My Chocolate Birthday Cake
How many times you could feel the universe wanting to flawlessly surprise you, in a way that is impossible for you to renounce to its offerings and the joys it may bring? I will honestly have to answer: not so many. Yet, I truly celebrate when this happens, it's how the universe reminds us that life is and will be great for us. Because I’m certain that we all could agree that, even if these reminders come from time to time, every time they come is when we are in more need of them, don’t you agree?
Since I was in my late teens, I developed the madness of saying I am the age I will be celebrating the current year. And yes, I have to say madness because this drives my husband crazy! Even though I proudly show my age now, at that time I used to look extremely younger. I am not kidding. When I was 20 people thought I was 15. When I was 29, a woman couldn’t believe I had an almost 3 year old daughter at that moment because she thought I was around 18. Even if this doesn’t sound that bad, when I was in my teens and early 20’s it was a little bit annoying. There I was, working on how I’ll leave a mark on the world, and suddenly I was being treated as a clueless little girl by anyone that passed me by on the street. Ah, the pride of those ages fills you with the bravery enough to stand, in some way, by yourself. That was when I started to advance the age of the current year. Yes, those couple of months were that important…
A couple of years have passed now and I have kept the bad habit like a nervous teenage girl that keeps biting her nails. For that reason I am not used to making a big fuss for my birthday. When the date approaches, I feel already there. Also, when you have kids the everything-is-going-to-be-about-me feeling, even if only on your birthday, is no longer on the scene. Now it’s my daughter who opens my presents and decides, with the help of my husband, what I will have for breakfast that day. Still, these have been my best birthdays yet and I genuinely enjoy a placid and intimate day with my family, some friends, delicious food and superb wine.
Nevertheless, time comes when the universe wants you to have it other ways - my birthday ways, that is. When I was revising the calendar to plan ahead the recipes that I will be publishing at Metro PR, I realized my birthday was, not only on a Wednesday, but the Wednesday my column publishes (it publishes every other Wednesday, so double whammy!). I have to admit that a smile made an appearance on my face on its own. Like a little girl, I suddenly felt the anticipation for my birthday. What are the odds that the two dates fall together anyway? Suddenly, the idea of an is-all-about-me day sounded really fun in my head. Immediately I knew how I wanted to spoil myself: with a tall, decadent and beautiful chocolate cake with layers of raspberry flavor. For me that is the best berry-chocolate combination!
The nice thing of this cake is that you don’t need a fabulous stand mixer to do the batter. Since I don’t have one (and it could be a great birthday gift someday), I developed this technique of melting the butter and letting the sugar dissolve in it. At the end, that is one of the purpose of beating the butter with the sugar. I just let them hang for 15 to 20 minutes while I prepare other components of the dish. That is how I have been doing my cupcakes and cakes lately, with great results on flavor and texture. For everyday cupcakes I use glaces or even some Nutella as frosting, but for this special occasion I decided to make a ganache frosting, which is the easiest and a mistake proof frosting when using a regular electric hand mixer.
So today is my birthday. Thanks to this universe intention I am having a different kind of fun today, and I'm determined to celebrate it to the fullest. Also, I resolve from now on to telling my exact age when people ask. Birthdays are our own New Year; resolutions to be brighter and better should always be in order.
Some notes for making the recipe:
1. The cakes could be made in advance. If they are going to wait just one day, wrap them well with double plastic paper. If it is going to be more than that, I strongly recommend that you freeze them, again with double or even triple layer of plastic paper. If you have a big freezer plastic bag, place the cake into them as well.
2. The almond syrup could also be made with a couple of days in advance.
3. Ganache, more than a recipe, is a matter of proportion. The ideal one to make ganache frosting is 1 part cream to 1 part chocolate. I used 1 ounce less of cream because I prefer a thicker consistancy.
4. If you see a film of oil separating from the chocolate that means that the ganache is breaking. The ganache breaks when the cream is too hot or if it was shaken more than necessary. You could fix a broken ganache by adding a tablespoon of fresh cream. You could even add a second one without altering too much the proportion. Just combine gently and you’ll see how everything gets back together. Never add water to a ganache.
5. To create the look of a tall cake, insert 4 long skewers around the middle of the bottom cake after frosted. Place the other cake on top, frost and if necessary, use 4 more skewers. Insert the last cake on top and frost.
