Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Cake That Started It All

OK-- this wasn't the first cake that I'd EVER made, but it was the first one I took seriously.  It was made for my friend Stephanie, an office-mate who was moving.  

The idea for this cake was an amalgamation of a chocolate cake I've ogled at my local grocery store and the cream puff cake that Buddy makes in honor of his late father on Cake Boss: Episode 2

I could not find a picture of the cream puff cake, but it is a large cake featuring cream puffs and chocolate covered strawberries, along with classic buttercream borders and a chocolate drizzle.  I decided to incorporate the chocolate covered strawberries and the chocolate drizzle, though I didn't use quite the same approach, since this was only an 8" cake.

The chocolate triangles are a fairly common gimmick on grocery store chocolate cakes, but I think they're really effective!  I didn't want to hand make these triangles, so I carefully cut some Ghirardelli 72% cacao squares along the diagonal to create a similar effect.

The great news about this cake: box chocolate cake mix, and white icing out of a can (I know, gasp).  BUT, for this cake I made a chocolate ganache to fill between the layers.  Ganache is like chocolate truffle filling-- recipes are everywhere.  Basically, you bring some heavy cream to a simmer and pour it over some semi-sweet chocolate chips in a mixing bowl.  Then you stir till all the chocolate is melted.  I added a splash of Kahlua for extra deliciousness.  I also layered some fresh strawberries on top of the ganache when I filled the cake.

I set aside some ganache and put it in a squeeze bottle (a small plastic bottle which can be found by the candy making supplies at your local Michael's or similar).  This is what I used to do the drizzles and the design on the top.

Also, this cake was made before I had invested in any real cake decorating supplies.  All the piping was done using a Farberware pastry bag set I found at the grocery store.

Here is the cake as I served it, surrounded by chocolate covered strawberries:

It was tasty.

So the only supplies I had to buy for this cake (aside from the ingredients):
  • A package of 12" cake rounds
  • A cake caddy to bring it to work-- note that the 12" rounds fit perfectly in the caddy and prevents sliding...
  • A cheap pastry bag and tip set from the grocery store
  • A plastic squeeze bottle for the chocolate
I already had a decent icing spatula on hand. :)

Skills used:
  • Filling the cake: Ok, here was one mini-disaster.  The first step was to pipe some white icing around the circumference (yes, I'm an engineer) of the bottom layer of the cake to create a dam for the filling.  (Note: do this AFTER you put the cake on its cake round).  I did my best to create a sturdy dam, but I was impatient and overzealous when I poured on the ganache.  I made kind of a lot and didn't let it cool as long as I might have (it thickens significantly as it cools), and slowly poured it in the center, using as much as I could.  Well, for a while the surface tension held it, but there was clearly a low spot on my dam.  As I sprinkled on the strawberries, I could see the impending doom.  Soon I found myself trying to hold back the onslaught of ganache as the dam slowly gave under the pressure.  Ultimately, I affixed 2 index cards to the side of the cake (stuck em right on, into the ganache) and put the whole thing in the fridge to set.  The next morning, I took off the index cards and the mistake was easily hidden.  Moral of the story: patience and moderation.
  • Icing the cake:  I made this cake before I even owned a turntable.  This was a bit of a challenge.  Remember the key is to apply a crumb coat (an initial thin layer of buttercream on the outside of the cake in which all the cake crumbs are caught).  You can let the crumb coat set in the open air or in the fridge.  Once it has crusted, apply 1-2 more layers as needed and you won't see any crumbs in your final product (even on a chocolate cake with white icing).  Also, your crumb coat doesn't have to be perfectly smooth-- you can be anal retentive on the final frosting layer... I know I am. :)  This cake was smoothed just using my offset icing spatula.  For round cakes especially, this is easiest if you have a turntable.  I can do a more detailed post on ways to ice a smooth cake in the future.
  • Basic Piping:  Just what you see on the cake.  Mostly some fun work with a relatively large star tip. 
  • Chocolate 'piping': Done with the squeeze bottle.  The drips were done using gravity.  Basically you squeeze a dot on the top rim for 1-3 seconds depending on how long you want the drip to go-- I was going for random lengths so I varied the time.  Then, just let the drip run down the side of the cake.  Smooth frosting is key or the drop can bounce around a little.  Also, make sure you leave enough space between the drips or they can run together (I had that happen once).


  1. What a pretty cake!
    Will you have a tasting?

  2. Nicely written. Good job.

  3. What a gorgeous cake. Well done.

  4. A perfect recipe for a perfect confectionary. The pictures are difficult to overlook and the recipe is so delightful to read about. A must read for those with a sweet tooth.