Sunday, December 28, 2008

Chocolate Chocolate Bourbon Cake... with Chocolate

A friend of mine convinced me to sign up for a cake decorating class with her. There were only going to be 4 classes, the cost was minimal and since I'm self-taught, I thought a little formal training would be good for me. Unfortunately, the last class was the Tuesday just before Christmas and I would have to miss it because I was going to be in Utah visiting my family. To make up for it, I decided to test my new skills and create a wonderful cake for our Christmas Eve party. The question was...what would I make?

A couple weeks before Christmas, the New York Times published a recipe for a Chocolate Bourbon bundt cake. One of my favorite food blogs Simply Recipes tested it out for me with rave reviews. Being that my mom is from Switzerland, she is an avid chocolate lover and we grew up with it all around. Now that we are all adults, throw a little bourbon into the mix and it's a sure winner. To incorporate my new cake decorating skills, I changed it from a bundt cake to a layered cake and decided on a chocolate ganache covering.

Chocolate Bourbon Cake

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups all-purpose flour

5 oz bittersweet dark chocolate
1/4 cup instant (or liquid) espresso, or instant coffee
2 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup bourbon whiskey
1/2 tsp kosher salt

2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 Tbs vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda
1 tub of store-bought dark chocolate frosting (or about 2 cups homemade)

Chocolate Ganache

9 oz bittersweet dark chocolate
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 325° and grease/flour two 8 or 9-inch round cake pans. Put the chocolate in a bowl and microwave until about halfway melted (about 2 minutes). Swirl the bowl until the chocolate is completely melted. (In one of my preliminary trials, I found that the chocolate burned on the bottom if I tried to melt the chocolate completely in the microwave. This method works a lot better). Set the bowl aside to let it cool.

Put instant espresso and cocoa powder in a 2 cup measuring cup. Add boiling water up to the 1 cup line and stir until all the powders are completely dissolved. Add the whiskey and the kosher salt and set aside to let it cool.

In your mixing bowl, beat the butter until fluffy. Add sugar and beat until well combined. Add eggs one at a time and beat between each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract and baking soda. By this time, the chocolate should be fairly cooled, add it to the mix and make sure to get the majority of the chocolate into your mixing bowl by using a spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl. Add 1/3 of the coffee/whiskey mixture and mix thoroughly into your cake batter. Now add 1 cup of the flour and mix thoroughly. Add the next 1/3 of coffee/whiskey mixture and mix. Follow with another cup of flour and mix. And finally add the remaining coffee/whiskey mixture and mix.

Pour batter into your cake pans and put in the oven for about 45-55 minutes. I made this cake in both Philadelphia (humid climate, elevation 39 ft) and in Utah (dry climate, elevation 5100 ft) and the baking time was shorter in Utah (as might be expected). So, check your cake around 40 minutes for a Utah-like climate and more around 50 minutes for a Philly climate. The easiest way to check if a cake is done is to put a toothpick in the center. If it comes out clean (no batter-like residue), then it's done. Let your cake pans cool for 15 minutes, then invert the cake pans onto wire racks and carefully remove the cake from the pans.

When the cakes have cooled completely, assemble your cake onto your decorating surface (I just used a flipped over 10" cake pan). If you have a lot of doming on your cakes, you may want to trim the domed part off. My cakes didn't dome that much, so I used a clean dish towel to gently compress the top of the cake immediately after I took it out of the oven. Place one cake layer on your surface with the domed side up. Add about a 1/4" thick layer of frosting to the top of the cake
and then gently place the second layer on the cake with the domed side down. Use the rest of your frosting to add a crumb coat to the cake. A crumb coat is a THIN coat of frosting that just adheres all the crumbs to the cake. It helps achieve a smoothed look when you add the ganache. This layer of frosting should be thin enough that you can actually see the cake through the layer. The only place where you may want to add more than just a thin amount is at the frosted middle layer between the two cakes. You want to fill (spackle if you will) all the holes in the middle region so in the end you have a flat surface for the entire height of your cake. Place cake in fridge for 30 minutes until the crumbcoat hardens. You can leave it in the fridge overnight if you'd prefer.

When the crumbcoat is hardened, start on your ganache. Place the chocolate into a bowl. In a sauce pan bring the 1 cup of heavy cream to just below a boil. You need to stir
constantly to prevent the cream from sticking (and burning) to the bottom of the pan. The goal here is to get the cream extremely hot so that it melts the chocolate. When the cream is just about to start boiling, take it off the heat and pour it directly into the bowl of chocolate. Using a spatula, stir and fold the cream into the chocolate until you have a nice, smooth thick chocolate syrup. In the end, if you have small bits of unmelted chocolate, just pop the bowl into the microwave for about 30 seconds and stir again. Let the ganache cool before applying to the cake.

Place a wire rack onto a baking sheet. Take your cake out of the fridge and place on the wire rack. Pour the ganache onto the top of the cake and allow it to drizzle down the sides. W
hen I've used about 1/2 of my ganache, I get a spatula and start working on the sides of the cake first. You want a nice even coat of ganache on the side. There is likely an excess of chocolate on the top of the cake, so if I need more chocolate on one side of the cake I use my spatula to push the chocolate off the top and onto the side I'm working on. I continue to take chocolate from the bowl and the top of the cake until the sides are nice and flat and smooth. Don't worry about the very bottom of the cake where the chocolate is dripping off onto the baking sheet. We can fix that later. Once you are happy with the sides, clean up the top of the cake to your liking. Place in the fridge until you are ready to decorate.

To decorate the cake, move your cake to it's final resting place. For me that was a glass cake pedestal. To transfer the cake I use two wide metal spatulas. The cake will be very heavy, so you need to support it underneath as you transfer it. Once placed on the cake pedestal/plate, use a s
harp flat edge knife to trim the bottom of the excess chocolate from the bottom of the cake. For my decorations, I made 3 gumpaste carnations and dipped them in an edible gold pearl dust. I learned how to make these flowers in my cake decorating class and perhaps that's a post for another time. In fact, that's the only part of my class that I'm using for this cake. Initially, I wanted to add a satin ribbon to the bottom, but was convinced that an all edible cake was better. So, I created a pink fondant ribbon for the bottom that I shimmered with the gold pearl dust.

All in all this cake tasted and looked just like I wanted it to. It was very rich and chocolatey, but the addition of the bourbon and the espresso added a hint of uniqueness to the cake. Don't hesitate about the amount of bourbon used, it's perfect and
melds nicely into the cake. I think this cake is a great crowd pleaser for parties. Because of it's richness, partygoers will likely only have one slice, but that's perfect when there is a lot of people.

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