I enjoy baking, but don't bake just to have cookies or whatever in the house--too tempting. So I look forward to occasions to bake for others. For a potluck earlier this week, I offered a cake, and the host was very enthusiastic. I have a number of good recipes for cakes that don't need a frosting, and that's what I usually do, avoiding the extra steps of adding a final layer. But this time I felt like doing something that was a bit more of production (a two-layer cake rather than a bundt pan or sheet cake, and frosting too), and it was definitely worth it. I received many compliments on the final product! Baking the cake also provided an occasion to think about my mother, from whom I learned to bake. I think most cooking can readily be learned from instructions in a cookbook, but in baking there are some little things that it helps to have demonstrated. Like how to keep the frosting off the serving plate that you've got the cake on, which my mother showed me how to do by cutting four large triangles of waxed paper, laying them around on the plate (points all in the center), putting down the cake layers, frosting them, and then pulling out the opposite triangles.
I used a recipe for Mocha Chocolate Chip Cake that I saved from the New York Times a while back. Click here to see a nice photo of the cake and for the original recipe; recipe below slightly modified. I was tempted to substitute unsalted butter for salted, and light brown sugar for the turbinado sugar, but decided in the end to do as the recipe said. I don't know how the alternatives would have been, but the cake was great as is. I did lessen the espresso powder a bit, and didn't use all the liquid in the frosting. And for sifting flour, I use a sifter just like the one my mother had. For a while you couldn't find this kind (with a handle you turn to spin the sifter blades), but I see they're now readily available on Amazon. So much easier than the squeeze mechanism that was dominant for a while:
For the cake
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, softened
2-1/4 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/3 cups turbinado sugar
2 large eggs
1-1/2 t. vanilla extract
2-1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. kosher salt
1 cup milk (anything from skim to whole milk; I used skim)
1 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips, roughly chopped; or mini-chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli Bittersweet chips)
For the frosting
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
1/8 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. vanilla extract
2 T. instant espresso
2 T. boiling water
3/4 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips, for decorating (I left the chips whole, but the Ghirardelli bittersweet chips are large, flat buttons and didn't look as nice as the smaller chocolate chips in the Times photo. Next time I would either use the smaller chips on top, or I would chop up these chips somewhat finely and sprinkle on the top of the cake)
1) Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 8-inch cake pans with flour/oil mixture (or butter and flour the pans). Then line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper cut to fit. (I was tempted not to use the parchment paper, but online comments on the Times recipe mentioned it was needed because of the melting chocolate chips in the batter.)
2) Using an electric mixer and a large bowl, mix the butter and sugar until evenly blended. Add eggs and vanilla and mix again until smooth.
3) In a separate bowl, whisk or sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Add half the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar/egg mixture, mix well, then add half the milk and mix again. Repeat with remaining dry ingredients and milk. (The batter may look a little curdled; this is fine.) Add the chopped chocolate chips and mix well.
4) Pour the batter into the pans and bake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 30-35 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes before removing cakes from pans to a rack to cool further.
5) When the cake layers are completely cool, make the frosting. Using an electric mixer, mix the confectioners' sugar with the butter, salt, and vanilla, until well blended. In a small bowl, mix the espresso powder with the boiling water to dissolve. Add it to the frosting, starting with a tablespoon of liquid and adding more as needed to get the consistency needed for a spreadable frosting.
6) Prepare a serving platter with 4 large triangles of waxed paper, points toward the center; this protects the plate from the frosting. Place one cake layer on top of the paper, smooth rounded top down on the plate. Spread about one-third of the frosting over the top in an even layer. Place the second layer on top of the frosting, smooth rounded top on top. Spread the rest of the frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Decorate with chocolate chips. Remove the waxed paper by pulling out opposite sides at once. Here's a photo of my cake with the large chips. They look a little clunky, but that didn't interfere with the taste!