When I was young, all my friends wanted yellow cake with chocolate frosting for their birthday cakes. And like children across the country, they wanted gobs and gobs of frosting. I was the odd one that preferred vanilla and citrus flavors and liked the cake more than the icing.
What was your favorite birthday cake as a child? Is it still the cake you ask for today?
This was also The Artist’s favorite combination. He was very excited when I told him what I was making for Chocolate Monday this week. He shouted, “Oh Boy,” with a huge smile on his face. I knew I had a winner before I even started baking!
The cake gets its lovely color from including whole eggs instead of just egg whites. This also adds a richness and smoothness that is undeniably delicious. A bit lighter than the traditional pound cake, this is perfect for any occasion and especially birthdays. This cake has a lovely crumb, delicate texture and flavor, and would be the perfect foil for any flavor frosting that you like. I think caramel or coconut icing would be fantastic on it too!
This made enough ganache to thoroughly coat a single layer and would be plenty to create nice drips on a double layer too. When you start stirring the melting chocolate and cream, it will be very pale. Keep whisking and be patient, in about a minute it will be a heavenly, deep brown and perfect for pouring.
This recipe makes a single layer, which is perfect for The Artist and me, but if you want a multi-layer cake or are serving more people, this recipe easily doubles. Just prepare two cake pans instead of one, divide the batter evenly between them, and make sure the cakes are thoroughly cooled before frosting them. You can bake them a day or two ahead, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.
The cake has a very delicate flavor that lets the chocolate ganache frosting really shine. Because of this, splurge a little and buy a better quality chocolate to make it. Many stores these days sell oddly shaped chunks of chocolate that are the result of processing at the chocolate factory. Some of the brands I have seen are Valrhona, El Rey, and Callebaut. You can often get great deals on outstanding chocolate this way. All you need is a sharp knife to chop it into smaller pieces or you can take it all the way to small, chip-sized pieces.
Another ingredient you don’t want to skimp on is the vanilla. You should always be using pure vanilla extract and NEVER imitation vanilla. I know it is expensive, but it is worth it because you use so little each time and the intensity of flavor is unbelievable. Once you try the real thing you will never be satisfied with imitation again.
I have two favorite vanilla makers. If you love supporting small businesses, believe in fair trade policy, and sustainable practices are important to you, take a look at The Vanilla Queen’s products. In addition to vanilla extract, you can also buy sugars, beans, powders and paste at wholesale prices! This is the place to find incredibly high quality products at the best price!! By the way, a big thank you to Thomas Jefferson for introducing vanilla to America!
Patricia Rain, the lovely woman behind the company, has dedicated her life to learning about vanilla and sharing that knowledge with us. Her first book, The Vanilla Chef Cookbook (available on her website) tells us the history of the bean and includes more than 130 recipes. I bought this book many years ago, long before I got to know Patricia and still use it as a reference source when writing articles. This book is now out of print but there are a few copies still available through Patricia’s site. Her second book, VANILLA: The Cultural History of the World’s Favorite Flavor is also available and tells us the whole history of vanilla from early Mesoamerica to the present. Both books and Patricia’s products make wonderful gifts for the bakers in your life.
Nielsen-Massey makes my other favorite vanilla. It is readily available at most grocery stores and gourmet shops. It is high quality, very consistent and dependable, an excellent choice. In addition to vanilla, Nielsen-Massey offers a large line of other flavors including almond extract, chocolate extract, peppermint extract, as well as orange blossom and rose water. If you are a professional or buy in bulk, they cater to your requirements as well.
The next time you have a reason to bake a cake, I hope you have this one on your list. It never fails to please and I promise it will bring back happy memories from your youth.
Happy Chocolate Monday!
For a more assertive flavor and texture, you can substitute 1/2 cup of almond meal for 1/2 cup of the flour blend.
Kitchen Skill: Flipping a Cake out of its Pan
If you are a beginning baker this step in a recipe can cause panic and anxiety. There are three ways to do this safely. The first is to have your cooling rack on the counter, and grabbing the cake pan with both hands (with hot pads), thumbs on the bottom, very quickly and decisively flip the pan onto the rack. Lift the pan off the cake.
The second method is to flip it out onto your hand. To do this cover both hands with oven mitts. Hold the pan with one hand and gently place your other hand on top of the cake. Flip the pan upside down being very careful not to burn your other hand or forearm with the hot pan. Carefully transfer the cake to the cooling rack.
The third way is to place the rack on top of the cake pan and holding both the pan and the rack, flip them over together. If you have small hands like I do, this can be challenging and is easiest if you have round cooling racks that fit closely to the size of your pan.
- 1-1/2 cups King Arthur GF Multi-Purpose Flour* or the alternate gluten-free flour blend (recipe follows)
- 1 tsp xanthan gum*
- 2 tbsp King Arthur Cake Enhancer** optional (it is GF)
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 6 tbsp butter, softened
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs, divided
- 1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
- Chocolate Ganache Frosting
- 6 oz chopped milk or semisweet chocolate
- 3 oz (6 tbsp) heavy cream
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan. Line pan with parchment paper and grease the parchment. The parchment will help the cake release from the pan easily and reduce the risk of crumbling. Set aside.
- Make the Cake: In a small bowl, combine the flour blend, xanthan gum, and cake enhancer (if using). Set aside.
- In the mixing bowl of your standing mixer, combine the sugar, butter, salt, baking powder, and vanilla. Beat together until smooth. Add 1 egg and beat on high speed for 1 minute until fluffy. Stop the mixer and scrap down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula and add the other egg. Beat until fluffy, about 1 minute in a heavy-duty mixer. Scrape the bowl again.
- Add the dry ingredients alternately with the milk. Start by adding about 1/3 of the dry ingredients and beat until smooth. Add half of the milk and continue beating - don’t be surprised if the mix looks a bit curdled, that is OK. Add another 1/3 of the dry ingredients, beat in and then the remaining milk. Finish with the rest of the dry ingredients and beat until smooth. Don’t be surprised if the batter is heavy, this is normal.
- Transfer the batter into prepared pan and smooth the top with an off-set spatula, spreading and pushing the batter to the edges. Bake in preheated oven for about 25 to 30 minutes. You want to bake the cake about 3 to 4 minutes past the point where it springs back when touched lightly in the center and a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean; this extended bake time will help prevent gumminess. The finished cake’s internal temperature should be about 210°F. Use an instant read thermometer to measure the internal temperature.
- Remove pan from the oven and set on a cooling rack. After 10 minutes, loosen the edges of the cake from the pan and turn it out onto a wire rack. Peel off the parchment paper and let cool completely.
- Make the Frosting: Place the chocolate and milk in a microwave bowl or small saucepan.
- Heat until the cream is very hot and steaming, 30 seconds at a time. Small bubbles may form around the edges. Carefully whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. This will start out pale, but keep whisking and it will eventually come together and be glossy.
- Frost the Cake: Move the cake to a serving plate. Stir the chocolate frosting and starting in the center of the cake layer, pour the frosting over the cake. Use a spatula to gently nudge the frosting to the edges and let it spill over the sides. You can either leave the edges with the streaks of frosting (my preference), or you can use the spatula to smooth them out, covering the whole cake.
- Slice and enjoy! For the prettiest slices, set the cake in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to let the ganache firm up slightly before slicing.
- If you prefer cupcakes, this should make 12 cupcakes. Bake them about 20 to 25 minutes.
- Yield: 1 single layer cake (double recipe for a 2-layer cake)
- * If you are not baking gluten-free, replace the gluten-free flour and xanthan gum with unbleached all-purpose wheat flour.
- ** The cake enhancer is not necessary but helps with moistness and keeping qualities. Always a benefit, it is especially helpful in gluten-free baking.
- 6 cups (32 oz) stabilized brown rice flour
- 2 cups (10-3/4 oz) potato starch
- 1 cup (4 oz) tapioca flour or tapioca starch
- Whisk all ingredients together. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
- Yield: 9 cups