fancy pants coconut rhubarb cake

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Miss Fats returned to birthday baking with a particularly exciting project: she needed to turn out an impressive cake monster for one her closest friends in Chicago and new roommate, N.  Last week, the city’s miserable heat finally hit with full force, but managed to cool down just in time for N to throw a casual Monday night backyard birthday bash in celebration of her 28th.  Now it must be noted that despite its improptu planning, N never half-asses or disappoints when it comes to entertaining.  She is essentially the greatest hostess Miss Fats has ever witnessed; and the last minute birthday picnic was no exception.  Not to mention she makes it look entirely effortless and elegant at the same time.  We’re talking anthropologie/barefoot contessa status here (don’t pretend like you don’t know what Miss Fats talking about.)  Therefore Miss Fats was faced with the task of creating a cake to fit right in with the deceptively simple.

Miss Fats had been mentally preparing for this one for a while: she had noted an off-hand comment made months ago when N admitted her favorite cake flavor: coconut.  She catalogued this fact for future birthday surprises (Miss Fats loves nothing more than a good surprise).  She knew the classic, four-layer giant fluffy coconut cake would be the perfect pastry object in celebration of N’s 28th.  Sure, a delightful cupcake would have been a perfectly pop-able backyard birthday treat, but Miss Fats felt N deserved something more excessive in the spirit of being born.  A four-layer cake was a no brainer: no matter the size of the crowd, N definitely deserved a giant pile of sweet pastry lit up with candles and properly escorted in with song-accompaniment.

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Now there was no way she was going to make just a coconut cake.  There had to be a proper pairing (Miss Fats tends to ascribe to a three-component cake).  She knows just how much N loves rhubarb, plus Miss Fats loved the idea of a splash of pink in the center of a white fluffy cake.  Since N, herself exudes the easy-peasy elegance, Miss Fats knew that the cake had to perfectly mix a rustic, clean and polished exterior, punctuated with a tangy, coconutty surprise on the inside.  She felt that a decadent coconut pastry cream and sharp rhubarb compote would express N’s personhood: sweet, yet perfectly punchy with a sour hit, and always indulgent.

The exterior and decoration had to be clean and simple. Miss Fats knew the classic flaked coconut cake decoration would provide the ideal base.  The fluffy white strips of coconut pressed into a coconut buttercream has all the freshness and whimsy of N herself.  Yet it needed just the smallest of touches to elevate it to make it a bit more special in celebration of N’s birthday.  Miss Fats went with some shimmery light pink pearl sprinkles she had on hand.  Pressed into the coconut and buttercream base, the pearls added a bit of fancy to an otherwise nostalgic and slightly vintage cake.

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So now Miss Fats will go ahead and share all the components of this bright and summery cake.  The coconut cake, buttercream, pastry cream and rhubarb filling are endlessly useful and can be transferred to almost any other baking endeavor.  Go ahead and throw that cream inside a cupcake and top with ganache for a Almond Joy taste good.  Or slather a shortcake with some rhubarb compote and a dollop of whip cream for breakfast/dessert heaven.  Miss Fats highly recommends you go crazy with any and all cake components.  Some of you will recognize these recipes from J’s insane mini cake just a couple of months ago.  Both the rhubarb filling and buttercream are the new additions that Miss Fats chose to switch out for time and temperature purposes (too damn hot for that excessive swiss buttercream business.)

Fancy Pants Coconut Rhubarb Layer Cake:
makes one, four-layer, nine-inch cake
pastry cream adapted from Willow Bird Baking’s Ultimate, Moist, Fluffy Coconut Cake
cake adapted from What’s for Dinner?’s Truly Awesome Coconut Cake 

cake:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups sugar
5 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp coconut extract
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk

coconut pastry cream:
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
good pinch of salt
1 1/2 egg yolks
1 tbs corn starch
1 tbs butter
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup flaked, sweetened coconut

coconut buttercream:
1 cup butter, softened
2 tsp coconut extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar
approximately 1 tbs milk, if needed

rhubarb compote:
3-4 stalks of rhubarb, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sugar (to taste)
1/2 cup water
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp of powdered ginger (optional)

2 cups of sweetened, flaked coconut
pink pearl sprinkles if desires

1. Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350. Grease 2 six-inch cake pans.  Beat butter and sugar on high in a large bowl or stand mixer until pale and fluffy (about 3 minutes).  Add eggs one at a time, beating until combined after each.  Add coconut extract.  On low-speed, alternate adding the dry ingredients and coconut milk.  Increase speed to medium high and beat until combined (5-10 seconds).  Pour into pans and bake for approximately 15-20 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before removing from pan.

