Choco Choco Birthday Cake

Choco Choco Birthday Cake via Sweetapolita

Happy Birthday! Who’s birthday is it? I’m not sure, but it’s got to be someone’s birthday and I know they deserve this cake. Besides, any cake designated a birthday cake and adorned with candles just tastes better, in my opinion–especially chocolate cake.

Do you ever wake up in the morning and say, “That’s it, I’ve had quite enough chocolate in my lifetime. Please, whatever you do, don’t give me any more chocolate!”? Me neither. That would just be weird. And sometimes I wake up and realize that if I don’t have scale-tipping amounts of chocolate, most often in cake form, I may not make it through the day. Who’s with me? Is that a girl thing? A survival thing? A hormonal thing? Either way, that’s how this cake came to be, or at least how it came to be in my kitchen.

Choco Choco Birthday Cake via Sweetapolita

It’s a super-chocolaty layer cake that has both dark chocolate and natural cocoa powder, as well as sour cream, butter, brown sugar and more. The frosting is as light as air and is made using a variation of the old-fashioned cooked flour & milk method, and it’s perfect for those who don’t like super sweet frosting, because it’s basically just creamy, chocolaty fluffiness (yes, I’m an adjective junkie). In addition to the flour and milk, it’s made using granulated sugar (no icing sugar), a double dose of dark chocolate (cocoa powder and melted chocolate), vanilla and glorious heaps of butter.

Choco Choco Birthday Cake via Sweetapolita

So here’s what happened: I came across this recipe for this cake on epicurious one day, and it’s all I could think about for weeks (literally). I was really intrigued by not only the name (mile-high chocolate cake), the yummy photo and the very thought of all of that chocolate in one cake, but by the mixed reviews. It was so divided, and those who liked it, loved it and those who didn’t, really didn’t. This always fascinates me. I know it’s human nature to have a unique opinion, but how could it be so varied? It seems that those who didn’t love it had some issues with preparation, so that would explain that, but since several others loved it, I couldn’t resist giving it a try.

Choco Choco Birthday Cake via Sweetapolita

Okay, so the cake layers do take quite a bit more time than the beloved one-bowl chocolate cake layers, for certain, but I really loved the taste and texture of this cake. It’s dense and moist, but above all it was very, very chocolaty. The frosting is the lightest chocolate frosting I’ve ever eaten, and the not-so-sweet factor allowed the chocolate to come through in full force.

I’m really excited to make another batch of this frosting again for a close friend, Danielle, who finds sugary frosting almost impossible to eat, yet appreciates chocolaty desserts. There’s also a good chance that I will make another batch simply for me to bathe in.

Instead of baking the cake layers in 2 standard round cake pans, I did 1 standard round cake pan and 1 contour cake pan, so that the top would be slightly domed, because I had other plans for decorating this cake, but when I started to frost it, I couldn’t get over how light the frosting was, and it just desperately wanted to be swirled by the spoonful onto the cake. So, next time I would probably stick with the 2 standard round cake pans. Turns out it’s simply one of those cakes that doesn’t want to be structured and fancy–it just wants to be rich & chocolaty.

So this weekend, whether you’re baking this or anything at all, bake up some memories–it’s good for the soul (yours and others’).

Or just let it all go and get wild.

Or both.

In other exciting news:

  • Check out this fun interview I did for the M.I.S.S. feature, “Women Making History.” I found their questions so refreshing!
  • My talented blogger friend, Heather from Sprinkle Bakes, is only weeks away (May 1st) from her new book release: SprinkleBakes: Dessert Recipes to Inspire Your Inner Artist, but it is now available for pre-order. This book will be something special, I can guarantee it. Congratulations, Heather!
  • I’m working my through Ree’s new cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier, recipe by recipe, and I can honestly say that because of her and her books, my friends and family are starting to think I can actually cook.
  • I’m not sure how I just discovered it, but I’m loving HeyYoYo on esty for super-fun party and cake decorating doodads. Not only does she have an amazing array of goods, but she ships all over the world and for a really reasonable price. As someone in the seemingly far away land that is Canada, I so appreciate that shop-owner Amanda recognizes that shipping here for less than a fortune is doable. And her stuff is just way too fun.

