This Tomboy Is the Belle of the Ball: Miette's Tomboy Cake

When some friends invited us over for dinner a few weeks ago just a few days before their son's fourth birthday, I volunteered to bring a birthday cake for dessert.  My friend mentioned that chocolate cake is his son's favorite.  Given that there were only going to be four adults and two kids at dinner, I thought it would be nice to bring a Miette Tomboy Cake, since it's a fairly small (6-inch) cake. 

Every time I am in San Francisco, I make a point of stopping by the Ferry Building, and I usually can't resist buying a macaron (or two or three) from Miette.  I pre-ordered Miette: Recipes from San Francisco's Most Charming Pastry Shop last spring as soon as I heard that a Miette cookbook was coming out.  When it arrived in June, I was enchanted with its beautiful photos and charming scalloped pages.  However, if you read the reviews of the cookbook on Amazon, you will see one negative review after another criticizing the numerous errors in the book. In fact, as of right now, Amazon isn't even selling the book because of the problems with it.

I have to give Chronicle Books and Amazon credit -- at least there is an errata sheet available for the cookbook, and Amazon sent me an email in late July informing me that they would send me a free copy of the corrected cookbook when it is released in October.  Please take note chef Bill Yosses, whose cookbook The Perfect Finish is pretty frustrating: there are things you can do about serious printing errors besides making the people who paid for your book just live with them. 

The "Tomboy" cake is actually a style of cake (three layers with frosting in between the layers and on top, but the sides left bare); any flavor combination of cake and frosting can be made into a Tomboy.  However, the particular Tomboy recipe in the Miette cookbook, and the one which appears in the photo on the front cover, is a double-chocolate cake with raspberry buttercream.  As it turns out, the Miette Tomboy recipe also appears in Rose Levy Beranbaum's cookbook Rose's Heavenly Cakes (which I also happen to own).  Just to make sure that I was following the right recipe, I consulted the Miette cookbook, the Miette errata sheet, and Rose's Heavenly Cakes when I was making this cake.

The Double-Chocolate Cake recipe in Miette is described as "infallibly moist."  The recipe is written to make two 6-inch cakes, and the technique is slightly unusual.  You whisk eggs until foamy, slowly pour in oil, and then add a cooled mixture of boiling water poured over chopped bittersweet chocolate.  Then you incorporate buttermilk,vanilla, and sugar, and then fold in the sifted dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt).  In order to ensure a fine texture, the mixture is pushed through a sieve before pouring it into the pans and baking; this allows you to eliminate lumps in the batter without overmixing.   

After the cakes are cooled, you divide each cake into three layers (the cakes are baked in 3-inch high pans and are tall enough to divide into three layers without a problem), and fill the cakes with buttercream.  The buttercream recipe in Miette suffers from a printing error, so I was extra careful to cross-reference the errata sheet and the version of the recipe in Rose's Heavenly Cakes.  The version in Miette yields 6 cups of buttercream, which is a lot -- the introduction to the "Miette Essentials" chapter of the book with all of the frosting recipes notes that, "Most of the recipes in this section yield a larger quantity than you need for a single cake.  The recipes simply cannot be scaled down to smaller quantities."  Of course, it just so happens that the buttercream recipe in Rose's Heavenly Cakes yields 2 cups of buttercream, or exactly what you would need for one Tomboy.

There are some slight differences in the buttercream directions between the two cookbooks, but the gist of the Miette version is this: you whip egg whites and cream of tartar, and slowly incorporate a sugar syrup that has been heated to 248 degrees.  You beat the mixture until cooled to 65-70 degrees, and the incorporate room temperature butter, 1 tablespoon at time.  Finally, you add vanilla, and any other flavoring.

For the birthday cake for about-to-turn-four-years-old Henry, I used vanilla buttercream, and his cake is pictured above.  You are supposed to use a star pastry tip to achieve a nice swirl along the borders of the buttercream, but my piping skills stink and so my swirl is pretty lame.  I had a second chocolate cake on hand (since the Miette double-chocolate recipe yields two cakes), and plenty of buttercream, so I made a second Tomboy with raspberry-flavored buttercream for some friends who just had a baby (a girl, so pink seemed appropriate).

The Miette cookbook has a recipe for raspberry buttercream which involves starting with fresh raspberries, sugar, and water, cooking them until the fruit breaks down, and then straining the juice to incorporate into the vanilla buttercream.  The Tomboy recipe in Rose's Heavenly Cakes has a different raspberry buttercream variation that just instructs you to just incorporate seedless raspberry preserves into the vanilla buttercream.  I went that route, since it was much easier.  Unfortunately I didn't take the time to strain the preserves first, so my buttercream ended up with a few lumps that kept clogging my pastry tip -- hence the crazy ruffles you see in the picture below.  Also, the raspberry preserves made the buttercream an unattractive off-pinkish color, and so I did have to add a little pink food coloring to make it a bit more presentable.

This cake is the bomb.  The chocolate cake is rich, dense, super-chocolatey, and very moist.  The vanilla version of the Tomboy gave me the nostalgia of eating a creme-filled devil's food snack cake -- the vanilla buttercream was so good (it actually tasted like vanilla, and not just generic frosting) and the flavor combination with the chocolate cake was so classic.  The raspberry buttercream was also incredibly delicious and a perfect complement with the chocolate cake.  The texture of both buttercreams was smooth as silk and yet completely luscious and decadent with an amazing mouthfeel -- a bit of a pain to make, but so worth the effort.  The buttercream also was not too sweet, such that the almost 1:1 ratio of cake to buttercream was not a problem.  Despite the fact that I need a little more practice piping the buttercream, this cake is adorable and delicious.  It's perfect.  

Recipes: "Double Chocolate Cake," Tomboy Cake," and "Vanilla Buttercream," from Miette: Recipes from San Francisco's Most Charming Pastry Shop, by Meg Ray.  Recipe also available in Rose's Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum


Brioboy said…
Thanks for the link to the errata sheet here. Halfway through making macaroons and realizing the icing instructions included an internal contradiction. A the internet is the place where misery finds company I ran a search and your marvelous blog came up. An extra bonus that you travail in the DC legal biz as well. Ipso Fatto goes straight into my bookmarks and I’m looking forward to following your trail on some of these posts. keep up the good work (and strangely good writing for a lawyer!).
SassyStew said…
I found a vanilla swiss meringue buttercream recipe with almost identical ingredients on Martha Stewart's site, but the method calls for dissolving the sugar in the egg whites over a double boiler and then whipping instead of drizzling the hot sugar syrup into the beaten whites. Have you tried this method? It sounds easier, but I am afraid of pitfalls!
@SassyStew -- I have made Swiss meringue a few times before, oddly enough, always to make filling for whoopie pies (see here, here, and here). You have to be careful when you pour in the hot sugar syrup, but it's not as hazardous as it sounds -- it's the same process you use for making marshmallows. Either method will yield a stable buttercream. Happy baking!