Sometimes the best part of making a cake is not actually knowing what cake I am going to make. When I offer to make someone a cake, I always leave the door open in regards to what sort of cake I should be making. Sometimes people immediately know what type of cake they want. Chocolate cake with coffee frosting. Spice cake. But sometimes—and, secretly, this is the type of thing I really, really love—my question is answered with just a list of elements that one might envision in a cake. Orange. Chocolate. Whipped Cream.
And so, it began. When my husband’s cousin (does that make her my cousin as well? I am never quite sure how that works) celebrated her 30th birthday, this is the cake she wanted: something with orange, chocolate, and whipped cream. You’d think that I would take some time to mull that request over before I dove into preparing a cake, but, truthfully, I knew immediately what I wanted to do.
Featuring my favorite butter cake as the building block, this is a celebratory stack of orange-scented cake and deeply creamy, chocolaty ganache. Though I was, sadly, not able to get a photo of the final iteration of the cake (all of my daylight was gone, and my kitchen’s lighting is not at all suitable for taking pictures at night), just try and picture this cake with a towering tophat of snowy whipped cream, and you’ll get an idea of its official presentation. The birthday lady (she is 30, after all) was thrilled to receive the cake, and I was honored to be trusted with making such a special cake for such a special birthday for such a special person. Welcome to your 30s, Ms. W. It is so much fun being semi-related to you.
Last Year: Smoked Salmon Canapés on Potato Crisps
Orange Butter Cake with Chocolate Ganache
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ cup finely grated orange zest
¾ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 cups cake flour
1 cup half-and-half or whole milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease two 9-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper.
Place the butter and sugar in a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat together on high speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl often, until the butter and sugar are light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Turn the mixer speed down to low and add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing well after each addition. Add the vanilla and orange zest and mix well, again scraping down the sides of the bowl.
Sift together the salt, baking powder, and cake flour.
Add about one half of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, then beat on low speed until well blended. Add about one half of the milk and beat well. Add the rest of the flour mixture and beat until mixed well. Add the rest of the milk and continue to beat well until the mixture is completely combined.
Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake until the cakes spring back when touched lightly in the center, and a cake tested inserted in the middle of the cakes emerges with just a few moist crumbs attached, 25 to 35 minutes. Allow cakes to cool in pans for 10 minutes before inverting onto cooling racks to continue to cool completely.
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup heavy whipping cream
In a double boiler or large, heat-safe bowl set over a pan of simmering water, slowly melt the chocolate, stirring frequently, until it is just melted. Remove double boiler from heat, then whisk in the heavy cream until the mixture is smooth, thick, and shiny.
When cakes have cooled completely, set one cake on a serving plate. Slowly pour half of the ganache over the cake, concentrating the ganache in the middle of the cake. The ganache will pool out towards the edges of the cake on its own, but, if you want, you can help coax it to the edges by gently spreading it with a spoon or an offset spatula until it just reaches the tipping point. Place the second layer of cake over the ganache, very gently pushing it in place, just to secure it a bit. Pour the rest of the ganache over the top of the cake, again gently spreading the ganache towards the edges.
You can serve the cake as is, or you can top the whole affair with a mountain of freshly whipped cream.