November 19, 2013

Black Forest Cake

I never expected the amount of excitement that would come around getting a new camera. Before its arrival, I spent countless hours watching videos and reading tutorials to prepare myself to step into the wonderful world of DSLR photography. Additionally, I signed up for a food photography e-course by Minimalist Baker and can say that it has been an extremely helpful asset towards exploring the new possibilities brought up by the camera. Prior to that, I used a point-and-shoot camera, which served me well for a few years as a beginner, until I began to recognise its limitations in both image quality and shooting speed. After finally completing school, I gathered the money I saved up for the past few years to invest in a good camera, forming an admiration for the Canon 100D as the smallest and lightest DLSR camera on the market; perfect for my small hands. The camera exceeded my expectations and hopes for beautiful photography, so much so, that I baked my own version of a Black Forest Cake to welcome it as the first of many posts to feature pictures taken with my camera.

The cake itself is adapted from Sweetapolita's one-bowl chocolate cake recipe, wherein it beholds a moist, dark chocolate crumb that is easy to bake as it is to eat. Although the intensity of the chocolate depends on the cocoa powder, it is a great cake to whip up for those sudden chocolate cravings. It is also one of those cakes that stays moist in the fridge for days (if it even lasts that long!), so it is perfectly fine to bake and freeze the cake layers ahead before frosting and decorating. And the frosting, is non other than swiss meringue buttercream flavoured with dark chocolate. Luckily I had planned ahead, using the egg yolks for salted caramel ice cream, which was unfortunately out of the running to be photographed. While the buttercream turned out with a lighter chocolate colour and intensity, it was heavenly silky, smooth and melted in the mouth as if it was made out of chocolate clouds. It's amazing how swiss meringue buttercream can be so delicious without being all gritty and unpleasant like the sugary powdered-sugar frosting.  

Inside the cake is layers of vanilla whipped cream filling with fresh cherries, adding a juicy burst of cherry goodness in every bite. Light, airy, whipped cream accentuating subtle sweetness is a traditional component, yet the combination of it with chocolate swiss meringue buttercream adds a modern take on the classic Black Forest cake. The chocolate trees I had piped for the collar is somewhat borderline between messy and elegant. I mean, it's pretty inconsistent regarding the design and size of each tree. But it does kind of cover up my impatience on getting a perfectly smooth and even surface. Plus I was running out of time to take advantage of the beautiful sunlight streaming through the window. In the end, the piping was messy as the buttercream had become soft by the time I had frosted the cake, but the cake overall tasted pretty good. Also, I noticed that the frosting on the outside of the cake was too thin and needed more frosting to cover up. Other than that, I'm pretty happy with it, and hopefully you may want to give this cake a try; its worth the extra time and effort!

One-bowl chocolate cake
Makes one 6-inch, 3 layer cake 
Adapted from Sweetapolita

  • 1 and 1/2 cups of plain (all-purpose) flour (180 g)
  • 1 cup of sugar (225 g)
  • 1/2 cup of cocoa powder (60 g)
  • 1 and 1/4 teaspoons of baking powder (6 g)
  • 1 and 1/4 teaspoons of baking soda (6 g)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt (2.5 g)
  • 140 ml of milk
  • 130 ml of strong, hot brewed coffee OR boiled water
  • 75 ml of vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs, room temperature 
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract (15 ml)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees F). Grease three 6-inch round cake tins with melted butter, placing baking paper rounds on the base of each tin.
  2. Sift all the dry ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer.
  3. Briefly whisk together all the remaining wet ingredients in a jug for easy pouring.
  4. Using the paddle attachment on the mixer, mix the dry ingredients on medium speed for 2 minutes.
  5. Slowly pour the liquid from the jug prepared earlier into the mixture and mix until combined. If there are any lumps, continue mixing until the batter is smooth. 
  6. Evenly divide the mixture between the three pans using an electronic scale, and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. 
  7. Rotate the pans in the oven, and continue baking for about another ten minutes. The cakes are ready when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs.
  8. Cool the cake layers on a wired rack for 15 minutes, turning them out to completely cool. If the cakes are domed, you may try to use a clean tea towel to gently push down on the dome to flatten it immediately after they have come out of the oven.

Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream

  • 5 large, fresh egg whites (150 g)
  • 1 cup of sugar (225 g) with two teaspoons taken out
  • 200 g of unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into cubes
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract (5 ml)
  • 200 g of chopped dark chocolate (300 g if you want a more intense chocolate flavour)
  1. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water, or in a microwave, stirring at 20 second intervals until smooth. Set aside to cool.
  2. In a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, whisk the egg whites and sugar together until the temperature reaches 65.5 degrees C (150 degrees F) or until the sugar has dissolved completely and the egg whites are hot to touch.
  3. Transfer the egg whites to the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment of the mixer, whisk the mixture at high speed to firm peaks until the meringue is thick, glossy and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral (not warm).
  4. At medium speed, add the butter cubes one at a time, until incorporated. Mix until it reaches a silky smooth texture. If the mixture has curdled, continue mixing until it becomes smooth again. If the mixture is runny, refrigerate it for about 15 minutes and continue mixing until it comes back together.
  5. Add vanilla, and then add the melted and cooled chocolate at medium speed until combined.