So, here’s the recipe for this choco choco cake, and what I’ve done is listed the ingredients as found in the original recipe, and then added the weight measurements and my own method and notes. It may or may not be the messiest cake I’ve ever made, as far as the prep goes. I’ve no idea how or why, but my kitchen was invaded with chocolate and dishes, but it was worth it. As it always is.

Choco Choco Birthday Cake          {click to print}

(aka Mile-High Chocolate Cake from epicurious.com)

Yield 10 to 12 servings

Active Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 3 1/2 hours

Ingredients

For the cake:

5 ounces (145 grams) good-quality dark or extra dark chocolate (semisweet or bittersweet), chopped (I used Callebaut Dark Callets)

2 1/4 sticks (9 ounces/260 grams) unsalted butter, softened

2 3/4 cups (11 ounces/315 grams) cake flour (not self-rising), sifted *see notes

1/4 cup (24 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process, such as Ghirardelli Chocolate Baking Cocoa)

2 teaspoons (12 grams) baking soda

1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking powder

1/2 teaspoon (4 grams) salt

4 large eggs, at room temperature 30 minutes

1 cup (7 ounces/200 grams) granulated sugar

1 cup (7.5 ounces/220 grams) packed light brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons (7.5 mL) pure vanilla extract (I use Nielsen-Massey Vanilla)

2 cups (475 mL) sour cream

For frosting

1 cup (7 ounces/200 grams) granulated sugar

6 tablespoons (47 grams) all-purpose flour

6 tablespoons (36 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder (natural, not Dutch-process, such as such as Ghirardelli Chocolate Baking Cocoa) *see notes

1 1/2 cups (360 mL) whole milk

4 ounces (115 grams) good-quality dark or extra dark (semisweet or bittersweet) chocolate, finely chopped (I used Callebaut Dark Callets)

1 tablespoon (15 mL) pure vanilla extract (I used Nielsen-Massey Vanilla)

6 sticks (1.5 pound/680 grams/3 cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Method

Make the cake:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F and put oven rack in the middle. Grease two 8-inch round cake pans, dust with flour or cocoa powder, tap out excess and set aside.

2. Melt the chocolate and butter until smooth. You can do this in the microwave in 20 second intervals, or in a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering (not boiling) water (be sure the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl). Let cool.

3. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla on medium speed (I use #4 on KitchenAid) until light and fluffy, about 4-5 minutes.

5. At low speed (I use #2 on my KitchenAid), mix in melted chocolate until incorporated, followed by dry ingredients in 3 batches alternately with sour cream, beginning and ending with dry ingredients and mixing until each addition is just incorporated. *Don’t over-mix.

6. Spread batter evenly in pans (you can weigh batter in pans for perfectly even layers) using a small offset spatula. Rap pans several times on counter to eliminate any air bubble and bake on center rack until a toothpick comes clean and remove cakes from oven, about 35-40 minutes. *Be sure to not open oven before 2o minutes (with these cakes, ideally 30 minutes) to check cakes and take care to not over-bake.

7. Let cakes cool in pans on wire racks for about 10 minutes, and then carefully loosen them from the edges of the cake pans with your small palette knife and gently invert cakes onto racks to cool completely (about an hour).

Make frosting:

1. Whisk together sugar, flour, cocoa powder and a pinch of salt in a  small heavy saucepan over medium heat, then add milk and cook, whisking  constantly, until mixture boils and is smooth and thick (5-8 minutes).

2. Remove saucepan from heat and whisk in chocolate and vanilla, until smooth. Transfer mixture to a heatproof bowl to cool to room temperature, covering surface with parchment paper to prevent a skin from forming.

3. In electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter until creamy, about 5 minutes, then gradually add cooled chocolate mixture, beating until frosting is fluffy and spreadable.

Assembly of the Double Chocolate Birthday Cake:

1. Cut each cake with one horizontal cut using a long serrated knife (I use the Mac Bread Knife for all my cake layering and trimming).

2. Put 1 layer on a cake stand or large plate (cut side up) and spread top with 1 1/4 cups frosting using an offset spatula (such as this Offset Spatula)

3. Repeat with 2 more layers, then add remaining layer (cut side down) and spread top and side of cake with remaining frosting. If frosting is too soft, put it in the refrigerator for a few moments, remove and carry on.

