I usually make my own birthday cakes and, chocolate lover that I am, my go-to cake is Marcel Desaulniers' Chocolate Espresso Fudge Cake. What I love about Desaulniers' books is that he makes failure virtually impossible. His directions are so explicit, they will turn an ordinary cook into a pastry chef! He was the one who introduced me to the excellent technique of assembling a multilayered cake in a springform pan and freezing or refrigerating between steps. It works like a charm.
If you don't like the coffee flavor or want to lower the caffeine impact, you can leave out the espresso powder and it won't hurt a bit. But, whatever you do, use good-quality chocolate, not chips or candy coating. This elegant dessert is perfect not just for birthdays, but anytime you want to show off. If you follow the directions exactly, you will produce a dessert that looks like it was made in the finest pastry shop.
- For the Chocolate Cake:
- 4 ouncesunsweetened chocolate, broken into 1/2-ounce pieces
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons melted unsalted butter for greasing the pans
- 2 cups cake flour
- 2 teaspoons cake flour for dusting the pans
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups very tightly packed light brown sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sour cream
- For the Espresso Ganache:
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoonsunsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into 1/2-ounce pieces
- 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
- For the Chocolate Espresso Buttercream:
- 8 ounces semisweet chocolate (broken into 1/2-ounce pieces)
- 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate (broken into 1/2-ounce pieces)
- 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
- 1 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
- 5 large egg whites (How to freeze egg yolks)
- 1 cup sugar
To make the cake: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat 1 inch of water in the bottom half of a double boiler over medium heat. Place 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate in the top half of the double boiler. Tightly cover the top with plastic wrap and allow to heat for 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir until smooth.
Lightly coat the insides of 2 (9 x 1 1/2-inch) cake pans with melted butter. Flour each pan with 1 teaspoon cake flour, shaking out the excess. Combine together in a sifter the remaining 2 cups of flour, the baking soda, and salt. Sift onto wax paper and set aside.
Combine the brown sugar and 8 tablespoons soft butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on low for 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat on high for 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again and beat on high for another 1 1/2 minutes.
Add 4 eggs, one at a time, beating on high for 30 seconds after adding each egg. Scrape down the bowl after each addition, then beat on high for 2 more minutes. Add the melted chocolate and the vanilla. Beat on low for 30 seconds, then scrape down the bowl.
Heat 1 cup water to a boil in a 1 1/2-quart saucepan. While the water is heating, operate the mixer on low while adding a third of the sifted flour and 1/2 cup sour cream; allow to mix for 30 seconds. Add another third of the flour and the remaining sour cream and mix for another 30 seconds. Add the remaining sifted flour and the boiling water and mix for an additional 30 seconds before removing the bowl from the mixer. Use a rubber spatula to finish mixing the batter, until it is smooth and thoroughly combined.
Pour the cake batter into the prepared pans, spreading it evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove the cakes from the oven and cool in the pans for 15 minutes at room temperature. Invert onto cardboard cake circles and refrigerate, uncovered, until needed.
To make the ganache: Heat the heavy cream, 2 tablespoons butter, and 2 tablespoons sugar in a 2 1/2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil. Place 8 ounces semisweet chocolate and 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder in a stainless-steel bowl. Pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and espresso. Tightly cover the top with plastic wrap and allow to stand for 10 minutes, then stir until smooth. Keep at room temperature until ready to use.
To make the buttercream: Heat 1 inch of water in the bottom half of a double boiler over medium heat. Place 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, and 2 teaspoons espresso powder in top half of double boiler. Tightly cover the top with plastic wrap. Allow to heat for 8 to 10 minutes, transfer to a stainless-steel bowl, and stir until smooth. Set aside until needed.
Place 1 pound of butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle. Beat the butter on low for 2 minutes then on medium for 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat on high until light and fluffy, about 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the butter to a large stainless-steel bowl. Set aside until needed.
Heat 1 inch of water in the bottom half of a double boiler over medium heat. Place 5 egg whites and 1 cup sugar in the top half of the double boiler. Gently whisk the egg whites until they reach a temperature of 120 degrees, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the heated egg whites to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a balloon whip. Whisk on high until stiff peaks form, about 4 minutes. Remove from mixer.
Fold the melted chocolate into the butter, using a rubber spatula to thoroughly combine. Fold in the whipped egg whites until thoroughly combined. Set aside.
To assemble the cake: Remove cakes from refrigerator and turn them over so the top side is facing up. Using a slicer, trim off just enough of the top of each cake to make an even surface. Slice each cake horizontally into 2 equal layers. Place the top layer of a cake onto the bottom of a closed springform pan. Evenly spread 1 1/2 cups of the buttercream over the cake in the springform pan. Place the bottom layer of the first cake onto the buttercream and gently press into place. Pour 1 1/4 cups of ganache over the cake layer, spreading the ganache evenly to the edges. Refrigerate the remaining ganache. Place the top layer of the second cake on top of the ganache and press into place. Spread 1 1/2 cups buttercream evenly over this layer. Place the remaining bottom cake layer, cut side down, onto the buttercream and gently press into place. Cover the entire cake and pan with plastic wrap and freeze for 1 hour.
To decorate the cake: Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large-sized star tip with 1 1/2 cups of buttercream. Remove the cake from the freezer. Run a table knife around the edges next to the pan to release the cake from the springform pan. Remove the collar. Transfer the cake to a pretty serving plate with four pieces of wax paper at the edges of the plate (12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock positions) to catch any drips. They will be slipped out from under the cake when done decorating. Using a cake spatula, evenly spread the remaining buttercream over the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate the cake for 1 hour.
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a medium-sized star tip with remaining ganache. To decorate the cake, first, pipe a ring of the buttercream stars around the outside edge of the top of the cake. Then pipe a circle of ganache stars (each star touching the other) inside the ring of buttercream. Alternate the rings of buttercream stars and circles of ganache stars, until the entire top of the cake is covered. Refrigerate the cake for at least 1 hour before cutting and serving.
To cut and serve the cake: When ready to serve, remove the cake from the refrigerator. Remove the wax paper. Cut the cake with a serrated slicer, heating the blade of the slicer under hot running water (and thoroughly drying it) before making each slice. Bring the slices to room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.