Sweet And Crumby

Baking, a Love Story

Imperfection and a Black and White Cake


I am afraid I have not been totally honest with you, my faithful readers.  I look back on many posts and see things that have literally been sugar coated; made pretty for the camera, better than they truly appear in my kitchen.  This cake slice is a perfect example.

My little sweets are like those Barbie Doll actresses or newscasters who have had hours of make-up applied to them, who are straight off the plastic surgery assembly-line with perky boobs, line-free foreheads and teeth whiter than any snowcapped mountain.

I primp, throw on accoutrements to cover-up blemishes, add a chocolate or two for interest and color, tilt it to show its good side, and then snap, I capture beautiful fakeness and you are left to try to mimic something that does not actually exist.

Many times, I have been known to succumb to the photo editor’s mentality who must Photoshop a cover model’s non existent waistline to appear even smaller, carving out another inch of nothingness.

Well, not today folks.  Here, I give you my totally ugly, real as can be, Black and White cake.  It’s not a pretty sight.  I am aware.  As I tried, oh-so-carefully to cut the delicate layers in half so that I could have a four layer cake, chock full of gorgeous fillings, my layers became cake shavings and I was left with two hefty layers and two see-through layers with giant gaping holes in the center.

As I felt more than a little dejected, beating the white chocolate whipped cream frosting into oblivion (and swiping a finger dipped taste-test), I contemplated making a new cake for my guests tonight and, of course, for the camera. After all, how could one photograph or serve this monstrosity?

But then it occurred to me, as I licked my lips and uttered, “Mmmmm,”  this is real life and you people are real readers who have cake disasters that you’ve had to recover from. We all have had celebration cakes that look more like a demolition site than a show piece for an event.  Well, here’s to those days and those cakes and to life and food not always being exactly how the recipe prescribes.

So here is my cake, with layers that are big and small, thick and thin and white chocolate whipped cream frosting that accidentally melds in with the bittersweet chocolate custard-like filling.  And as I nibble the delicious vanilla flavored crumbs and lick the left-over spatula covered in chocolatey splendor, I feel reassured that substance is what counts and also am grateful that not all cakes are utter disasters.

*Disclaimer and review: See my comments below the recipe. 

Black-And-White Chocolate Cake
from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours
For the Cake:
2 cups cake flour
2 t baking powder
1/8 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1 1/4 sticks (10 T) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 c. granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 t. pure vanilla extract
3/4 c. buttermilk

For the Dark Chocolate Cream:
2 c. whole milk
4 large egg yolks
6 T. sugar
3 T cornstarch, sifted
1/4 t salt
7 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted

For the White Chocolate Whipped Cream:
6 oz premium quality white chocolate (such as Valrhona Ivoire or Guittard), finely chopped
1 1/2 c. heavy cream

Chocolate shavings or curls for decoration (optional)

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans, dust insides with flour, tap out the excess and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment or wax paper.

To Make the Cake: Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Working with a stand mixer 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 sugar and beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, and then the yolk, 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 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. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 28 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans at the midway point. When fully baked, the cakes will be golden and springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the centers will come out clean. Transfer the cakes to a rack and cool for about 5 minutes, then unmold, remove the paper and invert to cool to room temperature right side up on the rack.  Once cooled, wrap the cakes tightly in plastic and refrigerate for a couple of hours to firm up.

To Make the Dark Chocolate Cream:
Bring the milk to a boil.  I put the milk in a liquid measuring cup and heated it in the microwave on high for one minute and then one minute again.

Meanwhile, in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar, cornstarch and salt until thick and well blended. Whisking without stopping, drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the hot milk–this will temper, or warm, the yolks so they won’t curdle–then, still whisking, add the remainder of the milk in a steady stream. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, constantly and thoroughly (make sure to get into the edges of the pan), bring the mixture to a boil. Keep at a boil, still whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk in the melted chocolate, and let stand for 5 minutes. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream to create an airtight seal and refrigerate the cream until chilled, or for up to 3 days. Or, if you want to cool the cream quickly, put the bowl with the cream into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water and stir the cream occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes.  I honestly didn’t let my cool more than an hour and it was fine.

To Make the White Chocolate Whipped Cream:
Put the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl and put the bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water. Stir frequently to melt the chocolate evenly. Meanwhile, bring 1/2 cup of the heavy cream to a boil (again, I did this in the microwave for convenience).

When the white chocolate is melted. I needed to vigorously whisk the chocolate over the hot water in order for it to adequately melt smoothly. Remove the bowl of white chocolate from the heat.  Pour the hot cream over the melted chocolate and let it sit for a minute. Using a small spatula, stir the chocolate gently until it is smooth. That is Dorie’s advice and my advice is to whisk it into oblivion.  That was the only way I could get it smooth. Let it sit on the counter until it reaches room temperature–it can’t be the least bit warm when you add it to the whipped cream.  I transfered it to a cool bowl and let it sit out for a whole hour before I added it to the whipped cream.