Sweetapolita’s Notes

  • This cake is dense in nature, but moist and very chocolaty.
  • To learn more about cake flour (and many others) or to make your own cake flour, check out this previous post).
  • If you don’t have unsweetened natural cocoa, and only Dutch process (cocoa that’s been treated with an alkalizing agent to neutralize the natural acidity of cocoa powder), you can make an adjustment and use it, but don’t straight out substitute it. You can add 1/8 teaspoon of cream of tartar, or 1/8  teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar, for every 3 tablespoons (18 grams) of Dutch process in the recipe to balance it out (thank Joy of Baking for that tip!).
  • I made the cake 2 days ahead and wrapped the uncut layers tightly in plastic wrap and kept on the counter (room temp).
  • I made the frosting right before needing it, but the recipe notes that frosting can be made 2 days ahead and chilled, covered–bring to room temperature (about 1 hour) and beat until fluffy before using.
  • I frosted the cake and covered and chilled it (because of the sour cream and soft nature of the frosting) overnight, and it was still moist.
  • I found the small alphabet candles at a local bakery, but I can’t seem to find the same ones online for you to source (for those of you who may want to know). I’ll keep checking, because they’re so cute and fun.

Good luck & enjoy!

 


Related posts:

Strawberry Layer Cake with Whipped Strawberry Frosting

Strawberry Layer Cake via Sweetapolita

Well, hello there! I’m here, I’m here! Life got a little crazy for the past 2 weeks–cakes and beyond (beyond and beyond), but I’m so glad to be back and focused on my personal mission to never wear a bikini again share all of my favourite cakes and baked goods with you, one by one. Strawberry cake has been on my recent would-love-to-make-again list, because, well, I just love the old-fashioned taste of strawberry cake and strawberry frosting. I did recently (my birthday) make a strawberry Swiss buttercream to top a dark chocolate cake (here), but I was still craving double strawberry cake, and, dare I say, more sugary-but-satiny frosting. Then, it happened: I was officially inspired by a jelly bean. Yep, a tiny, little, harmless jelly bean. See, a few weeks ago, while doing some “candy research” for another project, I found the discovered the yummiest jelly beans ever created, and I’m not even a “jelly bean girl.”

I bought a bunch of Jelly Belly’s “Cold Stone Ice Cream Parlor Mix,” and these little things pack some serious ice cream flavour–I actually couldn’t even believe it. I think I may need to revisit the whole I’m-not-really-into-jelly-beans thing. This particular bunch I bought is a variety of ice cream related flavour combinations, including a pink one they call “Our Strawberry Blonde.” One little wee, pink jelly bean manages to pull together the flavours of strawberry ice cream, graham cracker pie crust, strawberries, caramel, and whipped cream . . . can you imagine? So, although I didn’t incorporate graham cracker pie crust or caramel (yet), I was inspired to create a sweet strawberry cake with an overall ice cream parlour taste.

Strawberry Layer Cake via Sweetapolita

For the cake, I went with a moist strawberry butter cake, frosted with whipped strawberry frosting that, for some inexplicable reason, tastes like strawberry ice cream (remember it in vanilla form, here?). I topped it with some whipped cream swirls, and, of course, the ice cream parlour jelly beans. I should say, though, that although I’m usually a bit more of a dessert purest, the cake recipe itself does use strawberry gelatin (yep, Jell-O) to boost the colour and flavour, in addition to the real strawberry puree. Although there are bakers out there that strive and succeed to use only puree and/or strawberry pieces to flavour the cake (and those recipes do look gorgeous), for some reason, I’m personally not offended by incorporating the gelatin. I was really close to going the purest route as well, but in this situation, I find the sweet strawberry flavour really reminiscent of my childhood, and I love it: I love that it’s pink, and I love the taste. Overall, it has a really ice cream parlour feel to me, and nothing bad ever comes from an ice cream parlour, does it?

