My best friend, maid of honor, and college roommate is having a baby boy in a month or so. Christy is one of those friends who has been in my life for so long that even though we haven’t lived in the same state, much less the same dorm room, for years, being with her feels as easy and comfortable as putting on my oldest pair of tennis shoes. Here she is at Christmas:
Isn’t she adorable? This is her first baby, and I cannot wait to meet him. To celebrate, friends of hers gave a shower last weekend. If we lived nearer to one another, I would have loved to have the shower at my house, but instead, I volunteered to make the cake. There are a million reasons why this was a foolish thing for me to do: she requested chocolate with cream cheese frosting (I asked), I’ve never made a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting; the time that I have to experiment with baking is exactly zero; and, well, I’m really not that good at cake-baking.
Oh, I love to do it, don’t get me wrong. But patience, precision, and neatness are far from my strongest qualities, in the kitchen or otherwise. This list might have made a more reasonable person hesitate before assembling a recipe that can best be described as experimental, but, inspired by the possibilities of this cake at Smitten Kitchen, the combination of raspberry filling, chocolate, and cream cheese sounded so good that I spent the better part of a Sunday making the cake and praying the rest would come together when the party arrived.
My plan was to bake the cake in three pans, two to freeze and use for the actual event, and one to test with the filling and frosting to make sure the flavors worked. But, that third layer was lying around when we had dinner guests, and I couldn’t help but serve it: it looked so velvety and rich, and we had raspberry jam and whipping cream in the fridge: that would be a close enough approximation, right? The “test” version got rave reviews, but when I split the cake to spread the jam over it, I realized how moist and crumbly it was. This meant great flavor — it is a delicious, darkly chocolate cake, but I was apprehensive about assembly for the party. What if it fell apart when I put it together? Oh well, I had another month to worry about it, so I put the layers in the freezer and assumed I would have another chance to do a real trial run.
Fast forward to last week, the week of the party, and you can see how this story ends: the best laid plans and all of that. But, I am happy to report that the flavor of this cake happily makes up for the imperfectness of its appearance. No one will suspect that it came from a bakery, but that’s a good thing: it looks and tastes completely homemade. As long as you’re prepared to embrace that fact, rather than hide it beneath perfectly smooth frosting, I hope you’ll be as happy as I am to have this recipe in your stash when you need a special, celebratory cake. I decorated it with blue pansies from my mom’s yard: the P is for Pierce, the lemon leaves and pansies around the bottom are to cover up the places where the frosting rubbed off in the car, and the raspberries are to hide the places where I accidentally knocked off an edge when I removed the cake cover. I told you I wasn’t very good at this, but if I can do it, you can too. It’s so yummy, I think you’ll be glad you did.
Deep Dark Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Filling and Cream Cheese Frosting
–adapted from Gourmet, March 1999; Smitten Kitchen; and Bon Appetit, June 1999
A word about this recipe: I pulled together this cake from several sources and made a few changes. The cake recipe calls for the batter to be baked in two 10-inch pans. I have 9-inch pans, so I baked three cakes, but I only used two for the one you see in the picture. The cake freezes nicely, so next time I make it, I’ll keep the extra layer in the freezer to use another time. Once defrosted, the cakes are very moist and prone to tearing; be very careful when assembling them (or feel free to re-assemble any layers that fall apart as I did. Just don’t tell anyone). The raspberry filling makes more than enough to fill a four-layer cake, so be generous, and you’ll probably still wind up with leftovers. It’s fabulous on toast, ice cream, or stirred into yogurt. And the frosting makes a lot too, but since I am terribly messy when it comes to that step in the process, it’s always better for me to have more than I need. I take a small container of frosting with me to fix any blemishes that occur on the journey.
For the cake:
3 ounces good-quality semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
3 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup butter, melted (1 1/2 sticks)
1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Line three 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper; spray with cooking spray or grease with butter. Preheat oven to 300 degrees (F). In a small bowl, stir the chopped chocolate into the hot coffee until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl:sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Then, in the bowl of your electric mixer, beat the eggs until thickened and pale yellow, about 3-5 minutes. With the mixer running, slowly pour in the melted butter, buttermilk, vanilla, and coffee-chocolate mixture. Beat until well-combined.
With the mixer on very low speed, add the dry mixture. Turn the mixer up to medium and beat just until you can no longer see any trace of the dry ingredients.
Divide the cake batter evenly between the three cake pans. Bake at 300 degrees until a knife inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean, about an hour (I set my timer for 50 minutes and checked all three cakes every 5 minutes after that — the cake on the bottom rack finished quicker than the two on the top).
Cool the cakes completely in their pans. Run a knife around the edge and invert the layers onto racks (or parchment paper if, like me, you don’t have racks). When the cakes are completely cooled, peel off the parchment, and either, set them aside for assembly (instructions follow), or wrap tightly in plastic and foil to chill or freeze. They can be made ahead of time and chilled in the refrigerator for a couple of days, or the freezer for a couple of months with good results.
For the raspberry filling:
2 10-ounce bags frozen raspberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 T. cornstarch, sifted
Squeeze of lemon
Puree the raspberries in a blender or food processor; then press through a fine mesh sieve with a wooden spoon to remove seeds. This takes a while, so be prepared (this is a good job to do while the cakes are baking). In a small saucepan, stir the berries and sugar together, and sift in the cornstarch (or else you could end up with lumps). Stir in a squeeze of lemon, and bring the mixture to a boil. Cook and stir until the mixture thickens, about 3 minutes. Set aside to cool completely. The raspberry filling can also be made ahead and chilled or frozen.
For the frosting:
4 8-oz packages cream cheese, softened
10 T. butter (1 stick plus 2 T.), softened
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 t. vanilla
Whip the cream cheese and butter in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until smooth and creamy. Beat in the vanilla and the sugar. Chill until the mixture is a spreadable consistency (not too hard, but not too soft).
To assemble the cake:
If the cakes are frozen, defrost overnight in the refrigerator. Split two of the cakes to get four thin layers. Lay the sturdiest one on a flat surface (either on the cake plate you’ll be serving it on or on a sturdy transferable plate), and spread with a light layer of cream cheese frosting, just enough to coat (I dollop small spoonfuls and then spread). Ladle a generous amount of the raspberry filling on top, spreading to within 1/4″ from the edge. Top with the next layer, and continue this pattern until the last layer remains. Place it on top and frost the cake all over with the cream cheese frosting. Refrigerate until time to serve.