Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Birthday Cake

As in the birthday cake.  The birthday cake to end all birthday cakes!  When Husband's birthday was approaching last month, I said I would cook him any food for his birthday dinner, and bake him any birthday dessert.  After much thought, he decided on sweet and sour pork for dinner (I have no idea where it came from, since I had never made it before), and his usual for dessert.  He always requests a cake, chocolate and raspberry.  This year was no exception.  The flavor combination is both our favorites.  Being the person I am...I wanted to make something special...and I put way more thought into it than I probably should have...I landed on the most complicated, but delicious cake I have ever made.

Are you ready to hear about it?

Prepare yourself.  It's quite a mouthful.  Ha!  Get it?

It's my favorite chocolate cake, layered with both raspberry filling and chocolate buttercream frosting.  It's topped with a raspberry buttercream, and then that's topped with a chocolate raspberry glaze.

I'm drooling right now.

Husband likes frosting.  I gave him some options on how to put the cake together, and he liked this way the best.  Cutting the layers in half allowed for more layers of frosting without adding more cake.  If you prefer more cake, or even just a taller cake, you could always do 3 or even 4 full layers instead of 2.  That cake would be a doozy!  Or, just keep the 2 layers in tact with only one measly layer of frosting between them.

I used some of the extra buttercream to decorate the top of the cake.  Lettering and squiggles and what not.  An expert I most certainly am not.  Fresh raspberries would have worked well too, but they were too rich for my unemployed blood.

Now this may shock you, given the subject and title of this blog, but there is, in fact, no booze in this cake.  A travesty, I know!  The recipe below contains no booze.  Unthinkable!

But fear not!  I wouldn't leave you hanging.  While this blog will, from time to time, feature recipes without alcohol, this cake could easily work some in.  And so next time I will.  I just didn't have the right booze on hand, so it was left out.  Sad, I know.  I'm talking about Chambord raspberry liqueur, of course.  Wouldn't that go nicely?  When I make this cake again I plan to incorporate it in the chocolate glaze on top of the cake, as well as brush some of the liquor on the cake layers.  Did you know brushing baked and cooled cake layers with water, simple syrup, or liquor is a good way to keep a cake moist, and in the case of the latter, delicious?  This chocolate cake definitely doesn't need the moisture, but I never say no to flavor.  If you're not a fan of Chambord, I'll bet that Godiva chocolate liqueur would be delicious as well, though chocolate on would probably get a bit lost.

While hunting the interwebs for ideas and recipes for what I wanted to do with this cake, I happened upon this invaluable post from Deb at Smitten Kitchen.  If you're planning to make a layer cake, it's definitely worth reading her tips for a successful cake.  My chilling technique and use of the crumb layer came from her.  And her tip for baking the cakes at a lower temperature for longer to prevent the middle from puffing up is ingenious!  Totally worked for me. Check it out.

Making this cake felt like running a marathon.  Seriously.  It took me all day.  I missed a Corgi meetup at the beach because I knew I needed every available minute of the day.  It didn't really take all day.  And it didn't require constant attention.  But I took my time, making sure not to rush, so I was sure that I would be happy with the end result.  Also, I have an issue with time management.

But it was so worth it!  This cake was by far the best cake I've ever baked.  I was afraid there would be too much going on, but since I kept the flavors to just chocolate and raspberry, the taste was complex, but still cohesive and delicious.  If anything all the different fillings and frostings added a great textural element.  Especially after refrigerating it. That chocolate cake recipe really is my favorite.  The cake comes out light and very moist, and the chocolate flavor is deep, not watered down like some other cakes can taste.  Oddly enough, I think all the different fillings and frostings actually balanced themselves out well.  Without the chocolate frosting, the raspberry in the filling and buttercream together would probably have been too pronounced. And the frosting without the raspberry filling would have left the raspberry flavor not pronounced enough.  You see?

