I absolutely adore layer cakes. I think layer cake is one of my favorite things to eat, and possibly my favorite thing to bake. When I was in grad-school, I went through a layer-cake-making phase. They weren’t always perfect, but my labmates always enjoyed them (and I’d like to believe it’s not just because my cakes were free). I made a different layer cake every week for months, and my most cherished moments of grad-school were slicing into and sharing these cakes with my friends. We’d cut into the cake every Monday evening, and we’d sit together and chat, and revel in the sugar-high. Those Monday night sweet breaks made spending another late evening in the lab almost okay.
Now that I’ve graduated, my layer cake endeavors usually involve a celebration of some kind. Each one is an opportunity to test a new recipe or to learn a new technique. I made this cake in celebration of a fellow chocoholic-turned-friend‘s birthday. New recipes can be nerve-wracking, especially when your cake is going to be served to a room full of foodies/bloggers. Fortunately, this cake was a showstopper and enjoyed by all. The recipe is from Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented, and I learned a few things along the way. Here are some of my tips for cake-making success:
- You will want this tool to help you transfer the delicate cake layers from pan to rack, etc. Trust me, it makes things a lot easier!
- The cake layers are very delicate, so to make cake assembly easier, I wrapped them in cling wrap and put them in the freezer just before I made the buttercream. This way, the cake layers firm up in the freezer and can easily be stacked and iced without them falling apart on you.
- The buttercream is thickened with flour. You must boil the milk/ flour/sugar mixture sufficiently so that it is very thick, otherwise you will end up with a soupy buttercream.
- After it has thickened, make sure to beat the milk/flour mixture until it has completely cooled or you will melt the butter when you add it.
- I couldn’t find coffee extract, so I made very, very strong espresso and used that instead. It was strong to the point of being undrinkable, but just right for flavoring a buttercream.
- I only used half the chocolate glaze that the original recipe called for. Surprisingly, I don’t think more was needed. In the recipe that follows the amount of chocolate glaze that I used is given, if you want more, double the ingredients.
What I love about this recipe is that the layer cakes are light and moist, and a little chocolaty. The chocolate glaze certainly reinforces that chocolate flavor. The coffee buttercream tastes remarkably similar to a Coffee Crisp bar (well, minus the crispiness). This recipe is not hard, but requires a little extra time that is well worth it.
Chocolate cake with coffee buttercream
Chocolate cake ingredients
- 3/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder—I used <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000GUOA8W/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=kitch02-20&linkCode=as2&camp=217145&creative=399373&creativeASIN=B000GUOA8W" rel="nofollow">Cacao Barry Cocoa Powder – Extra Dark</a> 85 grams, plus more for dusting pans
- 2/3 cup sour cream ~170 mL, 14% fat
- 1 1/4 cups hot water 312.5 mL
- 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour 295 grams
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter 170 grams, room temperature
- 1/2 cup vegetable shortening ~115 grams
- 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar 340 grams
- 1 cup dark brown sugar 200 grams
- 3 large eggs room temperature
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
Coffee buttercream ingredients
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar 340 grams
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour 40 grams
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk 375 mL, 3.25% fat
- 1/3 cup heavy cream ~80 mL, 35% fat
- 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter 340 grams, room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 –4 tbsp very strong espresso room temperature
Chocolate ganache ingredients
- 114 grams <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0050IKAWA?ie=UTF8&tag=kitch02-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B0050IKAWA" rel="nofollow">Valrhona guanaja chocolate</a> or your favorite dark chocolate
- 3/8 cup unsalted butter 85 grams, room temperature, cut into pieces
- 1/2 tbsp corn syrup
- 20 –25 Godiva chocolate pearls <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002W5S1OS?ie=UTF8&tag=kitch02-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B002W5S1OS" rel="nofollow">white, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002V5QA9W?ie=UTF8&tag=kitch02-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B002V5QA9W" rel="nofollow">milk</a>, and <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002V5XVFI?ie=UTF8&tag=kitch02-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B002V5XVFI" rel="nofollow">dark</a>
To make the chocolate cake
- Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease three 8-inch round cake pans, line each of them with parchment, grease the parchment and dust the pans and parchment with cocoa powder. Set them aside.
- In a medium bowl, mix the cocoa powder, sour cream and hot water. Set aside for later.
- In another medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until it is light and fluffy.
- Add the sugars to the bowl of the mixer and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl as needed.
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Add the vanilla, and beat well.
- With the mixer on low, add the whisked dry ingredients alternately with the cocoa mixture, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Give the mixture a last stir by hand before dividing among the three prepared pans.
- Bake the cake layers for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. The cake will pull away from the sides of the pan when the cake is done.
- Let the cake cool in the pans for 30 minutes before flipping them onto a wire rack to cool completely. Wrap them in plastic wrap to store them.
To make the coffee buttercream
- Place the wrapped cake layers in the freezer while you prepare the buttercream.
- In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar and flour. Whisk in the milk and cream, and cook over medium heat, whisking often until the mixture boils and thickens. This takes a good 15 minutes.
- Transfer the thickened mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until the mixture is completely cooled, about 10 minutes (don’t just feel the bowl, check the mixture itself to be sure it has cooled!).
- Reduce the speed to low and add the butter, mixing until it is thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high to make the frosting light and fluffy.
- Add the vanilla and the espresso (or coffee extract) to taste.
To assemble the cake
- Trim the cake layers so that they are flat and levelled.
- Place one cake layer in the center of a serving plate. Place parchment strips to cover the exposed plate and catch any buttercream/ganache drips.
- Top the first layer with 1 1/4 cups buttercream. Place the second layer over the buttercream, and repeat with another 1 1/4 cup of buttercream and the third layer.
- Frost the top and sides of the cake with what’s left of buttercream. Place the cake in the fridge while you make the chocolate glaze.
To make the chocolate glaze
- Place the chocolate, butter, and corn syrup in the top of a double boiler.
- Stir the mixture with a small spatula until the ingredients have melted and the glaze is smooth.
- Take the pan off the heat, and stir for a few minutes to allow the glaze to cool and thicken a little.
- Slowly pour the glaze over the top of the cake, pushing tiny droplets down the sides.
- Let the glaze set for a few minutes before decorating the cake with a few chocolate pearls.
- Refrigerate the cake for 20 minutes to set the glaze. The cake should be served at room temperature.
Janice Lawandi is chemist-turned-baker, working as a recipe developer in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. She studied pastry at Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa and cooking at l’Académie Culinaire. She has a BSc in Biochemistry from Concordia University and a PhD in Chemistry from McGill University.