When it comes to desserts, I admit I’ve been known to go a little overboard. The more decadent, the better. Nothing has ever been “too much”. Richness? Absolutely. Pile it on. Add on some more layers – not just physically, but also texturally, and flavorfully (Is that even a word? If it isn’t, well… I just made it one.)
In my quest to eat better, I’ve really scaled back some – obviously – on my dessert craze. I bake much less – usually just my blog assignments, to be honest with you – and once I’ve tasted one piece/slice/serving (what have you), I try my best to give it away. If anything, it has made me much more appreciative of how good, and much of a treat, a well-made baked good is… each bite meant to be almost sensuously savored on the palate.
Another thing that has really opened my eyes is how BIG we, as Americans, really like our serving sizes. We love our hearty plates of pasta and our large slices of bread. We even crave pretty massive portions of salad – an otherwise ‘healthy’ choice, right? Well, even those salads – when piled with tons of extra ingredients and delicious salad dressing – can tip the scales. Simply put, we love things in excess! I say: nothing wrong with indulgence in moderation, though I don’t intend to start this blog on a preachy note by any means. This is a good observation, however, upon which to introduce this week’s Baked Sunday Mornings assignment: the Mile-High Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream, from Baked Elements.
Following in the famed footsteps of sky-high lemon meringue pies and soaring soufflés, Baked has surely created a cake to impress with this towering treat. It begins with 6 – yes, 6 – luscious layers of moist chocolate cake. Between each layer is tucked a creamy, not too sweet vanilla Italian-style buttercream speckled with vanilla bean. Crown off this tall achievement with a silky, sexy milk chocolate ganache and you’ve got a winner. Oh my. I knew I was in deep, deep trouble making this one.
I’m not going into much detail with how I made this cake, or each step – you can read that in the recipe (link below). My goal with this blog in the coming weeks is to get to the point where I do less ‘talking’ and let the yumminess in the photos do all the work for me. Believe me, this cake is delicious – even if I could only treat myself to one piece (at a whopping 884 calories! Yikes!). Instead, I’ll elaborate on a few key points I enjoyed while making this cake… and maybe one or two problematic issues.
First of all, Baked truly has your basic chocolate cake down, recipe-wise. Their chocolate cake recipe is fairly similar across all of their books, and it’s never let me down. The inclusion of tangy sour cream, which keeps the cake crumb moist and spongy, is perfect. I also appreciate the use of a dark cocoa. If you can afford the top-quality cocoa they recommend (such as Vahlrona), knock yourself out. Quality chocolate is going to make all the difference in your cake. Honestly, I have to settle for Hershey’s Special Dark unsweetened cocoa, which I find does just fine. I used it in the professional kitchen I used to be employed in, so I figured if the pros are using it, it can’t be that cheap or bad.
I’ve also (rather proudly) decided that I’ve really become quite the pro at Baked’s buttercream frosting – which truly takes some practice to nail down and can be quite fussy. It’s not for the faint of heart, and believe me, I endured my share of buttercream hard knocks and agonies the first few times I attempted it. Practice is essential.
The vanilla buttercream frosting in this particular recipe is an Italian buttercream, which basically involves cooking up a simple syrup in a saucepan to soft ball stage, then slowly and carefully pouring that syrup into beaten egg whites to make a meringue base for your frosting. (Still with me? Don’t be frightened… you can do it!) Then, add your room temperature butter, one tablespoon or so at a time, whipping the frosting pretty fiercely with your mixer until the buttercream is light, fluffy, silky, and yes – intensely buttery. (Some of my fellow BSM bakers have had luck with gently beating the frosting to incorporate the butter, but for me, I’ve found it works best when it’s beaten pretty quickly. My advice is to try it both ways and see what provides the preferable result for you.) When you hit the grocery store for your cake ingredients, better pick up an extra pound of butter for your fridge, because you will need a full pound for this recipe. When I made this buttercream, I think my meringue was still a touch too warm and my butter too soft, as it was relatively thin when I whipped everything together. I popped the entire mixing bowl into the fridge for about 10-15 minutes, then took it out and beat it again – voila! Perfect texture and consistency… and oh, so dangerously good. I’m not a frosting fanatic, but I seriously could have eaten this with a spoon and been satisfied.
According to Baked’s instructions, the cake layers, baked in three 8-inch cake pans, are sliced horizontally into 6 layers to sandwich the buttercream – hence the ‘mile-high’ effect. I’ve never been too good with horizontally slicing my cake layers, and I knew the minute I took my 3 cake layers out of the over that 6 layers was going to be incredibly tricky. What happened is a mystery to me, but I suspect that the butter for my cake might have been *too* room-temp and soft when I creamed it with the sugars, thus incorporating more air into the batter. This allowed my cakes to puff up, then promptly collapse deep in the centers while baking in the oven. Prior to frosting and per the recipe instructions, I did wrap and pop the layers into the freezer overnight as suggested prior to frosting, as the cake crumb was very, very delicate and needed some ‘firming up’. This did, indeed, make slicing the layers horizontally a touch easier, though my knife did go through the tops of my cakes – darn it! I sliced a little extra cake off the bottom, thicker layers and “patched” things up as I frosted the layers; you can see evidence of this in the cut slices of cake. If this happens to you as well, don’t agonize over it too much – your cake is still bound to impress your friends with its height and many layers, trust me.
I loved that Baked suggests keeping the sides frosting-free to highlight the layers, and the smooth milk chocolate ganache spread across the top and dripping down the sides is a visually pleasing final touch. I would suggest halving the ganache recipe. I found that it made more than enough for topping this cake. If you decide to make the full amount, I’m sure any extra would be wonderful heated up and poured over ice cream.
I have to be honest – with the many delicate layers of cake and all of the frosting and preparation, this recipe was a touch time-consuming and fussy. I would pull this recipe out only if I randomly desired to make a show-stopping dessert for a given event, or if I received a special request for it. My boyfriend Jake took one bite and immediately pronounced it the cake he wanted me to make for his birthday every year – which I answered with a slight groan (though I will happily make it for him, of course)! I also didn’t initially find the cake to be visually appealing. Perfectionist that I am, I’m a stickler for a dessert that looks good and then – damn! – tastes fantastic as well. When I shared initial photos of the cake on Facebook, however, I beheld a barrage of folks commenting that they wished they could be present to sink their forks into a piece right away, so I guess beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, even with desserts!
Overall, the combination of flavors in this cake is outstanding – try to get a bit of cake, buttercream, and ganache on your fork all at once. You’ll love it. You may even toss out your calorie counter for a day to enjoy just that one delicious slice of mile-high decadence. Treat yourself. You’ve earned it. Then take a walk or two around the block later. :-) If you’re not serving this up at a dinner party, wrap up individual pieces and deliver them to your neighbors on said walk! They will adore you!
To try your own Mile-High Chocolate Cake, follow this link:
…and please visit the pages of my fellow bakers to view their beautiful cakes!
Now who will take this massive cake out of my fridge and off my hands before I keep nibbling at it—?
Next Baked Sunday Mornings Assignment (September 15) ~ Orange Almond Ricotta Cheesecake