I tend to get a little excited about birthdays. I love making cakes for my loved ones and friends and when it comes to my birthday, I love to make myself a cake too. Last year I baked two cakes for my birthday. The previous year I baked the fantastic Winning Hearts and Minds cake from Orangette. The year before that I made two kinds of cupcakes for a karaoke and shuffleboard party at the local legion (which I transported there via bike). And before that I made a yellow cake layered with lemon curd and drizzled with dark chocolate ganache. Really, if it’s not obvious already, I have no problem baking for myself. Not at all.
It’s usually a big decision on what kind of cake to make. I cast my net wide and then narrow down the choices until I’ve found something perfect. This year, however, I had it all figured out. The week before my birthday, Cornelius and I went out for dinner at a local diner – the kind of diner with formica countertops, comfy booths and where you probably should order pie, except we never do. So as we walked to the cashier to pay our bill, I saw the most wonderful looking chocolate cake in the display case. The cake was skyscraper high and covered in the fluffiest white frosting. I kicked myself for days for not ordering that chocolate cake. My cake fate was sealed. One chocolate cake coming up!
Chocolate cakes can be tricky. Sometimes they’re dry or just not very special tasting. I wanted a cake with a wow factor and luckily, I had one cake bookmarked for years that I was eager to try. The black magic cake by Hershey’s always seemed to get rave reviews and the truth of it is, I liked the name. Not to mention that the recipe is as easy as….cake. I think the key to the magic is the coffee as it helps to deepen the chocolate flavour. I made sure to make mine extra strong and used instant Italian espresso powder – 3 teaspoons to one cup of boiling water. I dunno if that was the trick, but this cake was amazingly flavourful and moist. This is, in my mind, the most perfect chocolate cake!
As for decorating, I usually keep things simple. But this year, I was kind of smitten with ruffles. I hate ruffles on dresses and blouses, but I do love them on cakes. Sweetapolita had a gorgeous one and then Thus Bakes Zarathustra (sadly now defunct) made it look simple – just some zig-zags. I could do that! Unfortunately, you need a proper cake decorating tip and because I have a pathetic collection of 4 tips found at a garage sale, I didn’t have the proper one. But, I was eager and didn’t let it stop me. I was gonna make a pretty cake or a pretty ugly cake – I was willing to take either option. Unfortunately, it was the latter and looked more like noodles than ruffles, but I was okay with that. The frosting? Just a simple vanilla buttercream with real vanilla. It was buttery and sweet and with the chocolate cake tasted like a giant Oreo cookie in the best possible way. I loved it and so did all my friends who happily ate up their slice.
elsewhere: Maybe you don’t want to think about cake (you’re crazy). Maybe you’re concentrating on dinner, if so, head to Poppytalk and check out my steamed fish with kale. It’s healthy and delicious and it makes it easy to have cake for dessert. You know, if you really do want cake.
black magic layer cake with vanilla bean buttercream
(adapted from Hershey’s)
2 c white sugar
1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
3/4 c cocoa
2 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1 t salt
2 large eggs
1 c buttermilk
1 c strong black coffee (or 3 t of instant espresso in 1 c boiling water)
1/2 c vegetable oil
1 t vanilla extract
Heat oven to 375F. Butter and flour two eight-inch cake pans and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the sugar through to the salt. In another bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Pour the wet into the dry and mix well with a stand mixer or a wooden spoon. Pour the batter evenly into the 2 prepared pans. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool on wire racks for 10 minutes before inverting the cakes onto wire racks to cool completely.
vanilla bean buttercream
3 c icing/confectioners sugar
3/4 c soft butter
1/4 c cream cheese
1 vanilla bean scraped
1 t kosher salt
1 t vanilla
Mix the sugar with the butter and cream cheese until well blended and fluffy. Cut the vanilla bean in half, length-wise and scrape the seeds into the frosting. Add in the salt and vanilla and beat until well mixed.
When cake is completely cool, you can start frosting the cake. If your cake is a bit domed on top, you can slice it off using a serrated knife so you have a nice even top. Luckily my cake wasn’t domed so I was able to spread the frosting on one cake before placing the second cake on top. I then used a thin layer of frosting to do the whole cake (called a crumb layer – because here is where you’ll catch any stray crumbs). Then frost and decorate the whole cake however you choose.