Ruffled Birthday Cake

I just turned 31. This somehow seems more profound than 30 and makes me feel like I’m getting old! But I know 31 is not really old at all and where this notion came from I’m not really sure. I was enthusiastic about turning 30 because 30 seems more respectable, especially if your client happens to ask your age. I don’t know that I’d fully trust a 28 or 29 year old to design my house (but many people did thankfully). So now that I’m 31 I decided it was time to make my own birthday cake. Gasp! But why? Well, I really love making cake and experimenting with new recipes which I don’t often do when I make cakes for other people. I also think I can beat out most bakeries in the cake department (or at least tie them) and there is no need to spend $45 on a cake for myself! Lots of people make their own cakes… especially other baker bloggers I know. So I made myself an experimental chocolate cake with a frosting technique I’ve been wanting to try for a really long time!

cake 1

Chocolate cake is hard to get right. There is an intricate balance of moist vs fluffy with just the right amount of sweetness. I’ve been attempting different chocolate cake recipes for a long time now and think this one is the winner so far. I used an intensely dark cocoa powder given to me as a gift for 2/3 of the cocoa in the recipe and it turned out amazingly dark and delicious. I also learned after 12 years with Michael that he feesl “ho hum” about chocolate cake and would actually rather eat a brownie. It’s amazing what you learn after being together for this long, especially with the amount of baked goods that come out of my kitchen. It also makes sense because I don’t think he has ever requested a chocolate cake for his birthday!

I pinned a few cakes a while ago as inspiration to try a ruffle. I would suggest using a Swiss buttercream instead of an American buttercream just because they are less sweet and a bit more shiny. Both pipe well and set up firm in the refrigerator. If you are frosting a cake that needs to be outdoors in a hot environment for a long time, maybe try a shortening based buttercream, though I think these don’t taste as good. The frosting turned out beautifully. Unfortunately there is just so much of it we ended up scraping off the ends and not eating it because it was too sweet.

So, be adventurous and try new things. No one will complain and you just might end up with a delicious and gorgeous cake in the end. Oh, and don’t be shy about baking something you want for yourself! Do however accept an invitation for someone else to bake a dessert for you on your actual birthday. We had a lovely dinner at Longman and Eagle in Logan Square for my birthday dinner and the dessert was fabulous.

cake 2

Chocolate Cake

1 ¾ C flour
1 ½ C sugar
¾ C unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 C buttermilk (or sub soy milk for dairy intolerance – see below)
½ C canola oil
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 C hot coffee

  • Preheat oven to 350˚F (or 325˚F for convection oven), grease two 9” pans, line with parchment, and set aside.
  • Sift dry ingredients together.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk eggs with buttermilk, oil and vanilla.
  • Whisk in the dry ingredients until the batter is just moistened.
  • Add the hot coffee and stir with a spatula until smooth.
  • Divide between two cake pans.
  • Bake for 25 – 30 minutes. Cakes are ready when they spring back lightly when pressed. (Convection oven cakes may be done sooner so check at 25 minutes).
  • Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
  • Refrigerate for 2 hours before frosting or freeze overnight wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.
  • To make a dairy free cake, you’ll need to substitute the buttermilk. Add 1T white vinegar to a 1 C measuring cup. Then fill the rest of the way with plain soy milk. Whisk or stir with a fork to combine. For the best consistency, refrigerate for 3 hours before using.

How to make Frosting Ruffles using your favorite buttercream

  • You’ll need about 8-10 cups of frosting for one double layer 9” cake
  • Frost the cake with a crumb coat and refrigerate for 20 minutes
  • Fill piping bag fitted with a #104 Petal Decorating tip. (I’ve seen these for $1.00 at JoAnn Fabric Stores).
  • Use a parchment cake pan liner (I buy mine in bulk packs) or cut a parchment to fit the size of cake you baked. Then fold the circle in half and keep folding in half until you have the desired slice size. Unfold the parchment and set it on top of the hardened crumb coat. Use a knife or dough cutter and mark the folds vertically in the frosting around the whole cake. Remove the parchment from the top, or mark the top as well if you decide to ruffle the top of the cake. For the top ruffle, stick a toothpick through the center point and remove the parchment. Then line your pastry cutter or knife with the center point and vertical line along the edge and press gently into the top of the cake frosting.
  • With your pastry bag held vertically and the large end of the decorating tip close to the cake, start piping at one side of a vertical mark and continue the width of one “slice” of cake. Fold the frosting back and forth until you reach the top and then add one to two extra folds. Continue until you have finished the entire circumference of the cake.
  • Following within the lines will make your ruffles perfectly vertical. (There are some you-tube videos of people using this frosting technique and it looks all willy nilly and slanted.)
  • You can continue the folds across the top of the cake to the center point if you marked the top, or you can frost the top using concentric circles as I did. It’s easiest to do this with a turntable, but if you don’t have one (I don’t!) then just spin the cake stand in one hand and keep the piping bag in the other. Always keep the large end of the piping tip next to the cake.

ruffle tutorial


Alfajores need You!

A friend and previous client of mine is an amazing baker with the sweetest personality. She makes the best Alfajores I’ve ever had locally in Oakland, California. If you’ve never had one I suggest you try one soon. Andrea has mastered her Argentinean grandmother’s recipe and has been selling her cookies to local coffee shops and other retail establishments (like Whole Foods!) for the past year and a half. Recently, her company has grown and the demand is so high she needs a chocolate enrober for her Oakland bakery. Currently, she makes all her cookies by hand and coats each Alfajor in chocolate by hand. The chocolate process is quite messy and they loose a lot of good quality chocolate in the process. The chocolate enrober ensures each cookie is coated perfectly and captures the excess to reuse. She created a Kickstarter Campaign and at almost every level of donation, you get Alfajores in return. They are definitely worth the donations. Hand-Made and fabulous, you’ll probably be addicted to these sandwich cookies at first bite. Trust me, you really want Andrea to succeed in this campaign! And I must mention that you can get some of these beauties gluten free!

