I made it. Just under the wire, but I made it.
My third cake in as many weeks.
And for those of you counting at home, listen, I said every week, not every seven days; there's a difference. Relax.
Believe me when I tell you, this cake was worth the nail biting and butter-buying. The putting off, and putting off. Because this dark chocolate cake is sinfully delicious. It is dark and moist, rich and just absolute perfection, and will definitely be my go-to for chocolate cake or cupcakes from now on.
Even the color is spot on- so dark it's almost black. But don't let that scare you. The flavor is chocolatey but sweet, not at all bitter like a torte or flourless chocolate cakes can sometimes be. I particularly love the visual contrast of the deep dark chocolate cake with the light pink raspberry buttercream.
I think people have funny ideas about buttercream, and we'll get to those in a second. For me, it has pros and cons.
Pro: You really can't ruin it, I promise. No matter what you do when you're making it, it will almost always come back together. See the Recipe Notes for all kinds of tips.
Also, I think it's easier to work with if you want a super smooth, pretty finish, which I always do. I am nothing if not a perfectionist.
Con: A little too buttery in flavor for me. But that's a personal
Oh, yeah, you're going to get raspberries seeds in your teeth. Handle it. Deal with it. Share with other people so they have to deal with it too.
Disclaimer: I'm about to go on a semi-rant about different kinds of icing. If this bores you, and you couldn't care less about icing unless it's on your fork on its way into your mouth, just skip the next few paragraphs and scroll down until you get to the pretty, pretty pictures.
In my mind, this is a buttercream. It involves a meringue and no powdered sugar. And it may not be for everyone. It's not super sweet and is very, very buttery. Unless someone specifically requested it, I probably wouldn't fill and frost a whole cake with just plain buttercream.
Now, this is just my own personal opinion (although I know I'm not the only one), but a frosting like this one is not a buttercream. I would instead call it a "confectioner's icing" or maybe just "frosting." It's simpler and easier to make and I actually really love the super sweet, sugary flavor of it. I find it to be a little airy and soft though, which can be hard to work with.
At the bakery I worked at in New York, we frosted all our cupcakes with confectioner's icing. Sometimes people would come in asking if it was buttercream, and we would say no, it's just such-and-such kind of frosting (chocolate, peanut butter, etc.). Usually, this would leave the customer with a somewhat disappointed look on their face, like they weren't getting what they thought they should be, until they tasted it and realized it was delicious either way. Customers ordering cakes would do the same thing, requesting "chocolate buttercream," and we would explain that we could certainly use that, but it's not the same thing we use on our cupcakes and would cost slightly more due to the increased labor and cost to make it. Usually they would correct themselves, saying no, they wanted the same chocolate frosting they'd had on our cupcakes dozens of times before (and rightly so; it was the best from-scratch chocolate frosting I've ever had! I'm usually a die-hard fan of out-of-the-can chocolate frosting and I have yet to make a homemade version that compares!).
So why am I giving you a crash course in Frosting 101? First, because I think it's important to make the distinction. For one thing, they taste completely different. Often when people try a genuine buttercream for the first time, they don't like it because it's not what they're used to. Or, like me, they just don't like the very buttery flavor. So if I had someone request a cake with "vanilla buttercream," I wouldn't want them to
Secondly, to me buttercream is luxurious and gourmet. It takes a little more effort to make since it involves making either an Italian or Swiss meringue (vs. just putting butter and sugar in a mixer and creaming) and uses additional, more expensive ingredients. To me, all of this is justification for a bakery or cake decorator to charge a higher fee for using buttercream on a cake vs. confectioner's icing. The problem with labeling any and all frostings as "buttercreams" is the potential to deceive customers into thinking they're getting something gourmet just so they will pay more for it when in reality, the label and not the ingredients is what they're paying for. So if a customer requests Swiss Meringue Mocha Buttercream, that's what they're going to get from me. Because if I whipped up some butter and sugar, added coffee extract, and called it buttercream just so I could put a slightly higher price tag on it, I just wouldn't feel right about it, not only because it's deceitful, but also because I wouldn't be giving my customer exactly what they're asking for.
Thus endeth the longest rant about icing ever. Sorry to the 10% of you that got even halfway through before just scrolling down here. But look, cake!
Dark Chocolate Cake
Yield: One 3-layer 6'' cake
1 oz good-quality dark chocolate (60%), broken into a few pieces
1/2 cup dark cocoa powder
2/3 cup boiling water
2 tsp instant coffee granules
1/3 cup whole milk
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
10 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease cake pans with butter and dust with flour (or spray with non-stick cooking spray). Lay circles of parchment paper in the bottom of each pan and set aside.
2. Place the chocolate and cocoa powder in a large heatproof bowl. In a small bowl or measuring cup, place the instant coffee granules. Pour the boiling water over top of the coffee and stir to dissolve, then pour the hot coffee over the chocolate and cocoa. Whisk until combined. Add the milk and whisk until smooth.
3. In another large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt and set aside.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, with the paddle attachment, cream the softened butter with both sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as necessary. Add the vanilla with the last egg.
5. Turn the mixer off and add about 1/3 of the flour mixture. Mix on low just to combine. Add half the chocolate mixture and mix on low just to combine. Repeat, ending with the last 1/3 of the flour mixture.
6. Divide the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool for at least 45 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto the rack, remove the parchment, and cool completely before frosting.
- If buttering and flouring your pans (instead of using cooking spray), be sure to tap out any excess flour so it doesn't leave any white residue on your finished cakes.
- I would really recommend using high quality chocolate for this recipe, not chocolate chips. They contain stabilizers and additives that can diminish the chocolate flavor.
- Don't worry if you don't like coffee. You won't taste it in the finished product but it enhances the chocolate flavor very subtly.
- I used a scale to divide my batter. Each of my three 6'' pans had 350g of batter in them.
- This amount of batter will also make an 8'' two-layer cake. In this case, each pan should have 525g of batter in it, and they will bake for the same 30-40 minutes as noted above. It will also yield about two dozen cupcakes. I can't be sure of the baking time, but I would start with about 15 minutes and go from there.
Yield: Enough buttercream to fill and frost a 2-layer 8'' cake or 3-layer 6'' cake
4 egg whites
1 cup, plus 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into chunks
1/2 pint fresh raspberries, crushed
Pink food coloring (optional)
1. Fill a pot with about 2'' of water. The pot should be large enough so that you can create a double boiler with the bowl of your electric mixer. Bring the water to a simmer.
2. In the bowl of your electric mixer, combine the egg whites and sugar. Place the bowl over the pot of simmering water. The water shouldn't touch the bottom of the bowl. Whisk the egg whites by hand constantly until the mixture is warm and the sugar has dissolved, about 2-3 minutes.
3. Transfer the bowl to an electric mixer with the whisk attachment. Whisk on medium speed until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels warm, not hot, to the touch.
4. Keep the mixer on medium speed and add the butter pieces gradually. Once all the butter has been added, the buttercream should be thick and smooth. Add the crushed raspberries and food coloring, if using, whisking to incorporate.
- Instead of dirtying another tool, I just hold the whisk attachment to my mixer and use that to whisk the egg whites and sugar while over the simmering water.
- I use my fingers to test the mixture in step 2. It's ready when the mixture feels warm but not hot enough that it will burn your fingers, and if you rub your fingers together, you shouldn't be able to feel any sugar granules. At that point, the mixture is ready for step 3.
- If you'd prefer to use a candy thermometer the egg white mixture is ready when it reaches 130 degrees F.
- Once all the butter has been added, if the buttercream appears curdled, just keep whisking on medium speed and it will come back together.
- If your buttercream is soupy, the butter may have been too soft, or the meringue was still too hot when it was added. Just chill the bowl in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes. Return it to the mixer and continue to whisk until thick and smooth.
- If your buttercream looks chunky and broken (sort of like scrambled eggs) you might have added the butter too late, or it was too cold. You have two options: Switch to the paddle and just keep creaming the buttercream on medium-low speed until it looks right. This could take a while so be patient. It will come together. The other option is to heat the bottom of your bowl. If you have a little creme brulee torch, use it! Or, a gas stove will work too. Just heat the bottom of the bowl over the flame for maybe 10-15 seconds. It's fine if some of the buttercream melts; that's what you want to happen. It will reincorporate into the rest of the icing. Then, keep creaming with the paddle attachment on medium to med-low speed.