It’s official … I have met my match and it came in the form of a birthday cake!
My husband of 8 years loves chocolate. Over the years I have made chocolate cakes, mousse, tarts, fudges and even chocolate caramel. I have collected recipes in food magazines and searched on Pinterest for chocolate desserts for the last couple of months. I found some interesting ones on Pinterest. However, they either had no recipe attached, (frustrating) they were actually for sale or they requested supplies that were way above my cooking level. (mylar? really? I unsuccessfully searched three stores … only to use wax paper which substituted perfectly!)
For years I have tried to one up myself … this year was no exception. How can I try a new recipe, that even if it flops, it will still taste good? (Because, isn’t that just as important?) I like a challenge when it comes to baking. Throw 30 steps my way, make me bring out nine bowls, clean the stand mixer twice, bloom cocoa powder (who does that anymore?), bring out the double boiler, and oh yes, even the scary candy thermometer. I LOVE IT ALL! I am exhausted after… but I love the challenge. This is why I enjoy cooking. I love to learn from my mistakes. (If you have read my previous blogs, you know I make them. Let’s not bring up the FAILURE COMPLETE once again … blowing up yeast bread is no longer on my list of “unaccomplished”!) I love the quiet satisfaction of knowing in my heart that a recipe was good … okay, great! This recipe I am making today is a combination of two recipes. One from my Aunt Pam and the other from Bon Appetit.
Let me break down the steps in order … cake/mousse/chocolate bands/curls.
Aunt Pam’s Famous Chocolate Cake: Mise En Place
I, of course, called my Aunt and asked her if I could give away her recipe. She quickly let me know that it’s from an old McCalls magazine. I think McCalls went under so I now designate it as “AUNT PAM’S FAMOUS CHOCOLATE CAKE!” Amy Bauer, I appoint you my official blog attorney. I promise to pay you what I pay my editors … half of nothing. Please let me know if I’ll get sued by releasing that name to the 20 people who actual read this blog! 🙂 My Aunt has been making this recipe for years and it’s perfect … moist and rich!
The first step is to BLOOM the cocoa. This is the only recipe that I have made where you need to do this. Cooks Illustrated states “that blooming cocoa allows the flavor molecules to burst forth, amplifying flavor.” To bloom you mix the measured cocoa powder with boiling water and whisk quickly until the cocoa dissolves.
Then you cool this mixture to room temperature. (allow 20 minutes for this)
While the cocoa is cooling, we can start to make the batter. First, sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda with your metal strainer over a mixing bowl. Set aside.
Next, in another mixing bowl or your stand mixer, cream together the room temperature butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. We then add in 4 large eggs and the vanilla. (Did you know that you should always use large eggs unless it’s written specifically to do otherwise? I didn’t know that until about a year ago. I always assumed extra-large.) Beat the mixture in your stand mixer for 5 minutes on medium high. After the 5 minutes, please turn you mixer down to low-speed and alternate adding in the sifted flour mixture and the cooled bloomed cocoa. Start and end with the flour. (No idea why, I’ll have to ask Aunt Pam.)
Be sure to cover your mixer with a clean towel. Even with the mixer on low it could pouf up on you if the engine starts too fast. Divide the chocolate batter into two greased and floured cake pans. Another option, is to cut out parchment rounds that fit into the bottom of the 8 inch cake pans.
Bake for 25 – 30 minutes. I learned a little trick at the cooking school. The chef literally nudged the entire oven. If the cake moved … it wasn’t set. If it appeared set, then she would open the oven and double-check with a wiggle of the oven rack. I also have used the “touch” test … when touched gently with your finger, the cake top should spring back at you. But what does that really mean? I push down … it comes back up … but did it come back up enough or fast enough? Today the “bump” worked for me! Set aside to cool, about 20 minutes. Finally, gently remove each cooled cake from the pans and place each on a wire rack until ready to use.
Mousse: Mise En Place
We love chocolate mousse at our house. I have tried at least 6 different recipes over the years, and today was another new one. This one adds in Irish Cream, but you can easily leave it out or use Frangelica if you like a raspberry flavor. This time I start by whisking in the sugar and eggs in a double boiler (easiest explanation, metal bowl over an inch of gently simmering water) until the temperature of the mixture reaches 160 degrees. This is the temperature that it takes to kill the bacteria, use that temperature for cooking chicken too.
It requires about 5 mins of medium heat and constant stirring. You want the mixture smooth and the eggs not to “cook”. Once it reaches 160 degrees, I remove the egg mixture from the heat and pour it into my stand mixer.
On medium high-speed, I let the mixer work for about 10 minutes, until the mixture cools down and thickens. (next time I will probably extend my mixing time to 11-12 minutes)
The second part of the Triple Threat is fun for me because I get to bring out a new cooking tool that my mom surprised me with after I posted my first blog. It’s called a Bain Marie, and it is a double boiler!
(Did you notice the cheese mention in there … you all know I love cheese!) First, I easily fill up the water compartment of the double boiler and then place it on the range on medium heat. Then I put the chocolate in the Bain Marie, (top part of a regular double boiler) and let it melt until smooth.
