I don’t tend to say it out loud, but I like going out of my way to do things for my Dad, big or small. That’s why despite having zero experience and practice in making real layer cakes, I stubbornly pushed through with this one. I wanted to make him a birthday cake. A few open cookbooks later, I decided on one of the most elegant-looking cakes in Dorie Greenspan’s wonderful cookbook.
It’s become such a habit for me to pick a Dorie Greenspan recipe whenever I’m baking something for the first time. I have had much success using her recipes; but I turn to her mostly because I like the way she gives instructions. Dorie is like the baker aunt I never had. She always manages to give me a nudge in the right direction somehow. Is that odd?
However, attempting this recipe was more emotionally taxing than anything else. Most idle moments leading up to making this cake felt like a film strip of all things that could go wrong playing over and over in my head. I kept wanting to make everything perfect and beautiful and so I ended up subconsciously pressuring myself. I guess I just wanted to do this small thing for my Father to show him how much I appreciate all that he has done and given me, or us.
To be honest, I don’t think it mattered much to my Papa how the cake looked, as long as it tasted good, and as long as he knows I worked hard on it. And as long as it still looks like a cake somehow, I guess. And this cake was all sorts of great despite my lack of talent (I swear I will change that). It was light and not too sweet, with both chocolate frostings/fillings complementing the mild Vanilla Buttermilk Cake base. Special thanks is in order to our fridge for making my, um… thing look like a cake. 🙂
As is my habit, whenever I’m about to tackle anything new, whether related to baking or not, I always try to look for any advice from others to ease the whole process, and to avoid any possible mistakes I might encounter along the way. Come to think of it, reading other people’s experiences on making this cake made me a tad nervous about making the White Chocolate Frosting. Almost all the blogs I visited talked about the dangers of over-whipping the thing, and images of disastrously separated frosting started haunting me in my sleep. But their consensus was that this was one great-tasting cake, so there was nothing else to do but push on.
I divided the making of the cake into two days. I made the Dark Chocolate Cream first, and it was really easy. I had no problems whatsoever with the whole egg-tempering process since I’ve done it before. I used Lindt Excellence Thins 70% Cacao because it’s just easier to melt them, thin as they are and already cut into squares.
The result is a pudding-like chocolate cream that is thick and luscious and already divine in its own right. The other bloggers were not kidding when they said they could eat this out of the bowl. Being the massive lover of dark chocolate that I am, I certainly relished the opportunity to lick the spoon! Erm, I meant whisk.
Now, I knew that I had to make the White Chocolate Frosting I so feared some time soon, so two days later, I threw all of my apprehensions out the window and proceeded. I went into it with a lot of nerves, but with the belief that I would know when it would be time enough to turn the mixer off. And quite frankly, I very nearly over-whipped my frosting to the point of no return.
When my frosting began to thicken, and the whisk began leaving solid trails on the surface of the mixture, my instinct was telling me this was probably enough mixing. At this point, the frosting was looking so perfect too! But I kept mixing and mixing because I had the image of stiff egg white peaks in my mind to the “firm peaks” Dorie was referring to in her book. Once the frosting started becoming grainy, my heart skipped a beat and I stopped the mixer immediately. I nearly cried in dismay!
Instead of the smoothness that was right in a frosting, mine started clumping together, looking rather rough and lumpy. But because I thought it was still frost-able, and because it was so tasty, I put on the plastic wrap and popped the bowl into the fridge, hoping for some sort of refrigeration miracle. I just couldn’t bear wasting good white chocolate and cream. Lesson learned: Trust my instincts.
Seeing both my dark and white chocolate cream components resting in the fridge immediately gave me a sense of excitement. All the tension just went out of me, and for the first time since starting the cake, I told myself to relax and just enjoy the ride. Whatever mistakes I made here would be learning experiences that will help me make a bigger and better cake for my Dad next year.
But before I could get way ahead of myself, I had to finish this one first. Next up, the cake base. I remember thinking, Thank goodness, something I’m good at! Something I won’t mess up!
Until I realised I baked the cake without adding the vanilla in. So much for the vanilla part of this Vanilla Buttermilk Cake. I only realized this while I un-molded my cakes for cooling. So that’s why I couldn’t lose the nagging feeling I started having the moment I popped my batter into the oven.
Seriously. What the heck happened to me back there?!
Upon assembling the cake, the first mistake I made was not cutting the tops of my cakes so that my layers would look meticulously even. Then again, these cakes are so thin I was afraid that I would break them into pieces if I performed any more surgery than I already did cutting them in half. The cutting in half part wasn’t as difficult as I was expecting, as long as one is armed with a long enough serrated knife.
I thought the thinness of the cakes was just perfect, given that layers of filling and frosting were still to be applied to the cake for added height. Cutting the cake into more layers just seems to make it look more impressive, and gives the illusion that it is a taller cake than it actually is.
Dorie says that the Dark Chocolate Cream makes a lot more than is needed to fill the cake, and then other bloggers= mentioned that the White Chocolate Frosting was not enough to frost the entire cake and be used for a layer of filling, as instructed. So I made the decision of not filling my cake layer with White Chocolate Frosting anymore and instead, filled them all with the Dark Chocolate Cream. I don’t like White Chocolate all that much so imagine how this made me feel!