On a sidenote, I get oodles of emails asking about slicing cakes, and how I get mine to slice “so perfectly,” so here are my thoughts on that–I’m not a cake-slicing expert, but I hope it helps in some way:

Tips for Cutting the Perfect Layer-Cake Slice:

1.  All Cakes are Not Created Equal: The first issue is the type of cake you’re slicing–some varieties simply slice and serve neater than others. I find that very moist, light cakes, such as the Fluffy Vanilla Cake, tend to want to fall not so perfectly when sliced (although, we won’t hold that against it, or other cakes like that, because they are so yummy and uniquely delicious). That being said, I find that if I refrigerate those cakes for an hour or so after frosting, it does tend to set them a bit. The only issue with that, is that typically refrigeration butter cakes can dry them out a touch. Chocolate cakes I have no problem slicing neatly at room temperature, but they are particularly easy to slice when they are refrigerated for a short time as well. The great news is that oil-based chocolate cakes stay so moist, even once refrigerated, so that’s a definite win-win.

2. The Right Stuff: Slicing a cake with a sharp, long, thin knife is key for me when slicing layer cakes. I use a large glass of hot water to dip the knife into and dry cloth to wipe clean between each cut. This makes a huge difference, I find.

3. Method to the Madness: I believe that the method you use to slice your cakes is really important. I press the tip of the knife gently into the centre of the cake once I’ve placed it where the slice will be cut, then slowly begin to slice the cake with the knife’s tip cutting the cake just slightly before the rest of the knife, so that it is the first part of the knife to hit the bottom of the slice/cake plate. I use one relatively clean cut, but never a sawing motion. Once the entire knife has reached the bottom of the slice and is touching the cake board/plate, I slowly remove the knife straight out towards me, never letting the bottom of the knife lift from bottom of slice. To remove the slice from the plate, I like to slide the flat side of the knife under the cut slice, so it is supporting the entire piece, and gently remove it so it is resting on the knife. Then I usually lay it flat on a plate to serve. For photos I do often place the slice upright, which works for many cakes–you can judge the likeliness of that once you pull out the first slice, and go from there.

4. Size Matters: This may go without saying, but you’ll find that the taller your cake, the more difficult slicing the perfect slice can be, but it’s definitely not impossible. You’ll likely notice that two-layer cake will cut much cleaner than a 4, 5, or 6+ layer cake. Even a 3-layer cake can give you trouble if it’s too fragile or if you’re not using the right knife or method. If you follow steps 1-3, though, you will likely find that you can make it work.

5. Let Them Eat Cake: Just remember that my efforts to achieve super-neat slices of cake is mostly because I want to photograph a cake in its loveliest possible moment. When I serve cake at home, it’s not always neat and tidy because I insist on serving it as fresh and soft as possible. If it means a yummer-but-messy cake, I recommend just doing whatever it takes to get the cake to your guest in its freshest, tastiest form–even if it is a little messy. If you follow the above steps, really, it shouldn’t be sloppy, but some just may be cleaner cut than others.

I hope this helps!

Strawberry Layer Cake with Whipped Strawberry Frosting

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

Ingredients

    For the Cake:
  • 1-3/4 cups (350 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 (85 g) package strawberry flavored gelatin (such as Jell-O)
  • 1 cup (227 g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 eggs (room temperature)
  • 3 cups (300 g) sifted cake & pastry flour
  • 1 tablespoon (15 g) baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon (5 g) salt
  • 1 cup (240 ml) whole milk, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) strawberry puree made from frozen strawberries (puree itself should be closer to room temp, not frozen or icy)
  • For the Frosting:
  • 3 sticks + 2 tablespoons (375 g) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
  • 4 cups sifted (500 g) confectioners' sugar (icing, powdered), sifted
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) milk
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon (7.5 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) strawberry puree made from frozen strawberries (if you want the frosting seed-free, you can put the puree through a sieve before adding to frosting)

