It’s Twice as Tasty’s birthday month, and no birthday is complete without a celebratory dessert. I’m a fan of nontraditional birthday desserts, such as last year’s Strawberry Shortcake with Lilac Cream, Apple Crumble Pie, homemade sorbet, and even fruit crisps. But sometimes you just need cake. Rich, multilayered, chocolaty cake.
Unfortunately, party cakes tend toward a dry, crumbly texture held together by an overly sweet frosting. And unless you bake and decorate cakes regularly, you’re likely gambling when you try to layer and frost a creation worthy of the special occasion. But homemade cakes for birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and other celebrations can be both delicious and beautiful. You simply need a recipe that ensures a moist cake and a few tips and tricks that make it easier to layer and decorate your baked creation.
Layered Chocolate Pudding Cake
1 cup ultrafine sugar
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
1-1/2 cups white flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup Cultured Buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Set a small saucepan over low heat; add about 1/2 ounce of chocolate at a time, stirring constantly until it is mostly melted before adding the next portion. When fully melted and smooth, immediately beat the chocolate into the creamed butter. Beat in the eggs one at a time.
In a separate bowl, stir together the flour and baking soda with a fork. Measure out the buttermilk. In alternating batches, beat the flour and buttermilk to the chocolate mixture. Stir in the vanilla.
Butter two 8-inch round cake pans. Trace the bottom of each pan onto a section of parchment paper; cut out the traced circle, and lay it in the bottom of the buttered pan. Divide the batter between the pans and cover loosely with foil or a bowl. Bake at 350°F for 1 hour, swapping the pans from one side of the oven to the other halfway through. Check for doneness: the sides begin to pull away from the pan, the middle is cooked but springy to the touch, and the kitchen is fragrant with baked chocolate.
Set the pans on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife between the edge of one pan and the cake layer, and then cut away any excess cake from the top. Place a second cooling rack on top and flip the pan over. Gently lift the pan from the cake; a slight shake might make it come free, but flip it again and reloosen the edge if it still clings. Peel away the paper, and then repeat the pan removal with the second layer. Let cool completely before stacking and decorating (see below). Serves 12–16.
Tips & Tricks
- Forget eyeballing equal batter for layers. Instead, write down the weight of the large bowl before starting. When the batter’s ready, reweigh the filled bowl, subtract the empty bowl weight, and divide by 2. Set the prepared cake pans on the scale in turn and pour in the recorded batter portion.
- Options for filling the middle layer of cake include some of the ganache you’re using for decorating. But my preferred filling is a fruit spread or sauce.
- Be sure filling is thick enough that it won’t ooze out between the layers. When spreading filling, extend it almost to the edge of the bottom cake layer, place the second cake layer on top, and then press gently to level. If filling does escape, push it back in place or remove it using a dry spatula.
Twice as Tasty
For any celebration, making a tasty cake at home is only half the challenge: you also want it to look beautiful. But it takes practice to frost a cake evenly and smoothly—more practice than you’ll get from making cakes for your immediate family each year.
Fortunately, even the most occasional bakers can decorate a photo-worthy cake with litte fuss or bonus trials. The secret is ganache, a chocolate glaze that coats your cake layers evenly and steadily. You’ll be amaze by how it immediately upgrades your birthday cakes and any other desserts. Making ganache requires just two ingredients, minimal effort, and only a few minutes. Once you’ve made a ganache, you can glaze it onto cakes, drizzle it over cookies, dip strawberries and quick breads into it, and use it as a frosting. You’ll quickly find many excuses to make ganache.
7 ounces heavy whipping cream
In a small saucepan, bring the cream just to a simmer. Remove immediately from the heat and pour in the chocolate chips, swirling the saucepan to ensure the chips are covered. Put a lid on the saucepan and let the mixture sit, without stirring, for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and whisk the chocolate into the cream, starting from the center and working outward, until smooth. Let the ganache sit uncovered at room temperature for about 15 minutes before pouring it over Layered Chocolate Pudding Cake. Makes about 1-3/4 cups.
Tips & Tricks
- I prefer bittersweet chocolate with 60% cocoa in ganache, but it is definitely a strong flavor. For a little more sweetness, substitute semisweet chocolate. Either way, use good-quality chocolate and cream.
- To use ganache as a glaze, stack a rimmed baking sheet, wire rack, and piece of parchment paper and set the Layered Chocolate Pudding Cake on top. Pour the ganache evenly over the top of the cake, letting it roll down the sides onto the parchment and then the tray. Gently scoop the ganache from the parchment up onto the cake’s sides using a clean table knife or spatula. Reuse the ganache that drips onto the tray as needed. Let the ganache sit until slightly hardened before decorating further.
- I usually create a separate decorative buttercream for fancy cakes, but the ganache can also decorate the glazed surface. Simply let the leftover ganache or an additional batch sit another hour at room temperature before scooping it into a piping bag. Ganache of this consistency can also be used to fill the middle layer of an all-chocolate cake.
- If you have leftover ganache, store it in the refrigerator in a glass jar. It will stiffen, but you can use it as a spread or stir it into your coffee.
- To resoften ganache for drizzling over cookies, set the stored jar on the counter until it is no longer chilled. Bring a small saucepan half full of water to a simmer, uncap the jar, and set it in the warm water until the chocolate begins to remelt. Remove the jar, dry the saucepan, and then scrape the ganache into it with a rubber spatula and whisk with a fork until it is smooth and flows.
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Tried & True
These tools and supplies may help you make the recipes in this post:
- I consider a kitchen scale an essential tool for everything from canning to baking. I use this model. It measures up to 11 pounds and lets you switch between pounds, which are useful when measuring produce for canning, and grams, which I prefer when making sourdough treats.
- Even if you only decorate pastries a couple of times a year, a piping bag and tips can prevent frustration and take up little space in a kitchen drawer. Go with a reusable bag, like this, rather than disposable. If you’re using several icing colors in one session, you can always slip in a bit of plastic to make cleanup easier; otherwise, simply wash, dry and store the bag until the next party. You also need a coupler and tips: this basic set is enough to get you started.
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