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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Let Them Eat Cake!/Tasty Tuesday

Originally published in The News Review, October 7, 2014
Recipes in this post: Mamie's Chocolate Cake, two versions

That's me with the first cake I baked all by myself.

In our family, we have a birthday each month from August through December. I've baked and decorated many a cake over the years in various themes and shapes. Certainly no competition for the Cake Boss, but they have made the kids laugh and smile. The most memorable: a pirate ship with rootbeer candy barrels on deck, a deserted island with a pretzel shack, sugar-sand beach and Swedish fish swimming in a blue jello ocean, a great pyramid filled with ice cream, a volcano erupting with raspberry jam lava, and a wave pool with Teddy Grahams floating in gummy ring inner tubes. The biggest hit by far was the medieval castle with sugar-cone turrets, and a Kit Kat “wooden” beam door surrounded by a foggy (dry ice) fruit punch moat.

I baked my first full-sized cake from a Betty Crocker mix when I was about eight years old. I remember the red spoon on the box and the suggestion to make frosting curls on top with the back of a teaspoon. My family was so impressed! When it's all about the frosting and the decorations, as in the kid's party cakes above, I'm happy to save time by starting with a mix. I do, however, enjoy making a cake from scratch a few times a year.

My mother has been baking Mamie's Chocolate Cake for over forty years. It's named for Mamie Eisenhower and is said to have been created for her by the chef at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. I've never been able to verify that and I don't know who to thank for the recipe, but this is the richest, fudgiest, most unbelievably moist chocolate cake I have ever eaten. Every slice of chocolate cake I taste is measured against this standard. Mamie's Cake beats them all.

I offer two versions of this decadent cake. The first, baked in a 9 x 13 pan and covered with a smooth chocolate glaze, is our family classic. It's simple to make. It can be frosted while the cake is still warm. It can be stored at room temperature. It's easy to transport. This is the perfect cake to take to a picnic or potluck dinner.


I wanted to make a fancier cake for grown up birthday parties and other special occasions, so some years back I began baking Mamie's Cake in two round cake pans. I replaced the glaze with a buttercream frosting and turned it into a layer cake. Now, my mom and I take turns baking this for each other. Two 9-inch round cakes with a layer of frosting in the middle make a delicious, lovely cake. For true chocolate aficionados, you can split the layers horizontally for an impressive and extremely rich four-layer cake. Serve it in thin slices and savor it with an ice cold glass of milk!
 
Mamie's Chocolate Cake
(The original version)

Makes one 9 x 13 pan, 12 to 15 servings

There is no salt added to this batter, so be sure to use salted butter.

1 cup (8 ounces) butter
1 bar (4 ounces) Baker's unsweetened baking chocolate
2 cups (16 ounces) whole milk
2 cups (14 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups (9 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 recipe Sweet Chocolate Glaze (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the very center. Grease and flour one 9 x 13 pan, preferably metal.

Combine the milk, butter and unsweetened chocolate in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Boil and stir until mixture thickens a little, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in sugar and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Refrigerate until lukewarm, 20 to 30 minutes. Beat in the eggs with an electric mixer. Combine flour and baking soda in a small bowl and add to batter along with the vanilla extract. Mix on low speed for 30 seconds, until blended, then mix on medium speed for 1 minute.

Pour into prepared pan. Bake until the center springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.

Remove from oven to a wire rack and let cool slightly while you prepare the Sweet Chocolate Glaze. Using a fork or wooden skewer, poke the top of the cake all over to allow the glaze to seep in. Pour the glaze over top and spread to the edges of the pan while both the cake and the glaze are still warm. Cool completely before cutting and serving.

Because there is no milk or cream in the glaze, this cake can be safely stored at room temperature for several days.

Sweet Chocolate Glaze

1 bar (4 ounces) Baker's German Sweet Chocolate
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 cups (6.5 ounces) powdered sugar
a pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Melt the chocolate, butter and water together over low heat. Beat in the powdered sugar, salt and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth. Pour over warm cake.

Mamie's Chocolate Cake
(My fancy version)

Makes two 9-inch round layers which can be split for a 4-layer cake. Makes 16 to 20 servings.

There is no salt added to this batter, so be sure to use salted butter

1 cup (8 ounces) butter
1 bar (4 ounces) Baker's unsweetened baking chocolate
2 cups (16 ounces) whole milk
2 cups (14 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups (9 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 recipe Cocoa Buttercream Frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the very center. Because these cake layers will be turned out of the pans, you need to take extra care so they don't stick. Trace the bottom of the pans onto a sheet of baking parchment and cut two 9-inch circles. Grease the bottom and sides of the pans, place the parchment against the bottom, then grease the parchment. Dust lightly with flour and shake out the excess.

Combine the milk, butter and chocolate in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Boil and stir until mixture thickens a little, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in sugar and transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl. Refrigerate until lukewarm, 20 to 30 minutes. Beat in the eggs with an electric mixer. Combine flour and baking soda in a small bowl and add to batter along with the vanilla extract. Mix on low speed for 30 seconds, until blended, then mix on medium speed for 1 minute.

Pour into prepared pans. Bake until the center springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 23 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Loosen the edges by running a knife all the way around the inside edge of each pan. Place a round wire cake rack on top and, using pot holders or oven mitts, quickly invert the cake and carefully remove the pan. Allow the cakes to cool completely before splitting or frosting.

If desired, split each layer in half horizontally for a 4-layer cake as follows. Using a ruler and a few toothpicks, mark the line exactly halfway up from the bottom. (Trust me on this. It's important to be accurate here or you'll end up with a cake resembling the Leaning Tower of Pisa!) Cut a piece of thread or dental floss a yard long. Holding the ends, wrap it around the center line, cross the ends over each other in front. Pull until the thread cuts all the way through the cake. Repeat with the second cake.
(At this point, you can place the layers on waxed paper-lined baking sheets, cover with plastic wrap and freeze until firm. This makes assembling and frosting the cake much easier.)

When you're ready to assemble the cake, prepare the buttercream frosting. Tear off four strips of foil or waxed paper 2 inches wide. Arrange these strips overlapping each other around the edges of the cake plate you are going to use. This keeps the frosting off of the plate while you work. Place the first cake layer in the center of the plate covering the inside edges of the strips. Frost the top of the layer with about 1 cup of the frosting spreading it all the way to the edge. An offset icing spatula works best, but a butter knife will do. Place the next layer on top and repeat. Add the third layer and frost. Add the last layer but frost the sides of the cake before frosting the top. Carefully remove the foil or paper strips.

Because the buttercream frosting contains milk, this cake should be stored in the refrigerator if it won't be eaten the same day. Bring to room temperature before serving. Once the cake has been cut, I fold a piece of waxed paper in half, trim it to match the height of the cake and press it against the cut interior surface to keep it from drying out, then cover with a cake dome.

Cocoa Buttercream Frosting
(fills and frosts 4 layers)

1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 cups (2 pounds) powdered sugar
2/3 cup (2 ounces) good quality cocoa powder
2/3 cup whole milk
a pinch of salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and beat until smooth. Any leftover frosting can be frozen. It's great on graham crackers when there's no cake in the house.






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