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the time i needed

Recipe: pumpkin cake with chocolate ganache and salted caramel cream cheese frosting

Last Friday, I cleared everything off the calendar to spend the day with my good friend, Kat. We don’t get to see one another very often, but when we do, it’s always special. Special, not because we have a lot in common (which we do and we don’t), but because we cherish many of the same things in life. And when I say things, I mean non-things like time, relationships, qualities, experiences, moments. Whenever I spend time with Kat, I learn something about her which in turn makes me learn about myself. Sometimes it’s an “ah-ha!” moment and other times it’s an idea that has been simmering in my head when she comes along and moves it to the front burner.


obligatory shoe shot at ya ya farm & orchard

two very sweet donkeys

and there was lunch at pizzeria locale

nom nom pizzas



It was a lovely start to the weekend, which was spent mostly working rather than going out to a number of social events. Social is fine. Social can be good. But sometimes I need to shut all of that down and have a weekend with no obligations to anyone but Jeremy and Kaweah. We are catching up with fall and preparing for winter in the mountains.

kaweah under freshly laundered dog towels just out of the dryer



Jeremy trimmed dead and mistletoe-infested branches around the property while I dragged them away to the slash pile. Kaweah watched us work from the front porch until I took the last bunch of dead branches down. She came bounding after me, gently closing her teeth on a nice branch. She wanted to play. It’s been a while since Kaweah has been frisky enough to play, so I let her have the branch. She followed me to the slash pile, parading with her branch in her mouth. I said “drop” and she put the stick down. I chucked it into the pile. She dove in after it. Repeat. Kaweah will be 14 years old in two months, so I tend to let her do whatever she wants these days. I let her keep the stick. But she wanted more than that. So I took the stick and threw it a short distance into the yard. And she ran after it, her stiff hind legs stumbling a little, but she didn’t seem to mind at all she was having so much fun. She brought it back to me. We did this a dozen times – more than she has EVER fetched (usually she would run to the object, pick it up and continue running away) until the sun went down behind the Continental Divide.

I guess I too am feeling recharged and energized. Energized and enthusiastic enough to attempt a cake. There are cakes and then there are cakes. I personally prefer easy cakes which you serve immediately after turning it out of a pan with minimal futzing. That is a level 1 cake in my book. This is not that kind of cake. This is considered a level 2 cake which involves layers of cake and other components and some sort of decoration. [Level 3 cakes are works of art with multiple tiers and I refuse to even think about them.]


yes, now we can do pumpkin (eggs, milk, spices, brown sugar, vegetable oil, pumpkin purée, flour, leavenings)

butter and flour the pans

mix the dry ingredients



The idea of a pumpkin layer cake has floated every autumn, but it wasn’t until this weekend that I finally implemented it. Making any new cake recipe always runs the risk of a major failure around here because I never know how stable the cake will be at my altitude. This pumpkin cake turned out well for me with a slight reduction in the leavenings (baking soda and baking powder).

mixing the wet ingredients

alternate adding dry ingredients with the milk

pour the batter into your prepared pans



The original recipe makes two 8-inch round cakes. I don’t own 8-inch rounds, so I increased the recipe by 50% and made two 9-inch rounds (in 9×3-inch pans). While the cakes were baking, I prepared the frosting. Ellen (of Helliemae’s Salt Caramels) recently gifted me a jar of her amazing salted caramel sauce and I knew exactly what I wanted to make with it: salted caramel cream cheese frosting. Sounds like a good match for pumpkin cake, doesn’t it?

salted caramel sauce and cream cheese (not pictured: butter and confectioner’s sugar)

spoon that lovely dark caramel in

whipped into a silky, soft frosting



The cream cheese frosting is soft, which is how I wanted it for assembly. It will firm up in the refrigerator which is good for storing the cake after it is assembled. I used all eight ounces of the salted caramel sauce, but it’s really to taste. If you can’t source salted caramel sauce, you can make your own (try Michelle’s recipe at Brown Eyed Baker). I also wanted a touch of chocolate in there. Chocolate has a tendency to dominate certain flavor pairings, pumpkin included. But I recently tried some chocolate-dipped pumpkin fudge and the thin coating of dark chocolate was just enough to enhance without overpowering the pumpkin. I figured a thin layer of dark chocolate ganache might be the ticket.

