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:

Sugar & Spice Delight Cake

verybfullcakebright

Well it seems that, somehow, between hours of mad baking, book writing, recipe testing and getting my cakelets back to school, it became autumn. I’m pretty sure it was summer last time I looked out the window, but nope–not so much! And when there are crisp winds, changing leaves and backpacks, my head and heart naturally say it’s time for sugary, spicy, pumpkiny baked delights . . .

And although I was certain that the Autumn Delight Cake from last year was my go-to for towering sugar and spice cravings, I decided to go for a true pumpkin version and then switch up the fillings and frostings. Tradition pumpkin pie is one of my favourite desserts of all time, and covered in real whipped cream and sprinkles of cinnamon and sugar is the ultimate. But to me, where there is cinnamon there should be gooey cinnamon buns. My heart is divided!

So this cake is an ode to my love for pumpkin pie, cinnamon buns and, well, cake.

fullcakeside540

So what is the Sugar & Spice Delight Cake exactly?

Well, it’s 6 thin layers of moist pumpkin and crystallized-ginger cake topped with a layer of super-cinnamony and buttery Cinnamon Sugar Spread Filling (think the middle of a Cinnabon), which is then topped with fluffy-as-air Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream and then the layered cake is covered in that cream-cheesy, sugary frosting fluffiness that usually adorns those beloved Cinnabons. Oh and some cinnamon and sugar sprinkled whipped cream poofs on top never hurts either. So I guess what I’m trying to say it you must bake this cake! Bake it, eat it, share it, marry it. I’m certain you won’t regret any of those decisions.

I actually made this cake twice for this post. The first time I found it had too much pumpkin puree and too much crystallized ginger, so I did the whole thing again (while my husband shook his head with utter confusion), and that was that. Guys, honestly, it really came together in taste the way I hoped, and it is really is a sugar and spice delight. It is decadent, but the whipped cream filling is so light and airy that it really balances it out.

brightcakeslice

Yep.

So more specifically, the pumpkin & ginger cake layers are essentially the sweet potato cake layers (minus the sweet potato and add the pumpkin) from my Autumn Delight Cake, the Fluffy Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting is from my Cinnabon-Style Gourmet Cinnamon Buns, and the Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream Filling is that found in many of my cakes (I love this stuff). The Cinnamon Sugar Spread, though, is something that is really simple yet goodness-me, so amazing. Who knew melted butter, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla could be so awesome? Actually, I think we all knew that, but I just never thought to spread it in my cakes until now. You can also smother it on pancakes, waffles, toast . . . spouses. Anything.

As a side note, I know some of you have had issues in the past with getting the Whipped Cream Filling recipe to come together, so I’ve modified it slightly for ease. You shouldn’t have any issues now! We add less confectioners’ sugar and sprinkle it in once the whipped cream begins to thicken, so basically we’re just whipping cream (in a super cold stainless bowl) before adding the confectioners’ sugar and stabilizing gelatine mixture.

Stabilized whipped cream makes the most amazing filling because, like I mentioned above, it’s light as air and not sweet at all. It can also stand the weight of the layers, which comes in handy! I turn to this often when I want to include other really sweet elements into the cake, and as much as I love sweet frosting, I find it too much when it’s both inside and outside the cake. You know? It’s also great when you want to pipe whipped cream on top of a cake, as it will remain stable for days (in the fridge, of course).

So, let’s make this cake!

November 28th, 2013 Note: I’ve increased the flour for the cake layers, to ensure the cake doesn’t get over-taken by the pumpkin’s moisture. There shouldn’t be any trouble with this issue now.

December 31st, 2013: I’ve also decreased the pumpkin puree, so the cake should bake up nicely and not be over-powered by the pumpkin.

Sugar & Spice Delight Cake

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

6 layers of moist pumpkin & ginger cake smothered in buttery cinnamon sugar and filled with vanilla bean whipped cream and frosted in Cinnabon-style cream cheese vanilla frosting.

