I’m going to brag on myself for a moment: I am probably the best when it comes to baking for birthdays. I pay attention to what people say they want (and what I know they like), and I find a way to make it work. I’ve made that big fancy bourbon cake for my grandma’s birthday, a couple of different “fancy” takes on cupcakes for H’s birthdays, and last year the Boy got himself a Battenberg cake. This year for his birthday we would be staying at a country farmhouse and going for hikes, so I couldn’t do anything quite as elaborates as last year, but cake isn’t that difficult to make. So when I came across this recipe from what is quite possibly the coziest and most homey craft/food/family blog on the internet, I knew it was right.
First off – the cake is chocolate (which the Boy loves), and it was recommended that you use a more intense brand of cocoa powder (sold!) and to also include coffee to intensify the chocolate flavor. The Boy loves coffee, but this substitution doesn’t actually make the cake taste like coffee (which I don’t like) so it was a no-brainer. Second, the frosting didn’t seem like it was one that would be overly sweet. Because while the Boy loves his chocolate, he likes it dark and practically bitter. The frosting would add just a tiny bit of sweetness, and it was delightfully flavored with almond, which was a surprise to everyone, including me who made the cake.
I will say that the frosting is a bit more complicated than I had thought. And mine turned out really well (I’d give it a solid B/B+), but there were a few of the lumpy bits that Alicia mentions in the recipe that I could have dealt with if I’d had the time or patience to actually strain the concoction. Instead, I picked out the visibly lumpy bits, and otherwise, we dealt with the consequences, and it wasn’t really that noticeable.
It was really good cake. I know this because the Boy insisted on keeping it until it was properly finished, and he ate quite a lot of it himself over the weeks it lived in our fridge. That’s right – weeks. But cakes last a long time in the fridge, and while I may have noted a slight stiffening of the frosting the longer it kept, the Boy didn’t complain. And it was his cake. So I call that a win. (Also, going back and reading the original post it came from includes the phrase “I like this cake very cold”, so I think that’s another vote for keeping it in the fridge)
makes two 9″ round layers
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Hershey’s cocoa [The author suggests using Cacao Barry brand, heads up – the bag is BIG]
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup steaming hot (brewed) coffee [Note: you can use boiling water instead if you’re boring]
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour (using cocoa powder so it disappears) two 9″ round cake pans.
2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla; beat on medium speed of electric mixer for 2 minutes. Carefully stir in boiling water and coffee (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans (see above).
3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks and cool completely.
makes enough for a two-layer cake (plus a little extra)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup WHOLE (it has to be whole) milk or half-and-half
1 cup softened butter
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups sifted confectioners sugar
1. In a small pan, gradually add the milk to the flour, whisking them together into a totally smooth mixture — you don’t want any lumps here. Simmer (barely) until thick over low/medium heat, whisking constantly so you don’t get any lumps, monitoring CONSTANTLY. If you do get lumps, just push it all through a sieve. You want it to be the consistency of pudding. Remove from heat and let it cool for a few minutes, and then push a piece of plastic wrap down on the surface of the mixture (so a skin doesn’t form), and then let it sit on the counter (or in the fridge) for an hour or two or three until it’s completely cool.
2. Cream together the butter and almond; add the confectioner’s sugar and beat on high for several minutes until it is very fluffy.
3. Add the milk/flour mixture from step 1, and beat until it is super fluffy. The frosting will sometimes appear to separate when you add the milk/flour mixture, but just keep beating it on high until it whips up into smooth, fluffy clouds.