Friday, July 2, 2010

The early bird gets the worm

I’ve always been more of a morning person than a night owl. College was the one exception, where I did stay up late.  But that was only because I had homework and other stuff to get done, not because I wanted to. Given the choice between staying up late to finish something or getting up early to do it, I’ll pick early almost every time. I just think better in the morning. Frequently, I’ll be trying to work on a blog post in the evening, and the words just won’t work for me. But when I return to it the next morning, things flow much better.

Morning is a great time to bake, too, since then you get to eat things fresh from the oven. =)  A lot of my early morning baking sessions are quick things, like muffins or scones.  For more involved things, like yeast doughs, I'll often start things the day before and finish in the morning.  I can shape dough before I go to bed, let it proof in the fridge overnight, and be able to get it baked a lot sooner the next morning  thanks to the advance preparation.  And sometimes I just need to finish up a more involved project--this cake is a good example. I baked the layers in the evening, and left them to cool overnight. The next morning I made the frosting and assembled the cake.

While I frequently take baked goods to work, I also bake cakes (or other requested desserts ) for everyone’s birthdays. As with family birthdays, the birthday girl or boy gets to pick what kind. This most recent cake was for my boss’s birthday. She likes chocolate cake, and is a bit of a kid at heart. When I was asking her what she wanted, she said that she would like a “Dirt Cake.” At the time, the extent of my knowledge about dirt cakes was that they involved chocolate (usually crumbled Oreos) and gummy worms. But I figured between the internet and advice from my 7-year-old, I could come up with something good.

I had some thoughts on what I wanted to make, but started off by looking up a couple recipes online. That’s when I discovered that dirt cake doesn’t actually have any cake in it! It’s mainly Oreos, cream cheese, chocolate pudding, and whipped cream. And of course, the gummy worms. I wanted an actual cake. It occurred to me that the perfect cake recipe for this application is one that I look at all the time--the cover cake from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours. It’s designed to be decorated with crumbs, so I figured it would work nicely.  And I've made it before (when it was chosen for TWD), so I knew it would be tasty.

For the filling and frosting, I wanted something different than the frosting that accompanies the cake recipe.  Since dirt cake traditionally uses chocolate pudding, I was looking for something light in texture and creamy, not to mention chocolately.  I decided to go with one of my recent favorite discoveries, chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream.  I've made Swiss meringue buttercream a bunch of times, and in different flavors, but it wasn't until I made these cupcakes for J's birthday that I made a chocolate version.  It's really yummy. =)

The cake is pretty straightforward to make.  The cake recipe makes two layers.  After they are cooled, you cut each in half so you end up with a total of four layers.  One is crumbled up to be used for decoration.  One of the remaining layers is placed on the serving plate and topped with a thick layer of frosting.  I put it in the freezer for about 10 minutes to let the frosting get very firm before adding the next layer.  Layer number two is also topped with frosting and chilled.  Once the third layer is on top, the whole cake (top and sides) are covered with frosting.  Then the reserved crumbs are gently pressed onto the top and sides of the cake.  Last, but certain not least, the gummy worms are added to the top of the cake.  Brianna and Gillian really enjoyed helping with that part of the assembly.  I also had to make sure I had enough worms so they could each sample some. =)

The verdict?  The cake turned out great, and was enjoyed by the birthday girl and everyone else who tried it.  I had no idea so many people liked gummy worms.  I like the texture of the Swiss meringue buttercream with the cake.  And the crumbs definitely looked appropriately dirt-like.  I have a feeling this one will be making more appearances around here, since Brianna and Gillian were very excited by it.  

If you'd like to try the cake for yourself, you can find the recipe here on the NPR website.  And here's my version of the frosting:

Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream
(adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

120g (4 large) egg whites
150g (5.25 oz) granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
340g (12 oz/3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into large pieces and softened
285g (10 oz) bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled to room temperature

Put the egg whites, sugar and pinch of salt in the bowl of a stand mixer bowl and place it over a pan of simmering water.  Whisk the mixture constantly until it registers 160 degrees F on an instant read thermometer.  The sugar will be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.  Remove the bowl from the heat.

Attache the bowl to the stand mixer.  Using the paddle attachment, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.  Add the butter a piece or two at a time, beating until smooth.  Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.  During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.  Then on medium speed, gradually beat in the vanilla, then the melted chocolate.


  1. I am a definite morning person too so I totally get ya! Great cake too! :)

  2. Totally agree with you about life in the morning . . . it's my favorite time of day! Your cake is adorable - and sounds yummy, too!

  3. Chocolate with worms, you know my opinion, so I won't express it here except to say that if it was loved, that's all that matters. And my guys would love this!!

  4. How adorable! Dirt cakes always look better than they taste, and you found the perfect solution to that problem.

  5. Nice Di! Great job! Vincent is so into gummy worms right now and I have a feeling everyone would enjoy your version of this cake.

  6. I have missed so many great recipes on your blog - I'm glad to be back in action!

    I really want to try the meringue - it looks like a great alternative to traditional buttercream.

  7. Just wait until you girls friends get wind of this cake,....your phone will ring off the hook. lol
    What a fun cake. I think I like your boss already.