Ingredients

    For the Pumpkin Ginger Cake:
  • 2 cups (400 g) sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1-1/4 cups (315 ml) sunflower oil (or vegetable, safflower, canola oil)
  • 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) pure pumpkin puree (canned works well)
  • 3 cups (345 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
  • 1/3 cup (60 g) chopped crystallized ginger
  • For the Cinnamon Sugar Spread Filling:
  • 1 cup (200 g) sugar
  • 1/4 cup (30 g) ground cinnamon (I love Vietnamese Cinnamon for its intensity)
  • 1/2 cup (115 g) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • For the Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream Filling:
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) cold water
  • 1 packet (1 tablespoon) unflavoured gelatin (such as Knox brand)
  • 2 3/4 cups (660 ml) whipping cream (35-37% fat), cold, divided
  • 1/2 cup (65 g) confectioners' sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla bean paste, or pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • For the Fluffy Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting:
  • 1 package (250 g) cream cheese, softened 30 mins
  • 1 cup (227 g) unsalted butter, softened 30 mins
  • 4 cups (500 g) confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 2 teaspoon (5 ml) clear vanilla extract (or pure vanilla extract)
  • 1/8 teaspoon orange flavor oil (or 1/4 teaspoon orange extract), if possible

Instructions

    For the Pumpkin Ginger Cake:
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease three 8-inch round cake pans, dust with flour, tap out excess and set aside.
  2. 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 pumpkin puree and mix until combined.
  3. Sift dry ingredients together (cake flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and ground ginger) and then add to pumpkin/egg mixture.
  4. Mix in brandy/dark rum (I used dark rum) and vanilla. Gently stir in crystallized ginger.
  5. Evenly distribute batter into the prepared pans (weigh them if possible with digital kitchen scale for 560 g per pan), smooth with a small offset palette knife and place in the center of the middle rack of the oven, about 2 inches apart. (Depending on your oven, you will likely need to bake 2 pans, followed by the third.) Bake until a knife or skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.
  6. Let pans cool on a wire rack 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto rack and cool them completely.
  7. For the Cinnamon Sugar Spread Filling:
  8. In a medium bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon. Stir in the melted butter, vanilla and salt.
  9. For the Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream Filling:
  10. In a small stainless steel bowl, place the cold water and sprinkle with the gelatin. Let sit for at least 10 minutes. In a small saucepan, bring 1/2 cup of the cream just to a simmer, then stir into the gelatin mixture until the gelatin has dissolved. Refrigerate, stirring frequently, until cool but not set, about 8 minutes. (Be careful to keep your eye on it, or you'll end up with Panna Cotta!)
  11. In a chilled stainless steel mixer bowl with a chilled whisk attachment, beat the remaining whipping cream until it thickens just slightly, and then add the confectioners' sugar, vanilla bean paste and salt until very soft peaks begin to form, about 1 minute. Very gradually add the gelatin mixture and continue beating until medium-firm peaks form (should be thick enough to spread, but not spongy). Keep covered and chilled until ready to use.
  12. For the Fluffy Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting:
  13. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend the cream cheese and butter for 6 minutes on low speed (#2 on KitchenAid Mixer).
  14. Add 2 cups (250 g) of the confectioners' sugar and mix for 1 minute on low speed. Add the remaining icing sugar and mix for an additional 2 minutes. Add the flavors and mix for 1 minute on medium-high speed.
  15. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate.
  16. Assembly of the Sugar & Spice Delight Cake:
  17. Chill cake layers until cold and firm. Slice all three cake layers in half horizontally, so you have 6 cake layers total.
  18. Smear a small dollop of the frosting on the plate, pedestal or cake board, and place your first layer cut side up (so bottom of the cake layer is touching plate), and spread 1/5th of the Cinnamon Sugar Spread Filling on the layer, followed by ~3/4 cup of Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream Filling with a small offset palette knife, leaving 1" or so around the edge.
  19. Repeat previous step until you get to the final cake layer. Place last layer face down, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and chill cake for at least 30-40 minutes to set.
  20. Frost entire cake with a thin "coat" of Fluffy Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting and chill until firm, about 30 minutes. Repeat frosting, using 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. Top with dollops of the remaining Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream Filling. Sprinkle with cinnamon and white sugar. Chill cake to set.
  21. 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 (although it does taste very good cold!.
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Sweetapolita’s Notes:

