Ombré Chocolate Layer Cake

We need more storms. More overcast afternoons when dark clouds hover over the mountains and spill into the LA skyline. A moodiness in the air and encouragement for me to fill my kettle and heat it over the stove for afternoon tea. A chill enough breeze to throw open the windows and put my feet up on the sofa, crack open a book, and take small sips, steady breaths.

In a way, I find this city's sunlight draining. I can't keep up with the warm glow of each day and all of this blue sky perfection. It's kind of like the movie Groundhog Day, except the alarm beeps at 4am and I never have to worry about a long winter.

Yesterday, I found myself trying to write, but was lost for words. I closed my laptop shut, reached for my running shoes, and drove to the mountains for a hike I've been wanting to do for over a year. The heat killed. I could feel the sun beating into my shoulders as I climbed the man-made wooden steps to the peak of the Verdugo Mountains, and when I arrived at about 3pm, panting, heart racing, adrenaline-filled, I realized how I know my needs more than I give myself credit for. Maybe I was lathered in January heat, or maybe I was fighting my own storm. There I was, alive and spilling my energy over the mountains, looking past the LA skyline, filling the air with heavy exhales and wishing I had been smart enough to bring water along with me. I sat myself down on a lawn chair someone purposely left on he mountain's edge. I took a few deep breaths and watched the sun beat out in the direction of the ocean, who's waves I could see from 10 miles away, 2,000ft. high.

It's a mystery as to whether the month of February will bring storms to California, but one thing is for sure: I will keep spending my free-time outside, laying in the grass, climbing mountains, and digging my feet into the coastal sand. Maybe one day, rain will fall and I'll cuddle myself up in a blanket on the sofa, but for now, I'll be the storm that sweeps across this crazy sun-lit city, creating a clamor of light and dark, joy and pain, laughter and tears. It's almost supernatural. And that's the simplest way to describe storms like these, storms like me.

Chocolate Layer Cake
Yield: three 6" layers
The batter will be liquidity, so don't worry!

for the cake-
- 3 cups sugar 
- 2 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons all purpose flour 
- 1 cup + 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda 
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt 
- 3 eggs 
- 1 1/2 cup whole milk 
- 3/4 cup canola oil 
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 1 1/2 cup boiling water 

for the filling-
- 1/2 cup fresh cherries, pitted 

for the buttercream-
- 2 cups butter, unsalted at room temperature 
- 6 cups powdered sugar, sifted 
- 3-4 tablespoons whole milk 
- 2 teaspoons vanilla 
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder 

For the decor-
- 1 cup candy chocolate (for chocolate shards)
- fresh cherries
- fresh blackberries
- fresh flowers

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line the bottom of three 6" cake pans with a circle of parchment paper.*
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir to combine. 
  3. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla extract. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes until the batter is smooth. 
  4. Stir in boiling water by hand. 
  5. Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Let cool completely before removing from pan. 
  6. Make the buttercream by using an electric mixer to cream the butter. Add the powdered sugar, a little at a time, until it is throughly combined. 
  7. Add the milk until the icing is creamy enough to spread, but still remains stiff. 
  8. Separate the icing evenly into 3 bowls. Add 1/4 cup of cocoa powder to the first bowl, mixing until combined and tinted like dark chocolate icing. Add more cocoa powder if necessary. To the next bowl, add 1 tablespoon of chocolate at a time until it is a shade between vanilla and dark chocolate. Leave the final bowl as is. 
  9. Trim the cakes using a serrated knife to even them out. 
  10. Pipe a circle of the darkest chocolate icing around the bottom layer of the cake. Add about 1/4 cup of fruit spread into the center of the cake and distribute evenly. Place about 1/4 cup pitted fresh cherries over the top of the fruit spread. 
  11. Repeat with the second layer of cake, using the lighter shade of chocolate buttercream. 
  12. Stack the final layer of cake on top, and press down lightly.
  13. Use the vanilla buttercream to dirty ice the cake (cover it with a light layer to seal in the crumbs). Place the cake in the freezer for 15 minutes to set. 
  14. Use a cake spatula to spread the three shades of buttercream on the sides of the cake. Cover the top with vanilla buttercream. Watch this tutorial to see how it's done.
  15.  Make the chocolate shards: Lay a piece of parchment paper on the back side of a flat sheet pan. Melt the candy chocolate in a bowl set over a small amount of boiling water, stirring occasionally. Once melted, use an offset spatula to spread a thin layer of chocolate onto the parchment paper. Place the chocolate in the freezer for 15 minutes, Then, break the chocolate into shards. 
  16. Decorate the cake with chocolate shards, fresh flowers, blackberries, and cherries. Then, serve! 
- If you don't have three 6" pans, bake one cake layer at a time (this is what I do). 
- Store cake refrigerated for up to 5 days.

Happy February.

Little Baker Jess 

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Maira Gall