Thursday, March 20, 2008

Chocolate overload and a friend's birthday

I don't bake. Really, I don't. I'm so much like my mom was on this one. She had a sister, my aunt Janno, who was a fabulous baker. I used to go over to her house on Saturdays, and she would teach me how to make rugelach, or do something with sugar - I don't remember what it's called - but I think it might involve water on the stove or something. Spinning it? (See? I told you I don't bake!). All I remember is that involved skill and timing. Anyway, I would come home from these sessions bearing a lopsided cake, which my family would cheerfully eat. But it never looked that good to my eyes. Never as good as what my aunt Janno could turn out.

She had a true knack. I'll never forget the time there was a knock at the front door, and when I answered it, there stood my aunt, holding a steaming apple pie. She had a big smile on her face (she always seemed to smile), as she whisked past me and into the kitchen, carefully placing the pie on the window sill and admonishing me not to eat any until it cooled. The scent of hot apples filled the room, and I found that I had to leave the kitchen in order to keep from cutting into that pie .

So I don't know what came over me last week, when a friend emailed me and told me that a group of us would be gathering to celebrate our friend Kathye's birthday. In her email, this friend asked me if I would take care of the cake. Now, I know she didn't mean that I should bake it. Most everyone I know goes out and buys a cake. I only know one woman - who was at the party, in fact - who is a real baker. I don't know if they asked her to do it and she couldn't do it. All I know is that the task fell to me, and for some reason I decided I wanted to bake it myself.

What was I thinking?!!!!!

Perhaps I was channeling my own sister, Leah, who is a phenomenal baker. In fact, she's taken classes on cake decorating. Or maybe I was having a flashback - I don't know. All I know is that after asking Kathye what flavor she wanted (Chocolate!), I spent an entire day, scouring all the blogs I could find with desserts posted, and finally wound up on epicurious. They had a recipe for a triple layer chocolate celebration cake. Chocolate cake, ganache and chocolate mousse. And then there's the bit of jam and the fruit. Could I resist? The photo of it made my mouth water, and the reviews were all raves. Almost every reviewer mentioned that it took a LOT of time, and that it could be started several days in advance. But the way my life has been going, I knew that I'd be baking the cake and assembling it the day of the party.

I did manage to make the mousse in advance, which was a good thing. It took me the entire day to make and assemble this cake, and when I was done I had blobs of ganache on the counter, chocolate footprints on the floor, and bits and crumbles of flour and sugar and fruit on the stove top, sink and counter tops. But I had a cake!! And it was sitting about 10" high on top of a cake stand! And it looked fairly good, if you didn't pay too close attention to the sides, where you could see the layers.

And then it struck me.

How on EARTH was I supposed to transport this thing over to the party???? OMG! But it was getting late, and I had no time to worry about that. I had to shower, get dressed, and get on the road! Check out the Kitchen Notes to learn how I transported this thing to the San Diego Yacht Club, where the party was held.

2 3/4 cups cake flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

3 cups whipping cream
1 1/2 pounds bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

4 1/3 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

Assembly and serving
2/3 cup seedless raspberry jam

1 15 3/4x11 3/4-inch transfer sheet with gold-thread design*

3/4 pound bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

3 1/2-pint baskets raspberries
1/2 pound cherries
1 1-pint basket small strawberries
1 1/2-pint basket blueberries
1 1/2-pint basket blackberries

*Transfer sheets, or "transfers," are sturdy but flexible plastic sheets coated with a mixture of cocoa butter and food coloring and etched with repetitive designs, such as golden swirls.

Here's how they work in this recipe: First, melted chocolate is spread over the sheets. After the chocolate has been chilled until firm, the plastic sheets are peeled away, leaving an edible design on the chocolate's surface.

Transfer sheets are available at some cake- and candy-supply stores or by mail from Beryl's Cake Decorating; call 800-488-2749.


Make cake: Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter and flour two 10-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides; line each with round of parchment paper or waxed paper. Combine first 5 ingredients in medium bowl; whisk to blend well. Using electric mixer, beat sugar, eggs and egg yolks in large bowl until very thick and heavy ribbon falls when beaters are lifted, about 6 minutes. Add oil, sour cream and vanilla, then dry ingredients all at once to egg mixture. Beat at low speed until just blended, about 1 minute. Scrape down sides of bowl. Beat at high speed until well blended, about 3 minutes. Fold in chocolate chips; divide batter between prepared pans (about 3 3/4 cups batter in each).

Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool cakes completely in pans on racks. Cover; let cakes stand at room temperature overnight.

