October 7, 2011

Chocolate Yogurt Layer Cake

I guess this has been a layer cake sort of week for me. Yesterday I had to make a dessert for the inaugural meeting of a new book club, and I wanted to try something new. Nothing on my usual websites was speaking to me, so I tried something I haven't done in a while. I went to the cookbook shelf and started flipping through books. After aimlessly flipping through several, I realized I was wasting time by not going straight to the source. The one, the only: Maida Heatter. Her Book of Great Desserts has been seminal in my baking life. She has provided me not only with my birthday cake (Chocolate Pound Cake, haven't missed a year, more on that in a few weeks) but also with several other of my most favoritest recipes: Moosehead Gingerbread, Queen Mother Cake, East 62nd Street Lemon Cake, to name a few.

I decided to try the sour cream chocolate cake, which I had never made. Having no sour cream, and not wanting to go to the store, I substituted plain yogurt. A number of websites suggested I could just do a one to one substitution. Several suggested adding some baking soda. The general consensus was that I should strain the yogurt using cheesecloth, in order to make it thicker. Having no cheesecloth, I decided to compensate by adding a bit of extra flour (in the cake batter) and cocoa powder (in the frosting). This approach worked fine for the cake batter, but the frosting was a bit runny, and, by the time I got to my destination, a lot of the fall leaf sprinkles and had used to decorate were running down the sides. The frosting did eventually set, but I think if I make this again, I would either take the time to strain or start with Greek yogurt.

This is a very moist and slightly tart chocolate cake. It doesn't need ice cream. I had my slice with a nice glass of rye, and that was basically dinner.

One bit of advice, in case you decide to pick up your own copy of the Book of Great Desserts, I have consistently found that the baking times are WAY too long. This case, for instance, called for 35 minutes, and 25 was sufficient. I like to the think that Maida just had a really cool oven when she was working on this book.

- Franklin

Yogurt Chocolate Layer Cake
Adapted from Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts
Total Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Sweetness Factor: 7; Indulgence Factor: 7; Difficulty Factor: 4; Chance I'll Make it Again: 9
Serves About 10 (although I tend to cut big pieces)

For the Cake:
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup boiling water
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour (or 2 cups cake flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter (that's a stick and a half)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup granulated suger
2/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3 eggs
1 cup plain yogurt (I used nonfat)
Another tablespoon of flour

For the Frosting:
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup plain Greek or strained yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Adjust oven rack to two-thirds from the bottom, and preheat the oven to 375. Prepare two nine inch round baking pans. I use baker' joy, so I don't prepare them until the batter is done, but if you are going to go the traditional butter/flour route, do this first. I also used my magi-cake strips, which help the cake bake level. They need to go in the oven soaked, so it is best to do that once the batter is ready.

Chop up the chocolate and put it in a small saucepan over low heat. Pour the boiling water over it and stir until the chocolate is melted. Set aside to cool. In a small bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt) and set aside.

In an electric mixer, cream the butter, and add the vanilla and sugars. Beat until well combined. Add the eggs one at time. Measure out the yogurt and add the tablespoon of flour to it. Whisk the yogurt together with the melted chocolate and slowly add to the butter/sugar mix. Beat until just combined. Scrape down the sides. On the lowest speed, add the flour mix and beat until nearly combined. Finsihing combining by hand.

Divide the batter evenly into your pans. The batter is pretty thick, so you'll need to give the pan a good shake and some taps on the counter to spread it out evenly across the pan. If you are using magi-cake strips, put them on now, and get the batter level. If you aren't, you might want to spread out the batter so it is slightly lower in the center. Bake for about 25 minutes until the top springs back and the cake is pulling away from the sides. Let cool in pans for 5 minutes and then turn the cakes out onto cooling racks. Cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler and let cool completely. In an electric mixer, combine the yogurt, vanilla, and salt. Add the chocolate mixture. On the lowest speed, add the sugar. Once the sugar is combined, turn the speed up to whip the frosting. I let it go about two minutes.

Frost! Maida recommends using wax paper strips, cut into short lengths, and tucked under the cake, so you don't get any frosting on the plate. I usually skip this step, but it is nice if you are going for a fancier presentation. Start by placing the bottom layer on your cake plate. I like to use this step for leveling: I use a slightly rounded plate, and put the rounder cake facedown, leaving a level side up. put about 1/3 of the frosting on the center, and spread it around evenly. Place on the top layer. Spread frosting around the sides first, and then over the top. Add your favorite sprinkles. Enjoy!

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