This cake. It’s quite a cake.
For years and years, we’ve been making it for holidays, regular old weekdays, celebrations aplenty, and of course, birthdays—which is the thing it’s most come to be known for in our house. Specifically, for Ray’s birthdays. It’s come to be known as Ray’s Birthday Cake because Ray (Lou’s son, Lee’s brother, and a red headed rascal of joy), is not a kid who likes cake.
We can’t explain it either.
It’s one of the most confounding mysteries to date. (Scientists are currently on the case in 14 different countries.) But Ray has always been something of a culinary riddle. Take for example, his Green Period, when his favorite color was green, so the only acceptable vegetables were green. Then, orange foods became his thing (to help his red hair stay vibrant, you understand).
For years, we tried all sorts of cakes, thinking there must be one out there that he would love, one that could become Ray’s Birthday Cake. Carrot, lemon, plain vanilla, various chocolate cakes—you name it, we tried it.
Finally, one year, Lou pulled her chocolate raspberry cake recipe from her old store cookbook. We’d made it for other occasions, but never for Ray’s birthday before, which meant he’d never given it a shot. But that December, we baked, we frosted, we sang happy birthday, we sliced, and… he ate his whole piece. Magic. He loved it.
Of course, what’s not to love? From the baker’s perspective: It’s one of the easiest cakes you’ll ever make, with minimal clean-up. And for the eater: Moist and light chocolate cake layered with raspberry jam (seedless, please), all draped in the most incredible chocolate ganache (dark chocolate, please). So good that even someone who doesn’t eat cake can’t wait for cake time. It is, quite literally, the only cake Ray will eat—and that’s not an exaggeration. So even though we’ve made it to celebrate many things, this cake became his.
As you can imagine, Ray’s Chocolate Raspberry Cake holds a special place in our kitchens and hearts, as a result. There are so many memories attached to this recipe—most of which are, at this point, Ray birthday parties. These usually entailed a gaggle of 20 or so little (and later, not so little) kids heading to the park to toss a football, or sprinting out the front door all at once to chase the soccer ball all over our front lawn. And one year, there was the epic four-mile bike ride to the zoo. Biking four miles? That’s nothing, you say. But biking four miles with a bunch of elementary schoolers? That’s a different story. It was, for sure, more hair-raising than Frank and Lou had imagined, and most of the kids had never biked that far before, but we made it: Frank leading the way, Lou wearing a whistle like a gym teacher to keep up the rear, and Lee riding center to keep the kiddos in line (and out of traffic). Talk about earning your supper.
However the parties started, they always finished with the greatly anticipated balloon release (SERIOUS excitement always) and, after we finally figured out Ray’s birthday treat conundrum, this cake, for a sweet ending.
* * * *
Ray’s Chocolate Raspberry Cake
Makes one 8-inch cake
– 8-inch round cake pan
– Stand mixer or hand mixer
– A cake spatula
– Two large spatulas (these are helpful but not essential)
– Make-shift double boiler: smaller pot/bowl set onto a larger pot, which is filled with a few inches of slow-simmering water. The water should not be deep enough to touch the bottom of the smaller pot/bowl.
– 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour + a bit more for dusting the pan
– 3/4 tsp baking soda
– pinch of salt
– 1 egg
– 2 oz of good quality unsweetened chocolate
– 4 tbs of butter (unsalted) + more for greasing the pan
– 1 cup of granulated sugar
– 7 oz of milk, just a bit under a cup
– 1 tsp vanilla extract (the real thing, not imitation)
– 1/2 cup raspberry jam (we like seedless)
Chocolate Ganache Frosting
– 1/2 cup heavy cream
– 8 oz dark or semisweet good quality chocolate
– 1 tsp instant coffee
To make the cake:
* Pre-heat your oven to 350° F and center one of the racks. Butter and flour your cake pan.
* Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a small bowl. Set aside.
* Measure your milk and add in the vanilla.
* With the whisk attachment on your mixer, beat the egg on low speed.
* Keep the mixer running and gradually pour in the sugar.
* Raise the mixer speed to high. Beat until the mixture is light, fluffy, and falls in ribbons from the whisk when you lift it.
* Melt the butter and chocolate in the top of a double boiler. Stir until melted and smooth. Remove the top bowl/pot with the chocolate carefully (steam will rush out from underneath) and set aside.
* Start your mixer on stir and pour in the hot chocolate mixture—stopping the machine once or twice to scrape down the sides and bottom.
* Leaving your mixer on the lowest speed, add in the flour and milk alternately in thirds—starting with the flour and ending with the milk. Make sure each addition is combined before adding the next. The batter should be smooth but try not to over-mix or you’ll deflate it. Stop the machine a couple of times to scrape the sides and bottom.
* Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake for about 30-40 minutes until the center is set. It should spring back slightly when touched but not be very firm.
* Remove from oven and let the cake rest for 5 minutes. Then, carefully invert it onto a wire rack. (You can run a knife around the edge to be sure it has pulled away from the sides first, if you like.) The cake will be a bit fragile. Let cool completely to room temperature when it will be easier to work with.
For the raspberry filling:
* Place a large sheet of wax paper or parchment under the rack where your cake has been cooling. Run a large spatula or serrated knife under the cake to loosen the bottom from the rack since the moist top may be stuck.
* With a serrated knife, cut the cake in half horizontally by placing a hand on top and cutting around the circumference before gently cutting through the center.
* Gently lift the top layer and set to the side (two big spatulas is good for this since the cake is delicate). Spread the jam on the cut side of the bottom layer. Carefully replace the top layer over it.
To make the chocolate ganache frosting:
* Make the ganache by melting the cream and chocolate together in a double boiler over slowly simmering water. Whisk until smooth and add in the coffee. Remove ganache from the heat, but don’t let it cool too much before the next step. The ganache needs to be pretty warm or it won’t be pourable.
* With the wax paper in place under the rack, pour the ganache onto the top center of the cake and using a cake spatula, smooth it back and forth over the top and to encourage it over the sides. Lightly run the spatula around the sides to coat and smooth the ganache. Move the cake to a serving plate (again, those large spatulas will come in handy). Let the ganache set either at room temperature or in the fridge. Garnish if desired and serve.
© 2015 Lee and Lou Cook. All rights reserved