Chocolate Valentine’s Day Cake

Valentine’s Day is coming and I have just the cake for the occasion.

For years this rich and intensely chocolate cake was known in our house as my niece Elizabeth’s birthday cake.

That’s back when I made it tall and skinny using three stacked 8-inch cake pans.

But this week, in the early hours of the morning, I had an idea to make a heart-shaped cake that looked and tasted like the best piece of candy you ever pulled out of a box of chocolates. I used a cake construction technique I learned when I was ten years old and happily occupied with making cookies and cakes for my brothers and their friends.

Back then, I used an 8-inch square and an 8-inch round pan to make the cake. This time, I needed a cake that would feed twenty for a dinner party, so I added a second layer on top. I used two round and two square pans.

As I look at this picture now, I think this cake would make a sweet Groom’s Cake.

The recipe comes from Barrington Brewery and Restaurant in Rhode Island and has appeared on numerous websites and in many cookbooks. The recipe makes a large, dense cake, but if you reduce the ingredients by a third, you could bring it down to a regular-sized, single-layered, heart-shaped cake.

The frosting is very special, too. It is a ganache frosting. Ganache is a rich chocolatey filling made of melted chocolate and heavy cream. Depending on the ratio of chocolate to cream used, the consistency of the end product will be either a dipping sauce, like for strawberries (1 part chocolate : 1½ parts cream), a creamy frosting (1 chocolate : 1 cream), or a solid confection, like for truffles (2 chocolate : 1 cream). You can read about ganache here.

To make my heart-shaped cake, I needed to increase the basic ganache recipe by half bringing the total weight of the cake to a whopping 8.5 pounds (after subtracting two pounds for the pizza paddle I used to transfer the cake).

Since the ganache is heated and needs to chill for an hour before spreading, we’ll make the frosting first.

Let’s Get Started!

Ingredients

Frosting (reduce by a third if making a standard three-layer cake)
3 cups heavy cream
1½ pound semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Cake:
2 cups stout (such as Guinness)
2 cups (4 sticks) butter
1½ cups unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cups all-purpose flour (spoon into the measuring cup and level the top with a knife)
4 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons salt
4 large eggs
1⅓ cups sour cream

Frosting Instructions 

Bring cream to a simmer (not a full boil) in a large heavy saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and let melt, uncovered, for three minutes without stirring.

Using a whisk, stir the ingredients together. Do not let any water (for example, thru covering the pot which could create drips of condensate) get in the ganache. It is an emulsion, as such, it could “seize” and turn the chocolate into a grainy liquid. Allow frosting to cool and firm up for an hour inside the refrigerator.

Cake Instructions

Preheat oven to 350º.

Prepare the four lined cake pans: You will need two 8-inch squares, two 8-inch rounds, and two large wire cooling racks.

Grease all four pans with butter. Line the bottoms with parchment paper. To do this, stack two sheets of parchment paper. Using a marker, trace the cake pan outlines onto paper. Cut out the images and place in the bottom of the corresponding cake pans. Butter the tops of the liners. Set aside.

Bring stout and butter to a simmer in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat. Add cocoa powder through a fine-mesh sieve and whisk until smooth. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In another large mixing bowl, add eggs and sour cream and beat until well-blended, about a minute.

You should now have three bowls of ingredients. It’s time to mix them together.

Add the chocolate mixture to the sour cream mixture in the mixing bowl. Beat briefly on slow speed for one minute. Scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.  Slowly add the flour mixture and beat briefly until just mixed. Remove beater and stir batter up from the bottom with a spatula and fold until completely combined. Divide equally between the four prepared pans.

Notice how thick and deluxe the batter is. The cake will be equally deluxe!

Bake for 35 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. You’ll notice the edges of the cake start to pull away from the sides of the pans when they are done. Be sure to do the knife check on each cake as the cakes in the back (where the oven is the hottest) tend to cook a little faster. Let cool for 10 minutes on wire racks and then invert the pans, remove paper liners, and allow cakes to finish cooling. They must be completely cooled before frosting.

Frosting the Cake

Place the square cake on a large sheet of parchment paper. Cut the round cake in half and place the halves on two sides of the square, as shown.

To make the heart-shaped cake have a fluffier frosting, pour the cooled frosting into a mixing bowl and beat for a few minutes. This is optional but does give the cake height.

Frosting such a large cake is easier if you have a cake turntable to place it on, but a rimless sheet pan will work. You can use the sides of the parchment paper to move the cake around.