Working with the stand mixer with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the remaining 1 cup heavy cream only until it holds the softest peaks. Turn the machine to high, add the cooled white chocolate all at once and continue to beat until the whipped cream holds firm peaks. Turn the whipped cream into a bowl, press a piece of plastic wrap gently against the surface to create an airtight seal and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 6 hours.

To Assemble the Cake:
Take the cake layers out of the fridge. If the tops of the cake layers have crowned, use a long serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to even them. Slice each layer horizontally in half. This is where I had my problems and had the cake layers fall apart. I decided to piece them back together when frosting the cake and it worked better than I expected.  Place one layer cut side down on a cardboard cake round or on a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.

Remove the dark and white chocolate creams from the refrigerator and whisk each of them vigorously to loosen and smooth them. With a long metal icing spatula, spread enough dark chocolate cream (about 1 cup) over the cake layer to cover it completely. Top the cream with another cake layer, cut side up, and cover this layer with white chocolate whipped cream, making the white layer about the same thickness as the dark layer. Cover with a third layer, cut side up, and cover with another cup of so of the dark chocolate cream. (You’ll have some dark chocolate cream left over–use it as a dip for madeleines or sables). Top with the final layer of cake, cut side down, and frost the sides and top with the remaining white chocolate whipped cream. If you’d like to decorate the top with chocolate shavings or curls, do it now so the chocolate curls will stick.

Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

*In my humble opinion….My family and I thought this cake as a whole slice was delicious.  The white chocolate whipped cream frosting was memorable and delicate. The cake part was a tiny bit tough if you ask me, but I like my cakes spongy.  In the future, I would add an extra entire egg instead of just the egg yolk as required by the recipe.  I might also add  1/4 c. of canola oil.   This is a labor intensive cake and deserves to be made in two days.  Cake on day one and fillings and frosting on day two unless you have a good portion of the day to devote to it.  One last final thought…I would definitely make it in three 9 inch cake pans instead of trying to cut two layers in half.  I don’t think there is enough chocolate filling to frost two separate layers adequately.  My cake seemed to work rather well with one, nice thick layer of the chocolate cream filling and one layer of the chocolate whipped cream frosting. 

35 thoughts on “Imperfection and a Black and White Cake

  1. Yummy! the filling sounds stupendous! On another thought the art of food presentation is in fact a very revered and not mention fun art form. Food presentation has whole books written about it. It is also my favorite art form because it involves cooking as well as creativity. So don’t be shameful about making food pretty (unless it really tastes terrible), use the pantry as your palette, your whisk and your brush, and your plate as your canvas! 🙂

  2. We all have those days when our cakes end up plain ugly, at least mine are most of the time because I just can’t decorate a cake..I did post few of those :/…however I think that your cake looks very tasty..with all the ingredients that you put in it should be lovely dessert!

  3. The cake look perfectly lovely and delectable!

  4. I think it looks honest and delicious. =)

  5. I absolutely love your honesty, it’s nice to know (and makes me feel a lot better!) that you are real and not everything you bake turns out picture perfect from every angle. I don’t think there is anything wrong with choosing the best looking piece to photograph because it’s only natural to want your food to look as good as it tasted! This cake sounds absolutely delicious, especially the white chocolate whipped cream!

  6. Oh yummy!!! I think I gain a few pounds every time I read your blog!! Everything is always looks so mouth-watering!!!!

  7. Delicious doesn’t have to look perfect! But it looks great to me.

  8. I think that cake looks beautiful! 🙂
    It also looks super tasty.

  9. I have layer cake issues too. It’s funny, my post is about a layer cake too! Anyway, last time I froze the cakes before I cut them. I too, cannot cut cakes to save my soul. And, my layer cakes always come out resembling the leaning tower of Pisa…but you are right, we are just everyday people and its okay if you have to tilt your head a little to imagine you are looking at a beautifully crafted cake. Loved you post…it made me chuckle!

  10. I dont care whether it looks good or not as long as the taste rocks!

  11. Geni, I’m so glad your human and that home baked goodies are not perfectly factory made! We get so caught up on “presentation” and while that is important for the oohs and ahhs, the taste in my opinion is even more important! Your honesty in sharing your kitchen secrets just make your blog increase in value to me!!