chocolate and cream

stir hot cream and chocolate until smooth and dark



The cakes baked up nicely with only mild doming. I don’t mind doming, because I always lop the tops off anyway (to taste the cake and because I want uniform thickness in my cake layers). If you butter and flour your pans, the cakes release easily. After they cooled, I trimmed the tops and then cut each cake into two layers. It’s important to make sure the ganache is not completely cooled or else you might have a hard time spreading a thin enough layer on the cake. I just wanted a touch of chocolate, not a honking thick layer of ganache. Having the salted caramel cream cheese frosting soft rather than chilled makes it easier to spread a layer on top of the ganache without mixing the two together.

cooling cakes

slicing layers

spread a thin layer of chocolate ganache

then a thicker layer of salted caramel cream cheese



Repeat for each layer. Word to the wise: I wouldn’t do this on a hot day without air conditioning, because the chocolate and frosting might be a little too oozy, making it difficult to stack the layers. As it was, our high was 47°F and we had the windows open to keep everything from dripping off the workspace. You don’t have to decorate the cake with anything at all, or you can top it with candied nuts or a drizzle of caramel or a drizzle of chocolate or you could do what I did and spend too much time swearing while making chocolate scrolls and “ruffles” (I use the term loosely).

crumb coat the cake before frosting

garnished

from above



It has an autumny look to it, doesn’t it? Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that it is more reminiscent of the Blair Witch Project, but what really matters is how it tastes. It tastes great. The pumpkin cake is moist and full of warm spices. It’s surprisingly light too. That earthy pumpkin goes well with the tang of the cream cheese and the bang of the salted caramel. The tiny bit of chocolate lends a hint of deep, smooth decadence without stealing the show. It is not overly sweet (which I like!) and all of the layers melt in your mouth. If Joseph Gordon-Levitt came to my house for dinner, I would totally make this cake for him. You too, Mr. Fassbender…

plenty of love to share



Pumpkin Cake with Chocolate Ganache and Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting
[print recipe]
based on this recipe from Food and Wine

pumpkin cake (modified for two 9-inch pans, see original recipe for 8-inch pans)
3 cups flour
3 3/8 tsps baking powder (2 tsps at 8500 ft.)
1 1/8 tsps baking soda (1 tsp at 8500 ft.)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
3/8 tsp ground cloves
1 7/8 cups light brown sugar
6 eggs
1 1/8 cups vegetable oil
22.5 oz pumpkin purée (1.5 15-oz. cans)
3/4 cup milk

salted caramel cream cheese frosting
1 lb. cream cheese, softened
2 oz. unsalted butter, softened
8 oz. salted caramel sauce
4 cups confectioner’s sugar

chocolate ganache
4 oz. semi-sweet dark chocolate, chopped
5 oz. heavy cream

Make the pumpkin cake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9-inch round baking pans (I used 9×3-inch pans). Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves together. Set aside. Place the light brown sugar and eggs in a mixing bowl and beat on medium until fluffy. Beat in the oil and the pumpkin purée. Alternate adding half of the dry ingredients to the batter with half of the milk and mix until blended. Repeat with remain halves of the dry ingredients and the milk. Pour half of the batter into each baking pan and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. It took me 50 minutes. Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool in their baking pans for 20 minutes. Invert the cakes onto cooling racks.

Make the salted caramel cream cheese frosting: Place the softened cream cheese and butter into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until creamy with a paddle attachment. Scrape the sides down and beat the frosting a few times. Mix in the salted caramel sauce. Add the confectioner’s sugar a cup at a time, first mixing it slowly (it poofs about) and then beating it in on high speed. Repeat until all of the sugar is mixed in. Set aside, or if the cream cheese frosting is very runny, place in the refrigerator.

