Cream cheese frosting and cocoa amplify each other’s flavours like apple wedges do for cheddar cheese. The tang in the cocoa – cream cheese pairing is a match made in culinary heaven. I have proof… and better yet, is smothering said combination with cinnamon sugar pecans. This edible revelation is the latest sensation to find a home in my tummy.
However, the dream was not fully realized… not according to my id (thanks Freud), who was screaming inside for MORE CHOCOLATE>> ON CAKE>> NOOOWWW>> GROWL-ROAR!!!… but my superego said to “chill out”; reiterating the “less is more” mantra. My ego stepped in between this tug of war to solve the problem. By adding a middle layer of cocoa-chocolate chip studded filling, all sides were appeased. The modest filling was not to be overbearingly rich, but its understated appeal could win the hearts of the most devoted chocolate fan.
The hefty 3 layer cake was ready to be sliced and devoured. A little chill in the icebox helped allow the frosting to set and the layers of flavour to befriend one another.
The buttermilk and oil gave the cake a soft cotton candy crumb that could have doubled as a pillow. However, by choosing a sturdier flour like all-purpose over cake and pastry, the anxiety of cracking cake layers was avoided with much success. A hearty and satisfying crunch from the sugar spiced pecans was the ideal textural Ying to the cake’s fork tender Yang.
The id began its urgent rise again and this time, with fork in hand, nothing could stand in its way. It had tasted cake before and wanted MORE MORE MORE!
With a honking wedge down the hatchet, the floodgates of milk washed any bystanding remnants left in the mouth.
Make this cake on a cold wintry day and everything else will melt away.
This recipe (cake components, filling, frosting, pecans) was created by little ol’ me. The cake layer portion was loosely adapted from Cake Man Raven.
Chocolate Blizzard Cake
For the Devil’s Food Layers
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup good quality unsweetened cocoa (I used dutched process)
1 tsp espresso (optional, but I think would play off the cocoa nicely)
1 1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used sunflower)
2 cups granulated sugar
3 extra large eggs (or 4 large ones), room temperature
1 1/2 cups buttermilk (shake the container before you use it), room temperature
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 330F (yes, it’s a fussy temperature setting but trust me, the slow, low heat with ensure that your layers will not dry out)
Butter 3 9- inch round pans and line the bottoms with parchment (alternatively, you can dust the pans with cocoa. This will ensure that your cake will release from the pans).
Sift flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cocoa, and espresso together in a medium bowl.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs, and sugar until well combined. Put the buttermilk in a glass container with a spout (such as pyrex glass measuring cup). Add the vanilla to the buttermilk and stir well.
Alternating with dry and wet (starting and ending with the dry), add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the egg mixture, alternating with the buttermilk. Mix just until everything is combined. Do not overmix.
Equally distribute the batter amongst the pans (I usually use a scale for this. If you don’t have one, spray a ladle or measuring cup with cooking spray and dish out the batter that way). Place the pans on 2 baking sheets and bake for 20-30 minutes (each oven is different so just watch them carefully) on lower and upper third of racks. Rotate halfway through- 180 degrees for both sheets and from bottom to top of the rack and vice versa, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake reveals moist crumbs (not gummy).
Cool cakes in pan for 5 minutes and then run a dull knife (i.e. butter knife) around the sides. Take them out and place on cooling racks to cool completely.
Layers can be made a day in advance. Wrap well in plastic and store at room temperature in a cool, dry spot. Alternatively, you can stick these cakes in freezer bags. They will keep well for 3 months. To defrost, the evening before, take the layers out and let them defrost at room temperature. Do not place the layers in the fridge (it will dry them out).
Espresso Simple Syrup
In a small bowl, add 1 tbsp of just boiled water to 1 tbsp espresso powder. Set aside.
In a small saucepan, combine, 1/2 cup of cold water and 1/3 cup granulated sugar together. Heat on medium until sugar completely dissolves and just begins to boil. Off the heat and add 1 tbsp vanilla and all of the espresso liquid.
Cool to room temperature (can be made 1 day ahead). Cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge until ready to use.
