Recipe: Cake Love’s Chocolate Butter Cake with Pastry Cream & Italian Buttercream

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

We received mixed reviews after sharing our thoughts on the Cake Love cookbook last week. We’d tested 5 or 6 cakes from the book with extreme success, but those who live near the bakeries were in disagreement. So we found the most basic recipes in the book and put them to the test, although there’s little evidence!

We have tested and tried over half the recipes in this book and have had tremendous success. The flavor combinations have been magnificent and it’s been a struggle to save a piece for ourselves with friends and family around. It’s been a valued asset to our cookbook collection, not just for the recipes, but for the bits of pastry making science Warren Brown shares with you in the book.

We did find that the recipe for chocolate pastry cream made for more than we needed upon assembly. You will need to run a band of frosting around the perimiter of each tier before filling with the pastry cream to create a damn to hold it in. Chilling between each addition is advised (although you might be more skilled than we are and can skip this step, although we highly advise it to keep things clean and tidy), we simply popped it into the freezer for 5 minutes after each cake layer addition. We used our left over pastry cream to fill some cream puffs.

We followed the letter of the law on all of these recipes, although we did add a fruit glaze to each layer (which wasn’t needed for textural quality, but can be used if you’d like to inject an additional flavor to cut the chocolate). Simply use a little of your favorite preserve or jam in addition with a few tablespoons of water, heated and brushed on with a pastry brush before assembly. But enough talk… on with the cake!

Note: We did take the time to weigh out each measurement that was provided in ounces. A scale was crucial to the success of the finished product. All narrative in the recipes below are from the book and Warren himself.

Cake Love’s Chocolate Butter Cake, Pastry Cream & Italian Buttercream

Chocolate Butter Cake
Yields: Two 9″ Round cakes or 24 Cupcakes

Dry Ingredients
• Unbleached All Purpose Flour: 7oz (1 1/4c + 2 tbs) or 7 1/4oz (1 1/4 c + 3 tbs) at high altitude
• Unsweetened Dutch Process Cocoa Flour: 2oz (1/2 c), or 2 1/8oz (1/2 c + 1tbs + 1/2 tsp) at high altitude
• Baking Powder: 1 1/2 tsp, or 1 tsp at high altitude
• Salt: 1 tsp

Liquid Ingredients
• Half-and-Half: 1 c or 1 c + 2 1/2 tbs at high altitude
• Brandy: 2 tbs.
• Madagascar Vanilla: 1 tbs

• Unsalted Butter: at room temperature, 6oz (1 1/2 sticks)
• Extra Fine Granulated Sugar: 14oz (1 3/4c), or 13oz (1 1/2 c + 2 tbs) at high altitude
• Eggs: (large) 4 or 5 at high altitude

(Alcohol Free Variation: Omit the brandy and vanilla and increase the half-and-half by 1tbs)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (conventional) or 355 degrees Fahrenheit (convection). Set the rack in the middle of the oven. For cupcakes, set racks in the upper-middle positions.

2. Set out the ingredients and equipment.
• Sift flour directly into a bowl on a scale for accurate measuring.
• Measure the other dry ingredients into a separate mixing bowl, add the flour, and whisk for 10 seconds to blend. Set aside.
• Measure the liquid ingredients into a separate bowl and set aside.
• Measure the butter and sugar into separate bowls and set aside.
• Crack the eggs into a separate bowl and set aside.

3. In the bowl of the standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on the lowest speed for 3-5 minutes.

4. With mixer still on lowest speed, add the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl.

5. Add the dry ingredient mixture alternately with the liquid mixture in 3-5 additions each, beginning and ending with the dry mixture. Move swiftly through this step to avoid overworking the batter. Don’t wait for the dry or liquid mixtures to be fully incorporated before adding the next. This step should take a total of about 60 seconds.

6. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl all the way down. Don’t miss the clumps of ingredients hiding on the bottom of the bowl. Mix on medium speed for 15-20 seconds to develop the batter’s structure.

7. Prepare the pans. For 9-” round cakes, line the bottom of each pan with parchment; do not spray the sides. For cupcakes, lightly spray the pan with a nonstick spray to help release any overflowing crowns. Line the pan with paper liners.

8. For 9″ round cakes, deposit the batter in three separate areas of each pan and smooth out with the rubber spatula or an offset metal spatula, making sure the pans are 2/3 full. For cupcakes, use a 2oz, trigger release, ice cream scoop to deposit batter into the lined pans so they’re 2/3 full.

9. Follow the approximate bake times listed below:
• 9″ Rounds: 28 minutes (sea level) 35 minutes (high altitude)
• Cupcakes: 22 minutes (sea level) 20 minutes (high altitude)

10. Once the top of the cake doesn’t jiggle in the center, test for doneness by inserting a bamboo skewer in the center of the cake. An even dark brown color should extend from the edge to the center, and the cak’s edges may pull away from the pan. When the skewer shows just a touch of crumbs or comes out clean, the cake is done. Remove the pan from the oven and place on a heat-resistant surface or wire rack.

