Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Day 317 - Chocolate Layer Cake and Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream

It's Tracy's birthday, and that calls for a celebration. She was flying back from Florida, arriving at 6:30PM, so to be safe, we planned a cake-only party for 8PM. And since I only had one cake left in the book (!), I didn't have to think too hard about what I was going to make....

Chocolate Layer Cake (p. 455)

This recipe is the cake variation of the recipe titled "One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes with Swiss Meringue Buttercream." And though I'd already completed that, it's been a while, so I felt like I was making this for the first time.

Having made some pretty labor-intensive cakes, I truly appreciate that Martha included a recipe as simple and straightforward as this. One bowl, people! No folding in of egg whites, no sifting, just throw everything in the bowl and whisk. Easy, breezy, beautiful.

The cakes come out rich and dark and puffy! I had a little bit of an issue, in that in order to bake the cakes until the tops of the mounds were cooked through, the edges of the cakes ended up a little dry and crusty. I thought about trying to trim all the way around the perimeter of the cakes, but then I pictured clumps of cake coming off and me trying to stick them back on, and I resisted the urge. Instead, I just gingerly chipped off the driest pieces, sort of filing it down.

I trimmed a little off the tops, and I wish I had taken off more. It didn't matter so much with the layer that ended up on the top of the cake, where a little rounding is welcome, but the layer on the bottom, which I had turned upside down, was quite rounded, and there was a noticeable gap between the perimeter of the cake and the cake plate. Ah well. I'll know for next time.

I did have a slight disaster inverting the cakes after taking them out of the pans - I lost a little chunk from the bottom of one layer. I tried not to get too upset, knowing that this frosting would be able to hide a multitude of sins.

The cake is absolutely delicious. It's chocolate-y and moist and rich, without being too heavy or overly sweet... really great balance. This will be my go-to cake for ever more.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream (p. 456)

I love this frosting. And that's coming from someone who hates frosting. But this is magical frosting. And the addition of chocolate makes it that much more magical.

I definitely had a mini-meltdown in the middle of this recipe. I had heated my egg whites and sugar, I'd whipped it into stiff, glossy peaks, and then I added... I believe the culinary term is: "a buttload" of butter. And Martha clearly warns that the frosting may appear curdled at this point, but that further whisking would bring it back to life. Well, somehow, I got it in my head that I had OVERblended with the whisk and I moved on to the paddle part, which is the final stage of mixing, when you're getting the air bubbles out. And the curdling was only getting worse.

I was seriously close to throwing it all out and starting over. And then I thought, well, maybe I haven't overwhisked it. Maybe it just needs MORE whisking. So I put the whisk back on and voilà, I was back in business with my magical frosting once again.

I reserved a quarter of the icing (1.5 C of the total 6 cups) and left it plain, i.e. no chocolate, in order to have a contrasting icing for the top of the cake. I colored the plain frosting pink, and then I decided it would be cute to put that between the cake layers, sort of like a peek-a-boo surprise.

The rest of the frosting became chocolate-flavored with the addition of melted and cooled semi-sweet chocolate. I was shocked at the color of the chocolate buttercream. I expected it to be dark and chocolate-y looking, like the cake. Instead, it was beige, taupe, café au lait. I was informed by Tracy's friend, Brian, that if you want your chocolate buttercream to be dark brown, you have to add coloring, because there's so much butter it can't get too dark. Hmph. No one warned me about that....

In addition to the barely chocolate color, I'd also say that the flavor of this frosting is chocolate-lite. Perhaps bittersweet chocolate would have been a better choice. Or adding more chocolate. Or maybe it was the fact that it was a chocolate-lite frosting on a much darker chocolate cake, so it could never compete with the cake part. Maybe as frosting for a yellow cake, this would have just the right amount of chocolate flavor, but given it's cake counterpart, it seemed pale.

Still, I love love love this frosting. I'm happy to report that it did, indeed, cover all my baking failings. Lose a chunk of cake? Just fill it in with frosting! Your bottom layer is so pointy you can spin it like a top? Fill in the spaces at the bottom with frosting! There are dried out bits around the edges of the cakes? Slap a bunch of frosting on top and who will ever know?

It's so easy to work with. And boy, am I glad I got that lesson from Martha recently. That REALLY came in handy frosting this cake. I did my crumb coat, like a good little boy, then I piled on every last bit of frosting that was left in the bowl. I held my spatula straight up and down and though it's not perfect, I think it came out pretty decently.

I got a little "creative" with the pastry bag and the pink piping on top. I had to do something festive. I love the way the pink stripe in the middle came out. As you can see in this picture, the cakes are markedly tapered, but the frosting fills in the spaces like mortar.

Overall, I was extremely happy with and proud of how this cake turned out. The taste and texture of both cake and frosting was totally delicious and totally professional.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Until we eat again....

Here's the birthday girl surround by her friends, from l. to r.: Amy, Angie, Tracy, Bill, Kristian, and Ann (not pictured - Ginny, Brian, and Tim)


  1. I want cake now...

    Looks fantasic!

  2. I just made this tonight and it came out great. I had the same issue you had with the doming and the edges being a bit dry, but I find that happens a lot with chocolate cakes in general. The cake itself is incredibly rich and moist and flavorful, and so easy! I love it. Definitely going to add this to my repertoire. I paired it with a vanilla buttercream frosting, but will think about chocolate for the future...

    Love this blog!

  3. Hey Aaron-
    Thanks! FYI, that one-bowl chocolate cupcake recipe is really great for making just a few cupcakes. I don't have the book with me, but I'm pretty sure the recipe divides easily by 1/5, making 5 cupcakes, perfect for dessert for a party of 4. One extra for the chef, just to make sure they came out OK. :-)