Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Chocolate Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Filling and Chocolate Buttercream
Every year, I manage to ruin Stephen's birthday cake.
The first year we lived together, I decided to throw him a "surprise party". His family never made a big deal about his birthday when he was younger, so I wanted to give him the birthday party he never had. But, it wasn't really a party. It was just me, an apartment decorated with streamers and balloons, and a birthday cake.
I don't remember for sure, but I'm guessing Betty Crocker had more of a hand in making the cake than I did. What I do remember for sure is that I didn't level the cake layers. And because the bottom layer was so domed, the top layer broke into four pieces and began sliding down the sides of the cake. At that point I didn't really have time for a backup plan, so I stuck some candles on it and resigned myself to moping. Stephen thought it was hilarious.
I don't recall what happened the next year, but I'm sure it was horrifying. Probably so much so that I've completely blocked it from my memory.
By the third year we lived together, Betty and I had gone our separate ways. The cake I made from scratch was absolutely delicious. But by no means did that prevent me from promptly throwing it in the trash and buying a cake at Safeway when the top layer slid halfway off the bottom layer and wouldn't go back. (This time too-thin frosting was the culprit). The perfectionist in me couldn't bare to look at it.
Last year, I tried to prevent disaster by making a single-layer rectangular cake. And for the most part, I did. Except that the recipe called for finely chopped unsweetened baking chocolate. And since I neither had a food processor nor a decent knife, the cake ended up being speckled with little flakes of chocolate that I didn't chop well enough. Not a complete disaster, but not a success either.
This year, I took every possible precaution in order to guarantee my success. I lined the cake pans with parchment paper. I refrigerated the cake layers before assembling the cake. I made sure the frosting was the right consistency. I leveled each layer of cake. I refrigerated the cake again after applying a crumb coat. Most importantly, I was patient.
I'm generally a very patient person, but when it comes to baking I'm uncharacteristically impatient. I don't want to wait for things to chill for 30 minutes or cool completely or rise until doubled in volume. I just want to get to the part where I can eat it!
But this year I learned from my mistakes, and Stephen finally got the birthday cake he deserved. The layers stayed together. The frosting didn't have crumbs in it. The cake and frosting recipes were well-executed. (Although, I did almost forget to add the sugar when I was mixing the cake batter!). Best of all, Stephen claims it's the best cake he's ever had. In fact, after taking the first bite, he paused for several moments before asking me, "Have you ever eaten something so good it changed your life?"
As they say, patience is a virtue.
Chocolate Layer Cake
Adapted from Hershey's
2 cups sugar
1 & 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup natural cocoa powder (such as Hershey's)
1 & 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 & 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup boiling water
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat three 8-inch cake pans with nonstick spray. Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper. Spray each pan again and coat with a thin layer of flour.
2. In a large bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla, and mix until everything is thoroughly incorporated. Stir in the boiling water; the batter will be very thin.
3. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each layer comes out clean. Cool the layers in the pans for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
4. Wrap each layer in plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Make the cream cheese filling and chocolate buttercream (see recipes below). When you're ready to assemble the cake, remove the layers from the refrigerator. If needed, level each layer with a serrated knife or cake leveler.
5. Place the bottom layer on a cake plate. Evenly spread about 3/4 cup of the cream cheese filling over the cake, leaving about 1/2 inch margin around the edges. Top with the second layer and repeat. Finally, top with the third layer. Apply a thin layer of chocolate buttercream over the top and sides of the cake. This is only a crumb coat, so it doesn't need to be perfect. Refrigerate the cake for about 30 minutes.
6. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and apply a final layer of chocolate buttercream, as well as any desired embellishments.
Cream Cheese Frosting
1 cup (8 oz) cream cheese
3/4 cup (6 oz) butter
1/2 tablespoon vanilla
6 cups (24 oz) powdered sugar
Beat the cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer at medium speed for about one minute. Add the vanilla and beat one minute more. Reduce the mixing speed to low, and add the powdered sugar about 1/2 cup at a time. Once the sugar is completely incorporated, beat at medium speed for about two minutes or until fluffy.
1 cup (8 oz) butter
1 & 3/4 cups (5 oz) natural or dutch-processed cocoa powder
6 cups (24 oz) powdered sugar
1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
In a large bowl, combine the powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Beat the butter with an electric mixer at medium speed for about one minute. Reduce the mixing speed to low, and add the sugar/cocoa mixture about 1/2 cup at a time. Halfway through this process, add the milk and vanilla. Once all of the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated, beat at medium speed for about two minutes or until fluffy.
Note: Each of these recipes makes quite a bit of frosting! You could probably get away with half the amount of each (just halve all of the ingredients, and follow the same process), but I usually err on the side of having too much rather than too little. You can always freeze any leftover frosting in an airtight container!