On a rare lazy afternoon, Beverly and I were watching some old episodes of From Martha’s Kitchen on Hulu, when we struck cooking show gold, with this episode starring Michelle Bommarito and her spring garden cake. My four-year-old daughter and I were equally mesmerized. Now fast forward about six weeks to when my dear friend asked if I would make a cake for her son’s first birthday party. Oh, and this friend happens to own and operate an organic vegetable farm with her husband. Shwing.
“What did you have in mind?” I asked, doing my best to play it cool as the garden cake was flashing through my head and my inner-freak was trying to keep my excitement in check in an attempt to not alienate my poor unsuspecting friend.
She responded, “Well…probably just chocolate on chocolate”.
My excitement bordered on mania. But I think you’d agree it was well directed because this cake was a real beaut.
The chocolate on chocolate aspect had to be dealt with first. I decided to give another go to the Gourmet recipe I tried with my last chocolate cake. This time I substituted stout for coffee, tweaked the proportions, and cooked it for a shorter period. It was just right. I chose my favorite mocha buttercream to fill and frost the layers. The rest of the process was basically hunting for decorative elements and spending nights modeling teeny little veggies.
The grass green sprinkles were impossible to find at any brick and mortar spot in a twenty mile radius. Thankfully, a little experiment with white sprinkles and some gel food coloring resulted in the perfect shade of newly grown grass. A gum paste picket fence, while not so tasty, nicely brightened up the tall dark sides of the cake.
Babies, gardens, and cake – this experience was an intersection of some of life’s greatest joys.
Garden vegetables – marzipan and food dye
Dirt – Nabisco famous chocolate wafers, crushed
Grass – green sprinkles, or white sprinkles dyed green
Picket Fence – gum paste
Chocolate Stout Cake Recipe (adapted from Gourmet)
makes 2 9”x13” cakes
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 tsp instant espresso powder
2 cups chocolate stout beer
4 cups granulated sugar
3 1/3 cups all purpose flour
2 cups cocoa powder, not dutch processed
2 2/3 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp salt
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 300F and prepare pans by lightly greasing them and lining them with parchment.
Place chopped chocolate in a medium size bowl with the espresso powder. In a small sauce pan, bring the 2 cups of stout to a simmer. Pour the hot beer over the chocolate and stir just a few times. Let the mixture sit a few minutes before stirring more thoroughly to combine until smooth.
Sift together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, and set it aside.
In a large bowl, using a hand held electric beater (or a balloon whisk and a determined arm), beat the eggs until thickened and pale. Whisk in the oil and buttermilk, and chocolate mixture until well combined. Add the cocoa mixture and continue to whisk until the batter is smooth and there are no streaks of the dry mixture.
Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake for 35 minutes. After 35 minutes, check for doneness every 5 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Allow cakes to cool completely in pans.
Mocha Buttercream Frosting Recipe (adapted from zoebakes)
makes enough to fill and frost a 2 layer 9”x13” cake
3 whole eggs
3 egg yolks
2 cups plus 3 Tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
½ tsp cream of tartar
1 ½ pounds (6 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
12 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
3 teaspoons espresso powder
Dissolve the espresso powder in 1 ½ tablespoons of water and set it aside.
In a small saucepan, combine 1 ¾ cups of the granulated sugar, ¾ cup water, and the cream of tartar. Attach a candy thermometer to the pan and simmer over medium high heat.
Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine the eggs, yolks, and remaining sugar. Beat on medium-high speed until the mixture has thickened and increased in volume.
As soon as the candy thermometer registers 246F, remove the syrup from the heat. Immediately, and with the mixer running, pour the syrup into the eggs in a steady stream, being careful to avoid pouring directly on the whisk attachment. The syrup will cook the eggs.
Allow the mixture to beat about 7 minutes more, until the egg mixture has cooled. Once cooled, and with the mixture still running, begin adding the butter 2 tablespoons at a time. The buttercream may appear to change states – slightly loose to curdled – but continue to beat after all the butter is added and the mixture will come together smoothly.
Add the melted chocolate and then the espresso mixture. Beat until smooth.
Buttercream may be used immediately, refrigerated, or frozen. If refrigerating or freezing, be sure to allow the frosting to come to room temperature and rewhip it before using.