Sweet & Salty Millionaire’s Layer Cake

Hello, hello! After many, many months of devoted book creating, I’m excited to be back here with you, blogging on a regular basis! I’m also incredibly eager to share my book with you all, once it’s printed and released–it has been, wow, an incredible learning experience. It’s still kind of surreal to me that a book with my name on it will actually exist. A dream come true, for certain.

So . . . cake! And not just cake–the most decadent sweet & salty cake you could ever imagine. I call this layer cake “Sweet & Salty Millionaire’s Layer Cake” because it is my take on those ridiculously addicting Millionaire’s Bars–you know the ones: buttery shortbread topped with gooey caramel and a layer of rich, shiny chocolate. If that doesn’t beg to become a layer cake, I don’t know what does.

So I baked up 3 layers of dark, moist chocolate cake, torted them into a total of 6 thinner layers, and then filled them with vanilla bean Swiss meringue buttercream, homemade salted caramel, buttery shortbread crumble and dark chocolate ganache frosting. To finish it off, we smother the whole thing in a generous layer of more dark chocolate ganache frosting and a sprinkling of Fleur de Sel. I find that the satiny vanilla bean buttercream really balances out the intensity of the dark chocolate and sweet and salty caramel, and the shortbread adds an amazing melt-in-your-mouth textural surprise.

The ganache frosting is essentially a typical ganache (an emulsion of dark chocolate and heavy cream), but with some corn syrup and butter added in to keep it luscious and glossy and a pinch of sea salt to celebrate our love for sweet & salty.  I used a really dark chocolate this time, at 70% cocoa solids, but you could use any quality dark chocolate with at least 53% cocoa solids. I was almost out of the usual dark chocolate callets I love to use from Callebaut, so I bought 2 ginormous (300 grams each) premium chocolate bars, chopped them up and tossed in 100 grams of the chocolate callets I had left. With the super-sweetness of the caramel, I love the deep, dark chocolate frosting.

The 3-ingredient shortbread component is so quick and easy, and these bits & boulders of buttery love are just what this cake needed to really pay homage to the Millionaire’s Bars it was inspired by. Heck, they would even make an amazing little ice cream topping, along with the salted caramel perhaps? The salted caramel is so much easier to make than you might think and, as you might imagine, it can be used for so many things–pancakes, waffles, dipping apples, and more. You don’t have to “salt” it, but I feel it really heightens the natural caramel flavour and added vanilla.

One thing I’ve discovered is that when making ganache of any kind, an immersion hand blender (you know, the “stick” type hand blenders) works best to create perfectly homogenous ganache that won’t threaten to separate and become grainy. You can certainly use a whisk, but if you have an immersion blender I feel it works just that much better. I included 2 layers of ganache in the cake layers because I felt that 5 layers of caramel could be a little much, but maybe I’m crazy. So you could always keep the ganache as the frosting and fill all of the layers with the buttercream, caramel and shortbread. I’m thinking there’s no wrong way of doing this, you know?

So, here’s the recipe for this sweet & salty Millionaire’s Layer Cake along with a quick list of the layer-pattern of this cake:

cake
buttercream + caramel + shortbread
cake
ganache
cake
buttercream + caramel + shortbread
cake
ganache
cake
buttercream + caramel + shortbread
cake

Millionaire’s Layer Cake

Yield: One 6-layer, 8-inch round cake

Dark moist chocolate cake filled with satiny vanilla bean buttercream, homemade salted caramel, buttery shortbread crumble, dark chocolate ganache and frosted with more ganache and a sprinkling of sea salt.

Ingredients

    For the Chocolate Cake:
  • 2 1/4 cups (285 g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 cups (450 g) superfine sugar
  • 3/4 cup (90 g) dark Dutch-process cocoa powder (I use Cacao Barry Extra Brute)
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons (10 g) baking soda
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons (10 g) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (8 g) salt
  • 1 cup (240 mL) buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup (180 mL) brewed coffee or espresso, hot
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoons (15 mL) pure vanilla extract
  • For the Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
  • 6 egg whites
  • 1 3/4 cups (350 g) sugar
  • 2 cups (454 g) unsalted butter, softened, cut into cubes
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla bean paste or 1 vanilla bean, seeded and scraped
  • Pinch of salt
  • For the Salted Caramel:
  • 2 cups (400 g) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) water
  • 1 cup (240 ml) heavy cream (whipping cream)
  • 2 tablespoons (30 g) unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • Generous pinch of sea salt (I used Fleur de Sel)
  • For the Shortbread Crumbs:
  • 1 cup (125 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (50 g) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (115 g) unsalted butter, softened, cut into cubes
  • For the Ganache Frosting:
  • 1 pound plus 6 ounces (700 g) best-quality dark chocolate (at least 53% cocoa solids), chopped or callets
  • 2 cups (480 ml) heavy cream (whipping cream)
  • 1/3 cup (110 g) corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 8 tablespoons (120 g) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) pure vanilla extract

