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Chocolate, Wasabi, Ginger and Black Sesame Cake (or, Black Pearl Layer Cake)

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The recipe for this cake is here at Epicurious. In short, it’s three layers of chocolate and ginger sponge, doused in ginger and vanilla syrup, sandwiched with chocolate and wasabi ganache, coated in whipped cream frosting and sprinkled with black sesame seeds. If you think it sounds weird… well, I can understand that, but allow me to assure you that it’s not. I also have pictures, in an attempt to convey the wonder of the cake. Many, many pictures. Here are some of them now:

Fresh from the oven

Easily tall enough for three layers

This last photo is to demonstrate how flat I managed to get the top of the cake, even though I sliced it by hand. Well, alright, by knife, but without the aid of a cutting wire is what I mean.

This was quite a cake; a bit adventurous, a bit unusual, a lot delicious. I have to say that despite the exotic title, the predominant flavours were chocolate and whipped cream – two excellent flavours, I think you’ll agree. I would definitely make it again, but I’d bump up the amount of wasabi, and I’d follow the recipe directions better when it comes to the ginger. The instructions call for you to make a ginger and vanilla syrup with sliced root ginger, then drain the syrup and use the ginger pieces to flavour the cake mix. Unfortunately I’d decided to make both syrup and sponge on the same night, so I had to swap in some ground ginger instead of the fresh ginger. The flavour would have been far more intense, and I’d like to try it.

Ginger and vanilla syrup

One layer soaked in the syrup - see how it shines? Oh, how it shines.

I doubled the amount of wasabi powder the recipe stated for the ganache, and even then there was only a hint of heat. Mostly the heat came from biting into the tiny undissolved bits of wasabi from adding the powder to the ganache and not whisking it thoroughly enough… I quite liked the wasabi bombs, they kept everyone on their toes. I also added half a teaspoon of wasabi to the whipped cream topping – again this gave a very subtle flavour, next time I’d go for a little more. It’s hard to judge, though, especially as wasabi powder takes a little time to give its full flavour, just like mustard powder, but then loses it again when exposed to the air. A couple of the commenters on the Epicurious post also suggested that wasabi paste is a better choice for a stronger flavour, so I may go down that road next time. I didn’t hit the mark spot on this time, as far as I’m concerned, but the cake was still enormously well received. And just enormous.

Wasabi and black sesame ganache applied...

...and spread.

I’ve never made a three-layer cake before (though I have done a seven layer rainbow cake) so that was quite exciting. The recipe suggests using three eight inch tins and baking the layers separately, which is always a very safe (if time consuming) way to go, but I decided to go ahead and bake the whole lot at once in a nine inch tin. This took about an hour and twenty minutes to bake, though I think an hour and ten may have been enough as the cake was pretty crumbly on taking it out of the tin. Luckily, you baste the sponge layers in loads of syrup before sandwiching them together with ganache, then topping with a sweet whipped cream frosting, so the end result was far from dry. The low temperature also meant that, even after such a long time in the oven, only the very top of the cake was a bit singed, and since I was slicing that off anyway there was no problem. There was also some spare ganache and spare whipped cream. The G man really reaped the benefits of this happy accident, which almost makes up for him not getting a slice of the finished product.

Three layers syruped, ganached and stacked.

Oh, I left out the corn syrup and butter from the ganache. This doesn’t really fit in with any of the other paragraphs, but it’s worth mentioning… I just made a normal ganache – equal volumes of melted chocolate and cream – and then added the spices.

Another thing to note about this cake is that it’s very heavy – as in, if you have to carry it very far, be prepared to swap arms a lot. It’s a far distant cousin of the feather-light Victoria sponge, which should practically dissolve on your tongue like wafer. No, this is a bruiser of a cake. It’s also heavy in the sense of flavour, being very dense and rich inside, as we realised when I’d cut monster-sized pieces for everyone and we all started to go into a cake trance half way through eating them… The frosting does balance this richness out nicely, though, with a cleaner, lighter taste and soft texture. Speaking of texture, I loved the black sesame seeds in the ganache and round the edges of the cake. The tiny crunch from each of them added another element to an already interesting mouthful, without changing the sweet flavour at all. I also loved applying them to the cake, which I did by throwing little pinches of them at the freshly-iced sides. They stuck on so readily, it was obviously meant to be. It was a bit like pebble-dashing, but for baked goods. To minimise the inevitable mess, I placed two overlapping sheets of greaseproof paper on top of the cake board; when I was finished decorating, I gently (but firmly) slid the sheets out from under the cake. This left a mostly clean board and had the advantage of feeling like I was performing a magic trick.

Whipped cream frosting (and stray cake crumbs, bah).

Sesame seeds and chocolate stars applied

Now with inadvisable but irresistible glitter.

For the final touches, I went with chocolate stars around the top and, since I never know when to leave well enough alone, added a big L of glitter, because this was my beautiful sister in law’s birthday cake (and her name starts with L). I wish I hadn’t, but it looked so bare without any writing on it… At least I knew better than to try using writing icing; with the moist frosting it would have been indecipherable by morning.

