Death by Ganache Chocolate Cake
This recipe is not for the faint at heart! But if you have basic skills in baking, have access to some really good chocolate (like Vahlrona, E. Guittard, etc.) and are Hell-bent upon blowing people’s minds (like a mother-in-law), this chocolate cake recipe is just for you.
The cake is neither complicated, nor difficult. But you need to pay attention to the directions and what you are doing. All steps written below are tried-and-true at least fifty times and I make this cake every year for one holiday or special event, and for every one of my youngest son’s birthdays. The recipe is divided into four phases for ease in completion, and I encourage you to read over the steps several times before starting. It just limits mistakes that way.
You will never, ever taste a cake as moist and rich as this.
Part I: The Genoise
5 tablespoons of unsalted butter (plus more for buttering the pan)
2/3 cup of sifted cake flour (very important!)
1/3 cup sifted dutch-processed cocoa
1/8 teaspoon (or large pinch) of baking soda
6 large eggs
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Godiva Chocolate Liqueur
Begin preheating your oven to 350 degrees (F). Butter a 9-inch or 10-inch round cake pan, line the bottom with parchment paper and butter the paper. Flour the entire interior of the pan, tapping out the excess flour.
Sift the flour, cocoa and soda together into a medium bowl and set aside.
In a small saucepan over low heat, clarify the butter by melting and skimming off the white foam. Pour the clarified yellow butter into a small bowl and discard the white liquid at the bottom. Set the melted butter aside in a warm place.
In a medium heat-proof bowl, whisk together the eggs, then add the sugar and whisk well. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly until the mixture is warm to the touch and the sugar has dissolved. (This takes about 5 minutes. Don’t stop whisking so that the eggs won’t overheat and curdle!)
Transfer the egg mixture to your mixer bowl and beat on high speed until the mixture is cooled, has tripled in volume, and resembles softly whipped cream. (This process will take about 5 minutes or so and the batter will be ready with the batter falls back into the bowl in a ribbon-like stream.)
Sift about 1/3 of the combined flour mixture over the whipped eggs and fold in using a rubber spatula. Next, fold in half of the remaining flour, and finally fold in the rest. DO NOT OVERMIX or you will deflate the batter! Scoop out about 1 cup of the batter into another bowl and combine with the hot butter and vanilla, folding with a small rubber spatula (this will lighten the butter and make it easier to incorporate into the batter without deflating it). When completely combined, use the large spatula to fold the butter mixture completely into batter. Pour the batter into pan, smoothing the top.
Bake until the cake shrinks slightly from the edges and the top springs back when pressed with fingers, about 20-25 minutes. Allow the cake to cool in its pan on a metal rack. When the cake has cooled, run a small knife around the edges to release the cake. Trim any hard edges on the top and split the cake in half into two layers using a serrated knife. Separate the layers and baste the top of each liberally with Godiva liqueur. (I use a pastry brush and about ¼ cup of the liqueur in total.) Carefully wrap each layer in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
(The genoise will keep well-wrapped 2 days in the refrigerator or 3 months frozen.)
Part II: The Chocolate Mousse Filling
6 ounces of bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
1-1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream
3 large egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup water
In a medium heat-proof bowl, melt the chocolate over a pan of simmering water. Remove from heat and set aside, but keep the bowl over the warm water until ready to use.
In your mixer bowl, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until needed.
Place the egg yolks in a large heat-proof bowl and set aside.
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a full boil. Boil until the sugar is completely dissolved (about 3 minutes) to make a simple syrup. Whisking constantly, pour the boiling syrup slowly over the egg yolks. Then set the large bowl of eggs and syrup over a pan of simmering water and whisk vigorously until the mixture is thick and white in color. The mixture should also be hot to the touch. (Takes about 10 minutes.)
Remove the bowl from the heat and, WORKING QUICKLY, scrape the mixture into a clean mixer bowl. On medium speed, whisk the mixture until the volume has doubled and the bottom of the bowl is completely cool to the touch. Turn the mixer speed to low, add the melted chocolate and continue to beat until well combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and, using a rubber spatula, fold in half of the reserved whipped cream. Then fold in the remainder of the whipped cream.
This mixture can be used immediately or covered with plastic and refrigerated until needed. (I prefer to chill mine.) Also, if the final mousse seems a little runny, the chocolate may have been too warm, but after refrigerating for an hour or so, it will firm up. This makes about 3 cups of mouse.
