My Cake Decorating Gallery

Friday, June 20, 2008

Kooky Chocolate Cake

So - a birthday cake! This is a classic example of "make lemonade out of lemons" because not much went as I had planned with this cake. Still, it turned out OK! It was my mom-in-law's birthday and I was excited to bring the cake. As usual, I poured over different ideas that I've filed away in my brain as "that would be cool to try sometime" and tried to narrow it down.

The Husband's family has a big tradition of yellow cake with chocolate frosting, so that sounded like a tasty start. The chocolate buttercream frosting is not exactly my favorite, so I decided to try ganache for glazing the cake. It was a good opportunity to see if that worked! Next - for decorations - I narrowed it down to some kind of white chocolate/dark chocolate design and also I couldn't shake the notion of trying spun sugar. So - thus the experimenting began!

On Monday, I read about "spun sugar" - that's when you melt some sugar down and then fling it around your kitchen to make cool, artistic shapes. Then they harden into a caramel candy. I saw some amazing examples online... and then realized that this kind of thing takes PRACTICE and I am not good at it at ALL. I didn't have my camera with me, but here's how Monday's trial worked: Batch 1: Burnt the caramel, Batch 2: Broke my wooden spoon in the pot, and the shapes I made stuck to everything I put it on ("grease lightly" was an understatement). Still, I thought I might be able to try the sugar decorations again, but I was going to wait until Thursday right before the birthday party, as a last chance decoration.

On Tuesday I made the cake layers and at about 11pm while chatting with my mom, for some reason I realized I didn't put any eggs in. So - it's true - you can mess up a box cake! Just leave out some ingredients (yes I know - there's only 3 to add!). Actually the cake tasted fine and made nice level layers - slightly smaller than the batch with eggs, but honestly, not much different. It tasted fine, too --- so for those watching your cholesterol - hey this might be a good idea. In my defense, I was trying to do too many things at once - cook porkchops for dinner, bake a cake, and get stuff out for the chocolate frosting and decorations.

I did whip up some chocolate buttercream but ran out of powdered sugar. Since I needed another cake box, I was going to the store anyway so I was already used to that idea!

On Tuesday, I also melted down some chocolate and spread it into a rough rectangle on some wax paper. I then melted some white chocolate and put it in a frosting bag with a regular round tip and piped straight horizontal lines. I then used a toothpick and drug it through the chocolate perpendicular to the white stripes - once in one direction, and then alternating directions. This is an easy way to make that pretty design that you often see on Napoleon desserts. I let the chocolate harden overnight. I thought the chocolate was the only thing that worked out that I did on Tuesday - but turns out later on, I messed that up too.

On Wednesday, I had to bake another cake but I did upgrade my kitchen with an additional set of cake pans. I had only had one 9in round cake pan and it took double the time to bake 2 layers, which was a total pain. Now I have two of 8s, 9s, and 10s! This will be very handy. Anyway, while the cake cooled I fixed up some chocolate buttercream (by adding the necessary powdered sugar from the day before) and I added a hint of coffee liqueur from my tiramisu.

I had read online that to make the ganache coating a smooth layer, it might help to have a crumb coat on the cake - so that was my plan.

Finally on Wednesday, I tried making the ganache. It was the easiest thing, and I plan to use this for many-o-chocolate cakes in the future. I am a chocolatey kind of person and it was just to my liking! I let it cool a little and poured it over my crumb-coated and filled cake. I used a spatula dipped in super hot water and straightened out the top and sides of the cake (pouring alone didn't make it perfectly smooth).

It was also time to cut up my decorative white/dark chocolate bar. I had envisioned isosceles triangle - all the same size - that I would have spiraling from the center of the cake. Well - when I went to cut long triangles, I noticed that I had dug the toothpick too far into the chocolate and the chocolate hadn't filled that line in. So - it was like a dotted line - the chocolate broke into pieces in that spot. So -- plan B it was. I'd have to come up with some kind of abstract chocolate sculpture for all these... chocolate shards! At least they tasted excellent. Oh - another thing - in most places, the white chocolate didn't sink into the dark chocolate so when hardened, it just feel off. It still left some white so it looked pretty but .. this is not what I had in my head at all. There must be some other way to do this correctly. :) Had I not planned to cut it, it would have been fine, though. So - I recommend this for a topping on your next cake!

I thought the cake needed a little border - especially to cover up my cake board. I wouldn't have used a cake board except I needed something to set the cake on when I had it on a rack, when pouring the ganache over it. I didn't want big clumps of chocolate on the serving plate - so cake board it was! You could see it a little, so I dug into my pantry and grabbed some ... gasp ... store-bought frosting. There's no way I was going to whip up some buttercream just for one little border (I was flat out of the chocolate buttercream).

I thought an elegant border would be the pearl necklace or "dots" look. I piped a few on the plate and realized store-bought frosting is way too soft/thin for that style of piping. However - it did make really cute tiny kisses that had a wispy peak when I pulled the decorator's tip away. I decided to "go with the flow" and make cute little kisses along the bottom. I think that's a darling border and it was very easy!

Thursday rolled around and it was time to finally dream up the abstract design for the top. I bought some fresh raspberries, which I knew if all else failed, would suffice as a topping. I decided to pile the raspberries in the center and have rings of spikey chocolate shards encircling the berries.

