Mini Chocolate Cake with Strawberry Ganache

mini chocolate cake
This is my favorite chocolate cake to make for small celebrations. It’s really simple to whip up, but it stands nice and tall for an impressive treat. The cake itself is sturdy (especially important for these minis), but still has a fine, moist crumb. We are big chocolate raspberry fans around here so I almost always fill it with raspberry jam, but use whatever floats your boat (peanut butter, nutella, another jam…). I often use up bits and bobs of frosting I have leftover from other baking projects, but if you don’t have anything on hand I highly recommend this ganache. It’s also super easy to make (just requires some time to set up to a frosting consistency), and it’s rich so a little goes a long way.

I typically bake this cake in my 4-inch cake pans. If I’m super lazy, I’ll just split the batter between the two pans (they’ll be about 3/4 full but I haven’t had any problems with overflowing), but usually I’ll bake some off in a little ramekin for a baker’s treat.

slice of chocolate cake

Mini Chocolate Cake with Strawberry Ganache

Makes one 6-layer 4-inch cake

Ingredients:

For the mini chocolate cake (adapted from Linda Lomelino):

  • 100 g unsalted butter
  • 1/4 c milk
  • 120g AP flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 34g dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 157g granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 80g (1/3 c) sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 c hot coffee or espresso

For the strawberry ganache (adapted from The Cake Bible):

  • 204g bittersweet chocolate (~53% works best here — I used half milk and half 70%)
  • 51g white chocolate
  • 139g heavy cream
  • 81g strawberry puree

For assembly:

  • Simple syrup
  • ~1/2 c raspberry preserves or jam
  • Fresh berries, for garnish

Method:

For the mini chocolate cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line the bottoms of two 4-inch pans (plus an extra ramekin, if desired) with parchment paper, then grease the pans and dust them with cocoa powder.
  2. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. When the butter has melted, remove from the heat and whisk in the milk and vanilla. Allow to cool slightly while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
  3. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  4. Whisk the sour cream into the butter mixture, followed by the egg. Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry until combined. Add the hot coffee and whisk just until smooth.
  5. Divide the batter among the pans (I usually put ~275g into each of the cake tins and the rest into the ramekin) and bake for 30-35 minutes (20-25 minutes for the ramekin), or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Once the pans are cool enough to handle, run a thin knife around the edges and turn the cakes out to finish cooling completely. For easiest assembly, I prefer to chill the cakes in the fridge before filling and frosting.

For the strawberry ganache:

  1. Break the chocolate into small pieces and process in a food processor until very fine.
  2. Heat the cream and strawberry puree in a small saucepan until just before the boiling point.
  3. With the food processor running, pour the cream mixture through the feed tube in a steady stream. Process for a few seconds until smooth.
  4. Transfer to a bowl or glass measuring cup and allow to cool at room temperature until ganache reaches a spreadable consistency (this takes me 2-3 hours).

To assemble:

  1. Level the cakes and cut each into 3 thinner layers for a total of 6 layers.
  2. Place the first layer of cake on a cake board or serving plate (use a dab of ganache to “glue” it in place) and brush with simple syrup.
  3. Pipe a ring of ganache around the edge and fill the center with raspberry jam. Continue this process until you’ve used up all the layers.
  4. Spread a thin layer of ganache over the entire cake to lock in the crumbs, followed by a thicker coat. (My kitchen was on the cold side, so my ganache set pretty quickly and I didn’t need to refrigerate the cake between coats.)
  5. Garnish with fresh berries and serve at room temperature.

mini chocolate cake - dark

Chocolate Sheet Cake

chocolate sheet cake slices

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this cake. It’s easy and delicious in that moist, tender bakery-style sort of way; and it feeds a crowd. You don’t need a mixer; it’s almost a dump-everything-in-a-bowl-and-stir situation. The frosting is my favorite ever chocolate frosting: it’s swoopy and glossy and not too sweet, and if you use black cocoa and good dark chocolate it comes out basically black without a smidge of food coloring involved. I love it! Plus it’s all made in the food processor — even easier than the cake. Add a few sprinkles (the colorful ones and/or flaky sea salt) and you’ve got yourself a pretty classy sheet cake with minimal work involved.

frosting sheet cake

single slice

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Note:

  • If you don’t care about the color of the frosting, you can use Dutch-processed cocoa in place of black. The ultimate color of the frosting will depend on how black your black cocoa is (I got mine at a local baking goods store and it’s exceptionally dark) and what kind of dark chocolate you use. The frosting also tends to darken as it sits. The frosting isn’t too sweet — I definitely prefer it this way, but if you like a sweeter frosting, you can increase the amount of confectioners’ sugar to taste.

