One of my biggest personality flaws is getting way, way ahead of myself.
Mention to me that you’re thinking of one day moving to Paris, and the next time we speak I will have already decided which hotel I’m going to stay at when I come to visit you, and how you’ll take me to your local boulangerie where we’ll dip flaky croissants in our milky morning coffees before wandering picturesquely along the Seine, glamorously insouciant as we laugh and reminisce.
Ask me if I’d like to come to a beginners’ swing dancing class with you, and I will for the rest of the day be indulging in visions of my future self as an expert swing dancer, attired fetchingly but practically in a very flattering 40s-style outfit, lindy hopping with panache and enviable grace.
If, one morning, I happen across a newspaper article profiling a charming suburb I’d never before thought about living in, by lunchtime I have mentally moved myself in and located the shortest distance (on foot, with a pram) between my new dream home and my new favourite café.
Some people might think that this behaviour is just the tiniest bit insane. I accept that viewpoint, but would like to add that this particular brand of insanity can have rich rewards. Case in point: this gorgeous cake.
For background, I made this cake for the Loreto Kirribilli Spring Fair cake stall. The Spring Fair was, when I was growing up, a fairly reliable indicator that winter was finally loosening its long-fingered grip on the year. And although it is not quite sundress and icypole weather here in Sydney yet – more like (long-sleeved) t-shirt and picnic rug weather – the semi-regular sunlight has been turning my head. I have been dreaming, just a little, of summertime. And specifically, of icecream.
Even I am not so unhinged as to think that an ice-cream cake was in any way a viable option for a cake stall, but I still wanted to do something that shouted ‘Summer!’ (yes, I know it was the Spring fair, but I refer you again to my tenuous grip on reality). After searching the internet for inspiration (and in the process realising that for maximum Proustian impact, nothing could ever really top the McDonalds Ice-Cream Cake served at the birthday parties of my youth) I drew my visual inspiration from this whimsical confection over at One Charming Party. I wanted to see if I could make something that looked as cool as theirs did, without needing to be refrigerated (Ba-boom-tish! I’ll be here all week!).
Recipe and detailed instructions below!
I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For … Chocolate Cake!!!
Devil’s Food Cake
- 13 tbsp cocoa powder
- 2.25 cups cake flour
- 1.5 tsp baking soda (bicarb soda)
- 0.75 tsp baking powder
- 175g salted butter at room temperature
- 3 large eggs at room temperature
- 3/4 cup coffee
- 3/4 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius. Grease and line three 9-inch round cake tins.
Cream together the butter and sugar until very fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each addition, scraping down the bowl each time.
In a separate bowl, sift together the cocoa powder, cake flour, baking soda and baking powder. If you don’t have cake flour, you can make your own by removing 4.5 tablespoons of the flour and replacing it with the same volume of cornflour/cornstarch (the ratio is two tablespoons of cornflour per cup of plain flour).
Combine the coffee and the milk (I find it helps to always combine wet ingredients in a measuring jug rather than a bowl, so you can pour it easily – I have never learned the trick of pouring something neatly from a bowl).
With a wooden spoon, stir half the flour mixture into the butter, sugar & egg mixture. Add the coffee and milk mixture and stir again to combine. Then add the remaining dry ingredients and stir until combined. Resist the urge to stick your head in the mixing bowl.
Split your batter evenly between the pans. I always do this by weight – weigh your batter, subtract the weight of the mixing bowl, divide by however many layers you are making and make sure you give yourself a decent margin of error to account for any little spills along the way (also so that you have something left in the bowl for licking purposes when you’re done!).
Bake for 25 minutes, or until a skewer in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Depending on your oven you might want to rotate the pans half-way through to ensure they cook evenly.
Turn cake layers out of pans and cool on racks. Once they are completely cooled, level the tops with a sharp serrated knife. Keep the scraps that you cut off! You will use these to make your ‘icecream’ later.
If you don’t want to assemble your cake right away, wrap each layer separately in glad wrap and pop into the freezer.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
A quick note – most people will tell you a stand mixer is essential to making this buttercream. As I didn’t have the luxury of a test run (and didn’t want to risk burning out the motor on my crappy K-mart hand held beaters on said test run, especially if it flopped), I borrowed my mother’s KitchenAid to make this. I think it might, maybe, be possible to make this with hand beaters but I have not tried it. Given the sheer length of time this needs to be beaten I am hesitant to recommend it to you as I would hate to be responsible for hand beater murder!
Also, I found a candy thermometer helped with the first stage of this recipe, but I think you would be fine to do it without and just go by feel.