2. Pastry cream: in a sauce pan, over medium, heat the coconut milk, sugar, salt, vanilla and coconut extracts.  In a small bowl, mix the corn starch and egg yolks until well combined.  Once the cream is hot, temper the yolks by carefully adding 1/4 cup of the milk to the bowl, whisking constantly.  Add the yolk mixture back to the sauce pan, whisking constantly. Continue to mix over medium high heat for 3 minutes (for the FULL 3 minutes!).  Add the butter and coconut flake and mix.  Pour into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap (make sure you press the plastic wrap onto the surface of the cream to prevent skin-formation).  Store in fridge until cake assembly or until fully cooled. When you’re ready to assemble, beat whipping cream until soft peaks form.  Fold into the chilled cream and set aside until assembly.

3. Rhubarb compote: In a saucepan, combine the rhubarb, water and sugar. Cook until the rhubarb completely breaks down.  Check sugar and add more to taste.  Mix in extract and ginger.  Allow to fully cool.  This can be done way ahead of time, stored in a jar and enjoyed as frequently as possible.

4. Coconut buttercream: beat butter on medium high until fluffy.  Sift in powdered sugar in batches to prevent making a huge mess.  Beat in extracts.  Beat in milk if the frosting is too thick.

5. Assembly: Begin by carefully cutting your cakes into 4 even layers.  Place first layer on your cake plate and spread on half of the compote.  Add second layer and spoon on all of the coconut pastry cream.  Leave approximately an inch of space around the edge to make sure it doesn’t ooze out the sides as you assemble.  Add the third layer and spread on remaining compote and top with the final layer of cake.  Spread on a thin layer of buttercream as a crumb coat. Don’t worry: this will look terrible.  Chill the cake for about 30 minutes or until the frosting is firm.  Spread remaining buttercream all over the cake.  Press the flaked coconut into the side and top.  Use your fingers to press pretty pink pairs into the frosting. (Miss Fats recommends doing this in front of the TV or with some sweet tunes in the background.)

IMG_4104Now that says celebration.  The crumbly cake is perfectly balanced with the ooey gooey-ness of the compote and pastry cream.  It is definitely a coconut explosion, but Miss Fats likes to think that it won’t overwhelm the reluctant cake eater.  Not to mention the brightness provided by the rhubarb makes this a delightfully seasonal pastry object perfect for a backyard BBQ.  Miss Fats cautions you: this cake is deceptively light (in terms of flavor and texture), and can easily be consumed in excess.  However: worse things have happened.  Miss Fats has already received outrageously overzealous complements on this cake, so she knows she’s done some decent work here.  She’s just beyond pleased that N enjoyed herself in the form of excessive cake consumption.  N now just needs to get ready for future roommate cakes to come.

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spiced chocolate and peanut butter dulce de leche cupcakes

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Okay. Miss Fats will admit this is a bit of a weird combination.  On paper.  However, in practice, these flavors (cinnamon, peanut butter and dulce de leche) come together in a the form of a moist cupcake filled with oozing peanut butter and topped with a rich caramel-y frosting.  This is a flavor punch.  One that shouldn’t really work, but like that ugly/pretty girl you keep staring at, becomes something you can resist paying attention to.  What is it about the sticky sweet weight of peanut butter and dulce de leche that makes you both hate and love yourself?  Miss Fats likes to think that even as the thick peanut butter filling coats your mouth hole, all you want to do is linger in cupcake weirdness because the sugar-salt-spice rush breaks your brain a little.

