Thursday, February 16, 2006

Another Beach Night, Another Birthday, Another Cake

This past Wednesday night was such fun: Dinner with the Beach Night group plus two other couples whom we enjoy so much. Moi was asked to make the cake for the birthday boy (could I refuse? wouldn't think of it!). Each time this group gets together it warms my heart. Love and laughter abound; food and wine are shared. It never fails to make me feel grateful for such good friends.

Well now, this particular cake was not without its structural challenges. And a bit un-photogenic to boot. Three layers of chocolate cake with dulce de leche and whipped cream between each layer, plus more dulce de leche on top and then the whole thing enrobed in whipped cream and topped with shavings of bittersweet chocolate. It really was prettier than it looks here.

The first thing I did was to put the bottom layer round side down. I didn't see what I'd done until I'd slathered the first layer of dulce de leche on it. So on I went, adding the whipped cream, the second layer, flat side down (big mistake), more dulce, more whipped cream, ending with the top layer of cake round side down, creating a flat top. Unfortunately it also created bowed sides and made the whole thing a bit unstable. Oh well, a good frosting of whipped cream over the entire cake hid numerous imperfections. The main thing was that 'L' liked his birthday cake, as did everyone else. And as you all know, that is THE thing to which I aspire.

There was lots of talk about my blog around the table. Some didn't know about it, others sang my praises. I found myself getting a bit self-conscious, which surprised me because I write this stuff, send it out into the blogosphere where anyone can read it and really don't give it that much thought. But when my friends talk about it and ask me questions, I get "oh gosh and golly, it's really not much" about it. ('A', I love it that you love my blog and my writing. You can tell whomever you want, whenever you want. I'll just buck up!)

Are you ready for the recipe? Thought you might be.

Three-Layer Bittersweet Chocolate Cake with Dulce de Leche and Whipped Cream Frosting

The day before making the cake, place 2 un-opened cans of sweetened condensed milk in a pan deep enough to cover the cans with water. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer for 4 hours. Place a lid loosely over the pan to reduce evaporation. Add boiling water if the level falls below the tops of the cans. Remove pan from the heat and allow cans to cool in the water completely. Wipe clean and store in the fridge.

WARNING: this is not the Carnation or Borden Officially Sanctioned Method of preparing dulce de leche. Because, I suppose, occasionally a can can and will explode. I've never known it to happen, but then I've never had a pressure cooker explode either although I've heard that on occasion they do. Officially, you can go to the store and buy this stuff already prepared but I will tell you that it just ain't the same. Still, I would be remiss if I did not warn you of the inherent danger of boiling sealed cans of sweetened milk. Be careful, and keep the water at a simmer.

For the cake batter:
Butter the insides of three 8-inch cake pans. Cut a round of parchment paper to fit inside of each pan. Butter parchment paper. Set aside.
Pre-heat oven to 325.

In the top of a double boiler, over simmering water, melt 6 ounces of coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate, such as Scharfen Berger. Set aside.

With a whisk, blend -
3/4 cup all purpose unbleached flour
3/4 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon each, baking soda, baking powder, kosher salt

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together until blended -
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat in the melted chocolate until thoroughly mixed.
Add 2 large eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition.

Mix in 1/2 of the flour mixture followed by
3/4 cup buttermilk
followed by the rest of the flour mixture, mixing until the flour is fully incorporated.

Pour equally into the three pans and bake for 25 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean.
Cool pans on racks for 10 minutes, remove cakes from pans, place on racks and cool completely.

Whip 1 pint of whipping cream, adding 2 tablespoons of light corn syrup and a bit of sugar to the sweetness you desire. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and whip until stiff peaks form.

Lay strips of aluminum foil around the edges of the plate you want to serve your cake on. Place the first layer, flat side down and spread a generous amount of dulce de leche over the top and out to the edge. Top this with a generous layer of whipped cream. Place the second layer, round side down, on top of the first and repeat with the two fillings. Lastly, with the third layer flat side down and using a sharp serrated knife, gently slice the rounded top from the layer, creating a flat top surface. Spread dulce (you may have to open a second can) on the top just to the edges. Frost the entire cake with the remainder of the whipped cream. Or you can just frost the sides and pipe the whipped cream onto the top with a large rosette tip, leaving some of the dulce exposed. Using some of that great bittersweet chocolate, either microplane shavings or use a vegetable peeler to place curls of chocolate on top.

Lastly, as you proudly transport your beautiful creation to the table where your guests await with breathless anticipation, take a moment to look down to be sure that you've removed the foil strips from the edges of the bottom layer.

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