Red Wine Chocolate Birthday Cake + Pittsburgh

Red wine chocolate cake + goat cheese soak + brownie batter frosting + red wine glazed popcorn. Whoa. Prepare to have your mind blown.

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It is my best friend’s 24th birthday this week! Kaitlin is officially about to enter her mid-20s. Terrifying. I know if anyone could be graceful about this transition it’s her.


Well…graceful enough 😉

When you’re as close to someone as Kaitlin and I are, getting together is really precious. We talk constantly and share everything with each other. Let’s just say we are more intimate about the going’s-on in our lives than most couples are. There is no shred of mystery in this relationship whatsoever.

Kaitlin and I have many things in common. We both love pink, bows, cheese, Kate Spade, and Mindy Project. We also both have a huge weakness for red wine. When we plan our weekends, we talk about how much wine to bring. We’re not kidding when we say Olivia Pope is our spirit animal. In fact, Scandal is one of our favorite shows to watch, and a huge glass of red is mandatory for viewing. Preferably a cheese plate will accompany that wine.

Kaitlin and I had the chance to get together this weekend in Pittsburgh to see each other and celebrate her birthday a few days early! Even though I knew we’d only have about 30 hours together, I vowed to make the best of it. Part of this was making her birthday really special because I knew she would be studying her butt off for her nursing program on her real birthday.


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Kaitlin is obsessed with zoos and aquariums, so we made sure to make that a prime location to visit. Just look at the pictures if you don’t believe me!


We saw as much of Pittsburgh in the small amount of time we had through bars and restaurants around the city. Tough job, I know.

I wanted to make the most Kaitlin-esque cake possible. So obviously this means lots of wine, cheese, chocolate, and pink. I decided to take a classic chocolate cake recipe, tweak it with some wine, and trash up the rest of it until my creativity ran out. A red wine and sweetened goat cheese soak goes on top of the cake followed by Izy’s brownie batter frosting, red wine glazed popcorn (because Olivia Pope chows down on popcorn almost as much as she guzzles red wine), and some sprinkles for good measure knowing that after my cake made the journey it wouldn’t look as elegant as it did in the pictures. Sprinkles always help with that.

Cheers Kaitlin! You truly are a remarkable person, and I wish we could see each other more often. I can’t wait until we live together in the (hopefully) near future! Until then, our late night texts, drunk phone calls, Mindy snapchats, and emotional hellos and goodbyes will have to do.

As there are many components to this birthday cake, I’m picking the most important aspect to chat about. A great, moist, flavorful chocolate cake has two secrets to its success. The first is having a large liquid to solid ratio. Thin cake batter always used to make me nervous, but the thinner, the better. Having extra water in a cake has some amazing results. The water hydrates the starch ensuring complete gelatinization. If the water evaporates before gelatinization occurs, the crumb will be dry because the starch will never swell and soften. Of course, ensuring that you don’t over-bake your cake will keep your cake moist too. Just a few minutes of over-baking will completely dry out your cake evaporating too much water.

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The second secret to chocolate cake is having a slightly bitter flavor to highlight the cocoa. Most cake recipes use coffee. Coffee wouldn’t be described as a subtle ingredient, but when combined with chocolate in a cake recipe, you can’t taste coffee unless you add a rather large amount. Coffee’s flavor notes are bitter as are cocoa’s. These similar notes intensify working well with each other. While other cake ingredients create a great tasting cake, coffee makes cake more chocolate-y. I replaced the coffee with dry red wine as they both have similar compositions. Coffee and wine are predominantly water with dissolved solids. They both have bitter profiles which is important as I explained above, but red wine is more complex and full in the mouth. This extra body works even better than the coffee as it highlights the cocoa and adds a little extra oomph to the cake. That being said, you really can’t taste the wine just as you can’t taste the coffee. Be sure to use a dry red wine, because you don’t want to be adding extra sugar to the cake.

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This cake is of epic proportions, and you just may want to eat it for breakfast the day after! Which Kaitlin and I may have done…What can we say? We love everything sugar and wine.

Red wine chocolate birthday cake


Adapted from Something Blue Bakery

Makes 6 cupcakes and a personal-sized cake, or about 10 cupcakes

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup vegetable oil

½ cup milk (preferably 2%)

½ cup dry red wine

1 egg

½ teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350⁰F. Combine dry ingredients and sift together getting rid of any clumps in the cocoa powder. Add the red wine and beat until combined. Add the oil and milk slowly while mixing. Continue to beat until well-combined. Pause to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.

2. Add the egg and vanilla beating until your batter is homogenous. Your batter will be pretty thin—this is supposed to happen! Don’t worry.

3. Pour batter into cupcake liners or greased and floured pans. This batter doesn’t rise as much as a vanilla cake, so you should fill your pans/cups about ¾ full. Bake for about 15-20 minutes rotating once during the baking process or until a toothpick comes out cleanly. Take care to not over-bake! Baking time depends on cake size. At Something Blue, we used the general rule of 20 minutes for cupcakes and 40 minutes for cake layers.

4. Let the cake cool completely before frosting or inverting the cake.

Goat cheese soak

3 oz softened goat cheese

¼ cup dry red wine

2 tablespoons sugar

1. Whisk all ingredients together and refrigerate until use.

Brownie batter frosting

From Top With Cinnamon

See Izy’s site for the recipe—I didn’t change anything!

Red wine glazed popcorn

1 cup dry red wine

1 ¼ cup sugar

1 bag plain microwave popcorn

1. Pop popcorn in the microwave, and set aside.

2. Over high heat, boil the red wine and sugar. Using a heat-resistant rubber spatula, stir semi-constantly to avoid burning. Boil until the syrup is reduced to about half of the volume. This is a practice-makes-perfect thing, as I didn’t use a thermometer. I definitely regret it. Add the popcorn too early, it disintegrates into the syrup. Boil the syrup too long, and the popcorn will be too chewy like a caramel. When you scrape across the bottom of the pot, your trail should remain for a couple seconds before the syrup flows back.

3. Once your syrup is reduced, add the popcorn and mix well to coat. Spread out the glazed popcorn on a piece of parchment. When it is completely cooled, break up the popcorn chunks and store in an air-tight container until use.


1. If you made cake layers, even them so that they are all the same size and level. Assemble the first layer or cupcakes on your plate or platter and drizzle with goat cheese soak. Continue with cake layers until used up if making a layered cake. Over the top, drizzle with warmed brownie batter frosting. Just before serving add the popcorn (and sprinkles, if desired). The popcorn will become soggy if left on the cake for longer than an hour.

Enjoy the cake, and be sure to watch an episode of Scandal while you do it!

Happy birthday Kaitlin!




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