Chocolate Sheet Cake with Glossy Black Frosting

Makes one 9×13 cake

Ingredients

For the chocolate sheet cake:

  • 284g AP flour
  • 380g granulated sugar
  • 84g dutch process cocoa
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 226g sour cream, at room temperature
  • 114g grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 c freshly brewed hot strong coffee

For the glossy black chocolate frosting (adapted from Sweetapolita):

  • 255g unsalted butter, softened
  • 90g confectioners’ sugar
  • 45g black cocoa powder
  • 1/4 c hot water
  • 60g / 1/4 c sour cream
  • 3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Generous pinch of salt
  • 145g good quality dark chocolate, melted and cooled (I use Callebaut 70%)

To assemble:

  • Sprinkles
  • Flaky sea salt

Method

For the chocolate sheet cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease and line a 9×13 pan with parchment paper that overhangs on the two long edges by at least a couple inches. This will make it easy to remove the cake from the pan later. (I like to secure the long edges with binder clips so the parchment doesn’t fall onto the cake in the oven.)
  2. Sift together all ingredients from the flour through the salt. In a small bowl, whisk together all the remaining ingredients except the coffee. Add the wet to the dry ingredients and whisk to combine. Add the coffee and stir just until the batter is smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and level the surface with an offset palette knife.
  3. Bake until the cake is lightly springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs (but no raw batter), about 28-35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack completely before frosting.

For the frosting:

  • Combine all ingredients except the melted chocolate in a food processor and process until combined. Add the melted chocolate and process until smooth. Use immediately. (Note: the frosting is glossy as long as it stays at room temperature; it will harden and take on a more matte look after refrigeration. If you do refrigerate the cake, make sure to bring it back to room temperature before serving. It just tastes better!)

To assemble:

  • Transfer the cake to a serving platter if desired. Spoon large dollops of frosting around the cake and use an offset spatula or spoon to swirl it around. Add sprinkles. Enjoy!

close up slices

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cake

peanut butter chocolate cake
I love making birthday cakes. While I don’t have a problem with having a little dessert every day, I do think there’s unique joy in having something made just for you on your special day — hopefully with your tastes and preferences in mind.

This cake was for my father-in-law’s birthday. He’s one of the most non-picky eaters I know; but while he eats everything, he especially likes chocolate and nuts. This was for a small family celebration, so the cake is quite small: two 6-inch layers. If you want to make it into a double layer 8-inch cake, refer to the original chocolate cake recipe and make 1.5-2x the frosting (this recipe makes a generous amount; I gave this cake a fairly thick layer and still had enough leftover to frost 20 mini cupcakes).

Some notes on the frosting: I’ve had mixed experiences with Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMBC); although I’ve made it sort of successfully in the past, to be honest I didn’t really like the flavor of it before — it just tasted like sweet butter. (Which I guess it is.) This time was different, for a couple of big reasons:

  • I borrowed my sister-in-law’s stand mixer. It still took awhile to make the frosting, but my hand didn’t feel dead at the end. My previous attempts at SMBC were with a hand mixer; it’s possible that way, but the stand mixer really does make the process way easier and more enjoyable, IMO.
  • Peanut butter and cream cheese. They go so well together, and in this case they combine to make the fluffiest, silkiest, and most tasty peanut butter icing I’ve ever had. I’m generally not a huge icing person, but I could have eaten it straight with a spoon. The brown sugar added a little something something too; a nice depth of flavor that reminded me of honey roasted peanuts. Yum.

I’ve read a lot of SMBC tutorials and recipes (see here, here, and here just for starters), and they vary pretty widely on the ratio of egg whites to sugar to butter. I aimed somewhere in the middle, and chose to be conservative in the sugar amount since I prefer my icings not too sweet. There also seem to be varying opinions on how much cream cheese works in this type of icing, and I know some people have trouble with cream cheese SMBC breaking because of the water content of the cream cheese. I went for a half-butter, half-cream cheese ratio, and kept a couple extra tablespoons of butter on the side in case I needed it to help emulsify the mixture. In the end, I did end up using the extra butter. I also refrigerated the icing for about 10 minutes during that scary curdling stage, then just kept whipping at a low speed and it eventually came together. My advice is to just be patient and not panic; read a few tutorials on how to fix broken buttercream ahead of time so you know what to do if and when your icing reaches that stage. This is honestly one of the tasiest frostings I’ve ever made so I do hope you give it a try!

