My daughter turned 2 around 2 weeks ago. Ever since she was a baby, I wanted to start the tradition of baking her birthday cake every year: partly because I want to indulge my fetish of making things from scratch, and partly due to the deplorable taste of store-bought or even bakery bought cakes and pastries here in Egypt, that rank high on decorative elements but are sorely lacking when it comes to taste. They are often hard on the inside and contain enough sugar to give you diabetes on the spot. Plus, most of them contain food coloring, and I am categorically opposed to food coloring under any and all circumstances. I hate the stuff and in my mind, it’s right up there with rat poison. Another thing I hate is cake mixes. If you’re going to make a cake, go all out. Otherwise, why even bother?
Having said that, I didn’t manage to bake her birthday cake for her first birthday (I was still in the trenches of motherhood and I honestly couldn’t conceive of spending even a few hours baking in the kitchen, considering that baking is not even my thing. I bake once, maybe 2 times a year, if I’m feeling generous enough to whip up a batch of cookies or brownies for family and neighbors). So I started the tradition from her 2nd birthday onward. Now, seeing as I’m not a baking connoisseur, I scoured the internet for relatively simple recipes that I can adjust for the size and number of layers of my cake. I decided to make a 3 layer chocolate cake with strawberry filling (because Nono likes strawberries), a vanilla buttercream frosting, decorated with melted chocolate and more strawberries. So you could say the cake was a mixture of borrowed recipes and me mucking around in the kitchen.
Word of advice: Before you start any baking adventure, make sure you have the right instruments: correct-size cake pans, electric hand mixer and other gadgets. I ended up making 3 layers in 3 separate batches in the same cake pan because I only had the one to work with. And my oven ran out of gas right in the middle of baking. So that was fun. I also had to cream the butter for my frosting using an electric hand-held whisk because I didn’t have one of those fancy stand mixers with the attachment used to cream butter. Anyways, it all turned out fine in the end.
The chocolate cake recipe was adapted from Sophisticated Gourmet’s Chocolate & Strawberry Layer Cake.
The recipe called for 3 8-inch round cake pans. My largest cake pan was a little over 8 inches, but I didn’t adjust the ingredients as I thought the sugar would be distributed just right. I always tend to go low on sugar for baking. Plus, the powdered vanilla extract I used had some sugar in it. The only thing I left out of this recipe was the strawberry jam which I replaced with my own home-made strawberry filling (recipe to follow).
Chocolate Strawberry Layer Cake
For the Cake:
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
¾ cups unsweetened cocoa powder (natural)
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk (can use light)
½ cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round piece of parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract.
4. Add the egg mixture into the flour mixture; beat on medium speed for one minute (or combine by hand to prevent over-mixing). Whisk in the boiling water (the batter will become thin). Pour into prepared pans.
5. Bake 17-22 minutes, or until a cake tester (or a wooden toothpick) inserted into the center of each cake, comes out clean.
6. Once the cakes are out of the oven, with a [dry] clean oven mitt (preferably a cloth one), gently press down onto the cakes, to make them level (this will allow you to skip a whole step in trimming the cakes).
7. Cool cakes for 15 minutes in the freezer. Meanwhile, make the frosting.
8. Remove cakes from pans, and place on wire racks.
9. Place one cake on a cake stand (bottom side up) and spread half of the strawberry filling (see recipe below) being sure not to spread to the edges of the cake. Place the second cake on top of the first (bottom side up), and spread the remaining half of the filling onto the cake. Place the third cake on top (bottom side up).
10. Place the cake in the freezer for 10 minutes (this will make frosting the cake much easier).
11. Using an off-set spatula, spread a thin layer of frosting (see recipe below) over the top and sides of the layer cake. Let the frosting set in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes; then, spread a thick coat over the base coat.
3 cups of strawberries (fresh or frozen) cut up into quarters
1 cup waterPreparation
Vanilla buttercream frosting (adapted from Gemma’s Bigger Bolder Baking recipe)
1½ cups (340g/12oz) butter, softened to room temperature
4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted (The recipe called for 5 2/3 cups, but I thought that was overkill, so I adjusted it to 4 cups).
2 teaspoon vanilla extracts.
Seeds scraped from one vanilla bean pod (optional)
1/4 cup of full-fat milk
pinch of salt
For the decoration:
I melted around 200g of semi-sweet chocolate chips, by placing them in a ziplock bag and then placing the bag in a bowl of very hot water, until they were all melted. I then cut a very tiny corner of the plastic bag and used it for piping lines along and across the cake in a lattice style. I then cut up some more strawberries and arranged them in the number “2”.
This cake stayed moist even until the next day when I took it to my daughter’s nursery where we celebrated. I believe the moistness came from the buttermilk and the strawberry filling that prevented it from drying even though it was kept in the fridge overnight. The only thing I would have done differently is maybe used a little less butter for the frosting as it was a bit too rich for my taste. Otherwise, it was perfect: a big hit with the kids and adults alike.
I wouldn’t say I caught the baking bug, as I really don’t have much of a sweet tooth (except for that time of the month), but I think from now one when I’m entertaining or for any special occasion, I will put my newly-discovered baking skills to good use. It’s much cheaper than buying outrageously priced pastries and gateaux that taste like sugared rocks. Plus my neighbor told me of a cute baking supply store close to where I live where I can get all my baking supplies (from cake stands, to boxes to chocolate chips), all reasonably priced. So expect more baking posts on the blog soon!