March 5, 2012. That is the original date on this post, the date that I thought I would be sharing this cake with you. Three days after my honey's birthday, one hundred and four days ago. Bella Eats has not gone this long without a real post since the great silence of 2010, when I took a few months off in the midst of starting my company, teaching architecture to hopeful college students, and redesigning this site. I hoped then that such a long break would never happen again, but I suppose that one can never predict life's ebbs and flows. I won't bore you with what I've been up to. If you're interested, I invite you to visit my other passions, Andrea Hubbell Photography and Beyond the Flavor, for peeks into my latest projects.
Rather than start off with apologies I'd like to have a little celebration. That's what cakes are for, right?! This particular cake was baked to celebrate Brian's 30th birthday. Thirty! 30. The big 3-0. We both reached that milestone in March with mixed emotions, though most of them good. I've never thought of myself as one who is aware of age. But perhaps that was because I was the one still in my 3rd decade while most of my friends were beginning their 4th. Maybe it is my change in career (there are a lot of young, talented photographers that I've surrounded myself with lately) or the launch of Beyond the Flavor (where we find ourselves often interviewing young, talented chefs/farmers/bakers) but I've found myself on several occasions lately thinking 'Gosh, I'm old!'. I know that it's silly, and that those of you reading this who are dancing your way through your fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh decades are rolling your eyes at this very moment. But, it’s true.
And I’ve realized, each time that I think ‘Gosh, I’m old!’, that it really isn’t a bad feeling. With ‘old’ comes comfort, and experience, and tradition. For example, I love that I can look back over the last few years and see four variations of this chocolate cake. Three years ago, when Bella Eats was in its infancy, I made a double chocolate cake with raspberry filling to celebrate my love’s twenty-seventh birthday. It was my very first layer cake...ever. And the next year, a double chocolate cake with praline topping to celebrate his twenty-eighth. And the following year, a double chocolate cake with mocha cream for his twenty-ninth (although, somehow, this version never made it to the blog). I have, just now, read those first two cake posts, and am completely delighted with how much has changed since then.
In 2009 I had just lost my first job out of graduate school. I’d completed my master’s in architecture the previous spring unsure of what I wanted to be when I grew up. Employment in architecture was the clear path, but I wasn’t feeling compelled to follow it. Secretly, I hoped that I wouldn’t receive a job offer after school, and that I would be forced to think outside of the box to find my true calling. Instead, a position at a landscape architecture firm landed in my lap, and I took the opportunity to explore something similar, but different, from what I’d been trained to do. 2009 brought the loss of that job, and a position back in an architecture firm. Also, I was baking in my cramped, red countertop kitchen.
In 2010 I was still working for that same architecture firm, although the writing was on the wall that I might not be for long. It was a tough year for architects; a year when the economy forced many of us to find alternate paths. I was beginning to find mine when I wrote Brian’s birthday cake post in March, having recently photographed a few projects for the firm and a few family portraits for friends. Soon after, I would receive an offer to teach architecture at the University of Virginia. And, I was still baking in my cramped, red countertop kitchen.
Although there isn’t a proper post for Brian’s 29th birthday cake, I can remember with some clarity what was happening in 2011 and feel I should document it here. I’d recently quit my architecture job, declined a second semester of teaching at UVA, and launched into my photography company as a full-time career. It was scary, and unpredictable, and I had no idea what I was doing. Brian found a new job that same month, sending himself off in a new direction entirely. We were hopeful, and excited, and ready for what the world had to offer. But still, I was baking in my cramped, red countertop kitchen.
And here we are in 2012. Life has more certainty to it. My career path is clear, Brian’s career path is clear, we are both loving our jobs. After a decade together (yes, we started dating when we were 20!) and six years of marriage we’ve finally planned a honeymoon to Spain. Looking back on B’s 28th birthday post, my favorite lines are these: We've started a ‘thirty before thirty’ list, although I don’t think either of us has finalized the catalog of things we’re set to accomplish. A lot can happen in two years’ time, and I’ve come to terms with the reality that is a sliding scale of goals, an evolving list of priorities. The point is to think about it, to make an effort towards trying new things, towards bettering and challenging ourselves in the smallest or biggest of ways. We definitely didn’t complete the items on the list, and probably never completed the list itself, but I like to think that we still approach life in the same way. And yes, I baked his thirtieth birthday cake in our cramped, red countertop kitchen.
Much has changed these last three years. My job. My career path. My writing and my photography. Even our kitchen, since we just spent the last month remodeling it (!!!!!!!). But the one constant, that one element in each of these posts aside from the double chocolate cake, is Brian. He who makes growing old comfortable, enjoyable, and welcome. May we have many more birthdays to celebrate, with some variation of this double chocolate cake. xoxo.
Double Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Filling and Vanilla Meringue Buttercream
for cake layers:
- 3 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate such as Callebaut
- 1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
- 3 cups sugar
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 3 large eggs
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk (for dairy free variation: mix 1 1/2 cups soymilk with 1 tablespoon cider vinegar and set aside to curdle)
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla
for raspberry filling:
- 2 10-oz bags frozen raspberries, thawed
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
for vanilla meringue buttercream:
- 5 large egg whites
- 1 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 lb (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
make cake layers:
- Preheat oven to 300* F and grease two 10″ cake pans, or three 8″ or 9″. Line bottoms with rounds of wax paper and grease paper.
- Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
- Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well.
- Divide batter between pans (pans should only be half full – if you use 8″ pans you will have some batter leftover) and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes for 10″ pans, 50 minutes for 8″-9″ pans.
- Cool layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove wax paper and cool layers completely. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.
make raspberry filling:
- Puree the raspberries in a food processor or blender. Press the puree through a fine-mesh strainer with the back of a spoon, removing the seeds. Heat the puree in a small pot with the sugar and cornstarch until mixture boils, stirring constantly. As it boils, it should quickly thicken. Let cool.
- To make the frosting, combine the egg whites, sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture reaches 160° F and the sugar has dissolved.
- Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes.
- Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. If the frosting looks soupy or curdled, continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth again, about 3-5 minutes more (don’t worry, it will come together!) Stir in the vanilla extract and mix just until incorporated.
- Keep buttercream at room temperature if using the same day, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month. Before using, bring to room temperature and beat with paddle attachment on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes.