Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Happy Chocolate Cake-with-Vanilla-Buttercream-and-Strawberries Birthday to Me!

This past Sunday was my birthday, and I celebrated in one of the most joyful ways I know how: I baked, and then shared my dessert with good friends.

Most people want to enjoy their favorite cake on their birthday, whether it be a basic vanilla with vanilla icing, a complex Italian specialty, a festive ice cream cake, and any other cake one can imagine. No matter what kind of bakery you frequent, you can find a birthday cake, or similar stand-in (for example: birthday tortes, birthday muffins, birthday pies). I also know a good number of individuals who prefer to bake their own favorite creation, whether it be a birthday dessert or a very special main meal, for their birthdays; I obviously find this to be the better option for me. In fact, cookbooks featuring only recipes for birthday cakes have been written (to be honest, my roommate owns one, and it sits proudly on our cookbook shelf), and while I did not pull my birthday cake recipe from this volume, it is filled with imaginative concoctions, all of which are incomplete without candles on top. The recipe, from Epicurious, is not terribly complex, but like any layer cake, it is time consuming, and special attention is required if it is to turn out well.

My dream birthday cake was chocolate with vanilla buttercream, and to my joy, it has became a delicious reality. I made it over the course of two days, making the cake a day before the birthday celebration, and letting it cool, then wrapping it in plastic wrap. The frosting, I made the morning of, and then I assembled the entire thing a few hours before we cut it. The cake was everything I wanted it to be: lusciously chocolatey, achingly sugary, and blissfully tasty: the perfect treat to look forward to once a year.

Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting


1 cup boiling-hot water
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
Rounded 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs at room temperature for 30 minutes
4 cups vanilla buttercream

The Cake:
1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 2 (9- by 2-inch) round cake pans and line bottom of each with a round of wax paper. Butter paper and dust pans with flour, knocking out excess. Whisk together hot water and cocoa powder in a bowl until smooth, then whisk in milk and vanilla.
2. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in another bowl.
3. Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce speed to low and add flour and cocoa mixtures alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
4. Divide batter between cake pans, smoothing tops. Bake until a wooden pick or skewer comes out clean and edges of cake begin to pull away from sides of pans, 30 to 35 minutes total. Cool layers in pans on racks 10 minutes, then invert onto racks, removing wax paper, and cool completely.

Vanilla Buttercream

3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons whipping cream

With a hand mixer or stand, mix together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.
Add vanilla and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream if needed for spreading consistency.

To assemble cake:
Put 1 cake layer, rounded side up, on a cake stand or platter and, using offset spatula, spread top with about 1 cup buttercream. Top with remaining cake layer, rounded side down, and frost side and top of cake with 2 cups buttercream.

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