What Does the Frosting Say? Crunch, Crunch, Crunch!: Cocoa-Buttermilk Birthday Cake

My friend Dorothy recently had us over for dinner, and because it was the night before her husband's birthday, I said I would bring a birthday cake. I looked through the "Celebration Cakes" section of Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours cookbook and decided to try her Cocoa-Buttermilk Birthday Cake. The recipe headnote promises that, "if you're got an audience with a yen for chocolate, here's your best-bet cake."

The cake recipe is pretty straightforward. You beat room temperature butter and sugar; add eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla; and alternately add the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt) and buttermilk. The recipe lists four ounces of melted and cooled bittersweet chocolate as an "optional" ingredient to fold in at the very end; I figured that more chocolate could only improve the cake, so I added it.

You divide the batter between two 9-inch pans and bake. After the cakes were cool, I leveled them and frosted them with Greenspan's "Chocolate Malt Buttercream" recipe (she says that this cake can be matched with just about any frosting, but that the chocolate malt is her favorite).

To make the frosting, you whisk together malt powder, cocoa powder, and boiling water; incorporate a hot mixture of bittersweet chocolate that has been melted with brown sugar in a double boiler; and set the resulting mixture aside. Separately, you beat room temperature butter with more brown sugar; add salt and vanilla; incorporate the chocolate-malt mixture; gradually add powdered sugar; and add a tablespoon of boiling water.

The frosting was a nice consistency and easy to spread. As specified in the recipe, I chilled the cake for an hour to set the frosting, but brought it back to room temperature before serving. I had sampled some of the cake I trimmed off when I leveled the layers, and I thought it was tasty -- chocolate-y, dense, and moist. But I was a little disappointed in the assembled cake.

The cake itself seemed drier than my previous sample. But what bothered me the most was the fact that the frosting was grainy; there were crunchy granules of brown sugar in every bite. Even though the frosting tasted fine (the malted milk powder added an interesting nutty flavor), I could not get past the texture. All in all, this is not a cake or frosting that I would make again. I generally like my chocolate cake to be lighter in texture and more delicate, and I definitely like my frosting to be smooth and silent!

Recipe: "Cocoa-Buttermilk Birthday Cake" from Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan.