Saturday, 5 May 2012

beatty's chocolate cake for n's birthday

beatty's chocolate cake
cake is the marilyn monroe of bread. if you think of it, elaborate breads are the progenitor of cake. throughout ancient history sweetened enriched breads were made for special occasions like births, weddings, funerals, harvest festivals and religious occasions. but birthday cake, as we know it now is very much a nineteenth century custom. it was made possible by the industrial revolution when the ingredients that combine to make cake became easy to buy. it was helped along by the urbanisation of society and its various domestic paraphernalia like ovens, kitchen appliances and bake-ware. and of course the many house wives who pursued home economics as a profession. it is suggested that the modern form of birthday cake originated in america in the mid-nineteenth century, the standard birthday cake being one constructed from filled and frosted layers. this does not surprise me in the least given the american affinity for multi-layered cakes with over generous frosting.  

whatever it’s history, the tradition of birthday cake is one that i wholeheartedly agree with. as a child, both mama and baba always got fabulous birthday cakes for my brother and i. the best ones of course were home-made. my friends were fascinated by girly cakes constructed with the dismembered torso of barbie dolls, whose flared gowns were constructed with cake finished with bright pink and white piped frosting. i was always much more interested in the edible cake rather than the ensemble.

melting chocolate
creaming the butter for the buttercream
two-tone, adding the melted chocolate to the buttercream
homemade cake is wonderful. perhaps it is the alchemy of the batter or the smell of baking that warms and fills the house. it may also be the charm of eating teaspoons of batter on the pretext of affirming the taste of the cake. and most importantly the pleasure of watching the cake being eaten with impatience and delight. living abroad for the last several years has meant that i have been homemade birthday cake-less, which always makes me a little sad. but it is also the reason why i make o a birthday cake every year. this year my sister-in-law n got a homemade birthday cake too. while h pulled together a surprise dinner party i set out with my mixing bowls, mixer and the necessary ingredients to bake ‘beatty’s chocolate cake’ from barefoot contessa.

beatty’s chocolate cake is a lovely combination of a very moist chocolate cake made possible through ample liquid (buttermilk and freshly brewed coffee). it is sandwiched with chocolate buttercream made richer with a yolk. the combination works because the cake itself has very little fat (half a cup of vegetable oil) so the buttercream is essential to glam it up. i must confess i was a little alarmed by the thinness of the batter as it was like milk. i also had bake the cake in one tin as i did not have sandwich pans. this turned out to be a bit of a challenge as cutting the layers damaged the shape of the cake. i almost baked a new one but stopped myself when o called me bree van de camp. her character gives me the creeps! 

instead, i used the buttercream to effectively bandage the disintegrating cake. the glossy uneven flourish not only announced the cake’s homemade-ness but also camouflaged its slight lopsidedness. in any case, all of n’s friends were too busy eating and arguing over who would get the last slice of cake to pay attention to my ‘not-so-perfect’ baking. it made me realise that it isn’t perfection but the love of homemade cake that make’s birthday cake so special.

i am re-producing the recipe for beatty’s chocolate cake as it appears on the food network website. i did not make any changes to the recipe but include some notes from baking. the first one is obvious. follow the recipe to a t. as mentioned earlier i had to bake the cake in a single tin. aside from having to bake it for longer, it was quite difficult to cut the cake into two layers. the cake is so moist making it hard to cut properly which is what led to the cake being lopsided. however, i was certain that i could not dispense with the layer of buttercream in a centre as that’s what gives the cake it’s real flavour. also, use excellent quality cocoa, coffee and milk chocolate for the cake and the buttercream. i used nespresso as we have nespresso maker at home. if you don’t just use really good fresh coffee. in fact that was the only change i made in the frosting where i substituted the instant coffee for warm espresso.

beatty's chocolate cake from barefoot contessa at home

butter, for greasing the pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
chocolate buttercream, recipe follows

preheat the oven to 350 degrees f. butter two 8-inch x 2-inch round cake pans. line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.

sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. in another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. with the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. with mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. with a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

milk chocolate buttercream
 chocolate frosting

6 ounces good semisweet chocolate
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder

chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners' sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. on low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. don't whip! spread immediately on the cooled cake.

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