I never have been more anxious about a Test Kitchen recipe than this one.
I’m pretty good at baking. But I am terrible (TERRIBLE!) at decorating things, in part because I lack the skill for it and in part because I lack the patience. I’m just being honest.
So when Kelsey suggested I make a fancy layer cake for the February issue, I smiled gamely, borrowed some cake pans from About writer Kelli Weir and hoped for the best.
I picked this Marvelous Marble Cake from Taste of Home because it looked liked a more forgiving recipe than some of the other pristine layer cakes I perused.
I baked my layer cake in two pans instead of three, which upped the time I needed to bake them to 27 minutes. Instead of using parchment paper, I buttered the insides and sides of the pans and then coated them with cocoa powder—a trick I saw on TV for chocolate cakes. (It keeps them from coming out covered in white flour, which typically is what’s used.) The method worked perfectly. I let the layers cool for 15 minutes in the pans before turning them out on a sheet on wax paper. It only took one light bang on each pan once I had them flipped, and I didn’t lose any pieces.
A few other notes: The chocolate chips in the chocolate batter are optional, but you need them for the frosting, so I don’t see why you wouldn’t throw them into the batter, too, since you already will have them. What you don’t need in this recipe, though, is 2 cups of sugar. I put in about 1 1/2 cups because I accidentally ran out of sugar but also because 2 cups seemed like it would make things insanely sweet, considering the frosting recipe calls for more than 6 cups of sugar. Cutting back in the batter was the right choice.
It is recommended that you make your cake the day before you plan to frost it, but as we’ve already established, I’m not a particularly patient woman, so I waited two and a half hours. The layers were cooled by then. Everything was fine.
Since I hadn’t attempted a layer cake before, I did some research. Apparently, it is common knowledge that you are: 1. Supposed to trim your cake layers first to get rid of the round bumps and 2. Supposed to put the upper layer upside down so that the smooth underside ends up being the top of the cake and the part that gets frosted. I felt like I vaguely remembered this from watching cooking shows. But when the baking websites started talking about something called a “crumb layer,” I was lost.
I took a gamble and didn’t trim my cake layers at all because they looked pretty flat. Turns out they weren’t as flat as they looked, and my attempts to fix the gap with frosting meant I ended up with a lot of extra frosting. The final product looked a little messy but OK, sort of like it was supposed to be that way. I think it would have worked out better if I’d let the frosting layers dry a little between each go because it was hard to get a thicker layer to stick.
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons plus 1 1/4 cups butter, softened, divided
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips (optional)
3/4 cup butter, softened
6 3/4 cups powered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 to 2/3 cup 2 percent milk
2 tablespoons miniature semisweet chocolate chips
1. In the top of a double boiler or a metal bowl over barely simmering water, melt chocolate and 3 tablespoons butter; stir until smooth. Cool to room temperature.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line bottoms of three greased 8-in. round baking pans with parchment paper; grease paper.
3. In a large bowl, cream remaining butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with sour cream, beating well after each addition.
4. Remove 2 cups batter to a small bowl; stir in cooled chocolate mixture and, if desired, add chocolate chips, until blended.
5. Drop plain and chocolate batters by tablespoonfuls into prepared pans, dividing batters evenly among pans. To make batter level in pans, bang cake pans several times on counter.
6. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in pans 10 minutes before removing to wire racks; remove paper. Cool completely.
7. For frosting, in a large bowl, beat butter until smooth. Gradually beat in confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and enough milk to reach desired consistency.
8. If cake layers have rounded tops, trim with a serrated knife to make level.
9. In a microwave, melt chocolate chips; stir until smooth. Cool slightly.
10. Place one cake layer on a serving plate; spread with 1/2 cup frosting. Repeat layers. Top with remaining cake layer. Frost top and sides of cake.
11. Drop cooled chocolate by 1/2 teaspoonfuls over frosting. Using a large offset spatula, smear chocolate to create a marble design in frosting.
SOURCE: Taste of Home