Make the chocolate ganache: Place the chocolate in a small or medium bowl. Heat the cream until it begins to simmer and steam, then remove from heat and pour over the chocolate. Let the cream sit for a few minutes, then stir the chocolate and cream together until a smooth, shiny ganache forms. Set aside (but don’t let the ganache cool and harden).

Assemble the cake: Trim any domed tops off both cakes and discard (i.e. eat them). Slice each cake into two layers of similar thickness. Set a base layer down (the bottom of one of the cakes will be on the bottom – reserve the other bottom for the top) on top of a cake board or on strips of wax paper underlying the edges of the cake. Spread a third of the chocolate ganache on the cake, then spread a half cup (or more) of the salted caramel cream cheese frosting over the ganache. Gently set a second layer of cake on the base layer and repeat. For the last cake layer, which should be a bottom layer, invert it so the cut side is face down and the base is on the top of the cake. Spread a thin layer of the cream cheese frosting around the sides (crumb coat), then frost the entire cake. Garnish as you like with chocolate shavings, candied nuts, drizzle of caramel or chocolate. Serves 10-12. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

78 nibbles at “the time i needed”

  1. Nina, Brittany says:

    Dear Jen,
    This is such a beautiful cake … breathtaking! I really love everything about your blog :- the stories, the photographs , the recipes and Kaweah ! You are such an inspiration to me. Thank you for sharing.

    Nina

  2. sweetmaddy says:

    this looks delicious, i would totally make it but french people aren’t crazy about pumpkin! :( i looooove jgl too! isn’t he the CUTEST?

  3. Hans says:

    OK, this is what I;m making next weekend. I like the overhead view. It looks “explosiony”.

  4. Kristin says:

    Wow! I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had chocolate and pumpkin together, but this is gorgeous! And salted caramel cream cheese icing?! YUM! And hooray for frisky old pups!

  5. Nicole @ The Girl Who Ate Boston says:

    You’re used to hearing this by now, I’m sure, but your photography is stunning. I especially love the composition of that last photo, with the cake slice in focus and the larger cake in the background out of focus.

    Also, “salted caramel cream cheese frosting” is one of the most mouthwatering phrases I have heard in a long time.

  6. carrian says:

    Ummmmm, please teach me your ways in baking, photographing etc. This looks amazing. Love it!

  7. Stephanie says:

    This looks absolutely amazing! The garnish is perfect!

  8. Irene from Rollinsville says:

    Stunning cake! Love the idea of the salted caramel frosting…. mmm.
    I just love it when old dogs have a good day — I remember that from a few years ago, the fragile joy of it.

  9. Donna says:

    Wow, that cake looks wonderful!

    Planting a smooch on Kaweah’s head, she is such a sweetheart!

  10. Julia @ JuliasAlbum.com says:

    Beautiful looking cake! And the construction on top of it is off the charts.

  11. the slim duck says:

    Simply spectacular. Wow!

  12. Liz N says:

    The cake is absolutely stunning! Can’t wait to make this for Thanksgiving! My family and I will be making a trip to Ya Ya Farms ourselves in a couple of weeks for their Apple Fest. It’ll be our first time!

  13. Debbie says:

    That’s a beautiful cake! It looks delicious and I love the picture of Kaweah!!!

  14. Pauline says:

    Wow!! That cake looks amazing.

  15. Margie says:

    I’m pretty sure this is an illegal item in Texas. Look for me to have a number below my photo. I’ll be available for viewing at your local post office. Soon. Real. Soon…

    (Your cake is B E A U T I F U L !)

  16. Jess says:

    Pumpkin cake? Totally. Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Absolutely!

  17. Holly says:

    That looks like a level 3 cake to me.

  18. Teresa says:

    That cake is a work of art! If that’s a 2, look out 3. I just made your nutella brownies last night to take to my kiddies at school. They will love me forever (or at least until tomorrow).
    Love your posts and photographs.