Instructions

    For the Chocolate Cake:
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Spray three 8-inch round cake pans with cooking spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper rounds.
  2. Into the bowl of electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, sift flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  3. In a large measuring cup with a spout, combine the buttermilk, coffee, oil, eggs and vanilla.
  4. Add liquid mixture to dry ingredients and mix on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Divide batter among the 3 cake pans (weigh batter for even layers at about 520 grams per cake pan).
  5. Bake 2 of the layers until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs, about 20-25 minutes. Try not to over-bake. Repeat with the final layer. Let cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes and then turn onto a wire rack until completely cool.
  6. For the Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
  7. Wipe the bowl and whisk 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 130°F, or if you don't have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot, about 8-10 minutes.
  8. Place bowl back on mixer and fit with the whisk attachment. Whip on medium-high speed 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 longer). Switch over to paddle attachment and, with mixer on low speed, add softened butter in chunks until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture (if curdles, keep mixing and it will come back to smooth). Increase speed to medium and beat until the mixture becomes thick and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
  9. Add vanilla bean paste and salt, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined.
  10. You can also add a wide variety of flavourings, extracts, and more, but always add the vanilla first, as it brings out the true taste of the other flavours. Keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day, refrigerated for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 2 months. Thaw at room temperature. Bring chilled buttercream back to smooth consistency by bringing to room temperature and then beating on low speed with an electric mixer for a few minutes.
  11. For the Salted Caramel:
  12. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir the sugar and water until combined. Brush down the sides of the saucepan with a wet pastry brush and increase the heat to medium-high.
  13. Stop stirring, and let the mixture bubble until it reaches an amber colour (about 350°F). Promptly remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the heavy cream (be careful, as this will bubble and steam aggressively for a moment) until smooth, followed by the butter.
  14. Clip a candy thermometer onto the saucepan and return the mixture to medium-high heat until it reaches 248°F). Transfer the caramel to the heatproof bowl and stir in the vanilla and sea salt. As the caramel reaches room temperature it will become thick and spreadable. Store in a sealed jar in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
  15. For the Shortbread Crumbs:
  16. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat mat.
  17. In a medium bowl, combine the flour and sugar. Cut in the butter using a pastry blender or your fingers, until you have distributed the butter and achieved pea-size bits. Turn the mixture in an even layer onto the prepared baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven and, using a heatproof spatula, gently break up the mixture and return to the oven for 10 more minutes. Let tray cool completely on a wire rack. Once cool, keep in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
  18. For the Ganache Frosting:
  19. Place chopped chocolate (or callets) in a large heatproof mixing bowl (I find a stainless 5QT mixer bowl works well).
  20. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream, corn syrup and salt and bring just to a boil. Pour hot cream mixture over the chocolate and let sit for about 1 minute. Using an immersion blender (or whisk, if necessary) combine the chocolate mixture until smooth. Add butter and vanilla and mix again until smooth. Mixture with thicken to spreadable frosting consistency, and eventually become solid at room temperature. To soften, simply warm and bring to desired consistency.
  21. Assembly of the Sweet & Salty Millionaire's Layer Cake:
  22. Prepare your fillings and frosting and ensure they are all at spreadable consistency. For the ganache, this will take about 15-30 minutes after making it, and about 30-60 minutes for the caramel. If you have made ahead, simply warm the ganache and let cool until spreadable, and do the same for the caramel.
  23. Slice all three cake layers in half horizontally, so you have a total of 6 cake layers.
  24. Smear a small dollop of the ganache frosting on a cake plate, pedestal or cake board, and place your first layer cut side up (so bottom of the cake layer is touching plate), and using a small offset palette knife, spread about 1 cup of buttercream on the layer leaving about 1-inch around the edge, followed by one-third of the caramel and then a generous handful of shortbread crumble. Place your next cake layer on top, and spread about 1 cup of the ganache frosting all the way to the edge.
  25. Repeat previous step until you get to the final cake layer. Place last layer face down (cut side down) and frost entire cake with the ganache frosting. Let sit for about 15 minutes and then finish with a thick "coat" of more ganache frosting.
  26. Use a turntable and palette knife to create texture (as in photo)--use one hand to turn the turntable and hold the palette knife in the other hand. Keep palette knife in place and let the turntable do the moving. Use a small offset palette knife to create texture on the top of the cake and sprinkle on some Fleur de Sel. Finished cake can be kept at room temperature for up to 8 hours. Keep refrigerated if longer than 8 hours, but serve at room temperature.
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Sweetapolita’s Notes:

  • For the chocolate cake layers, I used Cacao Barry Extra Brute Dutch-process cocoa powder, but you can use any quality dark Dutch-process variety of your choice.
  • I have become rather fond of using vanilla bean paste instead of actual vanilla beans, as it’s convenient and more affordable.
  • When you make the ganache frosting, you’ll notice that it’s a bit jiggly and gelatinous looking as it sets, but as soon as you being to spread it, it becomes smooth, glossy and glorious.
  • Most cake does best at room temperature in terms of staying moist and fresh, but when it comes to building layer cakes, sometimes there’s no choice but to pop it in and out of the fridge a few times to stabilize it (especially when you get into sky-scraping layer cakes). That being said, I recommend only putting most cakes the fridge between the crumb coat and final coat of frosting, or if you feel that things are getting a little wobbly and you want to firm it up before carrying on. For this cake, I didn’t refrigerate it at all, so you will likely find that you won’t need to either. I was able to avoid the fridge between the crumb coat and final coat of ganache frosting because it begins to dry out at room temperature, sealing all of the crumbs.

Good luck & enjoy!

Related posts:

Lemon Meringue Delight Cake

Lemon Delight Cake via Sweetapolita

Have you ever noticed that the best thing to pair with lemon seems to be . . . lemon? Every time I make a lemon cake or cupcake, aside from my occasional frolic with lavender and lemon or blueberry and lemon, all I want to do is add more lemon zest, lemon juice, lemon extract, lemon filling, lemon topping, lemon curd, lemon frosting and lemon buttercream. Lemon!

