This cake is the result of a happy collision of ideas. First, the plates (as so often happens around here). They’re Woodland Berry by Williams Sonoma – a combined gift from daughter Lauren and daughter-in-law Annie for Christmas last year. I’ve been plotting and planning how to style them ever since.
My friend Leanne, of Leanne’s Apple Bundt cake, joined me in a virtual baking session this week. Ideas flew back and forth as we determined how best to use the chocolate moulds in a showstopper cake; that was almost as much fun as the baking itself. After considering and modifying several combinations, we landed on a Chocolate Orange cake. Think Terry’s Chocolate Orange in delectably moist cake form.
The fudgy chocolate cake is filled with rich orange curd, spread between layers of Swiss Meringue Buttercream and garnished with dried orange slices, sugared cranberries and the moulded chocolate pine cones and leaves. I piped some dark green spruce boughs and lighter green pine needles to pull all the elements together.
I managed to get some photos of the finished cake on the table. I would love to have taken a lovely styled picture of the cut cake to reveal the layers, but I’m afraid we only have some quick pics of the interior, which I captured before the cake vanished. An iPhone does wonders in a pinch.
I don’t think Leanne’s cake lasted any longer over at her place. She did a naked version, with layers of orange curd and Swiss Meringue Buttercream, leaving the sides free of icing, similar to the cake daughter Lauren made for our friend’s wedding a couple of years ago.
Making the two cakes simultaneously in our respective kitchens was a lot of fun. We are both looking forward to baking together again in person, as soon as health guidance permits it, but virtual baking worked well in the meantime. We each had our familiar tools to hand, and we caught up on each other’s news with mixers whirling and cakes baking. We had made the orange curd, dried orange slices, moulded chocolate and sugared cranberries in advance. While the cakes baked and cooled, we each whipped up a batch of biscotti from a recipe Leanne has used for decades. I’ll follow up with that recipe; they are delicious.
I have leftovers of all the garnishes and the orange curd. The orange slices will be delicious floating in hot toddies or cider; I munched a couple with some chocolate, and the combination was scrumptious. The sugared cranberries can float in prosecco, champagne or spritzers. The orange curd will no doubt disappear as a tart filling or on scones. The chocolate pine cones and leaves can top cupcakes or accompany the orange slices as a quick and easy dessert.
As to the cake, it lasted less than a day with our ravenous horde. And that’s A-OK with me. I enjoy the creative process; it’s even better when the outcome tastes delicious and is shared with loved ones.
Chocolate Pine Cones, Holly Leaves and Acorns
- 8 oz Belgian chocolate wafers
Dried Orange Slices
- 2 navel oranges
- superfine sugar
- 1/2 c granulated sugar (plus more for sprinkling)
- 1/2 c water
- 1 c fresh cranberries
- 6 large egg yolks
- 150 g or 3/4 c granulated sugar
- zest of one large orange
- zest of 1/2 lemon
- 5 oz fresh orange juice
- 4 oz fresh lemon juice
- pinch of salt
- 162 g or 6 oz unsalted butter, cut into small chunks, cold
- 57 g or 2 oz fine-quality semisweet chocolate
- 1 c hot brewed coffee or hot water
- 200 g or 1 2/3 c all-purpose flour
- 400 g or 2 c sugar
- 100g or 1 c unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
- 1 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 c vegetable oil
- 285 g or 1 c Greek yoghurt or 1 c buttermilk
- 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- 5 large egg whites
- 454 g or 2 c unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 300 g or 1.5 c granulated sugar
- pinch kosher salt
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Chocolate Pine Cones and Leaves
- Melt and temper the chocolate before filling the moulds. Let the chocolate cool and harden before removing it from the moulds. Do not refrigerate.
Dried Orange Slices
- Position oven racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven. Preheat to 200°F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with foil and mist with cooking spray.
- Using a serrated knife or a mandoline, slice the oranges very thinly. Place the sliced oranges on the pans, approximately 3 inches apart. Sprinkle with superfine sugar. Bake, periodically rotating the baking sheets, until the slices are dry, (3 to 4 hours). Watch closely during the last couple of hours to be sure that the slices don’t burn.
- In a small pan over medium-high heat, add the sugar and water. Bring to a brisk simmer, swirling occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. Let the syrup cool.
- In a small bowl, coat the cranberries in a couple of tablespoons of simple syrup. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cranberries to a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle the cranberries with granulated sugar and toss gently. Repeat twice more until the cranberries are coated with sugar. Leave to dry overnight. The surplus simple syrup will keep for several months in the refrigerator.
- In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the yolks, sugar, zests and juices and salt until combined. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula, scraping down the sides of the pan until the mixture is thick (8 to 10 minutes).
- Remove the pan from the heat. Add the butter, one piece at a time, stirring until smooth. If desired, strain through a fine sieve into a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the curd to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled and very firm (at least 2 hours).
- Preheat the oven to 325° F.
- Finely chop the chocolate and add it to a bowl with hot coffee or hot water. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Let cool.
- In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon coloured (about 3 minutes). Add oil, buttermilk or yoghurt, vanilla, and cooled, the melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add flour mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined.
- Spray three 7-inch round pans with a baking spray containing flour (I use Bak-Klene). Line bottoms with rounds of parchment paper and spray the paper. Divide batter between the pans and bake in middle of oven until cake springs back when pressed in the center, (40-50 minutes).
- Cool layers in pans for 15 minutes on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto wire racks. Carefully remove parchment paper and cool layers completely. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- Add egg whites, sugar and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk briefly. It’s important that the bowl be completely free of any fat, or your meringue won’t whip, so you may want to wipe it down first with a diluted mixture of vinegar or lemon juice and water before wiping it dry with paper towels.
- Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the water does not touch the bowl.
- Whisk the egg whites occasionally until they warm up, then whisk constantly as the temperature rises. Heat the mixture until it reaches 160ºF or until it doesn’t feel grainy between your fingers.
- Transfer the bowl to a stand mixer, and beat with a whisk attachment until you get glossy, room temperature peaks. Tip: hold a couple of bags of frozen peas or corn against the outside of the bowl to bring the temperature down.
- Switch to the paddle attachment. With the mixer running on low, add small dollops of room temperature butter, one at a time. Take your time with this – let the butter incorporate fully before you add the next piece, which will take 10-15 minutes. Don’t panic if the mixture gets soupy. Just keep beating. You can’t overbeat it and it will come together in the end.
- Add the vanilla extract.
Assemble the cake
- Place a cake layer on a turntable. Spread with a layer of frosting, then pipe a ring of frosting around the edge to form a dam for a thin layer of orange curd. Repeat with other layers, finishing with a cake layer. You will use about half of the orange curd. Stick a few skewers down through the layers to hold them vertical. Refrigerate until firm (30-60 minutes).
- Crumb coat: cover the cake with a thin layer of frosting. You should be able to remove the skewers at this point. Refrigerate until firm (15-30 minutes).
- Frost the cake with the final layer of frosting, getting it as smooth as you can. Refrigerate until firm (15-30 minutes)
- Using two different shades of green (I used Americcolor gel Cypress and Laurel) pipe spruce and pine branches onto the cake, interspersed with the chocolate pine cones, holly leaves and acorns, sugared cranberries and dried orange slices.