Hi pals! After the stress of last week, I decided to give us all a break and not post. It would just be white noise in the panic and anxiety that many of us are feeling right now. Which means that this week, I’ll be serving up two posts. First, I’m going to set us all right with a big slice of cake from the always-sublime Sarah of The Vanilla Bean Blog.
I’ve talked previously about how blissful Sarah’s site is, but her book dropped a week ago, and it’s just beyond! The Vanilla Bean Baking Book to be exact! I flip through it constantly and bookmark every recipe because it’s just that dreamy. Oh and you know what? Martha made cookies from Sarah’s book recently, so that’s when you know it’s good.
I have a very fond relationship with Sarah’s book because she graciously let me recipe test for her last year. At the time, I was in the thick of thesis writing, so the packet of delicious recipes she sent me each week was the best distraction to keep me from having panic attacks on the weekend in between edits. I think my fellow graduate students were pretty happy about it too as they ate from the fruits of my labor in the break room.
Because I knew how stinkin’ wonderful all of Sarah’s recipes are, having tested many of them out personally, I had a hard time deciding which to feature here. I finally settled on this mint chocolate chip layer cake. Sarah’s chocolate cake is so luscious and full of deep chocolate flavor, and this mint-flavored buttercream brings me right back to my favorite ice cream. It’s a perfect balance and a great recipe to have in your repertoire. Plus mint is pretty therapeutic if you ask me, and I think we all need some of that relaxation right about now!
Sarah’s chocolate cake is adapted from many versions of a classic that uses coffee in the recipe. And for a very good reason. I’ll throw it back to my red wine chocolate cake post to explain why.
The secret to a great chocolate cake is having a slightly bitter flavor to highlight the cocoa. Most cake recipes use coffee. Coffee wouldn’t be described as a subtle ingredient, but when combined with chocolate in a cake recipe, you can’t taste any coffee unless you add a rather large amount. Coffee’s flavor notes are bitter as are cocoa’s. These similar notes intensify working well with each other. While other cake ingredients create a great tasting cake, coffee makes cake more chocolate-y.
Hearty congratulations to Sarah on her cookbook release and a big recommendation from me that you go out and buy this immediately. I think it’s time for some cake.
Mint Chocolate Chip Cake
Reprinted with permission from The Vanilla Bean Baking Book
3 ounces (85 grams) bittersweet chocolate
1 cup freshly brewed coffee, hot
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup canola oil
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups (284 g) all-purpose flour
2 cups (396 g) sugar
¾ cup (75 g) Dutch process cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Adjust an oven rack to the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350⁰F. Butter and flour two 8 by 2-inch round cake pans (see note) and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
- Put the bittersweet chocolate in a small bowl. Pour the coffee over it and cover with a piece of plastic wrap. In a medium bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk the buttermilk, canola oil, eggs, and vanilla.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt on low until combined. (If the cocoa powder is lumpy, you can sift it into the other ingredients.) With the mixer running on low, slowly add the buttermilk mixture. Increase the speed to medium and beat until combined, 20 to 30 seconds.
- Whisk the chocolate and coffee together until completely smooth. With the mixer running on low, slowly pour the coffee mixture into the batter and mix until just combined. Using a spatula, give the batter a couple of turns to make sure it is fully mixed.
- Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans. Bake 25 to 35 minutes, until a wooden skewer or toothpick comes out with the tiniest bit of crumb.
- Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool for 30 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto the rack, remove the parchment paper, and let cool completely. Once cool, the cakes can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated overnight or frosted.
Notes: This recipe will also work with 9 by 2-inch round cake pans but you will need to take a few minutes off the baking time. You can substitute hot water for the hot coffee, but the overall chocolate flavor will lack some depth.
Mint Chocolate Chip Buttercream + Assembly
8 large egg whites
2 ¼ cups (446 g) sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ pounds (6 sticks; 678 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons crème de menthe
½ teaspoon mint extract plus more to taste
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup (85 g) chocolate chips, chopped small (optional; see note)
Green food coloring (optional, if your crème de menthe is not colored and you want a nice minty green)
- Put about 1 inch of water in a medium saucepan and bring it to a gentle boil. In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir the egg whites, sugar, and salt until combined.
- Put the bowl over the saucepan, being careful not to let the water touch the bottom of the bowl. Stir with a rubber spatula until the sugar is completely melted, and the mixture reaches a temperature of 160⁰F, about 4 to 5 minutes. While you are stirring, be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl with the spatula—this will ensure no sugar grains are lurking on the sides and will help prevent the egg whites from cooking.
- Remove the bowl from the heat and place it in the stand mixer fitted with a whisk. Whisk the mixture on medium-high until stiff, glossy peaks form, 8 to 10 minutes.
- With the mixer running on low, add the butter, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition until incorporated. Add the crème de menthe, mint extract, vanilla, and a couple drops of green food coloring (if using). Beat again and then taste test. If you want your buttercream to have a stronger mint flavor, add more mint extract ½ teaspoon at a time, until you are happy with the taste. Add the chocolate (if using) and stir with a spatula to combine.
- Make sure your cakes are completely cool before you frost them. If your layers have a large dome, you can slice off the rounded bump for a straight top if desired. This will help make your cake look even and professional. From Sarah: “I also cool my cakes top side down (the bump on top touching the wire rack) and have found this helps deflate the dome. If your cake is a little lopsided, applying the buttercream will even out any dents or lumps.”
- Apply a crumb coat: Make sure your cake layers are even; you want them to line up together, and none of them should be sticking out farther than the others. Gently press to adjust them if you need to and you a ruler or straightedge to make sure they are lined up evenly. With an offset spatula, apply a thin, even layer of buttercream to the top and sides of the cake, covering every surface, and filling in the gaps between layers. Smooth out any bumps or lumps in the thin coat. Be careful if you need to apply more buttercream to not get crumbs from the spatula back into your mixing bowl. Move the cake into the freezer or refrigerator to chill the cake and harden the buttercream. This will keep the crumbs in place, locking them into the crumb coat. From Sarah: “I put my cake on a baking sheet and put it in the freezer for 10 minutes to chill, but if you don’t have room, place it in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.”
- Apply a finishing coat: Take the cake from the freezer or refrigerator and put it back in the center of your turntable or cake stand. Place a large amount of buttercream on the top of the cake. With an offset spatula, smooth the buttercream on top of the cake so that it is a perfectly level layer. When the top is even, move onto the sides. Put a good amount of buttercream onto the spatula and then use the spatula to put the buttercream on the sides of the cake in a thick layer. Don’t worry about getting it perfectly smooth at this point, just make sure you have a nice thick coat, covering all the cake. Press the spatula very gently against the cake at a slight angle and move the turntable or cake stand in a constant fluid circle. As the table/stand moves, the spatula will begin to collect some of the excess buttercream and even out the sides. Stop to clean the spatula off a few times. You want to be careful not to take too much of the buttercream off, or you will start to see the cake layers underneath. Keep turning the table/stand until the buttercream is as smooth and even as possible. A slight edge will have built up on the top of the cake and with your spatula at an angle, run it across the top to even it out.
- Finish decorating: The cake will be smooth at this point. You can leave it as is, or add some more decoration to it. When finished decorating, move the cake to a cake stand to serve or clean your cake stand if you have been assembling on the cake stand.
Note: I did a slightly fancier decoration of buttercream that has step by step photos at Coco Cake Land. I also topped with a sprinkling of cacao nibs to add crunch and a little bitterness to the cake.