Welcome to the world, baby Nicholai!
This cake has been a long time in the making… My friend Chris (a woodworker, no doubt) and his wife Karen just welcomed their first child, a baby boy! Not only did I want to make this new family of 3 a wood grain cake because Chris would think it was super cool, it just so happens that the baby’s new nursery is painted with a fantastic mural of a big tree with a couple of owls sitting and keeping watch on the branches above the crib.
This cake turned out perfectly- a sweet, sweet celebration cake made with my best cocoa, favorite fudge frosting, and cute woodland owl. The owl itself is completely made of modeling chocolate, both semi-sweet and white (some of it colored to create that festive robin’s egg blue balloon and the bright blue piping on top). My favorite wood-grain silicon mat was used to create the intricate wood siding, and I piped the top rings myself to give it a bit of a cutesy, cartoon feel.
This chocolate cake recipe is also the best I’ve found. It’s rich, incredibly moist, bakes up evenly, and holds up well to handling- making it the perfect recipe for fudgy layer cakes! It’s also incredibly simple to put together- just drop everything into a bowl, mix, and bake! Use good quality, dutch-processed cocoa and strong, dark roast coffee for best results. (Don’t worry, there isn’t a dominant coffee flavor- it’s included to intensify the flavor of the chocolate.)
Even if you don’t have a special reason to put this whole cake together, give the dark cocoa cake and fudge frosting recipes a try… you won’t be disappointed!
Rich, Dark Cocoa Cake
adapted from AllRecipes
makes two round or square layers, one 13x9x2
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder, preferably dutch-process (I like Cacao Barry, extra-brute)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup strong, hot black coffee
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Choose your pans (I used 2 round, 7-8″ cake pans) and butter, line with parchment, and re-butter them.
In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and mix until well blended.
In a separate, medium bowl lightly whisk the eggs, then mix in the rest of the wet incredients. Stir just to combine, then add to the dry ingredients. Process for 2-3 minutes, scraping the bowl to make sure it is thoroughly mixed.
Pour into your pan(s), weighing the pans if you’re using more than one to make sure you divided the batter equally. (This will make sure you end up with 2 layers of the same size.) Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean.
Remove from the oven and let cool. Turn the pans out on to a cooling rack to let the layers cool completely before trimming and frosting.
Favorite Fudgy Chocolate Frosting
adapted from AllRecipes
makes about 4 cups
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/3 cup cocoa powder, preferably good quality dutch-processed
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted, to taste
1/2 – 3/4 cup half and half, or whole milk
1 tablespoon corn syrup (light or dark, doesn’t matter)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Sift the cocoa powder into the large bowl of a stand mixer. Melt the butter in a small saucepan, and pour over cocoa
powder. Mix to form a thick paste.
Pour in 1/2 a cup of half and half, and mix to combine.
Sift in the powdered sugar in 1/2 cup increments, beating after each addition. Continue adding powdered sugar, checking (and tasting ) after each addition and mixing well. Once the frosting is sweetened to your liking, add in your corn syrup and vanilla extract and beat on high (speed 5-6 on the Kitchenaid) until it’s smooth and shiny. It can be left, covered, on the kitchen counter for hours if you’re not ready to use it yet. It is soft, spreadable, and won’t ooze off your cake.
** As with the cake recipe, the cocoa powder you choose for this frosting makes a HUGE difference, since that’s where your flavor will come from. I use Cacao Barry Extra-Brute, and it’s amazing. Use the best stuff you can find for best results.