September 13, 2011

Hooray for First Grade!

Last week marked the start of first grade for the little guy!  That means a new school - we are officially part of the elementary school system - and a full-day schedule.  Trying to push aside the laundry list of worries (like: how will he adjust to a new teacher, new school, all the new faces; will he make friends; how will he possibly eat his lunch in 20 minutes; boy, he is going to be so tired by the end of the school day; and on and on), I wanted to celebrate this milestone.
Being a worrywart by nature, I need to constantly remind myself that worrying doesn't forestall problems from happening.  So setting aside some of my concerns, I'm looking forward to the adventure and hoping our little guy (he's our only child, can you tell?) has a great school year, makes some good friends, and feels comfortable in his environment so he can learn and get as much out of it as possible.  Kindergarten was a wonderful experience.  Not only was it amazing to see the academic growth (he learned to read for crying out loud!), it was great to see him make new friends and gain more independence.  I hope first grade will be a continuation of that.  Here's to a great year ahead! 
This cake should traditionally have 3 layers.  I simplified matters here with 2 but more on that later...
To celebrate the start of this school year, I made a Brooklyn Blackout Cake.  This is another cake I'm making for the first time and a recipe I'm trying from the book, Chocolate Cakes, which I received for my birthday.  This cake is right up our little guy's alley; like me, he is all about chocolate.  Namely, we are talking chocolate cake, with chocolate pudding filling and fudge frosting.  Let me repeat:  chocolate pudding filling and fudge frosting.  I love just the sound of those two things and have been wanting to make this cake for some time.  Making this cake turned out to be quite a bit of work but it was all worth it since the little one really loved it.

I'm also representin' Brooklyn here today - the city that I really think of as my hometown.  When we lived in Bay Ridge after I got married, I was so excited when a cute, retro-looking bakery opened near our apartment.  Along with a slew of cupcakes, they used to have this huge Brooklyn Blackout cake under one of their glass cake stands on the counter.  It was the first time I'd ever heard of or tried this cake.  One slice was a towering thing, big enough for two.  My husband and I loved it and would grab a slice every so often.  This cake is definitely a throwback (created by the now defunct Ebinger Baking Co. during WWII); I can't think of any other bakery that carries it so I thought it would be worthwhile to try making one of my own.  But let me be upfront; this cake is serious business.  It is no diet food.  It's best to enjoy in moderation and share with others. 
I was really happy to get the book, Chocolate Cakes, recently.  I really wanted to make this Brooklyn Blackout Cake, which is in fact featured on the cover.  I hesitated a bit when I read the recipe, did the math, and added up 4 sticks of butter in the total recipe.  Gulp!  While I may have grown a sweet tooth in recent years, I generally do not like to make anything quite that decadent.  But I rationalized that we'd be sharing and it's not like I'll be making this cake often so I threw my reservations away and proceeded.

If you plan to make this cake, reading the recipe thoroughly and doing a bit of advance planning is a must.  I made this cake in one day because that's just how life and my schedule worked out but it's a good idea to start on the filling the night before and do the rest the next day since the pudding filling needs to set for at least 5 hours anyway. 

I took the usual photos while making this cake but I can't help but think everything looks the same.  It's just a sea of black, dark, rich chocolate!

The chocolate pudding filling:
This is a chocolate-pudding filling made with a mixture of cornstarch, cocoa powder and chocolate.  Start by mixing hot water with some cocoa powder, sugar, and 3 oz. of semisweet chocolate.  I also add a touch of espresso powder to each of the chocolate components of this cake; for the filling, I used a scant 1/8 teaspoon.  Heat this over medium heat until the chocolate melts.
Add a mixture of cornstarch and water, along with a pinch of salt, to the melted chocolate mixture.  Cook this until it comes to a boil and continue to cook another minute until it thickens.  Stir constantly; as it thickens and boils, it tends to scorch. 
Off the heat, half a stick of butter and vanilla extract are added and mixed until the butter is melted. 
The pudding is done and should be covered with plastic wrap directly on the surface (to prevent skin from forming).  Chill in the fridge at least 5 hours or overnight until firm.

The cake:
The cake batter gets baked in two 9-inch round pans.  Each baked layer is supposed to be sliced into two.  Three would be used as layers while the last is crumbled up and used to decorate the outside of the cake.  I ended up simplifying my life by making just 2 layers.  This decision was pretty much made for me when my cakes came out of the oven, sinking a bit in the center (I'm sure there are many reasons why it might have happened but I'm honestly not sure what it was).  I just did not think 3 layers would be possible and so I trimmed them into 2 relatively even and neat layers and used the extra as crumbs.  I think it worked out well and I would do this again. 