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Jaunty Flower Cupcakes

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I would like to make it clear that these were not birthday cupcakes. Absolutely not. Miss Jennifer didn’t want to celebrate her birthday, and far be it from me to try to change her mind. No, no, I just really like baking and knocked these up. In fact I’d completely forgotten that it had been her birthday at all. It was just a coincidence. It was also a coincidence that I’d bought her a present, and that the other girls had bought her presents too…

I think you probably see what I’m doing here. I couldn’t let it lie – there had to be cake. In our defence, we sang ‘happy cakeday’ instead of ‘happy birthday’, which was really our only concession to her not wanting to celebrate. The bottom line is that friends don’t let friends not eat celebrate on (or at least around) their birthday. In the end I don’t think Miss Jennifer minded that much.


These cakes draw on inspiration from three places. They started out as being filled cupcakes, as inspired by Anne’s Cupcakes Violet Beauregarde over at I Heart Cupcakes. I knew that mine wouldn’t look as bright and pretty as Anne’s, as I was using my new favourite chocolate cake recipe – Devil’s Food Cake from Cake in the Country, my second inspiration – and I wasn’t using butter icing that I could swirl up on top into that quintessential cupcake style, but the idea of filling a delicious cake with something else delicious? You bet I wanted a piece of that action. I neglected to take a photo of the inside of the cakes, which is a shame, so you’ll have to use your imagination there.

That was the extent of the initial idea – devils food cupcakes, filled and iced with dark chocolate and raspberry ganache. Once I’d made the cake batter, though, I found that I had some left over once the 12 cupcake cases were filled. I thought I’d make some tiny cakes, which I sometimes like to do with leftover cake mix because 1) tiny cakes are adorable and 2) lots of tiny cakes go further than a few normal sized cupcakes. As I filled the tiny cases with the devils food cake mix, I remembered a photo I’d seen on Must Have Cute of a cupcake with, wait for it… ANOTHER CUPCAKE ON TOP OF IT! As it turns out, the tiny cupcake on top wasn’t really a cake, but the overall effect is still the same. You can check it out here at That’s Noice! So I decided I’d do a take on this, but less awesome because I’d be using just flat icing. Less awesome, that is, until my new piping bag came in to play. That’s right, I finally got to use the flower piping nozzle, and it was good.

Sorry about the difference in picture quality there – it was night time, and my kitchen is oddly-lit, so it’s hard to get the lighting right.

 

Once the cupcakes (big and small) were baked, I added yet another level by realising that I had some marshmallow-cream cheese icing left in the freezer from making Red Nose whoopie pies. I decided to fill half of the cakes with this, and half with the wonderfully easy to make ganache. This is what it’s like in my head, you know; lots of options, branching out endlessly, making it hard to choose just one thing to bake. It’s no wonder I bake so often, with the ideas and permutations of ideas chasing each other around in there. If I didn’t try at least some of them I fear my head would explode, or at the very least there’d be an ideas leak and the whole area would have to be quarantined.

OK, let’s go through the cupcakes step by step now, so we can have some nice pictures.

Once the cupcakes are baked, use a small knife to cut a circle in the top, then lift out that piece of cake. Use your fingers to hollow out a little cake cave. Reserve the top circle to put back on again, but the bits and pieces you took out by hand can be safely consumed at this stage.

Use a spoon or a piping bag to fill the cupcakes with your frosting of choice. Leave enough room at the top to put the removed cake back in, like a lid.

Once the ‘lids’ are back on the cakes, use a spoon (or piping bag to) top the cake with the icing or ganache you’re using. There’s no reason that you couldn’t have a different filling and icing, though I didn’t want to complicate matters any further than they were already going to be.

Place a tiny cupcake on top of each normal sized cupcake. These were already iced, I didn’t fancy trying to ice them as they sat at a precarious angle. As you can see, I put the marshmallow-iced tiny cupcakes on the ganache full-sized ones, and vice versa, so that everyone got to try both kinds. The contrast in colour was good, too.

The only recipe I really need to add is the raspberry ganache (links to the devils food cake and marshmallow cream cheese frosting are up there somewhere), which is made with raspberry liqueur. You can substitute in any kind of booze you like to make different kinds of ganache. It’s so easy to do but it tastes really Proper. What’s not Proper is this recipe, it’s more of a guideline. All you have to do is mix equal amounts melted chocolate and cream (single or double) together, then add liqueur to taste. For example, mix 2 tbsp melted dark chocolate and 2 tbsp double cream, then add raspberry liqueur a capful at a time until you have the right flavour. It depends how boozy you want it to be. What you can also do is slightly reduce the amount of cream to give a thicker ganache that will set hard overnight – say 2 tbsp chocolate to 1 3/4 tbsp cream, plus liqueur. The best plan is always to have more of all the ingredients on standby, that way you can always add more chocolate or cream if the consistency isn’t right.Remember that it will thicken as it cools – if you’re not sure, you can put it in the fridge for a few minutes to see how it looks.

These cupcakes went down an absolute storm. Both flavours were good, but I have to express a preference for the raspberry ganache ones – they were so indulgent and rich, what’s not to love?

 

 

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