About a year and a half ago, I met and interviewed a really amazing person: Gunnery Sgt. William J. Dixon, the Marine Corps funeral director. I have seen him a few times since, and was always surprised to see he hadn’t been promoted yet. So I was excited to get an email a few weeks ago inviting me to his promotion ceremony.
Of course I wanted to bake him something, but I wasn’t sure what. I considered Devil Dogs, but figured a cake would be easier to transport and better for a celebration. I decided to try something Isabel had recommended — chocolate cake with buttercream made in the food processor.
I started with the chocolate cake from the chocolate-peanut butter cake recipe. It’s a really moist, yummy cake and isn’t terribly difficult to make… but it can be a bit of a pain to handle after it’s baked. It is much easier if you cool and then wrap the layers in plastic and stick them in the freezer (I usually put a disposable plastic plate in between each plastic-wrapped layer) to harden them up a bit before you try to assemble the cake.
This is a three-layer cake, by the way. I don’t think you can actually tell from any of these photos.
Now for the frosting. This method and recipe also comes from Smitten Kitchen, and Isabel is right — it is super fast and easy.
You can melt your chocolate in a double boiler if you’d like. I just did it in the microwave, a few seconds at a time to prevent burning.
I actually set aside a bit of white buttercream to use for decoration, but I couldn’t get the red to turn really red (as opposed to fuchsia) so I didn’t use it.
If you don’t set aside any pre-chocolate frosting, you should have enough to pipe some kind of border around the cake. Otherwise, sprinkles are always a good option. (Detailed instructions on how to frost and assemble a three-layer cake here)
I was going to try to get fancy and pipe a master sergeant rank insignia on here, but I decided this was easier. I just used some red sparkly icing I had in the cupboard. In all, a pretty easy celebration cake.
Chocolate layer cake (Cake and frosting adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes, via Smitten Kitchen)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch process, if possible)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil (I use canola)
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of the pans with rounds of parchment or waxed paper — then butter the paper. Set the eggs and sour cream out on the counter to come to room temperature.
Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine them well. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk (or use electric mixer) to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well mixed (it will be very thin). Divide evenly among the 3 prepared cake pans*.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely. The cakes will be really soft, so be careful. Wrap them up in plastic and stick them in the freezer for about 30 minutes to firm them enough to handle.
*This is a great time to use a food scale, if you have one. Otherwise, you can eyeball it or measure the batter and pour equal amounts into each pan.
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
4 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar (no need to sift)
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tablespoons half-and-half or whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Melt the chocolate (either in a double boiler or in the microwave – follow directions on package or do for a few seconds at a time, stirring as you go). Allow the chocolate to cool.
Place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to incorporate, then process until frosting is smooth.
To frost the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or large serving plate. Spread about 2/3 cup of frosting on top. Repeat with the next layer. Place the last layer on top (flat side down) and frost the top and sides of the cake with a thin layer of frosting. Stick the cake in the fridge for 15 to 30 minutes, then use the rest of the frosting to smoothly cover the cake.
***If you want to write on the cake, put all the ingredients except for the chocolate and process until smooth. Set aside a 1/2 cup of that to use for coloring/writing, then add chocolate and finish making the frosting***