Tuesday, September 25, 2012

One More Cake

203 Years of O'Briens

I've celebrated my birthday with my grandfather as long as I can remember. His birthday is the 5th of August mine the 8th. Every summer my family would head up to my grandparents place in Sicamous, spend some glorious days on the Shuswap, and always, always, always enjoy Grandma's Chocolate Cake for our birthday.

Claire and Lloyd turn 7; a few years later they turn 77; making the infamous chocolate cake with the original cake master.
This year my birthday was on Saturna Island where Caitlin made a delish cake for me, with fresh blackberries. I admit I did not realize it was from a box, although she was acting a little odd until I took the first bite and proclaimed it delicious.

The celebrations were not over, however. Once back in town, we headed out to Langley to celebrate the O'Brien August birthdays; my great aunt's on the 3rd, my grandfather's on the 5th and mine on the 8th. Now you don't show up to Lloyd's birthday without Grandma's Chocolate Cake or you may as well not come at all. 

I love this tradition, and the cake is a super tasty moist delight, but I wanted to do something to make it a little more special. I decided to spell out our combined age with numbers. When Caitlin and I were young, our mom would make us these beautiful cakes in the shape of the age we were turning. We always loved it, and I feel that making a cake in a meaningful shape really brings it up a notch. I added our ages together and went with that number: 203.

Aunt Dorothy turns 92, Grandad 86, and me 25.

About the cakes: I knew that one had to be Grandma's chocolate cake, which always has a strawberry jam filling. However I had three numbers and three cakes of the same flavour seemed a bit much. So I made one a white cake with raspberry curd filling, to give people an option. I picked a white cake since it would be simple and is the perfect canvas. The flavour is mild and sweet which lets you get a little crazy with the icing and filling. 

Vanilla cake with Raspberry curd filling.

I used the white cake recipe from Baked:New Frontiers in Baking. Caitlin got me this bake book for Christmas a couple of years ago and I. Love. It. My one negative is that the recipes can be a little more complicated, but when you bake for a living, like these guys do, it makes sense to go all out. You will see the difference in the recipe's. Grandma's is a depression era family recipe based on your classic devil's food cake, whereas Baked's recipe has more ingredients and specific instructions. Both cakes are delicious.

Cross section of Grandma's chocolate cake. Please note jam filling.

As previously mentioned, I filled the white cake with our raspberry curd, and the chocolate cake with strawberry jam. Homemade is best. For the icing I just did classic vanilla and chocolate butter icing.


Cake shapes. 
As for the shapes, simply trace the shape you want on a piece of wax paper and use that as your template for both layers. I did this for the chocolate cakes. Before you start you do want to think of how to be most efficient with your cake for your shape. For example, for the three and the two, both are from a two layer round cake. The round of the two is half the cake with the centre cut out, and the bottom bar is from the other half. If this makes no sense don't worry. Once you get a pan out and start trying to visualize it it will come together. The zero is simply a round cake, with the centre cut out with a glass, and the edges cut straight.

Grandma's cake recipe is on an old and faded cue card, with the simple instructions "alternate wet and dry ingredients into cocoa and sugar mixture. Mix in order of ingredients listed. Oven @ 350. About 20-25 mins". I've gone into greater detail below.

Considering the shapes and candles, I didn't go all out with icing decorations.

Grandma Jean’s Chocolate Cake

¾ cup margarine
1 ½ cups sugar
2 eggs
¾ cup milk
½ cup cocoa
½ boiling water
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp vanilla


1. Preheat oven to 350.  Prepare two 8 inch cake pans*.

2. Bring water to a boil and add to cocoa. Mix and set aside. 

3. Sift together all dry ingredients. Set aside.

4. In another large bowl, cream margarine and sugar until fluffy.

Add eggs to sugar mixture. Beat until just combined. Add vanilla. 

5. Add cocoa to sugar mixture. 

6. Alternate folding in flour and milk into cocoa/sugar mixture. Be sure not to overmix.

7. Separate batter into your prepared cake pans.

8. Bake at 350 for 20-25 mins or until a tooth pick comes out clean.

To put the cake together flip pan onto a flat surface and gently remove cake. Place stencil on cake and trace out cake shapes with a knife. Place first layer on plate. Top with Jam. Place second piece of shaped cake on top. Cover cake with a crumb layer*. Let dry. Then finish with icing and decorations.

For the vanilla cake, I altered the ingredients measurements so that I only had batter for two layers.  Also I only had all purpose flour, which worked just as well as the cake flour. However, for simplicity’s sake I have written their specific instructions, ingredients and measurements. (and honestly I don’t remember my exact changes!)

Baked Whiteout Cake   
2 ½ cups cake flour
¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
½ cup (1 stick) butter
½ cup shortening
1 ¾ cups sugar
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 lg egg
1 ½ cups ice cold water
3 lg egg whites
¼ tsp cream of tartar

1. Preheat oven to 325. Prepare three 8 inch pans.

2. Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl. Set aside

3. Beat butter and shortening until creamy/ fluffy and pale.
4. Scrape down bowl and add the egg, beat until just combined.

5. Add the flour mixture, alternating with ice water, in three separate additions, ending with flour. Scrape down bowl again

6. In a medium bowl whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Do not over beat. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

 7. Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, rotating pans halfway through, until toothpick comes out clean. 

8. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool before removing from pan.


For icing I used Roger's classic butter icing. 

Cream 1/2 cup soft butter with 2 cups icing sugar. Beast 2 tsp vanilla, 2 tbsp milk and 1 cup icing sugar into mixture. 
Grradually add 1 to 2 tbsp milk into icing until smootha and of desired spreading consistency. 
For a chocolate icing, add 1/3 cup sifted cocoa powder to the first addition of icing sugar. 

I doubled the recipe for the chocolate icing since I had two chocolate cakes, but used just one for the vanilla. It makes more than enough since I do not use it for filling.

*Notes on the cakes

-- an alternative to baking soda and tartar is one tsp baking powder

-- to prepare a cake pan simply butter the pan, then knock flour in the pan until you have coated the buttered pan with flour. It is now ready to use.

-- a crumb layer is a simple thin layer of icing that you do to catch all the crumbs! That way when you do the proper icing layer it will be smooth and clean. It is important in these cakes since you will have 'raw' edges from cutting them into shapes.  Otherwise I don't often worry about a crumb layer

--I've noticed that cook books recommend turning the cakes half way through. If you have a good oven I don't think this is really necessary but it can't hurt for even baking. 

-- Cookbooks also recommend using an electric mixer but ever since I've moved out of my parents place I've been lucky to get my hands on an electric mixer let alone electric beaters. Using electric beaters or even by hand will work just as well, it will just take longer. I'm sure baked goods were just as delicious before electricity!

--all eggs and margarine/butter should be at room temperature unless otherwise specified. This helps you cream or incorporate them into the mixture more quickly.  Do cream your butter/sugar mixture until fluffly/pale. This step is what helps dissolve the sugar as well as add air. The eggs help emulsify as well as bond the sugar and butter. 

Sorry for all the notes. I think Caity and I will do a tips and tricks post soon. AKA techniques and how they help.


  1. this is the sweetest post! i agree, grandma's chocolate cake really is the best. my favorite is getting to eat a left over slice for breakfast the next day.

  2. 1st: I really want cake now.
    2nd: super sweet.