Take the cake
Chocolate showstoppers from a rich new cookbook.
Supermarkets now offer a broad selection of chocolates, including semisweet, milk, white, and bittersweet. My super-scientific method of deciding what to use is to taste the chocolate – a fun job in itself. Try two or three different brands at a time, and keep to the same type for each tasting – all semisweet or all milk. As you sample the chocolate, let it melt in your mouth and decide if it has a pleasant chocolate flavor and leaves an aftertaste of chocolate rather than sugar or chemicals. The bottom line is that if chocolate tastes good by itself, it will taste good in your cakes.
Chocolate Zebra Cake
Makes 1 5-by-7½-inch cake
For the cake
Butter, for the pan
¾ cup flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
¼ cup heavy cream
For the filling and frosting
8 ounces white chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream, cold
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon amaretto or other almond liqueur
3 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350 degrees. Butter a jellyroll pan, about 15 by 10 inches. Line the bottom with parchment paper and butter the paper.
To make the cake: Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the eggs and granulated sugar until thickened and lightened to a cream color, about 4 minutes, stopping the mixer and scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts. Mix in half of the flour mixture just to incorporate it. Mix in the cream, then the remaining flour mixture, mixing just until the flour is incorporated and the batter looks smooth. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and gently spread it so that it fills the pan evenly. Bake until the top feels firm when gently touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack until it is cool to the touch, about 20 minutes. Spread a long sheet of wax paper on the counter. Invert the cake onto the paper. Carefully peel off the parchment paper and discard it.
To make the filling and frosting: Put the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl (or the top of a double boiler) and place it over, but not touching, barely simmering water in a saucepan (or the bottom of the double boiler). Stir constantly until the white chocolate is melted and smooth. Scrape into a large bowl and set aside to cool slightly. In another large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the cream, powdered sugar, vanilla and almond extracts, and amaretto until firm peaks form. Whisk about ½ cup of this whipped cream into the melted white chocolate until blended. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the remaining whipped cream.
Use a large, sharp knife to cut the cake into 4 equal rectangles, each measuring about 7½ by 5 inches. Use a large spatula to transfer one of the rectangles to a serving plate. Tuck wax-paper strips 1 inch or so under the cake all the way around to keep the plate clean. Spread about ¾ cup of the white-chocolate whipped cream over the top of the cake. Carefully place another cake rectangle on top of the filling and spread with ¾ cup of the whipped cream. Repeat with the remaining 2 layers. Spread remaining whipped cream over the top and sides of the cake.
Put the bittersweet or semisweet chocolate in a heatproof bowl (or the top of a double boiler) and place it over, but not touching, barely simmering water in a saucepan (or the bottom of the double boiler). Stir constantly until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Spoon the melted chocolate into a medium pastry bag fitted with a small round tip with about a 1/8-inch opening. Hold the pastry tip just above an end of the cake and pipe a series of zigzagging lines over the top of the cake.
Use a long serrated knife to cut the cake. Or cover and refrigerate the cake for up to 2 days. If refrigerated overnight, the cake is easier to cut and the flavor mellows as the white-chocolate whipped cream flavors the cake.
Makes 2 9-inch layers
Butter, for the pan 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 cups cake flour
2/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1¼ cups packed light brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1¼ cups buttermilk
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350 degrees. Butter the bottoms and sides of 2 9-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper and butter the paper. Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl (or the top of a double boiler) and place it over, but not touching, barely simmering water in a saucepan (or the bottom of the double boiler). Stir constantly until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove from over the water and set aside to cool slightly.
Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and brown and granulated sugars until smoothly blended and creamy, about 2 minutes, stopping the mixer and scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is blended into the batter. Add the vanilla and beat for 2 minutes. On low speed, mix in the melted chocolate. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with the buttermilk in 2 additions, mixing just until the flour is incorporated and the batter looks smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pans, dividing it evenly.
Bake just until the tops feel firm when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool in pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Use a small, sharp knife to loosen each cake from the sides of pan, and invert the cakes onto the wire rack. Carefully remove the parchment paper and place the paper loosely on the cakes. Let cool thoroughly, then discard the paper. Frost, if desired.
Excerpted from Chocolate Cakes: 50 Great Cakes for Every Occasion (Chronicle Books, 2010), by Elinor Klivans. Send comments or suggestions to email@example.com.