I finally did it. Good god. After a number of failed, frustrated, and expletive-filled efforts, I finally made BAKED‘s buttercream frosting right on the first try! This frosting has inspired rage in my soul and a near-attempt to throw my beloved mixer over the balcony, but it is SO. DAMN. GOOD… I just couldn’t give up. Now I can finally get a decent night’s sleep because I figured it out. *dancing happy jig*
This week’s recipe for Baked Sunday Mornings is Oopsy Daisy Cake from Baked Elements, whose name was conferred thusly because it was the lucky result of a mistake at the bakery. It consists of milk chocolate cake layers, peanut butter filling, and a luscious vanilla-peanut butter frosting– a sweet and salty dream, if I’m being honest. I am not normally a huge fan of the chocolate/peanut butter combination, but this is truly a jewel of a cake. (In my book, anything that compromises deep, dark chocolaty goodness is suspect, but I begrudgingly have to make an exception here.) I had previously made this recipe as Star Wars-themed cupcakes with great success (except for that frosting, but I don’t wanna talk about it), and I was really excited to make the full-sized, layered version.
I’ve struggled a bit with some of BAKED’s chiffon-style cakes, but their chocolate cakes have been pretty good to me. As with any dessert starring chocolate, it is essential to use good-quality chocolate in this recipe to achieve a profoundly decadent chocolate flavor. (Low-qual chocolate will make you very sad, I promise.) I credit this cookbook with educating me about the resurgence of American milk chocolate– thanks, guys. :) There’s a recipe note in the book that suggests experimenting with some of the up-and-coming new brands cropping up on the chocolate scene, and it specifically mentions TCHO, my new chocolate lover. This San Francisco-based company was previously unbeknownst to me, but I have to say that it was kinda life-changing. During my recent SF Pastry Crawl, I had the opportunity to visit the TCHO Chocolate Factory, including a tour of their manufacturing space and a guided tasting of most of their chocolate varieties. Any baker (or, you know, human being) visiting the Bay Area should make a point of rolling by there– it was quite an edifying experience. I loved it so much that I wrote a separate blog piece just about TCHO. For this cake, I used TCHO’s “SeriousMilk” 39% Chocolate Disks, which have an absolutely DI-VINE smooth, creamy, caramel-y flavor that fills up your whole mouth with love. *sigh*
Alright, enough schmoopiness about TCHO– I think I’ve made my point. Another awesome, new local bean-to-bar chocolatier is Dandelion Chocolate, whose bars I haven’t tried yet, but whose pastries I sampled on my pastry tour. I fully plan to launch chocolaty experiments with their products in the future. Whatever brand you choose, make sure it’s good stuff, k? It is equally important to use high-quality cocoa powder, and I always recommend Valrhona. All this wonderful chocolate is further enhanced by the addition of hot coffee, so you can see that good things are in motion with this cake…
The batter is made by melting down the chocolates with the coffee and some milk, then adding that mixture into creamed butter/sugar/eggs along with the sifted dry ingredients (flour, leaveners, salt).
I had no apparent complications, though once everything was added in, my batter was not quite homogenous. Instead of being a smooth chocolate brown, it looked kinda speckled or grainy, like the mixture wasn’t completely emulsified. I debated whipping it on higher speed in the mixer for a bit, but I didn’t want to overbeat the batter either. I decided to pour it into the pans as-is and hoped for the best…
The cakes baked up just the way I like ‘em in precisely 33 minutes– tall, dark, and handsome!
While they cooled, I made the peanut butter filling. A mixture of butter, peanut butter, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla, this could not be easier– seriously. The filling is perfectly pipe-able, scoopable, and spreadable. And let me tell you, it took an unsettling amount of willpower not to eat it all with a spoon right out of the bowl! This stuff would make a perfect frosting for any peanut butter-friendly cupcake. It oozes peanut butter flavor, but the butter and sugar impart a light and fluffy texture. The recipe yields just enough for one layer of cake filling, so if you plan to use it as a frosting for something else, you will definitely need to double, or even triple, the recipe.
And then it was time to tackle my nemesis… *cue Western movie gun duel music*
As I said above, BAKED’s frosting is special– I’ve never had/made anything like it, and it’s totally worth the fuss. Most of their frosting variations are built upon the same basic formula, and this is one of my favorites… it feels like velvet in your mouth. I don’t quite know how to categorize this buttercream. It’s not that cloyingly sweet, American-style frosting that uses a ton of confectioners’ sugar and involves no cooking; however, it’s not exactly a traditional European buttercream with cooked sugar syrup either. Instead, you cook a roux-like mixture of flour, granulated sugar, milk, and cream until it comes to a boil, then you whip the sh*t out of it on high speed to cool it down. (I also strain it before mixing to catch any browned bits that may have formed on the bottom of the pan.)
Once it’s reached room temperature, you add the butter, then whip like crazy again until it turns into a mound of billowing, fluffy magic. Finally, mix in the flavoring agents and whip yet again until smooth. Sounds easy enough, right?!
