Attempting the Perfect Birthday Cake

I’ve always had an interest in baking, attempting little projects from time to time – though usually beginning with a box of Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines – but, as with many things, I neglected this interest, never allowing it to fully flourish. I suppose that this was due to me telling myself “I won’t be able to make that” or “mine’s not going to look anywhere near that good”, but these days are history! I will banish these thoughts, and as mentioned in my previous post, I will conquer – or at least attempt to conquer – what interests me.

How this mission started…

In preparation for my boyfriend’s birthday, I decided that I wanted to have a go at making and decorating a cake for him…from scratch.  To begin, I asked Google to “show me the best, easy birthday cake recipes” and was, can I say, overwhelmed by the number of options. One website alone yielded over 1,500 recipes! I immediately realized I needed to pare down my options and settle on a specific kind of cake. Upon sneakily consulting the birthday boy, I became determined to make the best German Chocolate Cake ever with one stipulation.

During high school, I worked at a Baskin Robbins where I practiced and rather enjoyed decorating cakes. My experience there allowed me to recognize just what the difference good frosting makes. You see, quality buttercream frosting is almost a necessity when decorating a cake; the store-bought jars simply won’t cut it due to their oily consistency. Being determined to go the extra mile, and decorate his birthday cake, I looked for German Chocolate cake recipes with buttercream frosting. Upon consulting dozens of recipes, I realized none of them had everything I was looking for. So, instead of settling upon one, I decided to take pieces from multiple recipes to make the perfect cake and initiate the potential to perfect my own recipe.

How I made the perfect birthday cake:

To begin, I made a detailed shopping list of everything I needed for the three components: the cake, the filling, and the frosting. I highly recommend you do the same before any baking adventure, because there is no motivation killer like forgetting a key ingredient and having to run back to the store.

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Pictured: everything I needed to buy for this cake!

Step 1: The Cake

Since the cake needs time to bake, I figured I’d begin here. You can follow this link to check out the Cake Recipe I was inspired by.

  • Cake shopping list:
    • 2 bars (4oz. pkgs) of Baker’s German’s Sweet choc.
    • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • ¼ teaspoon salt
    • 1 cup butter → *softened but not melted
    • 2 cups granulated sugar
    • 4 large eggs (separated) → *you’ll need both the egg yolks and egg whites
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 cup buttermilk → *I substituted with white wine vinegar and whole milk
    • 2 – 9″ cake pans

Let’s get started!

  • Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat it to 350°F
  • Grease the bottom of both 9″ pans, line with parchment paper, and grease the top of the parchment paper as well – we don’t want these cakes to stick!
  • In a medium bowl combine the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, & salt. Set aside.DSCN0829
  • On the stove, bring about 1 1/2 cups of water to a low boil. In a small metal bowl, add both bars of Baker’s German’s chocolate and place on top of water (make sure water is not touching the bowl) and stir until melted.
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Pictured: sous chef aka boyfriend

  •  In a large mixing bowl, combine butter & sugar, and beat until incorporated and creamy – you’ll want an electric mixer for this.
  • Add egg yolks one at a time continuing to beat mixture.
  • Add melted chocolate and vanilla – it started looking yummy at this point!
  • Now, gradually start incorporating flour mixture, alternating between it and the buttermilk to ensure the mixture stays moist enough to mix thoroughly. At this point I beginning to fantasize about having a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer one day…but power through, you can do it!DSCN0833
  • *Don’t forget this next step* because I almost did. Place the four egg whites in a medium-sized bowl, and begin beating them like crazy. I had no idea that this is how you make meringue, and was blown away as the egg whites started solidifying and growing! Continue mixing at high-speed until stiff peaks are able to form (and if you’re like me and don’t know what this means, see if the top of the mixture will form tips without falling back down.DSCN0831
  • Gently fold the meringue into the cake batter, and then separate the batter evenly into both 9″ baking pans.
  • Place cakes into oven and bake for 30-35  minutes.DSCN0834
  • To test the cakes, have a toothpick ready…but we’ll worry about that later!

Step 2: The Frosting

Never having made frosting from scratch before, I was a little anxious about completing this step, and wanted to get it out of the way. From my experience at Baskin Robbins, I knew the consistency I was looking for, not too firm, but definitely not too runny! To insure I had an idea of what I was doing, I made sure I did extensive research on buttercream recipes, and across the board found that the key to perfect frosting is to make sure the butter is room temp and NOT melted! You can find the recipe I used here!

