dark chocolate plum cake


today marks a month since i moved in to college! here’s a timeline of some (lena’s lunchbox-related) events that have happened so far:

august 28: i started marketing immediately, plastering my door with cake photos and posting in the GW facebook group. i figured it would take a while to get my name out there, and planned to start getting permits and learning about D.C.’s food service regulations in the meantime.

september 1: i tested out the kitchen in my residence hall by baking a chocolate layer cake, then i used it for a free giveaway for people on my floor. people started calling me “cake girl.”

september 4: i got my first cake order! a parent of an american university student found my yelp page and ordered a dozen red velvet cupcakes to be delivered to her son on his birthday.

september 5: a reporter from the hatchet, GW’s student newspaper, interviewed me for a story about lena’s lunchbox.

september 6: thanks to my yelp page and word of mouth, i got three cake orders in a day.

september 8 – 10: i spent the weekend baking and uber-ing around D.C. to deliver cakes.

september 11: the story ran in the hatchet and was shared widely across social media. i received eight new cake orders (and turned down all but one).

september 12: a reporter from the washington post saw the hatchet article and took an interest in my business. i agreed to do an interview with her. later that day, my RA shot me an email pointing out that it’s against the rules to run a business from a residence hall. i relayed this to the wapo reporter, and she became even more interested in the story. i set up a meeting with a university official. my business was in limbo; i stopped taking orders.

september 13: the reporter came with a photographer and a GW representative. they talked to me and took photos in my dorm room.

september 14: i met with GW’s head of housing and he was super helpful, encouraging me to keep lena’s lunchbox going and offering to help me locate a new kitchen.

september 15 – 19: i received about 5 orders every day and turned ’em all down.

september 20: the story went live on the washington post’s website. the editor of american cake decorating magazine invited me to write a guest column, and i got super excited at the prospect of getting to WRITE (instead of being interviewed!).

september 21: i had the surreal experience of going to starbucks, buying a newspaper, and opening it to see a huge photo of my face on the front page of the washington post’s metro section. several business owners contacted me about possibly using their commercial kitchens! the story trended at #3 on the washington post’s website, and i tried to ignore all the trolls in the comments.

september 22: i got lots of supportive messages from strangers, encouraging me to continue lena’s lunchbox as best i can. a few tv studios reached out, interested in developing a reality show about me. LOL.

definitely a wild first month! it’s been crazy balancing all this stuff with schoolwork and trying to make friends, but i’m figuring it out. moving forward, i think i’m going to try to focus on blogging and baking things for friends (for free), but the business part of my brain is still churning away. i plan on spending the next few weeks working with people to find a kitchen and to make sure i’m following all of D.C.’s regulations.

anyway. this is a food blog, so here’s a recipe for a chocolate plum cake i made a few months ago!


  • 1.5 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 3/4 cup hot coffee
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup dark chocolate cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt

plum buttercream

  • 3/4 cups (1 1/2 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp milk or heavy cream
  • 2 plums, diced

chocolate buttercream

  • 3/4 cups (1 1/2 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup milk or heavy cream

for the cake, preheat the oven to 300º. grease a half-sheet pan and line with parchment paper. pour the hot coffee over the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and let sit for a few minutes, until the chocolate has melted, then stir until smooth. beat the eggs in a stand mixer until thick and lemon colored. add in the chocolate mixture, oil, buttermilk, and vanilla. mix in the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. mix until well incorporated. pour the batter into the pan and bake for 20 minutes, or until just set. let cool completely in the pan.

for the plum buttercream, combine the butter, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and cream them together on medium high until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. add the milk or cream and mix for another minute, then fold in the plums.

for the chocolate buttercream, combine the butter, sugar, salt, and cocoa powder in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and cream them together on medium high for 5 to 7 minutes, until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. scrape down the sides of the bowl. stream in the milk or cream and beat until the mixture is silky smooth and a glossy.

to assemble, use a 6-inch cake ring to stamp out 3 circles from the cake. clean the cake ring, and place it on a cutting board or sheet pan, then use a strip of acetate, wax paper, or parchment paper to line the inside of the cake ring. put some cake scraps together inside the ring and use the back of your hand to form the scraps together into an even layer. use the back of a spoon to spread one quarter of the chocolate buttercream over the cake, then spread on one third of the plum buttercream. repeat with the next three cake layers, topping the last one with only chocolate buttercream. transfer the sheet pan to the freezer, and freeze for 12 hours to set the cake. serve at room temperature.

4 thoughts on “dark chocolate plum cake

  1. Awesome!! I love that you are rolling along with all this, and continue to try to find a balance between this new-found fame, school, friends, and doing what you obviously LOVE!! It is ESPECIALLY important to ignore the trolls!!! Wherever they are – online or in person.
    I’m a friend of your aunt Laurie, and I have family in the DC area. I’ve let them know about you!
    Carry on! So many exciting possibilities are before you! What a life you will have!!

  2. Congrats on the Post article,your dad shared it with me. So glad you chose the east coast so I have some marginal chance he will bring goodies into work!! You continue to be your awesome self girl you will go many many new places.

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