Sunday, August 23, 2009

This Makes All the Difference

Last year my 30th birthday was celebrated with the theme, "30 is the new 16!", complete with princess birthday hats, pink balloons and a fairy presiding over the food spread.

Those phyllo triangles in the front right corner - I made those, despite how I feel about phyllo. They were filled with mushrooms and cheese. I was told not to make anything for the party, but I insisted. That's how I roll.

This year, 31, wasn't quite worthy of the same level of celebration. It was, however, worthy of a cake. Earlier this summer, as I stood in line at Marshall's, I was unexpectedly wooed by a cookbook perched by the checkout. The title of the book was Great Cakes. Now I don't consider myself a cake person, but when a cookbook costs only $6 and boasts 250+ cake recipes, it's a no-brainer.

And now that I owned it, I decided I was making a cake for my birthday. Some people say I shouldn't make a cake for my own birthday, but I see no problem with it. It's not like I won't make a cake for yours! In fact, I would love to. Would you like Swiss Chocolate Silk or Black Bottom Mint Cheesecake? Graham Cracker Cake or Raspberry Ribbons? Holiday Honey Cake or Lemon Velvet Squares? There are over 250 to choose from.

I went with a cake called Double Trouble Fudge Cake, a two layer cake with a chocolaty nutty filling which I switched out for a raspberry filling instead. The cake itself was as good as any chocolate cake, but I what I want to tell you about here is the frosting and filling. Those two things can turn an average chocolate cake into a winner. It's like regular old "you" with a good haircut and clothes that fit well. Anyone who has seen an episode of What Not to Wear knows this makes all the difference.

The filling is easily made with frozen raspberries (1 1/2 cups), sugar (1/4 cup), lemon juice (2 T), and cornstarch (1 T) cooked briefly to combine and dissolve the sugar and cornstarch. The frosting is something like a chocolate ganache in its taste and texture. I swear it was just an ordinary cake underneath, but it was praised like no other. Or maybe that's just because it was free dessert.

Chocolate Custard Frosting
(yields about 3 cups, enough to fill and frost 2 9-inch layers, 3 8-inch layers, the top and sides of a 9X13X2 pan or a 10-inch tube cake.)

2 oz unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 oz semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon ground coffee
1/2 cup boiling water
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a small heavy saucepan, combine the chocolates, coffee, and boiling water. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted and the coffee dissolved. In a separate small bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch, and salt and add to chocolate mixture, stirring until blended. Slowly add the half-and-half, whisking gently until well combined.

Bring to a boil over low heat, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon. Cook gently about 1 minute longer, stirring occasionally, then remove from the heat. Off the heat, blend in the butter and vanilla. To cool quickly, set saucepan in cold water. Stir gently, do not beat, until icing is thick enough to spread. This will only take a few minutes.


  1. Your cake looks beautiful! So, can I pre-order my next year birthday cake now? (jk)

    If you really want to get into cakes, check out the Confetti Cakes Cookbook: Spectacular Cakes from New York City's Famed Bakery. The pictures are beautiful, and they WILL inspire you.

  2. Sure Michelle, I'll just start up my mail order pastry business. I'll look for that book, thanks! I'm not a huge cake fan myself (ironic) but I think it's because I haven't mastered making a truly moist cake yet.