Thursday, April 22, 2010

How to Celebrate with Chocolate Cake(s)

Pistachio Petit Four Cake - for my 31st. birthday

It seems like it was just yesterday M drove me to the hospital, one early morning. We thought we were just going for a scheduled check-up - but then again, some sort of something had started during the night, and I wasn't quite sure, is this contractions and am I...? Turned out, M missed his meeting. We never got the bring "the bag". Or park the car in the right place. It went fast, and out came one little wrinkly, dark-haired, big, fantastic baby boy.

And that's it. All of a sudden we were parents. A Mom and a Dad. Two days later, late in the evening, M drove the three of us back again. He's never driven that slow before either. A new family.

Mile-High Devil's Food Cake - for the Maternity Group

Oh my, oh me. People, it's been six months. That's half of an entire year. And my - our - baby boy is growing up so fast it's all we can do to try and keep up.

It's a whirlwind. It's crazy and amazing and breathtaking and scary as s***. It's huge, enormous even, it's taking over everything - taking up my time, my heart, my every thought. And it's all okay, it's as it should be. Somehow, it's all very natural.

At one point, I got back to thinking about food. Which, happily, coincided with getting time to cook - and bake - some, too. Also, it seemed the camera had been glued to a baby smile - taking photos of food again took some readjusting.

It's not that I believe you have to have excuses for baking a cake, but it seems that lately, there's been cause for celebration. Within the last couple of months, four three-layered chocolate cakes have come from my kitchen.

Triple Chocolate Fudge Cake - for the Babyshower

First, pre-baby: Triple Chocolate Fudge Cake. It was served at the babyshower my Mom and Sister threw me, and it was awesome. Even better the next day, if I may say so.

Then, a Pistachio Petit Four Cake for my 31st. birthday back in the middle of February. Ooooh, so pretty (and so expensive! Shelled pistachios cost an arm and a leg around here. But worth it)

Not long after that, I made a Mile-High Devil's Food Cake for my Maternity Group (we're 6 mothers and babies in total) because, you know, new mothers and chocolate cake go hand in hand, and motherhood should be celebrated! Also, we need chocolate, to make us forget the hours we don't sleep.

Last, but by no means least, one of my best friends is getting married in a couple of weeks and we threw her a "Hen's Afternoon" (instead of night - she's pregnant) which included a Chocolate-Hazelnut Gianduja Cake.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Gianduja Cake - for P's "Hen Afternoon"

There's always a reason for chocolate cake...

There may be a lot of my cookbooks I don't use regulary, but my copy of Sky High is just about to stick to the countertop! I'm not the first to have that happening - Deb from Smitten Kitchen is a die-hard fan, as is a whole host of people from The Cake Slice Bakers. So I'll take the liberty of linking to their write-up of a couple of the recipes, and just put my notes here - that way, you even get more people telling you to just go out and buy "Sky High - Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes" by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne, already! ;)

Pistachio Petit Four Cake - recipe link here (from Smitten Kitchen)

My notes:
  • I baked the layers the cakes the day before I assembled the cake
  • I used storebought marzipan and made the roses in the morning - it took a wee while longer than anticipated, so I may just leave them out another time, or start well ahead of time
  • Was I to make this cake again, I may just assemble it a day or even two in advance. It seemed the flavors gained from this, complementing each other much more so, than when just assembled.
  • I may just use bittersweet (not extra-bittersweet) chocolate in the frosting - I thought the chocolate nearly over-powered the taste of pistachios in the cake
Mile-High Devil's Food Cake - recipe link here (from A Whisk & A Spoon - at the bottom there's a link to a printable recipe)

My notes:
  • I thought the brown sugar buttercream waaaaaay to buttery, but seeing the photos from others who've made it, I'm thinking I must have done something wrong - mine looks nothing like theirs. Mine was more hard and grainy - maybe I didn't whip it enough? It was tasty, but sort of left a buttery film on the roof of your mouth - not the texture I was expecting. Could have something to do with me downsizing the measurements, too. Guess I have to give it another try
  • The cakes were baked in advance, sans problems. A really nice cake, just as is, as well
Triple Chocolate Fudge Cake - recipe link here (from Apple & Spice)

My notes:
  • Only make the frosting right before you need it. It's a pain to try and get the right texture again later on.
  • Cakes and white chocolate mousee could easily be made a day in advance
And, finally, here's the:

Chocolate-Hazelnut Gianduja Cake

For the cake:
½ c. hazelnuts
1 1/4 c. sugar
1 1/3 c. cake flour
1 t. baking powder
½ t. salt
6 eggs, separated
3 T. hazelnut oil
1/3 c. water
1/4 t. cream of tartar

For the vanilla syrup
1/3 c. sugar
2/3 c. water
half a vanilla bean

For the frosting
8 oz. gianduja chocolate, coarsely chopped
2½ c. heavy cream

Spread out the hazelnuts in a small baking pan. Toast them in a 350 degrees F preheated oven for 7-10 minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned. When done, put them in a tea towel and rub of the skins. Allow to cool. Set half aside for garnish. Leave the oven on for the cakes.

Line the bottoms of three 8-inch round cake pans with rounds of parchment paper - do not grease the pans.

Place 1/4 c. of the toasted nuts in the bowl of a food processor with 1 c. of the sugar. Pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Transfer to a large bowl, and sift the flour, baking powder and salt over the nuts. Stir and then, using a whisk, blend in the egg yolks, hazelnut oil and water.

Put the egg whites and cream of tartar in a large mixing bowl and with the mixer on medium, whip until frothy. Add the remaining 1/4 c. sugar in a slow, steady stream and beat until soft peaks form (you don't want stiff peaks, as that will make the cake dry)

Add one fourth of the egg whites to the batter, folding them in gently. Fold in the rest of the egg whites and divide the batter among the three prepared pans. (I only have two pans that are the right size, so I leave the last third of the batter in the fridge until the first batch has cooled and is removed from the pans. It's a tip the authors give in the start of the book, and I haven't noticed any difference in the finished product when doing this.) Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool completely in the pans, then run a blunt knife around the edge of the cake and turn them out onto a wire rack. Peel of papers.

Combine sugar, water and the scraped out seeds of the vanilla bean in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce to 2/3 c, then remove from the heat. Cool completely before using.

Melt the chocolate and 1/2 c. of the cream in a double boiler (or as I did, in the microwave) remove from the heat and stir until smooth. Let cool to room temperature, but do not allow to set. (I melted the chocolate with the cream, then stirred in Nutella, and things started looking a little grainy. It didn't affect the end result though.
Whip the rest of the cream until almost stiff, the fold into the chocolate. Use frosting immediately.

Assembling the cake:
Place one layer, flat side up on the dish you want to serve it on. Brush about 3 tablespoons of the syrup over the layer. Spread 1 cup of frosting on top of this, then repeat with the next layer. For the third and final layer, moisten with remaining syrup. Cover the top and sides of the cake with the rest of the frosting and decorate with reserved hazelnuts.

My notes
  • Again, baked the cakes in advance
  • It was impossible for me to get a hold of gianduja chocolate - so why make the cake in the first place? you may ask - well, I wanted to. So I figured I'd just use 1/3 (weight) Nutella in the frosting and that way get some hazelnutty goodness. Hm. I don't remember having tried gianduja chocolate, so it wouldn't be fair of me to say whether my substitution ended up anything like the real thing, but it didn't taste remotely like hazelnuts. Next time, I may try using nougat (the Danish kind is sort of like a paste) instead. Or find the real chocolate
  • Assembled the cake and went off to the shindig - the frosting is like chocolate mousse, so I definitely wouldn't want to make it too long before using it, but it kept up beautifully
More cake photos? See my Flickr set here