Baby Shower Baking: Coffee Chocolate Layer Cake

I wound up returning to Baked Explorations yet again this past week, to make this cake for the baby shower my friend G hosted for her sister:

I was also starting my last semester of law school last week; the cake and my classes kind of took over my life. I had so much fun with this cake, though. It provided a great excuse to get some fun toys – new flower nails and pastry bag tips. The final result was actually a little more Baroque than I originally intended because I couldn’t stop playing with these. Oops!

This cake actually wasn’t a straight-up Baked creation. Because I was making it for an event I wanted to go with a tried-and-true frosting recipe (I kind of have Frosting Fear – butter brings out my neuroses): the Baked frosting recipe isn’t a straight-up buttercream and I didn’t want to have any last-minute piping failures, so I used Rose Levy Berenbaum’s Neoclassic Buttercream recipe from The Cake Bible. My mix of old- and new-school turned out darn well, if I may say so myself! Certainly better than the baby food we blind tasted. This is a classic baby shower game apparently – funny and interesting…until the mac & cheese flavor caused everyone (including the Mommy-to-Be) to make these faces:

Finally, the archaeologist in me cannot resist posting a cross-section picture:

It’s the same colors as the dirt layers I dealt with back in my digging days (scientific name: stratigraphy). Lot tastier though…

Coffee Chocolate Layer Cake (Makes one 8- or 9-inch cake)

3/4 c. dark cocoa powder
2/3 c. sour cream
2 2/3 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
1/2 c. vegetable shortening
1 c. firmly packed dark brown sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla (or bourbon!)

For the chocolate ganache glaze:
8 oz. 60-72% dark chocolate
1 1/2 sticks butter
1 tbsp. light corn syrup

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter three 8- or 9-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment, re-grease, dust with flour, and knock out the excess.
2. Mix the cocoa and sour cream with 1 1/4 cups hot water in a medium bowl and set aside. Sift (or whisk) the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl and set aside.
3. Beat the butter and shortening together in a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment; mix for about 5 minutes on medium, until the mix appears to ribbon across the bowl. Add the sugars and keep beating on medium until light and fluffy, about 5 more minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing about 15 seconds after each so it’s just incorporated. Add the vanilla (or bourbon), beat for 15 more seconds, scrape the mixture down the sides of the bowl, and beat for another half a minute.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the mixture in 3 parts and the cocoa in 2 parts; begin and end with the dry ingredients, and mix for 15-20 seconds between each addition.
5. Divide the batter between the prepared pans, smooth it out evenly with a spatula, and bake for 35-40 minutes until a toothpick or tester comes out clean. Rotate the pans halfway through baking to ensure the cakes bake evenly. Cool completely before removing from the pans and icing.
6. Storage: Completely cooled and un-frosted, the cakes can be wrapped in double layers of cling wrap and kept for about 36 hours at room temperature, or up to 4 days in the refrigerator.
7. To frost the cake: Smear about 1 tablespoon frosting on your serving platter to anchor the bottom layer. Trim each cake’s top so the layers are flat, then place the first layer on the platter. Spread about 1 1/4 cups frosting evenly on top. Precisely center the next layer on top, spread out another 1 1/4 cups frosting, and top with the final layer, un-trimmed side up. Frost the cake with a very thin crumb layer – about 1 1/2 c. frosting – and set for 20 minutes in the refrigerator. Spread the top and sides evenly with the remaining frosting (I use a 4.5-inch offset spatula and a Lazy Susan to make this easier) and set for another 15 minutes in the fridge.
8. For the glaze: Melt the chocolate, butter, and corn syrup in a double boiler and let the mixture cool a little.
9. Final assembly: Spoon enough glaze on the cake so it’s top is covered, but none runs over the sides. Place in the refrigerator for 5-10 minutes to set. Take it out of the fridge and spoon more glaze on top, letting it drizzle over the sides of the cake as you wish. You can control how these drips form; play with them and have fun! Top the cake with espresso beans or malted milk balls.
10. Don’t store the cakes for longer than 4 days, total – frosted or not. The final frosted cake will keep for a night or two in a cake carrier in the refrigerator; allow 4-6 hours for it to return to room temperature before serving.

“Neoclassic” Buttercream (Makes enough to fill and frost a 3-layer cake)

6 large egg yolks, at room temperature
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. light corn syrup
2 c. butter, at room temperature
2 tbsp. instant espresso (for coffee-flavored frosting)

1. Grease a heatproof medium glass bowl or measure.
2. Beat the yolks with an electric mixer until light yellow and fluffy (about 4 minutes). Meanwhile, combine sugar and corn syrup in a small pan and heat over a medium flame, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup comes to a rolling boil (with large bubbles covering the entire surface), then pour it immediately into the greased glass bowl to stop cooking.
3. Pour a little bit of the syrup into the egg yolks (about 2 tablespoons – you don’t want to cook the eggs) and beat on high speed for about 5 seconds. Add a little bit more, beat for 5 more seconds, and repeat until all the syrup is incorporated. Continue beating the mixture until it cools completely.
4. Beat the butter in a couple of tablespoons at a time, then add any desired flavoring. For coffee frosting, dissolve the espresso powder in 1 teaspoon boiling water and add to the frosting at this point.
5. Storage: In an airtight container, this buttercream keeps 6 hours at room temperature, 1 week refrigerated, or 8 months frozen. If you put it in the fridge or freezer, bring it back to room temperature and beat it to restore texture before using. You can also add flavoring at this point; I like making big batches of plain buttercream, storing it in individual containers, then pulling it out and flavoring as desired. So convenient!

OK…one more cake pic: