Friday, December 07, 2007

Chocolate Birthday Cake


Birthday cake was the very first thing I learnt to make, and the very first recipe I knew by heart. My parents were big on homemade birthday cakes for their kids. At least two times a year (on the birthdays of my sister and myself), the big oven would get pulled out from the little storage room beneath the stairs and dusted off. Equal weights of eggs, butter (usually home-churned), sugar (powdered in the mixie) and flour (sifted with baking powder) were set out. Ritually, butter and sugar were creamed together with some vanilla essence. Beaten eggs and flour were added in tandem, a little at a time, until a thick and creamy batter emerged. The batter would get divided into two parts. One part got tutti frutti and chopped walnuts stirred into it, and the other got a few spoonfuls of cocoa powder. The two batters were dropped in random clumps into a cake pan lined with newspaper, and after a hour of baking, a random marbled cake emerged, with swirls of pale yellow and dark brown. Ocassionally, the birthday girl would request a more colorful cake, and then the batter would get divided into four, and two portions would get pink or green food coloring to result in a beautifully ribboned cake with swirls of pastel colors. This pound cake was an all-round favorite, and when I was in high school, my friends and I would bake the cake without supervision. Which is to say that I would bake, and everyone else would sit around and tell me to hurry up so that they could lick the spoons and bowls.

And this is why, to me, birthdays = birthday cake. There may be a party, or not. There may be presents, or not. But a homemade birthday cake made just for the birthday boy or girl is the stuff that is worth turning a year older for. Today, for V's birthday, here is what I made him: a layered chocolate cake with a raspberry filling and a ganache frosting.

The basic chocolate cake recipe came from The Art of Simple Food. In her book, Alice Waters gives several tips for turning out light and airy cakes, including-
1. Using cake flour for a more delicate result. Of course, if you live someplace where cake flour is not available, regular all-purpose flour (maida) can be used.
2. All ingredients should be at room temperature.
3. The first 5 minutes of baking are crucial, so it is important to have an oven that has been pre-heated for 10-15 minutes so that it is is properly warmed up.
4. Beating the sugar and butter together well to make an fluffy aerated mass.

Apart from the usual suspects- flour, butter, eggs, sugar and vanilla extract- this recipe calls for a double dose of chocolate- both cocoa powder and some melted chocolate in the batter. It also calls for some buttermilk. In Indian cuisine, buttermilk refers to either the liquid left over from churning butter, or to simple diluted yogurt. In the US, it refers to tangy thick cultured milk. One can buy liquid buttermilk in quart sizes but I recently took Lydia's advice and bought myself a tub of buttermilk powder. Now I can quickly make buttermilk as required. The most unusual (for me) "ingredient" in this cake is boiling water! Once the main ingredients have been mixed together, more than a cup of boiling water is added to make the batter. It feels downright bizarre to pour water into a cake batter. Unusual or not, it works.

This cake is moist, soft and absolutely chocolatey. I have been trying different recipes for chocolate cakes for several years, trying to find the one recipe that I really like and that I can use as my go-to chocolate cake recipe for making cupcakes, layer cakes and sheet cakes for all ocassions. I have found it!!!

Chocolate Cake

(Adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters)
Ingredients (all at room temperature)
4 oz bittersweet chocolate
1/2 C (1 stick) butter
1 1/2 C sugar
2 t vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1/2 C buttermilk
1 1/4 C boiling water
To be sifted together
2 C cake flour (or all-purpose flour)
6 T cocoa powder
2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
0. Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter two round 8-inch cake pans, cover the bottom with a circle of parchment paper, butter it lightly, and coat the pans lightly with cocoa or flour.
1. Melt the chocolate: chop it coarsely, then microwave for 30 second bursts, stirring after each burst. It took me only a minute, or less to get this amount of chocolate melted. This can also be done in a double boiler.
2. In a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add sugar and vanilla, and beat very well for 5-10 minutes until very light and fluffy.
3. Beat in the eggs one at a time.
4. Stir in the melted chocolate.
5. Stir in half the dry mixture.
6. Stir in the buttermilk.
7. Stir in the rest of the dry mixture. At this point, the batter was so thick that it was more like a dough. Hang on.
8. Slowly, stir in the boiling water until it is just incorporated. Now you will have a smooth and glossy batter.
9. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes clean. Cool completely before frosting.

