Would you look at that cake? Isn’t she just a beaut?! Little did this sweet, naive cake know the horror of all horrors that awaited her a mere 20 minutes in the future. After much planning, ingredient sourcing, baking, freezing, and meticulous decorating of this treat for my graduate school classmates, I made one terrible, careless error. With only 2 days left until Christmas, I bring you dear readers, a tale full of Christmas spirit, spite and redemption – The Miracle of Buttercream.
Last week I exited my car in the work parking lot, coffee in one hand and cake carrier in the other. Without so much as a second thought, I set the cake carrier on the petite trunk of my Honda Civic so I could fish my car keys from my purse and thus lock the car door. After the reassuring “beep!” of “locked!” I turned to retrieve my cake. But instead of being greeted by my gorgeously level and smooth cake I found only haunting emptiness followed by a “THUD! Roll, roll, roll, PLOP!”
That’s right, my double-layer marriage of decadent chocolate ganache, peppermint buttercream, and candy cane goodness managed to flip off the trunk, roll and come to a deafening plop on the asphalt. In the brief moments that followed I progressed through your standard stages of grief:
- Denial: If I close my eyes and say a prayer, it will all be a dream. NOPE still there, still upside down…
- Anger: Holy of all Holies what an idiot! Setting your cake on the car?! Son of a – –
- Bargaining: I should skip class tonight. If I don’t go, the cake never happened…
- Depression: Oh god, here come the tears…
- Testing: Seriously? Crying over a cake? Some people have real problems! Maybe I could bake another one on my lunch break…
- Acceptance: A moment of respectful silence followed by a mad dash to the office kitchen where I flipped the cake over and began emergency surgery.
Ladies and gentleman, thank heavens for real, dense, butter full buttercream. Though not at its best when eaten cold, for transport I’ll never do it any other way. The cold butter structure served as a protective spackle and managed to keep the entire cake together, only knocking off my decorative trim and neatly applied cookie crumbs.
With a plastic knife, a toothpick or two and some strategically sprinkled cookie crumbs where there had previously been none I think I witnessed a small miracle. So let this be a lesson to you all. Never, ever set your cakes down! Ok, so maybe that’s not realistic. But seriously, cold buttercream is your friend and if and when tragedy does come to a cake near you, act quick and you just might pull it off.
If not, scoop it into bowls and call it trifle.
I wish you all a merry one!
Chocolate Peppermint Cake
A.k.a. Joe Joe’s Cake after the cookies used to decorate the outside, this cake is for the biggest chocolate lover in your life. The cake has the most intense chocolate flavor I’ve found in a layer cake thanks to the oomph of coffee. Its addition is not discernible to the palate but makes the chocolate pop. The subtle hint of peppermint in the buttercream provides a refreshing bite on top of all that gooey goodness.
For the cake
Adapted from Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen
3 oz good-quality semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups hot coffee
3 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsps baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsps salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
For the ganache filling
8 oz best-quality semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp peppermint extract
2 Tb unsalted butter
For the peppermint buttercream
1 recipe Swiss Buttercream, substitute vanilla extract with 1/4 tsp peppermint extract
1/2 box peppermint or candy cane-flavored chocolate vanilla cream sandwich cookies (ie: Trader Joe’s Candy Cane Joe Joe’s or mint Oreos), ground up into crumbs
small candy canes, for decoration
To make the cake layers
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Butter two 9 or 10-inch cake pans and line the bottoms only with rounds of buttered parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the chopped chocolate and hot coffee and allow to sit, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is completely melted.
3. In another bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, powder and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the eggs until thickened (3 minutes) and then slowly add the oil, buttermilk, vanilla and chocolate/coffee mixture. Beat well until fully combined. Add the sifted dry ingredients and mix just until incorporated.
4. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour and 10 minutes, depending on pan size, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool layers completely in their pans on a rack and then invert onto the racks and peel off parchment paper. Cooled layers are now ready level and frost OR freeze layers in a triple wrapping of plastic wrap until ready to use.
To make the ganache filling
1. In a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt together the chopped chocolate, heavy cream and peppermint extract just until smooth.
2. Remove the bowl from the heat and drop in the butter. Stir until butter is completely melted. Allow ganache to cool slightly until spreadable consistency is achieved, about 10 minutes.
1. Level cake layer and divide each layer in half horizontally, if desired, for 4 layers. Two layers works wonderfully here as well if you’re unsure of your cake splitting skills.
2. Place a smidge of the Peppermint Buttercream on your cake stand or carrier. Place your first layer on the stand and gently slide 4 small pieces of wax paper or aluminum foil under the edges of your bottom layer. This will keep your stand neat and clean while you decorate.
3. Using an offset spatula, spread half of the ganache on top of your first layer. Next, gently spread a thin layer of Peppermint Buttercream on top of the ganache. It’s ok if they mix a little – it will still look and taste great.
4. Carefully place on your next layer making sure the layers are aligned. If using 4 layers, continue with the ganache and buttercream, if using two, proceed with frosting the entire cake in buttercream. I recommend using a crumb coat for neatness: Frost your cake with a very thin coating of buttercream, just to seal in the cake. Place in the refrigerator to set for 30 minutes and then finish frosting with more buttercream.
5. Carefully press handfuls of cookie crumbs on the sides of the cake. Once completely coated, gently shimmy the stand to knock off any excess crumbs. To finish, remove the wax paper from the bottom pipe dots, circles or whatever you like around the top and bottom edges. Decorate with candy canes to your heart’s desire!
*Note: This buttercream works best at room temperature. If not serving immediately, store assembled cake in the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature 90 minutes before serving.