A baking update! The first one, I believe and for good reason. My roommate’s birthday is on the 29th and our friend’s is on the 30th. This means that every year they have a joint Birthdayween party because what is better than food and booze and dressing up. Victoria, one of the birthday ladies, is an epic baker and cake decorator and usually bakes for our shindigs. I told her she wasn’t allowed to make her own birthday cake, especially since she made me such a pretty one for my birthday. So I voluntold myself to fill the pastry gap.
Now, I was terrified of screwing this up. In high school I worked at a ColdStone Creamery and by the end of my two year tenure had graduated from mild-mannered, singing* ice cream slinger to not-quite-mild-mannered, ice cream singer/cake decorator. We made ice cream cakes using our hand-mixed ice cream creations and store-bought sheet cake. I learned to coax ganache and swear at decorating icing. But it was fun. Good skills to have, right? Especially when such a day as this pops up something like 7 years later.
*No, I don’t remember any of our tip songs. OK, maybe a few.
The cake itself was surprisingly easy. Having used this recipe before and experiencing its impressive rising qualities, I was better prepared this time around. When using this recipe (or any) only fill the cake pans halfway. ONLY FILL THE CAKE PANS HALFWAY. I will say this again here before I’m through because having to scrape chocolate cake out of every crevice of an oven is an experience I’ve had for the benefit of us all.
On a whim, I substituted the “Freshly made coffee” bit of the recipe for an equivalent of Black Blood of the Earth and hot water. For those who haven’t heard of it, Black Blood of the Earth is a creatively made coffee extract made through a vacuum extraction process that….It’s made of Science, OK? I used crazy concentrated caffeinated Science Coffee. And I used the DeathWish varietal, which is even more caffeinated than the crazy normal stuff. Not having baked with this extremely caffeinated substance that I love so much, I was a little worried that it wouldn’t translate perfectly. It worked fine. No one died. And the cake was delicious. So, I’m calling this a win.
The cake itself was pretty simple, as long as you remember to fill the cake pans halfway (see?). The challenge for me was cutting the layers once everything was cooled and then the stacking and trimming process. It wasn’t perfect, but it looked damn pretty if I do say so myself. And it tasted delicious. Everyone at the party really enjoyed it and we still have a few pieces left in the freezer for a special day (or craving) in the future. Of course you can decorate the cake however you like, but since this was a Halloween party I figured it should fit the spirit.
Tips for decorating: The crumb coat is your best friend. BEST. Really. This is when you take a tiny bit of icing and cover the cake with a thin layer in order to ensure a clean, non-crumby product. This is especially important when you’ve got a dark cake and light icing. I was super intimidated by this process, but it wasn’t too bad at all. Especially since I’d thrown the cake, once layered with the raspberry jam, into the fridge to get everything set up. And then returned it to the fridge for about 30 minutes after the crumb coat was applied.
Tip 2: be patient with your decorating icing. I just bought a tube of black, but it doesn’t matter. When it comes to a battle between you and icing, the icing will win. You might wish it would go faster already because there are so many piddly lines to draw and oh god are we done yet my hand is cramping, but the tip will regulate how much icing comes out and no amount of will on your end will change that. So, be nice to your decorating tips and your hands. Breathe steadily, keep even pressure and don’t expect it to be done in a nanosecond. And after you do all that? You get to eat cake. Totally worth it.
Chocolate and Raspberry Layer Cake with White Chocolate Buttercream Icing
Cake LayersFrom Smitten Kitchen
- 3 oz. fine-quality semisweet chocolate
- 1 1/2 c. hot brewed coffee
- 3 c. sugar
- 2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 1 1/4 tsp salt
- 3 large eggs
- 3/4 c. vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 c. well-shaken buttermilk
- 3/4 tsp vanilla
- Raspberry jam
Preheat oven to 300°F. and grease pans. Line bottoms with rounds of wax paper and grease paper. If you forget this step or don’t have any wax paper or parchment, do not despair. Just butter the hell out of the pans (yes, that is a technical term).
Finely chop chocolate and combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
In a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Do not stir too vigorously as, inevitably, you will be wearing a nice black sweater because you forgot to change and your bowl will be just too small to contain the agitated dry ingredients and then you’ll have to get cocoa out of your sweater. In another large bowl beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a stand mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Into the bowl with the eggs, slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add dry ingredients and beat on medium speed until just combined well. Be glad you ran into your room to change shirts, even if you put on another black one.
Divide batter between pans (but fill ONLY HALF WAY) and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour, 10 minutes.
Cool layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove wax paper and cool layers completely. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.
When you’re ready to start building your cake, take a long bread or cake knife and slice the layers in half, carefully. Do not slice your finger with your shiny new knife. Endure cracks from roommates about wiggly lines, pretend not to hear them. Place a cardboard cake round and place on the stand you are going to use for frosting. Open your jar of raspberry jam or, if you made your own, split your raspberry filling into 3 parts. Spread your filling onto each of the layers as you stack. Be sure to leave at least 1/4 inch of space from the edge of the cake. Put cake in the fridge. You can leave it in there from an hour to a day.
White Chocolate Buttercream Icing
- 4 oz. white chocolate, chopped
- 1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 5-6 c. powdered sugar
- 2-4 Tbs heavy cream, as needed
Begin by melting the chopped white chocolate in the microwave in 15 seconds bursts, stirring well between intervals, until completely melted. Make sure not to nuke for too long or you’ll have to introduce some water and try again. Alternately, melt over a double boiler on the stove. In the bowl of a mixer cream the butter and vanilla until smooth.
Add the white chocolate and mix until well combined. Slowly add the powdered sugar, a cup at a time, until it reaches a spreading consistency. This will be an obscene amount of sugar: fear for your teeth. If the frosting seems to dry add a little heavy cream, a couple of tablespoons at a time, until you reach a smooth consistency. Cover with plastic until ready to use.
Once you think your cake is chilled enough to not fall apart on you, take it out of the fridge and get ready to frost. To do the crumb coat, take one spoonful of icing at a time and plop it on the top of the cake. Using your spatula, spread the frosting thinly over the entire cake, trying to keep it even. Throw the cake back in the fridge for an hour. Once it’s chilled, plop more icing on top of the cake and then ice the thing for real. You should end up with a very clean, pretty cake. If you like, make up some decorating frosting (or buy it) and decorate at will.
Take cake to your party or serve to guests or keep it all for yourself. Never use any other recipe for chocolate cake because this is, no lie, freaking excellent.