Almost 11 years ago, I went and made my own wedding cake, and dug myself into a hole that I will never be able to climb out of. If I can make a wedding cake, what's my excuse for not making a cake for every other occasion? Every birthday, anniversary, baby shower, graduation and First Communion. Is a homemade cake better? Absolutely. Cheaper? Positively. And when I'm piping stars on a cake at 10 o'clock at night, I remind myself that this cake is made with love to celebrate another Very Important Family Milestone, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Still, things have changed in the Home Baked kitchen since I made that wedding cake. I can't remember the last time I made an Italian meringue buttercream or soaked my cake layers in simple syrup. My current favorite cake is anything from The Cake Bible that involves reverse creaming. You get a flavorful, tender cake with a fine crumb, but it's sturdy enough that you don't need to use extraordinary measures (cardboard rounds and sessions in the freezer) to assemble the cake without disaster. Quick buttercreams or cream cheese frostings are easy and foolproof, and don't require the candy thermometer or another dozen eggs.
This past weekend we celebrated Eight's First Communion with family and friends, so I made the Perfect All-American Chocolate Butter Cake. I like that it's a cocoa cake--a whole lot cheaper than chocolate bars--and that even though it calls for cake flour, you can easily substitute all-purpose flour plus corn starch. I frosted it with White Chocolate Cream Cheese buttercream, which is rich, tangy, silky and very easy to make. I usually avoid anything with white chocolate--too sweet!--but mixed with cream cheese it achieves the perfect balance. I love the contrast of the tangy sweet buttercream with the chocolate cake, but it would be delicious on almost any cake I can imagine (mmm...carrot cake, I'm thinking of you).
I kept the decoration simple (and fast!), setting aside about a cup of buttercream to tint for piping. I used a small star tip to create the cross (which I first outlined with a toothpick so it would be centered), and continued with the same tip to make a shell border.
All-American Chocolate Butter Cake
from The Cake Bible
1/2 cup plus 3 Tbsp. unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
1 cup boiling water
3 large eggs
2 1/4 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
5 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two 9-inch cake pans with wax or parchment paper, then grease and flour (or use baking spray).
In a medium bowl, whisk together the cocoa and boiling water. Cool to room temperature. In another bowl, combine the eggs, 1/4 of the cocoa mixture, and vanilla.
In the large bowl of the mixer, combine the remaining dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the butter and remaining cocoa mixture. Mix on low until moistened, and then beat on medium speed (high on a hand mixer) for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg mixture in three batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool the cakes on a rack for 10 minutes before loosening the sides with a small knife and inverting them onto the cooling rack. When the cake layers are completely cool, wrap them airtight in plastic wrap until you are ready to frost them.
White Chocolate Cream Cheese Buttercream
9 ounces white chocolate (bars, NOT chips, which do not have cocoa butter)
12 ounces cream cheese, softened
6 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Melt the white chocolate in the top of a double boiler on low heat, stirring frequently, or in the microwave. (My microwave has a "Melt" setting, which works perfectly. Otherwise, use short bursts on low power and remove before all the chocolate is melted--just continue to stir it until it is completely smooth.) Let cool to room temperature.
In the mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the cooled chocolate, and then beat in the butter and lemon juice.
This buttercream becomes solid when chilled, so you can refrigerate it and use it later, but you will have to let it warm to room temperature and beat it smooth again. If it seems too warm to pipe, I prefer to set the bowl in another bowl of ice water and whisk until it stiffens slightly.