On the menu: Chocolate Cake
I just got back from vacation. A long overdue and well deserved vacation, if I may say so. My mom, stepdad, and my four youngest siblings piled into their minivan and road-tripped it out to Maine from Wisconsin. We spent the week exploring the Midcoast region–my favorite part of the state–and we created so many memories. It was SO much fun. It’s really hard to be so far away from my family, especially as my younger siblings are growing up into such fantastic human beings. My baby sister turned 12 when they were here. TWELVE! I remember holding her for the first time when I was 12. It was also her golden birthday, which called for an epic celebration. So I made her a cake.
It wasn’t a Momofuku cake. It wasn’t a shiny gold cake. Either of the aforementioned options would be completely appropriate for my own golden birthday, which is fast approaching (one week from today!), but Kevin has insisted that I can’t make my own birthday cake. So I went all out for my sister instead. The girl is crazy about two things: pink and glitter. She’s also a big fan of chocolate. But when it comes to cake, I’ll be real: she basically eats the frosting and leaves the rest.
Perhaps now I’ll be real about something else: Aubrie, my sister, is autistic. She was diagnosed when she was three, and through years of educational programs, she has become an outstanding young lady. We were all a little worried about how she would fare on vacation, but she loved nearly every minute of it! She loved climbing on coastal rocks, getting knocked into by big ocean waves, and parading through countless museums, state parks, and souvenir shops with the rest of us. She’s truly a remarkable girl.
I baked the cake the night before her birthday and had a bit of trouble with the oven in the cottage my family was staying in. The cake burned a bit around the edges, but that was nothing a serrated knife, piles of bubble gum pink frosting, and chocolate ganache couldn’t fix. For a golden touch, I added gold sprinkles and the ubiquitous but totally adorable flag banner with pink flags, gold skewers, and gold string.
The cake was dark, dense, and fudgey. The amount of chocolate involved was almost overwhelming. Strangely, I found myself clamoring for frosting to cut through it’s richness. Having never successfully baked a layer cake before, I was kind of astounded at how much cake an 8 inch three layer cake is. Even with eight people, we didn’t finish it off in the week we spent together. That may have been due to subsequent adventures to meet Lenny the Chocolate Moose and making some Sprinkle Party Ice Cream. Hey, we were on vacation!
It was such a memorable week with a wonderful birthday celebration. I can’t believe my baby sister is twelve years old!
For the cake:
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups hot water
For the ganache:
1/2 pound semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 tablespoons stick unsalted butter
Cake frosting of your choice (True story: I used store-bought.)
Bake the cakes: Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three eight inch round cake pans, line bottoms with parchment paper, and butter paper. Sift cocoa, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar into a large bowl. Beat in oil, buttermilk, vanilla, eggs, and hot water one at a time, using an electric mixer on low speed. Beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Pour batter into pans. Bake 25-30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through, until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Remove cakes from the oven. Let cakes cool in pans on wire racks for 20 minutes, before inverting to remove. Discard paper and cool completely on racks, top side up. Make the ganache while the cake cools.
Make the ganache: Finely chop chocolate. Bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat in a small saucepan, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Cut butter into pieces and add to ganache, whisking until smooth. Transfer ganache to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable.
Assemble the cake: If necessary, cut the tops of the cake layers with a serrated knife so they are flat and even. Place one layer on a cake stand or your serving dish of choice and top it with half of the chocolate ganache. Repeat with the second layer, then top with the third layer. Apply a thin layer of frosting to cover the cake–a crumb coat–then apply a second, thick layer of frosting. Decorate additionally as you wish!