Part III: The Ganache
A personal thought about chocolate here: The taste and quality of a ganache is absolutely dependent upon the quality of chocolate you begin with, and chocolates are by no means the same! A chocolate with a higher cocoa butter content will produce a ganache that is firmer than one made with a chocolate that has a low cocoa butter content. And a chocolate that has a velvety smooth texture will create a ganache that is velvety smooth. This is why I use E. Guittard’s Columbian Varietal dark chocolate with 65% cacao. But most importantly perhaps is to make a ganache using a chocolate that YOU think tastes great! I like a dark ganache, but you may prefer semisweet. Use whichever you prefer, but use the best chocolate with the highest cocoa butter content you can find.
(This ganache has a little butter added to ensure it will be shiny, even if refrigerated.)
12 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1 cup of heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 tablespoon of Godiva liqueur (or cognac, brandy, kahlua or Knob Creek Bourbon)
Place the chopped chocolate into a medium bowl and set aside.
Heat the cream and butter in a saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. Heat the cream until you begin to see bubbles forming around the edges. Immediately pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir with a whisk until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Add the liqueur and whisk to totally incorporate.
You will use a small amount of this thin, warm ganache to place a “crumb coat” on the assembled cake, but the remainder should be allowed to cool at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until it has thickened, but is still pourable.
Part IV: The assembly
Place a wire rack over a baking sheet and set aside.
Remove cake layers from the fridge and remove the plastic wrap. Brush the top of each layer once more with Godiva liqueur. Place the bottom half layer onto the wire rack and spread about 1 cup of the chilled mousse evenly upon top of this bottom layer, then top this mousse-covered layer with the second top layer of the cake. Fill in any gaps along the sides of the middle with additional mousse to create a smooth side to the cake all the way around.
Using a cake spatula, cover the sides and top of the cake with about 2 tablespoons of warm, thin ganache. (This is a “crumb coat” and will seal in any cake crumbs so that the cake will have a smooth finish.) Refrigerate the cake to set the crumb coat and keep it chilled until the remaining ganache has cooled to be thick, but still pourable.
Return the chilled cake to the wire rack and pour the remaining ganache onto the center of the cake. Working quickly, spread the ganache with a spatula, using big strokes to push the ganache over the sides of the cake to create an even coating of ganache. If there are any bare spots on the side of the cake, cover with leftover ganache retrieved from beneath the wire rack on the baking sheet.
Since the cake was chilled, the ganache will set up quickly. When it is firm, remove the cake carefully from the wire rack and place onto your serving plate.
A few notes about decorating…
Ganache is very versatile stuff! You can take the remainder that has fallen onto the baking sheet, form it into a ball, roll it between your palms into a long snake, then roll it flat (or not) and form all kinds of freeform shapes to go on top of the cake. Or you can roll the ball flat (no thinner than 3/8 of an inch, though) and use cookie cutters to cut out shapes like stars, ornaments, etc. You can make a “white chocolate” ganache and pour it into cake pans to cool, then cut into ribbons, rounds, the sky’s the limit! And white chocolate is stunning against dark chocolate. You can, of course, also paint the ganache onto washed and dried mint leaves to make chocolate leaves that can be shaped to stand up from the cake. And you can form those ribbons into individual “loops” to make a full bow for the top of a cake.
Round peppermint candies placed around the sides and small candy canes crossed on the top center are nice and easy decorations for Christmas.
Squeeze bottles (the plastic ones that catsup and mustard are served in) can be your best friend, too. Load one with pureed raspberries and squeeze out drizzles onto your serving plate and place your cake on top. Load one with warm white chocolate ganache and drizzle on top of the cake, etc. And putting regular icing into one makes writing on a cake a breeze! The sky’s the limit there, too!
Fruits are lovely also. Whole fanned strawberries, fresh raspberries, etc. can be used. Just make sure they are dry when placed on the ganache.
Let us not overlook nuts! Once, when in a big rush, I skipped the crumb coat and ended up with very bumpy sides to the cake’s ganache. Enter ground pecans! They stick admirably to ganache! Some whole pecans around the top perimeter of the cake and voila!
And marzipan…a confectioner’s modeling clay. Any shape imaginable is at your fingertips, from fruits to vegetables to leaves to flowers to figures (snowmen, for example) to plaquettes suitable for writing in chocolate, and far beyond…