Sunday, June 17, 2012

Best Homemade Chocolate Cake

Don't let what you read deceive you... this post is about cupcakes. It's also about cake. The good news keeps on coming. I was recently asked by a coworker to make cupcakes and a cake for each of their kids upcoming birthdays. One birthday was this weekend, the next is this coming weekend, so I'll be busy baking again in the next few days. I have baked birthday goodies for this family before. In fact this is the 3rd year in a row they've requested my services. Other than my family members, they are without a doubt my best customers, and I'm always flattered when they ask me.

This weekend I was baking for a 7-year-old boy and the request was 40 chocolate cupcakes for his party with his friends, and a small cake 6-inch cake so they would have something with candles for him to blow out when they celebrated his birthday as a family. The theme... LEGOs. I was sent some examples of what they were looking for to help me along in my planning. Once I had everything worked out, I made a list of everything I needed to buy and gathered up all the necessary supplies.

By my calculations I figured out that I would need to make 3 batches of the chocolate cake recipe that I use (I will include it at the end of this post) and 3 batches of the fluffy vanilla frosting that I got from Martha Stewart courtesy of my current cupcake project. I like to separate the work when I'm asked to make a cake or cupcakes for someone, especially one of this size. In this case everything needed to be done by Saturday morning so I started baking on Thursday. On Friday I did all the decorating.

First I started with the batter. Using my large Cuisinart mixer I doubled the recipe of my chocolate cake and got to work. I briefly toyed with the idea of tripling it so I would have all the batter done at once, but I wasn't sure if my mixer could handle that much. In the end, 3 batches of the cake batter probably would have fit in my mixer, but breaking it up worked out fine as well. I did a batch of cupcakes first. I wasn't sure how long to bake them since the recipe only gave a baking time for a 9x13 cake. I made my best guess and thought 20 minutes total baking time would be about right. It was. I rotated the pan halfway through like Martha has taught me, and the cupcakes came out perfectly. 

I baked a second batch of cupcakes and while they cooled in the pan I baked the cake. I do have 2 cupcake pans, but I like one better than the other because I think the cupcakes baked in this particular pan (it's a Betty Crocker pan in case you were wondering) always look better when they're done. So since I was only using 1 pan I had to factor in some cooling time before the cupcakes could be removed. Me being me, I didn't want to waste any time. While the second batch of cupcakes cooled I figured it would be a good time to bake the cake. Since the cake would take longer to bake I could make the last batch of batter while I waited and make the most of my time.

I wasn't sure how long to bake the cake either. I don't use my cake pans too often because I don't usually bake a cake unless I'm asked, and I never remember how long a 6-inch cake is supposed to be baked. This one took around 50 minutes to an hour. Mostly because I filled it up way to full and a portion of it overflowed while baking. Thankfully I have a pizza stone in the oven and all the dripping batter fell on that and not on the bottom of the oven. It was a very easy cleanup and I made a mental note to not fill the pan so full the next time around.

I ended up finishing the batter before the cake was finished so me being the multi tasker that I am, I set on to make the fondant for the small cake. I knew I was going to make a little LEGO man head for the 6-inch cake which meant I would only need one color fondant, yellow. It's so much easier to color the fondant while you're making it as opposed to once you're done. I made and colored the fondant, wrapped it tightly in plastic wrap and threw it in the fridge.

Once the cake was finished baking I finished up the rest of the cupcakes. I ended up getting 60 cupcakes and a 6-inch cake out of 3 batches of my cake recipe. Obviously this was more than I needed, but I had some coworkers who were more than happy to help me out and ate the leftover cupcakes when I took them into work on Saturday morning. When all the cupcakes and cake were cool I put them in tupperware for safe keeping overnight. Now normally on the day I bake I also make the frosting and the fondant. Due to the time of night I finished baking and also that Bobby wanted to go out for pizza with friends, I only baked and made the fondant on Thursday, the frosting would wait until Friday.