I moved the cake to a turntable, trimmed the visible parchment paper off, and made the finishing touches to the frosting.

I used a pizza paddle to transfer the cake to my friend, Kate’s silver tray. Her husband picked rosemary for me and we added chocolate covered ginger pieces for final adornments.

My friend, Renée, made the same recipe and adorned hers in an equally beautiful way. She used a fine-mesh sieve to dust cocoa powder over the cake and added flowers to the top.

How about an Easter bunny cake? Old-Timey Vanilla Bunny Cake

Or a red velvet cake? Lily’s Red Velvet Cake

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

The best Valentine’s Day gift for a blogger is a FOLLOW. Please consider subscribing to Judy’s Chickens (it’s free!) and sharing my website with three good friends. xoJudy

Follow my stories about how to grow vegetables in your backyard, raise a small flock of chickens, or come up with healthy ideas for dinner ideas on Instagram and Pinterest at JudysChickens. 

© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Lemon Tree Very Pretty

Inspiration. You never know whence it will come.

Last January, my friend Colleen posted a photo of a bowl of bright Meyer lemons on Instagram with a story about a day spent making lemon shortbread and lemon zest ice cubes. The caption read the lemons were grown by our mutual friend and neighbor, Jennifer.

Jennifer has been growing citrus trees in middle Tennessee for five years. The trees summer in her backyard and are brought inside to her garage to winter-over. As soon as I saw the photo of the lemons I texted Jennifer to see if my husband and I could walk over to see her garage grove. All told she had fifteen plants: lots of lemons, a few limes, and one each of orange and tangerine.

The Meyer lemon trees were loaded with fruit. This photo was taken after the big harvest that sparked Colleen and Jennifer to spend the day making cookies for their neighbors.

Thus inspired, in late April, when local nurseries started stocking lemon trees, my husband bought two Meyer Lemons and two Mexican Key Limes.

The plants were only about ten inches tall.

Here they are on October 21 after he re-potted them for the second time. He said he fertilized them once in the fall with Miracle Grow plant food for acid-loving plants. Since we had a mild fall, he kept them outside until mid-November.

Here they are today in our unheated sun porch.

The bright, lemony, and, yes, happy fragrance of the flowers hits you when you first open the door. The smell is intoxicating.

The two lemon trees have about twenty dark green, unripe lemons and hundreds of buds; most are still closed. The lime trees are behind the lemon trees. They only have five small limes growing but have hundreds of tiny buds.

The question is, In the absence of bees or wind, how are these flowers going to get pollinated? I asked my husband, the keeper of the citrus trees, how this was getting accomplished. He said he periodically goes out to the porch and uses a Q-tip to hand pollinate the open flowers.

As a brief refresher, with flowers, the male reproductive part is called the stamen. It consists of a long, thin filament topped by a yellow pollen sack called an anther. The female reproductive part, the center tube, is called a pistil. On the tip of it is a sticky yellow stigma. In the photo, you can see the stigma is wet (it’s shiny). I wouldn’t be surprised if some flowers are being pollinated by gravity alone as the pollen grains drop from their anthers.

One Thing Led to Another

Henry David Thoreau wrote in The Succession of Forest Trees. “Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

On Christmas Eve I stopped by our friend’s house for a quick visit and was excited when 7th grader Simon and 8th grader Julius showed me a collection of sprouted seeds they had nurtured over the month. Why? Because it’s science and who doesn’t enjoy a front row seat to the wondrous moment in nature when a seedling pokes its head out of the dirt and its leaves begin to unfurl?!

Their labeled collection of sprouting seeds contained packages of seeds wrapped in wet paper towels and stored in clear plastic bags. To help the germination process along for the lemon seeds, the boys had split the hard seed shells open before placing them in the damp bags to sprout. They gave me a bag with four lemon seeds in it.

I kept the bag on the kitchen windowsill until January 6th when I planted the seeds in dirt. Here they are seven weeks after they were first placed in the bag to germinate.

Flying Dragon Bitter Orange Tree

It is worth mentioning there is a deciduous citrus plant that grows well in Nashville called a trifoliate orange tree, AKA a Flying Dragon Bitter Orange Tree. My Flying Dragon is three years old and has yet to set fruit. I’m hoping for fruit this summer. Per Wikipedia: “The fruits are very bitter, due in part to their poncirin content. Most people consider them inedible when fresh, but they can be made into marmalade. When dried and powdered, they can be used as a condiment.”

