Eighteen

So I’ve kept this blog secret for what, three months now? Not secret exactly, but certainly buried in a dusty corner of the blogosphere. I thought today would be the proper occasion to make my debut because today,

I turn eighteen.

Now I could bore you with some some melodramatic tale of growing up to usher in a new era of my life, but I don’t want to scare you away just yet so I’ll just focus on the cake today. It deserves all the attention it can get.

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This is pretty much the culmination of my amateur baking career. It boasts not one, but two different chocolate cake recipes: one from Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of The Cake Bible, a legend in the baking world if ever there was one; the other from the Gourmet recipe that has since been made by every food blogger and her momma and maintains a 4/4 fork rating after 1591 reviews on Epicurious. I know, I’m still in shock that it’s possible to even fit all that legendary-ness into one cake.

My goodness Jen, you may say, what possessed you to make two different chocolate cake recipes on a Friday night? Well, I think it should be obvious by now that a girl who finds cake mixing methods fascinating is a bit of a geek. I was itching to try the Two-Stage mixing method detailed by Beranbaum in her recipe so I baked her cake, found the layers about a centimeter shorter than I wanted my cake to be, washed my dishes, and started on a new cake. Of course I couldn’t use the same recipe the second time because where’s the fun in that, so the Gourmet recipe came to mind. I was curious as to how the mixing method would affect the structure of the cake, and now I’m even more intrigued because the cakes could not be more different.

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The Cake Bible recipe is the darling of food geeks. With its Two-Stage Method, in which the butter is added to the flour instead of creamed with sugar like normal, food-geeks can go to town explaining the tight, tender crumb that results from the butter coating the flour and preventing gluten formation. The batter whips up to the consistency of a fluffy, creamy buttercream, breaking every baking instinct I have in the process when it calls for beating the batter for two and a half minutes with an electric mixer at medium high speed. My Gluten-Sense tingles the whole time, but it works.

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Gourmet cakes in the foreground (dark brown), Cake Bible cakes in the background (lighter brown)

The Gourmet recipe, on the other hand, is much more typical in terms of its mixing method. Combine the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients separately, dump them together, mix until combined, and bake. It’s the details that give the cake its well-earned fame: the combination of chocolate and cocoa powder, the use of coffee instead of water for an extra oomph, a lower baking temperature of 300 degrees instead of the typical 350 for a more even cake–each of these details is a small stroke of genius that adds up to one spectacular cake.

The inevitable question of course is Which cake do I prefer? That’s hardly a fair question though because they are so different. For a milder chocolate flavor balanced by rich butteriness and a tender, melt-in-your-mouth crumb, there is none better than Beranbaum’s recipe. My parents preferred this cake for its unique texture, even though it was a little drier than the other. It’s also the more fun of the two to make. For a squidgy, spongy cake that has a texture more similar to a boxed cake mix (you know you love it!), the Gourmet recipe is the obvious choice. Naturally I couldn’t choose between the two so I used one layer of each.

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Now onto the hard-core geekery. To combat Domed Cake Syndrome, the bane of layer cake existence, I had heard sung the praises of Magic Cake Strips–magnetic cloth strips that you wet and wrap around your cake pans, theoretically insulating your cake so that it bakes more evenly. I went to Michael’s in search of them, but to no avail, so I asked my friend Google what to do. It turns out, any old strips of cloth (torn leggings in my case), dampened with water and paper-clipped around a cake pan, will do the job handsomely.

Then there was the problem of scaling the recipes. As much as I love chocolate cake, not even I can finish a full-sized layer cake, so of course I opted to bake a mini six-inch cake. For the Cake Bible recipe, it was easy–all the measurements were in ounces and the full recipe made a two-layer nine inch cake, so it was easy to just halve it. The Gourmet recipe though was all in volume measurements. Argh! Volume isn’t accurate! Long story short, I one-thirded the recipe, estimated that a cup of flour weighed 4.5 ounces, and scribbled it on a scrap of paper. Hallelujah it worked.

Oh man, and I haven’t even gotten to the filling yet. I got the idea for a passionfruit chocolate cake from a truffle I ate a while back that paired the two unlikely flavors. I was reminded of it again when I noticed that 1) there are dozens of gorgeous (speckled) passionfruits dangling from the vine in my backyard waiting to be used and 2) I haven’t eaten nearly enough chocolate this winter. Thus the idea for a chocolate passionfruit cake was born. I curd-ified the passionfruits so they would hold up better to sandwiching between cake layers without spoiling but tried to keep it as tart as I could because the contrast of the vibrant passionfruit curd with the rich chocolate cake is stunning. I chose to frost the cake with a simple vanilla bean whipped cream instead of a buttercream because I didn’t want to distract from the stars of the show and by that point I was very, very tired.

