Ahh you guys! Crumbs and Nibbles is officially… 3!
3 years ago today a 13-year-old me decided to concentrate my obsession with baking in the form of a blog. I knew next to nothing back then (i.e. my photography process was pretty much point, shoot, and post), but immediately I found real joy in each step of the blogging process.
My first post ever was called “A Weekend of Baking: Snickerdoodles.” Its first few lines read: “Whenever pondering what to do with myself over the weekend, baking always comes to mind. This can be a good thing– no, this can be a great thing. It can also be a not so great thing.” Now. Please clue me in as to why I ever decided to use the word “pondering” in a completely unironic way, because I really have no idea.
It took me a while to work out the kinks on the writing side of things. Actually, scratch that: I’m still working out the kinks on the writing side and in every aspect of this whole blogging thing, but that’s kind of the best part of having a blog. Ever-evolving, this website has acted as a diary of sorts as I’ve grown up: if you look closely, you can see the subtle but substantial shifting of tone, style and experience as time moves on in a way that is wonderfully concrete.
And as time has passed by, as my interests and hobbies and life have moved along with it, this blog has been a much-appreciated constant. Even if high school stress and work levels tend to run too high for me to get posts out quite as often as I’d like, it is somehow comforting to know that I’ll always have a space to return to, one that I’ve built and that I’ve tended to and grown. This space is and always will be a happy space, so thank you for all of the love over the years. Know that I’m sending each of you a virtual hug right now!
Now let’s talk about this cake. This is, surprisingly and embarrassingly enough, the first blog birthday I haven’t forgotten about until it was too late to do anything special. And, because I’m me and I will find any excuse possible to make cake, I decided to make a variation on my new favorite chocolate cake recipe, adding almond extract and a marzipan Swiss buttercream, because almond and chocolate were born to be together and if you try to convince me otherwise I am fully prepared to engage in a long and heated argument.
I wasn’t always a huge fan of marzipan. When I was little, I remember so wanting to like those pretty little fruit-shaped candies that you’d find in grocery stores and that my dad loved, but I just couldn’t find it in me. But some time in the recent past I finally came around to that distinctly almond flavor, and now I feel like I can’t get enough–I’ve put marzipan in rugelach, and I’ve used it in scones (just cut it into pieces and add to your dough, maybe with some dried cherries–magical, I tell you). And now it’s making an appearance in this cake!
I was an Ina Garten purist for a while when it came to chocolate cake, and while I still love her recipe to death (she gets mega points for the hot coffee that gets added to the batter in place of boiling water, and for the egg yolk that makes the frosting taste like a dream), I’ve recently been converted to Molly Yeh’s take. It follows a similar process to Ina’s, but the crumb is ever-so-slightly different and I’ve found it to be perfect for layer cakes.
The buttercream here uses a Swiss meringue, rather than the usual method of a simple butter/confectioner’s sugar mixture. I much prefer meringue-based buttercreams because of their texture–smooth and light, buttery without the heaviness and cloying sweetness of the traditional American buttercream. If you have a favorite frosting recipe you’d like to use here, feel free to sub it in; just make sure not to forget to add the marzipan butter and almond extract as written.
Chocolate Cake with Marzipan Buttercream
Makes 1 8-inch two layer cake
For the cake:
- 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/4 teaspoons almond extract
- 1/4 cup flavorless oil (canola, vegetable or grapeseed will do)
- 3/4 cup boiling water
For the marzipan butter:
- 2 cups blanched almonds (8 oz.)
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
For the buttercream:
- 150 g egg whites
- 225 g granulated sugar
- 510 g unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch dice, at room temperature
- 6 tablespoons marzipan butter
- 3/4-1 teaspoon almond extract (start with the smaller amount and add to taste)
For the cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease two 8 or 9-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment.
- In a large bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, almond extract and oil. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until combined. Stir in the boiling water.
- Divide the batter evenly between the pans and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, around 28 minutes for a round cake and 32 for a sheet cake. Cool for 10 minutes, then turn the cakes out of their pans and on to a wire rack to cool completely.
For the marzipan butter:
- Place the almonds in a food processor and blend for 10-12 minutes, or until creamy, scraping the sides occasionally.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and, scraping occasionally, blend for 12-15 more minutes or until smooth and very creamy. Be careful–the mixture will be very hot!
- Set aside to let cool until ever-so-slightly warm, so that it is still very spreadable.
For the buttercream:
- Whisk together the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer set over a pot of simmering water. Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture reaches 60 C/140 F and is no longer gritty when rubbed between your fingers.
- Transfer the bowl to the stand mixer and whip on medium high using the whisk attachment until the mixture holds glossy peaks, about 6 minutes.
- With the mixer still on, add the butter a few pieces at a time. If at any point the mixture appears grainy and broken, turn the speed to high until it is re-emulsified.
- Add in the marzipan butter and whip to combine, then stir in the almond extract.
- Trim the tops of the cakes so that they are flat and even. Place one layer on a cake turntable and spread on a good layer of the buttercream. Place the second cake layer on top flat-side up, so that the top of the cake is nice and even. Patch any uneven sides with some of the remaining buttercream, then, using an offset spatula, coat it with a very thin layer of buttercream. This layer is just meant to catch any loose crumbs so that they don’t show in the finished cake, as well as act as a base for the final coat of frosting (or ruffles if you want to go that route). Chill the cake until firm, about 15 minutes.
- Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining buttercream using the offset spatula, or create a ruffle effect: fit a piping bag with a #104 petal piping tip and fill with buttercream. Then, starting at the bottom with the wider end of the tip towards the cake, pipe around the base of the cake. Repeat, piping concentric circles, until you reach the center of the top of the cake. (For videos of this, search “ruffle cake tutorial” on YouTube :))