Apparently our guests liked it because they actually took some home!  Husband freaked out a bit when he saw after only one day it was already half gone.  But he's a bit selfish (read: oink, oink!) when it comes to my baked goods.  It's endearing.  And when I sent him to work with some of the leftovers when Monday rolled around, people were actually fighting over it!  Heh, ok, not really.  But Husband did bring in a slice for our old manager, a woman who has always appreciated and encouraged my baking efforts, so I share with her as much as Husband lets me.  She was out of town, but very much wanted to try the cake, so she told him to put it in the freezer for when she got back.  A few co-workers got wind of the frozen slice, and decided to pilfer it for themselves.  They're also friends who encouraged my baking efforts, so I was glad they were able to try it, but apparently my old manager was not happy to hear the cake had not-so-mysteriously disappeared from the freezer.  Husband actually asked me to bake another cake so she could try it!  I'm nice, but I'm not that nice.  Cakes are rather expensive to make!  And remember the whole marathon comment?  Pretty sure it's not healthy to run a marathon every month.  Ok, maybe it is, but I still don't want to do it.

That reminds me of a tip for people who, like me, love to bake, but don't want the calories that come with being responsible for eating an entire cake, or batch of scones, or pan of muffins.  My first line of defense is my husband.  If anything gets past him after 48 hours, then it goes to work with him to share with his co-workers.  Only the ones he likes, though.  He thinks it's an insult to feed my extra delicious baking to people who are not worthy.  This is why I bake him cakes that take all day to make.  He's a sweetie.  But I should amend that, since there are co-workers who he likes, but sometimes he just doesn't have enough to go around to everyone because he eats half of it at his desk before sharing.  The frozen slice of cake, anyone?  Sometimes I have to give him specific instructions.

Oh, and a word of warning.  If you're going to make this cake for a dude, I wouldn't skip the chocolate glaze.  I didn't realize until I frosted the cake, but without the glaze it would be a pink cake.  I don't think Husband would have particularly appreciated a pink cake.  Just sayin'.

Portions of the cake could in theory be done the day before.  I baked the cakes the day before and froze them with no issue.  But for the filling, frostings, and glaze, I wanted to make sure it was freshly made so I didn't have any consistency issues.  If you do attempt to undertake this cake, I applaud you.  I'm sure you'll make a beautiful cake, and I hope you like how it turns out!

Husband's Ultimate Birthday Cake

The Contents:
  • the cake - 2 layers chocolate cake cut in half to make 4 thin layers
  • between the cake layers - chocolate frosting and raspberry filling
  • on top of the cake - raspberry buttercream and chocolate glaze
  • decoration for the cake - leftover raspberry buttercream for lettering or fresh raspberries

The Recipes:

The Best Ever Chocolate Cake
Adapted from the Cafe Beaujolais Cookbook

3 cups flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 tsp baking soda
2 cups sugar
1 tsp salt
2 cups cold water
1/2 cup + 2 TB canola oil
1 TB vanilla extract
2 TB white vinegar
  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Grease two 9-inch cake pans with baking spray, line the bottoms with parchment paper, then spray the parchment paper.
  2. Mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda, sugar, and salt, and sift together in a medium-sized bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the water, canola oil, vanilla, and vinegar. Whisk the wet and dry ingredients together, and pour through a fine mesh strainer to break up any lumps.  Whisk one more time.
  3. Pour the batter evenly into the two prepared cake pans.  Drop the pans, one at a time, about 6 inches from the counter or floor a few times to pop the air bubbles.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool completely.

Bittersweet Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

3.5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 TB unsalted butter, at room temperature
  1. Melt the chocolate and heavy cream in a double boiler, and whisk to combine.  Remove from heat and let the mixture sit, whisking occasionally, until it reaches a thick, gloppy consistency (which Deb likened to mayonnaise, which was right on).  This took me about 30 minutes.
  2. In a stand mixer, cream the butter using the whisk attachment, on medium speed until it is light and fluffy.  Add the chocolate mixture and whip until it is thicker and lighter in color, about 2 minutes.  Don't overwhip, or it could break.

    Raspberry Filling

    Makes about 1 1/2 cups

    20 ounces frozen raspberries (2 packages), thawed
    1/3 cup sugar
    2 TB cornstarch
    1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
    1. Puree the raspberries in a food processor, and push liquid through a fine mesh strainer to remove any seeds.
    2. Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan and heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly until it boils and thickens.  Let it cool completely, so the mixture will come to a thick enough consistency. 

