Twelve-Layer Mocha Cake

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“We’re just outside of Knoxville right now, so we won’t be home for another 8 hours probably. Like 2am?”

I was crammed into the passenger seat of my small car, sharing the space with magazines, one of my coats, my laptop and lawschool books under my legs, and dog treats shoved in between me and the door. We were making the long drive from DC to Arkansas for Christmas.

“Oh well we’ll probably be asleep by then. Is it ok if you make dessert for Christmas?”

Since junior highschool, I’ve been the unofficially designated dessert maker for all family gatherings. Traditionally I try to find creative and interesting desserts, things with kind of a “wow” factor. The year of a terrible ice storm I made snowmen out of ice cream. At one point I came across two different pumpkin bread pudding recipes, and not being pleased with either one, I combined both of the recipes into my own version, and the resulting dessert was a staple that showed up at both Thanksgiving and Christmas for years.

My mom didn’t really need to ask me to make dessert–the magazines in the car were all food magazines from which I was trying to chose this year’s Christmas dessert–because I already knew I had the job, but she just wanted to make sure, in case, for some reason, I would forget.

For some reason this year’s new dessert offerings left me a little disappointed. Nevertheless, when I first laid eyes on the twelve-layer mocha cake from Gormet, I knew I had found a winner. All those layers, all those different flavors, all those different textures. It sounded right up my alley.

Mom did not have three 15×10 cake pans, so Jay and I went in search of some extras. In a rush, I forgot to look at the exact pan measurements, so when we returned home with three 17×12 cake pans, I was a little concerned. Rather than take away from the flavor, the larger cake pans made every layer thinner, at times a little crisper. The cake layer was not as spongy is I would have wanted, the soufle layer didn’t have a chance to rise in order to have a chance to fall (as the recipe dictates), and the meringue layer was a little chewy. All these minor faults aside, I think the total combination was better than a sum of its parts, and it still won praise from around the table.

Despite the multitude of layers, this cake was pretty easy to make, and each layer required only a short amount of cooking time. The hardest element was the buttercream frosting, which required 30 minutes of beating time. Given the fact that I had left my standing mixer at home, this required a lot of arm strength and a couple of substitutions of pastry chefs in order to beat the mixture for the allotted time using a hand mixer. Even still, the buttercream managed to curdle, which required placing the bowl within another bowl of ice to finish it off.

This dessert is incredibly rich, and after eating the small rectangular slice at Christmas dinner, I honestly wasn’t ever in the mood for another piece. Luckily, my husband loves desserts like this, and he did an excellent job of finishing it off over the next couple of weeks.

All of the flavors in the cake play well off of each other and compliment each other, and you can really taste each layer separately with each bite. Not only did I note the difference in the layers, but everyone at the table mentioned that you could really taste all of the different components, one after the other. This kind of flavor waterfall is always a treat, a fun little theater for your tongue. The textures of each layer are also noticeable, with the meringue haveing a springy sort of chewiness.

Oh, and it looks pretty cool too.

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Twelve-Layer Mocha Cake
( Gourmet December 2008 )

Ingredients:
For cake layers:
4 large egg yolks at room temperature 30 minutes
2 tablespoons whole milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites at room temperature 30 minutes

For soufflélayers:
6 ounces fine-quality 60%-cacao bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup water
5 large eggs, separated, at room temperature 30 minutes
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar, divided
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

For meringue layers:
2/3 cup hazelnuts (3 1/2 ounces)
3 large egg whites at room temperature 30 minutes
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup sugar

For syrup:
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon instant-espresso powder

For filling:
Coffee and mocha buttercreams (recipe follows)

Equipment: 3 (15-by 10-inch) 4-sided sheet pans (1/2 inch deep)

Preparation:

Make cake layers:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter 1 sheet pan and line bottom with parchment paper, then butter parchment. Dust with flour, knocking out excess.

Whisk together yolks, milk, vanilla, and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl until combined well, then whisk in flour and salt until smooth. (Batter will be thick.)

Beat whites with an electric mixer until they just hold soft peaks. Beat in remaining 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and beat until whites just hold stiff peaks.

Fold one third of whites into batter to lighten, then fold in remainder gently but thoroughly.

Spread batter evenly in pan and rap against counter to release any air bubbles. Bake until cake is dry to the touch and pale golden, 10 to 11 minutes. (Leave oven on.) Cool completely in pan on a rack.

Halve cake crosswise, cutting through parchment, to form 2 (10-by 7 1/2-inch) layers.

Prepare soufflé layers while cake bakes:
Line second sheet pan with parchment paper.

Melt chocolate with water [i.e. double boiler], then cool to lukewarm.

Beat yolks, salt, and 1/4 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until thick and pale, about 5 minutes with a stand mixer or 8 minutes with a handheld. Fold in melted chocolate.

Beat whites with cleaned beaters until they hold soft peaks. Beat in remaining 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and beat until whites just hold stiff peaks, about 5 minutes.