Lemon Delight Cake via Sweetapolita

During some of my recent baking in preparation for my sister-in-law’s baby shower, I did some lemon cupcakes filled with lemon curd and topped with lemon frosting, and I realized that I haven’t made a completely lemony layer cake in a long time. It was definitely time. And wait! Before you scroll down and read the recipe, just know that there are a few components in this cake that do take some time, but don’t let that scare you away — most of this cake can be made up to a few weeks ahead of time, so the actual assembly of the cake really is pretty quick and simple.

So what is a Lemon Meringue Delight Cake? It’s three layers of moist, lemony sponge cake filled with homemade lemon curd, lemon curd Swiss meringue buttercream and baked meringue discs, and frosted in more lemon curd Swiss meringue buttercream, topped with more lemon curd, swirls of buttercream, baked meringue swirls and lemon drop candy. In other words, a lotta lemony loveliness.

Lemon Delight Cake via Sweetapolita

A lemon party of sorts.

Lemon Meringue Milkshake via Sweetapolita

Remember these Lemon Meringue Milkshake & Mini Swirl Meringues? I make those little swirl meringues often, and I thought they’d make perfect little lemon cake decorations, so I just made them a bit bigger and a tad more swirly for this cake. In this particular recipe I did the meringues with a Swiss meringue method (heating the sugar and egg whites over a pot of simmering water until they reach 140-160°F and then whipping them in the mixer), but you can also do them with a traditional French meringue method (whisking the room temperature/warm egg whites in the mixer until they become foamy, then adding the sugar gradually, beating until stiff peaks form). I found, though, that the Swiss version seems to bake very glossy and the French meringue bakes a little more matte. The ones I used on the cake ended up being the French version, but I made some last night using the Swiss method and they were so nice and glossy. (They seem to taste the same either way.)

Baked meringues have my heart because, aside from their addictive sweet, light and crispy-ness, you can make a big batch and keep them airtight for weeks, making them ideal for topping cakes or cupcakes. And, of course, for random snacking. I thought it would be fun to make a few larger discs and put them right on top of the lemon curd filling in the cake, so when you’re taking lemony cake bites you hit little bursts of lemon meringue surprises along the way.

Lemon Delight Cake via Sweetapolita

Lemon Delight Cake via Sweetapolita

Lemon Meringue Delight Cake via Sweetapolita

Lemon = Happy.

Again, I know the recipe looks a little daunting because of all of the components, but if you do a bit ahead of time, it really is a joy to make. Keep remaining lemon curd in an airtight container in the freezer for a zippy addition to pancakes, muffins, scones and more  – you’ll thank me! ♥

Lemon Meringue Delight Cake

Yield: One 3-layer, 8-inch round cake

Serving Size: 8-10

Three layers of moist lemon sponge cake filled with lemon curd and crisp baked meringue cookies and topped with lemon curd buttercream, more lemon curd and baked meringue swirls.

Ingredients

    For the Baked Meringue Swirls/Discs:
  • 3 egg whites (90 g)
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
  • A drop soft gel paste color, yellow
  • You will also need:
  • A large pastry bag
  • Decorating tip #1A
  • A small paintbrush
  • For the Lemon Curd:
  • 4 lemons (or 6 Meyer lemons), preferably organic
  • 2 whole eggs plus 4 egg yolks (set whites aside for buttercream)
  • 1 cup sugar (200 g)
  • 4 tablespoons (60 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into small even cubes
  • For the Lemon Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
  • 7 egg whites (210 g)
  • 1-1/2 cups (300 g) sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 cups (454 g) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) lemon curd
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • Few drops of soft gel paste colour, yellow (I used electric yellow)
  • For the Lemon Cake:
  • 3/4 cup (170 g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups (400 g) sugar
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 2 cups (270 g) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon (4 g) baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon(4 g) salt
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.75 ml) lemon extract
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) lemon zest
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) plain yogurt, at room temperature
  • baked meringue swirls, for decorating
  • lemon drop candy, for decorating

