Thursday, February 14, 2019

Perfect Party

I am a most fortunate woman! My loving and lovely daughter just planned and pulled off a magnificent birthday party for me at a local restaurant with 21 guests, a delicious lunch with choices of entree and side dish and salad, a champagne toast, coffee service and a beautiful themed decor. She did have help from Sweetie, of course, and a little help from me with ironing the linens (labeled cotton but clearly poly!), but most of it was her doing. A surprise guest, NoHandle, was the best part of all, especially because he is doing well after some major health issues.

My part in the event, other than compiling a guest list and showing up ready to party, was to create a two tiered birthday cake. Truly, I did try to find one that I could purchase, but most places don't do fully dairy-free cakes that taste good and the one I did find wanted $100. It helps that I love baking and took it as a challenge to create a major-event worthy cake with no dairy.

First I baked a 'practice' 9" cake because I had combined a few recipes to make the chocolate cake and I wanted to make sure that it would work. The cake needed to be firm enough that I could put two layers on top but still moist and delicious. For the filling I wanted to use raspberry jam and vanilla 'buttercream' because I love chocolate and raspberry together and the vanilla 'buttercream' would be a nice contrast to the intense chocolate. I use the marks around 'buttercream' because no actual butter was used. Instead I used a non-dairy margarine.

For the frosting I used a ganache that was nothing more than high-quality semi-sweet chocolate and Silk brand soy creamer. The key thing with ganache is to make it many hours ahead of using it because you want it to cool. Once it's cool it is spreadable and doesn't run off the cake. Too warm and it just blobs or runs, as I found out the hard way.

The practice cake was a big hit, probably because I split both 9" layers and so there were three ribbons of jam and vanilla 'buttercream' instead of one. The later, larger cake would have been better that way, too, but cutting and moving thin layers of split 12' diameter cake was more than I could manage. Remember, I've never made a 12" cake before, much less a tiered cake!

I baked all the cake layers the day before the party. Then I tried to make the 'buttercream'. It failed. It never was anything more solid than soup. Discouraging. Then I made the ganache so that it could cool overnight.

The next morning I tried again with the 'buttercream' and this time it worked! Everything went together really well, but by the time I had finished frosting the top tier, I was out of buttercream and ganache. I tried making a small batch of ganache to see if I could use it for decorating the area where the two tiers join, but it never thickened up enough. I added confectioners sugar and it seemed to be O.K., but when I piped some on, it started to run. We had some gorgeous magenta roses, still closed in buds, to use as cake toppers, so I used them to hide the blobby ganache instead. It looked like I had meant to do that...really made the cake look spectacular!

At the top is the photo of the decorated table, with the finished cake as the centerpiece. It did taste great and there was plenty left over to give to our local firemen, neighbors and family after the party.

Although it was a bit stressful here and there, I'm glad I made the cake and now know that I can create a tiered cake that is delicious, pretty, and dairy-free so that I can eat it. Give this a try yourself if you want a challenge and a great cake at the end of it!

Thank you Sweetie and Kate! Well done.

Special Chocolate Party Cake - Non-Dairy
my recipe
14 servings (For 42 servings [or more] if you make this amount as two 9" cakes and then make the recipe twice to fill a 12" diameter cake pan twice, then tier it. Will go into making it tiered this way at the end.)

Please use a kitchen scale for the chocolate and cocoa powder
1 oz. unsweetened or semisweet chocolate, chopped finely
1/4 teaspoon espresso powder
2.2 oz. unsweetened (alkalized) cocoa powder - I used Hershey's
1 cup boiling water
1 cup cake flour
1 1/4 cup bleached all-purpose flour (bleached gives more stability to the structure if making tiered cake, but you can use unbleached if only making the 9" cake)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 oz - 1/4 cup - soy milk or almond milk yogurt
2 large egg
2 egg yolks from large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) butter at room temperature (70 degrees F)

Prepare two 9" x 2" cake pans: grease the bottom and sides with shortening, then line bottom with parchment paper and grease the bottom again. Set aside.