Frosting: The cake tastes wonderful just as it is, but adding some frosting is, well, the icing on the cake (apparently we need more metaphors for this phenomenon). Buttercream frosting does look beautiful on cakes, especially if you do some fancy piping. I can't stand to eat it, however, and decided to frost the cake with some ganache- cream and chocolate whisked together to a thick dreamy paste. One could also use plain sweetened whipped cream for this cake- it is chocolatey enough to stand up to that. For the ganache, chop 4 oz chocolate (bittersweet or milk chocolate or any combination of those). Heat 1/2 C heavy cream in a small saucepan nearly to boiling point, then pour it over the chocolate. Let it stand for 5 minutes, then whisk together. The 1:1 proportion of chocolate to cream is important because if you add too much cream, the result will be runny and not a frosting at all (been there, done that, won't be making that mistake again).

Filling: I love the combination of fruit and chocolate and decided on a classic raspberry filling for this cake. I used this raspberry filling recipe from Smitten Kitchen (halved the recipe, but in the end I needed only half of the halved recipe). Except that I was too lazy to strain the seeds out of the pureed raspberries and just left them in (apologizing mentally to the people who are going to eat this cake and will just have to deal with a mouthful of raspberry seeds). Next time, I will definitely strain the puree. Or just buy some raspberry preserves and use them instead.

Assembling the cake: First, I turned out the cooled cakes from the cake pans and gently used a knife to remove the "dome" of the cakes to make even layers. This is going to take me some practice but is not that difficult. An assembled layer cake is difficult to move around, and I found it easy to assemble the cake right on the surface where I was planning to serve it. To keep the surface clean, tear some paper towels/parchment paper into four strips and place them in a square on the surface, then place the cake on these strips. Place one layer on the surface, spread with a layer of filling; not to thick or it will ooze out and make a mess. Then the second layer, then slather with the ganache. I did my best to do a neat job but it was still ...umm...let's call it shabby chic. Garnish with fresh raspberries if desired. The extra ganache/crumbs will drop on these strips. Once the cake is frosted, the strips can be gently pulled out, leaving a clean surface behind.

Happy Birthday, my love!

Have a sweet weekend, everyone!


  1. Lovely cake, Nupur! And a very Happy Birthday weekend to V! HBTY, HBTY, HBTY, V, HBTY!

    I can't remember where I read this but apparently professional bakers spoon their flour into the measuring cups as opposed to scooping it out with the cup measure. This adds to the airiness of the flour and their cakes are therefore less dense.

    I'd give anything for a slice of that cake with those gorgeous berries with a cup of coffee right now! We have snow on the ground, fog in the air and it's too cold to go to the local parade. :-(

  2. Who needs a gift, when someone has put in so much care and love into baking such a lovely cake?! Wishing V a very happy birthday,

  3. Nupur..the cake..the decoration and the write-up leading to the recipe is wonderful. I would love to have a huge pc. myself ;)...and please wish V a very happy birthday from my side :)..have a great weekend girl...

  4. It was a pleasure reading this post and definitely its not a shabby chic, especially when it is made with so much of love :) Looks like a very good recipe, as I have seen another one in America's test Kitchen where they use ingredients like melted chocos , boiling water and buttermilk...Am sure V is delighted to have such a tasty cake:)


  5. I couldn't agree more on the birthday = home made birthday cake theory. And at home, the standard cake baked for me is dark choc cuz I was (and still am) a compulsive choc addict. I had tried that cake too, recently.

