Friday, October 21, 2011

Friendship is Thicker than...Ganache?

Tomorrow marks a very special day, and a special day calls for a special (and less than healthy) treat. 

One of my closest girlfriends is turning the big "two-oh" and to celebrate, I have baked her a deadly chocolate cake slathered with ganache frosting and concealing a thick layer of super-secret raspberry jelly. Okay, maybe not super secret since I fully intend to reveal the recipe within this blog entry.

It feels a bit silly to be starting my healthy lifestyle blog with a recipe that contains so many no-no's but hey, you only turn twenty once and I think that is more than enough of an excuse to plunge fork first into this decadent cake. Besides, I slaved all day baking it. It would be a complete waste of my efforts to let it go uneaten!

I have been close friends with Dee the birthday girl and another lovely lady named Fiona since the beginning of middle school when the five local public elementary school first converged into one giant school and suddenly we were surrounded by kids we'd never knew existed. Of course we were well aware of the other four elementary schools, but they seemed like faraway islands and the students inhabiting those islands seemed like aliens or figments of our imagination. Needless to say, I am extremely lucky to have met these two aliens named Dee and Fiona.

Not until our senior year in high school did our long-running friendship expanded and solidify into the spectacular five-girl group. It was due to a team project in our AP Psychology class that our little crew formed. Joined by two new-ish comers (we were all friends and acquaintances prior to this class) Allison and Laura, we combined the first letters of each of our names and became the DALFS. We really should start a band. 

Free blocks and late mornings privileged to seniors were often spent by the DALFS at the Starbucks in the town center sharing a chat over double frappa-whatsits and two-pump caramel-what-he-ordereds. This became a habit for us and even as we went our separate ways for college, we would always make sure to gather at our little Starbucks during holiday breaks. 

Originally we were planning a fancy dinner for our dear lady with the unveiling of my cake for dessert but Dee's boyfriend seemed to be planning a big surprise and asked her to keep her evening open. Being fans of said boyfriend, we were not too bummed to reschedule. 

It only seemed fitting, that the DFS (unfortunately A and L are currently away at school) would be celebrating over caffeinated concoctions at our favorite location.

There was no hesitation when I asked Dee what sort of cake she wanted for her birthday. Of course, anything that marries raspberries and chocolate is right up Dee's ally. I shouldn't even have had to ask. I immediately began my search for the perfect chocolate raspberry cake recipe.

At first I was envisioning a masterpiece of a cake, something constructed so elaborately you would expect to see it in the MoMA or some complex recipe handwritten in French with instructions comparable to a NASA spaceship manual. I scoured through all of my bookmarked food blogs and after two days of searching and opening more tabs than my browser could display, I decided to take a step back and rethink my master plan.

Of course any one of my girls deserve the best cake possible for their special day. Now, who's to say that a traditional chocolate cake can't be the best? With this revelation, I decided to play off our theme of tradition (gathering at our Starbucks) and create an old-school chocolate cake with a simple raspberry filling and good old chocolate ganache icing. 

This certain recipe, originally from a 1999 issue of Gourmet Magazine, seemed to be quite popular among the food blog circles. Many people had many different adaptations but I was particularly drawn to the simplicity of this version's raspberry filling. I also appreciated how this cake recipe calls for just three eggs as opposed to the super-rich flourless chocolate cakes which summon upwards of five to eight eggs. One recipe I came across used a WHOLE DOZEN eggs in one cake! I could feel my cholesterol skyrocket just reading the recipe!

Anyways, this recipe used a hefty amount of sugar and other not-so-healthy ingredients but I think I can find peace within myself that I am not going to be baking or eating this all the time and should Dee enjoy it enough to request another for her next birthday, I'll have 365 days to recover.

Smitten Kitchen's Double Chocolate Layer Cake (Adapted from Gourmet, March 1999)

This recipe was originally meant to make two 10" round cake layers with ganache frosting filling and coating. I decided to follow SK's adaption and slice my layer in half and fill with a raspberry jelly. Since I only had one round cake pan, I decided to bake only one layer and use the remaining batter for cupcakes.

For Cake Layers
3 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate such as Callebaut
1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
3 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

For Ganache Frosting and Filling (SK suggests to half this recipe if you're only using it to coat the cake. I decided to make a whole batch. I can use the remainder for the cupcakes...and who can object to surplus ganache, really?)
1 pound fine-quality semisweet chocolate such as Callebaut
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter

For Raspberry Filling
2 10-ounce bag frozen raspberries, thawed
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Make Cake Layers: 
Preheat oven to 300°F and grease two 10" round cake pans. Line bottoms with rounds of wax paper and grease paper.

Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well.

Divide batter between pans and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Cool layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove wax paper and cool layers completely. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.

Make Ganache Frosting: 
Finely chop chocolate. In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Cut butter into pieces and add to frosting, whisking until smooth.

Transfer frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable (depending on chocolate used, it may be necessary to chill frosting to spreadable consistency). I found that stirring this over a bowl of ice water did a great job of cooling it off quickly and evenly.

Spread frosting between cake layers and over top and sides. Cake keeps, covered and chilled, 3 days. Bring cake to room temperature before serving.

Make Raspberry Filling:
Puree the raspberries in a food processor, blender or immersion blender. Press the puree through a fine-mesh strainer with the back of a spoon, removing the seeds. Heat the puree in a small pot with the sugar and cornstarch until mixture boils, stirring constantly. As it boils, it should quickly thicken.

Let it cool completely before spreading it thinly over three layers.

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