Layer Cake Redemption: Black-and-White Chocolate Cake

Just a few days after my only semi-successful effort at making the Baked Explorations Boston Cream Pie Cake, I needed to bake a cake for a birthday dinner. I looked in the "Celebration Cakes" section of Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours, and I immediately noticed the photo of the "Black-and-White Chocolate Cake," because it reminded me of the Boston Cream Pie Cake. While the Boston Cream Pie Cake is supposed to be four layers of sponge cake filled with alternating layers of chocolate and vanilla pastry cream, the Black-and-White Chocolate Cake is four layers of yellow cake filled with alternating layers of chocolate pastry cream and white chocolate whipped cream.

Because the entire Black-and-White Chocolate Cake is frosted with white chocolate whipped cream, the cake structure from bottom up is as follows: cake, chocolate cream, cake, whipped cream, cake, chocolate cream, cake, whipped cream. Greenspan notes that "When the cake is cut, its look is simple and symmetrical." I debated whether this cake would be appealing to children (as there would be five children ages five and younger at the birthday dinner), but the decision was easy when I read the recipe headnote: "It would be hard to imagine a time, place, or an audience for which this cake wouldn't be right."

The cake is a yellow buttermilk cake, made from butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, buttermilk, cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. You divide the batter between two 9-inch pans to bake, and I was highly alarmed when I took my cakes out of the oven and it looked like they had hardly risen at all. Each of my cakes was only 7/8 of an inch tall. I had a problem with the sponge cakes for my Boston Cream Pie Cake not rising sufficiently, and I was wondering if I was still trapped in some sort of flat layer cake purgatory. I debated whether I should even try dividing the layers, or if I should just bake another two cakes. My panic was interrupted by a moment of clarity as I studied the photo of the cake in the cookbook. In the pictured slice, the cake layers are exactly the same height as the filling layers. The recipe's directions for assembling the cake state that you only need about 1 cup of chocolate cream between layers. Since one cup of chocolate cream is not going to be very thick when spread across a 9-inch diameter cake, I realized that the cake layers must be very short if they are going to be the same height as the filling layers. So I decided to solider on, and I split my short cakes into even shorter cakes.

The chocolate pastry cream for this recipe is absolutely delicious -- decadently chocolately and lusciously thick, basically the best chocolate pudding I've ever had. It's made from milk, egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, sugar, bittersweet chocolate, and butter. (Note: it's definitely tastier than the chocolate pastry cream from the Boston Cream Pie Cake recipe.)

To make the white chocolate whipping cream, you melt some white chocolate, add cream, and let the mixture cool completely. Then you whip more cream in a mixer and add the white chocolate mixture all at once, whipping until the mixture holds firm peaks. At least that's what you're supposed to do. My whipping cream broke, and it was not salvageable. I didn't have any more white chocolate on hand, so I couldn't make another attempt at the white chocolate whipping cream (even if I had had more chocolate, I wouldn't have had enough time to make another batch; the finished whipping cream is supposed to be chilled for at least 2 hours before filling and frosting the cake, and then the entire assembled cake is supposed to be refrigerated for at least 3 hours before serving). I debated what other frosting I might be able to substitute, and then I realized that since I had some King Arthur whipped cream stabilizer on hand, I could just whip another pint of heavy cream with some sugar, vanilla, and stabilizer. I knew that it would hold up just fine as a filling and frosting, without the need for additional chilling first.

Once I had my thin cake layers, pastry cream, and whipped cream ready, I assembled the cake easily enough. The only thing was that it looked awfully boring since it was simply covered in whipped cream. The recipe suggests decorating with dark and white chocolate shavings or curls, and I made dark chocolate cones. It was amazing how this small bit of decoration completely elevated the appearance of this cake to make it scream, "I'm special!!"

The profile of my sliced cake doesn't look anywhere near as nice as the slice pictured in the cookbook (Greenspan's is immaculately devoid of crumbs), but I was happy with the way the cake turned out, even with the failure of the white chocolate whipped cream. I tasted each component of the cake separately and thought that they were all terrific. To be honest, when eating the thin layers of cake, pastry cream, and whipped cream together, I thought that the flavors became slightly muddled. The amazing flavor of the pastry cream got a little lost, and this might be the odd case where the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

I also have to point out that my little friend Alexander took one bite of the cake, said he didn't like it, and then proceeded to eat oranges for dessert instead. However, at all of five years old, Alexander is probably the toughest baked goods customer I know, and everyone else -- kids and adults alike --  really enjoyed the cake. I'm going to chalk this one up in the win column. Especially coming off of a disappointing experience with my last layer cake, I do feel that this cake earned me at least some measure of layer cake redemption.

Recipe: "Black-and-White Chocolate Cake," from Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan.


Louise said…
WOW. I think your cake looks terrific. Maybe Alexander didn't get the right combination of tastes on his first bite, but his loss.
Are you familiar with Oetker Whip it? It's whipped cream stabilizer that you can get at the grocery store. I've used it for years and have been very happy with it.
Thanks, Louise! I have never heard of Oetker Whip it, I will look for it the next time I'm at the grocery store!
Louise said…
When you look for Whip it, look for a package sort of like Fleischmann's yeast, but I think there are two individual use envelopes.