  • Pumpkin cake is similar to other spice cakes, carrot cakes, etc. in that it not only lasts several days in the refrigerator but almost gets better with age. It retains its moisture so well that you can make it up to two days ahead, chill and serve at room temperature, however it also tastes great cold!
  • The cake layers are essentially the same as the Sweet Potato Cake layers from the Autumn Delight Cake, but with pumpkin puree in place of the sweet potato puree and less crystallized ginger.
  • If you’d rather not be bothered with slicing the baked layers, you can always serve this as a 3-layer cake–I doubt anyone would complain!
  • The Cinnamon Sugar Spread Filling can be made the day ahead and covered in plastic wrap. To soften for spreading, simply microwave for about 10 seconds, or until it has softened enough to spread. On a sidenote, this spread is amazing on toast, pancakes, waffles or pretty much anything. And just when you thought cinnamon was cinnamon, there are several varieties, and each one will yield a very different taste in your baked goods.
  • The Fluffy Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting is very fluffy and almost “loose” because we’ve beat the cream cheese to smithereens, but it tastes so good and creamy this way. I personally like using a really soft frosting consistency when frosting a cake, but it does take getting used to it wanting to slip and slide. If you find it too soft you can refrigerate the frosting itself until more firm, and in turn if you over-chill it and it’s too firm, you can soften in the microwave in very short intervals (about 10 seconds). It’s very forgiving. Just be sure to “beat” any air pockets out of it with a rubber spatula in a back-and-forth motion against the sides of the bowl.

Good luck & enjoy!

Related posts:

Diner Dream Cake

You’re here! Thank you for not forgetting about me completely while I wasn’t able to post for the past few weeks. I promise it won’t be like that forever, but I have to admit while I work on the book it’s been more difficult for me to post often. (It will be worth it!) It could also have something to do with my crazy side, and how many times I make a recipe before I’m happy with it and ready to share. Either way, I’m here now and I’m so pleased you are too. xo

So let’s talk about Diner Dream Cake. (And my need to give include superfluous adjectives in my cake titles?) I call it that because after I made it to satisfy my recent craving for diner-ish flavours — things like chocolate chips, peanut butter, vanilla and whipped cream. After I assembled the cake I realized that it actually did look like something you’d find in a little hidden gem of a diner (I think it was the cherry on top that did it).

It’s a super simple cake to make, which is always a plus, and I love the way these flavours came together: moist chocolate chip buttermilk cake filled with a fluffy peanut butter mousse and then frosted in a quick and easy vanilla bean whipped cream frosting. It was looking rather . . . vanilla, so I crushed up some roasted peanuts and tossed them with turbinado sugar and a bit of pink sanding sugar and coated the cake — it always tastes so good to me when things are super fluffy and then there’s a hit of crunch in there. (Yep, I was the one kid who always ordered those little peanuts on my McDonald’s sundaes.)

I assembled this final cake moments before the sun was out and ready for me to photograph it in the short time I had with the right natural light, so you can see that perfect slices only happen when cake is chilled ahead of time, and that I don’t have cake-cutting super powers unless the cake is set. But isn’t it true that the messiest cakes are the best tasting? Soft, fluffy, fall-apart cakes are the ultimate to eat.

And I don’t know, I haven’t made a lot of chocolate chip cakes yet, but I realized that simply tossing premium chocolate chips into vanilla cake batter really is what makes a cake “chocolate chip cake,” so if you have a favourite vanilla cake recipe, you could always use that and toss in the chips and go from there.

The peanut butter mousse filling is a cream cheese based filling with peanut butter, icing sugar, whipped cream and vanilla — a simple mix, whip, mix and it’s done. When I spotted it on Serious Eats I knew it would be the perfect peanut butter filling — there’s something about cream cheese and peanut butter that is so magical and reminds of peanut butter pie. The vanilla bean whipped cream frosting I did this time is just a simple whip of whipped cream, icing sugar and vanilla bean paste. It takes 2 minutes to make, and if you whip it until firm peaks form (just don’t overdo it until it appears dry and spongy), you can pipe a border and frost the cake with ease.

You definitely don’t have to coat the cake in peanuts and sugar to make it a tasty cake, but who wants to pass up a chance to, literally, through handfuls of sugar and peanuts at your cake? Plus I love that the sugar creates this subtle sparkle on a cake you wouldn’t expect to find sparkle . . .

