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Chocolate and Brown Butter Vanilla Layer Cake

June 23, 2017

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I always look forward to special occasions, because it means that I get to bake a layer cake and decorate it. I usually make just one flavor, but for last Father’s day I went a step further and baked two different cake flavors! Chocolate cake is always a winner with Tobi, so that was a clear choice. And I have not made Brown Butter Vanilla cake for a couple of years now, so I decided to go with that.

I scaled down my go-to recipes to make two 6-inch/15 centimeter rounds each. For the chocolate cake, I made Ruth Reichl’s Big Chocolate Cake (see here for full recipe) and Raspberri Cupcakes Brown Butter Vanilla Cake (see here for full recipe). I didn’t make any tweaks to the recipes because they are perfect as they are! I have made other chocolate cake recipes, but everyone seems to prefer Ruth’s recipe, so why fix what is not broken?

Also, I decided to make a naked layer cake as I’ve always wanted to make one and Tobi doesn’t like too much icing. I made strawberry Swiss meringue buttercream and it was delicious! And Tobi didn’t mind that it was pink!

Where do we start in making this layer cake?

First, we start by making the brown butter as it needs to go to the fridge to firm up for a bit.  Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently with a spatula. As the butter melts, it will become foamy and the milk solids will separate. Cook until the melted butter looks light brown and smells nutty. Be careful not to burn it. Transfer to a bowl and put into the fridge to cool and solidify.

browned butter

(I realize that is not really that brown, but I fear that it will burn, so once it smells nutty I take it off the heat. And please enjoy the smell, it is wonderful)

Then we make the chocolate cake.

First, prepare your cake pans. Line the bottom of two 6-inch/15-centimeter cake pans with parchment paper, butter and flour the sides. Make sure to tap out excess flour. This is very important since we are making a naked cake. Your cake should release from the cake pan perfectly as you cannot cover any ugly parts with icing.

Then preheat your oven to 180°C/350F.

Here are the ingredients you will need:

mise-en-place chocolate cake

We will only have a small amount of batter, so you may do this by hand with a spatula (will need some muscle power), or a hand mixer (which is what I did.)

In a measuring cup or pitcher with a spout, dissolve the cocoa in the hot coffee. Add in the milk and vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

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In a medium bowl, cream the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy.

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Add the eggs one at a time and mix well after each addition.

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Add in the flour mixture in 3 batches and the cocoa mixture in 2, alternately. Once you start adding the cocoa mixture, do yourself a favor and enjoy the chocolate-y scent of the batter. It is amazing. I always take a second to inhale deeply and savor the chocolate aroma.

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Do not worry if your batter looks like curdled milk, that is normal.

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Divide into your two prepared pans and smooth out the tops.

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Bake in the middle of the oven until a cake tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Take out and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Make the brown butter vanilla cake.

Set out your ingredients.

Mise-en-place browned butter vanilla cake

Prepare your cake pans. Line the bottom of two 6-inch/15-centimeter cake pans with parchment paper, butter and flour the sides. Make sure to tap out excess flour. Then preheat your oven to 180°C/350F.

Get the brown butter from the fridge and if it’s too hard, let it get to room temperature. I had to give my brown butter a sun bath for 5 minutes to get it nice and soft. Transfer to a medium bowl and add in the sugar and beat on medium speed until fluffy. Breathe in deeply the nutty aroma of the brown butter while you are mixing the batter. It smells so delicious!

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Add in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Mix in the vanilla.

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Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl. Add to the butter mixture in 3 batches, and the milk in 2 batches, alternately.

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Divide into your two prepared pans and smooth out the tops.

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Bake in the middle of the oven until a cake tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Take out, take a whiff one last time of the nutty aroma, and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Note: I like to bake cakes at least the day before frosting them so that they are completely cold and will have less crumbs. I have also baked up to a few weeks before and kept the cakes in the freezer, and defrost the night before frosting. Good for times when I need to bake a large number of layer cakes for a party.

Assembling the cake

Chocolate and Browned Butter Vanilla Layer Cake

Make the strawberry swiss meringue buttercream.

See post here on how to make swiss meringue buttercream and add in ¼ cup pureed fresh or frozen strawberries. Mix the strawberry puree well into the buttercream.

Assemble your layer cake

Get your cake stand/cake board and smear a bit of icing to stick the cake to it. Center one layer of brown butter cake on the stand/board. With an offset spatula, spread enough icing just to the edges of the cake, around 2 tablespoons. I don’t like to make the icing between layers too thick. Top with a chocolate cake layer and spread icing on top. Continue until all 4 layers are stacked. Make sure that it is flat by gently pressing on top of the cake and checking on the side if all is well!

