Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Last week we celebrated Kate's first birthday. She's such a doll! For the celebration, we blew up 50 balloons and scattered them around the living room floor and let the kids play with them. I'd thought about a couple of other things we could do, since David had told me we needed to play games, but the three of them pretty much occupied the evening with the balloons. (Follow the leader, Twister, and going for a walk were also on the list.)
For dinner, we had some of Kate's favorites: rotisserie chicken, homemade white bread, black olives, and fresh strawberries. Actually, they were clearly all our favorites, since everyone seemed to enjoy dinner. I especially enjoyed that it was such a light meal, so I could eat as much cake as I wanted.
As for the cake, Mark and I took quite a while to decide on what to make. Chocolate had to be part of the equation, since Katie is a big fan, but the dark chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting I usually make seemed a bit too dark for a baby's first birthday. (I just realized I've never posted that recipe!) I had only one big concern with the M&M cake: that the candies would make a big mess. Alas, I eventually realized she would be a mess no matter what cake we made, and I resisted no longer.
The idea for the M&M cake wasn't originally ours. Mark's brother-in-law, Kirk has had one (I think) every year of his life, save maybe two, on his birthday. (Someone correct me if I'm wrong.) His mom always made him a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, covered in M 'n' M's, and his wife, Kathy, gladly took over the responsibility when they were married. (I think gladly...I'm pretty sure they all like the cake.)
I already had a chocolate cake recipe I loved, but I didn't want one too dark, so I began my search for a still-chocolatey-but-slightly-less-so cake recipe. I didn't want to give up how moist the other cake was, and I didn't want the chocolate to go too light. After searching for a while, I found nothing I was happy with. So I made up my own recipe. I used my dark chocolate cake recipe as a base and made several alterations, then trepidatiously threw my new cake together. Okay, I wasn't really worried. It couldn't be that bad.
Next came the frosting. I'd decided on a chocolate cream cheese frosting. This is funny because I don't like chocolate cheesecake (with the exception of the mildly acidic and absolutely delicious chocolate cheesecake made by Zingerman's, which I will some day come close to replicating and which appears to not have cream cheese inside), but I do really like cream cheese frosting with chocolate cake, so I thought it could work. Work is a good word for it, though, because the balance was all wrong at first and it took a bit of time to properly rework.
Then came the M&M's. I thought the Easter pastel variety would look pretty, so we went with those. And Mark and David helped me top the cake, as it is no small task.
And everything was perfect. Kate picked the M&M's off first, then started taking apart the cake. The rest of us had our own methods, but I think we each had two pieces that night. And another the next day. And the next. And David kept asking for more. And I suggested to Mark that we always keep some on hand, and then we can just snack on a piece whenever we want. (He thought it might not be a good idea.) And, honestly, it's maybe the best cake I've ever had. At least the most addictive. Which is funny, because it's doesn't have the most intense chocolate flavor, though it's not lacking, but the chocolate is just right. And if you ever need a perfect cake for any occasion, I recommend this one. If it's for a formal even, everyone will even forgive you throwing M&M's all over it once they bite into it. Is there anything else I need to say to convince you?
You really should try it.
1 c. cocoa
3/4 c. boiling water
1 c. sour cream (light is fine, fat free maybe not?)
2 t. vanilla extract
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 c. unsalted butter, cut into 1" slices if still cold
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. brown sugar
Prepare two 9" cake pans (I really like these). Spray each with nonstick coating, line the bottoms (and sides, if you're patient enough) with parchment paper, then spray again. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350˚.
In a medium bowl, whisk (or stir) together the cocoa and boiling water (it will be quite thick) until all the cocoa is dissolved. Stir in the sour cream and vanilla.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. This helps to break up any clumps in your flour and will help the baking soda and salt be more evenly distributed throughout the batter.
In a stand mixer, cream the butter until fluffy, then add the sugars and cream together on medium 1-2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing each until thoroughly combined and scraping down the sides as needed. Alternately add in the flour and chocolate mixture, beginning and ending with the flour (about three additions of flour, two of chocolate). Scrape down the sides between the additions to keep the batter consistent and mix in the last bit of flour delicately (don't turn the mixer on high and beat it for two minutes).
Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and bake for 30-40 minutes (I think mine took 40), until they're set and spring back when lightly depressed in the center. Remove to a cooling rack. After 10 minutes, remove from pans to cool to room temperature, then wrap them and freeze them. (I set them back on the used parchment paper in my cake pans to do this, since they're on something stable in the freezer that way.) Freeze them because it's so much easier to frost a frozen cake then a room temperature cake. Also, by the time you serve it, it will just be chilled, and cold chocolate cake is always better than chocolate cake at room temperature.
When you're about an hour from being ready to frost the cake, begin to prepare the frosting:
Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate*
1.5 oz. bittersweet chocolate*
1 1/2 T. cocoa
6 oz. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
3 T. cream
2-8 oz. pkgs. cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/3 c. sugar (I like using granulated sugar in cream cheese frosting. After mixing a few minutes, it dissolves, and then you don't have that unpleasant cornstarch flavor in your frosting.)
In a medium bowl, melt the butter in the microwave. Stir in the unsweetened and bittersweet chocolates and cocoa, then return to the microwave in 15 or 20 second intervals, stirring in-between, until smooth and completely melted. Chill in the fridge/freezer until cold. Don't completely freeze it, though, as it will be too cold.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip together the ganache, cream, cream cheese, and sugar on a pretty high setting until lovely and fluffy. Makes a generous amount to frost a two-layer cake.
So, frost the cake, then cover it with M&M's, then serve it. Mmmmm, mmmm, good!
*Yes, you can probably do a little substituting here. This mixture of chocolate worked well for me, but you could also try 4-5 oz. bittersweet chocolate and reduce the sugar to 3/4 cup. Taste and add up to another 1/4 cup of sugar if necessary.