I hope you’re all having an amazing summer so far. With the sugar storm in my kitchen for the past few months, the time has been going by alarmingly quickly. So much so that it just dawned on me that next Tuesday I’m turning thirty nine. As in years old. As in next year I’m, you know, the number that comes after thirty nine. I’m not one to worry about age, but I have to admit that number frightens me. But hey, a birthday is a birthday, and where there is a birthday there is celebration. And where there is celebration there is confetti. And where there is confetti, you know there’s going to be cake. And around cake is no place to be anything but happy. ♥

Diner Dream Cake

Yield: One 3-layer, 6-inch round cake or one 2-layer, 8-inch round cake

Three layers of moist chocolate chip buttermilk cake filled with peanut butter mousse, smothered in vanilla bean whipped cream frosting and coated with sugar & peanuts. With a cherry on top!

Ingredients

    For the Chocolate Chip Cake:
  • 5 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 whole egg, at room temperature
  • 1-1/3 (320 ml) cups buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract OR Princess Bakery Emulsion
  • 2-3/4 cups (317 g) cake flour, sifted
  • 1-3/4 cups (350 g) sugar
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon (18 g) baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon (5 g) salt
  • 10 tablespoons (130 g) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 20 even pieces
  • 3/4 cup (130 g) quality semisweet chocolate chips
  • For the Peanut Butter Mousse:
  • 1 package (250 g brick) cream cheese, cold and cut into cubes
  • 1 cup (125 g) icing sugar (confectioners')
  • 3/4 cup (130 g) smooth peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) whipping cream (35% fat)
  • For the Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream Frosting:
  • 2 cups (480 ml) whipping cream (35% fat)
  • 1/4 cup (30 g) icing sugar (confectioners')
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla bean paste
  • Pinch of salt
  • For the Peanut Sugar Coating:
  • 1/2 cup (75 g) roasted peanuts, chopped into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup (100 g) turbinado sugar
  • Few tablespoons of pink sanding sugar, optional
  • 1 maraschino cherry

Instructions

    For the Chocolate Chip Cake:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter the bottom of three 7-inch round cake pans (or two 8-inch round or 9-inch round pans) and line bottoms with parchment rounds.
  2. In a medium measuring cup with a spout, lightly whisk the egg whites and yolk. In a separate measuring cup, combine the buttermilk and vanilla.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. With the mixer set to low speed, add the cold butter one piece at a time, about 10 seconds apart. (You can keep half in the fridge while you add the first half of butter.) Continue mixing on low speed until all of the butter has been blended and there are no clumps. Mixture should have a fine crumbly, cornmeal-like texture.
  4. Gradually add the buttermilk mixture to these dry ingredients, and mix on medium speed for 4 minutes. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure all of the ingredients are well incorporated. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the egg mixture; once the mixture has been added, increase speed to medium and beat for 1 minute, but no more.
  5. Toss the chocolate chips with a few pinches of cake flour and gently fold into batter.
  6. Divide batter evenly among the 3 prepared pans (use a kitchen scale to ensure 3 even layers--cakes should weight ~450 g each). Place two of the cake pans on a baking sheet and bake until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs but no batter, about 23 minutes. Repeat with the final layer. Let the layers cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then loosen sides with thin metal spatula or knife, and carefully turn out onto wire racks, peel of the paper liners, and let cool completely.
  7. For the Peanut Butter Mousse:
  8. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix the cream cheese, icing sugar, peanut butter and vanilla on medium speed until smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Transfer mixture to another bowl (unless you're lucky enough to have another mixer bowl). Wash and dry both bowl and whisk attachment and chill in the freezer or refrigerator.
  9. Fit the mixer with the chilled bowl and whisk and whip the cream on medium high speed until firm peaks form (but not clumpy), about 1 minute. Fold whipped cream into peanut butter mixture and cover and chill until ready to use.
  10. For the Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream Frosting:
  11. Chill your mixer bowl and whisk in freezer for 5 minutes, then whip the cream, icing sugar and salt on medium high speed until firm peaks form (but not clumpy). Add vanilla bean paste and mix on low speed until incorporated. Best used right away.
  12. Assembly of the Cake:
  13. I recommend making the filling while the cakes are in the oven, and then chilling until the cakes are cool. Once cakes are cool and you have filled them with the peanut butter filling, make the whipped cream frosting (it only takes a couple of minutes to make).
  14. Trim any dark edges or crust from cake layers with a very sharp serrated knife. Place your first cake layer, face-up, onto a cake stand, plate or cake board. Place half of the peanut butter filling on top of the layer and spread evenly using a small offset spatula.
  15. Repeat until you come to your final cake layer, which you will place face-down. If you find the cake too soft and unstable, put in refrigerator for a few moments to firm it up, then resume. Use your clean offset spatula to carefully smooth the frosting so it's flat against the cake.
  16. an even layer of frosting to the entire cake, to seal in crumbs. Chill again until frosting is firm, about 30 minutes.
  17. Place cake plate/board with cake onto a turntable, if possible. Using an offset spatula, spread the whipped cream frosting on the top of the cake, letting it extend about 1/2" over the edge, then smooth excess onto side of cake. With a medium straight spatula, cover the sides of the cake until you have a smooth even coat of frosting by slowly turning the cake turntable with one hand while holding the spatula steady with the other. Use your small offset spatula to smooth top of cake. Place remaining whipped cream in a pastry bag fitted with a large closed star tip (I used #887) and pipe a border around the top perimeter for the cake. Chill for 30 minutes.
  18. In a medium ziploc bag, combine the peanuts and sugar. Remove cake from fridge put back onto turntable. Place turntable and cake onto a baking sheet (for ease of clean-up), and gently coat the sides of the cake with the sugar mixture. (You may have to "throw" it at the cake!) Top with a maraschino cherry.
  19. Keep cake refrigerated for up to 2 days, but serve at room temperature. Best enjoyed day 1.
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[peanut butter mousse filling adapted from Serious Eats]

