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Layered Cakes: Not Exactly a Piece of Cake

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This Christmas I took on a task I have never attempted before. That task was making a layered cake. Four layers of chocolate cake with two layers of a cream and ganache between each cake round.

Why would I take on such a daunting project, you ask? Well, I have a problem. I see a recipe and if it looks good, I will try it without reading the instructions or determining its level of difficulty.

This cake didn't seem that hard to make. I can bake a cake, I can make a ganache and I can make a chocolate cream. How hard could it be if I could easily make all of the components? Unfortunately, the crucial step I overlooked was the assembly process. But everything up until that point was perfectly fine.

I decided to make the white chocolate cream first because it needed to chill in the refrigerator in order to thicken up so I could spread it between the cake layers. This part was super easy. I just brought one cup of heavy cream to a simmer in a saucepan, then poured it over 12 ounces of high-quality white chocolate, then whisked it together until it was smooth. The original recipe calls for a peppermint extract flavoring throughout the white chocolate cream and frosting, but because it was Christmas Eve, the grocery store was out of peppermint extract...go figure, so I used vanilla extract instead.

As soon as the white chocolate cream and vanilla extract were completely incorporated and smooth, I covered the bowl and placed it in the refrigerator to thicken and cool for about four hours.

Meanwhile, I decided to bake the cakes. I followed all of the steps to a T. I buttered two 9-inch cake pans and dusted them with flour. Then, I whisked 2 2/3 cups of all-purpose flour, one tablespoon of baking powder and one teaspoon each of baking soda and salt in a bowl.

Next, I beat 2 1/4 cups of granulated sugar with two sticks of butter in a stand mixer, then added three eggs, one at a time, followed by one egg yolk and 1 1/4 cups of unsweetened sifted cocoa powder. Now the cake started to look like a true devil's food cake. To complete the cake batter, I alternately added the flour mixture and two cups of ice water, starting and finishing with the flour. I then poured the cake batter into the cake pans and baked at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

While the cakes baked, I made the dark chocolate ganache by placing 1 1/3 cups of heavy whipping cream and two tablespoons of light corn syrup in a saucepan and bringing that mixture to a simmer. Finally, I added 14 ounces of chopped dark chocolate and stirred until it melted, then placed the bowl in the refrigerator to chill for about an hour.

By this point, I was so proud of myself. I had baked the cakes to perfection, whipped the white chocolate cream until it was silky and smooth, and made a velvety dark chocolate ganache. I was on top of the world.

But I made two crucial mistakes. First, I denied my mother's help because "I had to do it myself," and I didn't let the cakes cool completely. My impatience got the best of me and I started assembling too soon.

I sliced the cakes in half, placed the first layer as the base of the cake, spread a layer of dark chocolate ganache on top and finished with the white chocolate cream. Things started looking great. I picked up the next layer to place on the cake, began spreading the next two layers of cream and ganache, and when I put the third layer of cake on top of the cream, I realized a disaster had begun and it was too late to stop it. One of the cake layers started to split in half and looked like Pac Man.

So, I fixed my first problem and asked for my mom's help. She came swooping in and saved the day. Apparently if you stick a bunch of chopsticks or long wooden skewers into the cake, it will hold together. I finished the final layers and stuck the cake in the refrigerator. Yes, this firmed up the cake and stopped the cream and ganache from flowing out of the cake, but my cake was no longer moist and fluffy.

I decided to make a cream cheese frosting instead of the peppermint marshmallow frosting the recipe originally called for, because it used egg whites and with it being a very humid day, an egg white frosting wouldn't have set well. My dad told me to cover up the mess with frosting, but that didn't work.

The cake looked like a sorry excuse for a layered cake, and if I were competing on MasterChef, Gordon Ramsay would have ripped me to shreds. However, if you closed your eyes while eating the cake, you never would have thought it looked like it did. It tasted impeccable. The dark chocolate cake balanced perfectly with the creamy, sweet white chocolate cream and outstanding dark chocolate ganache. I should've used a marshmallow frosting because it would have spread better, but who doesn't like cream cheese frosting?

Next time I make this cake, I will have more patience and wait for the cakes to completely cool, and I will ask for my mom's help. If there is anything I learned from this disaster, it is that mother really does know best.

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