- 8 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 400g sugar
- 590g butter, cubed and at room temperature
- 1 tbsp vanilla
- Food colouring
In a clean, dry, large mixing bowl (I used the bowl of the stand mixer to save on washing-up), combine the eggwhites and the sugar. Be warned that there is a lot of sugar in this recipe and when you first combine the eggwhites and sugar you may think (as I did) that you have got the ratio wrong. Don’t worry, all the sugar will dissolve eventually. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (don’t let the bottom of the bowl touch the water) and whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 60 degrees celcius, or until the sugar has totally dissolved (e.g. you can’t feel any grains of sugar when you rub a little bit of the mixture between your thumb and forefinger).
Transfer the bowl back to your mixer and with the whisk attachment, whip on low and then medium speed until the meringue is thick and glossy, and the bowl is no longer warm to the touch. The meringue should hold stiff peaks. It took me about 10 minutes to get to this stage – are you beginning to see why I didn’t want to use my hand beaters?
Switch from your whisk attachment to the paddle attachment and mix on slow speed. Add your butter one cube at a time and continue mixing until smooth and combined. Towards the end of this process, the mixture will probably curdle and look like scrambled eggs. Don’t fret! It is supposed to do this. Someone more sciencey than me told me that this is because the fat in the butter emulsifies with the meringue before the water does – whether or not this is true, the solution is to just keep mixing. You can’t really overwhip this. If the mixture seems to be smooth enough, but too soft, it may be too warm (this could happen if you didn’t allow your meringue mixture to cool down sufficiently before starting to add your butter). You can try putting the bowl in the fridge for a bit, then mixing some more. Once the mixture is becoming smooth, add the vanilla and mix to combine.
To tint your buttercream, in a separate bowl (I used a teacup) combine a small amount of the buttercream, a tiny bit of food colouring, and stir to combine. Gradually add the coloured buttercream back into your main batch, mixing as you go. This will help you maintain better control over your final colour. Ideally you are aiming for a very pale pastel, as it will look better against the dark chocolate later on.
If you aren’t using the buttercream straight away, you can store it in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer – just make sure you bring it back to room temperature before using it. If it isn’t the right consistency once it’s back at room temperature, whip it until it is smooth again.
Scoop of ‘Icecream’
- Cake scraps
- 1-2 tbsp buttercream
Take cake scraps left over from levelling your cake layers. Crumble them into a bowl and combine with buttercream – it’s easiest to do this with your hands as given the small amount, a spoon won’t distribute the frosting evenly through the cake. Smoosh the mixture into a ball, wrap in gladwrap and pop into the fridge until you’re ready to assemble your cake.
- 60g chocolate, chopped.
- 100ml cream
Only make this before you are ready to pour it over the cake.
Put your chocolate in a heatproof jug (pyrex is ideal). Scald the cream in a small saucepan (that is, bring it just about to a boil), then pour it over the chocolate and stir to combine. Once totally smooth, allow it to cool for a few minutes. It will thicken very slightly as it cools, but ideally it should still be quite runny (to allow it to drip down the sides of the cake). Adjust the consistency with more chocolate or cream as necessary.
A note on chocolate – I used dark chocolate for this (as I do for nearly all my baking), however it really wasn’t very sweet. If you have a sweet tooth, or are baking for someone who does, I think this is one instance where you could get away with using milk chocolate instead of dark – just make sure it is very good quality.
Place a small amount of buttercream (no more than a tablespoon) on your cake board or serving plate and put one cake layer, levelled side down, on top. Tuck strips of baking paper underneath the cake (between the cake and the board) to keep the board clean while you work, like this:
Add a generous dollop of buttercream to the top of your first layer and smooth it out using an offset spatula, pushing the buttercream right out to the edge. Add another cake layer (levelled side down) and repeat.
Add the final cake layer, levelled side down, and crumb coat your cake (cover well with a thin layer of buttercream to seal in any crumbs). Chill your cake until the buttercream is firm to the touch (I usually do this in the freezer for 15 minutes). Now is a good time to make your ganache.
Once the crumb coat has set, frost the cake as you usually would. I use an offset spatula to get it as smooth as possible. Pipe a border around the bottom of the cake using an open star piping tip. Refrigerate the cake for about 10 minutes.
Remove your cake and your cake ball from the fridge. Put the cake ball on top of the cake (placing it slightly off-centre) and position an icecream cone on top at a rakish angle. Pour your ganache over the ‘icecream’, slowly, ensuring you cover the entire cake ball. The ganache should flood most of the top of the cake. Don’t be tempted to push it down the sides with a spatula – just keep pouring the ganache (pour close to the side if you like) until it starts to ooze down. You may not need to use all the ganache, as it will look better if your ganache drips are a little haphazard.
Put the cake back in the fridge to firm up the ganache a little bit. Store in the fridge for up to three days. Bring to room temperature before serving.