Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Flavor of the month

So here we are at the end of January.  For the most part, my new FOCUS plan is off to a good start!  I did get derailed slightly during the past week--my dad & his girlfriend Judy (who is really great) got here in time for Brianna's birthday last Wednesday and went home Sunday afternoon.  That was okay, though, because I only had one item left to fill in on my list when they got here--the Ingredient focus.  When I came up with the list, I figured that one would be an opportunity to highlight a new ingredient each month.  But I wasn't feeling it.  I considered--and discarded--several possibilities, but nothing was really grabbing my attention.  Since part of my goal this year is to focus on things that have value for me instead of just doing things because I think I should, I didn't want to force myself to make something that might or might not get eaten.  I was also running out of time, so that was a factor. =)  

Some of my best ideas come as I'm lying in bed at night before I fall asleep.  I've taken to keeping one of my notebooks handy so I can jot stuff down more easily so I don't lose it.  Sunday night, what was going around in my head was the fact that my ingredient and pantry categories were already sort of overlapping.  I also wanted to blog about Brianna's birthday cake.  I was also thinking about the new cookbook I bought last Friday.  Something in my brain put all of those things together and got them to gel.  I didn't want to write about ingredients (I'll combine that with pantry going forward), I wanted to write about flavors.  

I've mentioned before that around here, the preferred cake flavor for everyone but me is chocolate.  When I asked B what kind of cake she wanted, I fully expected her answer of chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.  But she surprised me with the filling--she started to ask for vanilla, like last year's cake, but then changed it to raspberry.  Chocolate and raspberry is one of my all-time favorite flavor combinations.  Sold!  I'm not sure exactly what it is about those two flavors that works so well together.  I also like cranberry with chocolate, so I think it has to do with the fruity tartness in contrast to the rich chocolate.  Whatever it is, I'm not complaining. =)  Our favorite filling is Swiss meringue buttercream, for its smooth, creamy texture.  I've tried different ways to flavor it, with varying success.  This time, I turned to the raspberry sauce from my copy of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home.  It was fabulous in ice cream, and I thought it would work well in the frosting, too.  

B decided she wanted a rectangular cake rather than a round one.  I learned a long time ago that it's a total pain to try to slice a regular 13" x 9" cake horizontally to form two layers.  Instead, I have a couple of quarter sheet pans.  My go-to chocolate cake recipe is the Chocolate Fudge Cake from The Cake Bible.  I love that it gives the option to use natural cocoa powder, which I prefer, and it's made with brown sugar, which contributes to the moist fudgy texture.  The recipe calls for two 9" round pans, but I find that it works great for two thinner 13" x 9" layers.  The baking time is shorter--about 20 minutes. I line the pans with parchment, and let the cakes cool in the pans.  

When I was ready to assemble the cake, I flipped one of the layers onto my serving tray and peeled off the parchment.  I spread the cake with a thin layer of straight raspberry sauce (which is more like jam than sauce in texture), then topped that with a nice layer of the raspberry buttercream.  I then flipped the second cake layer on top (and removed the parchment from that as well).  I put the cake in the fridge so the filling would have a chance to firm up while I made the chocolate frosting.  My favorite recipe for that is a great recipe from Fine Cooking.  It uses sour cream, and I love how the tang cuts through the sweetness of the powdered sugar in the frosting.  It's also really easy to mix up with a bowl and a whisk.  Once the cake had chilled a bit, I covered it with the chocolate frosting.  I used more of the raspberry buttercream to decorate the cake with a shell border around the bottom and stars around the top, as well as a festive message.

The verdict?  Using the raspberry sauce to flavor the Swiss meringue buttercream works very well--you still have a smooth texture.  I've tried using fruit puree in the past, and it tends to be too watery and make the buttercream break.  The raspberry sauce is also tart enough to balance the sweetness of the frosting, plus it makes it such a lovely pink color.  As for the flavor combination, this was a winner, no surprise there.  You can really taste the fruit, and it works so well with the rich chocolate.  I also love the contrasting textures of the silky buttercream and denser chocolate frosting.  

Part of the fun is figuring out what flavors appeal to you, and I love pulling together components from different sources to see how they work together.  I encourage you to do the same, but figured I'd share the ones I used here in case you're looking for inspiration.  The Chocolate Fudge Cake recipe can be round in The Cake Bible.  If you aren't fortunate enough to have a copy, your local library might.  The Chocolate-Sour Cream Frosting recipe can be found in this post (adapted from Fine Cooking).  There are lots of places to find Swiss meringue buttercream; my go-to is Dorie's recipe, which can be found in this post.  The raspberry sauce is pretty straightforward to make, and can be found in the middle of this article in the Post-Gazette (I used regular raspberries, not black).


  1. Lucky Brianna to get such a beautiful cake. You done good, Mom!!! Chocolate and raspberry is ALWAYS a good combo.

    Happy Birthday, B!!

  2. ooh, your cake is *so* pretty! And the raspberry sauce sounds YUM, though I don't normally like chocolate + fruit.

    Smart idea, to keep a notebook by the bed. I need to do that.

  3. Chocolate and raspberry is one of my favorite flavor combos too so this is right up my alley. B is so lucky to be enjoying your homemade cakes! Just love that photo of her :)

  4. You made quite a cake! I can't wait to try the various components, maybe all together. HB to Brianna!

  5. Happy birthday to Brianna! Your cake is gorgeous. My decorating skills are sub-par.

  6. Wow...you are such a great cake baker and decorator. I loved reading about it all, but my very favorite part was seeing B with her birthday cake! She is so sweet...just a wonderful photo. Thanks for sharing, beautiful cake!

  7. beautiful cake! and happy birthday, B!

  8. Brianna looks so happy with the results of your time in the kitchen! How wonderful that you had just the right collection of recipes to make her chocolate + raspberry dream a reality.