Well, since my last post, I aged a year . . . yes, a year! I celebrated my birthday this past weekend, and, although we kept it cozy here at home, I couldn’t resist baking two different cakes. The truth is, I couldn’t decide what to bake, and since it was just going to be my little family, and I wanted to spend some time relaxing, I didn’t want to get too fancy or crazy, but I still couldn’t decide what to make. Sadly (sort of), I can’t blog about the first cake I made because we (and by “we” I mean “I”) ate most of it and it was quickly out of the running to be photographed. If you’re curious what it was, I found the recipe here. It was delicious and intense in its chocolate-ness, and it had been on my mind for months. It was a perfect opportunity to give it a try! This 6-Layer Dark Chocolate & Strawberry Buttercream Cake was the second cake I made, and I made it because I wanted to bake a different version of the one-bowl dark chocolate cake I normally use, and I was craving Strawberry Swiss meringue buttercream. It’s really a simple combination, but I love the deep, dark chocolate cake paired with the light, creamy strawberry buttercream. The strawberry version of the buttercream is simply a matter of adding strawberry puree or fresh strawberries to your vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream. I don’t make this version as much I should, actually, and it gave me a much-needed hit of strawberry and chocolate!
I couldn’t resist splitting the 3 layers into 6, since it’s a fast and easy way to create some drama in an otherwise classic birthday cake, and of course it’s a chance to include that much more Swiss Meringue Buttercream. I don’t think I could do this with a sugary frosting, as it would just be too much sweet (and, yes, I really do think there’s such as thing!), but it works well with this cloud-like, and not-too-sweet buttercream. As with the Rich Chocolate Cake recipe I use so often, this is a simple one-bowl recipe that offers a dark, super moist, and chocolate-y cake made with oil and my favourite extra dark cocoa powder: Cacao Barry Cocoa Powder – Extra Dark. I love the intensity of this cocoa powder, both in its flavour and colour, and it really comes through in this cake. You may notice that I can’t stop baking with it!
I topped the cake with a dark and shiny (and simple) glaze, made with my favourite Callebaut Belgian bittersweet dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids) callets, which also have a touch of real vanilla in them, and butter melted over a pot of simmering water. A quick and yummy way to add another hit of chocolate to the cake. I love this chocolate! I use it for brownies, ganache, buttercream, and more. It comes in callet form (like chips), which is so easy to melt without having to chop from a huge block. If you’re not a huge fan of such dark chocolate, you can always use semisweet, or in some cases milk chocolate. I use milk chocolate sparingly in baking because I find it so sweet, but there is definitely a time and a place for it–especially when it’s Belgian milk chocolate. In any case, I tend to use the extra dark variety in most cases.
For those of you who have requested a few more caking-baking tips, I’ve included a few below, and you can also refer to one of my earlier posts on the subject, 50 Tips for Baking Better Cakes.
Here is the recipe for all of the components of this cake–use them all, or any of them on their own, or mixed and matched with some of your other favourite recipes!
- 1-1/2 cups (180 g) all-purpose flour
- 1-1/3 cups (275 g) sugar
- 1/2 cup (60 g) dark cocoa powder
- 1-1/4 teaspoons (6 g) baking soda
- 1-1/4 teaspoons (6 g) baking powder
- 1 teaspoon (5 g) salt
- 140 ml (5 liquid oz) buttermilk
- 130 ml (4.5 liquid oz) espresso or strong, hot brewed coffee
- 75 ml vegetable oil
- 2 eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) pure vanilla extract
- 5 large, fresh egg whites (150 g)
- 1-1/4 cups (250 g) sugar
- 1-1/2 cups (3 sticks)(340 g) butter, cut into cubes and cool, but not cold
- 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup (59 ml)(or to taste) strawberry puree OR a handful (about 1 cup, or more to taste) of fresh, washed, and dried strawberries, chopped
- pinch of salt
- few drops pink food colouring (optional)
- 4 oz (115 g) high quality bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped or callets
- 1/3 cup (76 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into cubes
- Preheat oven to 350° F (180°C). Prepare three 6-inch round cake pans with butter, parchment paper rounds, and flour or cocoa powder. Tap out excess.
- In bowl of electric mixer, sift all dry ingredients.
- Add all remaining ingredients to bowl with the dry ingredients and with paddle attachment on mixer, mix for 2 minutes on medium speed (you may need the plastic splash-guard that comes with mixer) and pour into prepared pans. If possible, use digital kitchen scale and weigh pans for even layers. Batter will be liquidy.
- Bake for 20 minutes and rotate pans in oven. Cakes are done when toothpick or skewer comes out with a few crumbs, about 30 minutes total. Try not to over-bake.
- Cool on wire racks for 20 minutes then gently invert onto racks until completely cool.
- If using strawberry puree, place a handful of frozen strawberries in a food processor, and process until a smooth puree. Measure approximately 1/4 cup and set aside (you may want to add more puree to taste).