Instructions

    For the Baked Meringue Swirls/Discs:
  1. Preheat oven to 200°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Wipe the bowl of an electric mixer and the whisk attachment with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease.
  2. Add egg whites and sugar to the mixer bowl and fit onto the top of a medium saucepan filled with about 1-inch of simmering (not boiling) water. (Be sure the bottom of your bowl is not touching the water.) Whisk constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 140°F, or if you don’t have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
  3. Dry the underside of the mixer bowl and transfer to your stand mixer. Whip using the whisk attachment until the meringue is thick and glossy and has reached the stiff peak stage.
  4. While the meringue is whipping in the mixer, fit your decorating bag with a plain round pastry tip. Fold over a cuff at the top of the pastry bag and paint 3, equally-spaced, thin lines of yellow gel colour using your fine paint brush (you can use any paint brush, but it should only be one you designate for food) from the pastry tip up toward the cuff.
  5. Fill the bag with your meringue (no more than 2/3 full) and pipe 1-1/2-inch swirls onto one of the lined baking sheets, spacing them about 1-inch apart. (These will be used to decorate top of cake). On the second baking sheet, pipe the remaining meringue into flat discs, about 2-inches in diameter, spacing them about 1" apart. (These will be used on top of the filling inside the assembled cake.)
  6. Bake for 60 minutes, rotating the trays after 30 minutes. Lower the oven to 175°F and bake until dry, about 40 minutes more. Keep in an airtight container until needed.
  7. For the Lemon Curd:
  8. Wash lemons really well (with a bristled brush under cold water) and using a zester, remove all of the coloured portion of the peel from the fruit (not the white pith–it’s bitter!) into a bowl or onto a piece of wax paper. Rotate fruit as necessary to get as much of the zest off. Repeat until you have 2 teaspoons (30 ml) of the zest, and set aside.
  9. Slice the lemons in half crosswise (I find room temperature citrus is best for juicing) using a sharp knife, and extract as much of the juice as you can using a citrus reamer, or I use a small, manual citrus juicer. (Just be sure to catch all of the juice in a bowl and to completely strain the seeds before using.) Repeat the juicing until you have 2/3 cup (160 ml) of the strained juice.
  10. Get your double boiler ready by filling a saucepan with 1″ of water, then placing a metal bowl on top of the saucepan. You will need to ensure the bowl fits snugly into the top of the saucepan and that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water (important, or your eggs will cook). You can now remove the bowl and continue with making the curd.
  11. Whisk the juice, whole eggs, egg yolks and sugar in the bowl until smooth. Add the butter cubes to the bowl, but don’t stir.
  12. Heat the water in the saucepan over low heat until it simmers (not boils) and place the bowl atop the rim. Stirring gently, but constantly, using heatproof spatula or wooden spoon, cook until the curd has thickened and all of the butter has melted and is incorporated, about 10 minutes (this can vary). To test if the curd is thick enough, remove the spatula or spoon from the curd and check that it’s coated.
  13. Strain the curd over a bowl using a fine-mesh sieve and then stir in the zest. Cover with plastic wrap pressed directly against the curd (to prevent a skin from forming) and chill for at least 3 hours (I like to chill it overnight). It also thickens up a bit more while chilling. Keep refrigerated.
  14. For the Lemon Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
  15. Wipe the bowl of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease. Add egg whites, sugar and salt, 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.
  16. 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.
  17. Switch over to paddle attachment and, with mixer on low speed, add butter cubes, one at a time, until incorporated. Increase mixer speed to medium and whip 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 lemon curd and vanilla, continuing to beat on medium speed until well combined. Add yellow soft gel paste colour until desired shade of yellow is achieved.
  18. For the Lemon Cake:
  19. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease, line with parchment and flour three round 8-inch pans. I use Parchment Paper Circles for ease. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and 1 cup (200 g) of the sugar on medium high speed until very pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  20. Lower mixer speed to medium low and add the egg yolks, one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition. Add lemon juice, vanilla, lemon extract and lemon zest and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds. With mixer running, add dry ingredients. Add yogurt, scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is well incorporated.
  21. In another grease-free bowl, (or if you're lucky enough to have another mixer bowl) whip egg whites and remaining cup of sugar until they reach stiff peak stage. Fold meringue into batter until just combined, and divide batter evenly among the three prepared pans. Use a digital kitchen scale to weigh pans to ensure even layers, if possible (425 g of batter for each layer).
  22. Bake first two layers 2" apart in center of oven on top of a baking sheet until a cake tester comes clean when inserted into the center, about 25 minutes. Be careful to not over-bake -- check cake at 20 minutes, but not before, and once you feel it’s almost ready, set the timer for 2 minute intervals. Repeat with final cake layer. Let cool on racks for 10 minutes before loosening the sides with a small metal spatula, and invert onto greased wire racks. Gently turn cakes back up, so the tops are up and cool completely.
  23. Wrap tightly and store at room temperature for up to 2 days, refrigerator for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 2 months. Best enjoyed day 1 or 2.
  24. Assembly of the Lemon Delight Layer Cake:
  25. Trim any doming or top crust and side crust from cake layers using a very sharp serrated knife (I use the Mac Bread Knife for all of my cake trimming, splitting, etc.).
  26. Use a cake turntable for filling, frosting and decorating, if a possible. Place a small dollop of frosting in the center of a cake plate or 8″ round thin foil-covered cake board, and place the bottom cake layer on top, trimmed side up (face up).
  27. Pipe a dam (a rim around the top perimeter of the cake layer) of lemon curd buttercream around the cake layer using a large round Pastry Tip fitted inside a Decorating Bag. Then pipe another smaller circle of buttercream a few inches toward the center. Spoon lemon curd into the open spaces and spread evenly with a small offset palette knife, taking care to keep the curd within the dam (otherwise it will ooze out of the sides of the cake). Gently place cover the filling with a layer of the flat baked meringue discs, breaking them into smaller pieces if necessary to cover most of the layer.
  28. Repeat with second cake layer and more buttercream, lemon curd and meringue discs. Place final cake layer, trimmed side down. Look straight down from above cake and be sure the layers are all lined up, shifting gently if necessary. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  29. Remove from fridge and put a generous scoop of buttercream on top, spreading evenly with a small offset palette knife and working your way down the sides until you have a thin layer of frosting over the entire cake (crumb-coat). Chill until set, another 30 minutes.
  30. Remove from refrigerator and covering the cake in another layer of buttercream, but this time using a thicker layer of buttercream and creating a smooth finish.
  31. For the top of the cake, using your decorating bag fitted with the large round tip , 2/3 full with buttercream, pipe 8 small swirls, evenly spaced. Top each swirl with a baked meringue swirls, and fill the spaces in between with lemon drop candy. Gently spoon a layer of lemon curd on top of the cake, using a toothpick to pull the curd to the inside edges of the candy and swirls.
  32. Store finished cake covered in refrigerator (due to the lemon curd filling), but serve at room temperature (you can remove from refrigerator several hours ahead of serving).

Notes

*You can make the baked meringues up to a few weeks in advance, keeping them in an airtight container at room temperature.

**You can make the lemon curd up to a month ahead, keeping it in an airtight container in freezer.

***You can make the Swiss meringue buttercream up to a month ahead, storing it in an airtight container in freezer, bringing to room temperature on counter the night before needed.

