I hope everyone had a relaxing Christmas Holiday, things are settling back down around the homestead and the marathon cookie baking and decorating has come to an end. Now that we’re heading into the New Year, things are also calming down at work and I should be back to having consistent days off which will hopefully allow the blogging schedule to fall back into place.
This week’s recipe came about because I was asked to bring a dessert for Christmas dinner. I’ve been intrigued (read obsessed) with MilkBar’s layer cakes (and their corn cookie and crack pie). The gang over at MilkBar always seem to come up with these fanciful flavor combinations for their cakes and they have a distinct visual style with their unfrosted sides. It’s been ages since I’ve baked a layer cake, so I thought it would be kind of fun to try my hand at building a MilkBar style towering marvel.
Over the years via interviews and various cooking segments, Christina Tosi (the genius behind MilkBar) has shared how she goes about designing and assembling these cakes with the cake itself, the frosting and a textural element as the basic components. In this case because of the holiday I opted for crushed candy canes and crumbled peppermint bark for my textural elements. I also decided to use peppermint oil rather than peppermint extract, because it provides an intense wallop of peppermint flavor. You can certainly use peppermint extract, it just takes a lot more extract to provide the same intensity of flavor and that will impact the texture of the frosting. I was able to find food grade peppermint oil at a specialty shop, but you should be able to find it easily enough on the interwebs.
As it turns out, I must have given away our cake pans when we moved from NJ to CA. So I had to go out and buy new cake pans. I opted for 7″ inch springform pans figuring that the springform would come in handy for assembly, transport and unveiling. I lucked out and was able to find 3 identical pans at Homegoods.
There’s basically three stages to creating this cake, first its the baking of the cake, then making the buttercream and then the last part is the assembly of the cake itself. The whole process took about 8 hours, which includes the time the cake had to chill in the fridge so the icing could set up and help hold the.cake together so It could be transported to its destination.
Part 1…the cake
- 3 cups AP flour
- 3 cups sugar
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp peppermint oil
- 8 oz. melted extra dark chocolate
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup sour cream
- 2 cups hot water
- 8 tsp extra dark cocoa
Place a clean glass or stainless steal bowl over a pot of lightly boiling water to make a double boiler. Break the chocolate into small chunks and place into the bowl, stir until all the chocolate has melted. Set aside to let cool. While the chocolate is cooling, assemble the rest of the cake ingredients. In a large bowl, combine, flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and cocoa and set aside. In another bowl, mix the oil, water, sour cream, vanilla extract, peppermint oil and eggs lightly until combined then slowly pour into the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined by hand or with an electric mixer. Slowly mix in the melted chocolate. Divide batter evenly between 3 prepared 8″ cake pans and bake in an oven preheated to 350 for 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Because I used smaller pans and filled them to about half full, the cake took closer to an hour to bake for me. Remove from the oven to cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes, then remove from the pans and let cool completely before icing.
Part 2….the Icing…
- 1lb unsalted butter (softened and room temperature)
- 12 oz white chocolate chips
- 1lb powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp food grade peppermint oil
- 2 TBS corn syrup
- ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
Use a double boiler or microwave to melt white chocolate chips and set aside to cool. Once the white chocolate has cooled but is still liquid, whip butter in a large bowl or stand mixer with whisk attachment on high speed until the butter turns pale yellow. Scrap down the sides of the bowl and add vanilla extract and peppermint oil and whisk on medium speed until flavoring is incorporated. With the mixer on low, slowly drizzle in the white chocolate and add the corn syrup*. Turn the mixer off and scrap down the sides. Add ⅓ of the powder sugar and turn the mixer on to low, mix until the powered sugar is thoroughly incorporated, turn off the mixer and scrap down the sides between each addition. Continue until all the powdered has been added. You should hear the motor of the mixer slow down. Now gradually start adding the heavy whipping cream. Your looking for a nice spreadable/pipable texture that’s not too loose. The icing should be airy but still hold a peak so you may not need all the cream.
- large spoon or piping bag with large tip to apply icing
- 1 cake pan
- 1 cake board
- a 10″ wide strip of acetate of clear vinyl.
- clear tape
- crushed candy canes
- broken up pieces of peppermint bark
Cut the acetate of vinyl so that the length is equal to the circumference of the cake pan with 1″ overlap. The acetate/vinyl is what will allow you to build up the layers of the cake. Level all three cakes, crumble the tops and set aside, you’ll use them to form the bottom layer of the cake.
Place the cake board at the bottom of the cake pan, then form a cylinder with the acetate/vinyl and place it into the cake pan, making sure that the cylinder is snug against the sides of the cake pan. Tape the top and bottom of the cylinder.
Spread a thin layer of icing on the cake board and pack the crumbled up cake into the bottom of the cake pan and top with a layer of buttercream. I find that its easier to use a piping bag for this rather than trying to spread with a spoon. Sprinkle the buttercream with crushed up candy canes and peppermint bark. Continue layering cake, buttercream and candy until get to the top layer. Frost the top layer and sprinkle with more candy canes and peppermint bark. Place a layer of plastic wrap over the top of the cylinder and place in the fridge to chill for at least 6 hours or overnight. This will allow the frosting to firm up which will help keep the cake together.
To serve, tip the cake onto its side and remove the cake pan, keeping a hand on the cake board so that it stays in place, turn the cake back up upright and place it onto a cake stand or plate. Cut the tape and remove the vinyl/acetate cylinder.
* The corn syrup is necessary for texture and to help stabilize the frosting. Honey or agave will not substitute in this case because they’ll solidify and turn gritty when the cake is chilled.