Given any choice of what he'd like for dessert, my husband can be relied upon to choose chocolate cake above all other options every time. This makes it easy to decide what to make each year when his birthday rolls around: some variation on chocolate cake with chocolate frosting is required.
This year I wanted to try the "Devilishly Moist Chocolate Cake" on page 121 of The Cake Book. The final result has been rated "best birthday cake ever," although some improvising took place along the way.
I was a little hesitant about a recipe that calls for pouring an entire cup of boiling water into the batter as the last step, but the author appears to know her cakes so I gave it a go. I even followed the recipe exactly, which I hardly ever do, even with baked goods.
The batter, after that cup of boiling water was mixed in, was so runny I thought surely there was some horrible typo in the recipe. I used a 9" springform pan and took the precaution of wrapping it in aluminum foil, because I thought for sure the batter would leak out (it didn't).
This bakes for quite some time: close to an hour at 325. And for most of that time it did not look promising. And then, at the end, suddenly it puffed up and looked like cake. Yay.
Well, almost like cake. Here's what the top looked like when it came out of the oven:
That rumpled bit in the center appears to have formed from convection currents in the batter as it warmed at the sides and drifted toward the center. You can see where I flicked a bit off with a fingernail: it's crisp and strange. Didn't matter, as I flipped the cake onto the plate top-side down in order to remove the pan bottom and peel off the parchment paper circle.
The bottom is fine. Mmmmmm, so moist and dark and it smells scrumptious...
The problem with this cake is it only makes one (generous) layer. Which I'd planned to split into two layers, but it really is devilishly moist. So moist that there's no way layer-splitting was going to happen in my kitchen. A professional pastry chef could probably handle it, but I know my limits.
A one-layer birthday cake, though, didn't seem sufficiently grand. I was inspired by another recipe in the book (Chocolate Almond Coconut Cake, p. 206). Here's the photo that got me thinking (red circle):
(Yes, I want to make the luscious Creamy Coconut Cake on the right, too. Another time.)
Anyway, the coconut topping for the Choc-Almond cake calls for light corn syrup, which isn't the kind of thing I keep around. So I browsed some more and came across Whipped White Chocolate Ganache (p. 318). Hmmm, cream and white chocolate melted together, cooled, and whipped. Why not add some coconut to that? Organic unsweetened shredded coconut is the kind of thing that lurks in my larder.
The Whipped White Coconut Ganache was another potential uhoh. Even chilled for almost six hours, it did not firm up the way a dark chocolate ganache does. And whipping it, even with chilled beaters, did not seem to work. (I would have chilled the bowl, too, but there wasn't room in my freezer after a recent Costco stock-up.) I almost tossed it as a dud, because the recipe warns against over-whipping, and I'd let the mixer run for a while. Then, just as I was about to give up on it, it suddenly came together and firmed up, just like whipped cream only more abruptly:
So, yippee for that. I folded in 1/2 cup of finely shredded coconut and topped my single chocolate cake layer with it.
The coconut topping is only about 1/4 inch thick, but that's plenty, as it's very rich. And exceedingly delicious:
It went into the fridge to chill up while I made a frosting.
Rich and Creamy Chocolate Frosting
This is my basic chocolate frosting method. It makes plenty for a two-layer cake, but extra freezes beautifully so I always make a large batch even when I only need a little. To make a darker choc version, use twice as much ganache or half as much butter frosting. It's very flexible. I usually don't even measure quantities, I just eyeball it. It always turns out fine: butter, sugar, cream, chocolate. How can you go wrong?
Make a dark chocolate ganache.Place 8 oz. of dark chocolate chips (preferably bittersweet; 70% cacao content or higher) in a small stainless steel mixing bowl. Heat 1 cup heavy cream over medium heat until just at a simmer. Pour it over the chocolate chips and let sit for 30-60 seconds. Stir it all up vigorously with a whisk until the chocolate melts and it all comes together into a smooth dark satiny deliciousness. Set aside to cool to room temp. It will firm up a bit.
Make a basic butter frosting.Put 2 sticks soft unsalted butter in the bowl of your stand mixer. Use paddle to beat in 3 cups sifted confectioner's sugar (about a cup at a time) and 1 tsp vanilla extract.
Mix 'em together. Add the cooled ganache to the mixer bowl and beat well until chocolate and butter mixes are thoroughly combined and a uniform light brown color.
I used this to frost my coconut-topped cake layer. I then melted about 4 oz. more of dark choc chips and blended them into about a cup and a half of the frosting to make a slightly darker, more chocolately variation that I used to pipe decorative rosettes around the edge of the cake. I didn't do a fabulous job with that, 'cause I'm not an expert piper plus it was a warm afternoon and everything was on the verge of goopy and I was in a rush to get it done and into the fridge.
The result: not the most spectacular cake ever, but fine for a family birthday. And delicious. Really, really delicious. The white choc-coconut topping is heavenly with the rich, dark, moist choc cake. I love how the coconut layer is a surprise reveal when you cut into the cake. (See first photo, up top.)
Let me say again that this combo is wonderful. Like a cake version of a Mounds candy bar. I did wonder, when I was done, if I should have used just a straight dark choc ganache glaze instead of frosting. But the cake is so dark and so rich and so moist that my lighter frosting is a perfect counterpart.
We enjoyed our cake with Roselani "Haupia" (coconut pudding flavor) ice cream. Creamy and subtle and perfect. A bit like vanilla, but not vanilla. If you are ever in Hawaii be sure to seek out some Roselani ice cream while you're here. Especially if you can find haupia flavor and some dark chocolate coconut cake to go with it.
I'm already thinking of other things I might use that coconut topping on. Sweet Potato Cheesecake, anyone? I've never made it, but have enjoyed the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel's version, for which the Queen's Court restaurant is justly famous. I bet it would be even better with coconut topping.
First, though, we need to eat up leftovers of the b'day extravaganza. Then we'll need to go on a diet for a month.