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Sweetapolita’s Notes:

  • Because Swiss Meringue Buttercream and Lemon Curd both take a little longer to make than some other fillings/frosting, I recommend making both ahead of time, if possible. They freeze well, and the buttercream can be simply brought to room temperature the night before you need it. The curd can basically be used straight from the freezer. If you go ahead and make all of the components in one day, there’s a good chance you will be cursing my name at random throughout the day. But even if you do go this route, it will still be worth it.
  • You can make the baked meringues up to two weeks before you need the cake, just keep them in an airtight container at room temperature.
  • You can bake the cake layers the day before you need to assemble the cake and keep them at room temperature wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.
  • I use my the MAC Carving Knife for all of my cake trimming and slicing — it’s amazing.
  • For the Swirl Meringues and the Lemon Swiss Buttercream I used Americolor Electric Yellow Soft Gel Paste to achieve that particular shade of happy.
  • For the lemon drop decorations I used Claeys Lemon Sanded Candy Drops.
  • You can watch me frost a cake with smooth edges here.

Good luck & enjoy!


Related posts:

A Sweet Guide to Frosting

A Sweet Guide to Frosting via Sweetapolita

1. rolled fondant 2. whipped cream frosting 3. ganache 4. sugary frosting 5. chocolate glaze 6. gumpaste (flower) 7. chocolate party frosting 8. swiss meringue buttercream 9. royal icing 

Frosting? Icing? Tom-aa-to, tom-ah-to? Well, that depends. It depends on where are you live, and maybe even what the confection is made from. In some parts of the globe, people simply prefer to call all versions “icing” and leave out the termfrostingall-together. In Canada, we tend to use the word “icing” much more frequently than “frosting,” regardless of the dessert in question. Confused yet?

That being said, I often relate icing to thinner glazes and royal icing, and think of frosting as the fluffy, sugary sort. I reserve the word “buttercream” for meringue-based buttercreams. I have noticed that Americans tend to favour the term “frosting” as a catch-all. All sorts of craziness indeed. According to some dictionaries, the words are synonymous, so I think I’ll just go with that. It is a bit of a gray area, but some baker folks are passionate about the fact that icing is one thing and frosting is, well, another . . .

And then just when you get that straightened out, there are countless varieties of the sweet and creamy bliss: meringue buttercream, sugary frosting, ganache, royal icing, fondant, gumpaste, chocolate frosting, chocolate glaze, whipped cream frosting and more. Most often, the questions readers ask me are about frosting — what’s the difference between them, when to use each, etc. So, to answer those questions I’ve put together a little guide to frosting. It’s certainly not a comprehensive list, but it’s a guide to those I use most often, and the ones you’ll come across throughout my recipes.

So, here we go!

1. Rolled Fondant

  • Some say “FOND-ent” and some say “fond-AHNT.” Both are accepted as correct, and you know I’ll love you no matter what, but can we all (please) unite and say “FOND-ent?” Also known, in some cases (such as in UK) as “sugarpaste.”
  • Made from icing sugar, corn syrup, oil and flavourings (and several other binding ingredients).
  • Can be purchased or made from scratch (many cake designers choose to buy it pre-made). My favourite brand is Satin Ice because it is so, well, satiny, tastes like a sugary dense marshmallow and melts in your mouth. It also dries with a firm porcelain finish (more so than other brands, I find).
  • Feels and behaves like a dense play-dough. Pure white in colour — takes beautifully to gel paste colours (kneaded in). Also sold in chocolate (delish!) and vanilla that’s been pre-coloured.
  • Rolls out like pie dough to cover cakes with an icing that dries with a smooth, hard finish. It can be left smooth and dry for a modern look, or can be impressed or embossed while still soft. Once completely dry, it can be decorated by piping royal icing, painting with non-toxic colour powders mixed with vodka (in photo above), colouring with non-toxic markers (remember the rainbow doodle cake?), along with countless other methods of decorating.
  • Most common uses: covering buttercream cakes and fancy cookies for a smooth finish, modeling cake decorations. Cake decorations made with fondant will always be softer than those made with gumpaste (below).
  • Challenges: dries out quickly once exposed to air, which means you must work swiftly. Can tear easily once rolled, which does make covering a cake in fondant a time-sensitive task. “Sweats” when in a humid environment (but will dry back out once humidity is gone), softens in heat and direct sunlight.
  • Can add tiny amounts of water to dried fondant to adhere other fondant decorations, strips, etc. Wet fondant will dissolve into an instant “glue.”
  • Pipe-a-bility: none
  • To strengthen small amounts of fondant for special decorations you’d like to strengthen (and still have taste good), you can knead a sprinkle of Tylose powder into your fondant. It will become something between fondant and gumpaste.
  • To know how much fondant to use for each cake size/shape, you can refer to this chart.
  • Keeps at room temperature, wrapped in plastic then sealed in airtight container, for about a year.
  • You can see more of the fondant-covered cake in the above image in this post.

 2. Whipped Cream Frosting 

  • Made from whipping cream, sugar and vanilla.  Light, airy, not-so-sweet, cloud-like.
  • Best used for frosting and filling vanilla cake, berry desserts and cupcakes.
  • Simple and quick to make (simple whipping is all it takes).
  • Challenges: needs to be refrigerated after a few hours and is best made at the last moment
  • Pipe-a-bility: can be piped on cupcakes with a pastry bag and large plain round tip, but not ideal for most piping styles.
  • You can see the Whipped Vanilla Dream Cupcakes in this post.