So to start, sift the dry ingredients (cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt) together into a bowl.  Then, melt 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, cocoa powder, milk, and 1/4 teaspoon of espresso powder in a bowl over a pan of just simmering water. 
Two sticks of butter and 2 cups of sugar get beaten in the stand mixer for about 2 minutes until light and fluffy.  A total of 4 eggs are added, 2 at a time, until well mixed.  Add vanilla extract and beat for another minute until smooth. 
The chocolate mixture can go into the batter, followed by the flour mixture.  There's quite a bit of mixing with the stand mixer here and I don't know if I overmixed and that's why the cakes came out sinking in the middle.  Divide the batter into 2 greased cake pans. 
Baked at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, the cakes are ready.  You can see in this shot below that my cake sagged in the center.  There were no problems with the taste but whether due to overmixing or some other misstep, the center dipped. 

Fudge frosting:
While the cake cools, work on the frosting.  Take 12 oz. of chopped semisweet chocolate, 1/4 teaspoon of espresso powder, and 1 1/2 sticks of butter (I warned you there would be a lot of butter involved) and heat in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Stir the chocolate and butter together until everything is melted and smooth before setting aside to cool just a bit. 
After a few minutes, add 1/2 cup of lukewarm water (you can use the water in the pan you used to melt the chocolate) to the chocolate and butter mixture and whisk gently.  It's much like making a ganache frosting.  After the water has been whisked in, add corn syrup and vanilla.  Let it cool at room temperature for about half an hour.  If it does not thicken enough to be spread on to the cake by that time, refrigerate for about 15-20 minutes, checking the consistency from time to time.  That's what I did.

Putting the cake together:
When everything is ready to assemble, I start by trimming the cake layers.  In my case, I am trimming the sides off the cake layers to get 2 relatively even layers. 
Extra crumbs go into a bowl.  Crumble them and set aside to be applied on top and around the cake.
Then as you can see from the pictures, I plopped all the chilled pudding onto the bottom layer before adding the top layer.
To frost the outside of the cake, first apply a thin coat of frosting all over.  This makes things neater and creates less problems with crumbs coming off the cake when you fully frost it.  Refrigerate the cake with the thin coat of frosting for about 15 minutes and then slather on the rest.
I found I had more frosting than it appeared I needed.  I hated to waste it and you shouldn't either.  Pile it on.  This turned out to be my favorite part of the cake so I'm glad I wasn't shy about it.
Once the frosting has been applied, take the cake crumbs and sprinkle it over the top and press gently on to the sides.  I used about half of the crumbs I had.  The recipe says to use all the crumbs you have but I think that would be too much; apply just as much as you like.  If I were to do it again, I would've used a bit less crumbs on the top.  I thought my cake looked a little "hairy"!
Store the cake in the refrigerator.  While the recipe says to let the cake stand at room temperature for 45 minutes before serving, I preferred it much more on the cold side.  I think it's best to let it sit for just 10-15 minutes before eating.  That way, the fudge frosting is still hard and fudgy while the pudding stays nice and cold. 
This Brooklyn Blackout Cake was a whole lot of chocolate-goodness.  It's serious business and definitely for the true chocolate lover.  It's not overly sweet as you might fear.  I think I might be tempted to use a bit less sugar in the pudding filling but the cake and frosting were just right. 


Brooklyn Blackout Cake
From Chocolate Cakes, by Elinor Klivans

I am really happy I found the recipe for this cake fully reprinted: here

The recipe is quite involved since there are 3 components that need to be combined:  the cake layers, the pudding filling, and the fudge frosting.  Here are some things I learned, some adjustments and changes I made, when I made this cake:

* Plan ahead.  Make the chocolate pudding filling the night before and let it chill and set in the refrigerator.

* As usual, I added a little espresso powder to bring out the chocolate flavor some more.  I used just 1/8 teaspoon in the filling, and 1/4 teaspoon each in the cake and frosting.  You could experiment with how much you'd like to use.  If you have coffee around, you could also try using lukewarm coffee instead of water in the frosting.

* If your cake layers sink in the middle like mine did, change the game plan and just trim the sides and make a 2-layer cake.  Traditionally, Brooklyn Blackout Cake has 3 layers but it is tricky and obviously more work to do that.  Even if my cakes don't sink the next time around, I will most likely stick with 2 layers.

* I recommend you serve this cake while it's still cold.  Instead of letting it sit at room temperature for 45 minutes like the recipe suggests, I'd go with just 10-15 minutes.  This way, the frosting stays firm and fudge-like while the pudding is nice and cold.  I don't know about you but I don't like room-temperature chocolate pudding. 

* You don't have to use all the crumbs you have to decorate the cake.  Just use as much or as little as you prefer. 

* This makes a lot of cake.  You can get at least 12 slices out of it so plan on sharing.  Luckily, it stores quite well in the fridge for several days.  Just cover the cut edges with plastic wrap and cover the entire cake with a doom, if you have one, or with more plastic wrap. 


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