  • Vanilla Buttercream Frosting shopping list:
    • 1 Cup unsalted Kerrygold butter
    • 3-4 cups powdered sugar
    • ¼ tbsp. salt
    • Up to 4 tbsp. whole milk or heavy cream → I used heavy cream!

The steps:

  • Use an electric mixer on medium speed to beat the butter. Do this for a few minutes or until broken down but not melty.
  • SIFT the powdered sugar into a separate bowl – this is to make sure the frosting isn’t clumpy.
  • Begin by slowly incorporating the powdered sugar with the electric mixer on the lowest setting so you don’t make too much of a mess!
    • You’ll want to start with only 3 cups and add more to thicken the frosting up id necessary.
  • Once the sugar and butter are incorporated, add the vanilla, salt, & 2 tbsp. of heavy cream, and increase the mixer speed. Beat the frosting for about 3 minutes, or until an even consistency.
    • If it is too thick, add a little more cream. If it is too thin, add a little more powdered sugar.
  • Mine turned out pretty damn good to begin with so I didn’t need to add any more of anything. I will admit I was pretty amazed by how easy this was, and will never buy store-bought frosting again!

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    So bomb!!!

  • You’ll need this later so set it aside and onto the last component!

*By this time, the cakes were done baking so I pulled them out, ran a knife around the edges to prevent sticking and set them aside on a cooling rack*

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Step 3: The Filling

For the third and final piece, the filling!!! This is the most important part of the German Chocolate cake as it has the goodies: the pecans and coconut! For this piece, I drew inspiration from another recipe found here.

  • Filling shopping list:
    • ¾ cup heavy cream
    • ½ cup granulated sugar
    • 2 large egg yolks
    • 1 ¼ cups unsweetened coconut flakes → * I used sweetened and it worked fine!
    • ¾ cup pecans
    • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter (cut into pieces) → * I would use less butter next time
    • ¼ teaspoon fine salt

How I did it:

  • Start by chopping up the pecans to a desired size. I wanted a crunchy component to this cake so I chopped to about a medium consistency.DSCN0837
  • Then, add the pecans to a saute pan over medium heat, turning them over to make sure they are evenly toasted. Be sure to remove before they burn.
  • Repeat for the coconut, toasting evenly. Set both aside in a medium bowl.
  • Next, in medium saucepan, combine heavy cream, sugar, & egg yolks over medium heat. Stir the mixture constantly until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon.
  • Allow to cool for about 2 minutes, and them pour this mixture into the medium bowl with the pecans and coconut. Add the remaining ingredients: butter and salt, and stir until the butter is melted and all components are evenly distributed.
  • Let the mixture cool to room temp before adding to cake.

Step 4: Putting it all Together!

Cake, check! Frosting, check! Filling, check! Time to assemble and move on to the fun part: decorating!

*Note: some of these steps were done intermittently*

  • Carefully remove one cake from the baking tin and place on your desired serving stand or – if you’re a young college student like me – a good ole’ plate.
  • Add about 3/4 of the filling to the top of this piece and spread evenly.
  • Remove the second cake and place directly on top of the filling. To promote their attachment, I went around the cake pinching the seam between the cake pieces.
  • Lightly coat the sides and top of the cake with the buttercream frosting using a baking spatula or other frosting tool – believe me having the proper tools comes in handy. This is a base frosting so it doesn’t need to be thick or pretty!
  • Place the cake in the fridge for about 20 minutes!

By this point of the night – I started around 8 p.m. so by now it was nearly 11:00 – I was getting a bit tired and my photographer/sous chef/boyfriend had passed out before getting to ring in his birthday at midnight. But I was determined to get this project done!

  • After the cake is cooled down and the base frosting has hardened, you are ready to decorate!
  • To begin, I assembled and set aside a frosting bag fit with a #5 writing tip, and a second with a star boarder tip, leaving enough frosting to coat the cake.
  • Frosting a cake can be a bit of a challenge – I found my skills a little rusty – but don’t worry too much about perfection, and just do your best to cover the cake!
  • After coating the cake, add the remaining 1/3rd of the filling right on top of the frosting.
  • Finally, decorate as you please! I added a bottom border, small star puffs on the top outside edge, and, of course, wrote a Happy Birthday message.

 

So I did it! Almost midnight and the cake was finally done. Part of me wanted to shove my face into the damn thing for as much time and energy went into making the masterpiece, but alas, I stuck it back into the fridge to be enjoyed as the greatest birthday cake ever!

From my experience, I revitalized my interest in baking, mostly from seeing how simple the most complicated procedures are. It is my goal to continue this hobby and build my own repertoire of recipes, because according to the birthday boy “this is the best f***ing cake I’ve ever had”!

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