Friday, February 3, 2012

The Darkest Birthday Cake Ever

This past weekend was my husband's birthday, and as an avid fan of chocolate, he requested a chocolate cake. But not just a cake with some chocolate, a cake where every component was chocolate. I've never made a chocolate cake least not one that didn't come in a box labeled Dunan Hines or Betty Crocker. Challenge accepted.

In thinking about how to go about making this concoction the epitome of chocolatey-ness, it occurred to me that I still had dark chocolate ganache and some leftover chocolate mousse in the why not use them? I'd been reading Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours so I zeroed in on the Cocoa-Buttermilk Chocolate Cake. It seemed doable, and I already had all the ingredients at home, so I did a mini test-run using some tart tins.

The test cake was pretty good, and not too hard to assemble. I wish I could say the same thing about the larger version...

Don't get me wrong--it was still all kinds of chocolatey goodness (a bit too much for me actually), but there were definitely some learning moments involved in this multi-day adventure. I know the recipe seems really long and complicated, but if you look at it as individual tasks and just take them one at a time, it's not too bad, really.

Deep Dark Chocolate Cake

Adapted from David Lebovitz's adaptation of Julia Child's Perfect Chocolate Mousse and Dorie Greenspan's Cocoa-Buttermilk Chocolate Cake.

Day 1


  • 6 oz (170g) bittersweet chocolate wafers
  • 6 oz (170g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/8 c (30ml) dark-brewed coffee or espresso
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 2/3 c (170g), plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 c (60 ml) orange juice
  • 1 T (15ml) water
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 oz (113g) bittersweet chocolate wafers
  • 4 oz (113g) heavy cream
  • 1 T granulated sugar
  1. Put 4 oz chocolate in a small heat-proof bowl. Heat 4 oz heavy cream in a saucepan just until it starts to boil.
  2. Pour cream over chocolate and whisk until the chocolate has completely melted. Set aside (uncovered).
  3. Assemble the mousse ingredients as follows: Fill the largest bowl 1/3 full with ice water. In a heatproof bowl largest enough to fit securely on top of a saucepan (or in the top of a double boiler) combine chocolate wafers, butter and coffee or espresso. Using a bowl small enough to fit in the ice bath but large enough to nest securely on top of the saucepan and hold 6 cups of liquid, add the egg yolks, 2/3 c sugar, orange juice and water. In a fourth bowl large enough to use a hand mixer combine the egg whites and salt.
  4. Melt the chocolate wafers, butter and coffee (or espresso) together in a double boiler or over a saucepan of lightly simmering water. Once everything has completely melted and the mixture is smooth, set aside, being careful not to get any of the steam in the chocolate mixture.
  5. Place the bowl with the egg yolks over the simmering water, stirring constantly until it thickens a bit (3-5 minutes). Remove from heat and place in the prepared ice bath.
  6. Whip the egg whites and salt until it's thick, but not stiff. The whites should hold their shape but still be soft in texture. I strongly recommend using a hand mixer; I tried to do it by hand and it didn't work very well.
  7. Add the chocolate mixture into the egg yolks, stirring just until they're combined. In 3 equal parts, fold the egg whites gently into the chocolate mixture until completely incorporated.
  8. Cover and refrigerate both the mousse and the ganache.

Day 2 (at least 24 hours after finishing Day 1 tasks)


  • 4 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 t baking powder
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 c sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 t pure vanilla extract
  • 1 c milk
Cocoa Whipped Cream
  • 2 c heavy cream
  • 2 T granulated sugar
  • 2 T cocoa powder
  1. Take the ganache out of the fridge to allow it to soften. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and place one rack in the center position (and the other just below it if using 4 pans instead of 2).
  2. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt until thoroughly combined.
  3. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or a hand mixer and a large bowl, beat the butter until soft.
  4. Add 1 1/2 c sugar and beat until thoroughly combined (about 2 minutes).
  5. One at a time add the eggs and egg yolks, waiting about a minute between each addition.
  6. Add in the vanilla.
  7. Reduce the mixer speed to the lowest setting and add in the flour mixture and milk alternately as follows: 1/3 flour, 1/2 milk, 1/3 flour, 1/2 milk, 1/3 flour. Just allow the batter to come together before adding the next batch.
  8. Turn off the mixer and fold in the melted chocolate by hand.
  9. Portion the batter evenly into 2 or 4 cake pans. Bake in preheated oven (25-30 minutes for 2 pans, 12-15 minutes for 4 pans).
  10. When the cakes are done, allow them to cool for about 10 minutes before turning the cakes out to cool on a rack, top-side up.
  11. Once the cakes have completely cooled: if you baked 2 cake layers, use a serrated knife to split each one in half; trim off the tops of the cake layers if they crowned so they are pretty level.
  12. Place a single layer on a cake round or plate. Take the chocolate mousse from the fridge and spoon about 3/4 c onto the top of the first layer. No need to measure, just estimate it. Smooth out the mousse with a spatula and place the second layer on top.
  13. Stir or whisk the ganache until smooth and pliable again. Spoon it all onto the top of the second layer of cake and smooth out with a clean spatula. Set the third layer of cake on top of the ganache.
  14. Spoon another 3/4 c of the mousse onto the third layer of cake and smooth out with a spatula. Top with final cake layer.
  15. In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl (if using a hand mixer), whip the heavy cream, granulated sugar and cocoa powder until the mixture has thickened but not stiff.
  16. Using a clean spatula smooth the whipped cream around the sides of the cake until it is completely covered. Once the sides are iced, use the spatula to smooth more whipped cream over the top of the cake.
Things I learned from this project:
  1. When using ganache in a layer cake, DO NOT chill the cake after spreading the ganache layer. It will harden and the next layer won't stick to it. Therefore the cake will fall apart when cut.
  2. Dividing the batter into a separate pan for each layer (and dividing the oven time in half) instead of cutting the cake into layers with a knife is well worth the extra dishes.
  3. If a recipe says to butter the pan, don't be shy with the butter. When the bottom of your cake sticks to the bottom of the pan you'll wish you'd used an entire stick. Or just use cooking spray. Whatever gets your cake out in one piece.
  4. I like cocoa whipped cream better than chocolate whipped cream. Who knew?


  1. How fabulously decadent! My chocoholic family would love this!

    1. It really was so good. The mousse, ganache and whipped cream provided different textures and all the elements really complemented each other. I was sort of worried that they would somehow compete or just not taste right together but it was great. I did use the same chocolate in the cake, mousse and ganache, so that probably helped. This cake will definitely get made again!