my quote of the moment: "if you can attain repose and calm, believe that you have seized happiness." ~julie-jeanne-eleonore de lespinasse

February 12, 2012

birthdays are just an excuse for cake

i think i need more people in my life. because then there would be more birthdays and more parties. which can only mean more chances to eat and make cake.

i like cake. i like it very much. i like it for its endless variety. so many flavor combinations beyond the simple box mix slathered with tub frosting. not that there's anything really wrong with that. just because i get off on making ridiculously complicated cakes with homemade everything doesn't mean that it's anybody else's thing.

but yeah, baking from scratch so is my thing. and lately i've been picking the most delicious and complicated recipes i can find. and of course i go in full force, thinking that it'll be no problem and super easy and i can totally do this. then, usually halfway through, i start to wonder why i ever thought making this cake in the first place was a good idea, and what a find mess i've gotten myself into this time, again. sugar induced panic attacks are no fun.

in the end, it usually comes out just fine. and everybody oohs and ahhs and eats it up. because it's cake of course, so what else would they do? but everybody loves it and tells me how great it is and how well i did.

i went through the whole process a few weeks ago with the cake i made for my mother. it was a rolled cake, which i've made before and they've always turned into spectacular failures. but i felt that i could do it this time and get it right. because one if the bloggers i follow is always so confident about these things, so i went in with confidence. and it came out mostly ok. and my mom was thrilled, because we'd been looking at magazines around christmas time and she pointed this particular cake out to me, saying how she'd love to try it and i should attempt to make. i had said no, but it obviously turned into a yes. and it was chocolate and mint and fluffy whipped cream and ganche. so pretty much it was rolled up awesome on a plate.

well, my dear fish turns two on friday, so we had her party with my parents this weekend because we will be out of town next weekend. and yesterday also happens to be my one grandmother's birthday, so we had a joint party. and a joint party calls for some very special cake.

so i bought fish an ice cream cake, because whenever we go to a party and there is cake and ice cream, she eats the icing off the cake and all of the ice cream and just leaves the cake part behind. so she was very happy with her ice cream cake. but for the adults, i decided to channel martha stewart, which was an interesting trick because i am no martha.

a while ago i found a recipe for a salted caramel six layer chocolate cake with chocolate fudge frosting. and i figured i could totally make it, no problem. which, according to my hubby, really should have been no problem. i've made plenty of cakes in my day. and i've even made multi-layer cakes a few times. and every christmas i make salted caramel. so this was just a cake using various elements of past food projects.

i have to say, there were a few tricks to making this cake. one was to rotate the pans in the oven, because i couldn't get them on the same rack. even if i could have, i still would have spun the pans so they baked evenly. also, when it came to carving them, i think if i make cakes like this again at my moms' i need to find a better knife. one that is longer than the layer so i can make it through with one swipe. the caramel really wasn't a problem, because i only had to cook it to 238, which is much lower than when i make hard caramel candies. still plenty hot to melt off skin, but i've learned to be very very careful. i used chopsticks to hold it all together until the caramel set, so the layers wouldn't slide off each other, and that worked wonderfully. and covering it with the icing was no problem at all, because the recipe made a ton so there was even some left over.

all in all the cake came out well. even if it did take about four hours to make. but it was a special cake for a special occasion. and it was so rich everybody only ate the smallest of pieces, so that means there's even leftovers, so i am especially pleased with the outcome.

and if you think you'd like to try your hand at making this cake and having this fun, here it is:

Martha Stewart

  • Unsalted butter, room temperature, for pans
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 tablepoon baking soda
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Coarse salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons safflower oil
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • Coarse salt
  • 2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • Coarse salt
  • 1 pound semisweet chocolate, chopped, melted, and cooled
  • Garnish: flaked sea salt, such as Maldon
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the cake: Butter three 9-inch round cake pans, and dust with flour, tapping out excess. Sift flour, granulated sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and 1-1/2 teaspoons course salt into the bowl of a mixer. Beat on low speed until just combined. Raise speed to medium, and add eggs, buttermilk, 1-1/2 cups warm water, oil, and vanilla. Beat until smooth, about 3 minutes.
  2. Divide batter among pans. Bake until cakes are set and a toothpick inserted into the center of each comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let cool in pans set on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks, and let cool completely.
  3. Make the caramel: Combine granulated sugar, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water in a medium saucepan over high heat. Cook, without stirring, until mixture is dark amber, about 14 minutes. Remove from heat, and carefully pour in cream (mixture will spatter); stir until smooth. Return to heat, and cook until a candy thermometer reaches 238 degrees, about 2 minutes. Pour caramel into a medium bowl, stir in 1 teaspoon coarse salt, and let cool slightly, about 15 minutes. Stir in butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Let cool completely.
  4. Meanwhile, make the frosting: Whisk together cocoa and 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water in a bowl until cocoa dissolves. Beat butter, confectioners’ sugar, and a generous pinch of coarse salt in a clean bowl with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in melted chocolate and then cocoa mixture until combined. Let stand for 30 minutes before using.
  5. Trim tops of cakes using a serrated knife to create a level surface. Cut each in half horizontally to form 2 layers. Transfer 1 layer to a serving platter, and spread 3/4 cup caramel over top. Top with another cake layer, and repeat with remaining caramel and cake layers, leaving top uncovered. Refrigerate until set, about 1 hour.
  6. Frost top and sides of cake in a swirling motion. Sprinkle with sea salt.

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