Monday, April 25, 2011

The Great Cake Part V: The Great Cake


     What? We have actually reached the end? Can that be possible? Can the whole cake finally be on display four days after it was actually completed and a day after it was finally finished? Yes, yes it can. Welcome to the beginning of the end everyone, welcome to the post about the Whole Great Cake.

     Putting this cake together was a process that began on Wednesday night, with me taking the layers out of the freezer to defrost and then realizing I would have to wake up early on Thursday to actually put the cake together. When I start talking about waking up early you know something significant is happening: I Never wake up early. So, Thursday morning I woke up. One layer went onto the chopping board, I don't have a cake platter...., then the thinnest of frosting layers (I had to thin the frosting out with a little milk - but these little things will happen), second layer, thin frosting layer, third layer, thin frosting layer. This makes it sound like such a fast efficient little process. It was a little bit different.


     First off, one is supposed to level layer cakes. One is supposed to use a serrated knife to cut through them so they are Flat. My excuse for not doing so? I don't own a serrated knife. Actually, it was early in the morning and at such a time my mind does not like dealing with things like levelling. The chocolate layer, the bottom layer, was fairly flat, so it was not an issue. The butterscotch layer had a mind of its own though, it was definitely rounded on top. Then, I had a eureka moment! You see, the banana layer had fallen a little in the middle, so it was concave. So, what did I do??? I put it upside down onto the butterscotch layer so its concaveness was filled with the roundedness of the butterscotch layer. Leaving the top of the cake nice and smooth. Ta da!

     OK so it still looks unstable, but it was better than it could have been. The next part was less efficient: Trying to frost the outside of the cake. First, use some frosting as glue to glue down all the crumbly bits that want to fall off your cake. This is called the Crumb Coat. Then, use a spatula, or flat spoon, or um...your spread the rest of the frosting along the top and sides of your cake. 

     I covered the cake well enough, and the top looked beautiful, but the frosting was spread rather thinly along the sides. See how you can still see the layers? I just had one coat, not the three or four that give a cake its frosted look. I did not want to make more frosting, after all it would also make the cake too sweet. But, I was unsatisfied. So, what did I do? I made caramel.

     Actually, I made two sets of caramel. I burned the first one, bad me. It was silly really. When you halve a recipe, what should you do with the caramel boiling time? You should halve it. When you forget the boiling time has been halved, you have burnt caramel on your hands. But, one perseveres. Ten minutes before I had to get to work I whipped up a new batch of caramel, and it was perfect! Then, I had work, then I raced back home, drizzled my caramel in my artsiest fashion all over the cake, figured out how to carry it (chopping board on top of plastic box lid under large plastic box - ingenuity is sometimes the order of the day), and then walked it six blocks to class. My arms may have almost fallen off, but it was worth it.

    The cake sat there, in all its glory, for most of class while I stared at it longingly. Then, I got to cut it! Then I got to eat it! And it came out perfectly.

     Each layer was moist, and the slight denseness of the butterscotch layer actually was a great contrast to the softness of the other two layers. The chocolate layer was chocolatey and had just a hint of mocha from the coffee, the banana layer had all the flavors of cinnamon and spices, and the butterscotch layer was, as my professor said, like a deep vanilla flavor. I guess it was not as butterscotch-y without its caramel frosting, but that didn't make it any less good. I love when things work out the way you want them to. Even if it means that your favorite class in all the world is over. I guess you can't have everything.

The cake in class
Butterscotch Layer
Adapted from How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson

1/2 cup Unsalted Butter, Softened
3 1/2 tbsp Brown Sugar
1/4 cup Granulated sugar
2 Large Eggs
3/4 cup All-Purpose Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
2 tbsp Milk

Generously butter a 9'' round pan, and pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Then, in a medium bowl, cream the butter and both types of sugar. Beat in the vanilla and the eggs, and then fold in the flour. When everything is incorporated, add the milk so that the batter is liquidy. Scrape the batter into the cake pan and bake it for 25 minutes, until a toothpick stuck into it comes out clean. Cool it on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto the rack to cool completely. If you are making this in advance, wait till it is thoroughly cooled (at least an hour) before wrapping it tightly in cling film to put into the freezer.

Chocolate Layer
Adapted from Joy the Baker

1/2 cup Hot Brewed Coffee (I used instant Nescafe...)
1/3 cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1/4 cup Milk
1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 cup All-Purpose Flour
1/2 + 1/8 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 cup Butter
1/2 + 1/8 cup Packed Brown Sugar
1/3 cup Granulated Sugar
2 Large Eggs

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9'' round cake pan, then line the bottom with a round of parchment paper, then butter on top of the parchment paper and around the sides of the pan. Then, flour the pan, i.e. add a couple of tablespoons of flour, push the pan around so the flour coats the bottom and sides of the pan, and then knock out the excess flour. (Yes, this cake is sticky, do all of the above).