Instructions

    For the Cake:
  1. If you're making your own strawberry puree, remove frozen strawberries (about 2 handfuls) from freezer and place in a single layer in a flat dish to thaw slightly. Place into food processor and puree the strawberries until smooth. Stir to ensure it is nice and smooth and not icy. Measure out 1/4 cup for cake and 3 tablespoons for frosting, and freeze the remaining puree for another use.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter, line with parchment, and flour three round 8-inch pans, tapping out the excess. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl or measuring cup, combine and stir the milk, strawberry puree, and the vanilla. Set aside. Sift and whisk dry ingredients together in a medium bowl, and set aside.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the sugar, gelatin, and butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the eggs, one by one, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl with spatula.
  6. Add the wet & dry ingredients to the creamed mixture by alternating--beginning and ending with dry ingredients and mixing just enough after each addition to incorporate, but not over-mix.
  7. Divide the batter in three, spreading it evenly with a small offset palette knife. If you have a kitchen scale, weigh each pan filled with batter, to ensure 3 even layers. Bake 25-30 minutes or until a cake tester comes clean when inserted into the center. Be so careful to not over-bake. Check cakes at 20 minutes, but not before, and once you feel it's almost ready, set the timer for 2 minute intervals. 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.
  8. 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 eaten day one.
  9. For the Frosting:
  10. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip butter for 8 minutes on medium speed (I use "4" on my KitchenAid). Butter will become very pale & creamy.
  11. Add remaining ingredients, except strawberry puree, and mix on low speed for 1 minute, then on medium speed for 6 minutes. Frosting will be very light, creamy and fluffy. Add strawberry puree (can be cool, but not frozen or icy) and mix until incorporated.
  12. Assembly of the Strawberry Layer Cake with Whipped Strawberry Frosting:
  13. Place a cake layer face-up on cake plate or 8" round thin cake board. Place 1 cup of frosting on top, and spread evenly with a small offset palette knife.
  14. Repeat until you come to final layer and place final layer, face-down. Place a generous scoop of frosting 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. Use a bench scraper to achieve very smooth sides. Chill until set, about 30 minutes.
  15. Remove from refrigerator and cover with a final layer of frosting. Finish with any decorations of choice, or frosting borders.

Notes

*I used stabilized whipped cream (1 cup whipping cream whipped with 1/4 tsp unflavoured gelatin) and Jelly Belly's "Our Strawberry Blonde" jelly beans (combines the flavour strawberry ice cream, graham cracker pie crust, strawberries, caramel, and whipped cream...um, yummy!)

**A little tip to help make evenly spaced whipped cream (or other decoration) touches: Take a cake pan the same size and shape as your cake, trace onto a piece of parchment paper and cut it out. Fold it in 1/2, then again, and once more for 8 servings. Unfold, and gently place onto top of chilled cake, and using a toothpick make a little mark in the center of each "slice," where the whipped cream will go. Remove paper and keep for next time. Pipe your whipped cream over of each mark.

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http://sweetapolita.com/2011/08/strawberry-layer-cake-with-whipped-strawberry-frosting/

[cake layer recipe adapted from allrecipes.com]

Good luck & enjoy!

Related posts:

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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Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Instant Fudge Frosting

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake via Sweetapolita

I have a real thing for the 70′s. I mean, heck, I was born smack dab in the middle of them, into a family of much older siblings ready and eager to love, spoil and torment an unsuspecting baby sister, so overall I’d say it was a pretty fabulous era. When I think back to my first memories of cake, they come along with my first memories of life at all: sitting around the dining room table with siblings who, at that time, would have been about 15, 14 and 8. I have particularly fond memories of the family birthday dinners gathered around that same table, eating the birthday kid’s meal of choice: my mom’s lasagna, my dad’s famous barbeque steak dinners, or, any other favourite of the time. There was, though, one thing that didn’t vary: the cake.

Throughout the 70′s (and possibly the 60′s), I remember my mom serving yellow birthday cakes with chocolate fudgy icing. I was so young, but I can envision these cakes in rectangular glass baking dishes smothered with the icing, sprinkles, and colourful birthday candles. I’m fascinated by this, and I’ve asked around: it seems that many others have these same yellow & brown cakey memories of the 1970s. Perhaps it was the combinations of signature colours-of-the-era: golden yellow cake (or, should we say, Harvest Gold) and warm chocolate brown (or Rust Brown) frosting that drew them to this type of cake. The memories overtook me the moment I spotted this classic cake in one of my beloved baking books: Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes, and I knew I had to try it. I also love the traditional layer-cake structure, the homespun feel of it, and the decadent-but-uncomplicated flavour combination of vanilla buttermilk & fudgy chocolate.