As soon as I woke up and ate breakfast I started working on the frosting. I do have a vanilla buttercream recipe that I normally use, but as I mentioned previously I used a recipe from Martha's cookbook that I used when I made these yellow buttermilk cupcakes. I'm not sure what prompted me to deviate from my normal plan, but I knew Martha's recipe was good and I wanted to give it a try. Just like when I made the cupcake batter I made a double batch of the frosting. My mixer was able to handle that much frosting, but had I attempted to triple the batch I think it was have been too much. 

Once the frosting was done, I loaded up my frosting gun (you heard me) and got to frosting the cupcakes. First I tested out 2 different tips to see which I liked best. I ended up going with the star tip. It's my usual go-to and it didn't fail me this time either. Once the cupcakes were frosted I started decorating. The sprinkles I had wanted to use I couldn't find at the grocery store or at AC Moore, but they're reminiscent of the sprinkles used for funfetti frosting. I wanted them because they're bold primary colors and they remind me of the colors of LEGOs, but I didn't have any luck finding them. I ended up just using various sprinkles that I had on hand. I thought it would be fun to mix it up a little and I wanted to give the kids a couple options since some kids might not like chocolate sprinkles and others might not like rainbow sprinkles. I didn't know the preference of my cupcakes eaters so I figured multiple options was the best plan of action. When I was finished frosting and decorating the cupcakes I packed them, 8 at a time, into the pastry boxes that I took from the grocery store. A little tip... if you don't want to pay for boxes check with the grocery store to see if they'll give you them for free. Sometimes they do. Of course sometimes they don't, but it never hurts to ask.

With the cupcakes done I was ready to start and finish decorating the cake. First I had to make another batch of frosting, a single one this time. Then I had to "shape" the cake. It didn't involve too much work, but I had to make the little bump on the top of the LEGO man head. To do this I just cut the tops off 2 of the extra cupcakes and stuck them together with a little frosting in the middle. I placed that on top of the cake and then applied the first layer of frosting to secure everything together. The crumb layer as I like to call it. After each layer of frosting I put the cake in the fridge so it can set a little to help ensure that the following layer of frosting will go on smooth. I applied a second layer of frosting on the cake and while it set in the fridge I rolled out the fondant.

I knew I would have way more fondant than I needed and I did. I carefully rolled out the fondant and then placed it over the cake and began the smoothing out process. This is always the trickiest part for me because I want to get the fondant to lay just so without tearing it or having it stick together. The toughest part about this particular cake was working with the little bump on top, but I managed pretty well. There weren't too many finishing touches for the cake. All I had to do was pipe on the eyes and mouth of the LEGO man. I used black Wilton tube icing for this and a frosting tip that I already had.

Overall I was pretty happy with how everything turned out. The cake was a little plain for my liking but then again, it was a LEGO man head. They are plain. In an attempt to try to jazz it up a little I grabbed one of the ice cream helmet bowls we have (I like to refer to them as my portion control bowls) and placed it on top of the cake. It's been awhile since I've played with LEGOs but I remember that the LEGO man had a hat the snapped in. It was just a little something extra to add and if they didn't like it they could easily take it off.

Alright, enough of this talking... are you ready to see some pictures of the finished product? Here is the LEGO man with his hat on.
And here is the LEGO man with his hat off.
Last but not least, the cupcakes. This is just one of the decorating motifs I decided on. Who doesn't love chocolate sprinkles?
Are you wondering how everything tasted? It was delicious. Really. I don't like to pat myself on the back too much. I'm pretty humble most of the time, but this cake was very good. I was told I got rave reviews from both the adults and the kids who attended the party. Some even requested my number. Yeah me. Even if no one calls it's still nice to here. Would you like the recipe so you can make your own delicious chocolate cake? I don't remember where this recipe is from originally, all I remember is that I got it from my mom. Where she got it, I couldn't say.

Best Homemade Chocolate Cake

1 3/4 c. flour
2 c. sugar
3/4 c. cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 c. oil
1 c. black coffee
1 c. buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla

Mix all ingredients. Grease pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes (20 minutes for cupcakes). A little side note... don't panic, the batter will be thin.