I am glad I revisited this Devil's Food Cake recipe again to reaffirm my verdict. The decision came just at the timely moment as a birthday cake for my buddy's girlfriend, a chocoholic.
Making any layer cake would mean hours of effort spent for preparation of ingredients; mixing and beating with my handheld beater; baking and waiting for the cake to cool; layering and frosting the cake and lastly lots of dreadful washing up which always seems endless.
It took five hours to witness the birth of this majestic giant chocolate cake sandwich, which is the time spent usually when I attempt any layer cakes. That goes to show how tedious it can be to bake cakes for special occasions. Time-consuming and sophisticated as it may sound, do not let it deter you from stepping out of your comfort zone to attempt one. Go ahead with your gut feelings and be adventurous for a while, go switch on your oven and start working on one.
Imagine the smile on the unsuspecting birthday chap or the satisfied grins of the people who have taken their first bite on the very cake that you have painstakingly assembled. Trust me, the returns are worth it. It is a joy seeing my friends tucking happily into their slice of Devil's Food Cake and giving the thumbs up. Good stuffs are meant to be shared. Two of my friends were so impressed they remarked I can start selling this cake but I quickly brushed the thought aside. Putting the idea of selling aside, from their comments, you can tell how much of a good stuff this cake is.
Once in a while for special occasions like this, it is harmless to be extravagant with quality ingredients. I used Valrhona cocoa powder which works like a charm every time and Callebaut dark chocolate for the very first time. The verdict? It is a breeze when melting Callebaut dark chocolate, perhaps due to the high cocoa butter content. Taste wise, it is smooth and intense. Pretty decent I must say. When working with chocolate confection, it is a good idea to incorporate liquers like Bailey's, Kahlua or Rum to heighten the flavour. Out of the three, Bailey's is my top choice. Its milky caramel undertone lends a nice depth to any chocolate bakes.
According to one of my friend, Callebaut chocolate, from Belgium, is a slightly inferior version of Valrhona chocolate which is favoured by many bakers I know. I have not used Valrhona chocolates myself, apart from the cocoa powder. Hence, there is no room for comparison at the moment. Inferior or not, it is up to one to decide as taste is a subjective matter. Afterall, one man's meat may well be another man's poison. One thing for sure, I do find Callebaut a brand of chocolate worth investing in.
Very often when choosing chocolate, price is a good indicator. This certainly is reflected in premium brands of chocolate such as Valrhona and Callebaut which are carried by certain baking supplies stores over here. In terms of price, the cost of Valrhona is nearly almost double that of Callebaut. Variety wise, there is not much of a selection to choose from in Singapore. How I wish I have the opportunity to work with with established brand names such as Guittard, Scharffen Berger and Michel Cluzel recommended by Lisa Yockelson and other authors.
Among baking ingredients, chocolate is highly temperamental to work with. Just to share, here are my encounters, knowledge and tips when dealing with chocolate:
- When melting chocolate, chop it into very tiny morsels. This will facilitate faster melting. For convenience, use/buy chocolate in button/pistole form.
- Chocolate tends to be heat sensitive and it can 'burn' when the heat is too high. When using a double-boiler, ensure the water is on a low simmer and stir the chocolate constantly to avoid burning it. If using the microwave, heat the chocolate in short bursts or else the chocolate may burn. I prefer using the double-boiler personally. Do not use direct heat to melt chocolates. When melting chocolate, any introduction of moisture will cause the chocolate to seize and become grainy, ruining the texture.
- Personally, I find that dark chocolate is often the easiest to melt, followed by milk chocolate and then white chocolate. Among them, dark chocolate has the least tendency to 'burn' while white chocolate has the highest tendency to 'burn'. This is because dark chocolate has the highest melting point while white chocolate has the lowest melting point. When chocolate is 'burnt', it will refuse to melt properly and the result is a dry lump.
- I store my baking chocolates unrefrigerated in an airtight container in a cool place to prevent chocolate blooms. Opened and unused chocolate is wrapped with aluminium foil. Avoid storing them together with strong smelling food/spices as the chocolate absorbs odour easily.
- I find that chocolate frostings containing melted chocolate and/or cocoa powder has a tendency to separate when subjected to warm room temperature or under warm weather conditions. When piping such frostings with a piping bag, heat from both palms tends to melt the frosting that is in contact, causing it to 'melt' or separate. This may result the frosting from becoming an oily and unsightly mess that cannot be salvaged. Refrigerating the frosting and re-beating it may or may not save the frosting.
- Chocolate ganache tends to become dull when refrigerated. Use a dryer to blow on low setting to regain the shine.
- When making ganache, pour boiled cream over finely chopped chocolate. Let the mixture sit for a while before stirring gently to combine.
- The % of cocoa content will affect the sweetness/ amount of sugar needed in bakes. When using chocolates with higher % cocoa, more sugar may be required while for chocolates with lower % cocoa, less sugar is required when using the same recipe.
- Chocolate chips are not quite the same as block chocolates or chocolates in pistole/button form as they are of lower quality.
