So this cake. This cake is something that haunted/excited me for a week. I was having dreams about it. OK it was just a cake for a friend but it was also one of my first proper layer cakes – with pans that were the same :0 it was totally new. So as with all good things though – it’s got a story. While at John Harvards drinking beer – really really good beer (specifically the black watch stout) – my darling friend, let’s call her Hipster Girl, mentioned, in passing, that her birthday was next week. I sat there appalled and asked her when. She changed topics and tried to show me her newly spun wool. I wasn’t dissuaded and asked my question again. The 26th, she said, it’s no big deal, she said. I’ll make you dinner, I said, and there will be cake (the rest of the dinner will be up later – it was epic).
So this is the cake, I sent HG an instant message the following day – I asked for a date she was available (she chose Weds the 1st) and then I created a menu. The savory things were easy she had a main course she wanted and I was able to spin off of that fairly easily, but the cake – that required some research. So I googled it – I looked at Smitten Kitchen, I looked at The Amateur Gourmet, I even looked at Cake Wrecks (mostly so I could tell what NOT to do). The internet was unhelpful and I was distraught, until there was a glimmer of hope and I remembered this. The bible of baked goods was sitting in my pantry clad in crinkly library plastic waiting to be hunted through for The-Perfect-Cake, and there in the middle of a section labelled “Celebration Cakes” I found inspiration – a four layer feat of epic proportions entitled “the-black-and-white-chocolate-cake”.
So I researched it. I read reviews and most people said that the cake itself was good but the frosting/cream was messy and tended to run, so given that I was cooking this cake in 90 degree weather I thought runny frosting was out. What to do…. Obviously I did the sensible thing and came up with my own variations on the cake. I used Dorie’s cake recipe – which was the best yellow cake I’ve ever had, seriously make this RIGHTNOW. And then eat it warm – perfect. But I created , from scratch, my own versions of a white chocolate frosting and a dark chocolate ganache. I froze the whole thing and brought it out to watch my dear friend, HG, dance in circles with delight. Frankly it was The.Best.Birthday.Cake.Unveiling.EVER. Even without the candles (which I totally forgot, whoops).
So the recipe – this is complicated, I won’t lie. All the pieces are fairly simple, buttercream, ganache, jam, cake but there’s wait time and it really is one of those things that needs an opportunity to firm up so it is perfect (especially if there is a crazy heat wave plaguing your city and the butter keeps melting and getting everywhere and oh-seriously-can-we-please-not-try-to-make-anything-with-butter-again-when-it’s-this-hot-out). True Story.
Kathy’s Decadent Celebration Cake
Adapted quite heavily from Baking, from my Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
Note: This cake recipe alone is Fan-freakin-tastic. It has all the right kinds of happy, from the custard like flavor to the perfect moist crumb, it’s totally love at first bite. Also the ganache makes wonderful Ice Cream topping.
Cake (double it if you’re making 9″ layers)
2 Cups Cake Flour*
2 tsp Baking Powder
1/8 tsp Baking Soda
10 Tbs Butter, softened
1 Cup Sugar
3 eggs, plus one egg yolk
1 tsp Vanilla
3/4 cup Buttermilk**
Sift together the Flour, Powder, and soda – set aside. Cream the butter until it is fluffy and light, about a minute. Add the sugar and beat it for another 2 minutes or so until it’s evenly incorporated and its fluffy again. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute in between each, including the yolk and beating it too. Add the vanilla. (Dorie says that this may curdle but I didn’t have any problems, but if it does curdle it should come right back together). Now add the flour and buttermilk alternately. Mixing each in just enough to combine. You should add the flour in three batches and the buttermilk in two. Pour the mix into a buttered and floured cake pan, or use thisawesomespray, and bake it at 350 degrees until it’s golden brown and the top bounces back to the touch (20-25 minutes, or an episode of Avatar (not that movie-full-of-blue-cats), the Last Airbender). If you are going to frost these, I suggest you freeze them – your life will be a lot easier.
If you made a double you will have a couple of cupcake amounts left over, I suggest making those cupcakes and eating them warm with a little tea.
1 Cup Bittersweet Chocolate, chopped (semisweet is acceptable too if you want something a little bit sweeter)
2/3 cup Heavy Cream
2 Tb Butter
2-3 Tbs Liquor (I used brandy but whiskey or cognac would also work, go with your preference) (optional)
Warm the cream up on the stove until it is almost simmering, it should be steamy. Pour the cream over the chocolate in a medium bowl and stir. The cream should be able to melt the chocolate down fairly well, if you find you still have lumps you can microwave it for 15-30 seconds and stir or put it back on the stove over a gentle heat (low to med-low) for a minute or two. Stir in the butter and the liquor (if you’re using it) and put that ganache in the freezer to stiffen a little bit – 10 minutes or so. Don’t forget about the ganache though as it’s not particularly spreadable when it’s frozen. Best stay in the kitchen and have a dance party.
White Chocolate Frosting
4 oz good quality white chocolate, melted (look at the ingredients – if it has cocoa butter in it you’re solid, if it’s soy or something else DON’T WASTE YOUR MONEY, I like the Ghirardelli Baking Bar)
2-3 Cups Confectioner’s sugar (powdered and icing sugar are the same thing)
1-2 Tbs Bailey’s (optional)
1 Tsp Vanilla
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup butter, softened
Cream the butter and chocolate together on medium speed until uniform, you may have to scrape the bowl a couple times. Add the Bailey’s and vanilla and mix to combine. Add the sugar 1/4 cup at a time until you have reached the consistency you want. If you reach desired consistency but want more frosting and cream 1 Tbs at a time alternating with 1/4 cup sugar until you have the amount you want. The white chocolate taste won’t be as strong but it’ll still be delicious.
So, I am not a professional baker at all, as is apparent by my not-so-high-quality-but-I-love-it-anyway kitchen gear, but I recommend using your studier cake as the base for this cake. Put it on your cake stand (if you have one) or just on a big flat plate, and line around the bottom with parchment or waxed paper to make it that much more awe inspiring when you bring it out to watch people squee. Spread about 2/3 of the ganache filling on this layer of cake and throw it into the freezer and dance, or have a piece of cheese. Pull the ganache covered cake out and spread a thick layer of your favorite jam on there – blueberry or strawberry is probably best. Set cake number two on top and throw the whole thing back in the freezer while you make the frosting. Pull that cake out and frost it.
Serve to oohs and aahs with a cup of coffee or milk.
* To Make your Own Cake Flour: Replace 2Tb of AP flour in every cup with 2Tb of Cornstarch.
**To Make your own Buttermilk: Measure one cup regular milk out, replace 1Tb of milk with 1Tb of vinegar.