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!

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

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

My Favorite Peach Custard Pie

This is how it goes every summer: the first juicy peach I see, I eat, the second one goes into a pie; this peach pie–

a custardy pie with very few ingredients and no spices; just peaches, eggs, flour, sugar, and sour cream.

The first peach pie I made was in 1983 after reading Nora Ephron’s debut novel, Heartburn. In the book, Ephron described perfecting a peach pie recipe with a friend while on vacation. I got that. I spent our last family vacation at the beach perfecting no-knead artisan bread. Half the joy was having ten people at the ready to test samples with smiles on their faces and spoonfuls of homemade Roasted Rosemary and Strawberry Jam dripping off their buttered toast. Ephron’s recipe was good, but her directions were sparse. They were more like the directions of a seasoned cook, as she was — quickly scrawled notes on bits of scrap paper.

To get consistently good results, I needed to better determine when the custard would be set and learn an effective technique for preparing partially baked crusts. For pie crust help, I turned to First Prize Pies, by Allison Kave. I love her book. Thanks to her instructions, I went from making crusts with shrunken, collapsed sides to beautiful partially baked pie shells that still crested the rim of the pie plate.

 

My old way of filling a crust with a few ceramic beads, as seen in the photo on the left, didn’t cut it. I switched to Allison Kave’s way of lining the dough with foil that is gently pushed into the corners of the bottom layer of dough, filling the foil with two pounds of dried beans right up to the crimped edges, and covering the edges with foil to keep them from browning.

 

Her technique provided the side-structure needed for a good-looking crust. Baking a single-crust pie shell no longer intimidates me.

Neither does knowing when a custard filling is set. With fruit pie, you add flour, tapioca or cornstarch to filling to thicken it. Once cooked though, it takes longer than you would imagine, about three hours, for the filling to cool and set. When baking a custard filling with fruit, it can be even iffier because the center of the pie, although crusted over, will still be slightly wobbly when it is time to be pulled from the oven. That goes against one’s cooking instincts for determining when a dessert is sufficiently baked. You can’t depend on the time-honored knife test with this recipe. I did some research and learned you could use a digital thermometer to help determine doneness. As long as the center temperature is 180, the pie should finish cooking with its residual heat and set within a few hours as it cools. It takes 45” to cook this pie in my oven.

Another thing about pie crusts, although I know how to make them, I still buy Trader Joe’s uncooked, rolled crust from their freezer section for convenience. The trick to unfurling their prepared crust without it falling apart is to let the dough defrost completely on the counter for ninety minutes. If you want to learn how to make a beautiful pie crust from scratch, go to  King Arthur Flour’s website. They have excellent instructional videos.

Ingredients:

A single 9-inch pie crust that is partially baked
3 cups (6-9 peaches) ripe, peeled peaches, at room temp
5 large egg yolks
1 to 1¼ cups granulated sugar (less if peaches are super-ripe, more if not so sweet)
3 tablespoons all-purpose, unbleached flour
½ cup sour cream

Mise en Place:

Partially bake the pie crust:
Preheat oven to 425º.
Grease the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate.

Lay the single crust inside the pie plate. Crimp the edges. Poke fork holes in the bottom to help decrease shrinkage.

Place a layer of aluminum foil over the crust, gently pushing it into the bottom edges and around the upper crimped edges. Fill with two pounds of dried beans as shown in the photos above. The beans need to fill the shell completely to keep the sides from collapsing.

Place the pie plate on the middle rack of a preheated oven. Bake for 10 minutes and then turn crust 180º and bake for another five minutes. I recommend setting a timer. Remove crust and place on a wire rack to cool for 1-2 minutes before gently removing foil and beans.

Prep the filling while the crust cooks:
Peel the peaches and slice. You do not want to use hard peaches — they lack flavor. If they don’t taste good enough to eat, they won’t taste good in a pie. If you use drippy-ripe peaches, let them drain a little in a colander while you make the custard. If you use frozen or canned peaches, drain them.

In a medium-sized bowl, beat the egg yolks with a whisk. Add sugar and flour and stir. Add sour cream and whisk until batter appears smooth.

Put it all together:
Decrease oven temperature to 350º.

Lay the peaches in the bottom of the crust.

