Anyway. In honor of my birthday, I baked myself a cake. Actually I baked myself a third of a cake. Well, half a cake. Sort of. It was a two-layer half-cake made with one-third of a recipe.
Let me explain. We have a family chocolate cake recipe, passed down from my great grandmother. It won an award at the county fair one year. It's a great cake, light mocha flavor and a texture that is out of this world. So that is the cake I wanted for this momentous occasion.
The thing is, though, it's big cake. And there are only two of us here to eat it, and what with Thanksgiving and all, there was already a large pumpkin pie in the refrigerator. So I decided to make half a recipe -- but the recipe calls for 3 eggs. What to do, what to do. Then I decided that since this cake can be baked in 3 layers, I'd just make 1/3 of the recipe and bake it in a single layer. And since I still wanted a layer cake, I would cut the later in half after it was baked and iced it just like a regular layer cake. As you can see, it ended up looking pretty good!
Well -- here's the recipe for the whole cake. You'll just have to put up with the commentary -- this is a family recipe, and I want anyone who tries it to have a good result. You'll see, it's worth the effort!
Award-Winning Chocolate Mocha Buttermilk Cake
Handed down from my great-grandma, Ellen Ulery.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Lightly grease two 9-inch round cake pans, or three 8-inch round cake pans. Dust lightly with flour and set aside.
2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
- If you must use regular all-purpose flour, sift it before measuring the 2 cups.
- You can use regular white sugar instead of superfine. But cake flour and superfine sugar will yield a more tender cake with a wonderfully smooth texture.
3 squares (3 oz) unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup strong coffee
- If you don't have a double boiler, set one pot in a larger one that has water in it. Chocolate needs to be melted at a low heat. If the bottom of the pot it's in is touching the flame, the heat will be higher than it ought to be for melting chocolate.
1 cube (1/2 cup) butter
1 cup superfine sugar (see comments, above)
- Butter should be room temperature before you start. You can use your microwave to defrost it but only if you are sure you can do so without melting it. Much better to leave it out of the fridge for an hour or so before you start.
3 eggs, 1 at a time, reserving whites
- Separate each white into an individual cup or small bowl before adding it to the others. This way, if you get yolk in one, you will not ruin the whole batch. You will need 3 egg whites, and since they will be whipped, you cannot have any yolk in the mixture -- none at all. If there is any visible yolk in them, the whites will not whip.
Add the cooled chocolate mixture to the butter, sugar and egg yolk, and then add:
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Mix thoroughly. Now is the time to stir as much as possible, before adding flour to the batter.
1 cup buttermilk
- If you do not have buttermilk, you can substitute 1 cup of milk and 1 scant teaspoon of vinegar. This will curdle the milk -- just like buttermilk is curdled. This indicates acidity that is needed to interact with the baking soda.
Add to the egg whites:
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar (optional; aids in whipping)
Whip the egg whites until stiff, but not dry. They should hold a soft peak and have a good volume. Now fold the egg whites into the batter.
- Fold them in rapidly, evenly but without overmixing. The goal here is to incorporate the air of the egg whites into the batter; if you overmix you will negate the effort. Don't worry about a few small bits of visible egg white, but no big unmixed masses please!
Remove from the oven onto cooling racks or boards. After about 10 minutes, remove the layers from the cake pans and allow them to cool completely.
When the layers are thoroughly cooled, ice with the following icing:
French Mocha Icing
Beat until soft:
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) butter
Sift or stir together:
2 cups confectioner's (powdered) sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Stir the sugar mixture into the butter and mix thoroughly.
3 tablespoons strong hot coffee
Beat until the icing is smooth. If too thin, add powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. If too stiff, add more coffee, 1 teaspoon at a time. The icing should be soft enough to spread easily and stiff enough to hold its shape when on the cake.
Ice the top of the bottom layer, then place the next layer on top. Now ice the sides, and finish by icing the top.
Final notes: This cake bakes higher at altitudes of 2500 feet or more. It is a tender batter, so do not open the oven until you are ready to check it for doneness, and don't slam any doors near the kitchen while it is baking. If your oven runs hot, either lower the temperature or check at 20-30 minutes. Baking too long can make a dry cake, even if it doesn't burn it. These are good rules generally when baking cakes.