Some moments in life deserve a special celebration.
And every celebration deserves cake!
I made this decadent chocolate cake, adorned in pastel floral accents for Nana’s birthday.
Nana loves chocolate, and this cake was the perfect combination of rich chocolate and light, fluffy cake.
Pastel gel food coloring gives the piped rosettes their bright yet gentle hues. Using three different piping tips creates visual interest between each color. The sprinkles are Wilton brand, picked up at Michael’s Craft Store, and placed meticulously onto the buttercream with tweezers.
Below, I’ve included each step of the cake:
- ½ cup greek yogurt
- 1 cup buttermilk (substitute: your preferred milk + 3/4 tsp cream of tartar)
- 3 large eggs
- 1 ½ cup fresh brewed espresso or strong coffee
- ¾ cup vegetable oil
- 1 tb vanilla extract
- 3 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 ⅔ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup cocoa powder
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- 1 tb baking soda
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- Prepare three 8 inch cake pans. Grease the inside of each pan by evenly coating them with butter. Use a paper towel to wipe up any excess butter. Sift ¼ cup cocoa powder into a separate bowl. Sprinkle the sifted cocoa powder on the buttered surface, turning the pan upside down over parchment paper to tap out any excess. This process helps the cake release from the pan more easily.
- If you are using buttermilk, skip this step. If not, mix your preferred milk (regular, oat or almond works) with ¾ teaspoon of cream of tartar. Whisk to combine and let set.
- In a medium-bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to combine.
- In a separate large bowl, combine the sour cream, eggs, buttermilk (or buttermilk substitute prepared in Step 2), vegetable oil, vanilla extract and coffee/espresso. Make sure the coffee/espresso is cool to the touch before combining it with the rest of the dry ingredients.
- Add the dry ingredients to the bowl with the wet ingredients. Using a hand mixer, combine the ingredients well for about one minute. Be mindful not to overmix.
- Distribute the batter evenly between the three pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes at 350° F. Test doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is done.
- Rest the cakes for 10 minutes. Then turn the cakes out onto a wire rack to cook completely.
The cake was baked in three 8″ cake pans (as per recipe instruction) and filled with a Mascarpone Strawberry filling (as per my affinity for Italian cheeses). This recipe I adapted from a Real Simple Article.
- 4 tb unsalted butter, softened to room temp.
- 8 oz cream cheese (full fat preferred).
- ½ cup mascarpone cheese (I recommend Trader Joe's brand).
- 1 ½ cup powdered sugar.
- ½ container of fresh strawberries
- 2-3 tb granulated sugar
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- pinch salt
- Pull the butter and cream cheese out of the fridge. Let it sit out on the counter while you prep the strawberries.
- Remove the strawberry stems and cut into quarters. I used about a half container of strawberries. ~Leftovers are great to eat by themselves so no worries if you cut too many!~
- Sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of granulated sugar over the strawberries and toss to coat. Let sit for 7-10 minutes until juices are coming out and the strawberries are softened. This process is called macerating — using sugar to break down the fruit.
- Mash strawberries with the back of a fork. You don’t want any big chunks but some small ones are okay. Set aside.
- In a stand mixer, or using a hand mixer and large bowl, whip butter and cream cheese until fluffy.
- Switch to low speed, add powdered sugar, mascarpone, vanilla and a pinch of salt. Measure out 2 tablespoons of the macerated strawberries and add to mixture. Mix until just combined.
White Vanilla Buttercream
- 1 ½ lb powdered sugar
- 1 ½ cup unsalted butter (3 standard sticks), softened to room temp.
- ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- Beat butter until soft and fluffy.
- Incorporate powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, waiting until combined before adding more.
- Once all powdered sugar is mixed into butter, add salt and vanilla extract.
- Add the whipping cream in a slow steady stream with the mixer still on.
As far as timing goes, I baked the cake on Saturday, trimmed it and filled it with the Mascarpone filling. Then I added a crumb coat to seal in the freshness of the cake and to give myself a smooth base for decorating.
For more information about how to crumb coat a cake, check out this King Arthur Flour article.
The cake stayed in the fridge until Sunday morning, after making a second batch of buttercream (just in case) and preparing my colors. I decorated on Sunday and left in the fridge until the party Sunday night.
This kept extremely well in the fridge and the buttercream holds up after sitting on the counter for a few hours. I removed the cake from the fridge about 15 minutes before serving.
For all those roses…
To decorate, I used the watercolor technique around the entire cake; created by adding splotches of colored frosting and smoothing out against the white frosting. This served as my background for the piped rosettes. I began with the largest rosettes first, then filled in with smaller.
For the top of the cake, it’s important to divide the large rosettes evenly before filling in with smaller piping. Pipe the rosettes as if you are cutting the cake in half each time, instead of attempting to go in a circle. Pipe one rosette, then turn the cake around and pipe the next on the opposite side of the cake. Pipe the next in between these two rosettes, and continue until all are piped.
For a visual tutorial, check out this video by Wilton.
It’s an extremely fun technique that requires one hand motion. Practice on a sheet of parchment before decorating your cake! Once you feel comfortable with the rosette piping motion, start decorating your cake.
Piping for practice on parchment (say that three times fast) is also a great way to see how your piping tips look before using them on the cake.
The techniques used to create this cake were completely doable and I truly enjoyed putting it together. It takes patience and time, but it can be done!
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THE BIRTHDAY GIRL
On a Personal Note
Technique aside, what truly makes a cake like this worth a weekend of work is the people with whom you share it.
That look in their eye when you walk into a room holding a cake like this is simply priceless! That sheer excitement is the most magical part of food, when you bring a smile to the people who partake. That moment, that joy, is really what it’s all about. To be quite cheesy, those moments truly show that yes, food is an act of love.
For me it was a privilege to bring that moment to Nana, and to share this delicious dessert with my family.
Happy Birthday Nana.