  19. farmerpam says:

    I made the apple fritters yesterday and they were a big hit! I loved to her that Kaweah had a burst of energy. Sweet ol’ gal.

  20. Jamie P says:

    Your paragraph about Kaweah gripped my heart and gave me tears.

  21. Jill says:

    First let me say that those purples are definitely Kaweah’s colors! Such an expressive dog. Lovely that the weekend was all fun.
    And now, this cake! Oh my….if this is level 2….look out! I just want to eat a spoonful of the salted caramel. Yum-o!

    A delightful post! Thank you…….!

  22. Andrea M says:

    I knew we were friends. LOVE joseph gordon levitt! ;)

  23. Natalie says:

    Mmmm…! Now I want to make cake, but I still have a pie in the fridge that needs to be eaten up.

    Pumpkin, salted caramel and chocolate sounds heavenly though…~~

  24. Fall Into It: Favorite Fall Recipes | hungrygirlporvida.com says:

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  25. Susie says:

    What do you feed Kaweah? She looks like a pup!

  26. Susan @ SGCC says:

    That cake is soooo beautiful! I love the chocolate scrolls! I could never get that5 to work here. Too damn hot. The chocolate melts before it hits its target.

  27. Shut Up & Cook says:

    Oh hooray, hooray…Fall is here. And this cake is absolutely stunning.

    Love Pizzeria Locale…such a treat.

  28. Megan says:

    OMG that looks good. And if baking this cake would bring Fassbender to my house, I would make it right now. Maybe I’ll try it anyway. Worst case, I’ll still have awesome cake!

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  30. Laurie says:

    I keep coming back to this cake, just to look at it. I am making it my Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Holiday Challenge! It looks so amazing, thanks for posting!

  31. swan says:

    holy toledo batman! what a cake! if i have a couple of cocktails, i may attempt it…happy fall to you three. kaweah still looks wonderful!

    swan in san ramon

  32. Russell at Chasing Delicious says:

    This cake looks incredible! I love the look of it too!

  33. Rocky Mountain Woman says:

    That’s a level 10 cake in my book!

  34. Ruth says:

    So happy to hear that Kaweah still has the autumn thrill in her!
    And the recipe sounds lovely, too.

  35. Rachel Wong says:

    The whole process leading up to the completed cake was fun but omfgwtfkbbq that decoration!!! That is amazing!!! And yes, love Gordon-Levitt and Michael Fassbender <3 This blog is like my one source of happiness right now… stupid mid terms =_=

  36. This and That | Two Peas & Their Pod says:

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  37. Kelly says:

    This looks absolutely amazing!! Beautiful and delicious :)

  38. Kasha the FarmGirl says:

    Oh good heavens! I wouldn’t share this with anyone.

    I’d just sit there in my sweats with a fork and big cup of coffee and eat every. last. bite.

  39. Peggy says:

    This cake is gorgeous! It’s the absolute epitome of fall =)

  40. Bebe says:

    The picture of Kaweah amongst her towels is my absolute favorite of her!

  41. Susan says:

    WOW!! I went looking for candied orange peel recipes…and found YOU!!! …I had to keep reading..and looking…and reading!!!! and Looking..while my tummy grumbled at me to go in the kitchen and create!!!
    I moved to high elevation 4500ft a few years ago, and always having to adapt my baking, I could tell you some horror stories from my first experiments!!!! SO..I LOVE LOVE LOVE how you give alternate instructions…AND as everyone has said…your Photography is outstanding!!

  42. Mrs Ergül says:

    Flavours and looks totally apt for the season! I have no patience for the scrolls much less the ruffles! I have never thought of making a pumpkin cake but this and you combined made me think otherwise!

  43. jenyu says:

    Nina – thank you, you’re such a dear xo

    sweetmaddy – he’s adorable!

    Hans – ha ha! Thanks :)

    Kristin – yeah, I was worried the chocolate might be too much, but if you just add a little, it really works. And yes, frisky pups are always so nice!

    Nicole – thank you, sweetie.

    carrian – ha ha, I’m just a little OCD!

