June 17, 2013

Dinosaurs, Power Rangers and Superheroes..oh my!

A few months ago, my baby turned 5. I have no idea how this happened, because I could swear it was only yesterday that he was learning to walk. I blinked and he's learning to read.

The thing about turning 5 is that you REALLY care about your birthday party. Last year we threw together a quick Star Wars party by making some pool noodle light sabers and cupcakes and we were good. This year though, the birthday was the talk of the family for months. The theme! The cake! The venue! Piñata or no piñata? There were days that I spent more time discussing the merits of various Power Rangers as cake toppers than I did on our wedding!

In the end he couldn't decide on a theme. We narrowed it down to the dinosaurs, Power Rangers and Superheroes. He requested a chocolate cake. After that I had to cut him off until the day before the party and then he could decide what he wanted on the cake. As you can see from the picture he chose dinosaurs. (Stegosaurus, of course!) I could swear that there was no persuasion on my part, but I was dino-crazy as a kid and I'm having waaaaaay too much fun being dino-crazy as a Mom to not try to sway him :)

The cake itself is one of my standbys. It's a slightly adapted version of one of the Barefoot Contessa's chocolate layer cakes. I chose not to use the frosting she recommends and instead went for a creamy chocolate buttercream from Joy the Baker. Neither recipe is overcomplicated, and the taste of the chocolate shines through. Don't be off-put by the coffee in the cake recipe. I usually use decaf in case anyone is avoiding caffeine but don't worry that it will taste like coffee. It just greatly enhances the flavor of the chocolate. You won't notice that it is there, but you will notice if it's not.

This is a worthy party cake, but not one that is too fancy for a casual get-together. Don't wait too long to try it!

Chocolate Cake
slightly adapted from The Barefoot Contessa


1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk 
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup hot coffee (I used decaf coffee but use whatever you prefer)

Preheat oven to 350 degres and prep two 8 inch round cake pans. Either butter the pans and then flour, or use a non-stick cooking spray (I like Baker's Joy)
Sift flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt together and pour into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment mix slowly until they are all combined. In a separate bowl, stir together all the liquid ingredients except for the coffee.

Slowly pour the bowl of wet ingredients into the dry in the mixer and mix on low speed to combine. Pour the coffee in and use a spatula to stir together.

Divide the batter between the two pans and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. 

Cool in the pan for 20-30 minutes and then finish cooling on a rack. Wait until completely cool before frosting.

Chocolate Buttercream frosting
slightly adapted from the Joy the Baker Cookbook

3/4 c unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), room temperature
1/2 unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 c powdered sugar
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 c heavy cream
1/3 Ovaltine powder

Using the stand mixer with a paddle attachment again, cream the butter, cocoa powder and salt together. Add in the powdered sugar and scrape down the sides before mixing on low. Immediately add in the milk and vanilla. Keep beating at a medium speed until it's smooth, stopping to scrape the sides as needed.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cream and Ovaltine. Pour into the mixer (still on medium speed) and mix until smooth. If the consistency is too thick or thin, adjust it by adding more milk or more powdered sugar until it's what you are looking for. Chill in the fridge for 20-30 minutes before frosting.

To assemble the cake:
Place one cake on the cake stand and frost the top. Place the second cake on top of it. Using an offset spatula, frost a very thin layer around the entire cake (this is called the crumb layer and it will keep the crumbs from showing through the main layer of frosting). Proceed in the same way to do a thicker layer  of frosting over the whole cake. I prefer to make this cake a little bit messy looking, rather than aiming for a totally smooth look, but it's really your preference.

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