If you are reading this and you are a chocolate-mint enthusiast, this is a good day. I’ve never been a mint person, but as has happened often, BAKED recipes have helped me turn. This week’s recipe for Baked Sunday Mornings is their classic Grasshopper Cake from BAKED: New Frontiers in Baking, a glorious chocolate/ganache/frosting layered thing of beauty inspired by the classic cocktail of the same name. I first reconsidered my stance on minty baked goods when we made the super-fab Wintermint Cake from Baked Occasions a couple of years ago– that was definitely the gateway drug. That cake was an updated version of this one, made with a bit of black cocoa, plus peppermint only (no crème de menthe) in the frosting. I then also surprisingly enjoyed the Pink Peppermint Stick Ice Cream and Peppermint Chocolate Chip Meringues, thus I found myself actually looking forward to this cake!
To make the chocolate cake layers, I started by whisking together the cocoa powder, sour cream, and hot water to form a liquid cocoa mixture. In the stand mixer, I beat together the butter and vegetable shortening, added white and dark brown sugars, then the eggs, then vanilla extract.
Finally, I made alternating additions of the dry ingredients that I’d already mixed together (flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt) and the cocoa mixture. This recipe always combines in a weird way for me, like it doesn’t look fully smooth, but seriously every single time the cake texture is perfect, so I need to stop questioning it!
We haven’t made a layer cake in a while, so I took this opportunity to conduct a little experiment. I usually use regular 2″-deep baking pans, but sometimes my cakes have come out lopsided and/or domed. I recently bought 3″-deep pans for a few projects that required more height, and I was wondering if these might yield flatter, more even cake layers. (I had read that somewhere…) However, I only have two of them, so the third layer was still baked in the shorter pan. It didn’t actually make much of a difference– they all turned out flatter than usual, and I have to say that it was some of the best chocolate cake I’ve ever made! It’s possible that the taller pans disrupted the airflow inside the oven that would normally cause the cakes to bake lopsidedly, but that might be too technical/completely irrelevant/coincidental. In any case, I was very pleased, and I plan to get a third tall pan and use those from now on. (However, in looking back at my post for the Wintermint Cake, I see that the cakes came out great that time as well– BAKED’s chocolate cake is basically just gorgeous, the end.) The cakes baked in 43 minutes, a little longer than the prescribed baking time (and a solid 10 minutes longer than the Wintermint Cake for some reason). It’s a little tricky to test for doneness because the typical “springback” test doesn’t work well, where the cake springs back quickly when you press it in the center. It’s very delicate in the oven, so just carefully try a toothpick in the center once it seems sturdy enough.
The ganache filling comes together easily. Make sure to chop the chocolate pretty small so the pieces all fully melt. You simply pour heated cream over the chocolate, whisk together after a couple minutes of melting, then whisk in the crème de menthe and peppermint extract. As you mix, start with the whisk in the center until you have achieved what’s called the “elastic core”, where the chocolate mixture looks smooth and thick, then you’ll incorporate more and more of the cream and chocolate as you work your way outward with the whisk, until the whole bowl is smooth and luscious!
The frosting… oh, the frosting. Every time I think I’ve conquered the BAKED buttercream, it reminds me not to get too big for my britches. I was short on time to finish this cake before natural daylight would disappear, and my butter was still a little on the cold side. The butter temperature in this recipe is so important, because if it’s too cold, it won’t incorporate smoothly, and if it’s too soft, the frosting will be soupy and weird; either way it’s a curdled mess that needs to be rescued. You want the butter to be at cool room temperature, ideally. Since mine was a little too cold, it took F-O-R-E-V-E-R to mix into the cooked frosting base (milk/cream/flour/sugar boiled together), such that it started to whip up a little even before I’d finished adding all the butter pieces– that was a first. Besides temperature, it’s also important to add the butter gradually, not all at once, which is not specified in BAKED’s earlier books. I vaguely remember thinking that the frosting on the Wintermint Cake was a touch too buttery, so I cut back by 3 tablespoons this time, and it’s a good thing I did, because the frosting was thisclose to breaking– I think any more butter would have caused it to separate. I’m so glad I didn’t have to resort to the rescue technique of heating and then chilling the frosting, as I didn’t have time that evening! Also, I cut the crème de menthe in half because I didn’t want the mint to be super strong. This was not my smoothest batch of BAKED frosting, but at least it was usable. I tried to swirl in some green gel food color, but by the time I had finished frosting the cake, the green was almost fully incorporated, except for a few white streaks (so it looked like I had intentionally dyed the frosting and missed a few spots). But hey, I didn’t have to remake it, so we’ll call it a victory!
Stacking and assembling the cake layers (cake + ganache + frosting, repeat) was fairly uneventful, though the texture of the frosting was definitely not my best, given the aforementioned issues. Still, I was very happy to stare at the inside of the cake lovingly, and the swirl on top!
I decided to top the cake with chocolate “crumbs”, for which I used the recipe from Momofuku Milk Bar. The crumbs serve as a mix-in for their classic cookie formula, as well as a cake topping, so I borrowed them for this cake. I used about ¼ recipe, and I was definitely not mad about having leftovers… 😉
Especially given the almost-disaster with the frosting, I was very pleased with this cake, even though it wasn’t my best. The cake itself was just perfect– soft and moist, not at all dry or crumbly. I suspect the catalysts that make it special are the sour cream and dark brown sugar. I got rave reviews from my co-worker tasters, which always feels so nice. Find the recipe for Grasshopper Cake over at Baked Sunday Mornings, and take a look at my fellow cake-makers’ chocolate-mint creations!
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2018.