My birthday’s coming up fast! I’m about to turn 21, the last of the “Oh boy! Now I can do things!” birthdays. It’s a milestone I’ve been looking forward to for a while, truth be told. There’s a kind of chocolate wine at the grocery store I’ve been eyeing up for ages. ;) And another milestone is coming with it! I’m making my own birthday cake this year. It’s kind of intimidating, but I think I can do it. And if I can’t, not a huge deal! That’s part of what this blog is about–learning to get past my mistakes and keep on baking fearlessly.
My original idea was to make a boozy cake, but I knew my little sister wouldn’t want to eat it then. So it became the practice cake. Funnily enough, I found the perfect filling recipe only about an hour before I decided to start baking! It was like it was meant just for me, decadent fudge with just a little bit of coffee to it. And the swiss meringue buttercream was an absolute must. I haven’t made it in ages, and it was high time to start again with it. I played with the recipe a little because I didn’t have quite enough eggs for my usual one, and I ended up liking it a lot! Note: the black flecks you see in the frosting are ground coffee. I threw some in, but I would omit it next time since it gave some bites a weird gritty texture. I’ve omitted it in the recipe. It comes out gorgeous, light and fluffy and deliciously tasting of kahlua. The chocolate cake is the first recipe I posted on the blog. The character on top is Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender, done in homemade marshmallow fondant (recipe to follow in another post). I’m on a huuuuuge Legend of Korra kick after the finale, so I’ve been rewatching both series lately. :D All together, it’s heavenly. And while it’s not perfect-looking, it’s pretty good for a first try! I’m completely satisfied. And I can only get better from here!
Dark chocolate cake
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup dutch-process cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 4.3 oz box chocolate pudding mix
1 cup black coffee
1 cup milk, room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Makes enough for two thick 8″ layers or three regular ones
Adapted from Sweetapolita
Preheat the oven to 350 F and grease or butter&flour your cake pans. Whisk together the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the wet ingredients and mix on lowest setting with the paddle attachment until just combined, then at medium speed (around 6 on a Kitchenaid mixer) for two minutes. The batter will be thin, that’s fine. Pour into your pans and bake around 37 minutes for a thick layer or 28 minutes for a thin one. Stick these in the freezer (if you plan to stack them, wrap in plastic wrap first) while you make the frosting and filling.
Kahlua espresso swiss meringue buttercream
8 large egg whites (set one yolk aside for the mocha fudge filling)
2 cups granulated sugar
6 sticks (2 pounds) unsalted butter, not cold, cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tbsp kahlua coffee liqueur
1 tbsp instant espresso (I used mocha flavor)
Makes enough to frost and fill an 8″ layer cake
I always cube and set out my butter on a plate first thing, and let it warm up while I work on the rest. Wipe out your mixer bowl and mixer attachments VERY well, making sure there’s no trace of grease. The first thing you’re going to do is make a meringue, and any grease could cause it to fail. Heat a large pot with an inch or so of water on the stove until it’s just simmering—we don’t want to cook our egg whites. Add the egg whites and sugar to your mixer bowl and whisk constantly until the sugar is melted and the egg whites are warm.
Stick your bowl on your mixer with whisk attachment and whip the egg/sugar mixture on medium-low (say 3 on a Kitchenaid) for a couple minutes, then switch to medium-high (say 7 or so on a Kitchenaid) until they’re white and fluffy, and the bowl is neutral to the touch. For me, it takes around 7-8 minutes. Voila! You made meringue. But it’s going to get even better still.
When the bowl feels room-temperature, switch to the paddle attachment on low speed and add your cubed butter one or two cubes at a time. This is the tricky part, and where it may look like everything’s gone wrong. At this stage, it is totally okay if your buttercream looks grainy, more like scrambled eggs. Trust me! Just keep whipping it, scraping the paddle clean if need be. Eventually, it will turn into creamy, smooth loveliness. Add your kahlua, espresso powder, vanilla, and salt, and whip it a bit longer, until they’re evenly incorporated. Transfer to a separate bowl and clean out your mixer for the next step!
Mocha fudge filling
6 ounces good semisweet chocolate
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 tablespoon instant espresso (again, I used mocha flavor)
Makes enough to fill between three layers of an 8″ cake
From Ina Garten
Chop and melt your chocolate in a double boiler or heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water, then set aside to cool. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, whip your butter on medium high til it’s light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and keep beating until they’re completely mixed in, about three minutes. Slow your mixer to low speed and gradually add your powdered sugar until it’s completely incorporated and creamy. Then make sure your chocolate has cooled to room temperature, and add it and the espresso (dissolved in two tsp of hot but not boiling water) to the filling, and mix on low speed.
Assembling the cake
Remove your cake layers from the freezer and slap a ring of frosting on the cake board to keep the cake in place, then place the first layer in the middle of the board. Pipe a ring of kahlua frosting around the very edge, then fill the middle with mocha filling, smoothing it. Stack the next layer on top (if you plan on doing three layers, repeat the filling step and place the top layer on), and smooth a very thin layer of frosting over the cake, making sure to cover it all. It’s all right if you get some crumbs in it. This is called crumb coating, and it’s important if you want a pretty, crumb-free finish. Stick it in the fridge for about half an hour to an hour to set up. Once it’s set, smooth the final layer of frosting over, decorate with fondant or frosting as desired, then pipe borders around the top and bottom. I used a small closed star tip for the top (and the flame in Azula’s hand) and a round tip for the bottom, with frosting tinted blue.