I’m a little nervous about posting this online.
This cake is very special to me.
Disclaimer: it is not my birthday, and I didn’t make this recently. My birthday is in August (August 5, in case any of you want to send me fun kitchen supplies next year) but it’s taken me a while to share it with you. Apologies. This post is also a bit different from my usual repertoire of vegetable-based dishes, so this will not be catering to some of you. However, birthdays are a special occasion and they deserve chocolate. In cake form.
You need to be prepared for this. For one, it requires quite a lot of ingredients. I had to save up my eggs (I get 6/week with my CSA) to have enough (although in retrospect I should’ve just bought another 6-pack that week). And buy more butter. And sugar. And cocoa. And chocolate.
But let me tell you, it’s worth it. This cake is amazing. As in, the best cake you will ever eat, ever. The cake is rich yet fluffy, chocolately and complex. And the frosting is pure luxury: smooth, luscious, deeply chocolate and altogether absolutely incredible.
You sold yet?
I’ve made this cake every year for my birthday since I can remember. Used to be we’d have it for my mother’s birthday and my sister’s as well (my dad always had German chocolate) but now that we’re all grown up and out of the house, I make it by myself. Sometimes people find it sad that I make my own birthday cake, but it’s my favorite part about my birthday. Somehow, even living alone, it always finds a way to disappear (and happens to be a good way to make friends).
Have I mentioned chocolate? Let me tell you about it briefly. You see, chocolate is one of those products that doesn’t grow in Maine. I think we’ve been over this already. Discovered in the Americas way back when, now most of it is grown in Western Africa. As part of the legacy of colonialism (which I could go on about for a long time—I studied abroad in Cameroon), raw cacao beans are produced in these mostly developing countries and shipped over to Europe, where they make the finished product, and get to keep almost all the profits. Not ideal. Fortunately there are some chocolate companies that are “Bean-to-Bar” in Africa, meaning the Africans actually get to keep some of the profits of their labor (what a novelty), such as Madecasse, although of course it’s also wicked expensive. I confess, most of my baking is done with Ghiradelli chocolate, which is delicious but has no mention (that I could find) of sustainability or fair trade practices. It is one of those quandaries of trying to live conscientiously in the developed world and one that I attempt to justify by eating it a little less and recognizing it as the luxury it is. Please do as your budget and conscious allows, but remember that there are people across the world trying to make a living from this product, and they deserve to be paid for their labor.
As a side note, I read an article the other day that noted that Ebola may be threatening chocolate supply.
Anyway, as long as we are enjoying luxury we may as well make it the best it can possibly be. The frosting is something we played with for years before getting right. This is the best frosting in the world, I kid you not. An Italian buttercream, you first make a rich yellow custard, then beat in butter, powdered sugar, and melted chocolate to get the silky, sumptuous smooth chocolate topping, which really you could eat by itself for dessert—it is not horridly sweet like many frostings. We had been making a normal chocolate buttercream for a long time, but it was too sweet and always turned out a little grainy. Finally we saw this recipe in the February (=chocolate) issue of Gourmet magazine one year, and gave it a try. Too much butter (=too rich and not the right texture) and not enough chocolate flavor (milk chocolate? Really?). But, after several adjustments to get both the best flavor and the right amount for our three-layer cake, we succeeded in creating the perfect frosting for the perfect cake.
Who is Bonnie? We don’t know—my mom got the recipe from the boyfriend of a co-worker in a lab she worked in after college. If you are Bonnie and this is your cake recipe, thank you.
This recipe is in the baking book that my mother and I created and printed for family. We are sharing it because we believe in sharing good things. Feel free to do the same. Love you, Mogs!
For the cake: 1 cup unsweetened cocoa (I use Dutch-process) 2 cups boiling water 2 ¾ cups flour 2 tsp baking soda ½ tsp salt ½ tsp baking powder 1 cup soft butter 2 ¾ cups sugar (use half brown sugar for a more caramel taste) 4 eggs 1 ½ tsp vanilla
For the frosting: 1 cup whole milk 4 large egg yolks (freeze the whites for a later date) 1 T plus 1 tsp flour ½ and 1 cup confectioners sugar ¼ tsp salt 1 tsp vanilla ½ cup butter 5 oz bittersweet chocolate 3 oz unsweetened chocolate
The cake: Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease, then parchment (cut out rounds), grease again and flour 3 9-inch round cake pans (if you don’t have metal ones, the aluminum one-use ones you can buy at the grocery store work fine. Just grease and flour, no need for parchment. I even reuse them, many times over (don’t have real ones)).
Mix the cocoa and boiling water together until cocoa is dissolved. Cool.
Sift together flour, soda, salt, and powder and set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Beat in the eggs one by one. Add the vanilla. Carefully beat in the flour mixture alternately with the cocoa liquid, adding the flour mixture in 3 parts and the cocoa mixture in two. Do not overbeat.
Pour evenly into the 3 prepared pans. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. You will need to check the cake frequently at the end, so it doesn’t become dry (dry cakes are the worst). Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edges to remove the cake and cool on individual racks (as you can see, I only have two cooling racks, so I used the broiler pan. Made sure it was clean first, worry not).
For the frosting: Heat milk in microwave or in heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot.
Whisk together yolks, flour, ½ cup sugar, salt in a medium saucepan, then add hot milk in a stream, whisking (this tempers the yolks so they will not curdle).
Bring to a boil over moderate heat, whisking. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking, 2 minutes (mixture will be very thick), then transfer to a mixing bowl. Cover surface of custard with plastic wrap and cool to room temperature, about 45 minutes.
Melt chocolates, either on top of a double-boiler or in the microwave, and cool.
Add vanilla and remaining cup of sugar to cooled custard and beat with clean beaters at moderate speed until combined well, then increase speed to medium-high and beat in softened butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, until smooth. Add melted chocolates and beat until combined well and fluffy.
Assembly: Place first cake layer onto cake platter by placing your hand on top of the cake on the rack and quickly and confidently flipping the cake onto the platter. Spread with about 1/4 of the frosting. Repeat with the next two layers; with the final layer, spread the final quarter of frosting onto the sides of the cake to cover.
Decorate as desired: swirl the frosting, or smooth it and add other decorations with a frosting tip. I’ve taken cake decorating classes (Wilton) and it can be fun, but I think it’s a little classier to have the same color and some neat shells on the side or something. Not as easy to write “Happy Birthday” on it though.
Enjoy! This is a cake that is best the 2nd or even 3rd day, when the flavors have had a chance to meld. And make sure you cut it properly! This is a very forceful pet peeve of mine. I don’t get angry very easily but man if you cut a piece of cake in other than an exact radius from the middle, messing up the careful ratio of moistness from the edge, I will yell and scream and utter all variety of curses at you until you apologize profusely and perhaps even offer to buy ingredients to make a new cake. There was a video cycling around a while back about the mathematical way to cut a cake and boy is he ever the most wrong. Seriously, buddy, it messes up the whole ratio of frosting, you start with the best middle moist piece (very selfish) but then you’ll end up with a bunch of dry cake with too much sugary frosting, which is actually fondant, because no way can you push a real, tasty cake together and even put a rubber band around it like that. He clearly has never ever had a good piece of cake, poor man (the guy in the video is really just demonstrating a method that someone else came up with, but still).
Good cake will stay moist for days, as long as you cover it properly, and if you are really worried about it you can put a piece of wax paper on the cut side.
Someday I’ll take a video of how I eat a piece of cake, which is very specific as well (designed to get the same ratio of frosting on each bite), but too difficult to describe. Besides, this post is long enough.