Saturday, February 6, 2016

Outer Darkness Cake

I stumbled across a recipe for this cake many years ago, and it has been our family's go-to cake ever since.  It is truly the archetypal cake (forgive my psychobabble), and once you take a bite, you will know the ultimate in cake satisfaction.

It all began because my oldest son requested a peanut butter cake for his birthday. Since Google Goddess never fails, I started my google quest for the perfect cake.  The photos on the Smitten Kitchen blog where I originally found the recipe made me swoon, and I just had to make the cake. I have adapted it somewhat from the original recipe and added a few hints, tips, and new techniques to assure that this is the moistest cake you have ever eaten. Watch for the ** to locate my extra tips.

Things you will need that you might not have on hand:
  • 3 8-inch round cake pans
  • Parchment paper
  • Double boiler
  • Flour sifter (used for powdered sugar)
  • Short whisk (I have a small whisk that is only about 6 inches long from top to bottom and is the best tool for whisking the ganache.

Outer Darkness Cake
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 cup sour cream (I use light and it works great)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp. white vinegar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
1. Preheat oven to 350° F.  Using one of the cake pans, trace three circles onto parchment paper and cut out. Spray the cake pans with cooking spray and place a parchment circle in the bottom of each pan.

2. Sift together the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add oil and sour cream and mix until well blended. Gradually beat in the water, scraping the bowl frequently to ensure no batter sticks to the side of the bowl. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla.  Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended, scraping the bowl to ensure batter is well blended. Pour batter into the three prepared cake pans.  **A helpful tip here, thanks to my brilliant son: Use a toothpick to measure the depth of the batter in the pans, moving back and forth between pans as you add the batter.**

3. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. **This part is very important. Do not overcook this cake!** Let cake cool in pans for 10 minutes, then turn out, parchment side up on cooling racks for 30 minutes. Cake layers will fall a bit, this is normal, do not panic. **Make sure to set a timer.  Following these times and the ensuing instructions will keep the cake moist.** After cake layers have cooled on the racks for 30 minutes, turn each one onto a separate plate, parchment side down, and wrap with saran wrap, then put into the freezer for 30+ minutes.  Do not stack the layers in the freezer.

4. To frost cake, put one layer, flat side up on cake platter and peel parchment paper off. Spread 2/3 cup of the frosting over the top of the layer. Repeat for second layer, then add the third layer and spread the remaining frosting over the whole cake.  If you prefer, you first frost a thin layer (crumb coating), then chill the cake for 15-30 minutes and use remaining frosting to add a second layer of frosting.  I haven't found this second step necessary.  You can chill the cake for an additional 15-30 minutes to provide a better drip effect when pouring the ganache.

5. Pour ganache over the cake immediately after making it, when ganache is still warm. Using an offset spatula, push ganache just to the edge in strategic spots, causing it to run down the side of the cake. This step is what will make people swoon and moan when they see your cake. Chill at least 30 minutes more to set ganache, removing from fridge 1 hour before serving. Serve with a nice, cold glass of milk or hot cup of coffee.

The last time I made these, I baked two of them. One to take to my cohort at grad school and the other to leave for my family. I knew that if I baked only one, that they might not let me back in the house when I returned home.

Voila!  The cake after my family cut into it.  My mouth is watering just looking at it1

Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
(makes about 5 cups)
  • 10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 5 cups sifted confectioner's sugar
  • 2/3 cup smooth peanut butter, preferably a commercial brand that doesn't separate
Beat butter and cream cheese together in the bowl of a stand mixer until fluffy.  Gradually add powdered sugar, mixing at low speed until combined, and scraping bowl often. Add peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended and fluffy.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ganache
  • 8 ounces semi sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 3 Tbsp. smooth peanut butter
  • 2 Tbsp. light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
In the top of a double boiler, over simmering water, combine all ingredients except the half-and-half. Cook, whisking often, until the mixture is smooth and chocolate is melted.  Remove from heat (I put the top pot of the double boiler onto a silicone hot pad.) and gently whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth and shiny. Use while still warm.