To Die For, Part II

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Bucky cakes in their natural habitat

I was out of town visiting some friends last week, and one of our mutual friends recently had a birthday but didn’t get to celebrate it due to circumstances that are much too complicated to try to explain here. I said I could make something when I was up, we could have a little belated birthday thing.

I’d been with them a week or two earlier and had been talking up the brownie ice cream bars; they said they wanted me to make those. I was thinking about it and trying to figure out logistics, but then I started thinking about what I make for myself on my own birthday, which are these beautiful little chocolate cakes with chocolate frosting that were born out of an article I read in ReadyMade magazine a few years ago.

My oven has some problematic aspects to it, but I have a fabulous toaster oven that’s large enough to roast a chicken, and if I can roast a chicken in my toaster oven, what do I need an oven for? So I gave up thinking about fixing the problematic aspects of my oven. The only problem that remained — the only thing I occasionally wanted but couldn’t make — was cake. The cake pans I had did not fit into the toaster oven.

So I’d given up on the idea of oven repair, and for the time being, on the idea of cake. But I wasn’t happy about it. And one day I’m reading ReadyMadeand they have this picture of someone who make these little cakes, I think for their wedding, and they used tuna cans as the cake pans. And I was like, “Hey! This totally solves my cake problem!”

It was decidedly a Eureka moment.

With the help of my friend Bucky (for whom the cakes were subsequently named) I procured six of the proper-sized tins and made a cake recipe and baked the cake batter in the tins and there was a little bit of trial and error to get the right recipe and bake everything properly but now I have it down and the cakes are pretty amazing.

So I’m thinking about what to do for my friend’s birthday and I decided to put the question to my friend Ann, who has had both the bucky cakes and the brownie ice cream bars. Even though I already knew what her answer was going to be.

I said, “Should I make the brownie ice cream bars or the bucky cakes?” Without hesitation, she said “Bucky cakes.” I said, “I knew you’d say that.”

I told her she was biased toward the bucky cakes because she had a prior relationship with them. She said, “No, that’s not it. It’s because they’re so perfect. What could be better on your birthday than this beautiful little cake, that’s just for you, that you don’t have to share with anyone?”

I decided Ann was right.

I caught some flak from my friends who’d been looking forward to the brownie ice cream bars, but I made the bucky cakes, and promised we could do the ice cream bars next time I’m up. I’m not sure if my friend whose birthday it was appreciated the cake quite as much as Ann does, but I did my best.

The reason I like these so much is because (a) the frosting is really to die for (possibly in a literal sense, it includes raw egg yolks as one of the main ingredients) and (b) the small-sized cake means you have a much better ratio of frosting to cake than you do in a standard layer cake.

You can make the cake using any pans — or, alternatively, I could use any cake or frosting recipe in the mini pans that I use — but as far as I’m concerned, this is just right. The cake is light and the frosting is rich, and they complement each other perfectly.

Don’t waste these on someone you don’t love. And in fact, I highly recommend you make these for yourself on your birthday — that way you know you’ll have at least one thing that makes you happy. And who doesn’t want that?

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake
from The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook

2 cups sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1 cup buttermilk
Chocolate Frosting (see below)

Have all ingredients at room temperature. Adjust the rack to the lower third of the oven; preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

Using an electric mixer, preferably with a paddle attachment, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and continue to cream until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla, then the cooled melted chocolate.

Add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.

Spoon equal amounts of batter into each pan, spreading it to level the top. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Invert and remove pans; cool completely on racks before frosting.

Chocolate Frosting
adapted from Larry Forgione, An American Place, by way of The New York Times

1-1/4 stick butter
2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tablespoons + 2 teaspoons water
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 egg yolks
10 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled

1. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter with water and cocoa powder, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and let cool.

2. Add confectioners’ sugar and vanilla, and stir until smooth. Stir in egg yolks until smooth, and then chocolate. Use immediately.

And here are my notes…

You can substitute 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour for cake flour.

Note that you need to sift the flour before measuring. If you measure then sift, you’ll use too much flour. Especially if you substitute all-purpose flour for cake flour without adjusting for that. Trust me on that one.

As mentioned, I cook these in mini pans in my mini oven. I get 15 cake layers from the recipe above. Once they’re cooked and cooled, I trim the rounded top part off to make them flat, and then I put them together to make five, three-layer cakes. (This last time I made them, though, I got five, two-layer cakes plus one extra layer. Not sure what happened there.)

I make the cakes one day, let them sit overnight, and frost them the next day.

I generally get some kind of fancy chocolate from Whole Foods for the frosting, usually Callebaut because it’s the cheaper option, but sometimes Valrhona. This is definitely a situation where the better the chocolate you’re starting with, the better the frosting will be.

In the frosting recipe where it says “use immediately,” they’re not kidding. You need to work with the frosting while it’s pourable (i.e., before the butter and chocolate re-solidify) because it’s not spreadable when it’s hardened. You’ve basically just made chocolate-flavored butter (or butter-flavored chocolate) and the way I handle it is to pour it onto the bottom layer of cake, put the next layer on top of that and press down so it oozes out the sides and then repeat with the top layer. Someone with more skill than I have might be able to actually spread the frosting all over the cake, but I gave up on that idea early, and now I deal with it like a glaze, I let it run down the sides. The finished product actually looks quite lovely.

(If you do have enough talent to spread the frosting, you might want to double the recipe. What I gave there is half of what was printed in the New York Times, because the original recipe made way more frosting than I could use. And trust me, the last thing I need sitting around in my refrigerator is a mess of chocloate-flavored butter.)

One Response to “To Die For, Part II”

  1. kelley Says:

    wow tuna cans wouldn’t have come to mind, i too use a toaster oven but it”s a bit bigger with a convection setting but tuna cans would be great for little cakes !! thanks for the inspiration!!!o

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