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (use good quality stuff like Valrohna!), sifted
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
pinch of kosher salt
2 tbsp heavy cream (or whole milk)
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips, melted (I used Ghirardhelli)
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (Ghirardhelli again)
1/2 cup vanilla bean cream cheese frosting (recipe below)
Beat butter until creamy.
Add the cocoa, sugar, vanilla, and salt.
Mix well until blended. Add melted chocolate then cream. Fold in cream cheese frosting and 1/2 cup of chocolate chips.
Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Leftovers keep well wrapped in the fridge for 1 week.
Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting
5 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
2 tsp vanilla bean paste (or scraped seeds from 1 vanilla bean)
fat pinch of kosher salt
1/2 cup of unsalted butter, at room temperature
3- 8oz packages full fat cream cheese (Philadelphia is best. Use the bricks and not the tubs) room temperature, but still cool to the touch
1/2 cup granulated sugar (you can use as much as 2/3 cup if you want a sweeter frosting)
In a medium saucepan, add the flour. Slowly whisk in the milk (to avoid lumps) until you’ve made a cohesive paste. Put saucepan on medium heat and stirring constantly with whisk until the mixture stiffens slightly (it will resemble wallpaper paste). Off the heat and set it aside to cool for 5 minutes. Put a piece of plastic wrap on it to prevent the surface from forming a skin.
Meanwhile, beat (best to use a hand or stand mixer for this) together the butter, cream cheese, and sugar until consistency has been aerated and slightly lightened. Add the pinch of salt and the vanilla. With the mixer on medium low, slowly add all of the cooled milk/flour mixture into the cream cheese mixture (about 2 tbsp at a time). The granulated sugar will dissolve completely and you will be left with a creamy, silky, and fluffy filling. Increase the mixer speed to medium high and whip frosting until light and fluffy. Put plastic wrap over bowl and put in the fridge away from items with strong odours. (this will help the frosting to set up completely). Leave for 2-4 hours (preferably overnight), or until frosting takes on a firm, but smooth and spreadable consistency. Reserve 1/2 cup for chocolate filling.
Note: if the frosting is too stiff, add a few tablespoons of cream to loosen it up a bit until you reach the desired texture.
Spiced Candied Pecans
3 cups whole raw pecans
3 large egg whites
3/4 cups light brown sugar
1 tbsp+1 tsp cinnamon (I recommend Saigon for a fiery kick)
pinch of kosher salt
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C).
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside (or Silpat if you have it).
Mix together brown sugar and cinnamon in medium bowl.
In a big bowl, beat together the egg whites and pinch of salt. Add sugar- cinnamon mixture and whip until nice and frothy and sugar has been more or less dissolved. Pour in the pecans and then stir until the nuts are completely coated.
Transfer the pecans in a single, even layer to the baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes (what you’re essentially doing is drying out the egg whites so that the sugar mix will adhere to the pecans, making them nice and crunchy).
Cool completely on a wire rack and seal in plastic container (keeps for about 3 weeks in a cool, dry spot). This garnish (which leftovers double as a fabulous snack) can be made 2-3 days in advance.
To assemble the cake
If the layers have crowed, use a sharp serrated knife to even them out. Lay first cake layer on a cake disk (which you can make yourself. Trace and cut out a 9.5 inch circle from stiff cardboard and cover with aluminum foil). The bottom of the cake should face you. Use a pastry brush and sweep a third of the syrup onto the cake layer. Wait a couple of minutes (3-4), then spread 1/2 of the chocolate filling onto the cake. Add the second layer (with the top facing you) and another third of the syrup on the cake. Add remaining half of chocolate filling onto the cake. Make sure to spread filling to the edges and distribute it evenly. Top with final layer (with its bottom facing you). Press down gently to get layers to stick. Add last 1/3 of syrup to the cake. When the syrup has been absorbed, frost the top and side with the white frosting (the best way to do this and avoid a speckled looking exterior is to ‘dirty ice’ a first coat of frosting onto the crumbs. Place the cake in the fridge until it has set and then add the rest of your frosting using an offset spatula. Any leftover frosting can be wrapped and refrigerated up to 1 week.
Yield: 10 generous wedges