Make ganache: Bring cream to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Transfer ganache to glass bowl. Let stand until thick enough to spread, about 4 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill.)

Make mousse: Using electric mixer, beat 3 1/3 cups cream in large bowl until peaks form; refrigerate. Combine remaining 1 cup cream and corn syrup in heavy medium saucepan and bring to simmer. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and whisk until melted, smooth, and still warm to touch. Pour warm chocolate mixture directly onto whipped cream and fold in gently. Chill until mousse is set, at least 8 hours. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

Assemble and serve cake: Cut around pan sides; turn out cakes. Peel off paper. Cut each cake horizontally in half. Place 1 cake layer, cut side up, on 9-inch tart pan bottom or 9-inch cardboard round. Place another layer, cut side up, on clean baking sheet. Spread each with 1/3 cup raspberry jam. Chill until jam sets, about 15 minutes

If ganache is chilled, microwave on defrost setting in 15-second repetitions until just soft enough to spread, stirring occasionally. Drop 1 cup ganache by rounded teaspoonfuls over each jam layer. Using offset spatula, gently spread ganache to cover jam. Drop 3 cups mousse by heaping spoonfuls onto each ganache layer; gently spread to cover. Refrigerate cake layers 30 minutes. Using large metal spatula, place cake layer from baking sheet, mousse side up, atop cake layer on tart pan bottom. Place third cake layer, cut side down, on cake (reserve remaining cake layer for another use). Spread 1 cup mousse over top of assembled cake. Using long offset spatula, spread sides of assembled cake with enough ganache (about 1 1/2 cups) to fill gaps and make smooth surface. Transfer cake on tart pan bottom to platter.

Turn 1 large baking sheet upside down on work surface. Arrange two 20-inch-long pieces of foil on work surface. Cut two 4 1/2-inch-wide by 15 3/4-inch-long strips from transfer sheet. Lay 1 transfer sheet strip, rough-textured design facing up, onto each sheet of foil. Place chocolate in medium metal bowl; set bowl over saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water). Stir until chocolate is smooth and very warm to touch (about 115°F). Remove bowl from over water.

Pour thick ribbon of melted chocolate (about 2/3 cup) onto 1 transfer sheet strip. Using long offset spatula, spread chocolate evenly over transfer strip, covering completely (chocolate will run over sides of strip). Lift edge of chocolate-coated strip with tip of knife. Slide hands between transfer strip and foil, lift entire transfer strip and place it, chocolate side up, on inverted baking sheet. Refrigerate until chocolate on strip is set and loses gloss but is still flexible (do not let chocolate become too firm), about 1 1/2 minutes. Using fingertips, lift chocolate-coated strip and attach, chocolate side in, to side of cake. Press strip to seal chocolate to side of cake (strip will stand about 1 inch above top edge of cake). Coat remaining transfer strip with chocolate, transfer to inverted baking sheet; chill until set but still flexible. Arrange 1 end of second strip against (but not overlapping) 1 end of first strip. Press second strip to seal chocolate to side of cake (both strips will just encircle cake). Refrigerate cake until chocolate strips are firm, about 30 minutes. Carefully peel transfer paper off chocolate strips. Chill cake at least 3 hours and up to 1 day. Mound fruit atop cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve. (Cake can be assembled up to 8 hours ahead.)

Kitchen Notes:

First of all, I ditched the whole transfer sheet process. That belongs in the hands of those who actually do bake, not this amateur. I decided to spread ganache on the outside instead. I did what one reviewer suggested, and put the mousse in a plastic bag, snipped off a corner and piped it around the edge.

Speaking of ganache, Whole Foods had jars of it on sale, so I bought 3 jars of it. Saved a bunch of time and tasted fantastic!

I could not find seedless raspberry jam, so I used cherry preserves instead. Is there a fruit (other than grapefruit) that doesn't go with chocolate???

Also, my cake pans are not 2" tall. They're more like 1 1/2" tall. I felt that if I cut those in half horizontally, I would have pancake sized layers. Feh! I bought a 3rd pan (which turned out to be slightly smaller!), and divided the batter into 3 pans and used each one as a layer. No wonder this thing made such a statement!

And lastly.....How did I transport this thing? Well, you know that rubber stuff you use in the bottom of drawers, or under carpets? I have a bunch of it. I put some down on the floor of the passenger seat of the car. Then I got a pyrex casserole dish, jammed some of that stuff into in and placed the cake stand in it. I placed it on the floor of the car and gently tested it. It seemed
fairly stable. But just to be on the safe side, I drove slowly, with the fingertips of my right hand on the edge of the cake stand. The only time I thought I would lose it was going down that steeeeep hill, when I thought maybe one of the top layers would just slide off the cake!

