Here’s a cake that’s made to melt hearts. I admit, the decorating is kind of a process (let’s call it a labor of love), but my philosophy is that if you going to make a cake from scratch anyway, it’s not that much more effort to make it really pretty. A few extra steps, and you’ve got yourself a showstopping expression of your love. Here, very tender dark chocolate cake layers are sandwiched with a vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream and chocolate crumbles, then frosted with more buttercream and decorated with ground crumbles, sliced strawberries and some pretty pink sprinkles. The cake calls for an 85% dark chocolate – Lindt brand is widely available in supermarkets (and even CVS pharmacies), so you shouldn’t have any problem tracking it down. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Makes one 9-inch cake, serving 12
Devil’s Food Cake:
- 5 ½ ounces (156 grams) extra-dark chocolate, 85% (I used Lindt)
- 1 ½ cups (170 grams) cake flour
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- 2/3 cup (144 grams) firmly packed light brown sugar
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 cup (236 grams) brewed coffee, hot
- 2 large (100 grams) egg, at room temperature
- ½ cup (107 grams) canola or safflower oil
- ½ cup (121 grams) sour cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons (49 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup (37 grams) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- ¼ cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 3 tablespoons (42 grams) unsalted butter, melted
Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
- 1 cup (7 oz/ 200 grams) granulated sugar
- 5 large (150 grams) egg whites
- 3 tablespoons (44 grams) water
- 32 tablespoons (454 g) unsalted butter, softened, but cool
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 pint fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
- Pink and white sprinkle mix (I used Fancy Sprinkles’ ‘Bubble Bath’)
Make the cake layers:
- Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350˚F. Grease the bottom and sides of two 8-inch heart-shaped or round cake pans. Cut parchment paper out to fit in the bottom of the pans and press the paper into the pans. Grease the paper, then dust the pans with flour, tapping out the excess.
- Finely chop the chocolate and place it in a medium bowl.
- Place the flour, sugars, baking soda and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are well blended, about a minute.
- Pour the hot coffee over the chocolate; allow it to stand for 30 seconds to melt the chocolate, then whisk until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Set aside.
- In another medium bowl, whisk the eggs until the yolks and whites are blended. Whisk in the oil, whisking until the mixture is emulsified. Whisk in the sour cream and vanilla until blended. Whisk in the chocolate mixture. While mixing the dry ingredients at low speed, add the chocolate mixture one-third at a time, mixing just until combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and fold the batter a few times with a rubber spatula to make sure it is fully combined. Divide the batter between the two cake pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Place the pans on wire racks and cool for 20 minutes.
- Invert the cakes onto the racks, peel off the paper, and let the cakes cool completely.
Make the Chocolate Crumbles:
- Preheat oven to 300˚F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or piece of parchment paper.
- Put the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, cornstarch and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix at low speed until well blended. With the mixer running, add the melted butter and mix until crumbly. Spread the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until dry and fragrant. Place the sheet on a wire rack and cool completely.
- Set aside about 1/3 cup of the crumbles to use for the middle of the cake. Place the remaining crumbles in a food processor and process until finely ground; these crumbs will be used to coat the sides of the cake.
Make the buttercream:
- Pour enough water into a skillet so that it comes 1/2-inch up its sides. Bring the water to a simmer; reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, use a hand whisk to combine the sugar, egg whites, and water. Place the bowl in the skillet of water and whisk gently until the mixture registers 160°F on an instant-read thermometer.
- Transfer the bowl to the mixer stand and, using the whisk attachment, beat at medium-high speed until the meringue is cool and forms stiff, shiny peaks, about 5 minutes.
- Reduce the speed to medium and beat in the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Beat in the vanilla. Beat at high speed until the buttercream is smooth, about 1 minute.
Assemble the cake:
- Place one of the cake layers, rounded side up on a cardboard cake round or serving plate. Spread a thick layer of the buttercream on top, covering the top completely in a nice, even layer. Sprinkle the reserved 1/3 cup Chocolate Crumbles over the buttercream. Top with the other cake layer, flat side up. Frost the top and sides of the cake with a thin ‘crumb coat’ of buttercream, making it as smooth as possible. Refrigerate the cake for 20 to 30 minutes, to set the buttercream.
- Frost the cake with the final layer of buttercream, making it as smooth as possible, and reserving about 1/3 cup of the buttercream to pipe dollops around the top edge of the cake.
- Pat the finely ground crumbles all around the sides of the cake. Thinly slice the nicest looking strawberries (I like to use the smallest ones), and arrange them around the edge on top of the cake, points facing the center of the cake and leaving a 1/3-inch border around the edge (this is where you will pipe buttercream rosettes). Put the reserved buttercream in a pastry bag fitted with an open star tip (I used a French star tip, Ateco #4B), and pipe rosettes all along the edge of the cake. Sprinkle some pretty sprinkles in the center of the cake. Serve the cake or refrigerate, preferably in a covered cake container. Bring to room temperature before serving.