Friday, October 26, 2012

Deep Dark Chocolate Cake

When I finally succeeded in putting this cake together, I had grand visions of becoming a famous cake baker, because I enjoyed it so much and it actually looked like what I envisioned. Normally, I'm constantly changing my 'vision' because what comes out of my hands is not quite what I was picturing. Not that any part was actually hard, but it was something new that I've never done before. So, if you've never made homemade cake like this, try it anyways. Of course I have lots of room to grow, but it's attainable. What I'm trying to say is: You can do it! Even if you don't do the whole cake exactly like I have here, each component stands alone and can be used in other ways. For example, the pastry cream can be used to fill pastries. The buttercream can be used to fill sandwich cookies, etc. Lots of room for customization here. Plus this cake recipe is awesome!

I love any homemade cake, but this one is my favorite combination. A dark and rich chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream that looks really feminine and girly. I have a hard time resisting...My birthday is in one month, so don't forget!

Because I tried changing too many things at once and made massive mistakes, I had to try some of these components more than once. With the cake, the third time was the charm. The only 'gamble' was the mocha pastry cream filling because I wasn't sure it would stand up to the weight of four layers of cake. It obviously ended up working just fine.

I wanted to change the cake recipe so it didn't have vegetable oil in it. For some reason, there are just some ingredients I don't want to use and vegetable oil is one of them. Thankfully, butter is a great substitute. Other than that, I barely made any changes.

All the components can be done ahead of time and the cake can even be assembled over a two day period as well.

My instructions may look long and intimidating, but I've tried to describe everything in detail so you can manage this even if you have no experience whatsoever. I took my mistakes and tried to improve the instructions so you wouldn't have the same problems I had.

You can find the frosting recipe here. Double the recipe if you plan on using the buttercream for between the layers and frosting the outside. If you fill the layers with pastry cream like I did here, you should be able to use the frosting recipe as is. Honestly, if you're going to the trouble of making this buttercream, make a double batch and you'll have leftovers for another use. Just store in the freezer in an airtight container for up to 3 months. When ready to use, thaw on the counter until it reaches room temperature. You may need to give it a little stir before using.

Deep Dark Chocolate Cake
Adapted only slightly from this recipe
Makes 2 9-inch round cake layers that can be left in 2 layers, or split into 4 

1 cup whole milk, room temperature
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 cup dark coffee, any temperature (if you don't have a coffee maker, see note below for instructions)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups dark cocoa powder, plus more for pans
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more solid butter for pans
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Liberally butter bottom and sides of 2 9-inch pans. Shake about 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder around the pan to coat and shake out the excess. I've found that if your cake is going to stick, it will be in the middle, so make sure you have plenty of butter and cocoa there.

Combine whole milk and vinegar in a small bowl. Let sit for at least 5 minutes.

We aren't coffee drinkers and don't have a coffee maker but we do have coffee grounds in the freezer, so this is what I do: In a medium saucepan, bring 1 1/3 cups water and 2 tablespoons ground coffee to a boil over high heat. Lower heat to medium and boil for 5 minutes. Strain through many layers of cheesecloth or a coffee filter to equal 1 cup of coffee. It doesn't matter what temperature your coffee is when you add it to your recipe.

In a medium-sized bowl, add flour, sugar, 3/4 cup cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Using a whisk, combine the dry ingredients until evenly combined. Sift into a stand mixer bowl.

Add melted butter, coffee, eggs, milk and vinegar, and vanilla extract.

With mixer set to medium speed with paddle attachment, stir for 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the  bowl if necessary.

Pour into prepared pans, dividing equally between the two. The most accurate way to do this is to use a scale, but since I don't have one, I've found the next best thing. Push the pans next to each other so they are touching. As you pour the batter, you should be able to see how evenly the batter is distributed.

In order to minimize doming of the layers, I use an offset spatula to flatten out the surface before placing in the oven.

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes and then rotate pans. Bake for about another 15 minutes or until a thin knife inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Set pans on cooling racks to cool for 20 minutes. Sometimes 20 minutes isn't quite enough, so I test this by placing my hand on the bottom of the pan. You should be able to hold it there for about 5 seconds. If it isn't cool enough yet, check again in 5 minutes. Run a dull knife around the edge of the pan and turn over to remove the cake. You may need to rap the pan against a table to loosen as well. Let the layers finish cooling at room temperature.

