Friday, February 10, 2012

tall, dark, and handsome cake with blackberry preserves [and an ethical 21st birthday]

I love sound. It's my favorite sense after taste, I think.

I love buzzing chatter. The nice kind, mind you, when you're at a coffee shop with your laptop in the midst of writing a paper for a class with the soft hum of people musing to one another over lattes and biscotti.

I love laughter. Even irritating, too-loud laughter that kind of makes you want to punch the person after too long, but knowing that they're happy is the only thing keeping you from doing it.

I love music. Listening to a favorite playlist while speed-walking through grounds on the way to class, too distracted by the lyrics to notice your friends trying to get your attention as you brush past them without sparing a glance.

Lately, I love wiring my laptop up to my speaker system and listening to soundtracks playing in the background as I bustle about the kitchen. For this particular baking endeavor, I alternated between James Vincent McMorrow and the gorgeous soundtrack to Midnight in Paris. It made for a soothing touch as I struggled fruitlessly to keep the layers from toppling over and getting chocolate frosting on absolutely every inch of counter space physically accessible.

It was real cute, let me tell you.

But in the end, Cole Porter kept me sane, and I was able to put together a rather homely-looking birthday cake for two wonderful friends.

Dark Chocolate and Raspberry Layer Cake with Chocolate Frosting 
Adapted from bella eats and Healthy. Happy. Life.
Yields one 3-layer, 8-inch cake.

For the cake, you'll need:
  • 3 oz semisweet chocolate
  • 1 1/2 cups hot, brewed coffee
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk [for dairy free, substitute 1 1/2 cups soy milk plus 1 tbsp cider vinegar, well mixed and set aside ~5 mins to curdle]
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla
  • your choice preserves, for layers [raspberry, blackberry, or strawberry work best]

For chocolate buttercream, you'll need:
  • 2/3 cup [1 1/2 sticks, 12 tbsp, 6 oz] butter
  • 2/3 cup melted chocolate
  • 4-6 tbsp soy milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 4 cups confectioner's sugar

To prepare the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease and flour three 8-inch cake pans. Line bottom of the pans with wax paper and grease.

In a small heat-proof bowl, combine chocolate chips and hot coffee, stirring until the mixture is smooth. In a large bowl, sift flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set both aside.

In another large bowl, beat eggs on medium-high speed until thickened and lemon in color, about 3 minutes. Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture. Beat until fully incorporated. Lower speed and gradually add flour mixture, beating until batter is just combined. 

Divide batter among the pans and bake for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool layers in their pans on a cooling rack. Once cooled, run a knife along the edges of the pans and invert the cakes onto the cooling rack. Slowly peel away wax paper and let layers cool completely.

To prepare the frosting:
On medium-high speed, cream the butter until light and fluffy, about 3 mins. Add melted chocolate and vanilla and beat. Lower mixer speed to low and slowly add in confectioner's sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Once sugar is added, increase mixer speed to medium. Pour in soy milk until the mixture has the preferred consistency - this will vary, and may need less than 4 tbsp or more than 6 depending on your preference. Beat frosting until light. Refrigerate until using.

To assemble the cake:
Place one of the cake layers on a serving plate. Spread a generous amount of raspberry preserves [I do about 2/3 cup worth] on top of the layer. Frost the top of the preserves with a bit of the frosting. Place second layer on top and repeat. Place third layer on top and use the remaining frosting to frost the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate until serving.

Chelsea and Roods celebrated a joint birthday dinner last night, for which I happily offered to bake the cake. I wanted something quite different from last year's coconut layer cake with lemon curd filling, and so opted for chocolate. Ethical, and chocolate. The thought was a bit daunting, which obviously meant I was going to take up the challenge.

In actuality, the cake was a breeze to make even with the restriction to ethical ingredients. Chelsea provided me with her preferred eggs and butter, and soy milk took care of the rest. In the end, it didn't taste any different from what one would expect from a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.

And, ethical fun fact: Ghirardelli's semisweet chocolate chips [you know, the ones they sell next to the Nestle for an extra 60 cents or what have you] are made with soy lecithin. I just love happy coincidences.

I went with blackberries for this one, as I love the earthy tartness of blackberries against the bitter chocolate. A bit more sophisticated than raspberry, which was quite fitting for a classy little dessert and cocktail/mocktail night. Chelsea even made the world's most adorable [vegan] margarita cupcakes for the occasion. It was all rather precious.

So, in the end, it was two hours spent with cake, cupcakes, and drinks. All the while with a lovely backdrop of chatter, laughter, and music.

Because, really, what more do you need for a good night?

Happy 21st birthdays, my darlings Chelsea and Rudhdi. I hope this next year is filled with pleasant sounds, piquant tastes, and lots of happy memories. Love always.

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    Thanks so much for reading!
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