This combo has emerged as Miss Fats’ go-to cake to pair with tacos. It last made the appearance as a decadent layer cake for an epic taco birthday bash last fall.  However for this taco housewarming, she felt the cake should be able to be consumed with a drink in the other hand.  (Or even better: double fist those cupcakes.)  What emerged is a mixed baby of mexican flavors and salty peanut goodness.  This cupcake features a cinnamon and cayenne spiced chocolate cupcake stuffed with peanut butter filling and topped with a dulce de leche frosting: a whole delightful spectrum of brown.  The odd addition of peanut butter creates that salt-sweet balance with the candy-sweet dulce de leche, and the cake brings a little spicy to the mix: salt-sweet-heat.

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The taco menu was not the only reason Miss Fats decided on this bizarre cupcake.  The dessert was in celebration of an incredible housewarming hosted by the coolest couple she’s ever known, in the craziest apartment known to man.  Team Miss Fats likes to refer to their magical game nights with them as stepping into the “hottest club in Chicago.”  She’s talking craft cocktails, multi-course meals and a space that Miss Fats is convinced isn’t real.  They used to attend game nights in the most outrageous studio/loft apartment that featured floor to ceiling windows, an amazing collection of handmade art that literally scaled the entire space, beautiful hand-built furniture, and proper entertaining dishware (oh hey, salad plate and dessert fork).  This list completely fails to capture the experience of Club A & D, which is probably akin to drinking from Willy Wonka’s chocolate river in magical candy land.  Miss Fats wants to stress that this was their OLD apartment.  She’s completely out of words for their new space.  She’d like you to fantasize about this studio/game night and then cube it: then you’ve maybe approached an idea of the Club A & D experience.

So the real question was: how can Miss Fats make a dessert that lives up this party?  Well the answer is: she can’t.  Nor should she really try, because it’s doomed to failure.  Miss Fats can’t bake flying unicorns, after all.  She decided to move forward with an indulgent cupcake that embraced the kooky mix of flavors that were as rich and celebratory as the evening itself.  Naturally this started with a base of chocolate.  Normally, a taco party would seem to demand something on the coconut-flan-y spectrum; and Miss Fats seriously struggled with herself on this.  She was so close to attempting a tres leches cake, but just could not seem to get herself out of the chocolate mind set.  Sticking to her guns, she decided to go with her weird flavor bomb from last fall and add a little heat to the mix.  Miss Fats paid homage to the mexican flavors by adding cinnamon and cayenne to her usual chocolate cake batter, to create a secret mouth fiesta and cut through the decadence of the rich peanut butter and dulce de leche.

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This recipe follows Miss Fats’ method of a three-part stuffed cupcake, that is incredibly easy.  Three bowls, three components, and about an hour of your time (outside of cooling and bake time that is).  As usual, these little guys can be broken down into two days: cakes baked off day one, and all the other ooey-gooey stuff on day two.

Spiced Chocolate and Peanut Butter Dulce De Leche Cupcakes
makes approximately 18 cupcakes
cake adapted from The Kitchn’s Dark Chocolate Cake

cake:
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups cocoa powder
1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup oil
1 cup hot coffee

filling:
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup dulce de leche
1-2 tbs milk
1 tbs oil (optional depending upon your peanut butter)

frosting:
1 stick butter, softened
4 oz cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup dulce de leche (or essentially, the remaining can)
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt

1. Make the cakes: preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare cupcake tins.  In a large bowl, mix together sugar, cocoa powder, flour, baking soda and powder, salt, and spices.  Whisk in eggs, oil and butter milk.  Mix vigorously for approximately 2 minutes.  Pour in hot coffee and mix until fully combined.  Divide batter among cupcake trays. Bake for approximately 18-20 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Allow to fully cool.

2. Filling: In a small bowl, mix the peanut butter and dulce de leche.  Add approximately 1 tbs of milk and oil.  This will depend on the consistency of your peanut butter.  Natural peanut butters will likely require more oil for a smoother consistency.  You’re looking for a filling that approximates the gooey-ness of a freshly mixed jar of natural peanut butter.

