Friday, November 16, 2012

Fluffy Chocolate Buttercream (The Best!) & Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake from Cook's Illustrated


This is the birthday cake I made for myself a few weeks ago. It is a simple yellow cake made with buttermilk, but the best part was the fluffy chocolate frosting. It's crazy good. I'm calling it the best, because it's the best for me. There are plenty of different types of chocolate frosting, and different ways to make it, but this is my favorite. It's light, fluffy and smooth in texture with deep chocolate flavor. It's incredibly easy to work with too.

To arrive at this dreamy version, I cobbled together two recipes from a blog I really enjoy, Sweetapolita. She also loves fluffy, whipped-to-the-heavens frosting. This is a very easy American buttercream, but what makes the flavor is top-notch chocolate that's melted and beat into the butter and powdered sugar base. I wrote all about what I used in the recipe headnote, but you can make the same frosting with different chocolates (milk, white), depending on what you want.

UPDATE NOV. 12, 2014:  I found an even better yellow cake! It's from the wizards at Cook's Illustrated and appeared in their magazine in 2008. It's meant to have the flavor and texture of a boxed cake without the weird, chemical twang. I absolutely love it, and I've included the recipe below with a few tiny tweaks of my own. The image above the cake recipe is of the Cook's Illustrated cake, frosted with the Fluffy Chocolate Buttercream.

The cake itself was great. It is from the book Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne, but I got the recipe from Cookie Madness, where it was used to make terrific cupcakes. It makes a 3-layer 8-inch cake; I have 9-inch pans, so I made two 9-inch layers and 9 cupcakes (filled 2/3 full). It baked up beautifully, with a fine, tender crumb. I think I would double the vanilla for a little extra oomph if I made it again. But, it's a great cake that keeps well for a few days in the refrigerator, and it's a very straightforward recipe.

Do you have a favorite homemade frosting? Tell me in the comments!


Fluffy Chocolate Buttercream
Adapted from Whipped Vanilla Frosting and Nutella Cloud Frosting by Sweetapolita. Makes more than enough to frost a 2-layer, 9-inch cake.

For the chocolate, I used a mixture of 3 different types I had on hand: Callebaut Dark Callets 53.8%, Guittard Extra Dark Chocolate Chips 63%, and Ghirardhelli bittersweet chips 60%. I recommend keeping the chocolate in the 53 to 63% range if you want this exact version, but it would work with any kind of chocolate you like, including white.

I used a little more chocolate than the original recipe called for in my version below, to account for the chocolate that inevitably ends up on the spoon, on the spatula, on the bowl you use to melt it--so don't worry if you get chocolate all over the place. The melted chocolate does NOT need to be completely, totally at cool room temp. If it gets too cool, it will start to solidify; do not put it in the refrigerator, you'll have condensation, and it will seize.

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), at room temperature
2 1/4 cups (285 grams) confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces dark chocolate chips or chopped bars (see recipe headnote), melted and cooled slightly
1 to 2 tablespoons whole or 2% milk, IF NEEDED

Add butter and sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium ("4" on a Kitchen Aid mixer) for 6 minutes, or until very pale, creamy and fluffy. Add vanilla and salt and beat on medium for 6 minutes more. Add melted chocolate and beat on medium until smooth, light and very fluffy, 2 to 5 minutes. If during this final mixing, frosting seems too thick, slowly add milk, as needed (I didn't need it). Start frosting your cake right away--it spreads like a dream.


Cooks Illustrated Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake
I don't grease and flour the pans or use parchment. I have nonstick cake pans that I spray with Pam Baking Spray. The spray has flour in it, and it works. I love it! I increased the amount of vanilla extract (and I usually use double-strength extract) and added some almond extract too.
BAKING NOTE: The first time I made this cake the center did not appear set after 22 minutes. I believe that I over beat the egg whites and did not fully incorporate them into the mixture. Therefore, they separated during baking and formed a “wet” area in the center of the cakes, which firmed up when the separated moisture evaporated. I can't explain this in perfect scientific terms, but I think this issue led me to over bake the cakes by a few minutes. I've included instructions below to help avoid this problem.

Makes two 9-inch round cakes

2½ cups (10 ounces) cake flour, plus extra for dusting pans
1¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon table salt
1¾ cups (12.25 ounces) granulated sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tbsp vanilla extract
½ tsp almond extract (optional)
6 large egg yolks plus 3 large egg whites, at room temperature

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Grease the paper rounds, dust the pans with flour, and knock out the excess (or skip this and coat pans with baking spray; see head note). Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and 1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar together in a large bowl. In a 4-cup liquid measuring cup or medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, buttermilk, oil, vanilla, almond extract and yolks.

2. In the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites at high speed (8 on a KitchenAid) until foamy, about 30 seconds. With the machine running, gradually add the remaining ¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar; continue to beat until stiff peaks just form, 30 to 60 seconds (whites should just hold a peak but mixture should appear moist, not stiff). Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

3. Add the flour mixture to the now-empty mixing bowl fitted with the whisk attachment. With the mixer running at low speed, gradually pour in the butter mixture and mix until almost incorporated (a few streaks of dry flour will remain), about 15 seconds. Stop mixer and scrape the whisk and sides of the bowl. Return the mixer to medium-low speed and beat until smooth and fully incorporated, 10 to 15 seconds.

4. Using rubber spatula, stir ⅓ of the whites into the batter to lighten, then add the remaining whites and gently fold into the batter until no white streaks remain (mix gently, but be sure the whites are fully incorporated). Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans. Lightly tap the pans against the counter 2 or 3 times to dislodge any large air bubbles.

5. Bake until the cake layers begin to pull away from sides of pans (the sides of the cakes should be just barely golden) and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (a few moist crumbs are okay), 20-22 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Loosen the cakes from the sides of the pan with a small knife, then invert onto a greased wire rack and peel off the parchment. Invert the cakes again and cool completely on rack, about 1½ hours.




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