    Raspberry Buttercream

    1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
    5-6 cups confectioners sugar
    10 ounces frozen raspberries (1 package), thawed
    1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
    1. Puree the raspberries in a food processor, and push liquid through a fine mesh strainer to remove any seeds. Set aside 3 TB of the puree for the chocolate glaze.  (To save time, I pureed the raspberries for both recipes together at once.)
    2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter using the whisk attachment on medium speed until it is light and fluffy.
    3. Slowly add 2 cups of the confectioners sugar, and mix until smooth.  Then add 10 TB of the raspberry puree, slowly, and mix until smooth.  Add the rest of the sugar, in 1/2 cup increments, and mix until fully incorporated.  When you've added in 4 1/2 to 5 cups of sugar stop and taste the mixture.  If it is sweet enough for your liking, stop there.  If you need more, keep tasting after each 1/2 cup addition until it's sweet enough.  The exact amount of sugar will vary depending on the sweetness of the raspberries and, of course, personal preference.
    4. Finally, add the vanilla extract and beat the mixture at medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes, until it is light and fluffy.
    Note: Don't refrigerate the buttercream if you make it in advance.  It will become too hard and won't be spreadable.  It should be ok at room temperature in an airtight container.  This recipe makes enough to frost an entire cake, which will be too much since you're not using it between the cake layers.  I wasn't sure if I'd have enough if I halved the recipe, but if you're feeling brave (or miserly!), you can try it.

    Chocolate Raspberry Glaze
    Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

    8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
    3 TB raspberry puree
    2 TB light corn syrup
    1/2 cup heavy cream
    1. Melt the chocolate and corn syrup together in a double boiler.  Whisk often until the chocolate is fully melted and the mixture is smooth.  
    2. Remove the mixture from heat, and whisk in the raspberry puree and heavy cream until it is smooth.
    Note: Don't do this part until you are ready to use it (the cake is assembled).  It needs to be warm when it is poured over the cake, so it's oozy and drippy.  I waited just a few minutes to pour mine, and it stayed a little thick.

    Booze It Up!  Add 2 TB of Chambord raspberry liqueur when you add the raspberry puree and cream.

    The assembly:
    1. Cut the cooled cake layers evenly in half, so there are four thin layers.  Be careful!  They'll be very delicate.  If the tops have puffed up in the middle, use a bread knife to level them.  Put them in the freezer to firm up, about 30 minutes to an hour.
    2. Place the first layer on your cake plate.  (If boozing it up, brush the top of the first cake layer with a little Chambord raspberry liqueur.) Using a spatula, spread about 1/2 cup of the raspberry filling in an even layer over the cake.  Make sure it gets all the way to the edge.  Spread about 1/2 cup (or one third) of the chocolate frosting over the raspberry filling.  Place cake in the refrigerator to firm up, if needed. (Note: If the raspberry filling is on the runny side, put the chocolate frosting layer down first.  My filling was very thick, so it worked best for me to use it first.)
    3. Repeat Step 2 for the next two layers, making sure to work slowly and letting it set in the refrigerator if it is slipping and sliding at all.  Chilly cake is your friend!  Then place the final layer of cake on top.
    4. If there is unevenness in the shape of the cake, now is the time to even it out.  Cut off any bits that stick out...and eat them!  Gotta test for poison, right?
    5. Spread a very thin layer of the raspberry buttercream around the cake for a crumb layer.  This will glue the dark crumbs to the cake, so they don't show through the light colored buttercream.  Chill the cake in the refrigerator for 15 minutes until firm.  Apply a regular, thick layer of the buttercream, then chill again for another 15 minutes.
    6. Pour the chocolate glaze over the top of the cake and using a spatula, push the glaze just to the edge of the cake, so it spills down the sides.  Refrigerate the cake for at least 30 minutes to set completely.
    7. Decorate the top of the cake with leftover raspberry buttercream and/or fresh raspberries.


    1. Looks sooo sooo soo good!

      So, do you have another tip for not adding on calories when you bake besides your husband?? I've just about given up baking all together since it just seems to make me tubby :(

    2. dammit. now i have to have some cake. or some chocolate. preferably both.

    3. Kelly, I do have some tips, I'm writing up a separate post about it now. Sit tight! :)