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake via Sweetapolita

With a total of 4 whole eggs + 2 additional egg yolks, as well as buttermilk, butter, and a generous amount of sugar, this cake has a gorgeous texture and is a beautiful golden yellow.  The process was different than I’m used to, with a mixing of the egg, a portion of the buttermilk, and vanilla to begin; followed by a whisking of the dry ingredients with the sugar; the addition & mixing of the butter and partial buttermilk; and then adding the initial egg & milk mixture into the batter. Confused yet? It wasn’t any more difficult than the classic butter cake technique, but just different. The switch in technique was a welcome change and resulted in a lofty and moist cake.

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake via Sweetapolita

The frosting is made in the food processor, which was pretty exciting for me since I am in love with my new food processor and am always looking for a reason to use it. As the title suggests, it was made in an “instant,” since you just put all of the frosting ingredients into the food processor and, well, process. Was really simple and fun to make, and the result was fluffy, satiny and rich. As I always do, I used my favourite Belgian bittersweet chocolate, Callebaut, which makes it even  more decadent and flavourful.

I find that in these kinds of recipes where the main flavour of the frosting or cake is classic chocolate or vanilla, that it’s truly worth using the best chocolate or vanilla that you can get, as the flavours really come through and really are the main attraction. With such a yummy and classic frosting base, though, you can even get a little adventurous and add a few drops of almond extract, or say 1/4 teaspoon (or so) of instant espresso for a mocha version. Those are just ideas, but you can use your imagination and add anything you like, or, of course, leave it traditional & simple.

So, here’s the family in our yellow-cake-with-chocolate-frosting days, or well, 1975. I found this while digging through old photo albums the other day, and I love it. My brother Andy, my mom, me (the baby who seemingly was the only one experiencing gale force winds that day . . . what was up, and I mean up, with my bangs?), my sister Michele, my sister Linda and my dad. This was actually taken in California, where we were visiting our relatives. It wasn’t until I had 2 kids, that I really began to appreciate, and become in awe of, what my mom’s life must have been like with 4 kids, and this trip is no exception: they drove all of us, including 1-year-old me, in a station wagon (yes with wood panel sides, I believe) the 2,700+miles from Ontario, Canada to California in the peak of the summer months. What I’d give to go back in time and watch that go down.

Here I am a few years later, in my favourite red checkered dress, eagerly awaiting birthday hot dogs and, I would bet, yellow cake with chocolate frosting. It was only a few short years after this party that the 80′s were in full swing, and that I discovered frilly white heart-shaped cakes with pink icing flowers from the bakery, where I insisted my mom buy my birthday cakes each year for pretty much the rest of my pre-adult life. Hey, is that a Harvest Gold refrigerator I see? Of course it is! Were you a Harvest Gold household? Avocado Green? Rust Brown?

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake via Sweetapolita

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Instant Fudge Frosting

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

Ingredients

    For the Cake:
  • 4 whole eggs, room temperature
  • 2 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1-1/4 cups (297 ml) buttermilk, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups (360 g) cake flour, sifted
  • 2 cups (400 g) sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon (17 g) baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon (4 g) salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks)(227 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • For the Frosting:
  • 6 oz. (180 g) quality unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 4-1/2 cups (563 g) confectioners' sugar (no need to sift)
  • 1-1/2 cups (3 sticks)(340 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons (90 ml) half-and-half
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) pure vanilla extract

Instructions

    For the Cake:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans, line bottoms with parchment round, butter the rounds and dust with flour.
  2. Put the eggs and yolks in a medium mixing mixing bowl, add 1/4 cup of the buttermilk and the vanilla. Whisk to blend well.
  3. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large mixer bowl; whisk to blend. Add the butter and the remaining 1 cup buttermilk to these dry ingredients and with the mixer on low, blend together. Raise the mixer speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add the egg mixture in 3 additions, scraping down the side of the bowl and mixing only until thoroughly incorporated.
  5. Divide batter evenly among the 3 prepared pan (use a kitchen scale to ensure 3 even layers). Bake the cake layers for 28-32 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes clean and the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let the layers cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then carefully turn out onto wire racks, peel of the paper liners, and let cool completely.
  6. For the Frosting:
  7. Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to incorporate. Then process until the frosting is smooth.
  8. Assembly of the Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Instant Fudge Frosting:
  9. Place one layer, face-up on a cake stand or plate. Spread 3/4 cup of the frosting over the layer right to the edge using a small offset palette knife. Repeat with the next layer.
  10. Place the last layer on top and use all but 3/4 cup of the frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake. With an offset palette knife or spatula, smooth out the frosting all over. Place the remaining 3/4 cup frosting in a pastry bag fitted with a medium star tube and pipe a shell border around the top and bottom edges of the cake.
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[slightly adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes]