It was... odd... but sorta pretty, so it passed.

I tried a new recipe for the spun sugar (not just dry sugar, but sugar plus corn syrup plus water) and since I didn't have a candy thermometer, I just let it boil until it got a tint of brown. It turned out to be OK, while my attemps to make any particular shape blatantly failed, I got a few cute wisps of hardened sugar to have coming out of my raspberry/chocolate thingamajig.

So there ya have it... a sorta odd looking cake but, not too bad I guess. It wasn't what I had in my head, but I really did enjoy trying the new techniques. The spun sugar needs more work and the ganache is sure to be used again and again.

Basic Ganache
as extrapolated from several similar recipes online...

1 12 oz bag of semi-sweet ghiradelhi chocolate
8 oz of heavy whipping cream

Place chocolate chips in a stainless steel bowl. Cook cream in saucepan over medium-high heat until just before boiling - slightly bubbling around the edges. Make sure to stir occasionally to not let the cream burn. Immediately pour over chocolate chips and let sit a few minutes. Use a wisk to mix the cream and chocolate together, until a smooth consistency is reached. I waited 5 or 10 minutes, wisking periodically, until I got a thick consistency that would still pour over my cake. I happened to use a cake covered in buttercream (smoothed out, and chilled in the fridge for 20 min), but you can pour it directly onto the cake.

If the ganache doesn't pour as smooth as you want, use a spatula to smooth it out. As it starts to harden, you can still smooth out the sides and top by taking a glass of extremely hot water, soaking your spatula, drying it with a paper towel, and then smoothing out a few inches of your cake at a time. One of my next purchases will be a turn table, which would also help.

If you want to use ganache as a filling, let it cool to room temperature or even after it has been refridgerated - then whip with a wisk or your mixer - to create a lighter-colored spreadable frosting. If you let it harden, you can also roll this into balls and dip into different things. This is how people make truffles. You can use whatever brand chocolate you like, but I recommend ghiradelli or higher.

Spun Sugar / Hard Caramel Decorations - Dry Method

1 cup sugar

Heat over medium-high heat until incorporated/melted. I found that if you try waiting for it to get thick - it won't - it will just burn and turn darker and darker and then it'll be all burnt. The second time I tried this method, I waited until the sugar was just 100% melted and then took it off the heat and plunged it into a bowl of ice water. This worked out OK - but we're talking a dark amber caramel color here. Grease (with oil) whatever area you want to create your decorations and use a spoon or fork to drizzle the caramel and make pretty shapes. You can grease the underside of a bowl and drizzle over it to make a caramel bowl that will (theoretically) pop off. I've seen people make some beautiful sugar decorations but I need more work. I'll blog about any future successes later...

Spun Sugar - "wet method"

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water

These are directions for specifically making a "nest" or that spun sugar look that looks like angel's hair that you can mold into a wreath, ball, etc. If you want swirls or a bowl or something, read above. Prep your area with newspaper or papertowel - we're talking the floor, the cabinets, your countertops. This caramel hardens and you don't want to be on your knees scrubbing the floor. Use tape if necessary. Take 3 or 4 pans with long handles and situate next to eachother so that they're 4 or 5 inches apart and the handles are hanging off of your counter. You will be flicking the hot sugar over these handles, and it will drip down and drape to the floor. This can get messy because you flick the sugar quickly to get the very fine strands. Also, have a big pot or big metal bowl filled with ice water, you will be dipping your caramel pan into this once you get to the right temp - you have to stop the cooking immediately because sugar burns fast. Grease your pot handles with oil liberally.

Once you're prepped for getting dirty, heat up the ingredients over medium-high heat. The directions I followed said something like "boil for 2-3 minutes covered" but they also said keep boiling until you reach 310 degrees... and I didn't have a thermometer. So, I just let it go for a few minutes, waiting for some golden color to come in. The tiniest bit finally did and I was running out of time. It turns out that the sugar turned a caramel color as it cooled, so don't worry if yours still looks clear on the stove. Immediately plunge into your ice water (be careful not to get any water into the caramel!) And start using an open-ended wisk or fork .. (i used a wooden spoon because I had a nonstock saucepan) and begin flicking the caramel strands quickly back and forth above your pot handles. If you get little droplets of caramel, wait for it to cool a little longer.

Feel free to swipe your spun sugar periodically off of the pan handles and shape into the shape you want before it dries and stiffens. You'll find that you can create a wreath, bawl, nest, etc. This might take some practice, I ended up not using my spun sugar nest because it looked knappy. This stuff is best used right away because moisture will break it down / liquify it - so store it airtight if you must store at all. Also, use extremely hot water to clean your pans/spoons - it will eventually come off.

Some day I will get better at this... some other people with food blogs I've seen are quite amazing! Check out Tartelette here: Awesome Corkscrews!!!!! I love that! And I totally failed at those but I'll definitely try again!

Anyway, I had a great time trying these new techniques. Happy Birthday Chris!!!!!! We had a great time at your house! Oh - and I'm really sorry I totally forgot the candles.


  1. Holly Molly! That was some cake! You did a fabulous job! Too bad (or good for you) that I don't live close by to come beg a slice!!
    Love it!

  2. Thanks!!!! So glad you stopped in!

  3. Slurrpp!! I WANT a piece of it NOW!!! ;)