My dearest M,
It’s been quite a weekend here at the house. With Barnaby’s big birthday arrived at last, our guest Mr. Patrick confided in me the sore temptations of Paris the previous weeks, as he wrestled with a doctor-imposed chocolate fast. But as chocolate was dear Barnaby’s only birthday request, there was nothing to be done. Poor Mr. Patrick was able to avoid the chocolate table for barely a minute when, taking a page out of the Comte de Reynaud’s playbook (Chocolat), he left no morsel untouched.
Barnaby's Big Chocolate Cake
3-3/8 cups (743 g) light brown sugar
3-3/8 cups (405 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/8 cups (96 g) Dutch process cocoa
3-3/8 tsp. (20 g) baking soda
1-3/4 tsp. (7 g) baking powder
3/8 tsp. (2 g) salt
1-3/4 cup (414 ml) strong coffee
1-3/4 cup (414 ml) buttermilk
1 cup (237 ml) canola oil
5 large eggs (275 g)
2-1/4 tsp. vanilla (11 ml)
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Prepare three 12″ cake pans with oiled parchment cut to fit the bottom of the pans. Set aside.
2. Combine sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, soda and salt in the bowl of a mixer and whisk on low to combine, making sure it’s lump free. Add the coffee, buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla and mix on medium low for two minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides. The batter will be pourable.
3. Divide the batter among the prepared pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let the cakes cool before removing them from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack. Remove parchment papers before assembling. (As I wasn’t ready to make the frosting, I stacked them (with parchment still on) and let them sit overnight at room temperature under a cake protector).
CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM FROSTING
This makes enough to frost the 12” cake
1 pound (453 g) bittersweet chocolate (I buy Callebaut in chunks and chop it; always use a brand you love)
12 oz. (340 g) semisweet chocolate chips (again use a brand you really like)
3/4 cup egg whites (180 g), at room temperature
1-1/2 cups (300 g) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. (1 g) cream of tartar
3/4 tsp. (3 g) kosher salt
1-1/2 pounds (680 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tsp. (15 ml) pure vanilla extract
3 tsp. (12 g) instant espresso powder, dissolved in 1-1/2 tsp. water
3 T (44 ml) dark rum, optional
Chop the chocolates and place them in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.
Mix the egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Place the bowl of egg whites over the pan of simmering water (don’t let bottom touch water) and heat the egg whites until they are warm to the touch, about 5 minutes. Return the bowl to the electric mixer and whisk on high speed for 5 minutes, or until the meringue is cool and holds a stiff peak.
Add the butter, 1 T. at a time, while beating on medium speed. Scrape down the bowl, add the melted chocolate, vanilla, espresso and rum, if using, and mix for one minute or until the chocolate is completely blended in. If the butter seems very soft, allow it to cool and beat it again. Or if it looks like it is separating as you beat, be patient, it will come together again.
Place a piece of parchment paper that has been cut through the middle (almost all the way) onto your cake plate or cake stand (this will keep the plate clean while you frost). Center the first cake onto the plate. Make sure you’ve removed the parchment paper on each layer.
Frost bottom layer (1/4”-3/8” thick); put second layer on top of that. Repeat, add third layer. Frost entire cake. This cake is great with toasted hazelnuts or macademia nuts on top. And edible flowers make for a festive presentation too!
Cake recipe provided by Susan Nickum with additional thanks to Judith Weinstock for sharing her amazing chocolate buttercream recipe.