Wednesday, December 9, 2009

First Birthday Cake

When I was a kid, Niki and I used to make brownies and chocolate chip cookies pretty often.  One day when we were bored we decided to make a chocolate cake (and icing) from scratch.  Her mom warned us this was not a good idea and that it wouldn't turn out well.  We thought she was crazy because why wouldn't a homemade chocolate cake taste amazing?  Well, of course she was right, and it tasted horrible.  Darn moms for always being right.  Well ever since that incident I have been a little afraid of baking a cake.  I made a sheet cake this summer and it didn't turn out great, so that didn't help my outlook.  I bought two 9-inch cake pans and they have been sitting in my cabinet with the tags still on them for months.  Nothing sadder than unused cake pans.  Okay, that's one of the least sad things going on in the world right now, but just go with it. 

Mitch's birthday was last week and I was scheduled to bring dessert to their house on Sunday for a birthday dinner.  Naturally, a birthday cake came to mind and I tried to suppress the urge.  Needless to say, I didn't fight it off, and I decided I would give cake baking another go.  I'm here to tell you that I'm glad I did too.  The cake was a lot of work, but it tasted great and I learned a few things.  Firstly, you are supposed to cut the tops off both layers, not just the bottom one if you want your cake to look pretty.  Secondly, you want your icing to be fairly sweetened if you add 15 ounces of bittersweet and semisweet chocolate.  I erred on the side of not enough corn syrup, and the icing was a bit too bitter.  The cake texture and flavor was perfect though, and I can finally get over my fear of cake baking. 

First things first, cream 2 sticks of room temperature butter with two cups sugar.

Okay, the first thing you should really do is preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Then butter two 9-inch cake pans, line them with circles of parchment paper, and butter the parchment paper. 

Now add 4 eggs (at room temperature), one at a time, beating well in between each egg addition. 

Okay this is about to get less appetizing - add 2 cups of well shaken buttermilk and mix on low until just combined.

Yum - it looks curdled!  It's supposed to though, I promise. 

In a large bowl, sift together 4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, and 1 teaspoon salt.  Now add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in three batches, until just combined each time.

Looks like cake batter to me (and I can guarantee you that it also tasted like cake batter, because I had a lot of it).

Split the batter evenly between two 9-inch cake pans.  Beat the pans on the counter to get rid of any air bubbles.  I did this, but still found holes in my cake. Oh well, can't win them all.  Now bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes until a knife inserted comes out clean (mine took 40 minutes).

Cool your pretty cakes for 10 minutes in the pan, and then run a knife around the edge of the pan. 

Flip each pan onto a wire rack and cool the cakes upsidedown, about 1 hour, before even considering icing them. 
Now it's time for the chocolate sour cream icing. Instead of butter or eggs, you use a lot of sour cream.  You use corn syrup instead of sugar, so you know it will come out creamy and not grainy.  Hooray for cheating!

You need 15 ounces of chocolate.  The recipe says bittersweet or semisweet, so I used one bar of bittersweet and 2 3/4 bars of semi-sweet (which added up to 15 oz), but I strongly suggest using only semisweet because my icing came out a bit bitter. 

I decided to use bars instead of baking disks - mostly because I could accurately measure 15 ounces using the bars.  

Chop up your chocolate.  You're melting it, so you don't have to worry about making it pretty.

Add all your chocolate to a large glass bowl.
Now add 1 1/4 teaspoons instant espresso or coffee (I couldn't find instant espresso) to help bring out the chocolate flavor. 

Over a pot containing an inch or so of simmering water, melt your chocolate, mixing the whole time.

You apparently REALLY need the sour cream to be room temperature, or it will ruin the icing.  So measure out your sour cream before you even bake the cakes. 

Whisk together 2 1/4 cups room temperature sour cream and 1/4 cup corn syrup. 

Now whisk in 3/4 teaspoon vanilla.

Once your chocolate has cooled to just a little warmer than room temperature, slowly whisk it into the sour cream.  Taste your icing and keep adding corn syrup, one tablespoon at a time, until sweet enough.  As I mentioned earlier, I didn't add enough sugar.  I added about 1/2 cup corn syrup and it still wasn't sweet enough, but I blame the bittersweet bar. 

Refrigerate icing until spreadable - about 30 minutes. 

Cut off the rounded top of both your cakes to make a pretty layer cake.  You don't want a big domey one like mine.  

Slip little squares of parchment paper underneath the cake so when you make a mess you can whisk them away and no one will be the wiser.  

I underestimated how much frosting I had and should have added even more than this glob into the middle layer.  Oh well.  You live, you learn, as Alanis Morisette once said.  

Make sure you go all the way to the edge of this middle layer, because you'll have to fill it in later anyway. 

This kind of looks like a hamburger.
I lightly iced the entire cake, then put it in the fridge for 30 minutes before icing it again.  This is supposed to make the icing go on smoother and look prettier, but I didn't really notice a difference. 

This is what happens when you allow your husband to lick the icing bowl. 

Every cake needs a little pizazz, and mine was found in the way of chocolate sprinkley bits. 

I also picked up this handy cake carrier the day before I made the cake.  I'm not really sure what I would have done without it - carried it on a plate during the 45 minute drive?  The mess that would have ensued would have made for a good blog post, but not a great birthday dessert. 

Yellow Cake with Chocolate Icing

Yellow Cake
Makes two 9-inch round, 2-inch tall cake layers

4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, well shaken

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment. (Or you can use a cooking spray, either with just butter or butter and flour)
Sift together 4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat 2 sticks butter and 2 cups sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy.  Add 2 teaspoons vanilla and beat thoroughly. Add 4 eggs - one at a time - and beat well in between each, making sure to scrape down the bowl after each addition. Set the mixer to low and add in 2 cups buttermilk until just combined (it will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just combined.

Split batter between two 9 inch pans.  Smitten Kitchen says to rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles.  Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes until golden and a knife inserted in center of cake comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan to loosen cake. Flip pans onto a rack, and cool completely, about 1 hour.

Chocolate Sour Cream Icing
Yields 5 cups of frosting

15 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/4 teaspoons instant espresso or coffee
2 1/4 cups sour cream, at room temperature
1/4 to 1/2 cup light corn syrup (or more, to taste)
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Chop 15 ounces of semisweet chocolate.  Add chocolate and espresso powder to glass bowl and place over large pot containing an inch of simmering water.  Melt the chocolate, remembering to stir.  Remove chocolate from heat and let it cool until a little warmer than room temperature.
Whisk together 2 1/4 cups room temperature sour cream, 1/4 cup  corn syrup and 3/4 teaspoon vanilla until combined. Stir in the chocolate slowly until combined. Taste for sweetness, and if needed, add additional corn syrup in one tablespoon increments until desired level of sweetness is achieved (be sure you make it sweet enough).
It will be very runny at this point, so let it in the refrigerator until it is spreadable - 30 minutes or so. 


  1. i'm surprised u didn't ask for bird's chocolate icing recipe! its a ton of work to make though b/c melting the sugar takes forever! buttermilk in yellow cake batter, interesting, i thought that was just in red velvet

  2. I took this bad boy to work since the four of us only got through less than a quarter of the cake. Within 2 hours, crumbs were the only evidence that it ever existed!


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