Fold one third of whites into chocolate mixture to lighten, then fold in remainder gently but thoroughly. Spread batter evenly in lined sheet pan.

Bake soufflé layers:
Bake until puffed and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out with a few crumbs adhering, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer pan to a rack, then cover top of soufflé with 2 layers of damp paper towels. Let stand 5 minutes. Remove towels and cool soufflé completely in pan (soufflé will deflate as it cools). Sift cocoa over soufflé, then loosen edges with a sharp knife.

Halve soufflécrosswise, cutting through parchment, to form 2 (10-by 7 1/2-inch) layers.

Make meringue layers:
Toast hazelnuts, then cool, wrapped in a kitchen towel, and rub off any loose skins.

Reduce oven to 250°F.

Finely chop nuts.

Beat whites with salt and cream of tartar using electric mixer until they just hold soft peaks. Beat in sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and beat until meringue is stiff but still glossy.

Line bottom of third sheet pan with parchment. Put small dabs of meringue under corners of parchment to secure to baking sheets.

Fold nuts into meringue and spread evenly in pan. Bake until set and pale golden, 25 to 30 minutes.

Halve meringue crosswise, cutting through parchment, to form 2 (10-by 7 1/2-inch) layers. Return to oven and bake until crisp, 45 minutes to 1 hour more. Cool in pan, then peel off parchment.

Make syrup and assemble cake:
Bring water, sugar, and espresso powder to a boil, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Cool.

Loosen edges of 1 cake layer with a knife and invert onto a flat platter. Carefully peel parchment from cake and brush with some of syrup. Spread with 1 1/4 cups mocha buttercream.

Top with 1 meringue layer and spread with 1 1/4 cups coffee buttercream.

Carefully invert 1 soufflé layer onto buttercream and peel off parchment, then gently spread with 1 1/4 cups coffee buttercream.

Repeat layering, ending with coffee buttercream (there will be some left over). Chill at least 1 hour (after that, wrap in plastic wrap). Trim all around cake with a long sharp knife to neaten edges. [Note: I didn’t do this last step.] Bring to room temperature (about 1 hour) before serving.

Coffee and Mocha Buttercreams
(Gourmet December 2008)

Ingredients:
2 cups sugar, divided
3/4 cup water
6 large egg whites at room temperature 30 minutes
2 tablspoons plus 1 teaspoon instant-espresso powder
1 tablspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 sticks (1 1/2 pounds) unsalted butter, cut into tablspoon pieces and softened
6 ounces fine-quality 60%-cacao bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled to lukewarm

Equipment: a candy thermometer; a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment

Preparation:

Bring 1 3/4 cups sugar and water to a boil in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then wash down any sugar crystals from side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Boil, without stirring, until it registers 220 to 225°F, 15 to 20 minutes.

At this point, while continuing to boil syrup, beat whites with espresso powder, vanilla, cream of tartar, and salt in mixer at medium speed until they just hold soft peaks. Add remaining 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating, and beat until whites just hold stiff peaks.

When syrup reaches soft-ball stage (238 to 242°F), immediately pour syrup in a slow stream down side of bowl into whites (avoid beaters) while beating at high speed. Beat until completely cool, 25 to 30 minutes. With mixer at medium speed, add butter 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition (see cooks’ note, below) and until buttercream is smooth. (Mixture may look curdled before all butter is added but will come together at end.)

Transfer 2 cups buttercream to a small bowl and stir in chocolate. If buttercreams are too soft to spread, chill, stirring occasionally.

Cooks’ notes:
If buttercream looks soupy after some butter is added, meringue is too warm: Chill bottom of bowl in an ice bath for a few seconds before continuing to beat in remaining butter.
Buttercreams can be made 1 week ahead and chilled or 1 month ahead and frozen. Bring to room temperature (do not use a microwave), about 2 hours, and beat with an electric mixer until spreadable.
The egg whites in this recipe are not fully cooked.

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2 Responses to “Twelve-Layer Mocha Cake”


  1. 1 NewYouSurvivalProject February 5, 2009 at 11:35 am

    wow

  2. 2 elisalovesbento September 3, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    I’m gonna make this cake tomorrow for my parents’ wedding anniversary. I, unfortunately, don’t have a stand mixer so I’m skipping on the buttercream frostings and instead will substitute a ganache filling for the mocha buttercream and a coffee whipped cream for the coffee buttercream.
    I think in the souffle, you’re not supposed to use the double-boiler method. Rather, just melt the water and chocolate together? I’ve been reading through comments on the article at the Gourmet website and apparently you’re supposed to melt water and chocolate together.
    All-in-all, you’ve given me some hope and inspiration that this will not be a scary task and that it’ll come out tasty 🙂

    I’m just wondering about the whole milk in the cake part…can I not use 2%? Oh boy, I also need to find appropriate size sheet pans, too. Well thanks for posting your outcome with this cake!


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