- Usually chocolates termed as couverture are used mainly for coating, moulding, dipping and for decorations. They are not the same as baking chocolates. However some bakers use couverture for baking. Valrhona chocolate is a couverture that is often used by many for baking. Personally, I use couverture chocolates as all-purpose chocolates. Note that Phoon huat's baking chocolates are labelled as couverture. They work fine for baking.
- Instant coffee/espresso, vanilla extract and liquers like Bailey's, Kahlua, Grand Marnier, Rum and Brandy adds depth of flavour to chocolate confections.
Serving size: 10 to 12 slices
Taste and texture: Cake layers are soft and moist. Chocolate frosting is fudgy bittersweet and intensely rich.
Equipment and materials:
1) One/two 9 x 3 inch round pan
2) 10 inch round cake board
3) Cake leveller or palette/serrated knife longer than 9 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)
Chocolate Sponge Cake (3 layers):
165g unsalted butter, softened
100g brown sugar
95g egg yolks, at room temperature
150g dark chocolate, melted and cooled (60-65% cocoa will be ideal)
60g sour cream, at room temperature
195g egg whites, at room temperature
60g caster sugar
55g cocoa powder
165g plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting:
55g cocoa powder
95g icing sugar
165g unsalted butter, softened
400g dark chocolate, melted and cooled (60-65% will be ideal)
60g golden syrup (or use honey)
2-3 tbs Bailey's Irish Cream (optional)
Making the Chocolate Sponge Cake:
Prepare Oven - Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.
Prepare dry ingredients - Sift flour, cocoa powder and baking soda in a large bowl and whisk well to combine.
Creaming butter and sugar - Cream butter and brown sugar on medium speed until mixture is pale, light and fluffy. Volume of butter mixture should increase noticeably
Adding yolks - Add in egg yolks to creamed butter mixture one at a time, beating well to combine on medium speed each time.
Adding chocolate and sour cream - Add in cooled melted chocolate and whisk to combine briefly. Pour in sour cream and mix well. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl with spatula and fold briefly to incorporate loose ingredients.
Folding in water and dry ingredients - Fold in 1/3 of dry ingredients very briefly until just combined. Add in 1/2 the water and fold to combine as well. Repeat the adding and folding alternating with dry ingredients and water, starting and ending with dry ingredients. Lastly, fold mixture until well combined. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl as when necessary.
Beating egg whites -Next, whisk egg whites on low speed. Increase speed slowly to medium-high and beat until egg whites are at soft peaks. Add 60g of sugar gradually and beat until egg whites are almost 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 glossy 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 balloon whisk, fold one third of beaten egg whites into egg yolk-butter-dry ingredient mixture gently to lighten and combine. Fold in another one-third of the egg whites. Lastly, add in the rest of the beaten whites to combine. Final batter should be 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. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl well and fold briefly to incorporate loose ingredients.
Baking the sponge cake - Pour batter into a greased and lined 9 x 3 inch round pan and bake at 180 degrees C for 55 -1 hr 10 minutes. Alternatively, divide batter into two tins equally and bake for about 30mins. Test doneness using a skewer or toothpick. When the cake is done, the inserted skewer will come out clean. Unmould sponge cake and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
Preparing the Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting:
Mix cocoa powder and water. Heat over a double boiler and stir until mixture is smooth and cocoa powder has completely dissolved. Set aside and allow to cool
Cream icing sugar and butter until fluffy. Add in melted chocolate, cocoa liquid, golden syrup and Bailey's. Mix well to combine. Refrigerate frosting until firm. Beat frosting on medium high speed until it is spreadable before use.
Slicing sponge cake - Slice off the part that has domed. Using a cake leveller or long serrated/palette knife, slice sponge cake into 3 even layers if using one tin. There will be 2 layers if using two tins.
Preparing the layers - Using the removable base of a round tart tin or a round cake board, slide the tart tin removable base or cake board under a sponge layer and carefully transport the sponge layer onto a 10 inch round cake board. This is to prevent the sponge layer from breaking. Use this method to transfer all sponge layers.
Frosting the layers - Place 3 inch wide rectangular strips of baking/parchment paper underneathe the 1st sponge layer. This is to prevent making a mess when frosting. Dab 1/4 of the frosting onto the centre of the 1st layer. Gradually spread it outwards and frost the first layer evenly 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 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, dab 1/4 of the frosting onto the centre. Gradually spread it outwards and frost the 3rd layer evenly. Frost the sides with the remaining frosting, starting with dabbing a generous amount of frosting at a selected spot and spreading it around the perimeter. Smooth the sides and create swirls on the top of the cake using by swirling a spoon/ spatula in a circular manner. Alternatively, use the underneath of a spoon to create spikes by allowing the underneath to come into contact with the frosting and pulling the spoon upwards/outwards. Remove the rectangular strips of paper underneath the cake slowly and discard the papers. Keep cake in the refrigerator chilled.
If frosting two sponge layers - Repeat steps above and use 1/3 frosting for the 1st layer, 1/3 frosting for 2nd layer and 1/3 frosting for the sides.
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) Use your favourite/ best quality chocolate ingredients for maximum pleasure.
4) For 54% dark choc, cut icing sugar down to 50g.
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