Sweetapolita’s Notes:

  • The recipe is for a three layer, 6-inch round cake, but the one in the photo is an 8-inch round. If you want to make a three layer, 8-inch round cake, you can increase the cake recipe by half (rather than doubling the recipe). You can keep the filling and frosting recipes the same.
  • You can make the cake layers up to 1 day ahead, but keep them wrapped tightly and at room temperature. I do, though, recommend making them the morning you need the cake, if possible.
  • You can make the peanut butter filling one day ahead, but keep refrigerated.
  • The whipped cream frosting is best made right before you need it.
  • For the frosting, I used Madagascar Vanilla Bean Paste – a quick and easy way to get that real vanilla bean taste and those awesome little black vanilla flecky things we all love.
  • For all of my cake decorating, I use a cake turntable–it’s definitely a must-have. I have a homemade version, but have recently started using the Ateco Revolving Cake Stand, and I love it.
  • I always use a Small Offset Spatula and Medium Straight Spatula when frosting a cake.
Good luck & enjoy!

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Vanilla Bean & White Chocolate Birdie Cupcakes {and Video Tutorial}

Vanilla Bean Birdie Cupcakes via Sweetapolita

Sweet tweet! Another garden-y recipe for you today (and another video tutorial). As I mentioned in my last post, I did a bunch of treats for my father-in-law’s wife, Kathy, last weekend in honour of her surprise birthday party. When I was planning what to make, I knew that somewhere, somehow, there had to be a classic and lovely bird-themed confection. (If you knew Kathy, you’d understand.) I opted for these hand-stamped Vanilla Bean White Chocolate Birdie Cupcakes–they’re simple, delightful and unique. Thin, sweet fondant medallions atop fluffy vanilla cupcakes and rich vanilla bean white chocolate frosting (and yes, let’s eat the topper!).

One thing that I love about making these decorations, is that you can create them way in advance, which comes in super handy when you’re making a lot of treats, or if you simply like doing things ahead of time (like me). Once made, if you keep the fondant circles in a nice cool, dry place in a single layer (a pizza box works well), there’s no limit to how in advance you can whip them up. Then, once ready to use them, simply pop them on a frosted cupcake. Voila!

The thing about this hand-stamping technique is that, depending on which stamp and colour you go with, the possibilities are literally endless. You can tailor the theme and create these for pretty much anything or anyone as long as you have some fondant, soft gel paste, a clean (and never used on regular ink) rubber stamp and a small paint brush. A spooky Halloween theme perhaps? A floral wedding theme? A robot party? Anything goes. You might remember my love for using rubber stamps on fondant from these Love Letter & Scripted Heart Cookies, but you’ll notice that rather than painting the stamp, I simply used the imprint for a different effect. So once you have the stamps, you can play, play, play!

