Tuesday, May 04, 2010
Last night I asked Vijay whether or not I should blog about something I haven't personally tasted.
It's not that I don't trust the good people who finished this cake and proceeded to tell me I should open a bakery but them being my good friends and all, what if they just didn't want to hurt my feelings? Bah... he said, even if I make the same cake and taste it myself (1) it wouldn't be exactly the same cake as Najah's and (2) I have my own standards. "Telling people about your experiences is more important...", this coming from a guy who takes 20 minutes to update his Facebook status. Heheh....
I stumbled on the recipe for this cake a few weeks ago while going through Deb Perelman's archives and bookmarking future items to attempt. While drooling at the photos I went through the entire post to discover that this is a moist, really chocolaty cake, supposedly the best ever one can have. Then I went through the comments and five minutes later decided that I MUST make this cake before I leave.
The final week of my stay in KL sent me in a frantic schedule to finish four cakes in five days (the day I didn't bake was dedicated to cooking a piece of Las Vacas's ribeye steak, recipe to be up soon).
How did the crazy schedule came about? Vanilla pound cake and Nigella's chocolate fudge cake was the original two, the latter to be given to my mother's boss by his (rather bossy I might add) request. This third cake was planned for the family, something to leave them with (and something I can gorge on) before I go. Then I remembered Najah's birthday falling on the weekend and thought - hmmm, this one will be a good present for her, being an epic bestest (yes, I am using the word of the girl who ate it) cake based on the various testimonies of those to tried it. That concluded the necessity of a fourth cake to be made on Friday, albeit a simple one.
This recipe is for two layers of 10" but I only had two 9" tins up till Tuesday. On Wednesday, while shopping for mini loaf tins at Robinsons I accidentally bought another two 9" tins thinking they were 8" ones. Some comments left on Deb's post mentioned experiences of overflowing batter burning the whole house into a smokey mess after cramming it all into two 9" tins (a not so pretty setback which I personally experienced with Monday's vanilla pound cake but that's another post) so I was glad to have the extra tins to make three 9" layers without having to clean and reuse any of the tins.
Praying that everything will go well, on Thursday morning I started on the cake. While the layers were baking, the house was filled with such thick chocolate aroma for a whole three hours it was causing me occasional hunger pangs (this was after a big bowl of wantan noodle for lunch). The ganache turned out smooth, shiny and dark. It was evil and alluring, I wanted to bury my face into it. Really. While assembling the cake I was contemplating if I can keep one of the already delicious looking layers for myself before remembering it's best to give to others than to keep for the self (especially since I have earlier asked for divine blessings).
Working with a ganache for the first time, it cooled a little to quickly due to my inexperience. Instead of emptying the whole ice tray into a bowl of water, a handful of ice cubes should do the trick. It took all my (almost forgotten and quite wobbly) food chemistry knowledge to keep myself together and not panic at a pot of hardened cream and chocolate. I mean, what's a birthday cake without frosting??!!!! After leaving it to stand off the cold water while making the colored icing, the ganache softened and darkened to the correct consistency.
Layering the cake took some work. To avoid it from doming (an effect common in small ovens and sometimes caused by varying strength of rising agents), I baked it in a temperature 50 degrees lower than called for, checking on doneness at the one hour mark and the cake was done. The layers were flat, each slightly over 1 1/2 inches tall. They were then flash frozen for 45 minutes before assembly to avoid crumbling when handled and hit with the thick frosting.
As I put the layers together, I thought to myself - hmm, nice tall cake this one, what a way to make a statement! - blissfully unaware that the height of the cake would later cause a small problem. I found the ganache quantity not entirely sufficient for the size of the cake, this is after using my own mixed berries filling for one of the layers. Considerable amount of time was spent scrapping and pasting the frosting around gaping edges of the cake to ensure a presentable outcome. I'm not sure if it's better to bake the cake in 2 9" layers (from what I observed after baking 3 9" layers, overflow is unlikely in my 2 1/2" tall pans) and splitting them into four layers to reduce the height (an approach I decided against at the time considering the threat of overflowing and the absence of a long enough serrated knife to split the cake).
Piping icing over a cake in the sauna like weather of KL city required a few trips of both the icing and the cake to and fro the fridge. It was 35 degrees Celcius, slightly below body temperature. At more than a few points of icing and chilling the cake, I wished I could go into the fridge along with the cake.
By about 5:30 pm, I decided that the cake looks good enough and informed said birthday girl I "sort of" baked her a celebration dessert. When it came to the time of packing the cake into a standard 10" box (the soft kind you get at supermarkets) for chilling, I discovered that the cake was, indeed, too tall. Again, I
Over dinner I came out with the brilliant idea of using the cover of the inept box to make two higher walls on two sides and then cling-wrap the whole box to cover the cake. The problem was a blessing in disguise because the standard cakebox would've been too clumsy for transport. The next morning, a trip to Chang Tung saw me return with a proper hardboard box and some other extra purchases deemed necessary for future baking projects (I can't have gone all the way there just to buy a box can I?)
After sending the cake off Saturday morning, I worried for the rest of the day (the other half kept getting the same question - What if it's not nice baby? ... and it's soooo big! Her birthday will be ruined, ruined!). It's one thing to bake a first-time cake for a friend who didn't ask for it, it's another to give her a humongous one and possibly spoil her birthday feast if it's not up to par. Alas, an evening Tweet from the birthday girl's sister and later Facebook updates from the birthday girl herself assured my almost mental state that the sinful looking, almost 10 pounds heavy cake, indeed tasted good.
This is, by far, my bestest baking experience.
Update 10 May 2010: Upon making this cake the second time, I finally tasted it. This time I used the coveted Valrhona 68% bittersweet chocolate. The words I want to use to describe it are simply inappropriate for the public.
Instead, let me just leave you with this.
Double Chocolate Layer Cake
Cake recipe from Deb's adaptation, mixed berries filling recipe my own since I had some sauce lying around.
The recipe below is for 2 10-inch layers filled and coated in chocolate ganache. My adaptation was to bake three 9" layers which resulted in a tall cake. Unless making the suggested 2 10" layers, make the full recipe of the ganache frosting even if using the berry filling between layers and use accordingly.
For cake layers:
- 3 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate, I used Baker's
- 1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
- 3 cups sugar
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Van Houten)
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 3 large eggs
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
For ganache frosting and filling:
- 1 pound fine-quality semisweet chocolate (I used Baker's)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
For mixed berries filling:
- 6 ounces (1 pack) of fresh blueberries
- 12 ounces (2 packs) fresh raspberries
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
Special equipment: two 10- by 2-inch round cake pans (I used three 9" springform tins).
Make cake layers: Preheat oven to 300°F and grease pans. Line bottoms with rounds of wax paper and grease paper.
Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well.
Divide batter between pans and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.
Cool layers completely in pans on racks. If not using springforms, run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove wax paper and cool layers completely. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.
Make frosting: Finely chop chocolate. In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Cut butter into pieces and add to frosting, whisking until smooth.
Transfer frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable (depending on chocolate used, it may be necessary to chill frosting to spreadable consistency). I found that stirring this over a bowl of ice water did a great job of cooling it off quickly and evenly.
Spread frosting between cake layers and over top and sides. Cake keeps, covered and chilled, 3 days. Bring cake to room temperature before serving.
Make the berries filling: In a saucepan, heat the berries and sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves and berries fall apart. Dissolve the cornstarch in a little water. On high heat, stir in the starch solution. The sauce will thicken quickly.
Let sauce cool down to room temperature. Puree the sauce in a blender or food processor. Chill to thicken more before spreading it thinly between cake layers.
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