In a medium bowl whisk the chocolate, espresso and cocoa powder. Add the boiling water and whisk until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and cool to room temperature. (About 1 hour.)

When chocolate mixture is cool, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, yolks, yogurt and vanilla until just combined. Set aside.

In a stand mixer bowl use a flat beater to cake flour, bleached all-purpose flour, sugars, salt, baking powder and baking soda of low speed 30 seconds.

Add the butter, cut into roughly one-tablespoon pieces. Mix on low until dry ingredients are crumbly.

Add egg mixture and beat on medium speed for 1 1/2 minutes until light and well incorporated. Scrape the bowl and beater.

On low speed gradually add the cool chocolate mixture. Scrape any left in chocolate bowl into batter. Mix a few seconds, then scrape bowl and beater well. Beat at medium speed for 30 seconds. Batter will be slightly fluffy.

Divide batter between the pans. Smooth the top. Pans will be about half full.

Bake in preheated oven for 25 - 30 minutes. Toothpick inserted in center will come out clean.

Cool 10 minutes in the pans on a wire rack, then run a thin knife around the sides of the pans and turn each cake out and cool on wire racks sprayed with cooking spray (which will help cakes release from the wire racks). In general, cool with bottoms up. Remove parchment paper if it sticks to the bottoms. Once cool, trim tops, if necessary, using a serrated knife longer than the width of the cake. Layered cakes do best if the top and bottom both are flat. If you used cake strips on the outsides of the pans you may already have tops that are flat enough.

If only making a 9" layer cake, split each layer in half using that serrated knife. Place the first layer over a dab of icing/ganache/buttercream that you have put on the cake plate or cake cardboard. This little dab hold it in place. Use a fork to stir appropriate jam to break it up. Apply thin layer of raspberry, strawberry, or apricot jam, if desired, then a layer of buttercream. (I piped mine, then spread it together using a small offset spatula.) Place cut side down of next layer and repeat jam and buttercream. Place bottom of next layer, more jam and buttercream, then cut side down of final layer. Frost sides and top with buttercream or ganache. Decorate as desired. Chill at least an hour before serving. If chilled longer than an hour, let sit at room temperature for at least an hour before serving.

For a two tiered cake, make the 9" layers as described above. If you like, skip the splitting of the cakes, just doing the jam and buttercream between the two 9" cakes, then frosting them with buttercream or ganache. Then prepare a 12" pan with the shortening, parchment paper and shortening over the bottom as described for the 9" pan. Set aside. Have another parchment circle ready for the final layer.

Make a full batch of the batter used for the 9" cake. That is just the right amount for one 12" layer. If at all possible, use cake strips around the outside of the 12" helps the outer part from becoming dry and helps the top be mostly level. Bake for 45-55 minutes in 350 degree F preheated oven. Use same test for doneness as above.

While the first 12" pan is baking, prepare the batter for the second 12" layer, but wait to mix the egg mixture and chocolate mixture into the dry ingredients until you remove the first 12" layer from the oven. Once the cake has cooled 20 minutes, carefully remove it from the pan to a wire rack coated with cooking spray and remove the used parchment paper from the bottom.

Clean the 12" pan, dry, and prepare it as you did the first time. Now continue with the batter, adding the egg mixture, scraping, adding the chocolate mixture, scraping, and incorporating the scraped portions for the final batter. Place in 12" pan, (make sure cake strips are moist and attached) and smooth top. Bake for 45-55 minutes and treat baked second layer as you did the first layer.

Place the bottom of one 12" layer on a dab of frosting or ganache on a cake cardboard. Apply jam and buttercream (recipe below) to the top (trimming to make the top of the layer flat first if necessary) then put on the second layer, top side down (again trimming first if top isn't flat). Frost with buttercream or ganache (ganache recipe below - if using buttercream, you will need to make more than one batch of the recipe below).