To add a little texture, I made some peanut brittle for garnish. This was my first time making peanut brittle, which was exciting because I got to use my brand-spanking-new candy thermometer! Last year I attempted making soft caramel candies a couple of times and failed; later I realized it was because my thermometer was a good 15 degrees off…basically the difference between delicious and burnt. The lesson here is: check your thermometer’s calibration by putting it in a pot of water and bringing it to a boil. It should register 212F / 100C when the water boils. Hopefully that’ll save you a few burned batches of sugar!

peanut butter chocolate cake from above

Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake with Maple Peanut Brittle

Makes one 2-layer, 6-inch cake

Ingredients

For the Midnight Chocolate Cake

A half batch of this recipe, baked in two 6-inch pans, with the following changes:

  • Use half all purpose, half cake flour
  • Use black cocoa for the cocoa powder
  • Start checking for doneness around 25 minutes

For the Maple Peanut Brittle

Recipe adapted from Layered: Baking, Building, and Styling Spectacular Cakes

  • 55g / 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 110g brown sugar / 1/2 c (I used light)
  • 1/4 c maple syrup
  • 1/4 c light corn syrup
  • Heaped 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 t kosher salt
  • 150g / 1 c roasted, unsalted peanuts

For the Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Swiss Meringue Buttercream

  • 135g egg whites, room temperature
  • 220g light brown sugar
  • 150-180g butter, cut into cubes, at cool room temperature
  • 150g cream cheese, cut into cubes, cool room temperature
  • 1/2 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • Smooth creamy peanut butter, such as Skippy or Jif, to taste (I used three large spoonfuls)
  • Pinch of salt, to taste

To finish

  • Chopped roasted, unsalted peanuts
  • Various chocolate candies (I used bite sized Snickers and some white chocolate covered almonds)

Method

Make the Maple Peanut Brittle:

  1. Line a sheet pan with parchment or a Silpat and set aside.
  2. Combine the baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Have your peanuts measured and ready to go as well.
  3. Combine the butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally with a silicone spatula, until the mixture reaches 298F / 149C on a candy thermometer. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the baking soda and salt. Fold in the peanuts and pour the mixture evenly onto the prepared baking sheet (work quickly as it does harden rather fast).
  4. Let the brittle cool completely (about an hour) before breaking in pieces to use for decoration. Store leftovers, layered between pieces of parchment paper, in an airtight container.
  5. Note: To easily clean your sugar work pans, fill with water, cover, and bring to a boil for several minutes. It’ll melt the sugar right off.

Make the Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Swiss Meringue Buttercream:

  1. Place egg whites and brown sugar in a heatproof bowl (such as the bowl of your stand mixer) and whisk to combine. Set bowl over a pot of just simmering water to create a double boiler and whisk until mixture reaches 140-160F. Don’t allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water.
  2. Transfer the bowl to a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk the egg white-sugar mixture on low for a couple of minutes and gradually increase the speed to medium high. Continue whisking until the meringue reaches glossy stiff peaks and both the meringue and the bowl are at room temperature (about 10 minutes).
  3. Switch out the whisk for the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low, add the butter one cube at a time. Wait until the butter is completely incorporated before adding the next cube. When the butter is incorporated, repeat with the cream cheese.
  4. Continue mixing on low until the mixture is smooth, then add the vanilla, a pinch of salt, and peanut butter a spoonful at a time (to taste). Taste and add a touch more salt if the mixture tastes too sweet. Mix on medium speed for a couple minutes, or until the buttercream is smooth, silky, and fluffy.

Assemble the cake:

  1. Level your cakes if desired. (Note that this chocolate cake is very tender and moist, so I highly recommend working with them chilled.) Set your first cake round on a cake board and spread a generous amount buttercream evenly over the top, followed by a sprinkling of chopped peanuts. Set the second cake round on top and spread a thin coat of buttercream over the top and sides to trap all the crumbs. Refrigerate until buttercream is firm, about 20 minutes.
  2. Add a thicker layer of buttercream over the top and sides, using an offset spatula and icing scraper for evenness.
  3. To get the “rustic” look, use an offset spatula or back of a spoon to create random swoops.
  4. Top with chopped peanuts and peanut brittle if desired. If you’re not serving the cake right away, store in the refrigerator but bring to room temperature before serving. Just before serving, garnish with peanut brittle and candies. (Don’t put the brittle on too soon or it may soften and weep.)