Total time – 50 minutes to an hour Active time – 20 minutes
Equipment – 3 cake pans of 6” or 2 of 9”, 2 medium bowls, serrated knife, parchment paper
Unsalted butter – 10 TBSP (1 stick + 2 TBSP)
Raw sugar – 1 ½ cup
Unsweetened cocoa powder – ¼ cup
Hot water – ¼ cup
Milk – ½ cup
White vinegar – ½ TBSP
Unbleached flour – 1 ¾ cup
Fine sea salt – ¼ Tsp
Baking soda – 1 Tsp
Medium eggs – 3 at room temperature
Extra butter (unsalted or regular) for greasing the pan
Pre-heat oven to 350°
Grease the pan with plenty of butter. To cover the bottom of the pans with parchment paper, turn upside down one pan and using a pencil draw a circle following the edge of the pan. Cut the paper and use it as a guide to cut the others. Place the paper on the bottom of each pan and cover it with a little more butter. Place them in the fridge until you’re ready to use them.
Place the butter in a medium glass bowl and melt it on the microwave. Add the sugar and whisk it into the butter.
Dissolve the cocoa powder in hot water to form a paste. Add this to the butter and sugar mixture and whisk very well for 2 minutes. You’ll see how the sugar completely dissolves after making contact with the hot water. Let it rest for 20 minutes.
Make the buttermik. Mix the milk and the vinegar (what I like to do is pour the tablespoon of vinegar in a measuring cup and then fill it with milk until it measures 1 cup). Let it rest for no less than 15 minutes.
Combine the rest of the dry ingredients in dry bowl, the flour, salt and baking soda.
When the times are up, add the eggs to the milk and cocoa mixture and whisk until everything is well combined and you see a even texture. With a wooden spoon start integrating the flour, in three addings. There’s no need to overmix, just enough until you see the flour completly integrated to the butter and cocoa.
Spread the batter evenly between the pans. Shake them a little bit to even the batter and lift each pan a couple of inches and let them fall into the counter to broke the little bubbles of air. This helps the cake to bake evenly.
Bake for 25 minutes or until they feel firm and you insert a toothpick and it comes out clean. (If using a 9” pan they’ll probably need 7 to 10 minutes more). Let them cool before turning them upside down and out of the pan. Place them in the fridge for 10 minutes so is easier to cut the tops and brush them with the syrop.
Fold them with double plastic paper if storing in the fridge to finish the next day.
Total time – 5 minutes
Water – ½ cup
Raw sugar – ½ cup
Pure almond extract – 1 ½ Tsp
In a small sauce pan combine all the ingredients. Start cooking in medium heat until it begins to boil. Lower the heat to simmer and cook for 1 or 2 more minutes, until the sugar in completly disolved. Let it cool before using.
With a small pastry brush, soak the cake on both sides, 2 TBSP per side approximately. If finishing the cake the next day, store them in the fridge and pour some extra syrup when you’re ready to frost.
Total time – 1 - 1 ½ hour Active time – 15 minutes
Equipment– electric hand mixer
Semi-sweet chocolate (60% cocoa) – 16 oz
Heavy or whipping cream – 14 oz
Vanilla extract – 1 Tsp
Chop the chocolate in small even pieces and place it in a medium glass bowl. Add the vanilla extract.
In a small sauce pan heat the cream in medium heat, just until it barely begins to boil. Take it out of the heat and pour it over the chopped chocolate. Using a wooden spoon mix everything gently until the chocolate is completly melted. Let it cool completely, about an hour or so.
When it has cooled, mix again a little bit to make sure the mix is even. Using an electric hand mixer with the whipping attachment start whipping the ganache at high speed, moving the mixer in a circular motion around the bowl, until the mixture begins to look a little pale and starts to grow, around 2 or no more than 3 minutes. Place in the fridge for just 10 minutes before frosting the cake.
Cover the plate or stand where the cake will be placed with 4 pieces of paper towel or parchment paper around the sides.
Frost the top of one cake with a good amount of frosting. Place on top a second cake pressing a little bit so it pushes the frosting around the sides and frost the top as well. Repeat with the last cake and frost the top just enough to use it as “glue” to place the topping you will be using. If you want you can frost also the sides.
Remember that ganache frosting should not be exposed to heat for long periods of time or it will begin to get runny.
Serve with milk or coffee. Repeat.