Thursday, February 13, 2020

Sparkling Chocolate and Peppermint Cake for Valentine's Day

Chocolate Peppermint Cake, Cake with Sparkling Sugar, Valentines Cake, Cake with Flowers, Wedding CakeOur Valentine's Day cake this year is pure romance.  The cake inside is dark chocolate, filled with chocolate buttercream, chopped chocolate, and extra cake crumbs soaked in chocolate syrup.  Outside, a demure coat of pink peppermint buttercream is covered in a shower of sparkling sugar that's infused with peppermint and vanilla bean.  The sparkling sugar is so beautiful that the cake doesn't really need any other decoration, but I placed a few roses on top for a little extra flair.

Deciding what to call this cake took quite a bit of thought.  Valentine's Day Cake is too generic.  Sparkling Sugar Cake doesn't give any hint as to the flavor of the cake.  And Chocolate Peppermint Cake seems to imply that the cake should be decorated for Christmas.  But, those are the flavors I chose, so in the end, Sparkling Chocolate and Peppermint Cake was the winner.

Other than the chocolate cake inside, this cake is nothing like the one I'd planned to make this week.  I had in mind a chocolate cake with strawberry buttercream with some fancy piping around the sides.  But as I was organizing my freezer stash of cakes and buttercream, I found a few small bags of chocolate buttercream and another of pink peppermint (leftover from the Chocolate Peppermint Sandwich Cookies I made for our Christmas cookie box), and I didn't want that sitting in the freezer until next Christmas, so I decided to go with chocolate and peppermint.  Then I found a forgotten jar of peppermint and vanilla bean infused sparkling sugar in my box of sprinkles and decorative sugars, and knew that this was the cake to finally try an all-over sugar crust, which I've been wanting to do for a while.




Chocolate Peppermint Cake, Cake with Sparkling Sugar, Valentines Cake, Cake with Flowers, Wedding Cake

Chocolate Peppermint Cake, Cake with Sparkling Sugar, Valentines Cake, Cake with Flowers, Wedding Cake

Chocolate Peppermint Cake, Cake with Sparkling Sugar, Valentines Cake, Cake with Flowers, Wedding Cake

Chocolate Peppermint Cake, Cake with Sparkling Sugar, Valentines Cake, Cake with Flowers, Wedding Cake

Chocolate Peppermint Cake, Cake with Sparkling Sugar, Valentines Cake, Cake with Flowers, Wedding Cake

Chocolate Peppermint Cake, Cake with Sparkling Sugar, Valentines Cake, Cake with Flowers, Wedding Cake

Chocolate Peppermint Cake, Cake with Sparkling Sugar, Valentines Cake, Cake with Flowers, Wedding Cake

Chocolate Peppermint Cake, Cake with Sparkling Sugar, Valentines Cake, Cake with Flowers, Wedding Cake



You've probably seen those sprinkle-covered cakes, and maybe even watched a video or two, showing cake decorators turning a cake on its side to roll it in a sheet pan full of sprinkles.  While fun to watch, the method isn't very practical, because you have to buy far more sprinkles than are actually needed to cover the cake, and most home bakers wouldn't want to buy that many sprinkles in bulk (or store the leftover sprinkles).  And in all honesty, it doesn't take that many sprinkles - or in this case, sparkling sugar - to get good coverage.

So I opted for patting the sugar onto the sides of the cake using my hands.  To do this, I placed a 9x13 baking pan on the counter (to catch the falling sugar).  I placed a small bowl upside-down in the pan, set a non-slip pad on the base of the bowl (which is facing up), and set the cake (which should be on a cake board, stacked, filled and frosted smooth - no need to make it look perfect - with its final coat of buttercream) on top of the bowl.  Setting the cake on the overturned bowl will elevate it a few inches above the pan and make the whole process easier.  Starting with about a cup of sparkling sugar, I took a handful, and, starting at the bottom of the cake, patted it onto the buttercream (which should still be tacky, so you need to do this immediately after frosting the cake and before the buttercream crusts over) and gently smoothed the sugar on from the bottom up.  By sliding your hand from the bottom edge and up the sides of the cake while you pat and press the sugar on, your hand never touches the sticky buttercream, keeping everything neat and smooth.  Continue taking handfuls and patting it onto the sides, then finish the top.  Any sugar that falls into the pan can be scooped back up and used again.

My written explanation might not be that clear, but I had a hard time finding a video online that shows this method the correct way, but honestly, it's so easy.  It took me less than five minutes to apply the sugar. To do this yourself, you should look in the cake decorating section at your grocery store or craft store for decorative sanding or coarse sparkling sugar.  You can even mix a few together, which is what I did.  To the peppermint and vanilla bean sugar (which was somewhat fine and had an ivory color to it), I also added a little coarse white sparkling sugar and some silver sanding sugar.  That blend of sugars is what you see on my cake, and I think it looks so pretty with the pink buttercream showing through.  If you're wondering if the sugar crust makes the cake too sweet, the answer is no.  There's actually very little sugar sticking to the buttercream, and my buttercream is about half as sweet as most American buttercreams, so overall, the result is not too sweet.  It just adds a nice little crunch, and of course, beautiful sparkle.

