Friday, November 28, 2008

Another Birthday - Wow!

Well I can't believe it but another birthday has come and gone. Back when I hit the big 4-oh, I remember feeling bad and thinking I was getting old. Well, 40 is looking pretty young to me now! But I've gotten over feeling bad about my age -- getting older, after all, beats the alternative!

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.

Sift together:

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.
Melt in the top of a double boiler:

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.
Set the chocolate mixture aside to cool (remove the bottom part of the double boiler with the hot water in it before setting aside).

Cream together:

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.
Mix the yolks one at a time into the butter and sugar mixture. Mix each one thoroughly, it will help the sugar to dissolve and make the mixture smoother.

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 the flour and buttermilk alternately to the butter mixture, mixing after each addition: one-third of the flour, one-half of the buttermilk, one-third of the flour, last one-half of the buttermilk, last one-third of the flour. When adding the flour: fold it in rapidly but do not overstir; it's okay if there are a few bits of dry flour (but no big lumps) after each addition of flour.

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!
Divide the batter evenly into the prepared cake pans and place in the oven. Bake 25-35 minutes (shorter time if making 3 layers, longer time if making 2 layers). Cake is done when (a) the center does not wiggle when touched lightly with a finger; and (b) a toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean (no uncooked batter on the toothpick).

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.


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