Here is the video tutorial for these stamped fondant medallion toppers:

Simple, right? And honestly, once you get your rhythm you’ll find that it’s truly a therapeutic experience. If you have cakelets at home, as I do, I find that it can be a really fun little project to work on together. If you give them their own little ball of fondant, rolling pin and cutter, they’ll be as happy as larks. Or . . . small navy blue birdies.

See?

So here’s the recipe and instructions for the cupcakes. I hope you have as much fun as I did creating these. ♥

Vanilla Bean White Chocolate Birdie Cupcakes {and Video Tutorial}

Serving Size: 24 cupcakes

Moist, fluffy vanilla cupcakes topped with rich & creamy vanilla bean white chocolate frosting and topped with a hand-stamped fondant medallion.

Ingredients

    For the stamped fondant medallions
  • ~5 oz (145 g) white fondant
  • AmeriColor Soft Gel Paste, Navy Blue
  • For the cupcakes
  • 2-1/2 cups (275 g)(10 oz) cake flour, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon (15 g) baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon (5 g) salt
  • 1 cup (237 ml) whole milk, at room temperature
  • 2 large egg whites (60 g), at room temperature
  • 1 whole egg, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.75 ml) Pure Almond Extract
  • 1-1/2 cups (300 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 stick (115 g)(8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • For the frosting
  • 1 cup (227 g)(8 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 oz quality (175 g) white chocolate
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, seeded and scraped
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) almond extract
  • Generous pinch of salt
  • 3 cups (375 g)(13.5 oz) sifted icing sugar

Instructions

    For the stamped fondant medallions {can make anytime in advance}:
  1. Roll white fondant on cornstarch-dusted (or icing sugar) surface until 1/8" thin, or even thinner and cut as many 2.25" diameter circles as needed (you will want to make a few extra). Let dry overnight.
  2. Apply a thin layer of soft gel paste (I used AmeriColor Navy Blue) onto a new, clean rubber stamp using a small angled paintbrush (that you designate for food use) and gently press down upon fondant circles. Touch up any unstamped spots with your paintbrush. Let dry. {see video tutorial}
  3. For the cupcakes:
  4. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and center the oven rack. Line 2 muffin/cupcake pans with your favourite standard-size cupcake liner, and put the first cupcake pan on a baking sheet. (You will place the second cupcake pan on the same sheet in the oven once the first tray is baked.)
  5. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a medium-sized bowl. Whisk together the milk, eggs, vanilla extract and almond extract in a medium bowl or large glass measuring cup.
  6. In an electric mixer fitted with the whisk or paddle attachment (I used the whisk), cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until very pale and creamy, about 5 minutes.
  7. With the mixer still on medium speed, alternate additions of the flour mixture and milk-egg mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture (3 dry additions, 2 wet), beating after each addition until incorporated. Continue mixing on medium speed for 2 minutes.
  8. Divide batter evenly among your cupcake liners–about 2/3 full–and bake until a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs only, about 16 minutes.
  9. Carefully remove the cupcakes from the pan and let cool on wire racks. Repeat with second tray.
  10. For the frosting:
  11. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip butter for 3-4 minutes on medium speed (I use “4″ on my KitchenAid). Butter will become very pale & creamy.
  12. Melt chocolate in microwave in a small heatproof bowl, or over a pot of simmering water on the stovetop, stirring often. Let cool.
  13. Add melted chocolate to butter and beat until incorporated. Add extract, vanilla bean and salt and mix on medium speed for 1 minute. Add sifted icing sugar, beating on low speed until just combined, increasing to medium speed until well combined.
  14. Assembly of the Cupcakes
  15. Pipe a generous swirl of frosting atop each cupcake, using pastry tip 1M, or the tip of your choice.
  16. Gently press a fondant medallion upon each cupcake. Best enjoyed same day.
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Sweetapolita’s Notes:

See you soon with a slightly spookier recipe. And for my Canadian friends, Happy Thanksgiving!

Good luck & enjoy!



