Sunday, August 27, 2017

Chocolate Cake with Fresh Strawberries



I've been focusing a lot on my Instagram lately. It's odd; I always get notifications for new followers, and when I check, the number almost always is the same, or possibly one or two lower than last I checked. I can only guess that - between the hours that I've checked - I've gained one and lost two, or some combination of that. I can't quite fathom why, but I can only assume it's because I don't post as often as a high-follower-having instagrammer might post. Eh.

I love Instagram because I think it's one of the most-pure social media outlets there are. Minimal ads, no add-ons for the interface, just captured moments with a caption, and that's it. You can like it or not. You can follow or unfollow. There's not a huge amount of drama that can happen in that simple space, and I think that's why I love it. It just captures moments and that's it. It's a beautiful way to experience and savor our reality, and I'm 100% for it.



For those of you that may follow me on Instagram, you'll know that my life revolves around three things: my work, my pets, and my garden. Sure, I'll post the occasional style photo of what I'm wearing and what kind of makeup I'm doing(sometimes in my pink wig), but not as often as the food stuff. That being said, I like to think of myself as more of a lifestyle blogger than a food blogger. I try my best to live sustainably and do my best to recycle and produce as low waste as I can. I buy in bulk, for example, and try to make my own sodas. I also compost instead of throwing away biodegradable waste. I'll admit that it's more of a time-based project than anything, but it's worth it when your garden thrives more and more each year you invest in it. That being said, it's still a food blog, and I love food.

I've been on a cake kick lately, which is lucky considering I'm doing a friend's wedding cake come this Halloween. Since the flavor profile was strawberry and chocolate, I wanted to get a little practice in before the event, so I needed guinea pigs. Luckily, the birthday parties of both a dear friend and a soon-to-be sister-in-law would fulfill this need for me.




The first cake I made was this gorgeous strawberry cake. It was bright pink inside(which you unfortunately can't see because of the lighting of the night club we were at) with an Italian Buttercream frosting, a much lighter and more tasty version of the plain old American Buttercream we all might be used to at this point. I learned this amazing new marbling technique for decoration where you smear the sides of the cake randomly with different shades of a certain color and then frost them all together in irregular ways to achieve this effect. I also love the drip cake trend that we've been having lately, with asymmetrical decorations on top. I think it looks so much more organic and natural than anything constructed, which I find so much more appealing.

This cake is chocolate on chocolate, with the fresh strawberries for color and a little contrast in texture. It's insanely rich and dense, and just perfect for a birthday party. This cake makes three nice layers, so you'll get something that's wonderfully tall, which is completely instagram worthy. Oh, and just in case that wasn't instagrammable(is that a word?) enough, it's entirely #dairyfree!

Chocolate Layer Cake
yields 3 8" round cakes
Adapted from Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson

For the Cake

  • 4 oz baking chocolate(I like guittard dark), broken up in pieces
  • 1 oz cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup strong coffee
  • 6.75 oz vegan sour cream(I love the tofutti products for baking)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 eggs
  • 5 oz brown sugar
  • 7.75 oz granulated sugar
  • 4 oz coconut oil 
  • 4 oz grapeseed oil
  • 10 oz AP flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
For the Ganache
  • 1 lb good quality chocolate, 58% cacao or higher
  • 8 oz coconut-almond milk blend(I like Blue Diamond brand)
  • 0.3 oz coconut oil
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray three 8" baking pans with pan-spray. Drop in a heaping tablespoon of cocoa powder into the middle of one of the pans and knock it around to spread it. You're basically coating the bottom and sides of the pan with cocoa powder, and then knocking the excess into each of the other pans, so that all three are evenly (and thinly) coated to keep your batter from sticking. This allows easy release from the bottom and a good rise on all sides for the cakes when they bake. 

Put the cocoa powder and broken-up baking chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and pour in your hot coffee, and whisk until everything is smooth. You might have to microwave the mixture to get the chocolate to melt, but cross that bridge if/when it comes. Once that's all nice and together, scrape in your tofu sour cream and whisk to combine, ending with the vanilla extract. Set aside. Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a separate bowl. Set that aside. (Yes, you're working with a lot of bowls. Deal with it.)

Combine the sugars and coconut oil in the bowl of your standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until incorporated, which will take about two or three minutes, depending on how warm your kitchen is. Yes, it'll look crumbly and not that creamy - that's okay! Add in your grapeseed oil in a thin stream as it whisks, and it'll get nice and fluffy...or, at least, fluffier. Add in your eggs and egg yolks, one at a time, leaving at least 30 seconds between each addition, and scraping down your sides between so as well. This takes some time, but trust me - the next part goes fast!

Remove your bowl from the standing mixer and grab a spatula, then alternate folding in your flour and the chocolate mixture, about a third at a time, ending with the dry ingredients. You don't want lumps, of course, but it's okay if you have them, as you don't want to overmix your batter. It should be rather smooth and smell quite chocolatey. 

Using a disher, divide the batter evenly between the three pans. I love using ice cream dishers to do these kinds of things, as the results are always consistent, so plan on investing in a large-ish ice cream disher should you plan on producing layer cakes on a regular basis. Once all of your batter is divided, knock the bottom-sides of your cake pans to evenly distribute your mix and knock out any particularly large bubbles that may be lurking insidiously. Yes, you want bubbles, but you want small and even bubbles rather than large ones. 

Bake for 20 - 24 minutes at 350, or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan and springs back when the top is lightly touched. Let the cakes cool, in the pans, for about 20 minutes. In the meantime, make your ganache.

Simply combine all ingredients in a metal or glass bowl over a pot of simmering water and gently melt together. Use a spatula and not a whisk to combine everything, and please be gentle with it. You don't want to create air bubbles in a ganache, lest it turn sandy and the color go off. Once everything is mostly melted together, turn off the heat and let it hang out for about 15 minutes. By this time, your cakes should be ready to come out of the pans and ready to layer up.

Simply take each layer and spread about a third of a cup of ganache between each one, then coating the entire concoction with a thin layer of the ganache before setting in the fridge. Remember, you only want this to set, as you'll be glazing more ganache on top. I personally like the more rustic approach for these kinds of cakes, but you can be as refined as you like with it. I used fresh strawberries, mini meringues (a la Dominique Ansel's book, The Secret Recipes)  and shards of Hershey's special dark chocolate bars to decorate the top of this cake. You can decorate with whatever you want, so long as you play with height, color, and texture. Just make sure to set it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before serving it, especially if you want nice and neat layers at the end!

Okay so it's not the prettiest picture - that's why it's not on Instagram!
It seriously only took a couple of hours from start-to-finish, and most of that was just waiting on things to bake, cool, or set. There was a lot of Netflix between those times, as well as plenty of time to perfect my party makeup or get a nice outfit together. However you spend your time waiting, I hope you've enjoyed this brief tutorial. Now get out there and share your life! Happy cooking and happy eating!