Sunday, December 16, 2012

White Chocolate Peppermint Cake

The good news/bad news about having a blog is that once people know about it, they might look at it, and once they look at it, they might see something they like, and once they see something they like, they might want it for themselves, and once they want something for themselves, they might hope that you will make it for them instead of trying out the recipes that you've spent hours retyping so that they might not ask you to make it for them.

That's not what happened in this instance. Because the other thing that happens when you have a blog, which includes all of the most beautiful and elaborate and delicious cakes you've ever made, then when you offer to bring a cake to a party, you feel like you really must create the most fabulous contribution. And so it was for this white-chocolate peppermint cake.

One of my classmates wanted to have a party to celebrate her birthday, which just happened to fall right at the end of our first quarter, making it an excellent time for ALL of us to celebrate. I offered to bring a cake, but since it was her birthday, it was important that she get to choose what kind. For mid-December, I would lean toward a spice cake with ginger and pears, or apples, or even pumpkin and cranberries with a lucious cream cheese frosting. The hostess loves everything pumpkin, but cream cheese was a non-starter. She came back a few days later with "how about something with white chocolate?" which worked great for me since my all-time most perfect of cake layers is a white-chocolate white cake.  Once we had a white-colored, no-cream cheese palette to start with, the obvious next step was peppermint.

Crushed candy canes were just right to add some festive holiday spirit and counter the smooth sweetness of white chocolate with a fresh zing of minty zest. I first thought that I would make a peppermint-flavored buttercream to frost the cake, and sprinkle crushed candies between the layers. Another option for the filling was this recipe which I still think sounds good, but I haven't made it yet. I made the buttercream first, using a new whole-egg recipe which predictably turned out creamy butter-colored instead of white. I also replaced half of the water in the recipe with peppermint schnapps trying to give it a nice minty flavor, but it was completely undetectable. So I converted that to the filling with a bit of red food coloring and crushed peppermints.

Crushed candy canes and red food coloring make for a festive filling between cake layers.

To get a white frosting for the exterior of the cake, I used an egg-white buttercream. This is still not stark white like a meringue frosting, but it is lovely. I lightly flavored the frosting with vanilla to balance the peppermint, and not be too sweet against the cake. Finally, I topped the cake with just a thin glaze of white chocolate to make a perfectly smooth finish and create decorative, icicle-like drippings down the side.

The dollops on top were just supposed to be decorative. But my
subconscious must have been at work, because they look just like
pumpkins, which are the birthday girl's favorite food!

I love accessorizing with ribbons, whether it's my hair, a package, or a cake. My grandmother bought a huge assortment of florist ribbons at the rummage sale at her retirement home, and I've been saving the red-and-white-stripped spool for just a special occasion as this. It saved me a lot of time piping, and creates a professionally-finished border around the base of the cake. Because of the crushed candies in the peppermint frosting, it doesn't make finely-detailed piping, but it worked well as mounds around the perimeter, topped with mint chips. A couple mini candy canes tied with another decorative ribbon worked as a centerpiece for the cake and gives away the secret of what flavors are inside.

The glaze was just a bit thinner than what I'd had in mind, so next time I will use a lower ratio of cream, though it really just depends on your tastes. I was hoping the glaze would set-up a bit more firmly, to create more of a texture contrast. As it was, it was so easy to work with, because it spread super-smoothly, and the drips down the side were fairly even. However, after when we went to cut the cake (about 4 hours later), the candy canes had started to melt on top, which wouldn't have happened with a more firm glaze.

Because this is a 10-inch cake, it serves a lot; we got 22 slices from this one. I recommend cutting it like a wedding cake - into squares rather than wedges. It should be served at room temperature, or the buttercream will be too firm and taste like butter instead of like frosting. The cake is also much more tender when it is not too cold. I made the cake the night before and assembled the day of, though previously I've made this cake and it freezes well for up to six months. All the frostings can also be made in advance, and refrigerated for a week or frozen.

White Chocolate Cakefrom The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
This recipe makes two 9-inch layers. I use 1 1/2 recipes (can be mixed concurrently) to fill two 10-inch pans.

6 ounces white chocolate (I use lindt)
1/2 cup egg whites (4-5 eggs)
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups all pupose flour
1 cup + 3 tablespoons sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Grease pans, line with parchment paper, and grease and flour. Preheat oven to 350.
Melt chocolate, then allow to cool.
Combine egg whites, 1/4 cup milk, and vanilla.
In large bowl of stand mixer, combine dry ingredients. Add butter and remaining milk. Mix on low until moistened, then beat 2 minutes on medium high to aerate.
Gradually add egg mixture in three batches, beating 20 seconds between addition.
Add melted chocolate and beat to incorporate.
Divide evenly between pans, smoothing tops of batter. Bake 25-35 minutes (my 10-inch pans took 33 minutes) until tester comes out clean. The cake will shrink a bit after it comes out of the oven (or if it is being overcooked! If it has already pulled away it might be a little too brown which means it could be just a tad dry, but the flavor will still be excellent.) Allow to cool in pans 15 minutes, then invert to rack and cool completely before assembling.

Peppermint Filling
from The Joy of Cooking, 75th Anniversary Edition by Ethan Becker
I looked through a LOT of recipes for peppermint frostings, and most are the powdered sugar type of icing which is awfully sweet and pretty pasty. One white chocolate version I'd be willing to try is linked above. Below is the recipe I used for this cake, which everyone seemed to enjoy immensely.

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water (I replaced with 2 T water and 2 T peppermint schnapps, but I don't think it really added any peppermint to the flavor)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 eggs, room temperature
3 sticks unsalted butter
1 tablespoon peppermint schnapps
4 candy canes, crushed to bits and dust (The general method is to unwrap and place in a heavy-duty plastic bag, then sandwich in a dishtowel and whack with a rolling pin. I still find this makes a mess as the bag gets holes and the candy gets sticky everywhere. I prefer to grind pieces of candy in a coffee grinder.)
1 drop red food coloring

Combine sugar, water, and cream of tartar in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly until sugar dissolves and bring to a simmer. Cook uncovered until 238 degrees. Meanwhile, fill a wide, deep skillet with boiling water, and keep at a simmer. Crack eggs into a medium bowl, beat with a hand mixer until thick and pale yellow. Pour the hot syrup into the egg mixture, beating constantly. Set bowl into the skillet of simmering water and continue beating the egg/syrup mixture until it reaches 160 degrees.
Remove from heat and beat until room temperature (this takes forever, so it's best set the bowl in an ice bath while beating to speed up the process).
Add butter one tablespoon at a time, mixing constantly. At times, the mixture might look curdled, but just keep beating. Once all the butter is incorporated, mix in schnapps, crushed candy, and food coloring.

This will make enough to fill and frost a 9-inch cake, or to fill and decorate a 10-inch cake with some left over. It can be made in advance, and freezes well, though you may need to rebeat it after it has thawed to regain consistency.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting (White)
from The Joy of Cooking, 75th Anniversary Edition by Ethan Becker
4 large egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 sticks unsalted butter

Using a hand mixer, whisk together eggs, sugar, water, and cream of tartar in large bowl. Set the bowl in a skillet filled with simmering water at least to equal the level of the egg mixture in the bowl. Beat on low speed until the mixture reaches 140 degrees, then continue beating on high speed until the mixture reaches 160 degrees.
Remove from heat and beat until room temperature (this takes forever, so it's best set the bowl in an ice bath while beating to speed up the process).
Add butter one tablespoon at a time, mixing constantly. At times, the mixture might look curdled, but just keep beating. Once all the butter is incorporated, add vanilla.

It can be made in advance, and freezes well, though you may need to rebeat it after it has thawed to regain consistency.

White Chocolate Glaze
I used a ratio of 3 ounces white chocolate to 1 cup heavy cream. It was a bit thin, so next time I will use just 1/2 cup cream. Either way, this will make MUCH more than you need to glaze a cake, but it can be frozen or will last in the fridge for 3 weeks and is delicious on fruit.

3 ounces white chocolate (I used ghiradelli chips)
1/2 cup heavy or whipping cream

Heat cream just to a simmer. Add chips (or finely chopped white chocolate bars) and allow to sit for 1-2 minutes to soften, then whisk until incorporated. Allow to cool to room temperature before using.

To Assemble Cake
Place one cake layer on the bottom of a two-piece tart pan or on a cardboard round. Spead with peppermint filling. Top with second cake layer. Use buttercream to crumb-coat (make a very thin layer of frosting which traps the crumbs - it's okay if they show through as long as the frosting glues them to the surface of the cake. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Frost over the crumb coat with buttercream. Refridgerate for 15 minutes. To make a really smooth finish, dip an offset spatula in hot water, wipe dry, and glide slowly over the surface. The heat of the metal will smooth the frosting. Repeat until desired finish is achieved. Any bumps will show under the glaze, so you want the top as smooth as possible. (This is a very good video showing another technique to get a super-smooth finish.) Refrigerate until firm.
Set a wire rack on a large piece of wax paper or on a cookie sheet (this is to catch drips). Pour cooled glaze in a stead stream into a pool directly in the center of the cake. Use an offset spatula to spread it toward the edge of the cake. (Here's another good video of this step, starting at about 20:00.) Chill cake.
Decorate with ribbons, candy canes, crushed candy, sprinkles, pipped frosting, or whatever you desire. And enjoy! Because this cake won't just be beautiful to look at it, it will be amazing to eat!

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