And yet, somehow this frosting seems to need special witchcraft rituals, or at the very least, a tribal frosting dance– I DON’T KNOW. All kidding aside, for me, it took a lot of practice, but I think I finally understand how this frosting formula works. (Other bakers in the Baked Sunday Mornings group have not struggled with this buttercream though, and frosting is not my forté, so don’t let me scare you away.) Anyway, here are the keys to success with BAKED buttercream, as I’ve come to understand them:
- The cooked mixture *must* be cooled before adding the butter, or it will be a soupy mess. The instructions say to beat it for at least 7 minutes, but it actually only took about 4 minutes for me. Another tip they give is to press a bag of cold peas to the bottom of your mixer bowl as it’s whipping, though it ended up not being necessary. Bottom line– feel the bottom of your bowl, and if it’s still warm, keep beating…
- Add the butter GRADUALLY– do not dump it in all at once, or the mixture will not emulsify properly (even though the instructions don’t specify this). I learned that the hard way the first time I made this frosting last year. Yes, you have to stand patiently while adding a couple cubes of butter at a time, but it’s worth it.
- Your butter should be no warmer than firm room temperature. You don’t want it too cold, because it’s hard for the chunks to blend into the frosting, but you also don’t want it softened, because this is another way to end up with a big bowl of Buttercream Soup.
- One of the most important things– just. keep. beating. In hindsight, I realize now that a couple of my failed attempts were not due to mistakes, but solely to under-mixing. Because it’s such an unusual method, I wasn’t necessarily sure what the mixture should look like, and other frostings can “break” from over-mixing. It seems nearly impossible to break this frosting– it takes a good 10 minutes (give or take) for the buttercream to transform from a shiny, yellowish sauce to a fluffy, creamy frosting. It will go through stages of sorts, at certain points looking grainy/separated, gummy, and just plain weird. But then something magical happens and it comes together.
Now, even though I think I’ve finally gotten it down, I’m still afraid to mess with it too much. It hasn’t proven to be the most stable frosting from my experience, but as a I said above, it is so unbelievably delicious that it’s worth the fuss! This is a very soft frosting– it will not form a “crust” like American-style buttercream, which is one of my favorite things about it. I think next time I may tinker with the amount of butter, as the frosting sometimes develops a slight shine– I have a feeling this is butter trying to seep out, which may mean there’s a touch too much? I’m going to cut down the butter by 2 tablespoons next time to see if it makes a difference… Hopefully I won’t regret it… ;-)
Now, putting this masterpiece together is a lot of fun, though you will want to set aside ample time, whatever that means for you. I am notoriously S-L-O-WWWW in the kitchen, so I need a good couple of hours. I highly recommend using a cake decorating turntable– it makes decorating any cake soooo much easier and faster, plus it’s fun to spin around! I also suggest applying a crumb coat to seal in loose crumbs and create a smooth exterior surface; put the cake in the fridge for about 10-15 minutes to set.
One of my favorite things about BAKED cakes is their beautiful signature frosting swirl. I’ve been working on my technique, and I think I’m getting there. It’s actually rather simple– all you need is a large offset spatula. Starting in the center with the tip of the spatula *lightly* planted in the frosting, work your way around the cake in a spiral all the way to the outer edge of the cake. Working on a turntable makes this infinitely easier, because you can essentially keep your spatula almost stationary and turn the cake with your other hand. Do the same thing around the sides of the cake, starting at the top edge, if you want a vertical spiral too. By the way, there is no need to skimp on frosting– the recipe makes exactly enough for an ample filling layer and outer coat.
I love the simplicity of this cake style, and all it needs is a little garnish to be really gorgeous. The recipe calls for peanuts and chocolate shavings, which I tweaked slightly. I chopped and toasted my peanuts, and instead of shaved chocolate, I used Trader Joe’s crunchy Elegant Cocoa Pearls. They were okay, though not nearly chocolaty enough, so next time I’ll just go with the prescribed chocolate, or at least sifted cocoa powder. Another idea that I may implement in the future is to garnish the cake with crushed peanut brittle instead of plain peanuts…
My tasters were impressed with the look of the cake, and I couldn’t WAIT to cut into it… I would say I was 90% happy with it. The chocolate flavor was deep and all-consuming (and you can probably guess how I feel about that), and the peanut butter was just right– a nice complement, but not overpowering. My only 10% complaint was the cake texture– it was luxurious and tender, but it had a *touch* of dryness, though strangely so. I wouldn’t say that it was a “dry” cake by any means, but there was a slightly dry mouthfeel to it… if that makes any sense. At the same time, when I unmolded the cakes, they were more greasy to the touch than expected, though the cake didn’t taste greasy. I suspect that both of these things have to do with the batter emulsion quandary that I mentioned earlier. (I once had a bizarre red velvet cake situation where my cake was both oily and dry because the oil wasn’t fully incorporated…) Despite this minor problem, the cake was absolutely delicious, and both the filling and frosting were sublime– all the components together were something I imagine one dines on regularly in heaven. *sigh*
This cake really has something for everyone… unless you’re allergic to peanuts– then stay the hell away from it. :( But really, it’s wonderful for any special occasion, or just because it’s awesome. It will please chocolate people, peanut butter people, and chocolate/peanut butter people alike. (Everybody falls into at least one of those categories, right?!) I also love that it has that wonderful sweet and salty element– a hands-down winner in all regards if you ask me.
The recipe for Oopsy Daisy Cake can be found at Baked Sunday Mornings, as well this week’s other cake-bakers’ adventures! :)
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2013.