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The universe is keen on keeping me humble, and testing the loaf cake featured today is a perfect example of its commitment to crushing my ego.

I had all my ingredients out and fully prepped, when suddenly, before my mind's eye, was the giant to-do list I meant to start days ago but neglected. I reminded my rush of anxiety that I could still get everything done as I simultaneously began measuring the flour into the batter. As I mixed the batter it seemed thicker than previous tests, so I put the bowl back on the scale (that luckily hadn't shut off yet). Lo and behold, the bold numbers read the wrong amount.

It took me a full minute to accept responsibility for my mistake; I had added too much flour while my mind wandered. I pushed forward with the recipe and, predictably, the cake baked up dry, dense and disappointing.

We often talk about external factors in baking, but internal factors also influence our concentration and can alter how we execute a recipe. Some days, baking can be a good and helpful distraction, and the intense focus on measuring and whisking can help one feel calm and centered. However, there are times when life is overwhelming and distracts us from being fully present. A poor interaction at work, a disagreement with a loved one, or an upsetting news story can throw our concentration off balance. Our internal world often affects our external actions.

Fortunately, there are some simple steps to help hone our concentration that consistently lead to good outcomes. Reading through the recipe completely is essential. Measuring out all the ingredients before starting (mise en place) is a great way to double-check that you have everything you need, and in the right amounts. Relying on your senses is also important. Using your eyes and nose will help you recognize when your baked goods are done. For example, if your banana bread is still doughy in the middle even though the noted baking time has elapsed, it is OK to keep it in the oven longer. And know yourself: If you are starting a baking project with heavy emotions, remind yourself to go slow and double-check your work.

Our shared reality is that we are imperfect humans who make mistakes, new and experienced bakers alike, no matter how many times a recipe has been made. Using every tool in your baker's toolbox, both internal and external, is a recipe for (delicious) success.

Chocolate Loaf Cake

Makes 1 (8-inch) loaf cake.

Note: This cake is a riff on my favorite chocolate cake, which bakes up into a wonderful loaf cake. I use dark brown sugar, which has more molasses and provides a richer flavor, but light brown sugar also works well here. You can substitute hot water for the coffee. From Sarah Kieffer.

• 1 c. (200 g) dark brown sugar (see Note)

• 1/2 c. (120 g) sour cream, at room temperature

• 1/3 c. (75 g) vegetable oil

• 1/3 c. (35 g) Dutch-process cocoa powder

• 2 large eggs, at room temperature

• 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

• 1 tsp. baking soda

• 1/2 tsp. baking powder

• 1/2 tsp. salt

• 1 c. (142 g) all-purpose flour

• 1/2 c. (120 g) strong, freshly brewed coffee, hot (see Note)

• 3 oz. (85 g) semisweet chocolate, chopped into bite-size pieces


Adjust an oven rack to the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch loaf pan and line with a parchment sling.

In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, sour cream, oil, cocoa powder, eggs, vanilla, baking soda, baking powder and salt until completely combined. Add the flour and use a rubber spatula to stir it into the batter. Pour the hot coffee over the cake batter and gently mix until incorporated. Add the chopped chocolate and mix again until combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, then bake for 42 to 50 minutes, until a wooden skewer or toothpick comes out with the tiniest bit of crumb. Transfer the cake to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Use the parchment sling to remove the cake from the pan, then remove the parchment paper and let the cake cool completely. Once cool, the cake can be sliced and served, or wrapped in plastic and refrigerated overnight.

A tip to remember

Throughout my recipes, 1 cup of flour equals 142 g. Weighing your flour instead of using cup measurements is the surest way to get the result I intended when developing the recipe. Also remember that baking times are a guideline; many home ovens are not properly calibrated, and this can affect the outcome. An inexpensive oven thermometer is a helpful tool.

Sarah Kieffer is a Minnesota baker, cookbook author and creator of the Vanilla Bean Blog. Follow her on Instagram at @sarah_kieffer.