Gone are the days that I used to dread making layer cakes. When a layer cake would come up on the Baked Sunday Mornings schedule, I used to feel a mixture of elation, anxiety, and mortal fear; but thankfully the latter two have eroded as my experience with BAKED‘s cakes and frostings has yielded more successes than failures in recent times. I was very excited to try my hand at BAKED’s classic Wintermint Cake, of which there is a slightly remixed version in Baked Occasions with *black cocoa*. I’ve made no secret of my love for black cocoa (see here and here), and I get giddy every time I have the opportunity to use it, particularly in a gorgeous cake situation, such as this!
One thing I was not stoked about is the peppermint, as I don’t typically care for peppermint-flavored desserts. However, the Chewy Chocolate Mint Cookies that we made a few months back started to gnaw away at my mint prejudice. This cake completely changed my mind about it! I’m pretty sure that mint will never be a favorite per se, but I’m definitely warming up to the chocolate-mint combination. I feel like a broken record– I had this same revelation with chocolate-peanut butter, thanks to various BAKED recipes featuring that oft-celebrated flavor duo. In general, I prefer my chocolate straight and unadulterated, but I’m starting to appreciate it more, combined with other flavors…
I knew that this cake would take me a full weekend to complete; not because the cake itself is that complex (although the frosting is always kind of a wildcard for me), but because it is frosted in an ombré style, meaning a gradient spectrum of color is used for a shaded effect (the word ‘ombré’ means ‘shaded’ in French). I had seen many beautiful iterations of this on various blogs and in Pinterest photos, but I’d never tried it myself– okay, so there was a teeny bit of apprehension about this cake… I knew it wouldn’t be a quick frosting job.
To make the cakes, start by combining both cocoa powders and adding the hot water and sour cream, all of which you’ll whisk into a smooth mixture. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.
Cream together the butter and vegetable shortening in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and beat until the mixture starts forming “ribbons”, about 5 minutes. Add the granulated and dark brown sugars, followed by the eggs, then the vanilla extract.
Add the dry ingredients in thirds, alternating with the cocoa mixture. Make sure to scrape the batter from the sides and bottom of the bowl between additions, and especially one last time at the end, so that you incorporate every bit of the pre-chocolate mixture.
I baked my cakes for 33 minutes, a couple minutes shy of the recommended time. I have a tendency to overbake chocolate cakes, but I think I nailed it this time– they were soft, moist, and fluffy, but no sinking in the middle. (My usual visual doneness test is when you press a cake and the impression *slowly* springs back; this time, it wasn’t the best indicator because my finger impressions did not fully spring back, but the toothpick test came out clean at 33 minutes, so I took a risk and it paid off!)
I had just a few minor ganache and frosting issues:
For some reason when I stirred the cream and melted chocolate, it became grainy-looking and had an odd texture. I think I might have waited too long to stir it, as some of the chocolate bits did not melt. Or, maybe I need to chop the chocolate wafers into smaller pieces; I never chop them for ganache because they’re already small. However, I used TCHO 66% chocolate discs, which are a little wider. The consistency improved slightly when I whisked in the crème de menthe and peppermint extract, but still didn’t have a particularly creamy look. It firmed up much more quickly than I had anticipated. However, it tasted great and didn’t feel grainy, so I figured it was usable despite the errant chocolate chunk. In fact, by the time I was assembling the cake, it was a perfect spreading consistency. Not my best batch of ganache, but at least it was hiding on the inside of the cake! (In related news, I now own a big-ass bottle of crème de menthe… *crickets*)
I think I’m finally getting hang of the BAKED frosting that haunted me for so long! I made the Caramel Apple Cake for Thanksgiving, and dare I say… I think the curse is broken. (Let’s hope I didn’t jinx myself…) That frosting whipped up without incident, which has been extremely rare in my dealings with the infamous BAKED frosting; my only gripe was that it tasted too buttery, so I decided to cut back the butter for this cake by ½ stick (out of 3). The consistency is always a little different every time I make it, but it was quite spreadable and creamy, so I’ll consider that a win!
