For the July Daring Baker’s Challenge, Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to bake a cake. But not just any cake; she asked us to add in a special surprise for our eyes as well as our taste buds!
It was my birthday at the beginning of July (thirty one! how the hell did that happen?!) so, as per my favorite birthday tradition, I made myself a cake. Coincidentally, the Daring Bakers challenge this month was to make a cake with a surprise on the inside, so I made this cake, which looks like nothing special at first…
…until you cut into it:
Nate and I have been re-watching Arrested Development for about the fourth time, and this cake reminds me of magician Tony Wonder calling the audience at his magic shows, “how dey do ‘dats?” because that’s exactly what everyone who saw this cake asked me. Making the checkerboard pattern is actually sort of a trick – or as G.O.B. Bluth says, “an illusion”. You do not, as many people asked, have to stick a hundred tiny squares of cake together. Instead, you cut the different coloured cakes into rings, reassemble them so they look like bullseyes, and stack them up in alternating colours, so that when you cut a slice, the cross-section gives the illusion of a checkerboard. (Although now that I’ve told you the secret, I’m definitely going to get kicked out of The Alliance of Magicians.)
I wanted to make this cake as chocolatey and vanilla-y as possible, so I baked the rebar chocolate cake and this ultimate vanilla cake, stuck them together with vanilla bean Swiss meringue buttercream, and spread the whole thing with chocolate ganache. With six layers of cake it’s a bit of a monster, but it’s a delicious monster: the cakes are moist and favourful and neither the buttercream nor the ganache are overly sweet. If you really want to take it over the top though – and of course I did, it was my birthday – you can serve it with vanilla ice cream drizzled with extra ganache (which happens to be my all-time favourite dessert).
Because the only thing better than vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce is chocolate and vanilla checkerboard cake with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. Obviously!
Thanks for a great challenge, Ruth! Check out the Daring Kitchen for some pretty amazing cakes made this month.
Chocolate & Vanilla Checkerboard Cake
Makes one 6-layer, 6″ round cake, serving probably close to 10 people. To make a 6-layer, 9″ round cake, double the recipe.
Part 1: Bake the Cakes
Adapted from The Cupcake Project
Preheat the oven to 350˚F (325˚F convection). Prepare 3 x 6″ round cake pans by greasing them and lining the bottoms with parchment. Set aside.
In a small bowl, combine:
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
the seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
Press the vanilla seeds into the sugar with the back of a spoon until evenly dispersed.
In a medium bowl, whisk together:
1 1/3 cup cake flour, sifted
1 1/8 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
the vanilla sugar
1 whole egg + 1 egg yolk (save the egg white for the vanilla buttercream)
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup sour cream
3 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp melted butter
2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Stir vigorously with a whisk until incorporated.
Divide the batter evenly between the 3 prepared cake pans and wrap each with a strip of wet towel (this will help the cakes bake level). Bake in the preheated 350˚F (325˚F convection) oven for 13-15 minutes, until the cakes pull away from the sides of the pan and spring back when pressed, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs. Cool in the pans for a few minutes before inverting into a rack to cool completely.
Adapted from the rebar cookbook
Preheat the oven to 350˚F (325˚F convection). Prepare 3 x 6″ round cake pans by greasing them, lining the bottoms with parchment, then dusting them lightly with cocoa powder. Set aside.
In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, combine:
6 tbsp hot coffee
1 oz dark chocolate, finely chopped
Stir to melt the chocolate, then set aside to cool to room temperature.
In a medium bowl, whisk together:
3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup dark cocoa powder, sifted to remove any lumps
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/8 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
3 tbsp milk
3 tbsp sour cream
2 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
the cooled coffee-chocolate mixture
Stir vigorously with a whisk until incorporated.
Divide the batter evenly between the 3 prepared cake pans and wrap each with a strip of wet towel (this will help the cakes bake level). Bake in the preheated 350˚F (325˚F convection) oven for 18-20 minutes, until the cakes spring back when pressed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs. Cool in the pans for a few minutes before inverting into a rack to cool completely.
Part 2: Chill the Cakes
Assembling the final cake will be much easier if the cake layers are thoroughly chilled and therefore firm. Stack the cakes between sheets of waxed paper, wrap in plastic, and chill for several hours or overnight. Properly wrapped, the cakes could also be frozen for a few weeks.
Part 3: Make the Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Adapted from Martha Stewart. Makes about 5 cups.
Moisten a paper towel with a little vinegar and use it to wipe down the inside of your mixer bowl, hand whisk, and mixer’s whisk attachment to remove an traces of oil, which will prevent your egg whites from whipping properly.
In the mixer bowl, combine:
5 egg whites
1 cup + 2 tbsp granulated white sugar
pinch of salt
Place the mixer bowl over a pot of simmering water without the bottom of the bowl touching it, à la bain marie, and whisk the mixture until the sugar has dissolved completely and it is quite hot to the touch.
Attach the bowl to your mixer with the whisk attachment and start beating the egg white mixture on medium speed, gradually increasing the speed to medium-high/high. Continue whisking the meringue until stiff peaks form and the mixture is cool to the touch. If stiff peaks are achieved before the meringue cools down, reduce the speed and stir on low until cool.
While the meringue whisks, cut 1 lb (2 cups) unsalted butter into cubes and let it soften to room temperature.
With the mixer on low speed, stir in the softened butter, 1 cube at a time, until incorporated. It might look separated and curdled at first, but keep stirring and it will thicken up into a recognizable buttercream. My butter was still a little bit cold so the frosting looked a bit grainy. I fixed this by pressing a warm dishcloth to the outside of the bowl as it mixed to melt the butter just enough to make the frosting silky-smooth.
Mix in the seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean and set the buttercream aside.
Part 4: Assembly
Trim the tops of the 6 cakes so that they are level and all the same height, if necessary. Using cookie cutters, cut each cake into an outer ring, and inner ring, and a circle in the middle (you could also use a cardboard template and a sharp knife to cut the cakes). For perfect squares within the checkerboard pattern, you want the width of each ring to be equal to the height of the cakes.
Spread the cut surfaces of each cake ring with a thin layer of vanilla buttercream and reassemble the cakes so that the inner ring of each is the opposite colour. Reassemble each cake on a piece of waxed paper so that you can move it around easily afterwards.
Place one vanilla outer ringed-cake on a decorating turntable and spread it with a thin layer of vanilla buttercream (a few tablespoons). Top it with a chocolate outer ringed-cake and spread with more buttercream. Continue, alternating vanilla and chocolate outer ringed-cakes, then frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining buttercream. (I had just barely enough to cover this cake, but I’ve increased the amount of buttercream so you should have plenty to cover the cake and get a nice smooth, opaque finish). Place the cake in the fridge to chill.
Part 5: Make the Ganache
In small saucepan, heat until just boiling:
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
When it is just boiling, pour it over:
7.5 oz finely chopped dark chocolate
Stir, then cover for a few minutes to melt the chocolate. Stir again until the ganache is completely smooth. Let the ganache cool for about 15-20 minutes, until it has thickened enough to be pourable by not runny.
Place the cake on a wire rack and pour 1 cup ganache over the top of the chilled cake, using a flat metal spatula to push it over the sides (reserve the remaining ganache for serving). You can leave it like this, all drippy and fantastic, or smooth it out over the whole cake with the spatula.
Chill the cake to set the ganache.
Part 6: Serving
Bring the cake up to room temperature before serving. Use a large chef’s knife to cut wedges, wiping the blade of the knife after each cut. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream drizzled with the reserved chocolate ganache, warmed.