Have I got your attention yet? :P I hope you all had a nice Valentine's Day weekend! It also happened to be Chinese New Year on the same day as Vday, which is pretty rare. My mom called me and informed me that the next time Chinese New Year falls exactly on Vday will be in another 38 years, at which point I thought about how hugely different life will be 38 years later... Anyway, I visited my boyfriend in California this past week to celebrate Vday with him and to take a little breather after finishing a rough block of med school classes just now. We had a lovely time extending Valentine's Day into a 3-day weekend of fun, which included lots of yummy food, of course! Since no Vday is ever complete without some baking, yours truly of course had plans to spoil her beloved. Turns out, he surprised me first, with a Baker's Edge brownie edge pan for a present! He knows how much I absolutely adore brownie edge pieces, so I am a very happy girl indeed :)
Well, not to be outdone, I had my own ambitious project up my sleeve. Just the week before, I saw the most awesome heart cake tutorial on I Am Baker, and just knew that I had to try something that epic. It's a cake with a hidden red heart on the inside! All the way through the cake! I was just so smitten with the idea of this cake, and my Valentine's Day visit to see my boyfriend was going to be the perfect time to try it. My gears turned and I started planning to make a much smaller version of the cake since it was just going to be the two of us eating it. I decided that a 4" diameter cake would be just the right size for two, and secretly purchased a 4" diameter tall souffle ramekin to bake the cake layers (I think it was a 10 oz. ramekin). I wanted this to be a complete surprise, so I divided the task into two separate days. The first day I baked the cake layers while he was at work and then froze them overnight. I made the frosting and assembled everything the next afternoon while I kept him out of the kitchen. And finally after about 6 hours of total time baking and tinkering, it was done!!! And I rushed to bring him out so I could show him. Boy was he in for a surprise ;) At first... it just looked like a small and unsuspecting cake... which he really enjoyed the decoration of. It was my very first time decorating a cake with buttercream, and also my first time with a 4-layer cake. Daunting! I didn't do a very good job with it, but I still had a lot of fun!
Assembly tutorial adapted from I Am Baker
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar (I eyeballed for slightly under 1 cup because I didn't want my cake too sweet)
2 eggs, at room temp
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (recipe calls for mix of AP and self-rising flour, but I did a substitution)
1 tsp baking powder (just a tiny smidge under 1 tsp is ideal)
pinch of salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
approx 1/2 tsp red gel food coloring, adjust as needed
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 cups confectioner's sugar, adjust as needed
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
Baking the cake:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and lightly flour two 4" souffle ramekins (10 oz. size). Cut out a circle of wax paper to line the bottoms of the ramekins for easy removal later. Also, line 3 cupcake tins with paper liners. I know, this already sounds complicated, don't get discouraged!
2. In a mixing bowl, cream butter until smooth with an electric mixer on medium. Then gradually add in sugar and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes.
3. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
4. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture in 3 separate additions, alternating with the milk and vanilla. Beat until blended after each addition, but do not overbeat.
5. Separate out 1/3 of the batter and set aside. Using the remaining 2/3 of the batter, fill the two ramekins 2/3 - 3/4 of the way to the top, and begin baking in the oven. They will need at least 35 minutes to bake, start checking after 35 minutes using a toothpick inserted in the middle, they are done when the toothpicks come out clean (tops will probably be somewhat domed and cracked, but that's fine).
6. Meanwhile, add the red gel food coloring to the 1/3 of the cake batter that you set aside. Add a little bit at a time and whisk the color in evenly until you get a nice bright pink/red color that you are satisfied with. If you choose to use liquid food coloring, I don't know the exact proportions, but I believe 1/2 tsp of gel is equivalent to about 1 oz. of liquid, although it will interfere with the liquid proportions of the batter, so use at your own discretion.
7. Fill the 3 lined cupcake tins with the red batter (about 3/4 full) and bake in the same oven at 350 degrees F for about 20-22 minutes, until the tops spring back lightly when touched.
8. When cakes/cupcakes are done, remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes in the pans before removing to cool on a rack.
9. When cakes are cool enough to handle, take a knife and trim off the domed/cracked tops of the cakes to flatten them (enjoy the incredibly delicious tops that you just cut off, it's really very heavenly to munch on these scraps!). Then, split each cake horizontally in half to get 2 layers per cake. Allow layers to cool completely, then wrap each layer in saran wrap and put in the freezer overnight. For the cupcakes, peel off the paper liners and trim off the harder domed tops (but do not throw them away). Using your hands or a fork, break the cupcakes into crumbs. Seal the crumbs and the tops you cut off together in tupperware and leave on the counter overnight. The tops will soften and you'll be able to break them into crumbs as well the next day.
Whew! Take a break! Enjoy your evening and come back for the fun stuff on day 2! :)
Making the Buttercream Frosting:
1. In a mixing bowl, place the softened butter and 2 cups of the confectioner's sugar. Add the milk and vanilla, and beat until smooth and creamy.
2. Gradually add more confectioner's sugar as needed to achieve a desired spreading consistency. I probably used about 3 cups of sugar total.
3. This frosting can be left at room temperature for up to 3 days, but do not refrigerate it before you use it or else it will set (although I found it sometimes useful to set it in the fridge for a little bit to firm it up before frosting, though that may be because my frosting was a little on the runny side due to my hesitation to add more sugar. The original recipe calls for up to 4 cups of sugar!)
Assembling the Cake: now's the interesting part, with more pictures too!
2. Next, separate the 4 layers into 2 groups of 2 layers. Spread a layer of the white frosting between each of the 2 layers, to form two separate 2-layered cakes. The cold from the frozen cake should set the frosting very quickly and they will hold together well.
3. Now's the trickiest part of the assembly. Take the first 2-layered cake, and make sure you have a way to identify it from the other one (I peeled off the outer browned cake layer from one of them so I could tell the difference). Make a little measuring tool using 2 toothpicks and a piece of string tied between them so that you can trace a circle around the inside of the cake (see I Am Baker's example here). Now trace a circle on the surface of your cake, depending on how big you want your heart inside to be. This will be the widest part of your heart. After you trace the circle, use a knife and a slanted cutting motion, carve an upside-down cone shape out of your cake (this will be the bottom half of your heart), like thus:
5. After you've got the channel carved out, you can go back with a smaller knife and trim the center cylinder that is still standing so that it looks like a right-side up small cone. Make it as pointy as you can, as this will be the top dip of your heart shape, so a sharp point looks best. Then, using a small spoon, round out your channel around this central cone (imagine the rounded shape of the top half of a heart). This part takes some spatial imagination and I can't tell you specifically how to do it perfectly, but I can show you my finished carving of the top half of the heart:
7. Now, add a few spoonfuls of your frosting to the red cake crumbs until they are nice and dense. If you've ever made cake balls before, the texture will be like that. I eyeballed about 1/2 cup of frosting for the red cake crumbs probably.