3. Ganache

  • Pronounced guh-nahsh.
  • Made by whisking chopped solid chocolate covered by warm heavy cream (36-40% fat content). In Canada, it’s more common to find whipping cream (35%), which is what I use.
  • It’s best to use quality chocolate: bittersweet (extra dark), semisweet (dark), milk or white and .  Liqueurs, extracts and other flavourings can be added for countless varieties.
  • Ganache can be made into many different consistencies — thicker (more chocolate, less cream) for spreading over candy, tarts and more; thinner (more cream, less chocolate) for pouring over cakes, desserts, etc., and every consistency in between. Altering the temperature can also change the consistency for use — the cooler the ganache, the thicker it will be. Once heated, it will be smooth and pourable once again. Room temperature ganache can be whisked (beat) for a moment or two to create a whipped version ideal for frosting and filling a cake.
  • Thick ganache can be rolled into balls and coated in cocoa powder for homemade truffles.
  • Can be stored, covered, in refrigerator for several days and reheated slowly for use.
  • You can see the Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Tart from the above image in this post.

4. Sugary Frosting

  • Also known as “american buttercream,” “icing,” “cupcake frosting,” and more. 
  • Typically made from butter, icing sugar, vanilla and milk. In grocery shops and some bakeries it will often be made from shortening. The frosting most of us think of when we remember our childhood birthday cakes.
  • Taste: creamy, rich and super-sweet. Can add flavourings, citrus zest, infused milks, vanilla bean, melted and cooled white chocolate, and more.
  • Best used for cupcakes and layer cakes.
  • Simple to make (beating of all ingredients in one bowl). Keeps at room temperature for several days.
  • Pipe-a-bility: will hold its shape when piped, but not as stable as meringue-based buttercreams.
  • Takes well to colour, but has buttery tone (unless you use shortening in place of butter), causing some challenges when attempting certain colours, such as cool blue (will have teal appearance) and pink (can have a peach appearance).
  • You can see the Pastel Swirl Cake shown in the above collage in this post.

5. Chocolate Glaze

  • Made my melting chopped chocolate and butter together (sometimes corn syrup).
  • Similar to ganache in its deep, dark, glossy appearance, but has no cream, therefore less rich.
  • Satiny, shiny and thin when warm, then thickens when cool.
  • Best used for pouring over cupcakes (frosted or not), cakes, donuts, etc.
  • Pipe-a-bility: none.
  • Can be stored, covered, in refrigerator for several days and warmed when needed.
  • You can find the Dark Chocolate & Raspberry Buttercream Cupcakes shown in the collage in this post.

6. Gumpaste

  • Similar to fondant, gumpaste is a soft, knead-able “dough” for creating cake decorations. You would not, however, cover a cake, cupcake or cookie with gumpaste, as it dries rock-hard and really has no taste at all. 
  • Can be rolled out extremely thin (paper-thin), even thinner than fondant. Once rolled thin, it can be ruffled (as in photo), pleated, etc. Doesn’t tear while working with it, the way fondant does. Soft gumpaste will start to harden immediately when exposed to air, so I always work with small quantities, keeping a small sealed plastic bag nearby to place the bits I’m not using.
  • When dry, it has a porcelain feel and look ideal for creating sugar flowers, highly-detailed decorations, figurines, etc.
  • Typically it’s used in much smaller quantities, as it’s not something you would eat. Most gumpaste decorations are pulled off a cake and set aside before eating.
  • You can make it or buy it premade. I used to make it, but now prefer to buy the Satin Ice Gumpaste, as I find it dries the most porcelain-like than my homemade variety.
  • Takes well to gel paste colour. Can be painted or dusted with dry petal dust or shimmer powder once dry.
  • Pipe-a-bility: none.
  • If kept airtight and wrapped in a sealed bucket, it will last many, many months.

 7. Chocolate Frosting

  • Chocolate version of sugary frosting
  • Typically made from butter, icing sugar, melted dark or extra dark chocolate, vanilla and milk. In grocery shops and some bakeries it will often be made from shortening. The frosting is, again, what most of us think of when we remember our childhood birthday cakes.
  • Simple to make (beating of all ingredients in one bowl). Glossy appearance.
  • Taste: creamy, rich, chocolaty and sweet. Can add malt powder, liqueurs, extracts and more.
  • Best used for cupcakes and layer cakes.
  • Pipe-a-bility: will hold its shape when piped, but not as stable as meringue-based buttercreams.
  • Best used right away for ideal consistency while frosting, but then lasts on cake for several days at room temperature.
  • You can find the Chocolate Birthday Cake shown in the above collage in this post.

8. Meringue Buttercream 

  • Swiss Meringue Buttercream (aka SMB and SMBC) and Italian Meringue Buttercream (aka IMB and IMBC) are most popular variations. Both variations are the sophisticated cousin, of sorts, to the sweet and simple sugary frosting. Baking purists might say that meringue-based buttercream is the only actual “buttercream.” 
  • Made from granulated sugar, egg whites, butter, vanilla and salt (with countless options for variations). Both are a bit time-consuming, but fairy simple to make. The process involves beating cool-but-softened unsalted butter chunks into stiff-peak meringue, followed by adding flavourings. They are almost identical in taste and texture, and simply differ by way in which the meringue is made before adding the butter.
  • The result is very rich, buttery, creamy and not too sweet.
  • The most versatile frosting you can make — once your base is made, you can flavour it with everything from melted chocolate to lemon curd.
  • Used for filling and frosting cakes of all kinds, coating cakes to be covered in marzipan or rolled fondant, frosting cupcakes, filling baked meringues, and more. In most cases, this is the buttercream that you will see on a wedding or event cake that isn’t covered in fondant.
  • Meringue-based buttercreams are the most stable frosting you can use for a cake that will be outside in the heat, although it will melt in direct sunlight and severe heat.
  • Pipe-a-bility: excellent. Keeps shape the best of all frostings, and will hold up to ruffles, swirls, and more.
  • Takes well to colour, but has buttery tone, causing some challenges when attempting certain colours, such as baby blue (will have teal appearance) and pink (can have a peach appearance). I have also found that it does not take well to Wilton brand colours (the colour seems to become speckled). It seems Sugarflair and AmeriColor brands work best in every scenario. Because the buttercream is so rich and buttery, I also find it’s very difficult to get deep, dark pigmented colours.
  • Can be frozen (a month) or refrigerated (a week) in an airtight container, then brought to room temperature before re-whipping.
  • You can find the Lemon-Blueberry Macaron Delight Cake featured in the above collage in this post.