Now without further ado, I present to you my birthday cake.

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Chocolate Passionfruit Layer Cake

Here I will provide the links and scaled ingredients list for the cakes. It would be redundant to copy the whole recipe when there are so many wonderful resources on the web already.

Layer 1: All American Chocolate Butter Cake from The Cake Bible via Community Food Coop

makes two 6-inch layers, double for two 9-inch layers

1.2 oz cocoa powder (or 1/4 cup + 1.5 tablespoons)

1/2 cup boiling water

2.6 oz egg (or 1.5 large eggs)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4.1 oz cake flour (or 1 cup +3 tablespoons sifted cake flour)

5.25 oz sugar (or 3/4 cup)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter

All ingredients should be at room temperature except for the boiling water.

Check out RLB working her magic in a similar recipe here:

 

Layer 2: Double Chocolate Layer Cake from March 1999 issue of Gourmet Magazine

makes two 6-inch cakes, double for two 9-inch cakes

1 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup hot brewed coffee

4 oz all purpose flour (or 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons)

1.75 oz cocoa powder (or 1/2 cup) note–some will say that it has to be natural (i.e. not dutch-process) cocoa powder for it to react properly with the baking soda. I’m not sure if this is true, but I used half and half and it worked fine.

generous 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

7 ounces sugar (1 cup)

1 large egg

1/4 cup canola oil

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (I skipped this)

Passionfruit Curd

adapted loosely from Delicious Days

5 passionfruits, or 3/4 cup passionfruit puree

3.9 oz sugar

3 eggs + 1 yolk

1/2 stick butter

  1. If you bought passionfruit puree, skip to step 2. Otherwise, cut the passionfruits in half and scrape out the pulp. Blend in a blender for a few seconds to loosen up the seeds and strain the pulp into a measuring cup with a mesh sieve. You should have about 3/4 cup of puree.
  2. Whisk the puree, sugar, eggs, and yolk together in a medium bowl. Heat a small saucepan with a few centimeters of water and set the bowl over the water. The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water. Stir the mixture until the sugar has dissolved, then begin adding the butter in small chunks. Continue stirring until the mixture visibly thickens to the consistency of pudding or custard. This can take up to ten minutes.
  1. Strain the curd into a jar and let it cool.

 

Stabilized Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream

Adapted from Food.com

2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 vanilla bean (I got really good ones from eBay!)

2 teaspoons gelatin

2 tablespoons water

1/2 cup powdered sugar

  1. Heat the cream and vanilla bean in a small saucepan over low heat. When you start to see bubbles around the edges, turn off the heat, cover, and chill in the fridge until cold.
  2. Heat the gelatin with the water over low heat just until the gelatin dissolves. Turn off the heat and let it cool to room temperature.
  3. Fish out the vanilla bean, cut it in half, and scrape out the sees. Put the seeds back in with the cream and discard the vanilla pod (or throw it in some sugar to make vanilla scented sugar).
  4. If the gelatin has solidified, heat on low heat again, just until it melts then stir in a few tablespoons of the cream.
  5. Whip the cream with the icing sugar until it has some thickness, then pour in the gelatin mixture in a thin stream, still whipping as you do so. Continue until stiff peaks form.

Assembly

1 toothpick

1 passionfruit

turntable

offset spatula

  1. Take your first cake layer and lay it on the plate you want to serve it on.  Put the plate on something that spins, like a Lazy Susan, which will make frosting it much easier.
  2. Using an offset spatula, spread 1/3 cup of passionfruit curd on the cake, leaving a 1/2″ border around the circumference of the cake so that when the top layer squishes it it doesn’t gush out too much.
  3. Add a hefty dollop of whipped cream on top and spread it out with an offset spatula again. It’s easier to do this if you turn the turntable and keep your spatula steady.
  4. Put the second layer of cake on top. Press a toothpick into the center to keep the cake steady. Not sure if this actually does anything but it makes me feel better.
  5. Spread a second layer of whipped cream on top, same as before. Make pretty swirls and keep it slightly dipped in the center.
  6. Cut open your passionfruit and scrape the pulp into the slight dip in the cream.
  7. Lick the cream off your spatula. Done.
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