    Yours looks really delish. I have to hunt in Hyd for some frosting. I am sure something would be available..

  6. What a gorgeous cake!! your hubby sure is lucky :) A very happy b'day to him!

  7. Best wishes to b'day boy. Lovely cake and nothing, but nothing is equal to home made cake!

  8. my my Nupur so delicious looking cake wish I could dig in, I for some reason when ever I bake I still get egg smell which I cannot tolerate, so I gave up baking :(

  9. It's beautiful Nupur! Happy Birthday to V.!!! I love chocolate cake and I think adding a raspberry filling is one of the very few things you can do to improve on the perfect combination of chocolate cake with chocolate icing :) My mom would be in heaven with this cake - she adores the combination of chocolate and raspberry... I'll have to remember this post come next October!

  10. nice post and cake looks delecious

  11. Birthday wishes from me too...
    This recipe comes just in time...there is a birthday coming up next week - my Dad's. And yes, a birthday cake makes a birthday like nothing else can!
    That icing looks very chic, finger-licking good!

  12. The only cake which has come out with perfection from MY oven is ur Black Forest Cake.. looks like this is gonna be the NEXT one ! all gud wishes to ur hubby for a perfect Birthday :)

  13. Simple but elegant cake Nupur, I too remember my days where my mom used to make her best sponge cake ever with home churned butter, it was like a ritual where all her kids sit around her to see how she makes. Great memories eh!! Birthday wishes to V, have a great weekend

  14. Manisha, thank you so much...your bday song is making us smile :) there is a slice waiting for you if you want to hop on a plane! Yes, it is miserable weather here too, very rainy and cold :( we are bummed because my b'day gift to V was for him to go skydiving. It will have to wait for better weather, looks like.
    You are so right about the flour bit: the problem is that US recipes measure flour by volume rather than weight. One can pack varying weights of flour into a cup and more flour means a much denser cake. I have also read that it is best to fluff up the flour in the container before scooping it gently into the cup measure using a spoon.

    Kamini, thank you so much! It is a good thing too, because I did not buy a "proper" gift for V at all :D

    Rajitha, thank you for the sweet words and the wishes. Come and visit me, and I promise you a HUGE slice!

    Shn, your cakes are so spectacular...I can only stare at them with longing! Yes, this sort of cake seems to be a popular recipe, and it does turn out very light and nice. V was delighted for sure, he has a mega sweet tooth :)

    Nags, oh, choc addicts have their name written all over this cake! Why do you want to go hunting for frosting? Make it at home with simple cream and a chocolate bar (for the ganache) or some butter and sugar and cocoa (for traditional buttercream frosting). Store-bought frosting is quite awful :D you will get much better results at home!

    Tee, lucky? Well, in return for a cake, he has to deal with I don't know about that :D thanks for the wishes!

    Aparna, you are so right! Even with all those imperfections, it is the thought of making something just for that one person that matters :) b'day boy says thanks!

    Sreelu, I totally know what you mean by the eggy smell! Do you get that smell even when you make highly flavored cakes like chocolate cake? This one has so much vanilla and two kinds of choc that the eggy smell was undetectable to me (of course everyone has a different level of sensitivity).
    Of course there are lots of wonderful eggless cake recipes out there, Sreelu, do don't give up baking just yet :)

    Cathy, V says thanks :) you are also choc-raspberry fan?? For your mom, you could even make a three/four-layer cake to get more raspberry in there! I was too scared to further cut my two layers :D

    Sagari, glad you like it!

    Anita, thank you, thank you...and Happy Birthday in advance to your Dad. This icing is just cream and chocolate: just divine and totally lickable :D

    Abhi, I made that black forest cake so long ago that I had forgotten all about it! I think this cake recipe, in combination with the black forest cream/choc/cherries filling and decoration would be just marvellous! If you get a chance, try this icing- I think you will like it. Thanks for all the wishes :)

    Padmaja, yes, "ritual" is the best way to describe the making of cakes! Such sweet memories. Thanks for the wishes!