Chocolate and Browned Butter Vanilla Layer Cake

Then, decorate the top of your layer cake by transferring the remaining icing into a piping bag with a star tip (I used a Wilon 4B tip) and pipe rosettes on top. I finished the cake off with cherries (as there I wasn’t able to buy strawberries. Don’t be like me! Prepare what you need to decorate in advance!) But it looks so pretty with the cherries, so I didn’t worry about it not being in the strawberry theme. 😊

chocolate brown butter vanilla layer cake

Serves 8

Chocolate and Brown Butter Vanilla Layer Cake

A chocolate and brown butter vanilla layer cake with strawberry swiss meringue buttercream perfect for any celebration!

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Ingredients

    For the chocolate cake:
  • ½ cup (120 millilitres) hot coffee
  • 6 tablespoons (38 grams) cocoa
  • ¼ cup (60 millilitres) whole milk/plain yoghurt/buttermilk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup (120 grams) all purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup (112 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ½ cup (100 grams) brown sugar
  • ½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • For the brown butter vanilla cake
  • 2/3 cup (150 grams) unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ cup (180 grams) all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ¾ cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • Pinch of salt
  • For the strawberry Swiss meringue buttercream
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 3/4 cup (168 grams) butter, at room temperature, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 3/4 cup (150 grams) white sugar
  • ¼ cup (60 millilitres) strawberry puree

Directions

    Chocolate cake:
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.
  2. Line two 6-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and butter and flour the sides to ensure that the cakes will release perfectly.
  3. In a measuring cup or pitcher with a spout, dissolve the cocoa in the hot coffee. Add in the milk and vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  4. In a medium bowl, cream the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy.
  5. Add in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  6. Add in the flour mixture in 3 batches and the cocoa mixture in 2, alternately. Do not worry if your batter looks like curdled milk, that is normal.
  7. Divide into your two prepared pans and smooth out the tops.
  8. Bake in the middle of the oven until a cake tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Take out and let cool completely on a wire rack.
  9. Brown butter cake:
  10. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.
  11. Line two 6-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and butter and flour the sides to ensure that the cakes will release perfectly.
  12. Prepare brown butter ahead of time as it needs to be chilled to solidify. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently with a spatula. As the butter melts, it will become foamy and the milk solids will separate. Cook until the melted butter looks light brown and smells nutty. Be careful not to burn it. Transfer to a bowl and put into the fridge.
  13. Get the brown butter from the fridge and if it’s too hard, let it get to room temperature. Transfer to a medium bowl and add in the sugar and beat on medium speed until fluffy.
  14. Add in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla.
  15. Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl. Add to the butter mixture in 3 batches, and the milk in 2 batches, alternately.
  16. Divide into your two prepared pans and smooth out the tops.
  17. Bake in the middle of the oven until a cake tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Take out and let cool completely on a wire rack.
  18. Swiss meringue buttercream
  19. Fill a saucepan where your heatproof bowl (metal, glass or your stand mixer's bowl) can fit on top with at least 1 ½ inches (4 centimeters) water and bring to a simmer.
  20. Combine the sugar and egg whites in the mixer bowl. Set on top of the saucepan and whisk constantly until the sugar has melted (pinch a mixture and if it’s smooth, you’re good to go), or it has reached a temperature of 140°F/60°C.
  21. Transfer the bowl to the mixer and whisk, starting on low speed, until stiff peaks form.
  22. Ensure that the meringue is cool, then with the mixer on low speed, add the butter cubes one at a time. When all the butter has been added, it may look curdled, but don't worry. Increase the speed to high and whip until you the mixture becomes silky and smooth.
  23. Stir down the buttercream with a spatula to get out the air bubbles.
  24. Add in the strawberry puree and mix well.
  25. Assemble the cake:
  26. Get your cake stand/cake board and smear a bit of icing to stick the cake to it.
  27. Center one layer of brown butter cake on the stand/board. With an offset spatula, spread enough icing just to the edges of the cake, around 2 tablespoons.
  28. Continue until all 4 layers are stacked. Make sure that it is flat by gently pressing on top of the cake and checking on the side if all is well!
  29. Decorate the top by transferring the remaining icing into a piping bag with a star tip (I used a Wilon 4B tip) and pipe rosettes on top. Garnish with cherries, or strawberries, flowers, or whatever floats your fancy.

Notes

Plan ahead and bake the cake layers at least a day before to ensure that they are cold enough to handle and will yield less crumbs.

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