We had a busy weekend with family, friends and our eldest’s Memorial Day wooden bat baseball tournament (great, low-key fun, btw). But Memorial day weekend also means a few birthdays and anniversaries, so we usually end up entertaining. We always enjoy entertaining, but it’s sometimes a challenge to decide what to make. But, as we often remind ourselves, successful summer entertaining is all about simplicity. With cocktails, we make it easy and serve punch or home-made Margaritas, guests serve themselves at their own pace and we get to visit. For dinner we grill meat, a nice piece of fish and fresh veggies from the garden with a few tortillas, guacamole and fresh salsa. And for dessert Carolyn bakes a big ol’ cake.
And for a party, particularly on a holiday weekend, nothing beats a good cake. Everyone likes cake (or at least frosting), it lasts a few days and you can eat it any time (and yes, there has been breakfast cake enjoyed here at the farm…;-). When baking for us, Carolyn makes small cakes with 6 inch pans. But when a large group is coming, Carolyn pulls out the 9 inch pans and makes 2, 3 (and sometimes 4) layer cakes with loads of frosting. You know it’s a good party when the host pulls out a big, beautiful, homemade cake. Add a scoop of ice cream and suddenly the kids are quiet (but not for long) and the parents are smiling and enjoying a well-earned indulgence. There is no hurry. Feels like summer now.
While we like to keep things simple, it is still good to branch out and learn new techniques and try new recipes. In this case Carolyn adapted a recipe from Susan Purdy’s “A Piece of Cake” that included a new technique she wanted to try. Usually baking a cake is straight-forward, albeit time-consuming. Melt chocolate (if using), cream butter and eggs, add other wet and dry ingredients. Blend batter until smooth and fluffy. Bake.
But for this recipe, we add a cup of boiling water with coffee powder (or very hot coffee) to the batter. The batter sags with the heat, but then reconstituted itself with added mixing. We are unsure of the chemistry involved here, normally we would assume the boiling water helps with activating baking powder, but there is only baking soda in the recipe. Something to figure out, as we like to know why things happen in the kitchen. Regardless, the cake was unusually moist and rich, and Carolyn already makes very moist cakes. The flavor was very good as well, with the coffee really bringing out the chocolate.
As for the frosting, it is a simple mixture of butter, confectioners sugar, cocoa powder, coffee and vanilla. There are a some steps as you combine the ingredients, but it takes just a few minutes. The trick to the frosting is adding a little extra butter for added richness, if you are so inclined. It isn’t necessary, but it is good. Often, the hardest part of making the cake is applying the frosting. Our only advice is take your time and keep practicing. And remember, more frosting covers most mistakes.
We served the cake with good vanilla ice cream, but cinnamon ice cream or even a fruit sorbet would also compliment the flavor of the cake. As we noted, the cake was very moist and with a nice fine crumb. The flavor of the cake is mostly of chocolate that is just highlighted by coffee. The frosting is rich and sweet with a nice bitter touch from the coffee. Overall, this is a very sweet, dense cake that will please a crowd. It certainly pleased our crowd.
Mocha Layer Cake:
(Adapted from Susan Purdy)
Notes Before You Start:
- The cake can be made ahead and frozen for later use. Make sure to wrap the cake airtight before freezing and thaw completely before adding the frosting.
- One of the best ways to evenly divide the batter between 2 pans is to use a digital scale.
What You Get: A sweet, dense and moist chocolate cake with a pleasant touch of coffee flavor.
What You Need: 9-inch cake pans. The batter is loose, so solid pans are preferable to pans with removable bottoms. A stand mixer is a big, big help. A cake stand is a big help when frosting the cake.
How Long? About 90 minutes with 30-40 minutes of active time. Plan on some more cooling time for the cake before adding the frosting.
(Cake serves 10-12)
- 2 and 1/4 cups cake flour, sifted
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
- 1/2 cup lightly salted butter, at room temperature
- 2 and 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup coffee-flavored yogurt (you can substitute sour cream)
- 1 teaspoon instant coffee dissolved in 1 cup of boiling water
(Makes 4 and 1/2 cups, enough to frost top, sides and inner layers of a 2-3 layer cake)
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
- 9 cups of confectioners’ sugar
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa, sifted
- 10 tablespoons strong coffee, or 1 tablespoon espresso powder dissolved in 10 tablespoons of boiling water
- 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Prepare your cake pans by greasing them with shortening on the bottom and sides of the pans. Dust evenly with sifted, unsweetened cocoa and tap out any excess. Set aside in a cool place.
- Position a rack in the lower third of your oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Sift flour, baking soda and salt together onto a sheet of wax paper or parchment and set aside. Melt the chocolate on top of a double boiler, be sure the water is hot, but not boiling. Set chocolate aside to cool.
- Using an electric mixer, add the butter to a large bowl and cream until smooth and fluffy. Beat-in the brown sugar and then add the eggs, one at a time, beating after adding each egg. Beat the mixture for 4-5 minutes until very light and fluffy.
- Move the mixer speed to low and add in the vanilla and chocolate. Add the flour mixture to the bowl, alternating with the yogurt, but end with flour mixture. Continue to beat the batter until smooth. Finally, blend-in the boiling water/coffee. Beat the batter until blended and smooth.
- Divide the batter between 2 pans. Level the batter and spread it evenly across the pans so it rises evenly. Bake the cakes in the oven for 35 minutes, or until the top is springy to the touch and/or a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from the oven to cool.
- Cool the cake layers, in their pans, on a rack for 10 minutes. Then run a knife along the edges of each pan to release the cakes. Top each cake with a rack (or plate) and turn over to release. If the pans stick, tap it gently. Cool the cakes completely on a wire rack.
- Using and electric mixer, add the butter to a large bowl and beat until very soft and creamy
- With the mixer at very low-speed, beat in 3 cups of the sugar. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining sugar and cocoa, alternating with the coffee, beating until the frosting is very smooth and creamy. Finally, beat-in the vanilla.
- Apply frosting between the layers and to the top and sides of your cake. Serve.