    Stephanie – it’s far from perfect, but thank you!! :)

    Irene – truly. We do our best to make their days as good as possible.

    Donna – awww, thank you! She appreciates the love.

    Julia – thanks!

    the slim duck – thank you.

    Liz – I won’t be here for the fest, but it sounds awesome. Have a great time!

    Debbie – thank you :)

    Pauline – thanks!

    Margie – thank you.

    Jess – ha ha ha!!

    Holly – no, I’ve judged level 3 cakes before – this is like 1.8.

    Teresa – huh, I don’t think I’ve ever made nutella brownies before, but more power to ya!

    farmerpam – :)

    Jamie – awww, she’s happy. That’s all that matters :)

    Jill – you can get the salted caramel from Helliemae’s (I’m sure she is stocked locally too – check her website for details)

    Andrea – hee hee. My readers have good taste ;)

    Natalie – it’s a nice combo! Not too sweet, but definitely dessert.

    Susie – I feed her Iams senior food. I know people get on my case about feeding her Iams, but that’s what she’s been eating all these years and when I asked her vet about changing the food, he said he didn’t think it was necessary at this stage in her life unless she exhibits problems. I really believe that Kaweah just has excellent genetics. She has been problem-free healthwise most of her life, only seeing a few age-related issues in the last two years.

    Susan – oh, you Floridians :) Love you, sweetheart! xo

    Shut Up & Cook – isn’t it?

    Megan – hi-larious!!

    Laurie – wow, I hope you can convert it!

    swan – thank you xo

    Russell – thanks!

    Rocky Mountain Woman – ahhh, a little practice and it’ll feel like a 2 in no time :)

    Ruth – thank you :)

    Rachel – I hope the midterms went well and are over!

    Kelly – thanks, you’re very kind.

    Kasha – ha ha, but it’s a pretty large cake!

    Peggy – it even looks fallish, doesn’t it?

    Bebe – she likes the snuggy warmth when it gets cold :)

    Susan – thanks for visiting. Just a note – at 4500 ft in elevation, you *may* not need to adjust your recipes much if at all. When I’ve baked in Boulder (5300 ft) the adjustments there versus at my house (8500 ft) are very different at times. Good luck!

    Mrs. Ergül – I don’t have the patience either. That’s why I’m never doing these stupid chocolate decorations again ;)

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  45. Soria says:

    It’s simply gorgeous !!! You are so talented !!

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  47. Jessica H says:

    My best friend and I made this cake today- it was AMAZING…seriously, one of the best cakes I have ever had. However, the chocolate and the cream cheese icing were really really runny and so it looked bad- but OH MY was it good. We made the caramel sauce- which i could have ate with a spoon- then into the cream cheese- well lets just say there were some strange sounds in my kitchen while licking utensils!! Any ideas on how or why the icings were runny would be appreciated because I WILL make this again…and again…and again…and to those wondering- it took some time but was fairly easy!

  48. Jessica H says:

    Oh PS. I used real pumpkin in the cake and added 1.5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon sugar and the cake was SO moist! Also, the cake baked up nice and firm in 38 minutes- so make sure you poke test!

  49. carolyn richer says:

    hi is this the recipie i tried at william sonoma? was so good

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  51. Tiffany says:

    OH. MY. GOSH!! Looks out of this world! Can’t wait!

  52. Lisa says:

    Can you share how you made the chocolate shavings? They’re gorgeous!

  53. Pumpkin Pie Stuffed Chocolate Cupcakes (+ salted caramel cream cheese frosting and chocolate ganache) | The Pancake Princess and the Protein Prince says:

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  54. jenyu says:

    Jessica H – If it was warm in your kitchen, the frosting will be pretty running. The chocolate ganache will also need a little time to “set up”. It’s very runny when warm, but as it cools, it begins to stiffen. You want to spread it just a few ticks shy of stiff so that it is easily spreadable, but almost cool enough to set. If your chocolate ganache is just too runny, you can always increase the amount of chocolate used by a tad, but you don’t want it to be too hard when you serve it chilled either. As for the frosting, try adding more confectioner’s sugar. This will make the frosting sweeter, but hey – it’s frosting :)

    carolyn – This cake recipe is from Food and Wine.

