My Cake Has a New Set of Clothes: Grasshopper Cake

While trying to pick a cake to make for my friend Dorothy's birthday, I was browsing through Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, and I came across a recipe that looked awfully familiar. The cookbook's "Grasshopper Cake" is a chocolate layer cake with mint chocolate ganache and mint buttercream. I immediately recognized that the chocolate cake is the same cake in the "Chocolate Coffee Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache" recipe from Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented -- because I just made the chocolate coffee cake (a chocolate layer cake filled and frosted with coffee buttercream and topped off with a layer of dark chocolate ganache and some chocolate-covered espresso beans) a couple of weeks ago.

I thought the chocolate coffee cake was fantastic, and was eager to see how the cake would taste when paired with mint instead of coffee. At Baked Bakery, the grasshopper cake is a seasonal cake that is available only in the spring and summer -- but it seemed appropriate to enjoy the cool flavor of mint in the dead of winter (and the bakery does, after all, sell a similar "Wintermint" chocolate cake in the winter).

The chocolate cakes from the two recipes are exactly the same.  They are made with butter, shortening, sugar, dark brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cocoa powder, sour cream, and hot water. Even the buttercream recipes for the two cakes are almost identical -- a cooked base of flour, sugar, milk, and cream to which you add butter and flavoring. The only difference is that to make the coffee buttercream, you flavor the frosting with vanilla and coffee extract; to make the mint buttercream for the grasshopper cake, you use mint extract and creme de menthe instead.  I happen to have a bottle of clear creme de menthe instead of the mouthwash-green variety (I bought it to make the grasshopper bars from Baked Explorations), and while I briefly considered using artificial coloring to make the buttercream a light green color, I just left it alone.

This cake is filled not only with the mint buttercream, but also a bit of mint chocolate ganache (made from dark chocolate, cream, mint extract, and creme de menthe). To assemble the cake, you level the layers, place the first layer on a serving platter, spread on a little ganache, briefly refrigerate the cake until the ganache sets, and then spread on some buttercream before adding the next layer. You repeat the process with the second layer, and then add the final layer and frost the entire thing in buttercream.

The mint buttercream recipe for this cake is actually 1.5 times the recipe for the coffee buttercream in the chocolate coffee cake, because you are supposed to use the extra buttercream to fill eight chocolate sandwich cookies and use them to decorate the cake. No recipe is provided for the chocolate wafer cookies -- the cookbook suggests Newman's Own, Nabisco, or homemade. I happened to have some unfilled faux-reo cookies in the freezer (I baked a batch a couple of weeks ago to make the cookie crust for a chocolate caramel cheesecake, and I froze the leftovers), so I filled them with mint buttercream. But the size of my mint faux-reos was a little large in proportion to the diameter of the cake, and I decided that putting them on the cake would look awkward. I ended up just serving the cookies on the side.

Instead, I garnished the cake with the leftover mint chocolate ganache. Because I applied the ganache with a pastry bag and star tip, from a distance, the cake looked like it was decorated with chocolate chips. I had plenty of ganache to write "Happy Birthday Dorothy" on the cake, but my cake writing skills are terrible. I decided I should not even attempt putting on a message, lest I mess up the otherwise attractive cake.

Since I left the buttercream its natural off-white color, I decided to use light green candles as an indication of the cake flavor. It's a good looking cake. It's a good tasting cake. I personally prefer the coffee buttercream version of this cake, but the mint was refreshing, and the buttercream and ganache did not taste boozy at all. However, I don't think the ganache used between the layers added much to the cake, either taste-wise, or visually (although I do think the color contrast provided by the ganache using for decorating was nice).

I wish I could say this cake was enjoyed by all, but if you look closely at the photo above, that blurry boy behind the cake is Dorothy's five-year old son Alexander, who didn't like the cake or mint faux-reos at all and was a bit nonplussed that his honorary aunt bought over desserts that he didn't want to eat. I should mention that Alexander's little brother Liam had no such hangups, and he quickly devoured his tiny piece of cake and persistently asked for more; Alexander had dried apricots for dessert instead. Ah, Alexander -- the boy who likes whitefish salad and vegetables but doesn't like cake, frosting, or chocolate. He's definitely my toughest customer, but I will continue to try to win him over!

Recipe: "Grasshopper Cake," from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.

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