On Thursday evening, a few of my friends and I went to eat dinner at a Korean restaurant to celebrate my best friend Jenny’s sixteenth birthday. I decided to wear my heels because I wanted to dress up a little bit. I never had the cause to get dressed up to go to work, so any outing with friends was a good excuse as any to wear pretty shoes.
As the baker of the group (besides Jenny herself and Suzy), I volunteered to make a cake. I haven’t really felt inspired to bake at home lately, since I spend the majority of my waking hours working at a bakery, but I was feeling motivated to bake something for Jenny. Originally, I had said that I would bake mini cupcakes, since they are smaller and more portion-size-friendly. And then I thought about the fact that making cupcakes would required me to scoop the batter into each cup (as if I don’t do that at work enough already) while to make a cake, all I had to do was pour the batter into pans.
After a lot of thought, I decided to make a zebra cake, inspired from the recipe book that Jenny had found at the library. The night before, I baked the cakes, let them cool, and stored them in the fridge. This worked out really well, because the cake layers are much, much easier to work with when they are cold. On Thursday, I went home immediately after work ended and chopped the chocolate for the white chocolate ganache, as according to the book.
The book suggested melting the chocolate, allowing it to cool a bit, and then folding it into whipped cream, so I went ahead and did that. Big mistake. The cream was still cold (because the book didn’t specify whether the cream should be cold or at room temperature; I, along with most people, tend to beat cream while it is cold because it whips better) and the chocolate solidified the mixture into a grainy mess.
In an attempt to revive the ganache, I melted the chocolate/cream mixture over the double boiler again and then tried to rewhip it in an ice bath. The cream thickened slightly, so I figured that it would be fine to use because that it would continue to set once it chilled in the fridge. I filled the cake with the ganache and spread it over the cake layers and plopped the cake into the fridge. To my dismay, the ganache began to run off the sides the instant I took the cake out to finish decorating.
At this point, I was beginning to panic because I was running out of time. Hastily, I scraped all the melting ganache off the cake and whipped up some stabilized cream. Oh, how I love stabilized whipped cream (and luckily, so does Jenny). The only part in which you can truly mess up (besides beating the cream into butter) is if you don’t beat continuously while you add the melted gelatine. I frosted the cake quickly and went to meet my friends.
In our group, I’m also the one who’s always holding the camera. I usually give the cake/backpack/bag/book/whatever else I don’t want to hold to a friend and he holds it for me (works like a charm until he realizes that he’s still holding my bag). I gave the cake to Shaun so that I could take pictures and he passed the box around to all the other guys so they could have a turn holding the cake.
Dinner was lovely. I had homemade noodles with black bean sauce and some kind of vegetable fried rice. After we all finished eating, it came time for the cake. As the waiter cut the (poorly designed) box open, he sighed a sympathetic sigh and left abruptly. When I saw the cake, I understood why he’d left in such a hasty manner: the entire top half of the cake had slid off the bottom and no waiter wants to have that blame fall on his shoulders. Everyone attributed the damaged cake to one of the cake-holder’s faults for banging the cake around, but I ventured a guess that it was that melt-y white chocolate ganache in the middle which had caused the second layer of cake to slide off.
I was disappointed that after all the hard work I had put into frosting the cake, it looked like this when Jenny got to see it. In fact, I had been in such a rush that I didn’t even take a picture of the cake when it was intact. Somehow, Jenny managed to slide the entire cake layer back onto the other one with a butter knife. We gathered for pictures and lit the sparklers (because Jenny likes sparklers) and sang happy birthday, in all cheesiness. It didn’t even matter what the cake looked like anymore; it was the thought that counted.
Happy Sixteenth Birthday, Jenny!
Click below for the recipe.
Jenny's Chocolate Cream Cake
Note: I use gelatine to stabilize the whipped cream, ensuring that it will hold its shape. The secret to getting beautifully thick chocolate shavings is to use a vegetable peeler and a block of chocolate which is at room temperature. The shavings are extremely fragile, so I recommend storing them in the freezer until you need to use them if you make them in advance.
Adapted from: Food & Wine, May 2008
- 1 cup unsalted butter, melted, or vegetable oil
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup sour cream
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups heavy cream, chilled
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons gelatine
- 2 tablespoons water
- chocolate block, for chocolate shavings
Preheat oven to 350F. Butter two 8-inch round pans, line with parchment, butter, and dust with flour.
In a small saucepan, melt butter and instant coffee. In a medium bowl, mix the egg with the melted butter, milk, sour cream, and vanilla extract until combined.
In a large bowl, sift flour with sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the wet ingredients and beat until smooth, scraping the bottom and side of the bowl. Divide the batter evenly among the two cake pans.
Bake the cakes in the center of the oven for about 40-50 minutes, until springy and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cakes cool completely in the pan, and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting. (Chilled cakes are much easier to work with.)The unfrosted cakes can be wrapped in plastic and stored in the fridge for up to 2 days, or frozen for up to a month.
For the cream, in a small bowl, stir the water and gelatine together. Microwave for about ten seconds on high or until the gelatine is completely melted. Stir.
In a large bowl, beat the cream, sugar, and vanilla together until soft peaks form. While the mixer is running, pour the cream in, being sure the gelatine mixture in caught by the whisks and mixed into the cream immediately after you pour it in. If you do not follow that step carefully, the gelatine will solidify into chunks. Continue whipping until medium peaks form.
Place the first cake layer on the serving platter (or cake board). Fill with a generous spoon of cream and using an angled spatula, spread into an even layer. Place the remaining cake layer over top, upside down and spread the remaining cream over top. Garnish with a thick layer of chocolate curls.