Germinating lemon seeds and pollinating lemon flowers have been fun winter pursuits while waiting for February 14th, the big day. Yup, that’s the time-honored date in our area to plant peas and thus begin the 2019 growing season! To learn more about starting a kitchen garden check out this page.

What to do with all those lemons?

Our favorite way to use a glut of lemons is to make Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies.

Another favorite is Lemony Grilled Chicken Breasts.

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Here is a lemony recipe I wrote for Mason Dixon KnittingSHEET PAN SUPPER: LEMON CHICKEN

This post shows you how to quickly peel citrus: How to Peel an Orange or Grapefruit Quickly.

And how about a nice citrus salad to tide us over while we wait for homegrown tomatoes? Grapefruit and Greens: A Refreshing Winter Salad 

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Always check this website for the most up to date version of a recipe.  

© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Cookie Scoops as a Unit of Measure

During December, I made a lot of cookies. In the course of all that cookie-making, I learned something new. A recipe I was following said to use a #40 scooper to portion out cookies. I had no idea scoopers were numbered.

I did a little research and learned the numbers are engraved on the underside of the metal tabs that protrude from the handle.

The numbers refer to how many level scoops of food product are needed to fill a one-quart container. A #20 scoop would give you 20 scoops of ice cream from a quart container. With the #40, it takes 40 scoops to fill a quart container. Posed another way, a cook in a commercial kitchen would know that a gallon container of cookie dough would yield 160 cookies if a #40 scoop were used.

In my kitchen, I have three cookie scoops. Here’s what I learned about them:

I found that when making my Aunt Rose’s Christmas cookies, I could make 78 cookies with the #30 or 105 with the #40. Bonus discovery: because they were uniform in size, they cooked evenly in the oven. Also, if I measured the portions out all at once, it took no time to grab a mound of dough from the tray and shape it into the pretty cookies our family likes to bake during the holidays.

I found I could use the #40 to portion out the sticky, crunchy filling for my grandmothers’ Sicilian fig cookies without having to stop and wash my fingers of the gooey mixture every few minutes. Once the fig mixture was portioned out, I shaped it into logs and then shaped the already portioned out cookie dough around the fig filling.

And why stop there? I used a heaping #30 scoop to make uniformly-sized Italian meatballs. I think a #20 would have been better for the job (it holds a little over three tablespoons of food), but I didn’t have one.

This photo of scoopers comes from the commercial kitchen of The Nashville Food Project where I am a volunteer cook.

There, we use the scoopers to portion out consistent amounts of food like breakfast egg muffins

and the ricotta filling used to make lasagna — when making trays of it to feed 600 people!

I was telling my husband about my cookie scoop discovery, and he explained that the gauge of a shotgun is measured similarly. The gauge represents the number of lead balls, of the diameter of the barrel, it takes to make a pound of lead. A 12-gauge shotgun takes 12 lead balls, and a 20-gauge gun takes 20. The smaller the diameter of the barrel, the higher the gauge of the shotgun. It’s an antiquated way of describing the size of a gun.

Once I started portioning out cookie dough onto sheet pans, it took no time to figure out I could freeze the dough while it was on the tray, place the dough balls in a freezer bag, and store them in the freezer …

until the next time we wanted a few warm cookies fresh out of the oven.

This method yields evenly-sized cookies, a bonus when making cookies for a bake sale or neighborhood gathering.

Related Posts
Italian Sesame Seed Cookies
Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies
Oats, Sorghum, Ginger and Cranberry Cookies
Home Ec: How to Measure Ingredients Properly

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Always check this website for the most up to date version of a recipe.  

© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

How to Fold A Tree-Shaped Napkin

Dear Readers,

Stop the presses! Here’s a last-minute idea for setting the table: tree-shaped napkins!

Start with the four open corners of a napkin facing downward.

Fold each corner upward leaving a space between each fold.

Turn the napkin over. Pull the right tip over to the left side and then pull the left tip over to the right side. Tuck the top point under the folds.

 

Turn the napkin over, again. Tuck each of the fold corners under as shown in the photos.

 

And there you go — a tree is formed.

And in a nutshell:

Need ideas for appetizers, meals, and desserts over the next week? Check out Holiday Inn: Feeding a Houseful

Wishing you a Merry Christmas!

Thanks to my son, Andrew, for helping his mother by taking last-minute photos.

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Always check this website for the most up to date version of a recipe.  

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.