Use the 9" cake pan to use a toothpick to draw a thin circle in the frosting or ganache where the outside edges of the 9" layer will be placed on top of the 12" layer.

Get 9 plastic straws. Push one down in the middle of that circle and mark where the top of the cake is on the straw. Remove the straw and trim it to that mark, then use that as a template to mark the other 8 straws. Replace the center straw, then space the other eight roughly equally far apart around the drawn circle, but in about an inch. This will be the way the top layer is stabilized.

With your hand under the edges of the cake cardboard holding the 9" layer, carefully place the layer and cardboard on the 12" cake where the circle is drawn. Use extra buttercream or ganache to pipe stars all around where the cardboard meets the lower layer (or use any other decorative piping you choose as long as it covers any cardboard showing.

Decorate cake as desired.

Cake can sit at cool room temperature up to 24 hours. Once it is cut, refrigerate any leftovers.

Vanilla Swiss Buttercream
4 lg. egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm (I used the same amount of non-dairy margarine)
1 tsp. vanilla

Place the egg whites in a large bowl of a electric mixer and beat with the whisk attachment until the whites are foamy and they begin to thicken (just before the soft peak stage). Set the bowl over a saucepan filled with about 2 inches of simmering water, making sure the bowl is not touching the water. Then, whisk in the sugar by adding 1-2 tablespoon of sugar at a time over a minutes time. Continue beating 2-3 minutes or until the whites are warm (about 120 degrees) and the sugar is dissolved. The mixture should look thick and like whipped marshmallows.
Remove from pan and with either the paddle or whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and sugar on med-high until its a thick, cool meringue – about 5-7 minutes. *Do not overbeat*. Set aside.

Place the butter in a separate clean mixing bowl and, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter at medium speed for 40-60 seconds, or until smooth and creamy. *Do not overbeat or the butter will become toooooo soft.*

On med-low speed, blend the meringue into the butter, about 1-2 Tbsp. at a time, over 1 minute. Add the liqueur and vanilla and mix for 30-45 seconds longer, until thick and creamy.

Refrigerate 10-15 minutes before using.

Wait! My buttercream won’t come together!  Reheat the buttercream briefly over simmering water for about 5 seconds, stirring with a wooden spoon. Be careful and do not overbeat. The mixture will look broken with some liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Return the bowl to the mixer and whip on medium speed just until the cream comes back together.

Wait! My buttercream is too soft! Chill the buttercream in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes and rewhip. If that doesn’t work, cream an additional 2-4 Tbsp. of butter in a small bowl– making sure the butter is not as soft as the original amount, so make sure is cool and smooth. On low speed, quickly add the creamed butter to the buttercream, 1 Tbsp. at a time.

Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or can be frozen for up to 6 months. If freezing, store in 2 16-oz. plastic containers and thaw in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for several hours.


8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped fine (which you can do easily in a food processor, breaking into chunks before putting the chocolate into the processor)
8 oz. (1 cup) soy creamer (not soy milk - the creamer is thicker) plus 1 tablespoon

Put the chopped chocolate in a heat-proof bowl. Heat the soy creamer in a small pot until almost to a boil...there will be tiny bubbles just at the sides of the pot. Remove from the heat and pour over the chopped chocolate. Let sit one minute. Stir gently with a silicone spatula until smooth. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly over the chocolate mixture and then let sit until cool, about 4-5 hours. If necessary, use the spatula to stir the ganache a bit just before using it to frost the cakes. 

You will need a double recipe of this to do the two tiered cake. Do each recipe by itself and then let cool. Use one recipe for the bottom, one for the top and decorations.

Special thanks to Rose Levy Bernanbaum, author of Rose's Heavenly Cakes and the Cake Bible which were both helpful in this enterprise, and to Dorie Greenspan, author of Baking:from my home to yours which was also helpful.

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