etc. I recently read a couple of non fiction books I loved and fully recommend. 'whole numbers and half truths' helped me understand today's India well with the help of data, its not exactly a pretty picture but an important one. I also recently enjoyed 'lady doctors' by Kavitha rao, a stunning portrayal of Indians pioneering women in medicine. I think you will enjoy the latter.

    1. Thank you so much! Spring has been great, I am super grateful for warm sunny weather. I love making upma in the instant pot, it turns out so beautiful. And pulaos and tomato rice are so quick to make in there.

      Thanks for your awesome book recos. I'm going for look for both books- they sound fascinating!

  6. I've read three of these books - Bad Blood, Into Thin Air and just finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Other similar works that I recommend:
    - Midnight in Chernobyl, a fascinating and chilling account of the nuclear disaster. Reads almost like a thriller even though we know the tragic ending
    - Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a moving work of reporting set in a Mumbai slum
    - The Seasons of Trouble, a book that follows three people through the Sri Lankan civil war
    - Being Mortal, not sure this fits the genre but I believe this book should be required reading for all adults. And Atul Gawande is a good author

    1. Midnight in Chernobyl is on my list to read very soon!

      Behind the Beautiful Forevers, I know about this book and know it will be heartbreaking and I cannot bear to pick it up.

      The Seasons of Trouble sounds interesting; I had not heard of it.

      Being Mortal I have read and agree with you that it should be required reading! (Although I hesitate to recommend it to the elders in my family because talking about mortality feels like a taboo...)


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