  12. Aw, thanks for making me feel better about my not always-gorgeous creations, Geni! Such a sweet post!

  13. You know the chocolate on the plate with the cake was calling me lol. But this black and white cake looks delicious and to me brings in the season of spring. I love this recipe. As always you’ve outdone yourself 🙂

  14. What honesty Geni.I have had so many days like this with cake layers falling apart.It was brave of you to upload the real pictures.The slice looks yummy.I love chocolate & cream cakes

  15. This cake is perfection! It looks so moist and absolutely delicious. Great job!

  16. I love your honesty. Sometimes I post the mistakes…sometimes not. Depends on how much work I put into it and how delated I was. And…I admit… I do try to turn the plate just so or arrange things just so..to get a “best shot”
    because everybody else’s food photos look so superb. Hah… now I know that plenty of it is camouflage… ..maybe I’ll just bare all. On the food shots, that is!

    But, Geni, I found a way to cut impossibly thin layer cakes with ease. Dental floss. Unflavoured of course.

    It all came about after using it to cut some rather soft rounds of goat cheese…bear with me here…. and worked so perfectly that I automatically thought of it after botching the first layer of my fancy black forest type cake.

    Get a piece long enough to wrap around the cake with several inches left over. Place it around the middle of the layer like a belt … cross the loose ends over almost like you are going to tie it and just keep going….it slices straight through like a hot knife through butter…exactly where you placed it. And if you got it even all the way around…a perfect slice. Hope my description is understandable… you could practice on a round of cheese…lol…..

    and…for the icing… a second layer is the only way to cover up the smearing I think…or… as you mentioned about patting on chocolate bits or curls or something…

    • You are a godsend! I am going to try the dental floss. Maybe I could use the mint flavored kind if I have a chocolate and mint cake. 😉 You are right about the second layer of frosting…that would have done it. I may start making a double batch of frosting each time. I always find that recipes sell me short on frosting and fillings or maybe I am just a bit heavy handed.

  17. I think your cake looks lovely 🙂

  18. Mmmmm, I think it still looks tasty! Now that I’m blogging about food I find that sometimes I feel extra pressure in the kitchen to make things look perfect or take the right pictures. Sometimes it’s nice to just forget about all that and enjoy myself and my food! Thanks for sharing:)

  19. Geni- Your cake looks great. I love this post because I think I could’ve written it. Thanks for your honesty 🙂 I guess we all just have to remember that in real life food is just for eating. The foods from photo shoots for magazines and publications are actually inedible from all the things they have done to them. Anyway, thanks for the great post!

  20. Geni, this is a fantastic post. We can all relate to this and love your honesty. I have had my eye on that cake for a while and have not made it yet, because it did look to be a bit of a project. I like my cakes more spongy, also. Thanks for the great tips and a wonderful post. xo

  21. Your disaster looks lovely to me. And what a lot of work. I admire that you do it in the first place and that you shared so authentically.

  22. Three cheers for real-life baking! We’ve all been there, and I can only say as long as it tastes good, I’m in!

  23. I think we all do that, Geni… I think since we’re in a community of food bloggers, we automatically assume that everyone else must know what they’re doing, and never screw up, and we must make ourselves look good in comparison! Because I know I sure can relate to the whole, cover it up to make it look pretty for pictures concept!

    I also loved your comment on my plastic bag post. I am so happy that a seed has been planted! Wait’ll you see my next one about plastic bottles that I just posted! People are going to start thinking I am some extremist. No, I’m just passionate!

    Hope you’re doing well! 🙂

  24. Looks good to me! I’d love a big slice of that cake!

  25. Hello !

    I have been following your blog for a while and it is a place that I come back to for more. I love what you write and am awarding you with the Versatile Blogger Award. Find it here on http://chocolatesanddreams.in/entries/others/the-versatile-blogger-award-and-my-very-first-post-on-the-nri-online-magazine

    Spread the love and give this award to the blogs that you like.

    Rituparna …

  26. wow, this cake looks perfect!!

  27. Mmm, two great tastes in one cake, delish!

  28. It looks delicious. I think beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the cake looks beautiful to me.

  29. Cake looks perfectly wonderful to me! I tagged you in my Easter post!

  30. What a fabulous, decadent cake! I’m the only one in my family that cares if a cake is pretty…and I don’t think that will ever change. But it is most important that it tastes good…as I know yours must 🙂

  31. Great post and very well said, Geni! (And as food bloggers we can all relate. 😉 ) I think the cake looks pretty delicious though…it would probably disappear in a matter of minutes at my house!

  32. I have had lots of bad photos and I had to make a decision about posting or not posting. Posting wins.

    On the other hand, why shouldn’t we show the best shots and omit the damages? If you do that, someone may just make the cake the way you wanted it to look.

    The key is what we enjoy. I enjoyed your post.

  33. I wish I had read this before I tried to make this cake!!! My cake looks an ungodly mess!

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