The other reason we spent the past weekend at the beach was to continue the now almost two-week long birthday celebration of our friend Sarah. Sometimes birthdays don’t arrive at the most convenient of times. Like when you are working 12 hours a day 7 days a week. Sarah did manage to have a yummy dinner and cake on her actual birthday when a group of us went to Hayes-Barton and ate on what might have been the hottest night of the summer in one of the steamiest dining rooms ev-ah (but totally worth it – I could have drunk the mussel sauce directly out of the bowl). Fried oysters, meatloaf, mussels, lemon pasta, a New Zealand sav blanc, a margarita, topped off with chocolate cake and peanut butter pie. Decadent.
No birthday celebration is really complete without cake. Some sort of cake. And in this case a cake you can take to the beach…
If you knew me in the ‘90s, it’s likely you have eaten my Nana’s Busy Day Chocolate Cake [shout out to my Cornstalk peeps! Woot!]. Although I cooked and baked professionally, I’d often turn up at a pot luck dinner or a picnic with a pan of this one-bowl buttermilk cake topped with store-bought vanilla frosting. Let’s face it, just because you cook or bake, doesn’t mean you want to spend your day off doing it. This is a utilitarian cake. The buttermilk in the cake keeps it moist, but not crumbly, more the density and texture of a bundt cake. Easy for the homemaker who needed to make sure there was dessert to go with supper. Practical to pick up a piece with your fingers as you stand over the buffet table holding a beer in the other hand.
The basic cake can be mixed in one bowl (though you will need to melt the chocolate in a separate bowl or pan). The “Not So Busy” version was jazzed up for a celebration with chocolate butter cream frosting, whipped cream filling, a splash of coffee liquor, and some fleur de sel (Though of course I forgot that at the beach. Tastes great on the leftovers!).
Not So Busy Day Chocolate Cake
(to fill 9.5 by 9.5 x 2 inch deep baking pan. Original 8×8 pan version follows)
3 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted
¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoons shortening ( I use butter) at room temperature
1.5 t vanilla
1.5 cup sugar
1.5 cup low fat buttermilk (Do not be tempted to use fat free. Sometimes I use sour cream or yogurt or a combination depending on what I have in the fridge)
1 extra-large egg (it really calls for 1.5 eggs, but I hate to waste 1/2 an egg)
3 cups all purpose flour
1.5 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1.5 Tablespoon heavy cream
2 teaspoon vanilla
3 oz bittersweet chocolate melted (I used half unsweetened and some semi-sweet chips)
3.5 to 4 cups powdered sugar (or more, depends on how stiff you like your frosting)
About 3/4 to 1 cup of heavy cream whipped w/ a tablespoon of
powdered sugar and ½ t of vanilla.
Coffee liquor, or if you want to eliminate the alcohol, some
strong brewed coffee. And just a tip: I make my own coffee liquor with vodka,
instant espresso powder, and sweetener. You can make it decaf if you prefer.
Fleur de Sel – sea salt
Melt and cool chocolate. Mix sugar and shortening until blended ( I use a standing electric mixer. In the past I’ve done it by hand, and also with a hand held electric mixer…your call). Add vanilla and egg and mix again. Add in rest of ingredients and mix until thoroughly blended.
Grease baking pan. Pour in batter. Bake in 350 degree pre-heated oven for 50 minutes or so (test with toothpick for doneness – do not overbake). Cool completely. [At this point, if you are taking to the beach, wrap it up and take the cream, frosting, liquor, and salt with you to assemble the cake on site]
Cut through the middle to make two layers. The top does not need to be flat or even. Sprinkle coffee liquor or coffee over inside and bottom of cake. Avoid getting the sides or top wet as this will make it more difficult to frost.
Whip cream. Spread whipped cream on top of bottom layer and place top layer over it so that cream is in between the two layers of cake. If cream squishes out sides scrape off and eat. Mmmmm.
For frosting: melt chocolate and cool somewhat. Beat butter, chocolate, heavy cream, vanilla and salt in bowl (I use a standing mixer, but some sort of electric mixer works best). Beat in confectioner’s sugar gradually, about 1/2 cup at a time on a low speed (otherwise the sugar flies everywhere!). It should be completely blended and easy to spread when you are done. Frosting can be made ahead and refrigerated. Make sure you bring to room temp before assembling the cake so the frosting is spreadable. Frost outside of cake with butter cream frosting using a metal or rubber spatula. Chilling will make it easier to cut, but is not necessary.
Sprinkle frosted cake with a bit of Fleur de Sel sea salt.
Original Busy Day Chocolate Cake
(from Nana Ceil )
2 squares unsweetened chocolate
1 1/2 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup shortening [Note: she used the white hydrogenated stuff]
1 cup buttermilk
Melt and cool chocolate. Combine other ingredients in bowl. Add cooled chocolate. Beat 3 minutes slow. Beat three minutes medium. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes in 8 by 8 square pan.