3. Frosting: In a stand mixer (or using a hand-held one), beat the butter, cream cheese and dulce de leche on high until light and fluffy (approximately 2 minutes).  Add the salt and vanilla and mix until combined.  Sift in the powdered sugar and beat until combined.

4. Assembly: Using a small spoon, scoop out a hole in each cupcake.  Spoon in approximately 1 tbs of the filling.  Finally, spread the frosting over top, or swirl using a pastry bag (or gallon ziplock bag with the tip cut off).

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Now Miss Fats can’t claim that these cupcakes objectify her amazing friends, but she hopes they in the very least approach the endlessly creative, fun and surprising times at Club A & D.  The salt-sweet-heat of these little guys can only account for a fraction of the flavors of the club: they are full force-flavor kind of people.  Miss Fats can only dream of creating a mouth party of that scale.  For now, she’ll leave the remaining flavors to D, who turned it out with the crazy taco bar.  She just hopes they enjoyed these dessert delights as they danced and drank the night away.

the 4th. finally.

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Miss Fats is embarrassed by the delay of this post.  She’s finally getting around to giving you the run down on her 4th of July…3 weeks later.  Part of the reason is that she’s been at work baking much more exciting cakes for celebrations and she frankly failed to properly document the backyard BBQ shenanigans of Independence Day.  However, as Chicago finally cools down, she thought she’d share the delights of a little garden party to remind everyone that summer is actually awesome and not a miserable hot towel wrapped around your face threatening to suffocate you (at least not all the time).

Part of the delay on posts is due to the fact that Miss Fats is currently in the process of moving.  The worst.  This is hardly the most difficult move she’s ever experienced, but there’s something about the chaos and constant movement of schlepping that puts Miss Fats into the worst mood.  She apologizes to all her friends who have now seen the effects of this process.  However, despite the fatigue, sweat and strange box bruises all over her body, she could not be more excited about her new apartment.  She doesn’t like to brag (false: she loves bragging) but this place is out of control: backyard, porch, fireplace, and a DISHWASHER.  And these are only a list of amenities.  She should probably throw in the fact that the place is absolutely gorgeous.

Miss Fats can’t take credit for this place: she’s moving in with her lovely friend N, who has been kind enough to allow her to inhabit this incredible apartment and put up with her constant baking and moving watching.  She could not be more delighted to begin life with N and her partner M, in September, where there will likely always be a new craft cocktail and cookie every night.  Cue exit from reality.

IMG_3959M was in town for a short summer visit during the weekend of the 4th, so the three of them decided it was an excellent chance to their first party as future roommates.  It was all pretty impromptu: they had to pull it all together in about 48 hours.  But for team N, M & M? Not a problem.  (Clearly: see above)

They kept it simple with burgers, brats, and hot dogs to be thrown on the grill, and asked friends to bring additional drinks and sides.  Thanks to M’s amazing bartending skills, there were fruity Pimm’s Cups for all. (Not to mention she kept Miss Fat’s excellent  G & T full at all times!)  Their awesome friends filled in all the gaps between spicy margaritas, and a huge haul of cool beers.  For the most part, they all just hung out in the backyard, nomming and drinking (as it should be on the 4th).

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Miss Fats was, naturally, in charge of dessert.  And she has to admit that she had alterior motives for this party from the beginning.  She’s just going to come out and say it: she suggested this party because she wanted to make a big ‘ol cheesecake.  Not that Miss Fats couldn’t just make one for the hell of it, but the 4th of July seemed to be begging for a proper red, white and blue, creamy cold cake.  To her, nothing screams backyard BBQ more than a bright dessert topped with a heaping pile of fresh berries.  And ever since her recent cheesecake success, Miss Fats has been itching to get a little more practice in while berry season is ripe.

