Our youngest turned 7 this past weekend. She is such a great little girl, but she always gets slighted because her birthday falls on Labor Day weekend. We came back from the lake on Sunday just so we could prepare something special for her. We went to pick up the dogs from my in-laws house and my mother-in-law suggested that she could make the cake. I thought…Are you kidding me?! I spent the entire 45 minute drive home from the lake researching different cakes. I am obsessed with baking, so there is no way I would ever let anyone bake a birthday cake for one of the kids. Not that there’s anything wrong with my mother-in-law’s cooking. In fact, she’s quite a good cook. But, I will never hand over the baking duties to anyone, simply because I love it too much, and it’s my way of showing the kids how special they are to me.
I start asking the kids what kind of cake they want about a week before their birthdays. The twins always want cookie cake, Shaun always wants some odd concoction that never turns out good, but Elise, the perfect angel she is, always requests CHOCOLATE. Chocolate cake with chocolate icing. I made a nice cake last year, but it was really boring for a kid. I needed something spectacular this year. I scoured the web for a chocolate layer cake that didn’t look too complicated. It took me until Sunday afternoon to find the perfect recipe. My husband even laughed at me at one point and said, “you’ve been on that phone all day!” I use my phone to surf the Internet because I can lay in bed, watch tv and play Word with Friends all at the same time. It’s a beautiful thing!
The recipe I settled on was a chocolate layer cake, with cream filling and a chocolate icing. The recipe looked simple enough and I planned to spend a couple of hours baking the cake and preparing pizza dough for the party on Monday. The kids were all gone and the hubby went for a motorcycle ride. This left me with plenty of time to finish the cake and pizza crusts, and then time to watch everything that has piled up on my DVR. I have 13 episodes of Hoarders saved up….wait, isn’t there some type of irony in this statement??
Ok, there were several things that I learned after spending 5 hours in my kitchen on Sunday night:
- Cocoa powder mixed with hot water does NOT taste good. It says “Unsweetened” on the box for a reason. It’s not sweet. Do not lick a spoon or your fingers no matter how tempted you are to do so when that brown, chocolately looking liquid appears on your fingers or a spoon. You will regret it!
- No matter how well you grease a cake pan, the cake will always stick if you don’t use parchment paper in the bottom. I’m not sure why I thought I was exempt from this rule…oh wait, it’s because I didn’t have any parchment paper.
- Watch several videos on cake decorating and learn what a “crumb coat” is. I knew about this already, but for novice bakers, check out some of these videos.
- Baking a birthday cake always takes longer than you expect, especially when you start the decorating process. I know that I promised Elise that I would put star-shaped sprinkles on her cake, but I’m sure that she didn’t expect me to gently put each little star on it by hand.
- Never count your chickens before they’re hatched! Ok, so I didn’t make up that phrase, but I think it applies in this situation. About 10 minutes before my cakes were done, my oven decided to stop working. I have a Whirlpool gas oven with a digital display. The digital display had some type of error code on it. I immediately started pushing buttons and none of them worked. I panicked and ran to the computer to see if I could get an answer from the Internet as to what the error code meant, all the while getting more and more excited about the prospect of getting a new oven. Visions of convection ovens danced through my mind! BINGO – the answer I had been looking for. The error code meant that there was something wrong with the touchpad and it would require a new part. Yesss, I was getting a new oven. I called my husband, and he said, “Did you unplug it and plug it back in?” Um, no. I’m getting a new oven, why would I want to do a silly thing like that?! Well, I humored him and tried it anyway. Boooooooo, it worked! So, no new oven for me!
I know that I promised you realistic and easy recipes for busy cooks. I’m not going to lie, this isn’t an easy recipe. I would say that this is for an intermediate to advanced baker. You need to know about making whipped cream from scratch, decorating a cake, doing a crumb coat, etc. If you have the time and energy, I highly recommend making this cake because it was quite arguably one of the most delicious chocolate cakes I have ever eaten. The icing is amazing and the cake itself is very moist. Please don’t be scared to make it, but know that it will take a lot of time and patience, 2 things that I don’t have a lot of. I was so happy with how cute this turned out. Elise loved the Kit Kat bars around the edge, and I thought it was adorable. The recipe can be found below.
Chocolate Birthday Layer Cake
Adapted from: Amuse Bouche
1 cup unsifted, unsweetened cocoa
2 cups boiling water
2-3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) butter (softened)
2-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and lightly flour 3, 9 inch, round cake pans. You can also add a round piece of parchment paper to the bottom of the pan to keep it from sticking (highly recommended).
In medium bowl, combine cocoa with boiling water using a whisk to mix until smooth. Cool completely before proceeding. You can put in the refrigerator to speed up this process, just make sure you stir it occasionally to evenly cool the mix.
Meanwhile, sift together flour, baking soda, salt and baking powder.
In large bowl of electric mixer, beat softened butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla at a high speed for approximately 5 minutes. Switch the mixer to a low speed and beat in the flour mixture (in fourths) and then the cooled cocoa mixture (in thirds), beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Do not over mix or the cake will be stiff.
Divide evenly into pans and smooth the top. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then carefully loosen the sides with a spatula, remove from pans and cool on racks. If you have time, place the layers in the freezer or refrigerator to make the layers easier to work with.
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
1/4 cup unsifted confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Place cream, sugar and vanilla in medium bowl and mix on high until stiff peaks form. Place bowl in refrigerator until you are ready to assemble the cake.
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips or chopped baking chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup butter
2-1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
In medium sacepan, combine chocolate, cream and butter. Stir over medium heat until smooth. Remove from heat. Place saucepan over heatsafe bowl filled with ice. Use a whisk to blend in 2-1/2 cups of confectioners’ sugar. Beat until the frosting holds its shape; then remove the ice bowl. If icing gets too thick, reheat and beat over ice again. The key is to NOT leave this over the ice too long.
Place bottom layer on serving dish. Spread 1/2 of the filling on top. Gently place second cake layer on top of filling. Spread remainder of filling on top of the second layer and then gently place the third layer on top. Be sure that all of the layers are lined up. If you have any layers that are domed, it’s better to put the dome sides down or cut them to be flat. You want the top layer of the cake to be flat.
Spread a thin layer of icing (crumb coat) over the entire cake. This helps to keep your icing free of crumbs once you put on the final coat. Place the cake in the refrigerator for 15 minutes just to get the crumb coat to harden. Remove the cake and then do the final icing. Spread a layer of icing on the top of the cake and spread to the edges. Ice the sides of the cake; all of the layers should have been filled in when you did the crumb coat. Smooth the icing with a spatula. You can do additional decorations with sprinkles and Kit Kat bars, or just leave it plain.