In a medium bowl, whisk together the coffee and cocoa powder. Then, whisk in the milk and vanilla. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. In a third large bowl, cream the butter and two sugars. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Then, beat in the flour and cocoa mixture alternately in three batches, starting and ending with the flour mixture. After making sure everything is thoroughly combined, scrape the batter into the pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool the cake on a wire rack in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert it onto the rack, remove the parchment paper, and allow it to cool completely. Cling wrap it once it is completely cool and freeze it, if you are not planning to use it that day or the next.

Banana Layer
Adapted from Baking with Buttermilk from Culinary Covers

1 1/2 cup All-Purpose Flour
3/4 tsp Cinnamon
3/4 tsp Baking Powder
1/3 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 cup Butter
3/4 cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1/2 tbsp Instant Coffee Powder (long live Nescafe)
1 Large Egg
3 tbsp Butter
1 cup Banana Puree (i.e. 3 small Very Ripe bananas mashed thoroughly)

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9'' pan and line the bottom with a parchment paper round. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Then, beat in the vanilla and expresso powder, and then the eggs one at a time. Once they are all combined, stir in half of the flour. Then, stir in the yogurt and the mashed bananas. Add the rest of the flour and stir until just combined (do not overmix). Scrape the batter into the cake pan, and bake about 40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack, then invert the cake onto the rack and remove the parchment paper. Wait till it is thoroughly cool before wrapping it in clingfilm to put in the freezer.

Vanilla Buttercream
Adapted from Savory Sweet Life

1 cup Unsalted Butter, Softened (If you microwave it, it will not be the right consistency, it will be too Melty but not Soft - just leave it out of the fridge for a few hours and you should be golden)
3 1/2 cups Powdered Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt
1 tbsp Vanilla Extract
4 tbsp Milk

In a large bowl, first cream the butter by itself for a few minutes. Then, add the powdered sugar. Go very slowly at first, and combine the butter into the sugar. When most of it is combined, turn the beater up to high and mix them together thoroughly. Continue beating and add the salt, vanilla extract, and 2 tbsp of milk. If you want frosting to cover the entire cake, like I had, you need it to be liquidy, so after mixing everything, add another 2 tbsp of milk to get that consistency. If you are going to refrigerate this overnight, the frosting will become hard so you will probably need to beat in another tablespoon of milk to get it to the right consistency again.

Adapted from How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson

1/2 cup Sugar
1/4 cup Water
1/2 tbsp Butter
4 tbsp Milk

In a small saucepan at low heat, dissolve the sugar in the water Without Stirring at all (stirring makes the sugar recrystallize). Once it is dissolved, raise the heat and boil the sugar until it starts turning a dark golden color and then Immediately take it off the heat, this should take 4-5 minutes. Immediately whisk in the butter, so that the caramel turns a light golden color. Then, whisk in the milk. Leave it off the heat to cool, and refrigerate if you are saving it for later. You will probably have to reheat it on the stove for a minute so that it becomes liquid again to decorate the cake.

The Great Cake

1 Chocolate Cake
1 Butterscotch Cake
1 Banana Cake
2 1/2 cups Vanilla Buttercream (i.e. the recipe above) 
1/2 cup Caramel 

If the cakes are frozen, place them in the fridge one day in advance of assembling the cake to make sure they defrost. When putting the cake together, use a large flat surface like a cake platter or chopping board to assemble. First, place the chocolate cake on the board, dollop on 1 large spoon of frosting and spread it over the entire top of the cake, covering it thinly. Place the butterscotch layer on top, and cover it with the same amount of frosting. Then, place the banana layer. (If they are very uneven and rounded on top you should level them, or stack them like I did in a way that you still get a smooth top of the cake and it is stable). Once the cakes are stacked, take small scoops of frosting and go around the top rim of the top cake, making sure all the crumbs are firmly stuck on. Then, frost the top of the cake and the sides, making sure to fill any gaps or firmly attach any crumbs onto the cake. Once all the frosting is used up, place the cake in the fridge, so the frosting firms up. After at least half an hour, take out the cake and drizzle it with the cooled caramel in whatever pattern you would desire. Cut and enjoy!


  1. I love you and can't wait to see you in a few weeks!! Forget visiting Brussels...come cook with me!! <3

  2. I will cook with you any day. I'M SO EXCITED YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW! Now I just have to get through finals....

  3. I knew this amazingly delicious cake must have taken a lot of work, but I had no idea just how much! It was great reading the epic five-part story of its creation. I'm so impressed by your ability to put together something like this right before finals... and especially as a pre-med! You are an inspiration. I'm also amazed at your self-discipline and generosity in trying to get us all to take leftovers home from class: after all that work, you really deserved to eat the whole thing! I hope you and your friend who helped both got to gorge yourselves on it.
    Also mourning the ending of the best class ever,
    Emily S.

  4. Thanks so much for all the lovely compliments! It really didn't feel like work at all, it was so much fun. I can't wait to read your story - the class isn't over yet! Not while we have so much great summer reading to do.