Thursday, March 4, 2010

Birthday Cake

It was my birthday on the 27th. I turned 23. Obviously, this required cake. Not just any cake, either. It required a cake that would fit my exact specifications of what a good cake should have.

My biggest problem with store bought cakes is the frosting. It's so sweet it makes my teeth hurt just thinking about it and it's always an inch thick. The cake is just as sweet and it's just like eating a bag of creamy sugar. I understand how that can be appealing (maybe), but it really isn't for me. The frosting in the bakery aisle is only slightly better. It's still too sweet. There's never any depth to the flavors of these icings. It's just sugar with maybe a hint of vanilla.

Something had to be done.

It also couldn't involve chocolate because Dan is not a chocolate fan and I was not going to be eating cake by myself for the next five days. Let's face it, I could do it, but it's better that I don't.

I was browsing Mark Bittman's archives for interesting recipes and came across a cupcake recipe using ganache. Apparently ganache is always chocolate, but I figured I could tweak the ingredients to get pureed raspberries to make a ganache that held up like a regular chocolate ganache.

I really wanted the raspberry flavor to be alive, so I used the least amount of sugar I thought possible in the puree. I used 1/4 cup of sugar for each bag of raspberries and 1/2 cup of heavy cream went into the whole thing. (I didn't strain the raspberries because I didn't have the proper equipment, next time I think I would work with the juice and make a syrup to avoid seeds. The seeds weren't that noticeable in the final cake, but I know someone like my dad wouldn't enjoy eating it because he would feel the seeds in his teeth too much.)

(Like my makeshift cooling rack? Lincoln-logged aluminum foil.)

I only used two cups of the puree in the ganache. With the rest I attempted to make muffins - not a failure, considering I've never written a muffin recipe before, but not a success either - and I have a small container in the freezer which is serving as a raspberry sorbet.


Ganache is basically just adding some creamy ingredients - butter and heavy cream - to your base ingredient and adding a little bit of sugar. Then cooking it in a pan over low heat until everything is combined.

I was worried that it didn't set up enough. I've never made chocolate ganache before, so I had no idea what the consistency was going to be like. I fretted and let it sit in the fridge for a couple of hours (while we ate some awesome Columbian food with Dan's dad).

(I only had one real cooling rack. And by "real" I mean it's actually a grate for outdoor fire cooking.)

The consistency didn't change. So I just went with it. Even if it didn't set on the cake, it would still be tasty on the soggy side and I would go back to the drawing board.

However, as you can see from the lead photo, it worked out quite well. It set up on the cake after being in the fridge - which I later learned from some other random reading about frosting with ganache is how to use it: one coat ganache, fridge until it smooths out, second layer of ganache. I will be following that technique next time.


Even without the perfect frosting treatment, it was still delicious. I used a standard white cake recipe from my America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, which I was hoping would be a little fluffier, but it was still very good. It was just the right amount of sweet and eggy and it paired beautifully with the tangy, cinnamony raspberry ganache.

adapted from Mark Bittman's Chocolate Cupcakes

makes 4-5 cups
3 bags frozen raspberries, thawed
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup heavy cream, divided
  • Add one bag of raspberries to blender with 1/4 cup sugar and puree until smooth.
  • Repeat with second bag, this time also adding 1/4 cup of heavy cream.
  • Repeat with third bag.
Makes enough to frost a two-layer cake 
2 cups raspberry puree
2 Tbs sugar
7 Tbs butter
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 Tbs. cinnamon
  • Add all ingredients to a heavy saucepan over low heat.
  • Stir frequently to combine all ingredients.
  • When ganache is smooth, remove from heat and allow to cool.
  • Make sure the cake has cooled at least an hour before icing. If it's too hot, the cake will just crumble.
  • Add a dab of icing to the bottom of the plate - this prevents the cake from slipping around.
  • Add the first layer of cake.
  • Slide strips of parchment paper under the cake to keep your serving plate clean.
  • Apply ganache to the top only of the first layer, leaving 1/4" border around the edge. Find a happy medium between under frosting and over frosting this layer.
  • Place top layer of cake on top.
  • Pour spoonfuls of ganache over top of cake, allowing it to drip down the sides. Use a metal icing spatula to smooth out the sides and the top of the cake.
  • Place in refrigerator, uncovered, until the ganache is smooth. (I didn't do this, but I would next time, so I'm not sure how long it would have to be in there, probably not that long, I will update this the next time I make it.)
  • Remove from refrigerator and apply second layer of ganache.
  • Add raspberries and any other decorations you may want. Suggestions: chocolate shavings, additional fruit, Grand Marnier-spiked whipped cream (Steve's suggestion), edible flowers, etc.


  1. Wow looks so delicious! As huge of a chocolate fan that I am, the colors here are gorgeous and sure beat chocolate's brown!

  2. Thank you! Part of the inspiration for this cake was in thinking of how to make frosting different colors without using food coloring.

  3. darling that looks simply marvellous!!! job well done! what a fab bday cake!!

  4. Now that is my kind of cake - beautiful. Happy b-day!

  5. How beautiful, Liz. The colors are to die for - I hate sticky sweet cakes as well.

  6. Thank you, all :) This was a big endeavor for me as I am just getting into baking more and I have a really intense desire to make really pretty cakes (how can you not when you know what's out there?).

    I'm going to be experimenting more in the future with flavoral ways of adding colors and fruity/less-sweet flavors to cake.

  7. Mmm, I like how that pink frosting is just dripping off that cake. Looks amazingly moist. What fun!

  8. Very original frosting. I agree with you that store bought frosting is too sweet. It sets my teeth on edge. Yours looks delicious

  9. What a beautiful cake! It's something different and a welcome change from sickly sweet. Bet that icing would taste great with some chocolate too. Hope you had a great birthday.