More so than even December, for me, February is the month of chocolate. Maybe it’s because there’s chocolate everywhere. Or because hearts and chocolate seem to go so well together. Or maybe it’s because February just happens to be one of the most stressful months of the year for me at work. Whatever the reason, February is the month I indulge in my chocolate dreams.
I snap up all of the major food magazines simply to view those two or three pages that they devote to chocolate desserts. I go out of my way (and I mean REALLY out of my way) to walk by every chocolate shop I know of in downtown Toronto just to see their displays. But my favourite indulgence of all is the time I spend with my chocolate cookbooks.
For one month out of the year, the Overburdened Bookshelf actually becomes structurally stable again after I remove those five or six cookbooks dedicated to chocolate. Of course once March rolls around and I put them back I once again live in fear that the Bookshelf will one day come crashing down on me resulting in a massive concussion. But I’ll worry about that in March!
In the meantime, let’s talk more about February and chocolate …
Having bid The Good Cookie adieu (it served me well in January), I knew that there was really only one book that I could choose for the Flavour of the Month for February 2006: Fran Bigelow’s Pure Chocolate.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Fran Bigelow, she is a chocolate maker extraordinaire from Seattle. She is the owner of Fran’s Chocolates, one of the most famous chocolate shops in the United States. In the chocolate world, she is a Queen, and rightly so. Her creations drip with the sophistication and artistry that she has gained over her years as a chocolate maker. She is what I would call, a chocolate artist. Happily, her creations are available to all on-line. Visit Fran’s Chocolates to buy chocolate, or if you’re like me, to stare at during the day whilst drooling at your desk.
So over the next 26 days, I plan on delving into Fran’s book, for the first time I might add. To be honest, I’ve been slightly intimidated to do so until now. While not difficult, the recipes are not easy either. They require time and patience, which I often lack at this time of year. So here’s hoping that with the help of Pure Chocolate, I’ll discover chocolate Zen and learn to appreciate this time of year just a bit more.
But February isn’t going to be all about chocolate. Even though it’s the shortest month, Ivonne cannot live by chocolate alone. There will be lots of other treats to read about.
In the meantime, I thought I’d get the chocolate ball rolling with this little gem from a book I have come to love. The book is called Caprial’s Desserts and it has never let me down. I chose to start off with this recipe, as opposed to something from Fran’s book, because it gave me the opportunity to use the tiny bit of buttermilk that I had left in the refrigerator, as well as the Medaglia D’Oro espresso that I’ve had for awhile, but never used.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: Chocolate Buttermilk Cake with Chocolate Espresso Buttercream.
Chocolate Buttermilk Cake with Chocolate Espresso Buttercream
Adapted from Caprial’s Desserts by Caprial Pence and Melissa Carey.
For the cake:
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2-1/2 cups sugar
- 1-1/2 tablespoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1-1/3 cups vegetable oil
- 1-1/2 cups buttermilk
- 3 large eggs
- 1-1/2 cups freshly brewed hot coffee
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 9-inch round baking pans. Line the bottoms of the pan with parchment paper.
- Place all of the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cocoa) in the bowl of an electric mixer. Either with a whisk or with the paddle attachment, gently mix together the dry ingredients until combined.
- Add the oil and buttermilk and mix on medium speed until combined. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, with the mixer on low. Scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition.
- Add the coffee and vanilla extract and mix on low speed until smooth. The batter will be very liquidy so be careful not to splash yourself!
- Divide the batter between the two pans and bake in the oven until the cake springs back when lightly touched. The recipe indicates that this should take 30 to 35 minutes, however, in my oven it took closer to 45 minutes!
- Once done, remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool in the pans for 15 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and let cool completely on a wire rack.
For the Chocolate Espresso Buttercream:
- 2 cups half-and-half cream (10% to 12% milk fat)
- 1 egg yolk
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder (I use the Medaglia D’Oro brand)
- 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup of finely grated chocolate (I used Lindt 70% Dark Chocolate)
- In a saucepan, mix together the half-and-half cream, the egg yolk, the cornstarch and the espresso powder. Once mixed, turn the heat on medium-high.
- Stir the mixture constantly until it comes to a boil and is very thick (this should take about 5 minutes; you will know that it is ready when you can see the bottom of the pan as you stir the mixture).
- Strain the mixture into a bowl; place plastic wrap directly on the surface (to prevent the formation of a skin) and refrigerate until cool (about 45 minutes).
- Place the butter in the bowl of a mixer and add the sugar. Mix on high speed with the paddle attachment for 10 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. The butter should be light, fluffy and almost white in colour.
- Add the salt and mix.
- With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the cooled half-and-half/espresso custard. Mix well.
- Add the vanilla extract and mix well.
- Remove the bowl from the mixer and gently fold in the grated chocolate.
To assemble the cake:
- If the tops of the chocolate buttermilk cake are not even, use a knife to thinly slice off the uneven bits from the top of the cake.
- Set one cake half, bottom-side down on a cake plate or platter.
- Spoon about 1/3 of the Chocolate Espresso Buttercream on top of the cake half and spread to within an inch of the cake border.
- Place the the second half of the cake on the first half, top-side down. Gently press the top of the cake to ensure that it is even and that the two halves stay firmly together.
- With the remaining 2/3 Chocolate Espresso Buttercream, frost the entire cake. You can either frost just the top or the entire cake. If you frost the entire cake, you will have just enough frosting.
- If you have any chocolate left over, use a vegetable peeler to shave the chocolate and garnish the cake with the chocolate shavings.
Note: This cake serves 12 to 14 people.