- Wipe the bowl of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease. Add egg whites and sugar, and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 160°F, or if you don't have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
- With whisk attachment of mixer, begin to whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch (this can take up to 10 minutes or so). *Don't begin adding butter until the bottom of the bowl feels neutral, and not warm.
- Switch over to paddle attachment and, with mixer on low speed, add butter cubes, one at a time, until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture (if curdles, keep mixing and it will come back to smooth). *If mixture is too runny, refrigerate for about 15 minutes and continue mixing with paddle attachment until it comes together. Add vanilla and salt, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined.
- Add strawberry puree to taste or the finely chopped strawberries, and blend until combined. Add small amount of pink food colouring, if desired.
- Place the chocolate and butter in a medium heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water. Stir the mixture using a rubber spatula until melted and smooth. *Be careful to not get even a droplet of water into your bowl of chocolate and butter.
- Slice the 1st cake layer in half horizontally, using a large serrated knife and place cut side up on your cake board, pedestal, or plate.
- Using a small offset palette knife, spread approximately 1/2 cup of buttercream evenly on the top.
- Repeat this with remaining cake layers, until you come to the final layer, which you will place face-down on the top of the cake.
- Place cake on a turntable (if possible), and using a small offset palette knife for the top of the cake, and medium straight palette knife for the sides, cover the cake in a thin layer of buttercream to seal in crumbs. Refrigerate for 30 minutes (or more). *This does not need to be perfect, as that will come with the top "coat" of buttercream.
- Repeat the previous step and for best results, use bench scraper held at 90° against the side of the cake, slowly turning the turntable and keeping your hand steady--let the turntable do the work. Clean up edges with your small offset palette knife.
- Chill cake.
- If glazing the cake, make the glaze and set aside for a few moments to cool a bit. Pour glaze over chilled cake, smoothing the top with a clean small offset palette knife.
- Chill again to set.
- *Bring to room temperature before serving--about 2+ hours. Never serve Swiss Meringue Buttercream until it is soft and room temperature.
For more about making Swiss Meringue Buttercream (and troubleshooting), you may enjoy reading these previous posts: Swiss Meringue Buttercream Demystyfied and Inside-Out Neapolitan Cupcakes & More About Swiss Meringue Buttercream.
A Few More Steps to Baking/Making Better Cakes
1. I always use a kitchen scale to weigh my ingredients. They’re small, light, and don’t have to be fancy or expensive; here is what I use: Salter 1020 Aquatronic Electronic Kitchen Scale. It’s just a great habit to get into. You wouldn’t believe the difference in what one person may scoop as a cup of flour, versus another, and weighing it to the exact gram/oz is your safest bet. Having too much flour can sure dry out a cake in a hurry, just as too little will throw it off kilter. I really believe that using a scale is one of the habits that made me a much better baker, and definitely more consistent. Trust me! I even use mine to weigh my coffee grinds for a perfect pot, my serving portions (when I’m eating clean), homemade burgers, and when dividing batches of pizza dough, etc.
2. You may notice that I bake “layer by layer,” so rather than baking a higher cake and slicing layers for a standard 3-layer cake, I bake 3 more shallow layers in 2″ high pans. This way, the cakes seem to come out more moist, with no “doming,” and ready to be frosted. It may seem an inconvenience at first, because you have to buy 3 cake pans in each diameter, but you get used to it quickly, and it’s so worth it. You also save the time trying to slice even layers, unless of course you are turning 3 layers into 6. But, then again, that’s worth it too!
3. Never open the oven before 20 minutes, or you could disrupt the baking process. Always wait 20 minutes, and then, if you’re baking 3 cake layers at a time, rotate the pans and then continue baking.
4. There are a few tools that I mention in almost every post, and since I’ve been receiving many emails asking more about the cake baking/decorating essentials, I thought I would take this chance to create a list of some of my favourite things in the kitchen, and things that I believe really make a difference:
- When torting, filling, frosting, and/or decorating cakes, I always use a cake turntable. They definitely range in price, but I think as long as you have one that is sturdy and turns, it should do the trick. I use something similar to this: Fat Daddio’s Professional Cake Decorating Turntable with Cast Iron Base, 12 Inch x 5.5 Inch.
- When filling and frosting cakes, I use several sizes of offset and straight spatulas–I couldn’t live without them. Rule of thumb: offset for the top of cakes, straight for the sides. Here’s an example: Ateco Natural Wood Small Sized Spatula, 4.5 Inch Blade.
- When I want to achieve a perfectly smooth finish to buttercream, such as in this cake, or before applying fondant, I always use a bench scraper. Here’s an example of the one I use: Ateco Stainless Steel Bench Scraper.
I hope that helps those of you who were curious! See you soon with another baked treat.
Good luck & enjoy!