I love random dinner invitations and when you are invited by someone who's a fantastic cook, well that just makes it that much better. So when friends I haven't talked to in months called (I'm terrible at staying in touch) and invited me for dinner, I signed right up before I even asked "What'cha makin'?". It was a few days later, over OMG pork! and a few glasses of wine that we broached the subject of a birthday cake for their son's birthday party. I usually prefer making cakes for adults because kids tend to not like it when you get too creative and get very picky, but the cool thing about my friends' kids is that they'll try almost anything, so the only thing off the table was booze. In hindsight the coffee I added was probably not really appreciated either, but there wasn't THAT much and I didn't even think about it until it was too late. Plus, if you are not good at planning ahead and your berries are still frozen, adding hot coffee helps extract every bit of juice from them when you sieve them, plus it boosts the chocolate flavor in the cake making the addition doubly useful.
I'll admit that the blackberry puree got a bit lost in the cake, what with all the cocoa and coffee in there, but I believe it still added a dimension to the flavor and supported the theme. The cake came out light and fluffy and beautiful. I had to take a picture of the mix before I stirred it up, it looked too much like a funky lava lamp or the surface of Mars.
I debated adding fresh blackberries in between the layers, but it's not exactly blackberry season and I definitely wanted an intense layer of blackberry to cut through the sweetness of the frosting, so I whipped up a quick jam. I guess I could have bought it, but it's hard to find it seedless, plus I had everything to just make my own on hand, and my own wouldn't be as sweet as anything found in stores, so win win.
I also debated on making a chocolate mousse filling, but I wanted the cake to stand tall so I went with something sturdier. The addition of caramel instead of just warm cream makes the ganache sweeter and gives it more character, but I did make sure to use dark chocolate only to make sure the sweetness didn't get out of hand (the original recipe used milk chocolate, and I usually disagree with that on every level).
The most fun were the decorations, so while the cakes were on their racks cooling, while the ganache was coming to room temperature, and while the jam was setting up, I sat down and played with fondant. (The meringue mushrooms were made the night before).
Once it was all layered, spread, frosted, piped, topped and swirled, I think it came out rather well. The cake is taller then it seems, but I wanted to show you the top more then the height. The birthday boy seemed pretty excited when I took the cake over and kept peeking into the box. And I, of course, stayed for dinner once more (P.S. H, if you're reading this, I still need that lamb recipe!).
Chocolate Blackberry Forest Cake
Chocolate caramel frosting was adapted from Bon Appetit, the cake recipe was generously adapted from Love and Olive Oil, the rest I kind of threw together as I went along.
Blackberry Coffee Puree:
1 1/2 cup fresh or frozen blackberries (I used frozen and it worked just fine)
1 cup freshly brewed coffee
Blackberry Chocolate Cake:
3 cups sugar
2 2/3 cups flour
1 1/4 cup dark or dutch-processed cocoa powder
3 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 3/4 cups blackberry puree, recipe above
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 tsp vanilla extract
Chocolate Caramel Ganache Frosting:
oz dark or semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
Quick Blackberry Jam:
1lb fresh or frozen blackberries
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp no-sugar needed pectin
1 8oz package of cream cheese, at room temp
1 4oz stick of butter, at room temp
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 batch of Meringue Mushrooms from Joy of Cooking
Some fondant and candy coating for the owl and hedgehog
Some fresh blackberries
- Place one of the cake layers on a plate and spread about a cup of the ganache over it, going all the way to the edge. Spread some of the blackberry jam over the ganache, stopping about an inch from the edge. Top with another layer of cake an repeat. Top with the final layer of cake and spread a thin layer of frosting around the top and sides. Chill the cake for 20 minutes or so to let it firm up.
- Reserve some frosting for the stump (if you're doing that) or decorations, and spread the rest over the sides and top of the cake. Decorate with reserved frosting and maybe a few fresh blackberries and chill for at least an hour to let it set. Serve at room temperature.
- If you want to recreate the forest like I did you'll need to place your baked cupcake on top of the cake and frost that as well. Pipe some of the frosting around the trunk with a round tip to simulate the roots and bark and draw the cracks on top with a toothpick.
- Make half a batch of the meringue mushrooms as described at the Joy of Cooking link provided above. I also painted the bottoms of the caps with some chocolate to simulate the gills of the mushrooms (and make sure that the caps stayed on).
- Make the owl and hedgehog shapes out of fondant and paint with some colored candy coating. I used a candy diamond for the owl's beak and two candy eyes. For the hedgehog I used two large blue sprinkles for the eyes and used small scissors to snip along his back to create the spikes and painted him with some melted chocolate.
- Make a quick cream cheese frosting by whipping the softened cream cheese, butter and powdered sugar with some green food coloring until uniform and light. Use the grass tip and pipe all over the top of the cake to simulate the grass. Place your mushrooms and critters on the grass, and maybe a blackberry cluster like I did to show what's inside, and chill for at least an hour to let it set. Serve at room temperature.