Pour filling over it. Cover the crimped edges with an edge protector, or foil, to keep them from browning any further.

Bake the pie for 45-50” on the middle rack of 350º oven. When done, the filling should be golden on top, the outer 3 inches of the pie should be firmly set, and the center should almost firm. Read notes above on testing for doneness.

Now, let’s just say you have a tableful of hungry guests who have finished dinner, have been smelling the pie cooking, and are waiting for dessert. In that case, I would cook the pie 15″ longer and serve it warm. I did this a few days ago.

Other Pie Recipes on the Blog:
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
Mom’s Apple Pie (with a cheddar streusel topping)
Mrs. Walker’s Cranberry Nut Pie
Mom’s Pumpkin Pie
Very Berry Clafoutis
Quiche Lorraine with Bacon and Kale
Stocking Stuffers: Tools for the Cooking Life

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

Old-Timey Vanilla Bunny Cake

My mother made this bunny-shaped cake for us in the Sixties. I made it for my kids in the Nineties. Now, twenty-five years later, I am happily making it for my grandson. I love the architecture involved in creating the bunny shape out of two round cake pans as much as I love the simplicity in the flavor of a vanilla cake.

Cake Ingredients

2¼ cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1½ cups sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into half-inch slices, at room temperature
4 large eggs
½ cup milk (whole or 2%)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350º.
Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans.

Place the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl and mix on slow speed until well blended.

Add the slices of butter and blend on medium speed until the mixture resembles pea-sized crumbles.

In another bowl, mix together the eggs, milk, and vanilla with a fork until well blended.

Pour the wet ingredients into the butter and flour mixture and beat on slow speed for one minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Beat the batter on medium speed for one minute until smooth and fluffy.

Pour batter into prepared cake pans. Bake for about 25 minutes on the middle oven rack. When done, the cakes should be golden in color and a knife poked into the center should come out clean.

Remove cake pans from the oven. Let cool on a wire rack for ten minutes. To easily release the cakes from their pans, use a knife to loosen the edges and then flip the pans onto a rack. The cakes must be completely cooled before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients
DSC_0124

1  8-ounce bar cream cheese, softened
½ cup  (1 stick) butter, softened
1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3¾ cups (1 pound box) confectioners’ sugar
2-3 tablespoons whole milk

Instructions
Beat butter and cream cheese together in a large bowl on medium-high speed until smooth and creamy. Add powdered sugar and start beating on slow speed until the sugar is incorporated into the mixture to keep powdered sugar from spraying all over the room. Beat frosting until smooth and creamy.

frosting Red velvet cake

Add vanilla and beat for 15 seconds more. Add milk as needed to help fluff up the frosting.

frosting Red velvet cake
To Assemble Bunny Cake
Cut one of the cake layers as shown.
Arrange cakes as shown below. Place parchment paper strips under the cake’s edges. Ice the cake and then remove the strips. Decorate with M&M’s.
My husband got into decorating the cake. I had to pull him off the job when he talked about applying eyebrows.

Meanwhile, a few miles away at my Goddaughter Leigh’s house, my dear friend Becky was busy making an Easter Bunny Cake for her three-week-old granddaughter. She sent me a photo.

The Barton/Meadors family made this beautiful bunny.

My friend Janet Davies sent a photo of her coconut-covered bunny cake. Here is her method of icing the cake: Cut each cake layer in half horizontally. Poke holes in the layers with a toothpick. Pour a mixture of 12 ounces frozen coconut, 1 pound powdered sugar, and 1 cup sour cream over the layers and allow to soak in.  Add flakey coconut to the top. The sour cream gives it a tangy touch.  Sometimes she takes off the crusty of the cake to make sure the runny icing gets inside the cake.

Here’s another cute one sent to me by mom’s cousin, Jean Maroney. Her daughter-in-law, Alena, made it.

If you are celebrating Easter, Happy Easter!

Related Posts for Easter Day

Fun to do with Children:
To Dye For: Making Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs
How to Tell If an Egg Is Fresh or Hard-Boiled
Test Your Sense of Smell with Jellybeans

Brunch:
50 Ways to Make a Frittata
Quiche Lorraine with Bacon and Kale
Mom’s Monkey Bread, circa 1970
The Biscuit King

Desserts:
Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies
Italian Sesame Seed Cookies

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Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

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