It has been a tradition for over 10 years that everyone gather at The Mansion for New Year’s Eve Dinner. I have been attending for the last four years and can not think of another place to celebrate the coming of a new year. Dessert menu was set by the lady of the house and I thank her for that because with the abundant number of cookbooks I have been reading lately, it would have been very tough to choose something. She wanted a Chocolate Strawberry Cake.
The moment those words were out of her mouth I knew I was going to try Pierre Herme’s chocolate pastry cream from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme. Now that I think about it, a lighter texture such as a mousse would have worked better in a layered cake, but the taste was truly amazing. The secret to the recipe was adding pieces butter and continue whisking while the cream cooled in the water bath.
It was silky, chocolaty and full-bodied. For the cake part, I tried the Devil’s Food White-Out Cake recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking From My Home to Yours”. It was very good, too. By the way, this book is definitely one of the best cookbooks published last year. I am a great fan of Dorie’s writing and her attention to detail in laying out a recipe. She has done a great job again.
I already knew that these talented chefs’ recipes would work wonders, so what kept me thinking was decoration rather than the taste. There is nothing too exciting about a layered cake dusted with cocoa powder or powdered sugar. Placing a couple of strawberries on top to hint at the filling would work, but it needed more. Then I spotted a Christmas tree cookie cutter and I thought chocolate Christmas trees would look good around the cake…
I also prepared chocolate ice cream and raspberry sorbet… You know, just in case…
STRAWBERRY CHOCOLATE CAKE
Ingredients – Chocolate Pastry Cream
Note: I doubled all the ingredients for the chocolate pastry cream below to prepare 5 cups. Below is original amounts, which will yield 2 1/2 cups.
- 1 cups whole milk
- 4 large egg yolks
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
- 7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
- 2+1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
Method – Chocolate Pastry Cream
- Fill a large bowl with ice and water. Set aside a smaller bowl that can hold the finished cream and be placed in this bath. Set aside a fine-meshed strainer too. In a small saucepan, bring the milk to boil. Meanwhile, whisk the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan. Whisking all the while, very slowly drizzle a quarter of the hot milk into the yolks. Still whisking, pour the rest of the liquid in a steady stream into the tempered yolks.
- Strain mixture into the saucepan, place the pan over medium heat, and, whisking vigorously and without stop, bring the mixture to the boil. Keep the mixture at the boil for 1 to 1 minutes. Still over heat, stir in the chocolate, then remove the pan from the heat and scrape the pastry cream into the small bowl.
- Set the bowl into the ice-water bath and, stirring frequently, cool the cream to 140F (60 C). Remove cream from ice-water bath and stir in the butter in three or four additions. Return the cream to the water bath and keep it there, stirring occasionally, until it is completely cool.
- Covered tightly with plastic wrap, pastry cream can be refrigerated for 2 days.
Ingredients – Cake
- 1+1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1+1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
- 1/2 cup buttermilk or whole milk, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup boiling water
- 4 ounces semisweet or milk chocolate, finely chopped, or 2/3 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips
- 3 cups of fresh strawberries, sliced
Method – Cake
- Preheat your oven to 350 F.
- Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Butter & flour your pan(s) and set aside.
- Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugars and continue to beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla; don’t be concerned if the mixture looks curdled. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the melted chocolate. When it is fully incorporated, add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, adding the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the milk in 2 (begin and end with the dry ingredients); scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and mix only until the ingredients disappear into the batter.
- At this point, the batter will be thick, like frosting. Still working on low speed, mix in the boiling water, which will thin the batter considerably. Switch to a rubber spatula, scrape down the bowl and stir in the chopped chocolate. Pour the batter into a 10 inch pan and smooth the top with the rubber spatula. (In the original recipe, the batter is divided equally between two 8 inch pans. If you intend to use 8 inch pans, shorten baking time to 25-30 minutes).
- Bake at 350 F for 35 to 40 minutes. When fully baked, the cake will be springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the center will come out clean. Transfer the cake pan to a rack and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the side of the cake, unmold it and peel off the paper liner. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up. (The cooled cake can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.)
- After cooling, if you notice that the cake has crowned, use a long serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to even the top. With the same knife, slice the layer horizontally in half.
- Put the bottom layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of waxed or parchment paper. Using a long icing spatula, cover the layer generously with pastry cream. Place sliced strawberries on top of the pastry cream and top with the second layer. Cover the sides and top of the cake with the pastry cream, trying to smooth as much as possible.
- For the Chocolate Christmas Trees, temper 9 ounces of milk chocolate (makes 10-12 trees), spread tempered chocolate on a parchment paper (1/4 inch thick), transfer to refrigerator for 5 minutes. Just before the chocolate hardens, press a cookie cutter of your choice and with a back and forth motion leave cut marks for easy peeling. Once the chocolate is hardened (takes around 30 minutes in the refrigerator), peel the chocolate trees, dust with icing sugar (if you want to add a snow effect) and press on the sides of the cake.
- Refrigerate cake until serving.