Monday, May 9, 2011

On Whipped Ganache, Almond Filling, and the Birthday Cake that Might Have Been

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch as our family of 6 tries to eat on $6/day.

So my birthday cake looked lousy, but tasted great.

That's not the worst thing in the world. However, with a little tweaking, it could have looked great and tasted even better.

But let's start with the positive. I used my Best Ever Chocolate Cake recipe. It was good, but it was outshined (um, outshone?), let's say outdone, by the whipped chocolate ganache, which was even better if such things can be so. The three main ingredients for whipped chocolate ganache are chocolate, cream, and butter. If you've ever made truffles, you know that these are the three basic ingredients for the filling of a truffle. Lindor ball filling, meet the top of my cake. I've often used ganaches on my cakes. They're good and all, but if too thick or overdone, they end up creating this stiff blanket of chocolate that is difficult to slice through without squashing your cake and which does not cohere with your cake the way I believe a good frosting should. Whipping it solved all those problems and just gave a creamy, silky outer edge to your cake. It also was easy to create lines on, as Kip discovered and took advantage of in his final icing of the cake. Note: We did the inside layers of the cake with Kip's Fudge Frosting, but I think this whipped ganache could be used in the inside as well if you're looking to simplify, since it isn't too thick or impliable (it's a great day for made up words here at tastycheapskate)

Aside from cake and chocolate frosting, things in birthday cake land were a little sticky. And oozy. And just not quite right.

The recipe I was using instructed me to make an almond filling, which turned out to be like a somewhat thick, lightly sweet almond-flavored pudding. I was to put the cooled filling between my three dense layers of cake. And I was, it seems, not to expect it to ooze out the sides. Why I was to expect this, I am not quite sure, since logic should have told me that even a moderately thick pudding will not stand up against three layers of cake. But I am a woman of recipe faith and so I stacked and glopped and stacked. Which is why we must put our faith in the correct sources. And also perhaps why this particular cookbook provided no picture of this cake. Because there was a whole lot of oozing going on. So much oozing that I knew there was no way there would be any almond filling left by the time my guests arrived. The cake would stand as three dense layers of cake with nothing but some residual moisture between them. I loved my guests and knew that that would not do.

I unstacked the cakes (something painful to do, even when you do take into account the privilege of licking the gooey almond-y chocolate-y spatula when all is said and done), leveled them (something I should have done in the first place). And then dug wells out of the cakes to put my almond filling in. (Note: You don't see it in the picture above. You see the half of the cake I left as plain chocolate for the non almond lovers. Why? Because the almond parts were not very pretty. More on that coming up...)

It worked well enough and the party went fine and all was well. But not perfect. Even in the wells, the filling ended up getting absorbed into the cake somewhat, making the cake a little gloppy and the presentation not so great. And having a pudding within a cake was like eating a stacked trifle. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But if you were going for cake and not trifle, well, then, there must be a way. (Confession: I like trifle well enough, but it is not my favorite thing.)

Below I present to options to fix this good, but imperfect cake. I also present a rant on cookbooks with faulty recipes/instructions.

1. Chocolate Almond Trifle Cake
2. Chocolate Cake with Almond Filling
3. Rant

1. Chocolate Almond Trifle Cake
Makes 3 9-inch layers
Note: In the end, this is pretty much how mine turned out. It's a little trifle-like. If that's your thing, go for it.

1 recipe Best Ever Chocolate Cake (directly below):
3 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (about 1/2 C)
1 1/2 very hot water
3 C sugar
2 1/2 C flour
1 1/2 C unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp salt
3 large eggs
3/4 C vegetable oil
1 1/2 C buttermilk (or use a scan 1 1/2 C milk mixed with 1 1/2 Tbsp vinegar)
3/4 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 300. Grease and line bottoms of three 9-inch cake pans. Grease the wax paper lining also.

Chop chocolate (or save yourself some time and use chocolate chips) and put it with the hot water. Let it stand, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate has melted.

In large blowl, sift fugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl, beat eggs until thickened very slightly and lemon colored (3-5 minutes). Gradually beat in oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate. Add dry ingredients and beat until just combined well.

Divide batter evenly into cake pans.

Bake 35-40 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs attached.

Allow to cool 10 minutes in pan, then turn out on racks to cool completely.

Frost with your favorite frosting. We favor the chocolate one you'll find here.

Note: Just want two 9-inch layers. Smittenkitchen gives an adaptation here, but don't cook it as long as she guesstimates. You must only do 35-40 minutes or it will be burned and dry and not the best ever.

Almond Filling (pudding):
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
1/2 C sugar
6 Tbsp flour
2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract

Note: This is less sweet than a normal pudding would be. Go with it. It works well with the sweetness of the cake and frosting.

In a small bowl, beat eggs and yolk until well mixed.

In saucepan, combine sugar and flour. Gradually whisk in 1/2 C milk until smooth Whisk in eggs and remaining milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat slightly and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.

Another note: Mine never got to much of a boil--it was too thick, so even though it was boiling, it didn't look like water does when boiling.

Remove from heat, let cool for 1 minute and add almond and vanilla extracts. Cool slightly and cover with plastic wrap pressed into the surface so it doesn't form a skin (unless you wish to let a skin form and then eat it off; I will not judge you).

Kip's Fudge Frosting:

3/4 C (1 1/2 sticks) butter, somewhat melted (halfway melted, in Kip's words)
1/2 C cocoa
1/3-1/2 C milk
1 tsp vanilla
dash salt
nearly 2 lb powdered sugar (probably 2 C shy of 2 lb--this is the sketchiest part of this recipe--start with less--you can always add more if it's way too runny or thin)

Mix butter, cocoa, and 1/3 C milk. Add other ingredients and beat well. If it's too stiff, add more milk.

Whipped Chocolate Ganache:

12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Ghiradelli 60%)--about 1 bag if using chips
1 C plus 2 Tbsp heavy cream
generous 4 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 to 2 tsp vanilla (a good vanilla is best)

Heat cream (don't let it boil). Pour it over chocolate and whisk until smooth. Whisk in butter until melted and incorporated. Add vanilla.

Now whisk (or if you care about your arm falling off as I do, get out the blooming beaters) the frosting until it begins to thicken. Don't let it get too thick, but whisk until it's fluffy and smooth and sort of mousse-like. If it does get to thick warm it for a few seconds in the microwave until it softens slightly and then whisk again.

It starts off looking like this:

And ends up looking like this:
(I know it's in a different bowl--I swear it's the same stuff--Kip just needed the bigger bowl, so I had to give it up to him to make his frosting while I took pictures.)

Frost as soon as you can. This will set, so the longer you wait, the higher your chances are of having to do the microwave thing (we did; it wasn't a big deal so don't worry if it happens) or make truffles with it (the horror).

To assemble:

Stack one layer of cake. Cut or scoop out a well of cake about 1 inch deep. (Throw the extra cake in the freezer and later when you get the urge, make cake balls with it.) Frost the well with Kip's frosting. This is what I didn't do (so technically this is what we call a 'theory;' I think it's a good theory and all, but do be warned). If you don't frost it the pudding will eventually just melt into the cake. I expect this will happen to an extent with the frosting, but not as much or as quickly. Add almond filling (This will probably make enough that you have leftover pudding. I didn't, but remember that my first try oozed out all over everywhere.)

Repeat with the second layer of cake. (Stack, well, frost, fill.)

Put third layer of cake on top. Frost with Kip's frosting and then with Whipped Chocolate Ganache. Let it all set and take a break because you deserve it.

As I confessed above, I'm not a huge lover of trifles. I found that I preferred the chocolate half of my cake to the almond-filled half of my cake. Because of this, I think this cake would be best with an almond flavored frosting instead.

2. Chocolate Cake with Almond Filling
Note: This is what I wish I had done and will do next time.

Prepare the Best Ever Chocolate Cake (recipe above)

Almond Filling (frosting):

3 C powdered sugar
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 C) butter, significantly softened
3-6 Tbsp cream (or milk if that's all you've got)
1 tsp almond extract

Note: To make this knock your socks off almond-y, you could sub out 1/4-1/2 C almond paste with 1/4 C of the butter. Then add only 1/2 tsp of almond extract. (Note: I have not done this, but almond paste is one of my best friends and I will try it as soon as I get some for less than $4.)

Combine butter, sugar, and almond extract. Mix. Add 3 Tbsp cream and the other 3 if the frosting needs it. Beat that frosting till smooth and light and delicious.

Prepare the Whipped Chocolate Ganache (recipe above)

To assemble:

Place 1 layer of chocolate cake on cake plate or display thingy. Frost with about half of the almond frosting. Place second layer on and frost with other half. Place third layer on. If you've got any almond frosting left, make a thin layer of it here. Frost cake with Whipped Chocolate Ganache.

PRINTABLE RECIPE (Both the trifle cake and the almond filling cake are found here, because I was too lazy to separate them, that's why; please forgive.)

3. Rant. I cannot hate this cookbook too much. It's given me several super amazing recipes. Super. Amazing. Including the Peanut Butter Chocolate Sour Cream Cake. Even now, it's given me Whipped Chocolate Ganache. However, you may note that a three layer cake with a filling and frosting is not, like, a 20 minute deal-y-o. This is especially true with four young children under foot. When one puts in such effort, one wishes for a reasonable result. If one does not get this, one often cries. On her birthday. This is wrong. When a cookbook prints a recipe that is either untested, or tested, but just didn't work, or whatever happens with these doomed-from-the-start-instructions, well, they should be ashamed of themselves, they should. Can I get an 'amen?'

If you've made it to the end of this post, you should also check out Sweets for a Saturday where I've linked this.


  1. What cookbook is it? I LOVED the whipped ganache, it was amazing. Cake also fantastic. I'm with you on the almond pudding, I am a almond flavor fan but it just didn't do it for me. Even though, for the record, I adore trifle. I usually love a little almond flavor in chocolate, though, and at this very moment I'm fantasizing about a slightly almond-tinged whipped choco ganache... mmmmm....

  2. It came from Sky High: Irresistible Three-Layer Cakes. That book has done me right many a time, so I will forgive it.

  3. this cake lookslike something i have to try soon. excited about that whipped ganache!

  4. The whipped ganache is so completely awesome. Definitely try it.



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