Sunday, March 1, 2015

Vanilla Bean and Ganache Cake

This weekend, I had to force myself to slow down and relax, which is never an easy thing for me.  I'm always busy, with some project or another, whether in the kitchen, or working on the house, or sewing, or drawing or something.  I'm not a very good lazy person, and even when I'm sitting on the couch, supposedly relaxing, I usually have my laptop balanced on my knees, so I can edit a few photos, or write up a recipe that's been on my mind, or research this and that.

But I've had some chronic pain in my right shoulder since last fall, when I injured it somehow and it just hasn't healed itself yet.  I push myself to always keep working hard, and it never really gets the chance to recover, especially with all the painting and home renovation projects we are always working on.  I may need to see a doctor about it, which I am dreading...  I never go to the doctor since I am so rarely sick.

After we spent all day Saturday driving around, looking at samples of kitchen counter options and getting price quotes, we accomplished nothing on the house, and my plans to get in a full day's work today were halted when I woke up with so much shoulder pain that other than a quick photo shoot of some brownies and ice cream I made yesterday, I've spent the day with a heating pad under my shoulders, a cup of hot coffee in my hands, and watching Lord of the Rings.  Jamie is sleeping peacefully on the couch next to me as I write this, his warm breath against my arm, his brown hair tousled.  Not a bad way to spend the day, in spite of the shoulder pain.

Maybe I should stop and luxuriate in a little peace and nothingness more often instead of pushing myself so hard to finish every project as quickly as possible.  And with the 20-degree temperatures and snowy days, lazing about the house a little is not only to be expected, but perfectly acceptable.

This cake is the ultimate in luxury, with six layers of rich, dense vanilla bean butter cake, filled and frosted with bittersweet ganache, and topped with shortbread cookies filled with more of the same ganache.

It's not a cake you can eat quickly, but one where you stop to admire all the beautiful layers, the buttery crumb, the silky chocolate.  Each forkful is a pleasure, and should be savored.

The shortbread cookies are perfect in their simplicity, only subtly sweet, buttery and crumbly when you bite into them.  A pretty little something extra, because even cakes like to accessorize on lazy days, in the same way that I sometimes put on a little mascara and lip gloss, just to look pretty for Jamie while doing absolutely nothing.

Vanilla Bean and Ganache Cake

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • seeds from 1 vanilla bean
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/3 cups whole milk
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 16 ounces (2 cups) heavy whipping cream
  • 1 pound bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 9 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons ice water

Preheat the oven to 350, spray six 8-inch pans with non-stick spray and line with parchment paper.  If you don't have six pans, you'll have to use three, and split the layers when they're well cooled.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, butter, oil and sugar for 4-5 minutes until light and fluffy.  Bea in the eggs, one at a time, beating each for 1 minute before adding the next.  Beat in the vanilla.

In a bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.  In a separate bowl, combine the milk and sour cream.  With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the milk, starting and ending with the flour, just until moistened.

Divide the batter between the cakes and bake until a skewer comes out clean, about 15-20 minutes if you're baking the batter in 6 separate pans.  Set the cakes on a wire rack, cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and cool completely.

Warm the cream in a saucepan over medium low heat, just until it begins to simmer around the edges.  Remove from the heat and add the chocolate.  Let stand for 3 minutes, then stir until smooth and shiny.  Let sit at room temperature until cooled and slightly thickened like pudding, about an hour.

(Note, these can be made a day in advance, as well.)  In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar and salt.  Drop in the pieces of butter and pulse a few times to incorporate.  Add the egg yolk, vanilla and ice water and pulse until moistened and crumbly.  Dump out onto a piece of parchment paper and gather the dough together with your hands, kneading a few times to form it into a ball of dough that holds together.

Fold the paper over the dough, and roll out to 1/4 inch thick (the paper keeps the rolling pin from sticking to the dough, without having to use extra flour for rolling).  Peel the paper back and cut the dough with a 1 1/2 inch round cookie cutter.  Place the cut cookies 1 inch apart on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Gather up the scraps of dough and repeat until all the dough is used.  Freeze the cookies on the baking sheet for 30 minutes while you heat the oven.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Bake the frozen cookies for 10-12 minutes, just until they are a pale golden brown - the cookies do not rise or spread.  Cool for 1 minute on the baking sheet then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Place one of the cooled cakes on a cake pedestal or cake board.  Spread with a thin layer of the cooled ganache.  Repeat with the rest of the cakes, stacking them as evenly as possible.  Spread ganache all over the top and sides of the cake, smoothing it out as much as you like.

Spoon the rest of the ganache into a piping bag and snip off the end.  Pipe ganache onto the underside of half the cookies, and top each with another cookie.  Decorate the top of the cake with the cookies.  If you have any leftover ganache, refrigerate it until chilled, then use for homemade chocolate truffles.

Recipe and Design from Curly Girl Kitchen


  1. This cake is truly a beauty. A complete work of art. I hope it inspired you to take some time to slow take and enjoy the little moments in life because before you know it they are gone.

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, Lynn!


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