Here is a little snippet from her Kickstarter site.

What are Alfajores???

Alfajores (pronounced “Al-fah-HOR-es”) are scrumptious traditional Argentinean pastries made of two shortbread-like cookies joined with dulce de leche. Alfajores are a daily treat in South America and introducing this unique flavor to my new home is very exciting!

Buenos Aires Alfajores is a dream come true. We simply love making alfajores. A spoon full of dulce de leche combined with two cookies makes us jump for joy!

Our alfajores are handmade in small batches with lots of love in a commercial kitchen in Oakland, California ~ home. We are committed to using only all-natural, high quality ingredients with no artificial flavors or preservatives: Guittard dark chocolate, Clover cage-free eggs and butter without rBST…We are proud to be part of Oakland’s local food movement and are committed to supporting local vendors.

How you can help us…

Our business is growing and we need to keep up with demand.  Alfajores are very labor intensive. We now hand-coat each alfajor. You should see the chocolate on our faces after a few hours of dipping alfajores in chocolate and using a reverse vacuum to blow off the excess! We end up wasting lots of chocolate  – a tragedy.

We can’t wait to share our wonderful, high quality, home grown, delicious alfajores with the whole world.  However, we can’t meet demand with our current manual processes and we can’t buy the fancy equipment from profits when our production is so low!  We need your help!!!

If’ you’re feeling generous this Holiday Season, I hope you consider donating to Andrea’s Kickstarter Campaign. There are only 16 days left and they are only 27% funded. Check it out and be sure to watch the video. You’ll get to know a little more about Andrea, what Alfajores are, and how you can help make her dreams come true!

Ps. My favorite are the chocolate covered Alfajores. I’m pretty sure that I’ll be ordering mostly chocolate in the three boxes I get if she succeeds! If you’re lucky I’ll share with you, but don’t count on it… go out and get your own!

July: National Ice Cream Month: Chocolate Hazelnut Chip Ice Cream

I never realized there was a whole month dedicated to ice cream until last year, and it was too late. Raegan declared July as National Ice Cream Month, the third Saturday National Ice Cream Day, and encouraged people to celebrate “with appropriate ceremonies and activities”. I really can’t believe I didn’t know. I was almost one year old when this declaration was made in 1984, so I’ve had a lot of time to find out. Anyways, to make up those lost years, I thought I’d try and make as much ice cream as possible during the month of July. My Kitchen Aid is going to get her workout (and I’ll be working out extra too with all this ice cream in the house).

First up is Chocolate Hazelnut Stracciatella (Chip) Ice Cream

Michael picked this for his birthday. We were in Texas/Belize on his birthday so I didn’t make him a cake. Instead when we got back he asked if I’d make some ice cream instead. And then we celebrated our anniversary, studied for ARE exams, bought some hazelnuts (so expensive), and finally got around to making it about one month after his birthday. Strike One. Sorry love! Lebovits calls this one Gianduja. I call it Chocolate Hazelnut with chocolate chips. Michael calls is Gelato alla Nocciolo. Really everyone should just stop trying to pronounce all of these words and eat some. It’s good and thick and creamy. I asked Michael why he picked this one. He said he couldn’t request chocolate chocolate chip again and needed to change things up a bit so adding nuts was key. I love this guy.

I tend to split ice cream making into a two day process. One day for custard making; one day for churning and freezing. It takes about 9 hours (including chilling and freezing) to make ice cream. I made this custard on a Sunday night and unfortunately Michael was daydreaming about eating ice cream all day Monday, only to find out I hadn’t churned it yet. Strike two. So We churned it Monday night and taste tested the bowl. It was yummy.

In honor of Ice Cream Month, I’m going to try and make as many ice creams as possible. Wish me luck. I’m also going to try and not gain 30lbs this month, so please come over and eat some Ice Cream. I’m sure there will be a hearty supply in the freezer.

Chocolate Hazelnut Stracciatella (Chip) Ice Cream
adapted slightly from The Perfect Scoop, David Lebovitz

  • 1 C 2% milk
  • 1/2 C + 2T sugar
  • 2 C heavy cream
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 C hazelnuts, toasted and ground
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 4 oz milk chocolate, melted
  • 3 oz dark chocolate, melted

Melt 4 oz of milk chocolate in a large bowl and set aside with a fine mesh strainer on top. In a medium saucepan, heat the milk, one cup of cream and sugar until hot to the touch. Add hazelnuts and cover. Let the milk steep for one hour. In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks. Strain the hazelnuts from the milk and put the saucepan and infused milk mix on medium heat. Once heated, temper the eggs by pouring the hot milk in a tiny steady stream into the eggs while whisking constantly. Do this slowly or you will cook and curdle the eggs. Pour the eggy milk back into the saucepan and cook on medium heat until the custard coats the back of a spoon (your finger will make a clear line to separate the cream on the spoon). Pour this through the strainer into the melted chocolate and stir in an ice bath until cool. Cover and chill for four hours minimim. Churn according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.

To make the chocolate chips: heat the remaining 3oz dark chocolate until melted. When your ice cream is almost finished churning, pour the chocolate slowly into the side of the ice cream maker in a thin ribbon. The dasher will break this up into little pieces = chocolate chips. You can also do what I had to since my ice cream froze quickly… Layer the ice cream into a bowl alternating with the chocolate. Stir each layer to break up the chocolate.