Chocolate Layer Cake with Espresso Buttercream

It happened.  I think I found a chocolate cake recipe I like as much as my go-to Guinness chocolate cupcake recipe.  They are both wonderful but this cake recipe that I am about to share with you from Add A Pinch is SO moist and rich but not dense – perfect for cakes.  It’s sweeter than the version with Guinness in it, but still not overly sweet.  I don’t think this cake recipe would hold up well in a cupcake since it is so fluffy and moist, but perhaps I’ll try one day!

Chocolate Layer Cake with Espresso Buttercream
Chocolate Layer Cake with Espresso Buttercream

I had a family potluck with my mom’s side of the family and volunteered to make the dessert my contribution.  We had 17 people to feed and most of them had sweet tooths.  For big parties, I always try to make two small/medium desserts if time allows – usually one with chocolate and one with fruit – to satiate everyone’s preferences.  In addition to a batch of “Pink Lemonade” (Raspberry Lemon Bars), I made this chocolate layer cake with espresso buttercream.

Family Potluck Game is STRONG
Family Potluck Game is STRONG

The cake was a hit – there were no leftovers to bring home!

Here’s the recipe as adapted from Add A Pinch, along with some tips on assembling your layer cake.

INGREDIENTS

Cake:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 C unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t espresso powder
  • 1 C milk
  • 1/2 C  vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 t vanilla extract
  • 1 C boiling water
  • Double the ingredients for this Espresso Buttercream recipe (I used about 1.5x the recipe and it was just enough)

Prep Tip: If you decide to dry-prep (combining all of the dry ingredients the night before to make production easier day-of) the cake, do so without the espresso powder. The first time I made this cake, the espresso powder clumped to itself and then didn’t disintegrate well in the cake batter.

INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Prepare two 9-inch cake pans by spraying with baking spray or buttering and lightly flouring. NOTE: I highly recommend using parchment circles, or making cake circles out of parchment paper.  Put a cake circle at the bottom of the pan after you put baking spray. It’ll help the cake release from the pan after baking.
  2. Add flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and espresso powder to a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk through to combine or, using your paddle attachment, stir through flour mixture until combined well.
  3. Add milk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla to flour mixture and mix together on medium speed until well combined. Reduce speed and carefully add boiling water to the cake batter. Beat on high speed for about 1 minute to add air to the batter. NOTE: If you don’t have a splash guard for your stand mixer, put a wet towel (or damp paper towel cut almost completely in half) over the top of the bowl before you turn the mixer back to prevent batter being splashed all over your counter. The batter will seem a bit watery, and that’s totally okay.  I am not used that, but trust me – you’re not doing anything wrong!

    It'll Look More Watery Than You're Used To
    It’ll Look More Watery Than You’re Used To
  4. Distribute cake batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, remove from the pan and cool completely.  Peel your parchment cake circle off both layers.  I usually replace the parchment with a cardboard cake circle just for the bottom layer.
  6. Frost cake with double recipe of Espresso Buttercream.

Layer cake tips:

  • Level your cake layers: If you don’t have a cake leveler, use a bread/cake knife to carefully level out the dome out of your cake layer. It’ll make frosting so much easier and ensure your cake has a flat top.

    Leveling the Cake Layers
    Leveling the Cake Layers
  • Layering:  The tops of your cake layers should face each other inward. In other words, the bottom of one layer should have the cut side facing up, and your top layer should have its bottom facing up.  The flattest sides of both areas should be facing outward.  See below:

    Cake Tops Facing Each Other
    Cake Tops Facing Each Other
  • Crumb coat: This is the first thin layer of frosting you’ll spread around the cake.  This process will catch a lot of the loose crumbs from your cake and it’ll show. Once you get the first layer on, freeze the cake for 20-30 minutes.  The buttercream will harden and hold the crumbs tight. Then you can add a final and smoother layer of frosting without worrying about any unsightly crumbs showing.

    Crumb Coat - Freezer-Ready!
    Crumb Coat – Freezer-Ready!

Kevin is a choco-holic and really liked this cake, so I also made this cake for his family’s birthday celebration potluck with Vanilla Buttercream (to be shared in a later post) this past weekend!

Molten Mocha Cakes for Two

I finally just watched Chef, written and directed by Jon Favreau, which I was super excited to watch when I found out it would premiere and screen at South by Southwest last year.  I didn’t get a chance to watch it there, and then I somehow just forgot about it during it’s actual release a few months later.  For anyone that hasn’t seen it that loves Jon Favreau’s overall writing/directing/humor, chef Roy Choi, great editing, or just good ol’ fashioned food porn, do yourself a favor and see this movie as soon as you can.  For those that have seen it, yes, this post is about the “dreaded” molten lava cake.  You can find the trailer here, aaaand then I’m done shamelessly promoting. Sort of.  With this movie top of mind and Valentine’s Day being less than a month away, it’s the perfect time to share this recipe.

And yes, this post is from last year’s Valentine’s Day.  It’s always dangerous baking for two because most recipes will make at least 12-15 servings, and when you have the snacking discipline that we do, that doesn’t last very long for two people.  When thinking about a Valentine’s Day dessert, what is more stereotypical than a rich and chocolate-y lava cake?  Fortunately, Kevin loves chocolate too, and since I was charged with making V-Day dinner last year, trying out Martha Stewart’s Molten Mocha Cakes for Two recipe was a no brainer.  There is something so delicious about chocolate and coffee paired together, and these mini cakes were no exception.