9. Royal Icing

  • Typically made from meringue powder/egg whites, icing sugar, cream of tartar and water.
  • A one-bowl icing that is a simple mixture of all of the ingredients slowly incorporated in a mixer on low speed for 10-12 minutes.
  • The result is glossy and very sweet.
  • Can alter thickness from super-thick to thin and runny by adding water, depending on what it’s being used for.
  • Most often used for decorating cookies, gingerbread houses, covering cupcakes (fairy cakes) and as a glue for adhering sugar decorations to cakes, cookies, gingerbread houses, and more.
  • Pipe-a-bility: thicker royal icing (not as much water) pipes beautifully, and it what is used on wedding cakes and fancy cakes for piped patterns, swags, flowers, and more. It dries very hard.
  • Can be kept at room temperature for a day, but must always be covered, or it will get crusty. Can refrigerate by covering bowl with a damp cloth with a dinner plate on top, for up to 2 days.
  • You can find the Marzipan-Filled Easter Cookies shown in the collage in this post.

So friends, I hope that helps in some way. If I’ve not answered some of your frosting-related questions, feel free to leave them in the comment section of this post, and I’ll do my best to answer them!

I’ll be back in a few days with another recipe. ♥

Related posts:

Autumn Delight Cake

Autumn Delight Cake via Sweetapolita

So it turns out this cake has more ingredients than any cake I have ever made! And when I started to write the cake description in the blog title, I realized that there are 18 words and two ampersands in the name. Yep. Okay, ready? The Autumn Delight cake is a 4-Layer Sweet Potato & Ginger Layer Cake with Toasted Marshmallow Filling, Candied Pecans and Brown Sugar & Cinnamon Buttercream. When I tried to edit that, I realized that each one of those ingredients are key, and I couldn’t bare the thought of taking any words away. Okay, you’re right, I’m just being silly, but most importantly I am really excited about this cake. In my heart, I am drawn to all thing pastel and sprinkly, but there is a big part of me that just loves autumny, spiced flavours. At this time of year, my sister-in-law, Mary, makes that gorgeous southern sweet potato casserole dish that you have likely heard of or tried, that marries sweet potatoes, brown sugar, marshmallows, vanilla and pecans, and I thought it would be a nice treat to create a cake version of that dish. So on with the apron and into the kitchen I went . . .

Autumn Delight Cake via Sweetapolita

What I love about this recipe is how moist, creamy, and unexpected some of the elements are. I made a sweet potato layer spice cake and added a generous quantity of crystallized ginger for texture and taste to the cake layers themselves, and then filled the cake with whipped toasted marshmallow filling (remember the one from this cake?) that I sprinkled with candied pecans for crunch (you even get those little buttery brown sugary bits that fall off the pecans every now and then). Since the filling was quite sweet, I decided to frost it with a Brown Sugar & Cinnamon Swiss Meringue Buttercream that is fluffy, satiny and perfectly brown sugary and not-too sweet, in true Swiss Meringue Buttercream fashion. The neat part about making Brown Sugar Buttercream is that you essentially just switch the white sugar for brown sugar, and voila! The taste is really quite different and it was the perfect addition to this concoction–particulary when topped with a generous handful of the candied pecans and crystallized ginger.

Autumn Delight Cake via Sweetapolita

So think about it this way: Every bite is crunchy, then brown sugar creamy, then dense, moist & spicy, then sweet and crispy, oh, and then crunchy, and then dense, moist & spicy, and then sweet and crispy, and oh, yet again crunchy, then dense, moist & spicy, then, alas, sweet and crispy, and then dense, moist & spicy. Help me, Rhonda.

Autumn Delight Cake via Sweetapolita

If the sweet potato thing is throwing you off your dessert-loving game, well, don’t fear. It’s much like carrot cake or pumpkin cake, and the texture is like no other–it’s dense yet light all at once. You have my word. I wasn’t sure either, but now I am pretty certain.

Autumn Delight Cake via Sweetapolita

I once wrote that the Zingy Orange Ginger Carrot Cake with White Chocolate Icing is my ultimate-tasting cake, and I have always stood by that statement because I meant it. Well, this cake comes a close second or possibly ties for first. Or possibly the unthinkable: it could be even better.

If you make this cake, just know that it does take some time, but I felt it was completely worth it, and I think it would make an incredible addition to any Thanksgiving event or any autumn day.