The frosting is made by combining flour, sugar, milk, and cream in a sauce pan, and cooking the mixture until it boils and thickens, about 15 minutes. I like to let mine get pretty thick, which means there’s usually a little bit stuck to the bottom of the pan (not burned, just stuck), so I strain it through a mesh sieve in case there are any browned pieces.
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of stand mixer and beat until it’s cooled to room temperature. Add the butter chunks gradually on low speed, then turn the speed up and watch your frosting whip up into a voluminous cloud! I always love this part– it’s kinda magical. 🙂
Assembling the cake was mostly uneventful, except that my filling layers were not proportioned very evenly. Because my cakes were a little more fragile than usual, the crumb coat was not the most elegant. Some of the cake edges broke off, but I managed to cobble together the pieces and stick them on with frosting, and I somehow ended up with a smooth cake all the way around, though there were a fair number of crumbs in the crumb coat! Also, for some reason, my top cake layer was a smaller diameter (not height) than the other two, even though I used three identical cake pans. (I love that you can hide all these little mishaps with frosting!)
The only frosting issue had to do with the coloring. I have always, since the days of coloring the simplest cupcake frosting long ago, had trouble getting the food coloring to emulsify with the white frosting. For some reason, it does not seem to adhere to the frosting molecules– if you look really closely, the frosting has an iridescent sheen and you can see that the color looks streaky and separated, no matter how much I stir or how much color I add. I always use Americolor gel coloring, so it’s not an issue of using better quality products. Does this happen to anyone else?? I’ve never been able to diagnose or treat the problem…
Probably somewhat due to this issue, it was hard to control the color, and I ended up with three shades of blue that were rather close to each other; I meant to have more distinction between the colors. Consequently, my ombré effect was pretty subtle; I couldn’t actually see any difference until I smoothed the sides of the cake with a bench scraper. I used Americolor Electric Blue, which I thought would be fun and bright… Bright, it was! In retrospect, I’d use a simple royal blue next time for a more demure blue spectrum, rather than the look of a neon Tiffany box or a Smurf birthday cake! (Next time I would also hold back a bit of white frosting in case I need to add some to lighten up the darker shades…) But hey, for a first time doing ombré work, I was happy enough with it!
I ran out of frosting, so the top and top-most ⅓ of the cake were reeeeaaally skimpy compared to the lower ⅔. I did weigh the frosting to make sure I had the right proportions, but next time I would set aside twice as much for the top (the lightest shade) as for the two darker shades, or I might even make a 1 ½ batch of frosting. Given all these little wonky things, it wasn’t my most graceful-looking cake, but despite that I was very happy with the end result. I topped the cake with Surfas‘ festive Gold Crunchy Pearls and a light dusting of disco dust to resemble sparkly snow, since it is the holidays, after all!
I meant to let the cake chill for several hours… but I just couldn’t wait! I cut into it after about an hour in the fridge, and the slices came out remarkably clean. The cake is very chocolaty, but not overly sweet, probably due to the black cocoa, which imparts a slightly bittersweet flavor. It’s a beautifully balanced cake, truly. The peppermint is not at all overpowering– it’s a light and pleasing minty zing. And remember, that’s coming from someone who doesn’t care much for mint with her chocolate! The mint flavor intensified over the 2nd and 3rd day– if you prefer your chocolate less minty like I do, eat it up on the first day!
This is now one of my favorite BAKED cakes, and I will definitely make it in the future– the flavors and textures are perfect together. The cake is fluffy, the frosting is creamy, and the ganache melts in your mouth… mmmm, ganache. This cake would be the jewel of any holiday dessert table! Find the recipe for Wintermint Cake at Baked Sunday Mornings, and check out how my fellow bakers fared with this delicious and festive cake. BSM will be back in 2015! 🙂
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2014.