Sometimes a classic flavor combo just beckons. Like this classic chocolate cake with strawberry mascarpone buttercream. The cake itself is more or less a one-bowl situation and the buttercream is the simpler American style (faster to whip up) except made more luxurious with the additions of mascarpone cheese and homemade strawberry puree. I happened to have strawberry puree in my freezer from the end of last summer (strawberries cooked down with a bit of water then blended until smooth) but you can also use a quality, naturally sweetened strawberry jam. This cake just proved to me again why chocolate and strawberries are perfect companions.
I made this cake for my por por (grandmother) for her 90th birthday. It's kind of a huge deal turning 90 years old - an occasion calling for an over-the-top cake served with lots of fanfare but in actuality, just her and I enjoyed it quietly and contently inside her room of a nursing home on a rainy Thursday afternoon.
Por por normally lives with my parents but she is at a nursing home temporarily while my parents are on a 3-week cruise. It sounds heartless and tragic when you read that, doesn't it? But it's not like that. I mean, nobody aspires to be placed in a nursing home particularly over a milestone birthday but she insists she's not too fussed about it, acknowledging that my parents will be fetching her soon. Surprisingly pragmatic huh? Even so, I can't say my heartstrings don't get a good tug leaving her there. But yes, there is that flip side. Being caregivers of an aging parent who has dementia is stressful and emotionally draining. If you've lived through such a situation, you will know this well. With her, conversations repeat on a 5-minute cycle mostly filled with questions of "where am I?" "who are you?" "do I have another child?" "where's my husband?" "have I eaten yet?" -- their dutiful answers forgotten within moments. Then the questions are asked again. And again. One recent morning she woke my parents up at 5am because everyone must pack their belongings to vacate the building for some urgent yet unknown reason. She shuffles back and forth from the washroom every few minutes -- don't even try to get in her way! Once she tried to boil a mango in a pot of water on the stove because it wasn't ripe enough. It's almost laughable. Except not really. You can imagine how caregivers desperately need respite from time to time, and I'm happy my parents are getting that right now.
Meanwhile, us grandkids are taking turns visiting, answering her repetitive set of questions with the patience of saints (or parents of inquisitive young kids which basically makes us experts ha), reminiscing about when we were little, and eating chocolate cake quietly and contently inside her room of a nursing home. And it's lovely because it's time spent together. Plus duh, it's a really delicious cake!
MAKE IN ADVANCE + OTHER NOTES:
- Strawberry mascarpone buttercream can be made and kept airtight refrigerated for 2 to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before using.
- Unfrosted cake layers can be baked ahead, wrapped tightly in plastic and kept in a ziptop bag with the air pushed out. If using within a day or two, the wrapped cake layers can be kept at room temperature (cool dry spot). Store in the fridge if making 3-4 days ahead, or store in the freezer if longer than that up to 2 months. To use, unwrap and bring to room temperature.
- Espresso powder - if you don't have this ingredient, you can omit it as well as the boiling water and use 1/2 cup of regular coffee instead. You can also omit the espresso / coffee completely and put plain boiling water if you need to keep it caffeine-free.
Chocolate Cake + Strawberry Mascarpone Buttercream
Recipe makes one 6" 2-layer cake or ~9-10 servings. The amount of buttercream in this recipe is enough to frost as a 'semi-naked' cake; scale the recipe up 1.5x or 2x if you want a more traditional, thickly frosted cake.
For the strawberry mascarpone buttercream:
1 C (2 sticks, 227g) organic unsalted butter, room temperature (leave it out 3 hours or overnight in cool dry spot)
2 oz (55g) mascarpone cheese, chilled
4-5 tbsp organic strawberry puree or quality naturally-sweetened strawberry jam
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 C (250g) organic powdered sugar, sifted (can be reduced to as little as 1.5 cup for a more subtle sweetness - taste the buttercream and adjust as you go!)
For the chocolate cake layers:
1 C (125g) unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 C (140g) granulated sugar
1/2 C (45g) unsweetened cacao powder or unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 C (120ml) milk of choice, room temperature ~i.e. organic whole (cow's) milk or unsweetened non-dairy milk like almond milk
1/4C (60ml) grapeseed or vegetable oil
1 large egg, whisked, room temperature
1 tsp (5ml) pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp espresso powder or instant coffee granules (see head note re substitution)
1/2 C (120ml) boiling water
For decorating the top and side of the cake:
Fresh organic strawberries, stemmed and cut into very thin slices
Quinoa puffs for the little accent balls (optional)
Make the strawberry mascarpone buttercream:
1. Whip the softened butter in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed unti l creamy. Add the mascarpone cheese, strawberry sauce and vanilla and continue to beat on medium until fully incorporated. Gradually increase speed to high and beat until fluffy and light. Scrape bowl as needed. Gradually add the sifted powdered sugar, stirring on low speed until fully combined. Then beat on high until you have a smooth buttercream, about 2 minutes. If not using right away, the strawberry mascarpone buttercream can be kept airtight refrigerated for 2 to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before using.
Make the chocolate cake layers:
2. Preheat oven 350f (or 177c). Grease and flour two 6" round cake pans and line with parchment paper.
3. In a large bowl, whisk the all-purpose flour, sugar, cacao powder or cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt until well combined. Measure out the milk in a 1-cup measuring cup and whisk up the egg in there. Add this milk/egg mixture, oil and vanilla extract into the bowl holding the dry ingredients. Mix well. Re-using the same measuring cup, toss in the espresso powder (or coffee granules) and fill it up with 1 cup of boiling water (alternatively you can use 1 cup of regular coffee). Pour this into the mixture and stir well. Divide the cake batter equally into the two prepared pans.
[Optional but recommended: wrap the cake pans in wet towel strips to minimize doming during baking. If you want to have a look, I did a full demo of this trick on theFeedfeed's snapchat here ]
4. Bake ~22-25 min or until a toothpick inserted in center of cake emerges dry with some crumbs. Since ovens vary so much, always test doneness a few minutes prior to the stated bake time for any recipes you're making for the first time. When done baking, place the cake pans on a cooling rack for 5 minutes before running a dull knife around the edge, invert to dislodge the cakes. Cool rest of the way to room temperature on the cooling rack, upside down.
Assemble the cake:
5. If needed, level out the tops of your cooled cake layers with a long serrated knife. If you used the wet towel trick mentioned at the end of step 3 above, then you should be able to skip this step or have minimal dome to level off.
6. Starting with the first cake layer, place it on your cake stand or serving plate right-side up. Scoop about 1/2 of the buttercream into the center and spread it out evenly with a spatula. Stack the second layer upside-down, making sure the two layers line up nicely before continuing. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining buttercream. For a prettier finish, do a crumb coat first - that is, spread a thin layer of buttercream and refrigerate for 10-15 minutes (but not longer) to firm up then spread the remaining buttercream on. Decorate with fresh strawberry slices and a scattering of quinoa puffs (optional).
p.s. I created a strawberry "rose" for the center but you can also lay strawberry slides in a circular pattern in the middle for a different kind of pattern. However if you also want to create the same strawberry rose, search YouTube for "avocado rose how to" and apply the same technique to a strawberry.
Enjoy with people you love xx
Chocolate cake recipe adapted slightly from Addapinch.