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Dark Chocolate Ganache Cake (aka: A Manly Birthday Cake)

August 22, 2010

Note: Since making this cake for the first time, I have discovered a fabulous chocolate-cake recipe that is now my go-to.  I used a mix for this one because I was in a hurry and didn’t have a “go-to” chocolate cake yet.  But now, oh baby do I!  Please use the Beatty’s Chocolate Cake recipe found on foodnetwork.com.  Minus the gross icing.

Also, be it known that I have also learned the proper way to make chocolate curls since this post.  You can find the correct method on Ree Drummond’s lovely blog here! That is all.  Now back to your regularly scheduled reading.

Watching me make this cake nearly killed my husband.

Poor thing.

He complains that I only ever pull out all the stops and make special meals and desserts when they’re for other people.

And this is somewhat true!  I’m a busy, working woman.  I always tell him if he would just let me be a stay-at-home wife… I’d have all kinds of time to cook and bake for him!

Kidding… I LOVE my job and I LOVE my boss, which is why I went to all this trouble to make him two extra special birthday cakes.

However it was getting rather late at night when the time came to make Cake #2.  So I took a few shortcuts.  Lots of good cakes start with a boxed mix… its all about making strategic additions, substitutions, and decorations.

You’ll need:  one box of chocolate cake mix, buttermilk, eggs, water, oil, chocolate chips, two large bars of Baker’s chocolate squares (white and dark), heavy cream, and vanilla.  Oh an also… three SQUARE cake pans 🙂

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So let’s get going!

Start where we always start…

by tracing the pans onto wax paper, and cutting it out just inside the line you drew.  (No yucky pencil in your cake please!)

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Next, spritz each wax-paper-lined pan with cooking spray.  I usually like to use Crisco for this, when I have time.  But I didn’t have time, so oh well!

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Next, sprinkle some cake mix into each pan and tap it around to coat the bottom and sides of each.

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Super!  Now dump the rest into a mixing bowl.

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Time for liquids!  The box calls for 1 1/4 C. of water, but COME ON!  Boring.

So I substituted part of that for buttermilk.  Always a good idea.

If you have a handy measuring cup like this one, you can see the measurements from the top!

3/4 C. full-fat buttermilk…

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and an additional 1/2 C. of water!

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And dump that in with the cake mix.

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Now measure out a 1/2 C. of vegetable or canola oil.  But go a leeeeeettle overboard.  That’s a tip from my cake-master mother-in-law so you know it’s sound advice!  And this cake definitely needs it.  Just a teaspoon or so over the 1/2 Cup mark should do the trick!

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Now add the eggs.  You’ll have to read the box to see how many you’ll need.  This cake called for three.

I’m pretty trusting of the Kroger we shop at.  Or is it the chickens they use?  Or the factory they order from?

At any rate, I don’t crack them into a separate bowl first, and I’m sorry.  I was tempting fate and risking my boss getting a rotten egg or a piece of shell in his cake.  Oops.

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Now chop up a few hand-fulls of dark chocolate chips to add after mixing.  (Or use the mini kind… no chopping needed!)  Its a great addition to add extra richness to a boxed cake.  It really dresses it up for an occasion too.

Delicious!

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Now get to mixin’!

Most box mixes say to start on low til everything’s moistened… then speed up to Medium/High for two minutes.  So that’s what I’ve done here.

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MMMmmmmmmmm…

Things are starting to smell chocolatey!

Now add in two heaping hand-fulls of chocolate chip chunks.

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And fold them into the batter.

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Now start spooning the batter into the square pans, as evenly as you can.

You can see that there isn’t an overabundance of batter here and that each pan-full is really quite shallow, so that means we’ll be adjusting the baking time considerably.

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Tip:  Pick each pan up and drop it onto the counter a few times (from just a few inches up.)  It’ll release any large bubbles that may have formed in the batter.