I applied a crumb coating to the best of my abilities in applying grainy frostings. I imagine it would have been easier were my frosting smooth, but it’s fairly pointless to contemplate on it at that point. After applying my ugly grainy frosting, which I thought was fairly obvious, I decided to add chocolate shavings to cover it up. I think that did the job and made the cake look… Tolerable.
This would have been a marvel had I been able to pull it off properly.
Many bloggers suggested letting the cake rest overnight because this gives the flavours time to marry, which in turn makes for a more delicious cake. I timed everything perfectly so that I could get this overnight resting period, knowing that I needed all the help I could gather to make this cake as amazing as I wished it to be. But you know what? At the end of the day, the cake, despite looking quite lopsided and uneven on the inside, wasn’t as bad as I thought. In fact, it tasted fantastic, if I do say so myself.
I rearranged the original procedure for the recipe in a way that fit my schedule, however you can follow Dorie’s instructions to a T if you wish. If you’re breaking the recipe into several days (which is rather advisable) and making the cake base first as instructed, you may wrap the cakes in several layers of plastic wrap and freeze them until you are ready to frost.
The Dark Chocolate Cream can be refrigerated for several days and whipped vigorously to a spreadable consistency once you are ready to assemble your cake. Though I didn’t refrigerate my White Chocolate Frosting any more than 8 hours, I’m certain overnight refrigeration is fine as well– just make sure not to over-whip it when loosening it for assembly.
For the Cake
- 2 cups cake flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1-1/4 sticks, 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup buttermilk *
For the Dark Chocolate Cream
- 2 cups whole milk
- 4 large egg yolks
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
- 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 5 pieces, at room temperature
For the White Chocolate Whipped Cream
- 6 ounces premium-quality white chocolate, finely chopped
- 1-1/2 cups heavy cream
- Chocolate shavings or curls, dark or white or a combination, for decoration (optional)
To make the cake
- 1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9-x-2-inch round cake pans, dust the insides with flour, tap out the excess and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.
- 2. Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- 3. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, and then the yolk, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla; don’t be concerned if the mixture looks curdled.
- 4. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, adding the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the milk in 2 (begin and end with the dry ingredients); scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and mix only until the ingredients disappear into the batter. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
- 5. Bake for 28 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans at the midway point. When fully baked, the cakes will be golden and springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the centers will come out clean. Transfer the cakes to a rack and cool for about 5 minutes, then unmold, remove the paper and invert to cool to room temperature right side up on the rack.
To Make the Dark Chocolate Cream
- 6. Bring the milk to a boil.
- 7. Meanwhile, in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar, cornstarch and salt until thick and well blended. Whisking without stopping, drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the hot milk – this will temper, or warm, the yolks so they won’t curdle – then, still whisking, add the remainder of the milk in a steady stream.
- 8. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, constantly and thoroughly (make sure to get into the edges of the pan), bring the mixture to a boil. Keep at a boil, still whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
- 9. Whisk in the melted chocolate, and let stand for 5 minutes. Then whisk in the pieces of butter, stirring until they are fully incorporated and the chocolate cream is smooth and silky.
- 10. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream to create an airtight seal and refrigerate the cream until chilled, or for up to 3 days. Or, if you want to cool the cream quickly, put the bowl with the cream into a large bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water and stir the cream occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes.
To make the White Chocolate Whipped Cream
- 11. Put the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl and put the bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water. Stir frequently to melt the chocolate evenly.
- 12. Meanwhile, bring 1/2 cup of the heavy cream to a boil.
- 13. When the white chocolate is melted, remove the bowl from the pan. Pour the hot cream into the melted chocolate and let it sit for a minute. Using a small spatula, stir the chocolate gently until it is smooth. Let it sit on the counter until it reaches room temperature – it can’t be the least bit warm when you add it to the whipped cream.
- 14. Working with the stand mixer with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the remaining 1 cup heavy cream only until it holds the softest peaks. Turn the machine to high, add the cooled white chocolate all at once and continue to beat until the whipped cream holds firm peaks.
- 15. Turn the whipped cream into a bowl, press a piece of plastic wrap gently against the surface to create an airtight seal and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 6 hours.
To assemble the cake
- 16. If the tops of the cake layers have crowned, use a long serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to even them. Slice each layer horizontally in half. Place one layer cut side down on a cardboard cake round or on a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.
- 17. Remove the dark and white chocolate creams from the refrigerator and whisk each of them vigorously to loosen and smooth them.
- 18. With a long metal icing spatula, spread enough dark chocolate cream (about 1 cup) over the cake layer to cover it completely. Top the cream with another cake layer, cut side up, and cover this layer with white chocolate whipped cream, making the white layer about the same thickness as the dark layer. Cover with a third layer, cut side up, and cover with another cup or so of the dark chocolate cream. (You’ll have some dark chocolate cream left over – use it as a dip for madeleines or sables.)
- 19. Top with the final layer of cake, cut side down, and frost the sides and top with the remaining white chocolate whipped cream. If you’d like to decorate the top with chocolate shavings or curls, do it now. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or overnight.
- To serve: Remove the cake from the fridge about 20 minutes before serving. Use a serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to cut it. Though the cake is particularly good with coffee or tea, it also goes well with a sweet or sparkling dessert wine.
- Storage: While both the dark chocolate cream and white chocolate cream can be made ahead and kept tightly covered in the refrigerator, once assembled, the cake is best after about 3 hours in the fridge. However, it can be refrigerated overnight – just cover it loosely and keep it away from foods with strong odors.