So all set with a venue, Miss Fats baked up a bright lemon and vanilla cheesecake base, topped with rhubarb sauce and fresh blueberries.  Happy Birthday, America.  She used the same lemon cheesecake recipe from Food 52, with the same alterations as her first attempt.  Unfortunately, it didn’t come out quite as beautiful as her first attempt.  (Anyone who’s baked a cheesecake knows that the pesky beast is always coming out slightly different.  Damn that temperamental cooling process.)  So as you can see, the cake’s edges pulled from the pan a bit too soon and didn’t create the most elegant of corners.  Oh well.  However, the cake itself was close to perfect: Miss Fats was shocked.  She couldn’t believe the final texture and flavor of this thing.  Typically, a cheesecake dips slightly in the middle and loses it’s heft a bit.  Not this one.  Somehow, the cake remained perfectly fluffy, slightly firm and beautifully creamy from crust to center.  This sat a-top a thin and crisp graham cracker crust with good hit of salt and was topped off with a creamy and tart layer of sour cream.  Cake miracle.  Look at that thing:

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Miss Fats kept the toppings simple and tart to cut through the creamy cake base.  She made a simple rhubarb sauce (since she’d obsessed), that required cooking down a couple of stalks in a bit of sugar and vanilla.  Miss Fats worked the fruit through a fine strainer to get that beautifully clear and smooth sauce.  Then she simply mounded fresh blueberries (they needed nothing: so plump and crazy sweet) on top and let the rough, messy edge all hang out.  Miss Fats doesn’t need fancy perfection: she’s much more concerned about what happens in when the cake gets in your mouth.

Initially, she planned to just move forward with the cheesecake, since guests would likely be stuffing themselves full of grilled meat objects.  But as she was checking out at the grocery store, she happened to notice a bag of super processed, red, white and blue star-shaped marshmallows that obviously needed to be purchased.  Then it dawned on Miss Fats that it was fucking July and she hadn’t gotten her s’more on at all this summer: not okay.  Upon this realization, Miss Fats threw in all the necessary s’more makings and anxiously awaited the oozing toasted marshmallow fest to come.  Double dessert.

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Don’t pretend like s’mores aren’t always a good idea.  Come on: look at that thing.  Even blue ooze is beautiful.

In the end, the party was a big success.  Mostly because it was so little work and filled with so many taste-goods.  Lets get real: Miss Fats couldn’t care less about America’s birthday, but she’ll take any excuse to make an excessive dessert, char meat, and wind up covered in sticky sugar and chocolate.  And this party hit all of the marks.  There were even bubbles.  (M & N are the best.)  Miss Fats wishes she could say more, but there are leftover s’more ingredients calling to her.  More BBQ’s to come.

peanut butter chocolate cake and fancy fails

IMG_3889This might be the best damn looking cake Miss Fats has ever made.  It’s also probably why it ended up being one of the most disappointing.  She’s  going to refer to this cake as a “fancy fail” from now on (notice it’s similarity to Fancy Feast).  Now this is being incredibly over dramatic and a bit self wallowing, but come on! Look at that thing.  It’s promising nothing but decadent flavor on par with its aesthetic level.  However this was not the case.  Spoiler alert: this is not a love story.

Ok Miss Fats will stop being a bummer to talk a little more about what’s going on with this beauty.  Since she’s fundamentally incapable of attending just about any event without a sweet treat in hand, Miss Fats’ recent invite to a belated wedding reception/joint birthday celebration was no exception.  This event boasted a wedding and two birthdays and therefore required her to impose a cake upon everyone.  Hell, Miss Fats wasn’t even really invited to this thing but you better damn well believe she was bringing a big ass cake in celebration.

IMG_3884She asked for her usual flavor request to help send her in a general direction; “chocolate?” was all she got.  Now this was the second chocolate cake of the week for Miss Fats (she had just gone to cacao town with D’s birthday cake earlier in the week).  Since Chicago weather had been crap, she didn’t even feel obligated to work with a cake that celebrated the sunshine and flavors of the summer (because let’s get real, summer literally just started in Chicago).  So shit was about to get real.  IE Miss Fats was going to lay down her favorite flavor combination of all time: peanut butter chocolate.

She knew there would be another cake at the party, so she felt less obligated to craft a cake that perfectly encompassed the couple (a task that Miss Fats’ has actually never even tried.  Though she can’t wait for a Frankenstein cake soon).  Instead, she was hoping to simply highlight the importance of celebration, decadence and excess.  This party was a fun and simple backyard affair, so the peanut butter seemed to be an appropriate way to dial back the ‘smance in favor of some childhood ooey gooey peanutty business.

