I always ask Will what kind of cake he wants for his birthday, though I know what the answer will be: "chocolate frosting." Yep, his answer to what kind of cake he wants is frosting. Does he want dark chocolate ganache made from fine swiss chocolate? Naw, he wants Crisco-style sugary frosting with the dried crackly crust from the big sheet cakes at Costco. So, like a loving, doting parent, that's exactly what his mom bought him. There were four of us at his birthday party.
I would admit to it being ridiculous that I would bake Will a cake the very next day to celebrate his actual birthday with a couple of friends, except that I think the ridiculous part isn't that I would bake a cake with a Costco sheet cake less four slices in the fridge, but rather that someone would buy a Costco sheet cake for four people in the first place. That puts ridiculousness squarely on the shoulders of my in-laws, and frees me up for a caramelly golden cake smothering milk chocolate whisky mousses and drenched in dark chocolate buttercream with whiskey buttercream trim. Nope, not at all ridiculous.
Will said this cake is his favorite of any I've ever made. I have a couple other contenders, but this is definitely near the top of the list, not just because each component is an excellent recipe, but also because as an aggregation, the combination of textures and flavors were spectacular, and the presentation was stunning. As always, my decorating skills are the weak link, but I loved this cake and frosting for how servable it is... the slices hold together perfectly and slice perfectly and yet still taste luxuriously, divinely homemade.
Browned Butter Cake Layers
by Tom Douglas as found in Food and Wine magazine
3 sticks unsalted butter (12 ounces), plus more for greasing the pans
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped (I used 1 tsp clear vanilla instead)
3 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups milk, at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 325°. Butter two 9-inch cake pans and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust the pans with flour, tapping out the excess.
In a medium saucepan, melt the 3 sticks of butter. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until foamy, about 5 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the milk solids turn brown and the butter smells nutty, about 4 minutes longer. (Note, it took closer to 20 minutes for me.) Scrape the melted butter and browned bits into a large heatproof bowl. Set the bowl in an ice water bath until the butter begins to set around the edge, about 8 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the 2 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour with the baking powder and salt.
Remove the bowl from the ice water and scrape up the hardened butter. Transfer the butter to the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle and beat until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla seeds and beat at medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg yolks followed by the whole eggs. Beat in the dry ingredients and milk in 3 alternating additions, scraping down the side and bottom of the bowl as necessary.
Pour the cake batter into the prepared pans and bake in the center of the oven for about 40 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until the cakes are golden and a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans for 20 minutes, then invert them onto a rack to let them cool completely. Peel off the parchment paper.
inspired by but not adapted from Tom Douglas
1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1/2 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons scotch whiskey (or bourbon)
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
4 ounces milk chocolate, melted and cooled
pinch of salt
Melt chocolate (can be done in the microwave, stir after 1 minute, then every 15-20 seconds). Set aside to cool. Sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 tablespoon whiskey until softened, about 5 minutes. Heat remaining whiskey in microwave about 25 seconds until boiling and stir into gelatin mixture until dissolved. Beat cream in separate bowl until soft peaks for. Stir in sugar and salt. Add gelatin/whiskey mixture to chocolate then combine with whipped cream and whip until combined.
This is a sweet chocolate buttercream that is pretty easy to make and similar to a store-bought frosting. Will and I both love the sticky, sugary frosting on store-bought cakes though we are often embarrassed to admit it. It's frequently too sweet to be a suitable accompaniment to many more subtle cakes but I thought it would work with this carmelly golden cake, and it does! The recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate to counter all the sugar, and I didn't have any so I had to calculate the ratio of sugar and butter to replace, but I think I'll keep this version because I rarely have unsweetened chocolate around. This spreads super smooth and holds its texture wonderfully for piping.
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (60-70% cocoa), melted and allowed to cool
6 tablespoons corn starch
4 cups + 2 tablespoons powdered sugar (no need to sift)
3 sticks minus 2 teaspoons butter, softened
6 tablespoons whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup cocoa powder (your preferred brand, I just used Hersheys)
Combine all ingredients in food processor and pulse until smooth.
For the white decorative piping, I just used some leftover buttercream I had in the freezer, and flavored it with the same whiskey as in the mousse. The flavor was quite pronounced and really delicious.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY PRECIE!