Now, because I spread this batter thinly into three 8-in. pans for added height and drama, I cut my baking time considerably.  20 minutes is the maximum oven time these should get.  And again you see my paranoia at work with my oven set to 345.  It’s “jus de way how I do it!” (to quote my 7th grade Spanish teacher.)

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Now just look at the lovely results.

Chocolate really is heavenly.

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Now, aside from my two earlier additions (buttermilk and chocolate chips) I also made another very important addition at this point.

Ganache.

Ganache, my friends, is one of the easiest things you’ll ever make.  And yet it epitomizes lusciousness and decandence.

(I watched Nigella today, can you tell I’m throwing in a lot of big words?  I blame her.)

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To make the ganache for this cake, I chopped up 4 ounces of dark chocolate and heated up two ounces of heavy cream in a saucepan.  You also need vanilla (or even better… a vanilla bean!)

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Don’t boil the cream.  Just heat it til you begin to see bubbles forming on the sides of the saucepan.

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When you start to see bubbles… remove it from the heat and add in the chopped chocolate.

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Stir… and in no time, it will gently melt and transform into THIS!

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And your husband, boyfriend, kid, cat, wife??, will cry because they don’t understand why this isn’t for them.

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Now it’s time to start assembling all this goodness into a cake.

I happen to have a square cake stand I got as a wedding gift.  If you don’t have one, and you also don’t have a square plate or platter, I suppose the next best thing would be to serve this on a wooden cutting board.

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Smear some of that heavenly ganache onto the first layer and pay no mind to the ravenous onlookers who are gathering.

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Now repeat that process with Layer #2.

Do you see the pain on this face?  I’m starting to feel bad.

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So… more to soothe my own guilt than anything… I handed what was left of the ganache to my sweets.

But not before spreading on a very thin final layer to the top of the cake to go under my icing.  He didn’t need this much chocolate after midnight anyway.

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Now… take a look at the canned icing I bought!  It was dark chocolate and, Holy Cow!  It was as thick as cement!  I had to thin it with a little vanilla or I guarantee you I would’ve ripped my cake up trying to spread it.

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I had just enough, so the ganache really is necessary unless you’re going to buy two cans of icing or make your own in a large batch.

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My decorating plan was simple:  Stay away from “girly.”

That’s why I added visual interest with the height and shape of my cake rather than with swirls and squiggles.  I also browsed some online pictures and decided chocolate curls would be a nice touch.

These were for the area surrounding the cake.

Pretty, no?

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And the dark chocolate ones were for the top.

Sadly, my “chocolate-curl-skills” have a long way to go.

Anyone know a better method than a potato peeler?  I was picturing these gorgeous, huge curls of chocolate and what I got were more like shreds.

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I think next time I’ll try warming the chocolate slightly?

Oh, I don’t know!

But regardless, the resulting cake as a whole was what I’d been hoping for.  Rich, chocolately, masculine-looking, and dressy enough for an office party.

By the way, a night in the fridge is a good idea to preserve the freshness until serving.

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This cake is super-easy!

But anyone who sees it will think it came from some upscale-bakery.  And that’s when you can say, “This old thing?” and tell them you threw it together in an evening.  Or you can tell them it took you a full day… or three days.  Whatever you want to tell them is fine!  Any of those answers is believable 🙂

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. jacque permalink
    August 23, 2010 12:11 am

    Yummoo is all I can say you are really talented. Does Chris get to lick the beaters??? love u jacque

  2. David Burcham permalink
    August 23, 2010 1:29 pm

    This blog is awesome!

  3. Amanda permalink
    May 5, 2011 2:05 am

    The trick to get the right swirls is to get a solid (dark chocolate works best) chocolate bar. Let it come to about room temperature and then when you use the carrot peeler it will curl as you slowly scrape the edge. I like to put wax paper on the counter then set my thick wooden cutting board on one side of it. I hold the bar over the edge with one hand and slowly peel the swirls with the other. They fall to the wax paper.
    Great job by the way. Simple and elegant. I am looking for ideas for an uncles manly birthday cake. I like the idea of doing a tall cake.

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