When I was about 12 years old, I would spend most Saturdays tromping a nearby forest with my best friend and our dogs. We had a Newfoundland, and she had a small Chihuahua mix. These two were pals, and although they were an odd pair, they stuck with us as we adventured and played.
One Saturday I arrived home to find a note on the table. My family had left to go visit the Mt. Lehman farm, my very favourite place on earth. I was so sad and mad. I had known they were going, but had lost track of time. In times of stress, I have been known to start baking and cooking and creating. This was the first incident.
I pulled out a few cookbooks and started planning my afternoon. I ended up making bread, cookies, brownies and a huge chocolate cake. When the family returned home, I had the kitchen clean and everything set out like a bakery. I was admonished for being late, but forgiven as well.
This is our family’s go-to birthday cake. It’s rich without being too sweet, or cloying. Because it is so moist, it lasts well, and can be enjoyed a couple of days later, if there’s any left.
Easily serves 8
2 x 8” round cake pans
Frosting recipe follows.
1 c boiling water
1 ½ c sifted cake & pastry flour (165 grams)
¼ t baking powder
1 t baking soda
¼ t salt
½ c butter (113 grams) at room temperature
1¼ c sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 t vanilla extract
Options: add one or both to the dry ingredients – 1 t instant espresso powder, 1 t cinnamon
Position the oven rack in the center of your oven.
Preheat to 350°
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a mixer bowl, beat the butter until fluffy. Give it a good two minutes.
Gradually beat in the sugar.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until creamy and fully incorporated.
Add in the vanilla.
Beat in the dry ingredients alternatively with the slightly cooled cocoa mixture.
Use about ⅓ of the dry ingredients for each addition, and ½ of the cocoa mixture for each addition.
Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until the tops spring back when lightly touched. Check at 25 minutes. Give it more time only if needed. You don’t want to dry the cake out.
Let the pans cool for 5 minutes on a rack before removing the cakes.
Run a sharp knife around the edges to be sure the cakes are loose.
Place a rack over the pan and invert. You may need to knock the base gently to release the cake.
Let cool completely.
1 ½ c sugar
1 c heavy cream
6 oz unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ c butter, cut up into small chunks
2 t vanilla
Option: 1 t instant espresso powder (add in with chocolate in the recipe)
In a heavy saucepan, mix the cream and sugar. Over medium heat, stirring constantly, bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes without stirring. Use a timer.
Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. This will let it cool uniformly.
Once cooled to room temperature, refrigerate, stirring every 5 or 10 minutes, until it has thickened to a good spreading consistency.
Put a good-sized spoonful of the frosting in the center, and work to the outside edges. It doesn’t have to go right to the edge, as when you do the sides of the cake the frosting will go inside the edge somewhat. Make sure you use enough to spread evenly, and thick enough that when the cake is slice you can easily see the layer filling.
Place the other layer on top.
Check that it is centered.
Do the sides first. Using an offset spatula, spread the icing several inches at a time, working around the cake, turning the plate as needed. Be sure to fill in the gap of the two layers with frosting. Once it has all been covered, take your spatula and run it around the whole way, so the sides are smooth.
Spread the rest of the frosting on the top of the cake, twirling with the end of the spatula to decorate.
If you like you can pipe along the bottom edge for a finished look.
Refrigerate until chilled. Remove from fridge 1 hour before serving. Cut with a warm, dry knife, wiping as needed.
Option: gold leaf to sprinkle on top
Mocha version: add the espresso powder to both the cake and frosting
Mexican Chocolate: add the cinnamon to the cake
Mexican Mocha: add the espresso powder & cinnamon to the cake and the espresso powder to the frosting.