You can never go wrong with a chocolate layer cake. Whether you make one for a birthday or to celebrate someone fantastic in your life, a tall, dark chocolate cake covered in a delicious buttercream is the way to go. I have yet to find someone who refuses a slice of chocolate cake.
Plan ahead: bake and cool the cake layers, and if not icing that day, wrap each layer in plastic wrap and chill until ready to use. You can freeze the layers for up to one month (thaw overnight in the refrigerator).
For this cake, I used Martha Stewart's Ultimate Chocolate Cake. Click here for the recipe.
I find that chilled cake layers are key for applying flawless Swiss meringue buttercream. You can do it on room temperature cakes, but crumbs are more likely to come off if the layers aren't hardened a bit.
Swiss meringue buttercream is perhaps one of the easiest buttercreams to make, because the preparation is straightforward and basic. Egg whites and sugar get heated and whisked over a pot of simmering water until the sugar melts. The mixture is then whipped on high speed with a stand mixer & the whisk attachment until it has increased in volume and has cooled. Once this is achieved, one switches to the paddle attachment and beats in the room temperature butter a bit at a time until it is incorporated. It's at this point that you begin to panic because the mixture gets soupy. Don't worry, you haven't messed it up. Keep beating the mixture until you see it break and begin to emulsify. I can't tell you how satisfying this is. As soon as the buttercream is smooth, you then add the extract(s).
For the recipe, click here.
Decorating a cake is a very personal endeavor. Depending on the occasion, a cake can be made to look very homespun, chic and sophisticated, or it can be turned into a "naked" cake. Personally I prefer the first two, but I know home bakers who like naked cakes. Do whatever you want.
For this cake I applied the buttercream and used a very small offset spatula to create the undulations. Starting from the bottom and working my way up, I held the offset spatula against the icing and rotated the cake decorating stand until I reached the top. The top surface of the cake was given the same technique, working my way in toward the middle. After this was accomplished, I sprinkled drageés (silver, white, and gold) on top of the cake. For the sides, I literally threw gold drageés one at a time (they adhere perfectly) until I had the desired effect.
I can't tell you how perfectly this cake slices. Martha Stewart has named it Ultimate Chocolate Cake and I have to agree that it may very well be. The use of French Valrhona cocoa powder ups the chocolate flavor and gives it a deep, dark color. It's a winner every single time.
Look at how flawless this looks served on a jadeite plate. If you have vintage Bakelite flatware, use it for serving each slice.
Extremely delicious and infinitely edible.
C'est parfait, non? I think so.
Mark this recipe the next time you want to mark a special occasion or want to honor someone for any reason. Slice the cake in front of friends and family and wait for the smiles to appear on their faces. Everyone is going to want a slice.