    Lisa – basically you melt chocolate, spread it on a marble board or the back of a flat baking sheet in a flat and smooth layer, then let it cool. When cooled, angle a knife almost, but not quite, parallel to the surface and skim just under the surface of the chocolate. Roll it along for scrolls or pivot around your right or left hand for ruffles. I had a heck of a time and it takes practice so use a lot of chocolate so you can get the hang of it. Made me crazy.

  55. Erika in Gunny-B says:

    Hi Jen,
    I was looking for a recipe for caramel frosting to put on my pumpkin cake (that I bake for myself every year for my birthday) and I found this amazing recipe and your great blog! So excited. Just took the cakes out of the oven, they are glorious and the house smells divine. I live in Gunbarrel (between Niwot and Boulder) so I was even more pleased to see that you live near me. I look forward to exploring your blog more and continuing to follow. Cheers!

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  57. Ingrid Durham says:

    Is it OK to pin recipes and use the photos via Pinterest?

  58. jenyu says:

    Ingrid – sure thing, just please don’t list the entire recipe in the pin. Thanks :)

  59. Jessica | Portuguese GIrl Cooks says:

    That’s a beautiful cake! I adore the chocolate, pumpkin, and salted caramel combo.

  60. amber page says:

    this cake was extremely difficult, and I consider myself a fairly decent baker. I think it would be helpful if your directions were a little less vague. For example it would have been helpful to know that the ganache would have been best left alone for a bit before trying to ice it. i didn’t figure that out until I read the comments after. the cake was moist and tasty though. also i found the measurements to be a bit odd…you had lots of eighths. strange….

  61. jenyu says:

    amber – I’m sorry if you didn’t read the part at the top of the recipe where I said it was converted for a 9-inch cake from the original 8-inch recipe. That’s where the eighths come in, because of the math conversion. As for the ganache, I guess I assumed that people would know not to use it when it’s too runny (I mentioned that in the post, but maybe you skipped that?).

  62. kat says:

    WOWZEE! This cake was honestly the best part of our Thanksgiving this year. What a tasty and new favorite dessert for Thanksgiving. Thank you!

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  64. Gigi says:

    I hope you don’t mind that I’ve linked this recipe to my page, I tried it out for Christmas and it was delicious. Thank you, I’m looking to try your barbecue recipe next :).

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  66. Deborah says:

    Every Fall, I always try to make at least one pumpkin dessert in celebration of my parents’ birthdays. My Mom is October 16th, and, my Dad is October 20th, so, I get to do two desserts back to back. I saw this incredible pumpkin cake of yours and just fell in love with it. I can’t wait to try it! I was wondering if you might be able to instruct me on how to do the chocolate garnishes that are on the top. I’ve done chocolate curls before, but, they’ve never turned out like the ones you’ve done, and, I really like them.

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  68. jenyu says:

    Deborah – the ones on top are chocolate ruffles and trust me, I have a hard time making them too!! Here’s what I told Lisa above: basically you melt chocolate, spread it on a marble board or the back of a flat baking sheet in a flat and smooth layer, then let it cool. When cooled, angle a knife almost, but not quite, parallel to the surface and skim just under the surface of the chocolate. Roll it along for scrolls or pivot around your right or left hand for ruffles. I had a heck of a time and it takes practice so use a lot of chocolate so you can get the hang of it.

  69. Greg says:

    This cake was outstanding! The cake was moist and the caramel frosting and ganache went very well with it. Thanks for sharing!

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  71. Erika says:

    Making this cake AGAIN for my birthday! This cake is now my newest birthday tradition. Thank you!

  72. Janet in Virginia says:

    Can you use sweet potato instead of pumpkin?

  73. jenyu says:

    Janet – I can’t imagine why not, although I’ve never done it myself.

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