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She knew that this type of celebration definitely required an actual cake: three celebrations can’t quite be encompassed in a little cupcake object.  However she’d been struggling with the humidity over the last week and was seriously worried about her super-moist chocolate cake recipe not holding up for this thing.  With D’s cake days before, the wet air wreaked havoc on the removing-cake-from-pan process and she thought it might be a good idea to go with a butter-based cake instead.  She’s a big fan of Bakers Royale and has a good deal of success with many of her recipe components, so when she found her Best Chocolate Cake Recipe it seemed like the natural choice.  It followed many of Miss Fats’ baking rules: minimal bowl action, no cake flour, and no butter creaming (these are not steadfast rules: just wonderfully attractive features that she often looks for).  It essentially resembled Miss Fats’ oil-based chocolate cake, but used melted butter instead.  She ended up using milk instead of the cassis because: a) Miss Fats really has no fucking idea what cassis is anyway and b) she’s a grad student not going to buy a bottle of that fancy liquor for one cake.  Given that the recipe produced two 8 inch cakes, Miss Fats ended up multiplying the recipe by 1.5 to get three 9 inch layers.  The cakes cooked beautifully and easily held up despite the wet wet air.

Now came the filling.  Miss Fats has been trying to think through the ultimate peanut butter filling for quite some time now.  Peanut butter is not just some creaming thing you can slap in between cake layers.  It’s a sticky-salty spread that should be celebrated flavor-wise, but requires a bit more work to transform it into a perfectly crafted cake filling that works with the textures of the cake and frosting.  She liked the idea of something between a buttercream/mousse: she wanted the intense flavors of a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup, but a lightness that wouldn’t overpower the fluffy crumb of the cake.

She ended up going with Bakers Royale’s Peanut Butter Frosting, that boasted intense peanut flavor in the form of a buttercream.  She was a little worried about how much frosting this recipe produced and the intensity of the peanut flavor, so Miss  Fats made a couple of variations that she’s sharing with you here:

Peanut Butter Filling:
makes about 3 cups of filling
adapted from Bakers Royale’s Peanut Butter Frosting

1 stick of butter, softened
1 cup creamy, all natural peanut butter
1 cup to 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar (dependent upon how sweet your peanut butter is)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt + more to taste
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1. Whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form.  Set aside in the fridge.

2. Beat the butter and peanut butter on medium high until light and fluffy.  Add the vanilla and salt and mix until fully combined.  Sift in the powdered sugar and beat until combined.  Adjust salt based on your own preferences (Miss Fats obviously added more).

3. Fold the frosting into the heavy whipping cream.

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Since she was diggin’ on the look and feel of D’s chocolate cake from earlier in the week, she ended up going with the easy, spreadable chocolate ganache frosting.  Fully riding the salt-sweet train at this point, Miss Fats needed to jazz this thing up to keep it on par with the celebration level of the party.  She figured in-line with the backyard, slightly nostalgic feel of the event, a chocolate-covered pretzel would be the ideal object of decoration.  What says salt-sweet tasty town more than a chocolate covered pretzel?  However to keep it elegant (and photographable), she needed a bit of color contrast, so she ended up deciding to do both chocolate and peanut butter-dipped treats.  Miss Fats isn’t going to give you a recipe for these, since all she did was melt down about a cup of chocolate chips and a cup of peanut butter chips and dunked those suckers in.  To make them all pretty, she made a mess of herself and kitchen by using a fork to whip lines of peanut butter and chocolate across them. The only trick of these pretzels is not eating them all before they make it on to the cake (so so hard). Let them firm up in the fridge and stack them in a circle.  Boom. So pretty, yet to easy.

