Each year, I round up current inspirations (last year's recipe for strawberry milk cake was pretty nutty) and soldier forth with an indulgent trip to the market and a morning of puttering about. I listen to a favorite mix CD — this year's was a Hole compilation (my musical mind never left 1998, yes I've got issues) — and don a 'power outfit' to keep things classy. And I get to work. I follow instructions deftly and I try my best to make no mistakes. I mean, this present is going to a VIP!
My birthday falls about a week after the New Year, so everyone is on a cleanse or burnt out of party mode. I've found an extravagant confection lightens the mood, breaks everyone's avowed health promises and lays the foundation for a sweet and rich year ahead.
Double Chocolate Sour Cream Cake
For the cake:
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 ounces dark chocolate (I like 70% for this), melted
1 cup strong brewed coffee
Crushed pistachios and extra cocoa powder for garnish, optional
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two standard 9-inch cake pans and set aside. (For the cake you see above I used a 9-inch cake pan and a deeper 7-inch springform to create two different-sized layers.)
In a medium-sized bowl, mix the flour, baking soda and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using beaters), cream the softened butter with the sugars until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs, one at a time on low speed, then add the vanilla extract and sour cream. On medium speed, mix in the melted chocolate and coffee.
Finally add the dry ingredients into the wet mixture in about 2 or three batches. Mix until batter is uniform; it will look light brown and turn much darker in the oven as it bakes.
Bake for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool on wire rack and wrap with plastic wrap until you're ready to frost and serve cake.
For the frosting:
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sour cream
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
In the bowl of a standing mixer, sift the powdered sugar. Cream the soft butter into the sugar until fully mixed. Add the sour cream, cocoa powder, pinch of salt and vanilla and mix on medium speed until uniform in color. Taste and sweeten if you like by adding a little more powdered sugar (I like my frosting not too sweet).
To assemble the cake:
Use a few strips of wax paper to line a cake stand or plate. Frost generously between the two layers and the exterior; I just used a spoon and made simple swirls. Garnish with crushed pistachios and cocoa powder, if desired. Serve immediately.
(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)