After a particularly bad tasting box cake mix/container frosting experience that I had earlier this year, I have vowed to master cake baking from scratch. I have never considered myself to be a fabulous baker, but I am getting better at it. My one experience with baking a cake from scratch was when I was dating my husband. I tried to bake a cake for my future inlaws, and the cake came out tough and I overbeat the whipped cream frosting and it had butter chunks in it. Yuck!
For my son's birthday, I decided to bake a cake from scratch. I figured a group of middle school boys will eat just about anything. I turned to one of my favorite cookbooks, Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. Can you remember when Ina was a protege of Martha Stewart's? I can....in the early days, she frequently contributed recipes to her magazine. This cookbook is a compendium of the best sellers at Ina's now defunct gourmet take out food store of the same name. Every recipe I have ever tried in this book has been great. On the back cover of the book is the recipe for a chocolate buttercream cake. I made it for my son's birthday, and it was wonderful. The cake is really, really chocolatey - too chocolatey for kids, but the frosting is wonderful. It is a meringue icing - which means it uses whipped egg whites in it. It tastes deceptively light despite the full pound of butter it requires.
For my daughter's birthday, I made the same frosting, but instead made a devil's food cupcakes. I followed the recipe in the classic BH&G cookbook. It was terrific...here's the recipe I followed, making a few changes to make it be a little more streamlined and less spendy than the original.
4 and a half (4 oz.) bars of 60% cacao Ghiradelli chocolate
3 egg whites
1 c granulated sugar
Pinch cream of tartar
1/2 t salt
4 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature (this is important - must be at room temp)
2 t vanilla extract
2 t instant coffee powder
Break up chocolate bars in squares, and then break in half again. Microwave in a plastic container (not glass - it holds the heat for too long) for 1 minute on high and stir. Return to microwave and heat on high for 10 second increments, stirring after each heating, until it is about 75% melted. Set aside to finish melting and cool.
Mix the egg whites, sugar and the cream of tartar in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Heat a pan of water to simmering, and place the metal mixing bowl in it. Heat the egg white mixture about 5 minutes, until they are warm to the touch. Return the bowl to the mixer and whisk on high speed for 5 minutes, or until the meringue is cool and holds a stiff peak. It will be like marshmallow creme.
Cut the butter up into tablespoon sizes pats. Add the butter a pat at a time while mixing at medium speed. Scrape down the bowl and add the melted chocolate, vanilla and coffee powder. Mix until the chocolate is blended in. If it seems too soft, put the bowl in the fridge for a while and beat it again.
Makes enough to frost a double layer cake.