So what’s the problem, you ask? Is Miss Fats seriously just whining about how good looking her cake is?  Ok so here begins the abbreviated discussion of the cake’s problems (skip ahead if you’d rather live in cake fantasy land and see this as perfection).  So this is pretty fucking epic looking right?  And when you make a cake like this one, you want that first cut and bite to match the level of beauty (Miss Fats has a HUGE problem with beautiful cakes that cannot live up to their looks in flavor).  However, cutting into this cake, it crumbled. Total frosting/filling/cake mess.  The chocolate ganache pulled at the crumbly cake, destroying the three, carefully stacked layers.  Hardly the kind of display for a wedding: no embarrassing (cue tiny violins).  And while this mess may have been acceptable given the casual celebration, Miss Fats regrets to say that the flavor just didn’t quite make up for the disastrous structure.  There just wasn’t enough peanut butter filling to balance with the fudge of the cake and ganache.  Salt-sweet fail.

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Ok ok.  Miss Fats will stop now, because for the most part, guests seemed to really enjoy the cake (naively so).  And in the end, the bride and groom/birthday boy and girl seemed to really enjoy it.  Which is all she can hope for.  However if Miss Fats were to attempt this cake again, she’d seriously amp up that peanut butter filling: literally double that recipe.  She’d also return to her oil-based cake, which just has a bouncier texture that holds up to a sturdy filling like peanut butter.  This is to say that Miss Fats is not completely discouraged: she will try the ultimate peanut butter chocolate cake again.  Though this cake will probably haunt Miss Fats’ sugar dreams for a while, she recognizes that this was not a complete fail.  The real success came in making a beautiful cake for a beautiful crowd and couple.  They should just wait for peanut butter cake the sequel: coming to birthdays next summer.

CHOCOLATE Cake

IMG_3835Why all the yelling? (Obviously all caps=yelling. Get with it.)  Because this is some serious chocolate cake up in herrrrre.  Yet as per usual, chocolate fails at food photography and this picture cannot even begin to express the hidden cocao-ness layered up in that shining brown round object.  Miss Fats is talkin’ moist chocolate cake sandwiching both dark and white chocolate mousse, all contained in a rich chocolate ganache frosting.  Rich bliss.

How did Miss Fats go crazy, you ask?  After a brief birthday break, she returned to her idealistic work of making sure that no birth celebration goes cakeless.  Her friend D was throwing a casual mid-week-come-celebrate-me-if-you-got-a-little-extra-time-on-your-hands-but-no-pressure birthday drinks sesh and Miss Fats offered (forced) her baking skills on the evening.  She is a big believer in the birthday cake request: everyone gets to make all their guests eat whatever damn cake they like on their birthday (even if it’s some bullshit like a bundt cake or whatever).  So as usual she asked the birthday boy his favorite flavors: Miss Fats doesn’t need you to dream up your crazy cake idea, but she appreciates a general direction. And D sent her a dangerous way; one simple request: chocolate.

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Part of Miss Fats love of baking is thinking up the ideal sweet for the situation.  So birthday cakes present a particularly fun challenge: how do you essentialize a person in a cake?  Basically Miss Fats gets REAL excited about objectifying people.  But hey, at least you become a crazy tasty pastry object that everyone chows down on all evening.  Plus if you’re lucky, you get all lit on fire with candles.  Now Miss Fats is half kidding on this one (she hopes all her friends don’t go psychoanalyzing their birthday cakes and wind up thinking Miss Fats wants them to confront their repressed mother issues).

However she does spend a good deal of time scouring the interwebs for flavor ideas and recipes to help build the ideal person-cake.  In this case, D’s chocolate request felt incredibly appropriate.  Simple, classic and could easily be jazzed up for celebration purposes (oh god, please don’t go over thinking the rest of this post, D).  Chocolate is Miss Fats favorite kind of cake (false: chocolate is in fact her favorite object in existence in this world), so the real challenge was restraint in this case (which, clearly she didn’t do a GREAT job at).  However she knew that D’s cake should be a rich balance that didn’t overdo it on the sweet.  Additionally, D suffers from an unfortunate peanut allergy that kept Miss Fats far from her favorite peanut butter chocolate nonsense (more to come on that: just you wait ’til the next cake).  So her theory was: if he asked for chocolate, he is damn well getting chocolate.