For the vanilla whipped cream filling, whisk 420 ml of cold thickened cream, 1/4 cup of powdered (icing) sugar and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract with an electric mixer to firm peaks (it should hold its shape) until combined. 

For the chocolate trees, melt 200 g of dark/milk chocolate and fill it into a piping bag with a small, round tip. Pipe trees of about 3 inches tall on a baking tray lined with baking (parchment) paper. Extra chocolate may be melted again and reused for other purposes.

Assembly of Black Forest Cake

  1. Using a cake turntable, place a cake layer on a circular cake board. With an ice cream scoop, add one scoop of whipped cream filling onto the cake and evenly spread it out with an offset palette knife. Spread a few pitted fresh cherries on top and add another scoop of cream on top of the cherries, smoothing it out. 
  2. Repeat the step for another layer, placing a cake layer on top of the cream and adding the cherries.
  3. Fill the spaces in between the cake layers with more whipped cream.
  4. Refrigerate the cake for about 15 minutes.
  5. Add a scoop of chocolate swiss meringue buttercream on top of the cake, smoothing out and applying to the sides of the cake until thinly covered to seal in the crumbs. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  6. Add more buttercream to the sides of the cake to form a somewhat thick layer, using an offset palette knife and bench scraper to achieve a smooth surface.
  7. Pipe a buttercream border using a 1M star tip.
  8. Chill the cake to set for at least 2 hours.
  9. When ready to serve, carefully peel the chocolate trees from the baking paper and place them on the sides of the cake.
  10. Serve the cake at room temperature, carefully slicing the cake in between each chocolate tree.

November 10, 2013

Double Chocolate Cake Pops

I made these cake pops in the past weekend for a party, wrapped in cellophane bags with a cute ribbon entitled "EAT ME". I still can't get my head around why I didn't make these treats earlier. But all the steps involved did make it seem a little tricky and fiddly to create; the rolling of the cake balls, inserting the lollipop sticks, freezing them, dipping them in chocolate and finally decorating them with sprinkles. Even with the amount of work to make them, they are worth the effort and seem to be simple and easy to make. For my first try, I think it was a success.

These cake pops were demolished by the kids, I mean everyone thought white chocolate and nutella chocolate cake go hand in hand. Funnily, one of the kids called it as one of those massive chupa-chups "lollipop" before I told her it was basically a cake ball on a stick. Brilliant idea to whoever came up with cake pops.

It was pretty frustrating when some of the cake pops fell apart or refused to be held by a lollipop stick, even after spending some time in the freezer. I was able to save the best ones by re-shaping them into balls and forcing the sticks to hold them in place. I also used small cups to dry the cake pops after dipping them in white chocolate as shown in the pictures, rather than styrofoam which I unfortunately didn't have on hand.

These chocolate cake pops held together by nutella and coated in creamy white chocolate make it the perfect treat for virtually any occasion. I found this easy recipe from Divas Can Cook and you can find her recipe here. Now please excuse me as I go grab one from the fridge...

November 9, 2013

The Best Vanilla Cupcake

This rarely happens to me. You know, when you first taste test a cupcake and then fall in love at first bite. In fact, I'm convinced it's the best vanilla cupcake like, ever. And being myself, the ever experimental baker, I wanted to find another vanilla cupcake recipe that's fail proof with an authentic vanilla kick. So within my 2 years of baking, I've tested many vanilla cupcake recipes I dug out from the internet but this one from Cupcake Project's popular Vanilla Cupcake recipe is certainly crowned the best above the rest. It's got a super soft crumb that melts into your mouth with a true vanilla flavour that's hard to beat. I'm not exaggerating, its the truth. And I strongly suggest you try it, if you haven't already.

And what about the topping to match this perfectly baked vanilla cupcake? Ah yes, and since I am considerate for those who I bake for, I turned to my mother for the details:

Mum: "I want something with white chocolate"
Me: "Like a chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting?"
Mum: "No....WHITE chocolate not the one from cocoa beans"
Me: "Okeydokey, the ultimate white chocolate cupcake it is...*runs off to get the white chocolate*

Actually, after the conversation I decided to change it to a vanilla cupcake with white chocolate frosting, as I figured it would be too much of one ingredient. With the white chocolate frosting, I landed into this recipe from Not So Humble Pie that A: involves cream cheese and B: has lots of white chocolate. Perfect. I am quite aware of the effects cream cheese has on piping, but I like that its tangy flavour cuts out some of the sweetness. Unfortunately it came out super sweet, I guess loads of white chocolate + icing sugar = SWEET HEAVENS. So, to solve the problem, I dabbed a little icing on the cupcake and was randomly hit with a brilliant idea of covering it with sprinkles. I mean, who doesn't like sprinkles? It screams fun and celebration when you look at it. It reminds me of the epicness that is fairy bread from my childhood really.

Since I was making this for two people, I slightly modified the recipe by halving the ingredients, and substituting yoghurt for sour cream. This turned out wonderful, so much so, my mother stood up, declared it one of the best cupcakes ever and rated it five stars (excluding the frosting). Oh, and before I leave for another cupcake, here's a little swirl of sweet white chocolate buttercream....

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