11. For 9″ round cakes, cool to room temperature, 25-30 minutes, before removing from pans. Use a small offset spatula to loosen each cake from the rim of the pan. Carefully invert each pan onto a flat surface and remove the layers. Remove the parchment from the bottom of each cake and wrap the cake tightly in plastic. Refrigerate the layers for up to 5 days before frosting.

12. For cupcakes, cool to room temperature, 25-30 minutes, before carefully lifting each cupcake from the pan. Proceed with frosting or store for later use.

*Store under a cake dome at room temperature, or wrapped in plastic in the fridge for up to 1 week. If frosted, store under a cake dome for up to 3 days, or in the fridge for up to 1 week. Store frozen unfrosted cake for up to a month, wrapped in the freezer.

Chocolate Pastry Cream
Yields: 1 Quart (enough for 1 9″ round, 3 layer cake)

• Whole Milk: 2c

Yolk Mixture
• Eggs: 3 large
• Yolks: 7 large
• Madagascar Vanilla Extract: 2 tsp

Dry Ingredients
• Extra Fine Granulated Sugar: 24oz (3 c)
• Unsweetened Cocoa Powder: 2oz (1/2c)
• Potato Starch: 1/4c
• Unbleached All Purpose Flour: 2 tbs

• Unsalted Butter: chilled, 8 tbs (1stick)

1. Set out the ingredients and equipment.
• Measure the milk into a 2qt, heavy bottomed, sauce pan.
• Crack the eggs and yolks into a separate bowl, add the vanilla extract, whisk to combine, and set aside. Place a damp towel underneath the bowl to prevent slippage.
• Measure the dry ingredients into a separate bowl and whisk for 10 seconds to blend. Set aside.

2. Bring the milk to a boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat, but keep the saucepan on the stove.

3. Whisk the yolk mixture into the dry ingredient mixture. It will be very thick so it’ll take some effort.

4. Return the milk mixture to a simmer. Once it reaches a simmer, slowly pour it into the yolk mixture, whisking slowly in small circles at first and ending with broader stroked until fully combined. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan.

5. Return the saucepan to the stove and heat over medium heat, whisking constantly but not rapidly, for about 4 minutes (3 at high altitude). The key is to keep the pastry cream moving so it won’t scorch on the bottom of the saucepan.

6. When you begin to see lava bubbles – large, slowly forming bubbles that burp steam – reduce the heat to the lowest setting and whisk briefly 1 minute to pasteurize the cream.

7. Pour pastry cream into a shallow, nonreactive mixing bowl, preferably stainless steel. Whisk in the butter 1 tbs at a time. Cover with plastic pressed against the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming.

8. Immediately refrigerate the pastry cream for at least 3 hours. If you want to cool the pastry cream more rapidly, place the heat resistant bowl of pastry cream over an ice bath and refrigerate both together.

Chocolate Italian Meringue Buttercream
Yields: 4-5 Cups (enough for one 9″ round, 3 layer cake or 24 cupcakes)

Buttercream Ingredients
• Egg Whites: 5 Large
• Extra Fine Granulated Sugar: 10oz (1 1/4 c)
• Cold Water: 1/4 c
• Unsalted Butter: (at room temperature), 1lb (4 sticks)
• 1/2 c Bittersweet Chocolate, melted

1. Set out the ingredients and equipment.
• Separate the egg whites into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the wire whip attachment.
• Measure 1 cup sugar and the water into a 1qt heavy bottomed saucepan. Gently stir to combine (I use the candy thermometer for this)
• Measure the remaining 1/4 c sugar into a small bowl and set aside.
• Cut the butter into tablespoon sized pieces and set aside in a medium bowl.

2. To make the sugar syrup, place the candy thermometer in the saucepan and heat the mixture over medium-high heat. Partially cover with a lid to capture the evaporating water – this helps to moisten the sides of the saucepan to prevent sugar crystals from forming.

3. With the mixer on high speed, begin whipping the egg whites to stiff peaks. When the peaks are stiff, you have a meringue.

4. Keep the mixer running and pour the 1/4 cup of sugar into the meringue.

5. Raise the heat under the sugar syrup to bring the syrup to 245 degrees Fahrenheit, if it is not there already. When the syrup reaches 245 degrees Fahrenheit, remove the thermometer and slowly pour the syrup into the meringue. (with mixer running)

6. After 1-2 minutes reduce the mixer speed to medium for 3-4 minutes, or until the meringue is cooled. Add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Increase the mixer speed to high for 1-2 minutes, or until the butter is fully incorporated.

7. Add melted chocolate and mix just until combined.