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The first question was cake versus cupcake.  She decided that since D said it had been an eternity since he’d had a proper birthday cake, that she should serve it up right with a classic layered round cake.  Miss Fats stuck to her guns, and used her go-to chocolate cake recipe that has now appeared a bajillion times on this blog, but she’ll link you to it anyway.  Now the next question was what should this cake experience be?  She was real into the idea of those rich chocolate fancy restaurant cakes that beautifully layer mousse, ganache and cake like a thousand times and take ten million hours and an insane amount of precision to produce.  However D is not that fussy.  And neither is Miss Fats baking style.  So she decided to bring all the flavors of fancy town to a rustic, classic layered cake that didn’t go seducing you with all its glitz and glam.

This cake ultimately ended up being composed of four layers of chocolate cake (two nine-inch cakes cut in half), with two layers of Food & Wine’s dark chocolate mousse and one layer of white.  For the filling she made a full batch of the dark chocolate mousse which ended up being a little bit light for Miss Fats’ taste.  (Though guests seemed more satisfied with the proportions that she did.)  She halved the white recipe which was just fine considering the super sweetness of white chocolate.

Miss Fats recommends breaking this cake into two days.  Day one: bake off the cakes and store them wrapped in plastic wrap.  Make both mousses and allow them to properly firm up in the fridge over night.  Day two: make the ganache.  Then assemble the cake and mousse layers and allow to freeze while the ganache cools to the right spreadable temperature.

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Now it has been pretty damn hot in Chicago, so Miss Fats had some serious melt situation on her hands.  For those of you working in warmer, humid climates, she highly recommends assembling the cake layers and fillings and freezing the whole thing for at least 30 minutes before frosting.  This will allow the mousse to firm up before you go encasing the beast in a solid wall of fortifying ganache goodness.  Miss Fats is sharing her super simple ganache recipe that easily molds itself to a whipped, spread or poured version depending on when you decide to use it.

Easy Chocolate Ganache Frosting:
yields enough for one nine inch cake or twenty-four cupcake

1 bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy whipping cream
4 tbs butter, cut into pieces
1/2 tsp salt

1. In a medium bowl (or the mixing bowl of your stand mixer if you’re planning to do a whipped frosting), dump the chocolate chips, butter and salt.  Heat the heavy cream in a microwave safe dish for about 1-2 minutes, or until quite hot.  Dump the heavy cream over the chocolate chip mixture and let stand for a couple of minutes.  Whisk thoroughly until you get a smooth, glossy ganache.

2. For pouring: allow the ganache to cool for at least 10 minutes.  Then go to town.  For spreading: allow the ganache to cool to room temperature or until it reaches a buttery, spreadable consistency (about 2 hours).  For whipped: allow the ganache to cool for about an hour.  Then whip on high until soft peaks form.

This cake, despite its many steps and components was not actually that difficult.  Spread over two days, you only have an hour or two of actual work.  There’s just quite a bit of the waiting game with chocolate.  However the end result is pretty damn worth it: you get to bite into an incredibly moist trio of chocolate forms that play between chocolate’s sweet and dark, bitter sides.  This is a damn chocolate symphony.  And like a festive concert, this cake needed a little pizzaz to remind itself that it wasn’t taking itself too seriously.  So Miss Fats went to sprinkle town:

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Rainbow sprinkles, polka dots and chocolate?  Ingredients to throw any jaded grad student into childhood nostalgia (or at least Miss Fats hopes).  To make these simple (yet effective) decorations, Miss Fats carefully placed round cookie cutters on top of the cake and spooned in the sprinkles.  Clearly she wasn’t as careful as she should have been, because a few pesky dots found their way across the surface.  Oh well.

In the end, Miss Fats likes to think of this particular birthday cake as a serious yet lighthearted chocolate monstrosity.  It spans the excess of childhood, yet indulges in the rich decadence of fantasy adulthood.  D was celebrating his twenty-eighth after all: a weird year somewhere between things, and this cake’s attitude is same.  She hopes D enjoyed his birthday cakery, even if he ended up leaving it sitting on the streets of Chicago (don’t even get Miss Fats started on this story).  She’s kidding: everyone gets to do what they want with their own damn birthday cake.