I remove it from the stove and let it cool to room temperature. (Side note – if you need to rush this cooling process, remove the chocolate from the Bain Marie because as there is still hot water inside, it will take longer to cool.)
The third and last step of making the mousse is the whipped cream. I decide to do this by hand … because I am tired of cleaning out my stand mixer bowl and the chefs at Sur La Table and University of Richmond do it without effort.
As a reminder, one of the most important steps in any recipe is an obvious one … READ THE ENTIRE RECIPE BEFORE STARTING! Since I know, from pre-reading the recipe that we are going to make whipped cream, I start by putting my metal bowl, whisk, Irish Cream and whipping cream in the freezer before I start the mousse. (about 20 minutes)
One other piece of info for you on before starting, there is a difference between half and half and whipping cream. (fat percentages 36 vs 39) From my understanding, you can whip half and half but it won’t set/hold up as well as whipping cream. Alright, enough details, let’s get going! I take everything out of the freezer and begin to whisk the heavy whipping cream and Irish cream by hand.
Then I stop and look longingly over at the bowl of the stand mixer and think … WHY DIDN’T I JUST WASH THAT? “Breathe!” Moving on, I keep mixing until my arm says “ENOUGH!”
You really need to beat it until there are stiff peaks. This process is really important because the whipped cream is going to hold your mousse together.
I believe I earn a piece of cake because of this work out!
Next, I fold the melted chocolate into the thickened egg mixture. Then I gently fold in the whipped cream.
Cover and chill until set, at least 4 hours or overnight.
Needless to say, I will split up the cake recipe and mousse the next time I do this. The cake can easily be wrapped tightly and frozen for up to a month.
Cake/ Mousse Assembly: Step one is to cut your cake into layers. I tried a new trick today after seeing someone on tv do something similar. I set two baking sheets on either side of the cooled cake.
I use a bread knife and slice the cake in half making sure that I keep both baking sheets level so the cake could be cut evenly. This worked for me.
There is an actual tool you can buy for cutting cake accurately, but I am a home baker so I don’t care. Repeat this process with the second cake. You will have 4 layers, use all if you want, save the 4th for another cake or secretly eat it and don’t tell anyone …
You can put the cake on a serving plate or a cardboard cake plate. I put a small dollop of the mousse onto the cake plate to hold the bottom layer. I gently set the first layer of the cake down on the cake plate. (I flip the cake so the bottom of that cake is now the top) then I put a HUGE dollop (1.5 cups?) of mousse on the cake. I used an offset spatula to gently spread the mousse over the top stopping at the edges. I add the second layer oaf cake and repeat the mousse addition.
My final layer for this cake is my third. I put the last of the mousse on top and place the cake in the fridge to chill. 20 mins.
Chocolate Bands and Curls: I was really nervous about this step. One recipe I researched used mylar for this process, I still don’t know what that is!!! I thought that I was going to have to give up on the bands until I saw the wax paper idea on another recipe.
Step one, bring out my cool new Bain Marie, (double boiler) add the chocolate and a small amount of shortening and melt down until a smooth consistency.
While the chocolate is melting, line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Cut two pieces of wax paper (as high as your cake, 4-5 inches) and about 20 inches long. Set those on the baking sheet. Keep stirring your chocolate while you are doing this process. When I melt chocolate, my heat is just under medium … you do want the water to gently BOIL (simmer) in the double boiler. Once the chocolate melts, I slowly pour the chocolate down the wax paper.
Then using an off set spatula, I gently spread out the chocolate so it is almost touching the edges. Place the entire baking sheet in the fridge for about 5 -8 minutes. … just until it softly sets. My recipe said two minutes, but it took mine longer.
Remove the bands from the fridge. Gently picking up the chocolate strips, with wax paper still on it, press it around the one side of the cake. (don’t remove the wax paper) Do the same with the other strip of chocolate until the chocolate strips fully encircle the outside of the cake.
Use kitchen shears to cut any overlap of the chocolate strips. (STILL don’t remove paper) Put the cake back in the fridge for at least 5 minutes or longer if needed then remove the wax paper.
“Lose a finger” Curls– Yes, that is what I am going to call them. The curls are for the top of the cake to add a decorative finish. You take chocolate baking squares, melt them for about 20-40 seconds in your microwave and then peel them with a vegetable peeler. I thought I was going to cut my finger with every peel. If anyone has an easier way, let me know … obviously a larger piece of chocolate would have been easier too! I made a lot less curls because of the finger I didn’t want to lose! You can do these ahead of time and refrigerate them.
Final Presentation! Take the cake out of the fridge, add the chocolate curls to the top of the cake mounding them more in the center.
Lightly sprinkle with powder sugar over the top with the metal strainer and serve!
This one was a LONG one … but every time I do a new recipe I always figure out ways to improve the way I made it. Next time, I would break up the steps so it wasn’t all in one day. I would go to a chocolatier and find a larger piece of chocolate that I could make those curls, without fearing the loss of a finger. AND, I would try not to eat so much of the batter, mousse or melted chocolate along the way!
Without question, I have had to step up my workouts after making this dessert. I even did a few sit ups!!!
Bake on …