I got into the culinary industry for one reason, and one reason only. I love to eat. Mostly chocolate cake. Okay, I’ll eat anything I’m not allergic to, but the fact my first job in the biz was at a bakery was very much on purpose.
Through quick glances from the service counter of SusieCakes, I observed the professional way of crafting a layer cake for ultimate eating enjoyment. And along my own path I’ve picked up a few more tricks of the cake trade. So here they are, in very particular order, and a sour cream chocolate cake recipe for your gastronomical pleasure.
Chill the layers.
After you bake the cake, of course. It makes the cakes easy to slice horizontally in half for multiple layers. For a super sleek cake, trim the domes off the top.
Cake boards are your best friends
You can buy all different size cake boards for cheap at Michael’s, online, or any restaurant supply store. I first place the cake on a board the exact same size, then put the finished masterpiece on a cake plate or a board slightly larger if it needs to travel.
The removable bottom from a tart or springform pan works great, too (above left). Dollop frosting on the first board to keep the cake from sliding. If you don’t want to deal with cake boards, you can place a couple pieces of parchment or even foil on the cake plate first, that you can pull away when decorating concludes.
Simple syrups add sophisticated flavor
When building your cake, brush or spoon on simple syrup to each layer before spreading your frosting. Bring 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water just to a boil, then cool. You can add flavor by steeping the warm syrup with citrus zest or mint leaves for 10 to 15 minutes, or adding a splash of extract (or the hard stuff if you want to get a little crazy). Homemade syrups are also a great way to enjoy soda healthfully, while you’re at it.
The beauty of the crumb coat
When first frosting your cake, apply a thin layer of buttercream and chill the cake until the frosting is hard. Keep the buttercream you use for this step separate from the rest (keeps the crumbs out). Once the crumb coat has hardened, spreading on loads of buttercream will be as easy as pie.
Now decorate that chocolate cake!
Okay, this really isn’t an essential step, and comes without saying. But unless you’ve set out to bake and decorate a fancy wedding cake with marzipan roses and complicated designs, all you need to add a little pizazz is a small spoon, an off-set spatula and some sprinkles. No fancy tips on time commitment required.
Easy cake decorating ideas
Load the top of the cake with frosting, and use a circular swooping motion with the tip of a teaspoon to create waves and peaks. Alternate clockwise and counter-clockwise motions in concentric circles. This one is easy to do over and over again until you are happy with the results. Keep the back of the spoon clean or things could get dicey!
Simple lines + peaks
Even easier than waves is making peaks around the rim of your cake. Run the tip of a small offset spatula knife from the bottom of the side of the cake to the top, and repeat until you’ve covered the whole round. It leaves little peaks at the top, which I find pretty cute.
To get sprinkles, cocoa nibs or cookie crumbs around the sides like I did for this chocolate cake, you must first have your cake on a board so you can pick it up. Then supporting the cake in one hand, use the other to lightly press sprinkles into the frosting around the bottom of the cake. I do this over parchment paper or even the sink to minimize mess.
Dots, dots, dots, dots, dots…
Soooo easy. But you do need a pastry bag or plastic baggie for this one. Once the cake is entirely frosted, place it on your cake stand or plate (or larger board), and pipe little dots as close as possible to where the bottom of the cake meets the plate. Holding the pastry bag at a 45° angle helps immensely to keep dots even and aligned.
Stars, stars, stars
If you happen to have fancy tips on hand… the same applies… and it’s all very quick.
When all else fails and you want a showstopper chocolate cake in a flash… grab some cookies or sprinkles and go nuts. Just beware of little fingers up to no good.
This chocolate cake is light in texture and rich and creamy on the palate! The head scratcher here for you may be the boiling water. It’s purpose is to dissolve and enhance the flavor of the cocoa powder. Fresh brewed coffee works, too!
This batter is one that should be beaten on low speed, medium speed at the maximum. The method of begins with the dry ingredients, too intense beating will overwork the proteins in the flour and chocolate.
- 1½ cup all-purpose flour (6.5 oz)
- ¾ cup cocoa powder (3 oz)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup + 1 tbsp granulated sugar (5.5 oz)
- 1 cup just boiled water or hot coffee
- 4 oz unsalted butter (1 stick), room temperature
- 2/3 cup sour cream (3.5 oz)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 eggs
Sour Cream Buttercream
- 1 lb unsalted butter, room temperature (four sticks)
- 3–4 cups confectioner’s sugar (around 12 oz)
- 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp sour cream
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease two cake pans, and lightly flour the bottoms.
- Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Combine with sugar in mixing bowl.
- With mixer on low, mix dry ingredients until well combined, then add butter and beat until mixture appears sandy, a minute or two.
- Add sour cream, scraping down bowl frequently throughout mixing.
- Continuing on low speed, slowly drizzle in just boiled water, then raise speed to smooth out batter.
- Beat in vanilla, then eggs one at a time. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl often.
- Bake until the tops of the cakes spring back when touched lightly, between 25 and 30 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove cakes from pans and cool completely. Wrap in plastic and freeze until ready to decorate. Let the chill come off for about a half hour before slicing and decorating.
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Sit, stay, drool with Copper
A tribute to a sweet (and stubborn!) soul, my dog “bro” Copper. Dude got caught red-pawed licking up spilled frosting. God rest his beautiful soul, shame was not part of his game.