My neighbor Doug expressed a titch of shock when I made the following confession: I’ve never made a cake from scratch before. Well, before last weekend, that is. Let me explain. I do cook. I’m told I even do it pretty well. But generally when I’m looking for a kitchen challenge my thoughts wander to savory sauces and hunks of meat. Maybe a creamy gratin. I like dessert, mind you. I’d just rather grab a cupcake from Magnolia Café than wait two hours to eat one I made myself. And they’re cheap. A cupcake costs about $2.50, but the rib-eye I plan to order this week at Quality Meats is $48. MUCH cheaper to make it myself.
But I digress. The topic is cake. Specifically this cake:
I’ve been staring at this baby on the back of my Barefoot Contessa Cookbook for YEARS. So when a special guy said the only thing he wanted for his birthday was homemade cake, I knew exactly where I was headed. What I didn’t know was that it would take SEVEN HOURS to produce. That’s right. Started at noon. Wrapped up at 7 p.m. Now, to be fair, I did busy myself with chores while the cake baked and maybe blew off another half hour somewhere, but basically, undertaking a new recipe from the unfamiliar land of baking just took me a REALLY LONG TIME.
First I sifted dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda.) Then came creaming the butter with the eggs. Whoops. Butter not warm enough to cream. The recipe calls for room-temperature butter, eggs, buttermilk and sour cream. I set the eggs out the night before, but didn’t have enough butter in the house, so I had to run to the store in the morning. Stores, you may have noticed, keep their butter cold. I waited about an hour after getting it home, but it needed longer. I wasn’t worried since no chemical reactions were at issue in the creaming process, so I figured it was fine to let the bowl of lumpy butter and sugar sit. It looked like this:
So I waited. I gathered frosting ingredients. I changed my vacuum bag. I called my baking-crazed friend Michael for reassurance. “Beat the heck out of it,” he advised. Done:
Then it was on to combining the wet and dry ingredients. Here the Contessa is very specific. Combine the ingredients only 1/3 at a time, starting with the liquid ingredients and ending with the dry. This proved a little awkward for some reason. More time passed. It was at about this point that I realized why people buy stand mixers. I was using a little hand-held Sunbeam from about 1993. I don’t even remember why I bought it.
Anyway, the batter went in the pans and the pans went in the oven. (BTW, when I went to my cabinets I discovered I had two nine-inch cake pans but only one eight-inch pan. Doug across the hall loaned me his. I love my building!)
While Michael had urged me to let the cake cool, then wrap them in plastic and refrigerate for as long as possible (one to eight hours) to ensure smooth icing, my guy was pretty anxious for his cake by this time.
Icing was quite interesting. We started by making a meringue that I’m not convinced ever set up as it should. Then I added melted chocolate, a mix of bittersweet and semisweet. Lots and lots of icing resulted. Like this:
Which required this much butter:
But it ended up like this:
Personally I like a high icing-to-cake ratio, but I noticed my birthday boy left spoonfuls of icing on his plate after every serving. Something to keep in mind. The cake was very dense and the icing very light, despite all that butter. A great recipe over all. Never a doubt when you’re following the Contessa.
I’m not sure of the legalities of posting other people’s recipes, so I’ll just reiterate that this cake is from the “Barefoot Contessa Cookbook,” which I think was Ina Garten’s first. See page 195. Conclusion? The Contessa got her toes all in that cake and it was DELICIOUS!
Thanks for reading!