Given that my birthday falls near Valentine’s Day, I am into a layer cake for a Valentine dessert. My mother baked me memorable cakes always for my birthday, with my favorite marshmallow-like frosting, ethereal and light and pink over a chocolate or angel food cake.
It dawned on me recently that I haven’t had my childhood cake in a long time, probably since I was…a child. This surprised me because the cake looms so large in my mind that it seems like I’ve had it every year of my life. Now I’m wondering how many times I really did have the cake, and I’m wondering about how much we can really trust memory, which after all has been called “a continuing act of creation.”
I like this cake as much for a Valentine dinner as I do a birthday, with good reason:
Chocolate. The cake’s flavor is the very deep chocolate kind, made so by the addition of both cocoa and melted chocolate. If it seems like too much bother to cut up a couple of ounces of chocolate and melt with boiling water, then I can’t help you. At least promise me you’ll buy a decent chocolate cupcake somewhere.
Marshmallow. It’s not exactly marshmallow, but it is the ethereally light meringue icing known as boiled icing or 7-minute icing. Yes, it is a sweet icing, but what icing is not sweet, I ask? The cake is not overly sweet, so this icing is perfect with this particular chocolate cake. I thank my mother for giving me the gift of fluffy pink icing; it has stayed with me all my life as the supreme beautiful icing. She is a marshmallow kind of a gal, and made me into one too. (Granted, you can use any icing you like and still the cake will be wow.)
Light. This finish to dinner is light! On Valentine’s Day, and most any day, I want dessert but I want it to be on the light side so that I don’t feel the weight of the world in my tummy after dinner. There is very little fat overall here (no butter, anywhere), between the cake and the icing. A slice will satisfy without being so rich that it takes you to confession or over to the couch for a rest.
I suppose it doesn’t matter all that much whether my mom made this cake for me once, twice, or every year until I was eighteen and left for college. It’s still my cake, one I’ll happily take with me and my memories as I head out to play life’s back nine.
Miette Double Chocolate Cake with Fluffy Icing
I love this recipe, adapted from the charming Miette cookbook, for its deep chocolate flavor and ultra-moist texture. Note that you can substitute the buttermilk with whole milk mixed with a squeeze of lemon and left to ferment for a few minutes before adding to the batter. Ice the cake with the beautiful, fluffy meringue icing, or with your favorite icing. Makes 2 6-inch layer cakes using 6×3-inch pans, or about 24 cupcakes, or one 10-inch round.
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1¼ cups natural unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
1½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
2 ounces chocolate, 70% cacao, chopped
1 cup boiling water
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature
½ cup vegetable oil
2¼ cups sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease cake pans and dust with cocoa powder. For cupcakes, line tins with paper cupcake liners.
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together.
Pour boiling water over chocolate in a small heatproof bowl. Cool for 15 minutes, stirring until the chocolate melts.
In a separate bowl, stir the buttermilk and vanilla together.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the eggs on high speed until light and foamy (about 2 minutes). On low speed, add the oil, then increase speed to thoroughly combine.
On low speed, add the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture, beat briefly. Add the buttermilk and vanilla mixture, beat briefly. Add the sugar and beat until the batter is smooth (about 2 minutes).
Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and gently fold in the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula until combined, pressing against the sides of the bowl to break down lumpy. The batter will be slightly lumpy.
Pour the batter in the cake pans evenly, or in cupcake liners to ¾ full.
Bake for 55-65 minutes for the cake (about 30 minutes for the cupcakes) or until the tops spring back when lightly pressed and toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in the cake pans until just barely warm, then run a knife around the edges to loosen. Remove cakes from pans and cool on racks completely. For layer cake, slice 6-inch cakes in thirds across using a sharp bread knife. If freezing one cake, before cutting it into layers, wrap with double layers of plastic wrap and freeze.
Italian Meringue Icing
This marshmallow-like icing is best made and eaten the same day. Don’t let the candy thermometer deter you…it’s not complicated to use, and so worth it!
1½ cups (10½ ounces) sugar
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ cup water
3 large egg whites, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pink food coloring
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the egg whites and vanilla. Beat just until frothy, then stop.
In a small heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, cream of tartar, and water and bring to a boil. Continue boiling until the sugar reaches 230 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat immediately and pour into a heatproof bowl or measuring cup.
Turn the mixer back on medium high speed, beating the egg whites. Slowly pour the sugar syrup into the whites (aim for between the whisk and the side of the bowl). Beat until the whites are very fluffy and cooled almost completely. Add small amounts of pink food coloring, if using, until you get the shade of pink you are after.
Dollop generously between the layers of the cake and on top. Icing the sides of the cake is optional; the double chocolate cake is moist enough to be exposed. For cupcakes, either pipe or simply spoon onto each cake.
Print this recipe here.