This is a recipe mash-up. I used Smitten Kitchen’s Sour Cream-Chocolate Cake for the cake, Martha Stewart’s Dark-Chocolate Ganache frosting, and took my cake decoration cues from Desserts for Breakfast.
An awesome law school friend had the brilliant idea of hosting a western-themed murder mystery dinner party for her birthday. In lieu of a present, I volunteered to bake her a birthday cake (I think its slightly sad to buy your own birthday cake, though that’s never really stopped me). Her stated preference was for a cake “as chocolatey as possible.” The clean plates and lack of leftovers make me think that this cake definitely delivered.
This is the same cake I made last January for another birthday. I knew that it was excellent, moist, and incredibly chocolatey, so I decided to make it again.
Makes an 8-inch triple-layer cake; serves 12 to 16 (roughly a hungry dinner party)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup neutral vegetable oil, such as canola, soybean or vegetable blend
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Step one is more of an art project than cooking. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper: trace the bottom of a cake pan onto your paper and cut out one round per layer.
Butter the sides and bottom of your cake pans, put the paper into the pans, and butter the paper.
Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk your dry ingredients to combine them well.
Begin to add your wet ingredients to the mixed dry ingredients. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla.
Add your eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well mixed.
Divide among the 3 prepared cake pans. [You really should use three cake pans, but I only had two. The pans barely didn’t overflow.]
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes.
Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely. Cut the sides of the cake so that they are vertical for decorating purposes. I tried the internet trick of putting a slice of bread on the cooling cake. Once the cake is cool, wrap the layers in saran wrap and stick them in the freezer while you make the frosting.
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar (I ended up using another cup)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 pound bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped (I used chocolate chips because YOLO)
Longest minute of my life.
Whisk just until combined. Refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until spreadable, about 1 hour.
After an hour in the refrigerator, my ganache was still was not spreadable. This possibly has to do with how hot it was that day. Because I was running out of time, I whisked in more powdered sugar (eventually about a cup I think). Possibly not as chocolately, but it was still delicious.
Smitten Kitchen’s layer cake tips are excellent and where I picked up a lot of my tricks.
Remove your cake layers from the freezer. Place the bottom layer on your tray or cake stand. Put small pieces of parchment paper or wax paper under the edge of the cake (this keeps your tray clean). Frost the top of your bottom layer.
Carefully stack the next layer with the help of an offset spatula.
Continue stacking and frosting until your cake is assembled.
Frost a crumb layer on the top and sides of the cake. A crumb layer is basically a layer of frosting that covers all of the crumbs and makes them stick to the cake. If you have time, put the cake into the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes. Then frost a nice layer on top of the crumb layer.
Carefully remove the wax or parchment paper and clean your tray or cake plate.
For this dinner party, number candles were the final touch.
This face made spending a hot afternoon in the kitchen all worth it.