22 June 2015

Eats: chocolate chip wedding cake with strawberries and chocolate ganache, part one

Just when you think I’m done with wedding week (an extended one, at that)... I’m back this week to talk about our anniversary. I know! I’ve commandeered the entire month of June to discuss wedding-related things! But I promise... even if you aren’t celebrating an anniversary this month, even if you aren’t married, even if you’re never getting married, you’re gonna like these posts this week. Because we are gonna talk about CAKE.

Perhaps you remember my plan to bake a cake every year for our anniversary? It started with our second anniversary, when I made the most epic strawberry cake known to man.

Our third anniversary I skipped because we were in Mexico, and our fourth anniversary, I made this salted caramel cheesecake (but didn’t blog about it at the time). But this year, for our fifth anniversary, I decided to do a throwback to our first.

Remember the first anniversary cake? Our baker recreated one of our wedding cake flavors – chocolate chip cake with strawberries and chocolate ganache, topped with buttercream icing and NO FONDANT – and gave us an anniversary cake for our first anniversary. This year, I decided to try my hand at it!

To do that, I cobbled together a few recipes, and today we’re going to just focus on one, which is the cake. I used this recipe and did my best to follow the directions, both in the post and in the comments, and of course this was very hard for me to do. But even with my few deviations it turned out pretty great!

In the spirit of following directions, I did indeed let my eggs – five, YES FIVE – and butter – two sticks – come to room temperature before I started. That right there tells you the kind of recipe this is: a little finicky and very, very fattening. Let’s do this anyway!

We start with those two sticks of butter. They get balanced out with... half a cup of vegetable shortening. (I know. I’m sorry.) They get mixed together on medium speed with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer until fluffy. It’s amazing how fluffy it can get!

Then add three cups of white sugar half a cup at a time, beating for at least half a minute to a minute after each addition (about four minutes total, the source suggests).

While the sugar and butter are creaming together, take a little time out if you – like me – keep neither whole milk nor buttermilk in your house. The recipe calls for both, and I had neither, but I did have heavy cream (40% milkfat), 1% milk, and lemon juice. I used the old trick of adding lemon juice to milk to make it buttermilk; half a tablespoon will do for one cup. Then to make it 10% milk, which is typical of “whole milk” milkfat, I tapped my chemistry knowledge (good ol’ C1V1=C2V2!) and added 1/4 cup of cream and 3/4 cup 1% milk to the 1/2 tablespoon of lemon juice.

Don’t forget to stir the buttermilk mixture occasionally until it’s added! Otherwise it might curdle if the acid isn’t evenly distributed.

Back at the mixer, start adding those room temperature eggs one at a time, mixing after each one. But don’t mix TOO much, or the cake gets tough! I think I did about 30 seconds of mixing after each.

Note that because whole eggs are used, instead of just egg whites, this can’t technically be called a true white cake – see how the batter is tinged a bit yellow? But it’s close enough for almost all purposes, including a wedding!

Now it’s time for dry ingredients – in a third bowl, if you’re keeping track. Because it’s my wedding anniversary, that means it’s also the anniversary of using my sifter. I actually got the rusted thing out to sift together three cups of flour, two teaspoons of baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

(PS I learned from Joy the Baker that you only use baking powder when there’s not an acidic component to the baking mixture; otherwise you use baking soda. Since the buttermilk is acidic, I’m not sure why baking powder is used here. Just another chemistry tidbit to ponder!)

You know, it’s too bad I don’t sift things more often. A pile of sifted flour really is quite pretty.

Set that pretty flour aside and turn your attention to that buttermilk. It needs two teaspoons of vanilla extract, and if you’re trying to be fancy and keep your white cake white, get the clear vanilla extract.

I mean, if you’re buying imitation anyway (like me), there’s no need for that faux caramel color.

Okay! Now gather all your bowls together – your milk and vanilla mixture, your sifted flour, your butter/sugar mixture. Add a cup of flour to the butter, mix, then add the milk mixture, mix, and repeat. Alternately add the dry and wet ingredients, beginning and ending with dry ingredients, until it’s all mixed together. (Though again, take care not to overbeat!)

Now! If you just want a white cake, you are DONE with the cake batter. But perhaps you noticed above that our wedding cake was a chocolate chip cake – and so I went off-recipe and got these:

The important this is not how fancy the chocolate is, but rather that the chips are mini. They are less likely to sink to the bottom than regular chocolate chips since they’re teensy.

I have no idea how much I added. A few handfuls? Maybe half that package? Until it looked good? All of those things.

Note that this batter is really quite thick – it’s not the kind you could pour into a pan, more like spoon in and spread around.

I ultimately wanted four layers for this cake, but I only have two pans, so I greased them with cooking spray before filling and set the rest of the batter aside.

But here’s where I want to tell you to grease the pans WELL. So very well. I feel like parchment isn’t necessary, just really make sure the pan is super slick.

The other thing to consider before popping the pan into that 350-degree oven: even if you are baking four layers instead of three, you still need to bake for the full 25-30 minutes. Do not go off to nurse your baby and ask Mr. P to take it out of the oven after 20 minutes, then dig around to find it’s not done, then put it back in for five minute intervals in which apparently nothing actually bakes. It ends up staying mushy in the center:

And straight-up impossible to get out of the pan without breaking it apart.

Ah well. The good thing about that was, no one can tell in a layer cake anyway, and since I had to bake two more layers, I made sure to let it go the full 25-30 minutes. Those layers turned out wonderfully!

Yes, the lighting’s bad (this cake was such a LONG ORDEAL, the Earth ROTATED ON ITS AXIS) but I think you get the idea.

And with that we have... cake! But no frosting, or fresh strawberries, or ganache. Just like the cake itself, telling how to make the cake requires several days. Stay tuned!