Friday, October 8, 2010

Cake Project 3 - Chocolate Buttercream Cake for Elder Brother's Birthday

The nutella cream cake I made on 2 occasions previously was supposed to be my third cake project. Somehow that slipped my mind. Hence, cake project 3 is replaced by this chocolate buttercream layer cake I made for my elder brother's birthday last week.

Using the same chocolate sponge recipe, I decided to use swiss meringue chocolate buttercream to replace the nutella cream. Frosting the cake was a lot easier as compared to using nutella cream. The chocolate buttercream is sturdy even at warm room temperature, making it a brilliant choice of frosting for the tropical climate we experience here all year round.  

The magic of the buttercream does not only lie in the stability at room temperature. It is smooth, chocolatey, buttery and creamy in terms of taste and texture. There is absolutely no gritty feel as compared to icing sugar buttercream. I churned out about 840g of chocolate buttercream and it uses merely 220g of sugar (about 1 cup) as compared to as many as 7 cups of icing sugar for some frosting recipes.

This cake project marks an important milestone in my baking journey. For this baking lesson, I feel that I have achieved several goals. It is my first time doing a complete frosting of an entire cake with buttercream and piped decorations using a cake turntable. While there is still room for more improvement, I am rather pleased with the outcome. The making of this chocolate buttercream layer cake reflects the progress and results of my self-learning process which is akin to studying for a exam paper and receiving the exam results.

I observed something while I was beating the egg whites. The timing at which the sugar is added makes a lot of difference to the resulting texture/ appearance. If the sugar is all added right from the start, the resulting whipped egg whites are likely to be clumpy. However, if the sugar is added when the egg whites have reached soft peaks, the resulting beaten whites will be smooth and glossy, achieving the same effect as when cream of tartar is added. I think this is one reason why when cream of tartar is not used, the instruction usually states that the sugar should only be added when the egg whites are at soft peaks.

Chocolate Buttecream Cake ( Chocolate Sponge Cake recipe adapted from 超人气香港蛋糕56款, chocolate buttercream recipe adapted from Chocolate Ephiphany by Francois Payard)
Serving size: 10 to 12 slices
Taste and texture: Cake base is soft, moist and fluffy. Chocolate buttercream is smooth,creamy, buttery and chocolatey.
Equipment and materials:
1) 8 x 3 inch round pan
2) 9 inch round cake board
3) Cake leveller or palette/serrated knife longer than 8 inches
4) Balloon/wire whisk
5) Rubber spatula
6) Handheld beater/Stand beater
7) Baking paper
8) Wire rack
9) Toothpick/wooden skewer
10) Flour sieve
11) Mixing bowls
12) Cake turntable (optional)
13) Piping tip/s
14) Piping bag/s
15) Coupler for piping

Chocolate Sponge Cake (3 layers):
70g egg yolks, room temperature 
50g caster sugar
4 tbs vegetable oil
4 tbs water
80g cake flour
15g cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
145g egg whites, room temperature
50g caster sugar

Swiss Meringue Chocolate Buttercream: (about 840g)
195g egg whites
220g granulated sugar
385g unsalted butter, softened but still cold
100g cocoa powder (I used Valrhona, it has a very intense chocolate flavour compared to most brands. Add more if desired.)

Making the Chocolate Sponge Cake:
Prepare Oven: Preheat oven to 160 degrees C.

Prepare flour mixture: Whisk sifted flour, sifted cocoa powder and sifted baking powder in a large bowl to combine.

Making the egg yolk batter: Place egg yolks, 50g caster sugar, oil and water in a large bowl. Mix well with a wire whisk untill the mixture is evenly mixed. Add the flour mixture in and whisk to obtain a smooth and thick chocolatey batter.

Beating egg whites: Next, whisk egg whites on low speed. Increase speed slowly to medium-high and beat untill egg whites are at soft peaks. Add 50g of sugar gradually and beat untill egg whites are just stiff and still moist. This is when the beaters are lifted, the egg whites will form peaks that are upright and not drooping slightly. Egg whites will resemble whipped cream.The entire bowl of whites will not drop out when the bowl is overturned. Do not beat until the egg whites are dry and clumpy.

Folding in egg whites: Using a ballon whisk, fold one third of beaten egg whites into egg yolk batter gently to lighten and combine. Fold in the rest of the beaten whites to combine. Final batter should be foamy and uniform in colour with no streaks of egg white present. Folding egg whites gently using a balloon whisk will prevent egg whites from deflating too much.

Baking the sponge cake: Pour batter into a greased and lined 8 x 3 inch round pan and bake at 160 degrees C for 25 -35 minutes. Test doneness using a skewer or toothpick. The highest part of the cake should rise up to 4/5 or nearly the full height of the tin. When the cake is done, the inserted skewer will come out clean. Cake will shrink from edges on cooling. Unmould sponge cake and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Preparing the Swiss Meringue Chocolate Buttercream:
Dissolve sugar in egg whites: Place 195 egg whites and 220g granulated sugar in a heatproof bowl. Sit the heatproof bowl on a saucepan filled with water. The base of the bowl should not be in contact with the water. This is known as a double boiler. Bring the water in the saucepan to a slight simmer. Use a balloon whisk and stir the egg whites and sugar constantly until the sugar has fully dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch (test by inserting your finger).