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Layered Chocolate & Lavender-Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta

Chocolate Lavender Panna Cotta via Sweetapolita

I’m so truly excited for my talented (and crazy beautiful) friend Camille, from the entertaining site Camille Styles–just a few weeks ago she became a first-time mom to a gorgeous little baby girl named Phoebe. I can still remember those early days with my baby girls, and what a whirlwind it was–exhilarating, exhausting and emotional (the entire gamut). And yet, as unfamiliar as it all was (particularly with Reese, my first), it seemed strangely comfortable. I’m genuinely thrilled for Camille and her husband and their life ahead with Phoebe–there’s simply nothing like life with little girls. While Camille and her new little family spend these first few weeks together, I’m honoured to be one of the food bloggers contributing to her beautiful website with this Layered Chocolate & Lavender-Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta.

Since long before the time my love for sugar became my career, it seems I have had somewhat of a lavender obsession. I can recall becoming instantly smitten the first time I tasted a lavender & vanilla sugar cookie many years ago at a gourmet food show–with its subtle violet flecks, intoxicating fragrance and delicate-and-slightly-unexpected flavour this single cookie may be responsible for my love for infusing lavender into desserts. What surprised me most was how the lavender didn’t taste floral, but rather heightened the sweet vanilla tones of the cookie and married the sugar, butter and vanilla in magical way.

image source

Today one of the things I love most about incorporating culinary lavender in desserts is the curiousity it elicits from guests who may or may not be certain they would enjoy such a thing, and the element of surprise when they realize how much they do. Lavender pairs well with many sweet flavours, most notably lemon, chocolate, vanilla, honey and pear, as well as an entire host of savoury flavours. The possibilities are virtually endless, but the key to pleasant-not-perfumey lavender desserts is go easy! Use it sparingly, especially if you are adding it directly into the recipe (as opposed to straining the buds after flavouring).

Lavender Sugar via Sweetapolita

One of my favourite ways to bring its unique flavour into the mix without over-powering dessert, is by keeping a stash of lavender sugar handy. Simply add a few spoonfuls of dried culinary lavender to a sugar canister or jar filled with sugar, stir it up and keep it airtight when you’re not using it. The longer is sits, the more powerful the flavour, but it’s a great way to infuse in recipes by simply using the lavender sugar (or part) in place of regular sugar. Voila! You can even use it to sweeten lemonade, tea, simply sprinkle upon baked goods . . .

Chocolate Lavender Panna Cotta via Sweetapolita

Or, of course, you can use it to create Layered Chocolate & Lavender-Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta (with a dollop of Lavender Whipped Cream!) — my current favourite. Panna Cotta, an Italian pudding made mostly from simmering cream, sugar and gelatin, is truly unique in that it is one of the simplest desserts to make, yet extremely versatile and enthusiastically celebrated by those who taste it. Because it seems many people don’t think to make it at home, it’s often a special treat to dinner party guests. With its luxe texture and decadent taste, I find it to be reminiscent of lavish restaurant desserts, particularly when you add sophisticated elements, such as dark chocolate, vanilla-bean and lavender sugar.

I went ahead and made mini lavender & dark chocolate bars using this Chocolate Bar Mold I was dying to use, but even a small piece of quality dark chocolate on top would be a fabulous touch.

The Lavender Whipped Cream adds a dreamy lavender touch to the dessert and officially makes this a very indulgent treat.

And as much as I love adding fancy components to dessert, the truth is sometimes I simply can’t spend the time needed for complex recipes. As a mom of two little girls, my reality is that I can’t always predict how much kitchen-time I will get, and there’s nothing more rewarding than a show-stopping dessert that truly doesn’t take a lot of fuss. One of the ways I manage to make as many treats as I do with so little time, is by choosing recipes that have components that can be made ahead of time — so when my little one naps or at bedtime. This dessert requires less than 45 minutes active-time and can be made up to 2 days before serving, which makes it an ideal dinner party choice as well as a perfect mama-hostess choice. ♥

Layered Chocolate & Lavender-Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta

Ingredients

    For the Lavender-Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta:
  • 6 tablespoons (90 ml) cold water
  • 4-1/2 teaspoons (22 ml) unflavoured gelatin (such as Knox brand)
  • 2 cups (500 ml) whipping cream (35% fat), or heavy cream
  • 2 cups (500 ml) half-and-half (10.5-18% fat)
  • 1 cup (200 grams) sugar (lavender sugar, if possible)
  • 2 tablespoons dried culinary lavender
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, seeded and scraped
  • For the Chocolate Panna Cotta:
  • 1-3/4 cups (437 ml) whipping cream (35% fat), or heavy cream
  • 1-1/4 teaspoons (6. 25 ml) unflavoured gelatin (such as Knox brand)
  • 2 tablespoons (24 grams) sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 ounces (60 grams) quality dark chocolate (at least 50% cacao), finely chopped
  • For the Lavender Whipped Cream:
  • 3/4 cup (187 ml) whipping cream (35% fat), cold
  • 1 tablespoon dried Culinary Lavender
  • 1 tablespoon (12 grams) sugar (or lavender sugar, if possible)
  • A drop or two of violet gel colour (optional)
  • For decorating:
  • Dark chocolate piece (or Dark Chocolate & Lavender, if possible)

Instructions

    For the Lavender-Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta layer:
  1. Pour the cold water into a small bowl and sprinkle with the gelatin.
  2. In a medium saucepan, heat the whipping cream, half-and-half, sugar, dried lavender and salt over medium heat until the sugar has completely dissolved and mixture just comes to a boil, about 5 minutes.
  3. Remove saucepan from the heat and pour mixture through a fine strainer into a 4-cup measuring cup with spout. Stir in vanilla bean seeds, followed by the gelatin mixture, and stir until the gelatin has completely dissolved.
  4. Divide among 8 individual serving glasses, custard cups or ramekins and bring to room temperature.Place on a flat surface in refrigerator for at least 5 hours, or overnight.
  5. For the Chocolate Panna Cotta:
  6. Once your Lavender-Vanilla Panna Cotta layer has set, make the Chocolate layer:
  7. Pour 1/4 cup (60 ml) of the whipping cream into a small heatproof bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let sit for 10 minutes. Place the bowl into a larger bowl with hot water and stir mixture until gelatin has completely dissolved.
  8. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the remaining cream, sugar and salt just to a boil and remove promptly from the heat. Whisk in the chocolate until completely incorporated and smooth.
  9. Add the gelatin mixture and stir until well combined. Pour mixture through a fine strainer into a 4-cup measuring cup with spout and let sit until it reaches room temperature, stirring occasionally.
  10. Divide among the well-chilled/set Lavender-Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta layered cups, cover loosely and let chill in refrigerator for another 5 hours or overnight.
  11. For the Lavender Whipped Cream
  12. Prepare the whipped cream up to 2 hours before serving:
  13. Add dried lavender to whipped cream, cover and let sit for minimum 1 hour (the longer it sits, the stronger the flavour).
  14. Chill a stainless steel mixing bowl and metal whisk or hand mixer beaters for 15 minutes in freezer.
  15. Strain the cream into the mixing bowl, add the sugar (I used lavender sugar) and gel colour (if using), and beat just until it stiffens to peaks and keeps shape. Take care to not overbeat, or it will become grainy.
  16. Top each dessert with a dollop of Lavender Whipped Cream and a piece of dark chocolate, or dark chocolate with lavender.

Notes

Chilled Panna Cotta will keep well for 2 days.

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Sweetapolita’s Notes:

  • This recipe may appear lengthy or complicated, but it is one of the least fussy or time-consuming desserts you can make (I promise).
  • To make lavender sugar, simply add a few tablespoons of dried culinary lavender to your granulated sugar and stir it up. Keep in an airtight container and use in recipes in place of regular sugar, sprinkled on baked goods, or in tea. The longer it sits, the more intense the fragrance/flavour. I am hooked on this stuff! It also looks especially pretty sitting on the countertop in a clear glass jar. To make lavender-vanilla sugar (even more delightful), simply include  the scraped seeds of a vanilla bean and the pod in your sugar, mix well, and bury the vanilla pod.
  • Both the Lavender-Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta and Chocolate Panna Cotta variations are rich, creamy and incredibly satisfying desserts, so if short on time, even a single layer version would be a crowd pleaser.
  • You can make this dessert up to 2 days ahead–simply keep refrigerated and whip up the cream topping a few hours ahead of serving.

Good luck & enjoy!



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