Autumn Delight Cake

Yield: One 4-layer, 8-inch round cake

Sweet Potato & Ginger Layer Cake with Toasted Marshmallow Filling, Candied Pecans and Brown Sugar & Cinnamon Buttercream

Ingredients

    For the Cake Layers:
  • 3 large sweet potatoes (about 900 g)
  • 2 cups (400 g) sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1-1/4 cups (315 ml) sunflower oil (or vegetable, safflower, canola oil)
  • 2 cups (230 g) cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon (7 g) ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons (8 g) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (7 g) salt
  • 1 teaspoon (3 g) ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon (1.5 g) ground ginger
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) brandy or dark rum
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup (120 g) crystallized ginger, chopped
  • For the Filling:
  • 16 large white marshmallows
  • 1 cup (125 g) icing sugar (confectioners' or powdered), sifted
  • 1 cup butter (227 g)(2 sticks), at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) pure vanilla extract
  • 1 jar (213 g) marshmallow cream (such as Marshmallow Fluff)
  • For the Buttercream:
  • 5 large egg whites (150 g))
  • 1-1/4 cups (250 g) light brown sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups (3 sticks)(340 g) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • a few pinches of cinnamon, to taste
  • For the Candied Pecans:
  • 2 tablespoons (28 g) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons (24 g) brown sugar
  • 1 cup (100 g) pecan pieces

Instructions

    For the Cake Layers:
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 8-inch round cake pans, dust with flour, tap out excess and set aside.
  2. Place the sweet potatoes on a microwave-safe plate and pierce them with a fork. Microwave until they are tender (about 7-8 minutes each side). Carefully remove the skin when cool enough to touch, and mash the flesh into a coarse puree.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar and eggs together on medium-high speed (I use #6 on KitchenAid) until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the oil and beat on medium until combined. Add the cooled sweet potato puree and mix until combined.
  4. Sift dry ingredients together (cake flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and ground ginger) and then add to sweet potato mixture.
  5. Mix in brandy/dark rum (I used dark rum) and vanilla. Gently stir in crystallized ginger.
  6. Evenly distribute batter into the prepared pans (weigh them if possible with digital kitchen scale), smooth with a small offset palette knife and place in the center of the middle rack of the oven, about 2 inches apart. Bake until a knife or skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.
  7. Let pans cool on a wire rack 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto rack and cool them completely.
  8. For the Filling:
  9. Place marshmallows on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Place on lower rack of oven, and broil marshmallows until nice and brown on top, between 30-60 seconds. Remove pan from oven and gently turn the marshmallows over, and broil until they are golden brown. (Be sure to keep an eye on them--they burn very quickly.)
  10. In an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine butter and icing sugar on low until blended, about 1 minute. Add vanilla and mix on med-high for about 3 minutes.
  11. Add marshmallow cream and toasted marshmallows, and mix on lowest setting for about 1 minute.
  12. For the Buttercream:
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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 cinnamon to taste and blend.
  16. For the Candied Pecans:
  17. Melt the butter in a small pan. Mix in brown sugar, and add the pecans. Toss to coat.
  18. Cook on medium low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Be sure to watch carefully so they don’t burn.
  19. Turn out onto parchment paper or aluminum foil and let cool for 5 minutes; break apart into smaller pieces if using halves.
  20. Assembly of the Autumn Delight Cake
  21. Slice both cake layers in half horizontally, so you have 4 cake layers.
  22. Place the first layer on a plate, pedestal or cake board cut side up (so bottom of the cake layer is touching plate), and spread ~3/4 cup of Toasted Marshmallow Filling with a small offset palette knife, leaving 1" or so around the edge. Sprinkle with a handful of candied pecans pieces.
  23. Repeat previous step until you get to the final cake layer. Place last layer face down and chill cake for 30-40 minutes.
  24. Frost cake with Brown Sugar Buttercream and top with a generous handful of candied pecans and crystallized ginger.
  25. Finished cake can be kept at room temperature for up to 8 hours. Keep refrigerated if longer than 8 hours, but always serve at room temperature (Swiss Buttercream should never be served cold, as it goes back to a cold-butter texture).

Notes

* You can make buttercream ahead and keep in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to one week, leaving out at room temperature when needed, re-whipping in mixer for 5 minutes.

**Can freeze buttercream for up to 6-8 weeks. To thaw, place on counter overnight, and rewhip for 5 minutes with paddle attachment in an electric mixer. If not satiny enough upon rewhip, take 1/3 of buttercream and microwave in a microwave-safe container for ~8 seconds, then add back to mixing bowl and remix with remaining buttercream.

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[cake layer recipe adapted from Martha Stewart]

[candied pecan recipe adapted from Creative Culinary]

Good luck & enjoy!

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Six-Layer Dark Chocolate & Strawberry Buttercream Cake

Six-Layer Chocolate & Strawberry Buttercream Cake via Sweetapolita

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!

Dark Chocolate & Strawberry Cake via Sweetapolita

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!

Six-Layer Dark Chocolate & Strawberry Buttercream Cake

Yield: One 6-layer, 6-inch round cake

Ingredients

    For the Cake:
  • 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
  • For the Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
  • 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)
  • For the Glaze:
  • 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

Instructions

    For the Cake:
  1. 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.
  2. In bowl of electric mixer, sift all dry ingredients.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Cool on wire racks for 20 minutes then gently invert onto racks until completely cool.
  6. For the Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
  7. 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).
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Add strawberry puree to taste or the finely chopped strawberries, and blend until combined. Add small amount of pink food colouring, if desired.
  12. For the Glaze:
  13. 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.
  14. Assembly of the Six-Layer Dark Chocolate & Strawberry Buttercream Cake
  15. 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.
  16. Using a small offset palette knife, spread approximately 1/2 cup of buttercream evenly on the top.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. Chill cake.
  21. 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.
  22. Chill again to set.
  23. *Bring to room temperature before serving--about 2+ hours. Never serve Swiss Meringue Buttercream until it is soft and room temperature.
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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:

I hope that helps those of you who were curious! See you soon with another baked treat.

Good luck & enjoy!

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