Beating egg whites: Remove the heatproof bowl and beat the warm egg white mixture on medium high speed to obtain stiff peaks using an electric beater. At stiff peaks, the beaten egg whites will not budge when bowl is overturned. When the beaters are lifted from the beaten egg whites, the surface of the egg whites should form stiff upright peaks (not drooping peaks). The beaten egg whites should be cool to the touch (room temperature), not warm like when it was removed from the saucepan.

Adding butter and cocoa: Beat in 385g butter into the beaten egg whites in 3 batches, ensuring each batch is incoporated before adding the next. The egg whites will deflate furiously when butter is added. Continue beating until the mixture is creamy and fluffy (Initially when the butter is added, the mixture may become watery. As more butter is added, the buttercream thickens up). Lastly, sift in 100g cocoa powder and continue beating to obtain a smooth chocolate buttercream.

Slicing sponge cake: Slice sponge cake into 3 even layers using cake leveller or long serrated/palette knife. Slice off the part that has domed.

Preparing the layers: Using the removable base of a round tart tin or a round cake board, slide the tart in base or cake board under a sponge layer and carefully transport the sponge layer onto a 9 inch round cake board placed. This is to prevent the sponge layer from breaking.

Dab some buttercream evenly onto the first layer to seal the crumbs. This is know as a crumb coat. Frost the first layer evenly with 200g of buttercream using a palette knife or spatula. Place a second sponge layer carefully over the frosted 1st layer and align it properly with the 1st layer. Repeat the process of crumb coating and frosting for the 2nd sponge layer.

Once the frosting is done for the first two sponge layers, add the 3rd sponge layer and align it well with the first two layers. For the 3rd sponge layer, do the crumb coat on the surface as well as for the sides of the cake. Once the crumb coat is done, add more buttercream to the surface and sides of the cake and smooth the buttercream using the palette knife. There should be leftover buttercream for piping.

Piping Patterns: Fill a piping bag fitted with a star tip (or any other tip you desire) and pipe rosettes or shells as desired.

1) Allow chilled cake to soften at room temperature for 10-15 minutes before serving.
2) Keep cake in an air-tight container after slicing to prevent the cake from drying out.
3) Reduce the amount of buttercream frosting to your liking/preference. Personally, I find the buttercream layers to be slightly thick. Any thicker and there would have been an overdose of frosting.
4) According to Sem (a reader) and Wendy, the addition of sugar to the egg whites at the beginning will result in lower volume of whipped whites as compared to when the sugar is added when the egg whites are at soft peaks.
5) According to Wendy, the addition of cream of tartar or something acidic prevents the egg whites from separating due to overbeating.


  1. ZY, think I have just decided to use the chocolate buttercream for my younger daughter's birthday this Friday. Very nice me a slice will you?

  2. That's a cake very professionally done, especially when everything is self taught. You should be proud of yourself. I love the look of your chocolate buttercream. Will try it one day. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I like your butter cream frosting! Smooth and creamy! Thanks for sharing it. I've not try any butter cream recipe like this before. Will do it when there is any opportunities. Cheers!

  4. You have done a great job for someone who did frosting for the 1st time! The choc cake looks really good!

  5. looks great zy!

    have already bookmarked this recipe to try it sometime down the line. HAHA! thanks for posting even though you're busy with fyp!

  6. Errrr...
    Cream of tartar is added to prevent the egg whites from watering out, not for smoothing purposes. Anything acidic will perform the same function.

    I always add my sugar to my egg whites after soft peaks simply because it gives better volume compared to adding in at the beginning.

    But if cream of tartar or lemon juice is not used, egg whites can be easily overbeaten, therefore sugar is added first for stability, but it will yield a lower volume.

    Just my 2 cents

  7. ZY, your family must be really proud of you when they saw this cake. Magnificient job! I still hate frosting...

  8. Drool, drool! Looks yummylicious as always!

    Happy birthday to your brother! :)

    ~ Jenny ( )

  9. I would love to give the buttercream recipe a try but i hate washing and cleaning up the buttercream.

  10. lovely chocolate cake u have there! looks wickedly chocolatey, would really like to have a slice of it :P

  11. Whoah really neat and looks soooooo yummy!!

    Coraine @ life is like a long journey

  12. Like I said, I'm simply marveled by the sight of your cake! Too bad, no testing session. HAHA! Yeap, I've got to agree with you now that it marks an important milestone along your baking journey. Oh, nice shots too! LOL!

    Thanks for your observation on whipping egg whites for meringue.

    Btw, Happy Belated Birthday to your elder bro!

    加油 in your FYP!

  13. ZY, well done! This cake looks beautiful and making me salivating especially the choco butter cream, yum yum.

  14. I like your very detailed description on how to make a layer cake. You did a great job for the frosting and decoration!

