Occasionally, I foolishly agree to do things that I know I shouldn’t. I know that it’s going to cause me stress and make me temporarily insane(r). But I do it anyway because I also know that the end, my insanity will result in someone else’s joy.
Such is the case for this birthday cake. The office manager in Tug’s school, Arthurina, sent me a message asking if I did birthday cakes. The school’s administrative aide, Sheila, had a birthday coming up and they were going to be celebrating at the office. Since I’ve returned to work, I’ve been saying “no” to cakes as they can be time consuming and I refuse to use frozen cake. I probably should have said “no” to this one. But since I didn’t . . .
We agreed on chocolate cake with mocha buttercream. But then it was suggested that Sheila really liked chocolate chip cookies. At first I wasn’t sure how I would incorporate chocolate chip cookies. Cookie garnishes, cookie “dough” filling? No. I decided that I was going to make a giant chocolate chip cookie – the size of the cake – and use it as the bottom layer of the cake.
While I was congratulating myself on this idea, I began to realize the extra work I had just created. How was I going to get all of this done?! Make a schedule. I need a schedule to assure myself that I can actually meet the deadline. While I steadfastly refuse to use frozen cake, there are still some things that can be done in advance, and some things that are even better when done in advance.
The cake was needed on Thursday. So working backwards, I knew it had to be finished Wednesday evening. For my scheduling, that meant that on Wednesday I would be splitting and filling the cake layers and icing the cake. In order to do that, the cakes and cookie had to be baked on Tuesday and the buttercream would have to be ready. Monday was removed from the schedule because of an after-hours work event. That put me back to Sunday. So on Sunday, I made the mocha buttercream and mixed up the chocolate chip cookie dough and stashed them in the refrigerator. (Cookie dough is one of those things better made in advance. Making the dough ahead of time and refrigerating it overnight results in better cookies.) Then I measured out all of the ingredients for the cake so I would be ready to go on Tuesday. Since I woke up way too early on Tuesday (probably because I was obsessing about cake) I decided to get up and bake the cookie layer. That worked out well as the cookie - and the pan - had plenty of time to cool while I was at work. Baking the cake that evening was made so, so much easier by having all my ingredients ready. I really can't stress the importance of mise en place nearly enough. And it's fun to say.
|This photo is one of the two I managed to get (too bad it didn't turn out well) but I wanted to show the advantage of using cake strips on the outside of your pans: check out the evenness of the cakes.|
Overall, the schedule and the process went fairly well. There were a couple of small glitches on Wednesday, however. The first was discovered when I began stacking the cake layers on top of the cookie layers: cake shrinks; cookie does not. There was such a significant difference between the diameter of the cookie layers and the cake layers that I had to trim the sides of the cookie layers. This wasn’t a huge problem, but I did have to spend time on it and I hadn’t planned on dealing with the crumbs that cutting the edges produced. The second began to come into focus about half-way through stacking the layers: I was going to run out of buttercream. Fortunately, in a rare moment of foresight, I anticipated that might happen and Wednesday morning had taken an additional pound of butter out of the refrigerator to warm up. Thank goodness, because I had to make more buttercream.
|A photo of the finished cake just prior to cutting - thanks to Arthurina for the photo.|
When all was said and done, I ended up with a 10-inch round cake consisting of two half-inch cookie layers (I split the cookie in half) on the bottom of six half-inch cake layers. Since the cake was very moist on its own, I kept the icing between the layers minimal: essentially it was just enough to “glue” the layers together. I swear that cake weighed at least 12 pounds as it was - more buttercream??
It would be awesome if I had some step-by-step photos to share with you, but my inconsistency in photographing has not improved. I didn’t even snap a photo of the finished cake as, by the time I was done, our kitchen was such a mess I didn’t want it documented. Fortunately, Arthurina was kind enough to take some photos with her phone and send them to me.
|Two layers of cookie, six layers of cake: gain five pounds in just once glance.|
Dark Chocolate Cake
2½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup Dutch-process cocoa
2½ tsp baking soda
1½ tsp salt
½ cup natural cocoa
½ cup hot water (just below boiling)
3 extra-large eggs, room temperature
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1¼ cups granulated sugar
¾ cup brown sugar, packed
1¾ cups buttermilk, room temperature
1½ tsp pure vanilla extract
6 oz dark chocolate (60 – 70%), melted and cooled
Preheat oven to 350°F. This is a good time to melt the dark chocolate. Put the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl in the oven while it’s warming up. It takes just a few minutes. Be careful not to scorch it. Prepare two 8” round pans with cake release (or butter and flour) and parchment.
Sift together the flour, Dutch-process cocoa, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In a small bowl, add the hot water to the natural cocoa and stir to a smooth slurry. Break the eggs into a measuring cup with a spout and beat well enough to break up the whites. Set all of these aside.
Cream the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment for three to five minutes on medium-high speed. Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides and cream for another one to two minutes. With the mixer on medium speed, drizzle in the beaten egg in a slow, steady stream, no more than one tablespoonful at a time. Stop and scrape the bowl and paddle about half-way through. Mix in the natural cocoa slurry.
Stir the vanilla extract into the buttermilk. On the lowest speed, add a third of the dry ingredients, mix briefly and add a third of the buttermilk. Repeat until all of the dry ingredients and buttermilk are used, mixing just until combined. (It’s very important not to over-mix once the flour has been added.) With the mixer still on low speed, drizzle in the melted dark chocolate. Mix briefly. If streaks of chocolate remain, fold in gently with a spatula.
Divide the batter evenly into prepared pans. Tap the pans on the counter to level the batter and release air bubbles. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Trust your nose: when you start to smell cake, it’s almost done. Cool the pans on a rack for at least 10 minutes before removing the cakes from the pans.