Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Nutella Chocolate Cake

Shoosh cake

Sometimes, a cake is not just a cake. See, when you're friends with someone for fourteen years, when you've been through the ups and downs of life together, when you've cried and laughed and found life a little ridiculous and wonderful together, a 30th birthday cake is kind of like a summation of all those nights we stayed up until 3am propounding theories about the boy who went to Jamaica and discussing the relative merits of Bakery Boy 1 vs. Bakery Boys 2 & 3 (don't ask, you don't want to know). The trips to Palm Springs, the times we went shopping and bought the same outfit (and didn't even get mad at each other), the almost-being-pulled-over-by-the-cops-while-sort-of-kind-of-tipsy and the one jaywalking ticket we had to split between the two of us (as well as the Haagen-Dazs ice-creams we always shared). We were probably the only ones who voluntarily read Anna Karenina in high school (and loved it). Holding each other's hand through the loves that never were and celebrating birthdays, graduations, new jobs, and even a wedding (guess who watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding with me the night before I got married and peeled the petals off of 10 dozen roses? And guess who laughed at me the entire time?). So many memories, so much love, and I tried to fit it all into one cake.

shoosh cake

Oh, but it was, it was a cake. Two thick, chocolaty layers filled and frosted with the most luscious, sweetest Nutella Swiss buttercream that you can imagine, and even a double layer of prime California strawberries in between. Because that's just what this girl likes, you see, and if a friend like that likes things like these, well, it's just a match made in heaven, isn't it? This cake could only go one way, and hoooo boy, did it ever.

Chocolate Nutella Cake

Happy birthday, my dear friend, and here's to many, many more birthdays and memories to be shared!

For the chocolate cake, I used one of my favorite birthday cake recipes from "Sky High," one of my favorite (probably the favorite) cake books. The cake is super moist and chocolaty and the coffee gives it an extra depth of flavor that I really enjoyed (you can use decaf if you don't drink coffee). The Nutella buttercream? I just winged that. All you need to know is that I used almost a cup of Nutella - I highly recommend it. Don't be intimidated by Swiss buttercream - once you know what to expect (and I'll tell you exactly what that is), it's really very easy to make and tastes way way better than the "simple" buttercreams that only use butter and powdered sugar.

To frost and fill the cake (mine was a 9x13 two-layer cake), arrange the first cake layer on a cake board. Spread a layer of buttercream about 1/2-3/4 inch thick on the layer. With a large round piping tip, pipe a border of buttercream along the outer perimeter of the cake. Hull and slice the strawberries (I use about 1 lb), and arrange them in two layers on top of the buttercream. Reserve a few as decoration for the top of the cake, if you'd like. Place the second cake layer carefully on top. Coat the top and sides with a thin layer of buttercream (that'll be your crumb coat) and refrigerate for at least an hour or until the buttercream is very firm. Then, decorate with the rest of the buttercream. I used Nutella to pipe the letters - bad idea, it pipes horribly (as you can tell from the picture) so next time, I will probably just melt a little bit of dark chocolate and use that for piping the letters.

Chocolate Butter Cake
Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes

A few notes about the cake:
(1) The recipe makes a three-layered 9-inch round or 8-inch square cake. However, I made mine a two-layered 9x13" cake and I thought that turned out really well. The layers were thick, but there wasn't *too* much cake, if you know what I mean. The size fed about 30-40 people (depending on how thickly you slice it) and seemed perfect for a birthday cake. However, I'd love to make the tall tall tall 9 or 8-inch version one of these days!
(2) This cake is pretty sturdy and yet, I had trouble (because of the size) lifting the second layer to fit on top of the first layer. Hence, I would really recommend wrapping the cake in plastic (3 layers) and freezing for a few hours or until the cake is firm. Then, it won't break when you're maneuvering the layers.
(3) Remember that as a butter cake, it will be dense if you eat it straight out of the refrigerator. Make sure to leave it out for at least a half hour to an hour before serving so you get maximum fluffiness. The buttercream holds up very well to all kinds of weather, so you can leave it out even if it's fairly hot.

3 cups cake flour
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
3 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups freshly brewed coffee (or decaf - I use instant coffee), cooled to room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter or spray your cake pans (or pan, if you, like me, only have one 9x13 cake pan and can bake one layer at a time) and line the bottoms with parchment paper cut to size. Butter or spray the paper.

In a large mixer bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. With the electric mixer on low speed, blend for about 30 seconds. Add the butter and buttermilk and blend on low until moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. At this point, please make sure to scrape the bowl very very often because the little deposits of flour, sugar and cocoa can really sneak up on you.

Whisk the eggs and coffee together, and add to the batter in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating only until blended after each addition. In the end, stir carefully, bringing up the batter from the bottom of the bowl to make sure all the batter is at an even consistency. Divide the batter among the prepared pans (if you are using 9-inch round or 8-inch square pans, each pan will take about 3 1/4 cups of batter; if you are only using two 9x13-inch pans, well, you can do the math, right? And if not, just eyeball it like I do).

Bake for 38 to 40 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Carefully turn the cake layers out onto wire racks and allow to cool completely. Remove the paper liners only when they are cool. (to frost, wrap tightly in plastic and freeze for a few hours).