    I also like to try the Swiss Meringue Buttercream since it's more stable for our warm temp. But I'm very afraid of making cream with half-cooked eggs. Any ways to ensure that it is safe to consume?

  15. Your cake looks wonderful and impressive.

  16. your bro must be very touched hehe. yes the frosting is beautiful and the cake looks rich and chocolaty :)~

  17. Hey Bee Bee,

    Look forward to your see your daughter's birthday cake with choc buttercream. Hope you and your daughter will like it. *sends Bee Bee a slice of the cake =]


    hi KWF,

    thanks for the compliments! hope you will like it when you try it out.


    Hey Grace,

    thanks! you should try it. it works as a good frosting for cupcakes too =]. The flavour can be varied to make coffee, lemon, orange buttercream etc.


    Hi Wen,

    thank you! I will do an even better job next time


    Hey aud,

    Thanks man! let me know when you try it ya?


    Hi Wendy,

    Thanks for sharing these useful observations =]. I know the cream of tartar, vinegar and lemon juice is added for stability and to prevent overwhipping of the whites. But from what I observe, the texture is often better when cream of tar tar is added. I have read an article about this somewhere.

    I did not know that the addition of sugar can cause the volume of egg white to vary. What I like about the sugar being added at soft peaks is that the egg whites are much easier to be folded.

  18. Hey Shirley,

    Thanks alot! I used to find frosting to be a messy chore.. after some practice, it isnt that daunting. well I guess the type of frosting does matters and meringue buttercream is much easier to frost.


    hey Jenny,

    thanks =]


    hey aimei,

    you can use hot water to wash the beaters and the mixing bowl. I do that whenever I deal with any frostings. The hot water makes the washing up a lot less oily.


    hi jean,

    thanks! *sends a slice of choc buttercream cake to Jean


    hi coraine,

    thanks for dropping by and the nice words!


    hey Pei-lin,

    next time if there is a chance I will definitely bring some cakes along for you for a taste session =] I am so much happy that the cake turned out well, even more so happy than my brother whose the birthday boy.

    haha, finally found the trick to using my PnS camera..

    let me know if you observed anything similar when making your meringue.

  19. Hey Jess,

    thanks alot! I love the choco butter cream cos its not only tasty and smooth but also much easier to work with.


    Hi SSB,

    I think I am very long winded when writing the instructions. Thanks for the nice words =]

    The buttercream is safe to consume because the egg whites are heated to a temperature where the salmonella bacteria (causes food poisoning) are killed. To be doubly safe, use a cany thermometer to monitor the temperature of the heated egg whites. The temperature at which the egg whites are to be heated to is mentioned in some books and internet resources.


    Hi DG and Wiffy,

    thanks alot!

  20. Great presentation, I like how you put the two Julie's love letters/chocolate wafer cookies? as the finishing touches.

  21. Hi,the cake is beautiful.I will try it real soon. I have read the cookbook "Okashi", the author said if you beat the egg whites and sugar together in the beginning, rather than wait till soft peak like what u do now, the egg white may not easily whipped up due to the weight of the sugar.


  22. Your cake looks very pro again!!! Love your frosting...

    And really thanks for adding me to your bloglist which made me feel v honoured... I have recently updated my URL, in case you cant find where I "go" to... :)

  23. Your cake look like a bought one. Very professional. Great piping job.

  24. Hi, I just finished making your recipe and I'm so happy with the results that I just need to write in a comment immediately! The frosting was absolutely DELICIOUS! I want to give you a big bear hug! THANK YOU!

    Im planning to make a cake for my daughter's birthday party this week, so I halfed everything and made a small cake, for "testing" purposes first. Turned out great, but I need to ask you...

    1. You have to remove the cake from the tin immediately after taking out of the oven?

    2. Do you need to overturn the cake while cooling?

    3. Do you need to remove the parchment paper while cooling? or only remove after it's cooled? The sides of my cake seemed to have sag a little. It still tasted good, but it's a little difficult to frost the sides when it's sunken in.

  25. hi miss coco,

    I am glad you liked the frosting. I enjoyed it a lot too. Thanks for the hug =]

    1. Leave the cake to cool in the tin for a short while. the sides will start to shrink (happens everything, it is normal). Turn the cake out to cool when the cake is no longer shrinking.

    2. I cooled my cake upright.

    3. I removed my parchment/baking paper before leaving it to cool. My sides shrank but they were still straight. Not sure why yours was sunken in. Do take note that the cake is actually an overly moist chiffon cake and chiffon cake related problems do apply to this cake.

    if you find the frosting a bit too sweet, you may either want to add more cocoa or reduce sugar by a bit from the start. cheers and good luck to your cake!

  26. hi!
    For the sponge cake, may i ask if i can use any kind of cocoa powder i want? Could i use valrhona cocoa powder?

  27. Hi,

    you may use any cocoa powder you wish. Valrhona would be more than good.



Dear readers, thanks for visiting my humble little blog. Feel free to leave a message so that I can learn and be a better baker. Its a great feeling to share our culinary experience and adventures in the kitchen.

Thank you and have a nice day! Cheers =]

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