  15. Such a beautiful cake Nupur. Loved it. Many many happy returns of the day for V.
    I too love home made b'day cakes.

  16. Hi Nupur, the cake looks beautiful with the shiny ganache and lovely little red raspberries! I'm sure it's decadently delish :) Happy birthday to V and happy weekend to you both! :)

  17. Nupur - Lovely cake.. i so much love Chocolate in any form!! Sure V was pround of the cake u baked with love. Its not Shabby! Thats mean to say that - it looks lovely! Those Rasberries look so cute on top.. Happy Birthday to V!

  18. That is a lovely b'day cake out there! the pic is sooo tempting! there is so much more love when the cake is personally done..May I have a bite please..couldn't resist asking for it!

  19. Nupur,
    The cake looks gorgeous! Happy Birthday to V! I'm sure he enjoyed tucking into this mouthwatering delicacy!

  20. What a lovely cake! and the recipe is very handy since someone very special is going to have a birthday soon!:-) & Oh, happy birthday to V!Enjoy!

  21. Oh, yes, this is a proper birthday cake. A real birthday cake must always be chocolate!

  22. Lovely Birthday cake nupur!!

  23. Looks divine Nupur! Sorry I have not been around. But all the same - wishing V a very Happy belated Birthday and many more to come. Hope you guys are staying warm and having a wonderful holiday season!

  24. I hope V had a wonderful birthday! I love how the frosting is so glossy. It's a really beautiful cake. And I am so with you that birthdays = cake!!! ; )

  25. That is a lovely birthday cake, elaborate but well worth it. Love the shiny choclate layer and the fresh raspberries. That is awfully sweet of you Nupur. Happy Birthday to V.

  26. This is such a loving post! Beautiful cake, beautiful feelings and a heart warming backstory! Happy B'day to V :). Now gimme my slice ;).


  27. Happy birthday to V. What a lovely cake Nupur. I wish I could grab a slice.

    Bought paper rolls and will try and replicate your summer rolls at home soon.

  28. Shilpa, your cakes are just drop-dead gorgeous! I still have a long way to go :) V says thanks for the wishes!

    Linda, it did taste very decadent and sinful :D thank you for the wishes! It is a miserable weekend here, weather-wise, but we are trying to make the best of it :)

    Seema, thank you so much, my dear! :)

    Rachel, of course you may, go on, dig right in :D

    Namita, he did enjoy every bite of it! Thank you for the sweet wishes :)

    Meera, Wishing the special someone a very happy birthday in advance!

  29. Lydia, that's right! It's the law! :D

    Rak's Kitchen, thank you :)

    Latha, thank you so much for the warm wishes!

    Anali, yes, ganache looks glossy and velvety and tastes that way too. V did have a lovely birthday although the weather upset some of our plans!

    Indosungod, yes, it is more elaborate than my usual 10-minute cooking, but much less effort than one would expect! Thanks for the wishes :)

    Musical, let's make a deal: you come visit me and I will make a *whole* cake just for you :) why just a slice when you can have a whole cake? ;)

    Raaga, you found the rice paper?! Awesome! I hope you like the rolls.

  30. Happy Birthday To V....I am late to the parteeee.
    Gorgeous cake Nupur, he must have been a happy guy seeing that :)

  31. This cake looks divine Nupur!! I love chocolate ganache and the combination with raspberry must be superb. Sending best wishes to V.
    The way you described the cake made by your parents.. was mouthwatering...