Nutella Swiss Buttercream (also called Swiss Meringue Buttercream)
Nutella added to my favorite Swiss Buttercream recipe from (who else?) Martha Stewart

Note: because of the Nutella addition, I found this buttercream to be not as stiff as if I had made it without Nutella, so while you probably won't be able to pipe chocolate roses with it, it still holds up extremely well to simple piped decorations and I was very pleased with it.

5 large egg whites
1 1/4 cup of granulated sugar
4 sticks (1 lb) of unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup Nutella, at room temperature

Place a medium sized pan with about 3 inches of water over medium heat and allow water to come to a gentle simmer. Put the egg whites and sugar in a large heat-proof bowl and set over the simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Whisk egg whites and sugar together constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved (when you rub the egg whites between your fingers, you should not be able to feel granules of sugar). This usually takes about 5 minutes.

Transfer the egg mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer (make sure to wipe the condensation off the bottom of the bowl which you've just taken off the heat because if water gets into the egg whites during transfer, they won't whip up properly). Whip on medium-high speed until the whites hold firm peaks and are cool to the touch.

Meanwhile, cut the softened butter into 1 tbsp chunks (8 chunks per stick of butter) and once the egg whites hold firm peaks, lower the speed to medium and add the butter one chunk at a time, allowing it to incorporate into the egg mixture for about 20 seconds before adding the next one. Continue to add until all the butter is incorporated.

Here's the thing with buttercream: you need patience and faith. At first, the mixture will look soupy and you will a little skeptical. Then, as more butter is incorporated, it's going to look soupy and curdled, and then you will be afraid that it's never going to come together. Then, it's going to look really curdled and disgusting, and you will want to cry and throw it out. Don't, just keep mixing. I promise that just when you think it's reached its most curdled and disgusting point, it's going to magically turn into smooth, beautiful, thick buttercream.

When the buttercream is smooth, add the Nutella and mix slowly to combine, scraping down the bowl if necessary.


SYD said...

I love you, Best Friend! To many more glorious birthdays, graduations (our kids of course), and other amazing stepping stones in our lives.

The cake was beyond amazing. I had people contacting me for days after, asking for left over pieces, and the recipe. I don't remember the last time people were fighting over a piece of cake, like this one. Soft and creamy on the inside, full of flavor and chocolate, and yet miraculously, it was not too sweet! It literally melted in my mouth!

Mmmm and it was made with Nutella. What else can I say?

Pam said...

Yummyyyyy, this cake looks great, I love chocolate cake with strwaberries, and even more with nutella...delicious...:)

Ingrid_3Bs said...

Your cake looks lovely! How lucky to have such a wonderful life long friends!

cindy* said...

what a great friend to have! the cake looks fantastic.

Treehouse Chef said...

OMGness This looks delicious! I love nutella!

Dewi said...

Couldn't be more perfect to celebrate the birthday with this beautiful irresistible cake.

The Food Librarian said...

Oh...what a beautiful cake and such an expression of love and friendship!

Unknown said...

Thank you for the wonderful pictures and recipe. I have been searching for a recipe for father's day. My dad LOVES chocolate and berries. This will be a great compromise and yum! Thanks, Kate

Elyse said...

What a fabulous post! Happy bday to your best friend! Friends like this are rare and oh-so special!! This cake definitely sends a message of love. And that nutella buttercream is DIVINE! What a fabulous job you did! Yay for friends!

grace said...

aw, what a nice post, and what a stellar cake! you had me at nutella. :) it's perfectly done, irene--bravo!

oneordinaryday said...

Great post. I just got the Sky High book and I'm totally hooked. Awesome recipes! Great job on the nutella frosting!

Irene said...

I know, isn't it an awesome book? I'm totally in love with it (especially now that it's summer and the birthdays are coming hard and fast!).

Unknown said...

Oh my goodness! Yes, please. That cake looks so moist and delicious! Not to mention strawberries always have my heart!

Sara said...

Wow, this cake looks absolutely amazing. Too bad a jar of nutella doesn't last long enough in the house for me to bake with :)

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous cake!

Manggy said...

Oh, you are an AMAZING friend! The cake looks fabulous-- I really have to look into that book! :)

Anonymous said...

You had me at Nutella... yum!

Stacey said...

Those kind of friendships are the best kind, and definitely deserve a cake like this! It looks so delicious!

Michelle said...

Beautiful! That buttercream sounds divine! Is the nutella flavor really prominent?

Irene said...

It's prominent but not overpowering. You can definitely taste the Nutella in there, but it also tastes like buttercream, not ganache, if that makes sense. The texture is really nice too, very smooth. If you wanted to increase the Nutella flavor, you could add some more of it, 1 tbsp at a time.

Mariel said...

Oh my, I love your blog already—the writing, photos, and of course: the cakes! I stumbled upon it while Googling a recipe for Black Forest cake. And for this post, you got me at "Nutella Swiss buttercream!" :) I'll link you up, okay?

Take care,

Irene said...

Thanks, Mariel! So nice to hear that! You should definitely try out the Black Forest cake recipe, it was really good - that book (Sky High Cakes) is a winner all around, it's my cake bible. And for this, I knew I couldn't go wrong with Nutella. :)

Mariel said...

Ah,'s love in a jar :)

My mother is gifting me with a Kitchenaid stand mixer (dream come true!) and I shall try the black forest cake once it arrives. Hope it turns out yummy!