I should mention now that I'm completely and utterly taken with Southern foods. Pecans, collards, sorghum, red velvet cake: I love them all to pieces. (And food comas) That all is beside the point, but merely serves to be a clunky, expositional set up for the recipe I'm about to describe. But first, a little more about that recipe's author.
Delilah Winder is a renowned restaurant owner from Philadelphia who cooks up Southern food with flair. (Hence her recipes are a part of a tome dubbed "Delilah's Everyday Soul: Southern Cooking with Style") I think she's just fabulous, and her recipes are wonderfully flavorful on every level. Her shrimp and grits has a spicy kick, her buttermilk dressing an irresistible tang, and her Duke's Dessert Royale a certain je ne sais quois that makes it one of my favorite chocolate cakes of all time.
I can't say enough terrible things about where America's chocolate obsession is headed. We've suckered into fudgy-wudgy, dense layers of cake made with crappy, mainstream American cocoa powder and tasteless chocolate bars. So when I set out to execute this chocolate cake, I made sure to pull some of my higher-shelf chocolates. (In this recipe, I used Scharfen-Berger and Valrhona) With this in mind, I loved that Ms. Winder didn't pack chocolate between the layers. Instead, she throws in three varied fillings that almost sound out of place here: vanilla pudding, applesauce, and apricot preserves.
So take that in for a second. I know, it's weird. Applesauce? Are you freaking kidding me?! Vanilla pudding? She didn't even make a creme patisserie?! Relax, my foodie friends, relax. When you put it all together, it spreads like a dream and the flavors marry surprisingly well. So here goes:
1 3/4 C all-purpose flour
1 C cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 3/4 t baking soda
1 1/4 t salt
1 C milk, at room temperature
2 1/2 t vanilla extract
1/4 lb unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
1/2 C boiling water
1/2 C brewed coffee, strong
1/2 lb. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 lb. unsalted butter
2 16-ounce boxes confectioner's sugar
1 C milk
1 T plus 1 t vanilla extract
3/4 C apricot preserves
3/4 C vanilla pudding, prepared
3/4 C applesauce
vanilla ice cream, for serving
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9" x 2" cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
For the cake:
Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
Combine the milk and vanilla in a small bowl.
Place the butter in a large bowl and, using a hand mixer, beat on medium speed until smooth. Add the sugar and continue beating until light. Incorporate eggs, one at a time, one at a time, beating until the mixture is light and fluffy. (This can also be accomplished using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.)
Reduce the mixing speed to low. Alternately add the flour and milk in thirds, beginning and ending with the flour and stopping once or twice to scrape the sides of the bowl. Raise the mixing speed to medium-high and beat for about 1 1/2 minutes until the batter is smooth. Reduce the beating speed to medium low and gradually pour in the water and coffee. Stop to scrape the sides of the bowl again and continue beating until smooth. (The batter will appear thin.)
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. (If there are a few crumbs, it's alright. Overbaking will result in an unpleasantly dry cake.) Set the cakes on wire racks to cool in the pans for ten minutes, and then invert to cool completely.
For the Frosting:
Combine the chocolate and butter in a medium saucepan and heat over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until melted and smooth. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
Whisk together the sugar, milk, and vanilla in a large bowl and stir in the melted chocolate/butter mixture. Set the bowl in another larger bowl filled with ice water and beat on high speed until the frosting has lightened in color and is fluffy, about two minutes.
Assembling the cake:
Slice each layer in half horizontally. (I strongly suggest purchasing a cake slicer at a crafts store like Michael's.) Place one of the four layers on a serving tray or cake plate and spread with apricot preserves. Place the second layer on top of the apricot layer and spread the vanilla pudding on top. Then, place the third layer on top of the pudding and spread with the applesauce. Lastly, put the last layer of the cake on top of the applesauce layer.
Coat the entire cake with frosting, working from the center and spreading in an outward motion.
Phew. I know it sounds like a lot, but this cake is well worth it. It's remarkably light and the frosting smacks of so much more than just a basic chocolate buttercream. To embellish without a piping bag, just take the back of a spoon to the frosted cake and pull little hills from the buttercream.
In the vein of my cohort, Patricia, I'll take some time here to say a bit about myself. I'm currently a 20something college student majoring in sociology. In my spare time I enjoy frequenting Whole Foods, catching repeats of Paula Deen on the Food Network, and maybe catching a drink with friends. Eventually, I'm hoping to go to culinary school and open a restaurant with some of my Southern inspiration. For the record, I am not from the South.
Keep it classy, y'all.