This recipe is perfect for two people, or for a small dinner party.  If you double or triple the recipe, just add a couple minutes to the baking time.  Be sure to keep an eye on the cakes in the oven, and make sure not to overbake or you won’t get that amazing gooey center.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 TBSP unsalted butter, plus more for ramekins (I don’t have ramekins so I used two 6-oz glass Pyrex containers)
  • 1/3 C confectioners’ sugar, plus more for ramekins and serving
  • 2 oz semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tsp espresso powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 3 TBSP all-purpose flour

    Ingredients
    Ingredients

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter two 6-ounce ramekins, then dust with sugar. Place butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high in 20-second increments, stirring after each, until melted. Let cool slightly.

    Whisk the Espresso Powder
    Whisk the Espresso Powder
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together egg, egg yolk, sugar, espresso powder, and salt. Add chocolate mixture; whisk to combine. Add flour, and whisk just until combined (do not overmix). Pour batter into prepared ramekins. (Recipe can be made ahead up to this point.)

    Don't Over-Baked the Batter
    Don’t Over-Baked the Batter
  3. Bake until a toothpick inserted 1/2 inch from edge of ramekins comes out clean, and a toothpick inserted in center comes out wet, 10 to 12 minutes (Do not overbake – I can’t emphasize that enough!). Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack. Run a knife around inside of ramekins to loosen the cakes. Invert cakes onto serving plates. Dust with powdered sugar; serve immediately….preferably with ice cream!

    Molten Mocha Cakes a la Mode
    Molten Mocha Cakes a la Mode

I made a graduation dinner for one of my cousins a few months later and doubled the recipe to make 4 total (for three of us).  I didn’t have vanilla ice cream at the time, so I paired the cakes with some delicious matcha green tea ice cream that we had just bought.

Asian Version
Asian Version

Are molten lava cakes adventurous?  No.  But they were damned good.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Espresso Buttercream Frosting

I’m still terribly backlogged on posts, but thought I’d throw a more recent baking project into the mix. I’m going to be 30 this year and have really noticed my body’s growing inability to process sugar and junk food in the last year.  I’ve been forced to be more selective about what I consume now, both in quantity and quality. Maybe eating seven tacos at our annual Cinco de Mayo lunch at work isn’t the best approach to a healthy life, or finishing Kevin’s food and along with the extra food we were hoping to use as leftovers for lunch the next day won’t help my cause either even if it’s healthy food. My skinny jeans just aren’t as easy to put on or get off anymore, though I suppose they never were thanks to these God-given giant calves of mine. But there are certain homemade-type sweets – ice cream, ice cream sandwiches, anything with a good pie crust, or a good cake – just get me every time. One of those things is this chocolate cupcake recipe.

My contribution to Kevin‘s family’s Mother’s Day celebration was a chocolate cupcake with espresso buttercream frosting. The chocolate cupcake recipe is a reliable recipe that I first fell in love with when making my Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes for St. Patty’s a couple of years ago, and it’s still my favorite.  There is something about the Guinness and sour cream in it that just adds an extra special chocolatey decadence without making the cake feel overly rich and heavy.  Here is the recipe for this fantastic duo, as adapted from two different Brown Eyed Baker recipes (cupcake and frosting).

CUPCAKE INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 C Guinness stout
  • 1 C unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ C Dutch-process cocoa powder  (MUST be dutch-process!!!)
  • 2 C all-purpose flour
  • 2 C granulated sugar
  • 1½ tsp baking soda (use fresh baking soda less than 6 months old to get a good rise from your cupcakes)
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 C sour cream

CUPCAKE DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Bring the Guinness and butter to a simmer in a heavy, medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool. Original recipe says cool slightly, but definitely cool it down til you can touch the pot with your bare hand.
  2. Sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in a large bowl to combine. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sour cream on medium speed until combined.

    Always Sift Your Dry Ingredients Together
    Always Sift Your Dry Ingredients Together
  3. Add the Guinness-chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and beat just to combine. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture and beat briefly. Don’t overmix!!!  Using a rubber spatula, fold the batter until completely combined. Divide the batter among the cupcake liners.
  4. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 16-17 minutes. Cool the cupcakes on a rack.

FROSTING INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 C (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2½ C powdered sugar
  • 1½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1½ tsp espresso powder (use more if you want a stronger coffee flavor)

FROSTING DIRECTIONS:

  1. Mix the espresso powder into the vanilla until dissolved; set aside.
  2. Using the whisk attachment of a stand mixer, whip the butter on medium-high speed for 5 minutes, stopping once to scrape the sides of the bowl. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the powdered sugar a little at a time, waiting until it is mostly incorporated before adding more. Once all of the powdered sugar has been added, scrape the sides of the bowl and increase the speed to medium-high and whip until fluffy, about a minute or two.
  3. Add the espresso and vanilla mixture and continue to mix at medium-high until it is completely incorporated, scraping the sides as necessary.

    Espresso Swirl - Mix All the Way In
    Espresso Swirl – Mix All the Way In

It’s been a while since I’ve actually baked anything, so it was nice to get back into it. The frosting is a lighter buttercream and I think could be somewhat volatile in hot weather, hence some aggressive driving getting to the valley on a HOT Sunday afternoon.

Time to Frost
Time to Frost

It’s definitely not the thick Sprinkles style frosting. Just add more powdered sugar or subtract a little of the butter if you do like it that way.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Espresso Buttercream Frosting
Chocolate Cupcakes with Espresso Buttercream Frosting

I was definitely keeping tabs on Kevin’s family members to see if they were into the combo since Kevin told me last minute that no one really drinks coffee in his family, but it went over well and a couple people went back for seconds. RELIEVED.