Sweetapolita’s Notes:

  • For the ultimate version of this frosting, I used my favourite Belgian bittersweet chocolate: Callebaut Chocolate – Pure – Bittersweet – 1 kg
  • For a mocha frosting, you can add 1/4 teaspoon (or more, to taste) instant espresso powder.
  • If you don’t have a food processor, you can make this frosting in your mixer by beating the butter and confectioners’ sugar with the paddle attachment for about a minute on low speed, followed by another minute on medium-high speed. Add the remaining ingredients and beat on medium-high speed for about 2 minutes, until fluffy.
  • Frosting is best used immediately, but holds up nicely on the cake once frosted.
  • Finished cake keeps best in a cake-saver at room temperature for up to 3 days.
  • You may enjoy the previous post 50 Tips for Baking Better Cakes.
Good luck & enjoy!

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Vanilla Bean Latte Layer Cake

Vanilla Bean Latte Layer Cake via Sweetapolita

So, it turns out I have not one, but two addictions: cake and Vanilla Bean Lattes. I suppose this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, since I am a coffee/espresso enthusiast as well as a vanilla bean enthusiast. I love the combination of the deep and dark espresso, vanilla bean, steamed milk, and, for me, a sprinkling of cinnamon; it’s  full and flavourful, while still being light and airy. I’ve been wanting to translate this yumminess into a cake and, after thinking about it for awhile, I realized that there really are many ways to do this, because these flavours are all so cake-friendly, and work so well together. I decided to go about it in a pretty simplistic manner, as my first experiment with Vanilla Bean Lattes cake-style: three layers of moist vanilla bean cake, filled and decorated with Vanilla Bean Latte Swiss Meringue Buttercream, and sprinkled with a touch more cinnamon.

I have to admit that turning a vanilla cake into a latte-inspired confection took only moments to do, because I always keep a batch of vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMB) in my freezer, and with the sprinkling of a few flavourings, it was transformed into the perfect filling for this cake. Not that it’s always about decadent desserts made speedy, but I have a feeling many of you are like me in that time is, well, rare! That’s also why I love this “open-faced” method of building the cake, aside from it being pretty and fun (I hope!), it’s very quick to do since there’s no fussing with excessive smoothing, crumb-coating, and focusing on, or obsessing about (#typeA) perfection. You can just fill a pastry bag and have fun. I timed it, and flavouring the buttercream took me about 5 minutes and assembling/decorating this cake took me 5 minutes (granted, it’s a bit of a fancy-free decorating  job I did), at a casual pace, so a total of 1o minutes. Typically, I love sitting for hours and fussing over cakes, but since that’s not always possible, it’s so important to me to have some cakes that can fancy-up quick. This is why I insist on keeping batches of SMB in my freezer!

Vanilla Bean Latte Layer Cake via Sweetapolita

To achieve the Vanilla Bean Latte flavour in the buttercream, I added instant espresso powder (has to be the instant variety), vanilla bean paste (interchangeable with vanilla beans), and a few pinches of cinnamon (which is how I love my lattes). The cinnamon is potent, so only a pinch is necessary–you don’t want to overpower the gorgeous vanilla bean and espresso flavours. I’ve included my ratios in the recipe, but if you try this version, play around, because it really is to taste.

Vanilla Bean Latte Layer Cake via Sweetapolita

My recipe also uses a vanilla bean cake, but you could easily try a light espresso cake with vanilla bean buttercream, or you could leave the vanilla bean out of the buttercream and use an espresso buttercream with a vanilla bean cake. I have a feeling you can’t go wrong, as long as the flavours aren’t overpowering.