  32. Happy Birthday to V. Nupur that looks gorgeous. I am late to the party, is the cake all gone? :)

  33. Wish V a Wonderful B'day. Though am sure it was already quite wonderful just having this totally drool worthy cake!

  34. Sweet! Love the cake and the write-up :) Your mom's cake sounds so much like my mom's - the green and pink layers - perfect! What more could a kid want? I don't eat eggs any more and never feel confident baking with substitutes, but I know I have to keep trying! And how could I forget - A belated Happy Birthday to V :)

  35. Belated B'day wishes to V!! sorry abt the delay, but ever since I ma facing probs with food blog desam, I have been lagging behind!!
    The cake looks SUPERB!!PERFECT! This is the BEST gift u could give V!! He must hv been so happy!!
    B'day = Cake, home made cake!! nothing can beat that!!!
    Liked the story about ur childhood b'day memories!! ur Mom rocks!!

  36. Oh how did I miss this post.
    What a divine, beautiful, gorgeous, fantabulous (running out of adjectives here) cake!
    Chocolate and raspberry or orange is a great combination.

  37. I'm the world's worst at frosting cakes, so I have to say that yours isnt shabby chic - it's fantastic!

  38. Belated Birthday Greetings to 'V' ! well, Nupur ! What better gift 'v' could ask for ? You are his Lady love and also the 'icing' on the cake ! He is so lucky to have such a gifted and talented wife!

    Happy holiday greetings to both of you ! AND OF COURSE , OUR BELOVED DALE TOO !


  39. Hey Nupur
    as suggested by u, this time for new year's I made the black forest cake (which i have made trice with ur recipe !! and am in love with :)) with this chocolate base. The base was really gud to eat on its own but somehow everyone liked it better without the whole black forest arrangement. We all liked ur original black forest assembly better. I wud definitely be making this chocolate cake again with the ganache. BTW i tried malai kofta yesterday, it came out really delicious and without any guilt of deep frying! thanks again for all the lovely work.. have a gud one :)

  40. Can yoghurt be used in place of buttermilk?

  41. Hello Nupur,

    A very nice blog... I read your post on the birthday cake and I so agree with you...

    A cake made at home speaks a lot than any other gift...

    Anyways, I was hoping to make this for my friend's b'day this Friday...but I have one question..

    I had bought measuring cups from India and am not sure if the measurement is correct...

    How much is a cup that you use ? Like in 'ml' I guess...I would really be very thankful if you can reply to this question...also what choclate brand should I use ? Any suggestions ?

    Thanks a lot for this beautiful post!


  42. Mala, the measurements are in standard US cups. 1 cup is 8 oz. I found info online that says, 1 cup is 240 ml. Please do some web searches to double-check the quantities.
    The chocolate brand does not matter. These days, I only use fair-trade chocolate, and here it was Trader Joe's bittersweet fair-trade chocolate that I used. But the brand should not make a difference, I think.
    Good luck, and happy birthday to your friend!

  43. Dear Nupur,

    Thanks a lot for the clarification. :)

    Your measurement makes sense and as you suggested I checked it out and you are right !

    I will let you know how the cake turned out..

    Thanks again for everything !!


  44. Dearest Nupur,

    Just finished making the cake...It came out sooooo well !

    I didnt have 2 pans, so I had to use the same pan twice :)

    Thanks so much for the wonderful recipe....


  45. Hi Nupur,
    love your friendly casual tone in one hot stove, its really like talking to an old friend. Just looking through your recipe index and found this recipe. My daughter was born just 4 days before u posted this entry!
    I am planning to bake this cake for my husband's birthday this year!
    Thanks for your lovely recipes and the stories that go with them...

  46. Hi Nupur,

    I have been following your blog for a few months now and you have been of great help in making my husband of one year believe that I can cook :) I made this cake for my dad's birthday this week and wanted to thank you for posting this recipe. It was a big hit and reminded us of the yummy cakes we ate growing up in Bandra.

    Thanks, once again!!!



  47. oh I like that chocolate
    i love eating that's why im too fat now :)
    but most of the time what i eat are any kind of chocolates
    like milk chocolate ,French macarons, and macarons london and so on.
    well anyway that chocolate recipe above is interesting i wanna try that at home.


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