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