Vanilla Bean Latte Layer Cake via Sweetapolita

Add a sprinkling of cinnamon before serving, for colour, a few coffee beans for garnish, and voila!

Vanilla Bean Latte Layer Cake via Sweetapolita

The cake itself is a butter vanilla cake, so the texture is moist but has some density, but is still fluffy with only the egg whites and a generous amount of baking powder. The recipe method is traditional: creaming of the butter & sugar, gradual adding of the egg whites, sifting & whisking of the dry ingredients, and alternating the wet & dry ingredients gently into the batter. I would say this is my go-to vanilla cake recipe, both for cake and cupcakes, because it’s simple, delicious, and, yep, quick!

Vanilla Bean Latte Layer Cake via Sweetapolita

I recently tweaked my Swiss Meringue Buttercream recipe for a lighter, less-buttery, version, and I haven’t looked back (although, there are many ratios for SMB, and they all taste fabulous!). This, though, was the perfect, airy, not-too-sweet base for this Vanilla Bean Latte version, with a fluffiness reminiscent of the frothy milk that is happily perched on top of a latte. Delightful.

Vanilla Bean Latte Layer Cake

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

Ingredients

    For the Cake:
  • 1-1/2 cups (3 sticks)(341 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2-2/3 cups (540 g) granulated sugar
  • 9 (275 g) egg whites, at room temperature
  • 4-1/2 cups (570 g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons (22 g) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (6 g) salt
  • 2 cups (480 ml) buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) vanilla bean paste or 1 vanilla bean, split & scraped
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • For the Buttercream:
  • 6 large egg whites (180 g)
  • 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups (3 sticks)(340 g) unsalted butter, softened but cool, cut into cubes
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 1 vanilla bean, split & scraped or 1 tablespoon (15 ml) vanilla bean paste
  • 1 tablespoon (15 g) instant espresso powder (or to taste) dissolved into 1 teaspoon (5 ml) boiling water
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.5 g) cinnamon (or to taste)
  • Pinch of salt

Instructions

    For the Cake:
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter three 8" x 2" round cake pans, line with parchment rounds, butter paper and dust with flour, tapping out the excess.
  2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until lighter in color and slightly increased in volume, about 5 minutes. Lower the speed to medium and add the egg whites gradually, mixing until fully incorporated.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl. Mix vanilla extract and vanilla paste (or contents of vanilla bean) into buttermilk. Alternate dry ingredients and buttermilk into creamed mixture, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just incorporated or finish by hand gently.
  4. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. If possible, weigh the batter in each cake pan on a digital kitchen scale to ensure even layers. Smooth with small offset palette knife, and bake for about 30 minutes, rotating once after 20 minutes. Cake is done when toothpick or skewer comes clean. Try not to over-bake.
  5. Let pans cool on wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert cakes onto racks, gently, peeling away parchment rounds. Let cool completely.
  6. For the Buttercream:
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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 espresso mixture, vanilla, cinnamon and salt, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined.
  10. Assembly of the Vanilla Bean Latte Layer Cake:
  11. Place cooled cake layer on cake pedestal, or cake board, face-up. Spread 1 cup of buttercream on top using a small offset palette knife, leaving narrow border along outside edge.
  12. Gently place 2nd cake layer on top, and be sure to center it with bottom layer. Apply another 1 cup of buttercream and spread as you did the first layer.
  13. Gently place final cake layer on top, face-down (so the clean bottom side is facing up). Apply a final layer of buttercream.
  14. Fill a pastry bag fitted with decorative tip (I used Ateco #887), and pipe desired designs on cake to trim and decorate. Sprinkle sliced cake servings with cinnamon, and garnish with espresso beans (optional).

Notes

*This cake is best served at room temperature, and keeps nicely in a cake-keeper for up to 2 days. Swiss Meringue Buttercream cakes are ideally refrigerated after day 2, but should always be served at room temperature, so that it comes back to its light and cloud-like texture; otherwise, it will taste and feel like pure butter!

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You may find these previous posts helpful when creating this cake:

1. 50 Tips for Baking Better Cakes

2. Swiss Meringue Buttercream Demystified

Good luck & enjoy!



 

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