Thursday, March 3, 2011

The last piece...

March 1 was my step-daughter’s 29th birthday, and one of the few family traditions we have is that I bake a chocolate birthday cake for her. Every year, I go through my cookbooks and a few Websites trying to remember which cakes I’ve made in previous years, which were good, which weren’t. Luckily, I do remember the ones that weren’t up to my standards: dry, not chocolate-y enough, too sweet. You’d think I would have used a recipe from my new pastry book but I haven’t gotten to the cake chapter and looking ahead, the recipes are not only complicated but require cake rings — don’t have those yet.

Instead, I turned to one of my favorite baking sites, Diana’s Desserts ( The best, and worst, thing about Diana’s Desserts is choosing a recipe. There are so many great-looking recipes and those I’ve tried have been delicious. After bouncing back and forth between the four or five I’d narrowed it down to, I chose the Chocolate Layer Cake with Chocolate Frosting ( and had planned to use a frosting from a different recipe that incorporated chocolate liqueur until I noticed, just in time, the bottle of chocolate liqueur I have is “piccante,” made with chili pepper, and while it’s probably a delicious digestive, it didn’t appeal to me for frosting a cake. The frosting is from my well-worn copy of The Fannie Farmer Baking Book. In the cake, I substituted homemade yogurt for sour cream and used about a third less granulated sugar.  And, at Ugo’s request, I used apricot jam between the layers rather than frosting, along the lines of a Sacher Torte. I was skeptical but liked it.

I wanted to make it festive so I decided to grate chocolate on top. If you ever plan to grate chocolate, I recommend refrigerating it before grating and using a spoon to sprinkle it over the top. I used my hands to sprinkle and it started melting, just the other side of immediately. I managed to get it on the cake in grated pieces but my hands looked like I’d been making mud pies. I considered scraping it off with the spatula but both palms were glistening with melted chocolate, making the spatula solution illogical, and what would I have done with it anyway? I already had a caffeine buzz from eating the rounded tops I’d sliced off to make a level cake so I couldn’t lick more than two fingers. How sad to watch the chocolate slide down the drain.

Wasted chocolate aside, the cake was a winner. Moist, chocolate-y, not too sweet. And there’s one piece left…

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