If not using immediately, wrap in two layers of plastic wrap, and place in an airtight container. Store in the fridge for about 2 days or in the freezer for about 3 months.

When ready to frost, it is best to cut layers while they are still cold from the refrigerator.

To split the cakes in half, I placed an embroidery hoop around the cake. Using the top of the hoop as a guide, saw gently though the layers using a long serrated bread knife. There are tools that do this as well, but this is by far the cheapest, short of eye-balling it.

If you are making a 2-layer cake, make sure the tops are flat and cut off portions to level, if necessary.

Mocha Pastry Cream
Adapted slightly from this recipe 

2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 large egg
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of sea salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

In a small bowl, whisk together instant coffee, cocoa, and 2 tablespoons boiling water to dissolve.

Whisk together 1/2 cup milk and cornstarch in a medium bowl until fully combined. Add the whole egg and yolks. Whisk until smooth.

Fill a medium bowl about halfway with water and place in the freezer.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add remaining milk and sugar. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Remove from heat, transfer to another saucepan, and let cool for 5 minutes.

While whisking constantly, add egg mixture to the hot milk in a very thin stream. Adding the eggs too quickly will result in scrambled eggs, so go slowly. Once the eggs have been added, return the pan to medium heat and continue whisking until the mixture boils and thickens. When I made this the second time, it never came to a boil, but it did thicken. If it doesn't come to a boil, watch for the whisk to leave a trail in the thickened cream and then remove from the heat immediately.

Whisk in butter and vanilla extract. One tablespoon at a time, add in coffee and cocoa mixture, tasting as you go. I used it all because I wanted a strong mocha flavor.

Cool about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. If not using immediately, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.


Place one layer flat on a cake board (or 9-inch piece of cardboard wrapped in aluminum foil) and cover with about 1/2 cup pastry cream, spreading evenly over the entire surface.

Continue with alternating layers of cake and pastry cream until you reach the last layer. Top the final layer with a thin layer of buttercream. Spread a thin layer of buttercream over the sides as well and refrigerate so the frosting has a chance to harden and any stray crumbs in your frosting will get 'locked' into place.

Frost as desired. I'm not going to describe my ruffle technique here because this is a great tutorial and it's what I used.

I will not admit to being any kind of expert on frosting roses, but this video explains it very well. This buttercream is a little soft for roses, but it can be done if you don't mind imperfections. If you need to stiffen it up, you'll have to add powdered sugar.

Store the cake in the refrigerator, but bring to room temperature before serving (about 30 minutes) or the frosting will be buttery-tasting and hard.



  1. You know it! There's some in the fridge if you want a slice...

  2. I'm jealous of your icing prowess. I'm lucky if I can get the cake completely covered this is beautiful!

    1. Jenni, you're very sweet, but it's actually incredibly easy. I promise!

  3. DELICIOUS! reminds me of all the juicy food we made in florida, not quite that fancy though!!! Im gonna have to convince mom to make it, but she will pry tell me to make it myslef, maybe i will make some kind of treat but nothing that fancy! I love reading your blog by the way, so glad you started one! :)
    love annaliise

    1. Thanks Annaliise! Nick still talks about the blueberry cake we made!

  4. I cannot believe your a Finn and you don't drink coffee. My mother is Finn... and her whole side of the family practicall swims in coffee. I was sitting at the table and having coffee with my mom by the time I was five...probably sooner but that is when she trusted me with her china cups so that is my finest memeory. I do enjoy your recipes..wonderful instructions and so good. Your photography is wonderful too. Just one complaint....more recipes please. :)

    1. Yeah, I'm a poor excuse for a Finn! :) I kind of have a feeling that if I started, I'd get overly addicted and have to create a big coffee + accessories budget, because I'd go so over-the-top! So, I'm trying to resist starting that habit. At least for now. I try a taste every now and again, but still am not getting that hooked feeling.

      That's so cute you remember drinking coffee from your mom's china cups! What a fun memory to have.

      Thanks for all the sweet compliments and I'm working on getting more recipes:)


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