It made sense to start my blog with the first cake that I was commissioned to make. This was a birthday cake for a friend back in February. The brief was simple – my friend wanted a cake for her husband and it should contain chocolate and fruit. As she has a 3-year old daughter I was conscious of not making the cake too sweet as well. I spent hours researching the chocolate cake base and how I wanted to decorate the cake. I tested about four different cake recipes in just over a week including a chocolate yoghurt cake from Leiths Baking Bible (too dry, but I might have over-baked it) and the chocolate buttermilk cake recipe from Tea with Bea. The runner-up base was the chocolate cupcake portion of the recipe for black bottom cupcakes from Joy of Baking – I divided the mixture into two 8″ sandwich pans and baked for 30-35 minutes at 170°C.
Eventually I settled on the Devil’s food cake recipe by David Lebovitz – lovely and moist with just the right amount of chocolatey goodness. I adapted the recipe slightly by changing the sugar content – I’m a big fan of using brown and muscovado sugars in my cakes as I love the extra depth of flavour that they add. For this cake I used a mixture of caster, golden caster and light brown sugar but if I were making a pure chocolate cake with chocolate frosting or ganache I would use half caster and half light muscovado sugar instead.
With the base sorted I then had to decide on the filling and frosting. For a trial run I sandwiched a layer of sliced fresh strawberries and raspberry buttercream between the cake layers and topped the cake with a layer of chocolate ganache but there was too much movement between the layers and it didn’t look impressive enough. So it was back to the drawing board and luckily I found Mary Berry’s chocolate creation showstopper recipe that utilised a very beautiful chocolate lace collar surrounding the cake. When I saw the picture my first thought was “That’s perfect! I’m definitely going to try that!”. My next thought was “Will I be able to pull it off? Eeek!”. I had also decided that I didn’t want to put fresh fruit in the middle of the cake so I chose to use a berry compote and vanilla buttercream instead.
The finished product is the best-looking cake I’ve produced so far and I was really proud of myself. It was a real confidence boost to know that I actually had the ability to make something look pretty. OK, so it wasn’t perfect – there were some issues with the chocolate collar breaking due to my impatience, which meant I had to do some repair work using a hairdryer and a spare section of chocolate lace that I had made for just such an emergency. The final cake had the wow factor that I was looking for and more importantly my friend and her family seemed to like it!
Devil's Food Cake - (adapted from David Lebovitz) 9 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder 1½ cups (approximately 185g) cake flour (or plain flour with 3 tablespoons replaced with corn flour, well-sifted together) ½ teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda ¼ teaspoon baking powder 115g unsalted butter, at room temperature 50g golden caster sugar 100g light brown soft sugar 140g caster sugar 2 large eggs, at room temperature ½ cup (125ml) water + ½ cup (125ml) milk Vanilla buttercream 200g unsalted butter, at room temperature 1 cup (125g) icing sugar 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract 2 tablespoons milk Berry compote 50g strawberries, fresh or frozen 50g raspberries, fresh or frozen granulated sugar to taste 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1 teaspoon corn flour Chocolate lace collar 200g plain chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
For the cake:
- Grease and line the base of 2 x 8″ (20cm) sandwich pan. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (for fan-assisted ovens pre-heat to 170ºC).
- Sift together cocoa powder, flour, salt , bicarbonate of soda and baking powder in a bowl and mix well with a whisk.
- Using an electric mixer beat together butter and sugars on high speed for about 5 minutes until smooth and creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat until fully incorporated.
- Mix together water and milk.
- Stir in half of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture and beat until combined. Next add the milk mixture, beating until incorporated. Finally add the remaining dry ingredients and stir until smooth. Split the batter between the prepared pans. To prevent dome tops, swirl the batter in the pan so that the batter coats the sides slightly above the level of the batter – this will give the cake something to cling on to as it rises and should result in a more level top.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tins for about 5 minutes before turning out and placing onto a wire rack to cool.
For the buttercream:
- Using an electric mixer or electric whisk, beat the butter and sugar until the mixture is lightened in colour and fluffy in texture.
- Beat in the vanilla extract and milk.
For the berry compote:
- Place all ingredients into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer until the berries have broken down and the sauce has thickened slightly (approximately 15 minutes).
- Add the corn flour and mix well. Simmer for a further 5-10 minutes. Leave to cool.
Assemble the cake:
- Ensure the cakes have completely cooled before starting. Level the tops of each cake if necessary. Spread a thick layer of berry compote on the top side of the cake that will form the bottom layer and on the bottom side of the cake that will form the top layer of the finished cake. If you wish to have a four-layered cake simply cut each of the cakes in half horizontally and spread the berry compote between each layer.
- Build up the cake by spreading a layer of buttercream over the berry layer of the bottom piece then place the next layer on top and repeat the process until you’ve placed the final layer on top.
- Spread a thin layer of buttercream over the top and sides of the assembled cake to form a crumb coat. Next spread a thicker layer of buttercream as evenly as possible but don’t worry about getting it completely smooth.
- Set the cake aside while you prepare the chocolate lace collar.
For the chocolate lace collar:
- Break 150g of the plain chocolate into a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until the chocolate reaches a melting temperature of 45°C (115ºF) – use a kitchen thermometer to check. Remove the bowl from the heat, add the remaining 50g of chocolate, chopped into pieces, and stir until the chocolate has cooled to 31ºC (90ºF).
- Cut a strip of greaseproof paper or acetate about 10 x 70cm (4 x 28 inch). Place the strip on a work surface.
- Pour the chocolate into a piping bag fitted with a writing nozzle and let the chocolate fall out of the bag while swirling up and down the strip of greaseproof paper or acetate creating a lace effect. Don’t worry if the chocolate falls outside the edges of the paper, just be sure to move them before they set so that they don’t stick to the work surface. If you have chocolate to spare make a couple of shorter sections of lace for emergency purposes. Leave to cool until just set and firm enough to wrap around the cake, leaving the greaseproof paper or acetate (about least 15 minutes). If the lace collar breaks during handling, just re-melt the chocolate slightly using a hairdryer and hold the sections in place until they have set again.
- Once fully set (about 1 hour), remove the greaseproof paper or acetate – you can peel back a small section first to check. If the paper or acetate does not peel back easily leave for another 5-10 minutes and check again. Do not be tempted to cool the chocolate collars in the fridge as this will cause the chocolate to lose its shine.
- To complete the cake, arrange a mixture of berries of your choice over the top of the cake. I used a combination of strawberries (I cut the larger ones in half), raspberries, blueberries and blackberries and placed a physalis with the leaves outward turned at the very top.