Monday, September 26, 2011

The Best Chocolate Buttercream...EVER!

6" 4 layer chocolate hazelnut cake with chocolate hazelnut buttercream: so hard not to keep a slice for myself!

My fascination with cakes came out of desperation.  One night, while watching a cake show on the Food Network I had such a hankering for cake...and not just any cake, but a tall, layered, pretty cake with smooth buttery buttercream and Belgian chocolate. Something you'd see in Laduree in Paris or BAKED in New York. So, since no one has invented the TV that actually hands you the product it is waving in your face, I popped to the nearest grocery store to buy a cake. Not surprisingly, lardy grocery store cake just didn't cut it for me. I went home empty handed. Somehow my moving to a small town coincided with the plethora of cake and cupcake shows that flooded the Network - a visual feast, yet more and more inaccessible to me.

In typical Kristen fashion, I put on some BBC period drama, poured myself a cuppa Earl Grey (in a pretty tea cup - of course) and started first attempt turned out to be a crumbly mess. But after further research and a lot more practice I started producing quite deliciously moist, dense cakes - my preference. I'm not a big fan of the light and airy cakes...they tend to fall apart and do not hold up under the weight of more than one layer. And they tend to be on the dry side.

When a recipe calls for milk, I use heavy cream. If it calls for buttermilk, I use whole milk yogurt or sour cream. It makes a difference in texture and moistness. Yes it's a calorie issue to substitute higher fat content...sure it's going to add calories, but let's face it...if you're going to reward yourself with a piece of cake, wouldn't you want it to be rich and moist and flavorful instead of something airy and dry? You might as well have a Ryvita cracker. A waste of a reward if you ask me.

There are quite a few methods to making cakes. I have found the one I prefer to produce the product I like most. If you're about to teach yourself how make cakes try all the methods until you find the density and texture you most prefer. Here are a few resources that I found quite helpful in my quest for the yummiest cake:

Martha Stewart's Wedding Cakes,
my favorite: The Cake Bible,
All Cakes Considered
Baked Explorations,

And the best recipe and resource I have found for cake: Anna Olson's White Chocolate Berry Wedding Cake.  I have adapted this recipe for every possible kind of chocolate cake I could think of. My favorite adaptation is a white chocolate cake with white chocolate buttercream and fresh raspberries and lime zest filling. Heavenly. Another beauty is a chocolate hazelnut cake with chocolate hazelnut buttercream filling and frosting.

The magic of this recipe is entirely in the buttercream. It is by far the best buttercream I have ever come across - both tastewise and level of difficulty. There are no egg whites involved (thank you very much Swiss and Italian meringue buttercreams) candy thermometers...and no falling flat and turning into a runny mess (like my last Swiss meringue).

Here is my adaptation for a chocolate hazelnut buttercream based on Anna Olson's recipe above:

2 cups  unsalted butter at room temperature 
16 ounces *couverture* bittersweet chocolate (I prefer Callebaut), melted
2 cups  icing sugar, sifted - very important that it's sifted to get a smooth finish
1/2 cup  chocolate hazelnut spread (I prefer Nutella)
1/2 teaspoon Frangelico liqueur

  1. Add chocolate hazelnut spread to melted chocolate and mix until smooth. Set aside and let cool to room temperature. In a stand-up mixer or in a large bowl with electric beaters, beat butter until fluffy. Beat in cooled melted chocolate combo on medium speed. Reduce speed and beat in icing sugar and Frangelico (icing will be a little soft). You may have to chill to set before using (for about an hour), but only if it's still too thin from the melted chocolate.
  2. Icing can be made ahead and chilled for up to a week, or wrapped and frozen up to a month (thaw refrigerated). Once thawed, beat to make fluffy, then use.
*Please note: your chocolate should be good quality couverture chocolate. Waxy chocolate chips are going to mess with the consistency and flavor of this incredible buttercream...

If you need to go nut-free or do not like hazelnut flavor, you can skip the last 2 ingredients. You still end up with a smooth, beautifully chocolaty buttercream.

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