And by the way, when I got to the yacht club, I discovered that probably the BEST way to meet people is to walk into a crowded room bearing a 10" high chocolate cake with fruit on top!


Peter M said...

WHOA! The detail in your recipe definitely shows in the result. Congrats 'take the cake"! lol

Heather said...

That sounds like an ordeal! You're a good friend. Maybe you should come over on my birthday.

Anonymous said...

yowza! can you be in charge of the cake on my next birthday? it's not til december, so you have time to prep.

test it comm said...

That chocolate cake look amazing!! What a struggle it must have been if there were chocolate footprints on the floor. :)

anya said...

Oh, your chocolate cake won my heart!! Smashing!

Also, it was so very much heart-warming to read about your childhood memories!!

BTW, a BIG thank you for your bread recipe advice! I'll do my best to snag said book!!

Have a lovely weekend!

Nina Timm said...

Normally when I see a long recipe like yours, I just move on to another site, but beauty of your creation made me read every last word. Wonderful work, well done.

I do catering and believe me, transporting food can sometimes be a huge headache.

L Vanel said...

That is a gorgeous cake! I also enjoyed reading about your aunt and the pie. It's a nice memory to hold on to.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

That's an absolutely gorgeous cake! I wish I could say that you've inspired me to bake (I don't bake, ever), but you have inspired me to invite myself to you house the next time you get those cake pans out!

Unknown said...

Peter - Thanks!

Heather - When is it? ;-)

Michelle - I'll start now!

Kevin - Seriously - chocolate footprints on the floor! (I never claimed to be a NEAT cook!)

Anya - Thanks! Let me know if you have trouble locating the book. I'll send you the recipe.

Nina - I understand completely about reading long posts with long recipes - I don't usually so that either. So Thank you so much for reading this - I take it as a HUGE compliment! And welcome to my blog! I hope you come back often to visit.

Lucy - Thank you so much!

Lydia - It's a deal! Next time I dig those pans out, I'll shoot you an email invite!

Cynthia said...

Congrats on this feat!

Chris said...

You've done a fabulous job. This looks truly delicious! know you hold a special place in my heart - but I may have to make fun of you...just a little...for buying ganache. After that detailed recipe? But...thanks though...its good to know WF sells it. :)

Mike of Mike's Table said...

For a non-baker, it looks like the effort paid off: that cake looks awesome! Also sounds stressful, but I'm sure your efforts were appreciated. Very nice work!

Unknown said...

Cynthia - Thanks!

Chris - Oh yeah -- definitely needed to buy the stuff. As it was, if you added up the time spent, it was a 2 full day job. I seriously don't have any more time than that! (And how on earth did I manage to find THAT much time??? ;-))

Mike - Thanks! Actually, I didn't find myself stressing. Perhaps ignorance IS bliss! But definitely worth it!

anya said...

Dear Toni, I'm still 'bookless'. ;)I'd be so grateful if you shared the french bread recipe with me!!! THANKS!!!

Thistlemoon said...

Great job with the cake and the transportation! So much effort for such a beautiful cake! I am sure your friend was thrilled!

Susan said...

This cake rocks, Toni! While you could have made a simply iced butter sponge, you created a skyscraper! I'm very impressed by the labor and love that clearly went into this baking expedition.

Toni said...

Anya - I'll leave the permalink to my post on this bread on your blog. Have fun baking it!

Jenn - Yes, she was thrilled, and so was I - that I managed to get it there without losing any of it!

Susan - Thanks! A skyscraper is a perfect description!

Stella said...

though you 'rarely bake' this one sure is a winner!!! And I think you're a fantastic baker...

Anonymous said...

Toni, go for a few more layers and make it a bloggers record that's hard to beat! It might be more work but it would be a tough record to beat! The highest I've made it is 3 small layers.
It looks just fabulous and if it slides...we'll be on the other side to catch it!

Emily said...

Ha- Yeah, I'll bet that cake grabbed some attention.
It looks wonderful! You're quite the baker.

Unknown said...

Valentina - Let's put it this way -- I'm LEARNING to bake!

Todd & Diane - Gee...I hadn't thought of that. DUH! Next time! ;-)

Emiline - Definitely an attention grabber. Try it next time you go somewhere and want to meet people!

Catherine Wilkinson said...

Now that's some major drama!
I'd use that to make a big statement! You ARE a baker, what are you talkin' about??? It's beautiful!

Unknown said...

Wow. That cake looks amazing!

glamah16 said...

Oh this looks fabulous.