November 20, 2010

Chocolate Layer Cake, Decadent and Divine!

Is there anything more delectable than a well done chocolate layer cake? I used to be intimidated by layer cakes, they seemed like so much work. They are really not that bad! If you get yourself an offset spatula and a little cake turn table or lazy susan, the frosting is much, much easier! I prefer to use ganache instead of butter cream frosting. Ganache- if you are already familiar with ganache, you are probably nodding in agreement. If you aren't familiar with ganache, I have three words for you- heavy cream and chocolate! Ganache has two ingredients, seriously, two. One of the main reasons I like it more than butter cream frosting is that butter cream is significantly more labor intensive, but I don't think it is necessarily tastier. Butter cream frosting also contains more sugar. Ganache has no added sugar. That's probably why the wonderful heavy cream and bittersweet chocolate positively sing! While I love chocolate, sometimes I feel that a heavy dessert that is solely chocolate is a little bit dull. To give the cake depth, I add cinnamon and ginger to the cake batter and I also add cinnamon to the ganache- not enough to overpower, but enough to add a gorgeous complexity and depth to the flavors. Finally, you will probably be surprised to learn that this cake contains olive oil. Olive oil is used instead of butter in cakes in some regions of France and it seemed to me to be a good alternative- probably better for you too, although we certainly can't go around billing this cake as 'healthy.'

Chocolate Cake
(makes 2 9" round cakes that will be cut into 4 layers)
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cup flour (unbleached, all-purpose)
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup olive oil
2 eggs
1 shot of espresso, plus enough water to reach 1 cup

Preheat the oven to 350. You will need 2 9" round cake pans. I use Pam cooking spray, but you could use butter if you like. Pam is just faster and easier in my opinion and doesn't effect the flavor. Spray the pans with Pam, then place parchment paper rounds in the bottom of each pan. Here is how to trace and cut out parchment paper rounds:

After placing the parchment rounds in the bottom of the pans, either spray with Pam or butter, then add a sufficient amount of flour to coat the bottom of the pan. You can do this easily by holding the pan at a 45 degree angle with one hand and tapping the bottom of the pan with the other. With the hand holding the pan, you may need to rotate the pan to tap out the excess evenly.

In a standing mixer, combine all of the dry ingredients. Add the cream, milk, olive oil and eggs, mix until incorporated and then mix at a medium high speed for 1-2 minutes. To make the espresso and water, I usually pour the shot of espresso into a measuring cup, then add enough water to reach 1 cup. If you don't have an espresso machine, you can substitute 1/2 a cup of coffee and a 1/2 cup of water. Add this to the batter and mix until well incorporated, it will be on the runny side.

Pour, as evenly as possible, into the two round pans you have prepared. Bake at 350 for 30-32 minutes, until a fork's tines come out of the center clean. Cool in the pans on racks for 15 minutes, then invert on to racks and allow to cool completely. Peel off the parchment paper, the bottom of the cakes may look a little lighter in color because of the flour, that is absolutely fine.

Ganache with Cinnamon
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
20 ounces (1 lb. 4 oz.) bittersweet chocolate (60% cacao)
1/2 (slightly heaping) teaspoon cinnamon

Heat the cream, either on the stove or in the microwave. Heat until scalded and very hot, but do not boil. In a metal or glass bowl, place the chocolate, either chopped or broken into pieces by hand. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and allow to sit for a minute or two. Using a whisk, mix the ganache well, until it is shiny and smooth. Add the cinnamon. Refrigerate.

When your cakes have cooled and you are ready to cut layers and assemble the cake, take the ganache out of the refrigerator. In order to speed up the process, I usually put the bowl of ganache over some simmering water in a sauce pan on the stove (a make shift double boiler). I get it to liquefy again (after solidifying in the refrigerator) and then I put the bowl in an ice bath to get the ganache to cool down and get to an in-between consistency that will be the easiest to work with.

In the meantime, you can cut your cakes into layers (once they have completely cooled, of course). I find it easiest to do this on a little cake turn table or lazy susan and using a long, narrow, serrated bread knife. Here is a video on how to do this:

One reason why it's important to make your cake layers as even as possible is that when you cut the cakes into layers, one layer can end up much more even than the other... Here's an example of when it goes badly. However, this is not a problem, you can still use this cake layer and the ganache layer will fix it and no one will notice!!!

Moving on! Let's assemble and frost this bad boy. Do you have an offset spatula? These are exceptionally helpful in frosting cakes. My offset spatula is about an inch wide, they come in various sizes, this size in the photo I find very useful with frosting desserts.

The cake turn table or lazy susan is also very, very helpful in frosting cakes. You turn the cake with one hand while you hold the offset spatula at an angle in the other hand.

If you have a cake layer that didn't turn out too well, use it on the bottom. Place some of the ganache in the center of the layer and spread evenly using an outward motion with your spatula.

Let's frost and assemble our cake!

Alternate cake layers and ganache, and when it is time for the final layer, try to use one of the layers that has a cake top (one of the two layers that was the top of the cake when you baked it).

When you've placed the final layer on the top, spread ganache over the top and as you use your offset spatula to evenly spread the ganache, allow the excess to fall over the sides. Then, you can evenly distribute the ganache on the sides to complete the frosting. You are done!!! I keep this cake in the refrigerator and when I'm planning to serve it, I let it sit out for about 20 minutes.

I hope this inspires you to make this delectable cake! Some variations you might try include nuts, you can add roasted chopped nuts to the layers and the top, you can use jam or jelly in each layer, or you could add chopped crystallized ginger. Use your imagination and you can come up with your own favorite variation!

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