Monday, July 8, 2013
Blowtorch Optional: S'more Layer Cake with Salted Milk Chocolate Ganache & Seven Minute Frosting
So if that super long title is any indication, I indeed busted out the big guns for this cake. While it is quite the production, it should also be noted that this cake is worth every dirty mixing bowl and spatula that will take up residence in your sink. The lucky recipient was my sweet mama, who recently celebrated a birthday, and seeing as she's the one who gave birth to me and all, she gets a pretty cake on the day she was born. It's payback time, I suppose, for all of those cakes over the years she bestowed upon me. My favourite was always chocolate cake with swirls of fluffy white icing. Tucked away in the cake layers were assorted coins, wrapped in tin foil, waiting to be pulled out by some lucky kid. If you got the quarter you were golden! And if it was your birthday and you got shut out, then there was probably some sulking, and possibly tears. Not that I know this from first hand experience or anything. Ahem. Fast forward 30 odd years and while I didn't hide any money in my mom's birthday cake, I'm certain that the love she baked with all those years ago was matched by mine on this day.
Layer cakes are not for those who are time-strapped, disorganized or grumpy. Just like you can't hurry love you cannot hurry a layer cake. Now that we all have Phil Collins in our collective heads, let me tell you why. I wasn't joking when I said this cake was a production - it took about 3 hours over two days. Not bad considering I was making it for a special occasion, but still, this cake carves out a fair chunk of your day, so be prepared for that. That being said, this is a very fun cake to make. There's something about slowing down a involving yourself in the process that is very rewarding, at least I found it to be so. Most of my days are rush rush rush, so I kind of welcomed the chance to chill with this cake. As I passed the pallet knife over the cake, shaping the frosting into pretty sweeps and swirls, it felt like I was creating art. How often do you get that feeling? Creating something beautiful, to be eaten by those you love, well, I don't know if it gets better than that.
I've known for about 6 months that this was going to be my mom's birthday cake. She was over at my house on Christmas eve, and while we snacked on appetizers, she thumbed through my copy of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Mom kind of gasped when she saw the photo for this s'more layer cake and ding ding ding, I knew I would one day bake it for her. She had every right to gasp. It's a pretty snap in a book full of pretty snaps. And it pretty much shouts summertime. Graham crackers! Milk chocolate! Fluffy marshmallowesque frosting! Somehow eating it in winter just wouldn't be the same.
The cake is rich and buttery, make with half all purpose flour and half graham cracker crumbs pulverized to a powder. Buttermilk makes it tender and a great base for the milk chocolate ganache, that has just a hint of salt added. I should note that I think all cakes should have a layer of milk chocolate ganache. Holy man. There's a reason why I don't keep milk chocolate in the house. It's so damn good! The ganache procedure does take time - you have to thicken it in the fridge and keep whisking it every 15 minutes so it doesn't get lumpy. This could be the fussy part, or not. I completed other tasks around the house while this was happening so no big deal, really. Plus you get to stick your finger in the ganache every so often to do a "thickness test" at least that's the excuse I gave myself. When it's thick enough to spread, do just that - a nice thick layer. It's your baker's right to lick the bowl.
Seven minute frosting really does take only seven minutes. Who knew? It's basically cooked egg whites, sugar and cream of tarter. Beat it like mad in your mixer, until stiff and glossy. So pretty! Spread a thin layer completely over cake, a "crumb coat" if you will, that will ensure no rogue crumbs infiltrate your top coat. Chill it for ten, then completely cover it all sorts of sweeps and swirls. This is the fun part. I myself lack a blowtorch in my kitchen arsenal, which is why this is a blowtorch optional cake. If you feel like making marshmallowlike dollops of frosting on top, then by all means do so. Be sure to remove all flammable objects out of the vicinity, and if your cat likes to jump on counters, tuck him away in a bedroom or something. Gently scorch the top of the cake. Safety first! No blowtorch, no problem, the sweeps and swirls will do just fine. Chill the cake for about 30 minutes before serving, then dig in. It's a delicious cake, and I suppose you do feel like you are getting a little bit of s'more in every bite. But you also taste the effort and love behind it all. A production yes, but a heartfelt one.
S'more Layer Cake with Milk Chocolate Ganache & Seven Minute Frosting
1 cup (225 grams) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups honey graham cracker crumbs, finely processed to be a powder
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
4 large eggs at room temp
2 cups buttermilk, well shaken
1/2 pound (225 grams) milk chocolate, chopped small (I used Lindt milk chocolate bars)
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 pinches of salt
4 large egg whites
1 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 *F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line them with circles of parchment. Butter the paper.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, graham flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In a bowl of a mixer, cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Add eggs one a time, scraping down bowl after each addition. Add a third of the dry ingredients then mix a little. Add half the buttermilk and mix more. Scrape down the bowl after each addition. Add a third of the dry and the last of the buttermilk. Mixing and scraping. Add the last of the dry, mixing well and scraping bowl. Divide the batter between cake pans and bake for 30 - 35 minutes, until toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean. Cool in pans on rack, then run a knife around the edges and invert each cake on a rack. Remove parchment and let cool completely. Cakes can be made a day ahead, wrapped well in plastic and refrigerated.
To make the filling, place chocolate in heat proof bowl. Heat cream and salt in a small saucepan, bringing it to a simmer. Pour over the chocolate, let stand one minute then stir well, whisking until smooth. Cool it in the fridge, whisking every 15 minutes so there are no lumps. It will take about one hour until it's thick enough to spread.
Arrange a single cake on a pretty plate or cake stand. If cake top isn't very flat, take a serrated knife and level it off. Spread the milk chocolate ganache over top of cake. Top it with the second cake.
To make frosting: Place egg whites, sugar, cream of tarter in the bowl of a stand mixer. Place this over a pot of simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar dissolves and whites are warm to touch, about 3 minutes. Place in the mixer and beat with the whisk attachment on low speed, gradually increasing to high, until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 4-7 minutes. Add vanilla and mix until combined.
Spread a thin layer completely over cake. This is called the "crumb coat" because it adheres all of the crumbs to the cake. Chill it in fridge for about 10 minutes. Spread remaining frosting over cake, making it pretty and if you like, create some marshmallowlike dollops on the top of cake - use a piping bag for this. If you are using a blowtorch, blowtorch the tops of dollops, being sure to remove anything flammable in the way. Safety first! Refrigerate about 30 minutes before serving. Makes 16 servings. Recipe from Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman.