Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Most Chocolatiest Chocolate Curl Cake

I think that one of the things I love about baking cakes is getting to be a part of - however indirectly - special occasions and celebrations by contributing something beautiful and delicious.

When I was asked to create the most chocolaty chocolate cake I could think of for a couple of chocolate enthusiasts, even my dreams were filled with chocolate as I thought about what I might make.

So of course I started with chocolate cake, which I soaked with homemade dark chocolate syrup for extra richness and moisture.  I frosted the three layers of cake with fluffy chocolate buttercream, and then poured a layer of ganache over the top, letting it run over the sides wherever it liked.

And on top, there were chocolate curls.  Lots and lots of chocolate curls.

I'm calling it The Most Chocolatiest Chocolate Curl Cake.

Making chocolate curls - if you want them to be somewhat uniform in shape and size - can be tricky.  First, you'll need to melt 4 ounces of semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler with 1 tablespoon shortening.  Once it's melted and smooth, use an offset spatula to spread it into an even, thin layer on the underside of a clean baking sheet or two.  A thicker layer of chocolate will yield bigger curls (like the ones in the middle of my cake), and a thinner layer will yield tighter curls.  I wanted more of the tighter curls, so I ended up spreading the chocolate over two baking sheets for thinner layers.  Place the pans in the freezer for a few minutes to harden the chocolate.

The tricky part is maintaining the chocolate's optimal temperature for curling.  Too cold/hard, and the chocolate will chip and flake instead of curling.  Too warm/soft, and it will not curl at all.  And if your kitchen is too warm, it will be even more challenging, since the chocolate will soften too quickly as it sits out.  I cranked our AC down to 70 so the cool air was steadily blowing as I worked with the chocolate, and to keep the finished curls from drooping before I had a chance to finish letting them set up in the fridge.

When you take a pan of chocolate out of the freezer, the chocolate will be hard, so wait a minute before you take a metal spatula, bench scraper, clean paint scraper, or whatever, and push the chocolate away from you to create a curl.  When the temperature is right, the chocolate will curl right up into pretty curls.  As it warms up, it'll stop curling, and you'll need to return the pan to the fridge for a few minutes.  Since I had two pans, I switched them back and forth, making curls on one while letting the other chill, then switching, and so on, until I had a tray full of finished curls.

Use a pair of tweezers to place all of of the curls on a parchment-lined baking sheet (resist picking them up with your hands, because the warmth of your fingers will melt the chocolate), and refrigerate until ready to use.

And if you don't like how they look, remember, it's just chocolate, and can be melted right back down again to try again.

For this particular design, I realized that I needed my curls to be fairly short, and arranged them on the cake from the outside towards the center, gradually angling them up, with their base anchored in the ganache.

My original arrangement looked nothing like I had envisioned, though.  My curls were too long to start with, and so as I piled the curls on top of each other, they ended up looking more like a bonfire than the elegant arrangement I was hoping for.

A little stressed, I asked Jamie to take a look and see what I was doing wrong since I didn't want the cake to look like it was topped with a pile of firewood, and his engineering mind immediately knew that my curls needed to be shorter so that there was more room in the middle to anchor them into the chocolate.

So with my tweezers, I took all the curls off the cake, cut them shorter, and started again, this time angling them up as I added each curl until I reached the middle, where I placed the biggest, thickest curls.

What made this cake so special was that it was for a couple's 50th wedding anniversary party, and I was so happy to be able to contribute to such a wonderful occasion.

One Year Ago:     Browned Butter Carrot Cake
Two Years Ago:   Lemon Blueberry Bundt Cake

The Most Chocolatiest Chocolate Curl Cake

Chocolate cake:
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/3 cups buttermilk and/or whole milk
Chocolate syrup:

Chocolate buttercream:
  • 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3-4 tablespoons milk
  • 4 ounces heavy cream
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
Chocolate Curls:
  • 4 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 tablespoon shortening
Note: Make the chocolate curls a day in advance, according to the instructions above.  Keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Bake the Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray the bottoms of three 8-inch pans with non-stick baking spray, line with parchment paper, then spray the paper as well.  Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, butter and sugar on medium speed for 3-4 minutes, until fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla extract.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder and baking soda.  Add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl in 3 additions, alternating with the milk, starting and ending with the flour, stirring just until moistened.

Divide the batter between the pans.  Bake cakes for 22-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool completely on a wire rack, covered loosely with a clean kitchen towel.

Make the Buttercream:
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter for 1 minute until smooth and fluffy.  In a separate bowl, combine the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, meringue powder and salt.  With the mixer on low, add by spoonfuls.  Add the vanilla and milk and increase speed to medium high, whipping until very light and fluffy, about 4-5 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed.

Turn the cooled cakes out of the pans and peel off the parchment paper.  Place one of the cakes on a cake board or serving plate.  Using a skewer, poke a bunch of holes in the cake and brush with two tablespoons of the chocolate syrup, letting it soak into the cake before you spread it with a layer of the buttercream.  Repeat with the other cake layers.  Frost cake with a thin crumb coat of buttercream, chill for 20 minutes in the fridge, then frost with a smooth layer of buttercream.  Chill for 30 minutes in the fridge.

Make the Ganache:

Pour the cream into a small saucepan and bring barely to a gentle simmer over medium low heat.  Remove from the heat, add the chopped chocolate and let stand for three minutes, then stir with a spatula until smooth and shiny.  While the ganache is warm, immediately pour over the cake, letting it drip over the sides.  Let stand at room temperature until set, about 30 minutes, then place in the refrigerator to chill for 1 hour before garnishing with the chocolate curls.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Recipe and design from Curly Girl Kitchen