I tend to save and freeze bits of leftover buttercream and cake so that nothing goes to waste, so when I pulled the chocolate and peppermint buttercream from the freezer, I also found some chocolate cake scraps that I'd sliced off the top of a cake to level it.  While stacking the cake, I crumbled up those cake scraps, piled them between the cake layers and drizzled them with chocolate syrup.  Doing this adds an extra depth of chocolate flavor in the filling, makes the cake a little bit taller, and uses up perfectly good leftover cake that might otherwise have gotten thrown away.  I liked this so much that I wrote it into the recipe below.  I think you'll love the richness it adds!

The cake was soft, moist and decadently chocolatey.  The peppermint buttercream adds a bit of freshness that's nice with all the rich chocolate.  Perfect to end a romantic meal with someone special.





Chocolate Peppermint Cake, Cake with Sparkling Sugar, Valentines Cake, Cake with Flowers, Wedding Cake

Chocolate Peppermint Cake, Cake with Sparkling Sugar, Valentines Cake, Cake with Flowers, Wedding Cake

Chocolate Peppermint Cake, Cake with Sparkling Sugar, Valentines Cake, Cake with Flowers, Wedding Cake

Chocolate Peppermint Cake, Cake with Sparkling Sugar, Valentines Cake, Cake with Flowers, Wedding Cake

Chocolate Peppermint Cake, Cake with Sparkling Sugar, Valentines Cake, Cake with Flowers, Wedding Cake

Chocolate Peppermint Cake, Cake with Sparkling Sugar, Valentines Cake, Cake with Flowers, Wedding Cake

Chocolate Peppermint Cake, Cake with Sparkling Sugar, Valentines Cake, Cake with Flowers, Wedding Cake

Chocolate Peppermint Cake, Cake with Sparkling Sugar, Valentines Cake, Cake with Flowers, Wedding Cake

Chocolate Peppermint Cake, Cake with Sparkling Sugar, Valentines Cake, Cake with Flowers, Wedding Cake




Baking Notes.
  1. I scaled my recipe down to make a three-layer 6-inch cake which is photographed for this post.  But, the recipe below is written for a standard 8-inch or 9-inch three-layer cake.
  2. As with everything I bake, my cakes are baked at high altitude (I live in Denver), and to achieve your own perfect results, you may need to make a few slight adjustments if you live at a lower altitude or sea level.  Please read this post and this post for all of my baking FAQs.  There are many articles online that can offer advice on how to adjust your flour, sugar and leavening for various altitudes.

Sparkling Chocolate and Peppermint Cake
printable


Chocolate Cake.
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened, Hershey's Special-Dark cocoa powder (or another dark, dutch-processed cocoa powder)
  • 1 tablespoon espresso powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
Chocolate Buttercream and Filling.
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Hershey's Special Dark)
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon meringue powder (optional)
  • 1/8 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk or cream, if needed
  • 1/2 cup chopped semi-sweet chocolate or mini chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups cake crumbs (reserved from the domed tops sliced off the baked cakes)
  • 1/4 cup chocolate syrup
Peppermint Buttercream.
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons meringue powder (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk or cream, if needed
  • pink or red gel food coloring

Cake.
Preheat the oven to 350 and grease three 8-inch pans with non-stick spray.  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, white sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Whisk in the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla until thick and combined, then gradually whisk in the boiling water, just until smooth; batter will be thin.

Divide batter between the cake pans and bake for 18-22 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool completely in the pans set on wire racks, covered loosely with a clean towel.

Carefully remove the cakes from the pans.  Use a sharp knife to level the domed tops of the cakes.  Crumble up the tops and set aside in a bowl.

Chocolate Buttercream and Filling.
With an electric mixer, beat the butter, cocoa powder, powdered sugar, meringue powder, salt and vanilla, adding the milk or cream if needed, for 4-5 minutes until very light and fluffy.

Place one cake on a cake board or cake pedestal.  Spread with 1/2 of the chocolate buttercream, right to the edge.  Sprinkle with 1/2 of the chopped chocolate or chocolate chips.  Sprinkle with 1/2 of the crumbled cake crumbs, then drizzle the cake crumbs with 1/2 of the chocolate syrup.  Repeat with the second cake layer and the rest of the chocolate buttercream, chopped chocolate, cake crumbs and chocolate syrup.  Place the third cake layer on top.

Peppermint Buttercream.
With an electric mixer, beat the butter, powdered sugar, meringue powder, vanilla and peppermint extracts, adding the milk or cream if needed, for 4-5 minutes until very light and fluffy.  Add a few drops of red or pink gel food coloring, if desired.

Frost the assembled cake all over with a thin "crumb coat" of peppermint buttercream, then chill the cake for 30 minutes.  Frost with the final pretty coat of peppermint buttercream.  Add the sparkling sugar now, if using.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen


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