Thursday, July 29, 2010

Chocolate Mousse Dream Cake . . . and One Boy's Birthday

He didn't request a raucous party with two dozen friends. Nor did he claim that the day would be incomplete without a confetti-cannon wielding clown. No, aside from a few special gifts, and a family dinner at a Thai restaurant, my son Nathan had just one additional requirement in order to make it a perfect 14th birthday. That, my friends, was the request for this dessert--a three-layer, mousse-filled, chocolate covered dream of a layer cake.

Last summer, upon turning 13, Nathan requested a towering ice cream cake; I made that, and he loved it. The year before, he wanted me to make a cake that looked like a furry monkey's face, and I complied; it was pretty cute, and he adored it. This year, though, the cake he asked for seemed to reflect his maturing taste, and he chose carefully. As his mom, it was a little poignant for me to note this because it's just another indication that he's growing up. He is, after all, my youngest. It's also, though, a bit thrilling to watch his progress. (I often say to my sons, "I know you're not a baby, but you'll always be my baby." Then they smile and roll their eyes.)

Happily, Nathan is still mostly a kid. He pilots his skateboard like a jockey on a thoroughbred, draws psychedelic graffiti in a sketchbook whenever the inspiration hits, and every now and then he thrusts his arm toward me, fist tightly closed, and boyishly commands, "Pound it, Mom!"  Yep. He's Nathan, he's 14, and he's a great kid.

About this recipe . . .

This multi-step formula hails from a "Cooking with Paula Deen" special-issue magazine that I received as a gift a couple of years ago, called Paula Deen's Chocolate Celebration. It really is a fabulous concoction--from the soft moist cake, to the fluffy mousse filling, to the ganache-like icing. The crumbly coating you see on the outside is made from a combo of  milk- and dark chocolate that's been grated (use your favorite premium chocolate for this part--don't skimp) and curled.

Though not at all difficult to make, this dessert does demand some planning, so be sure to organize your day accordingly. An impressive and extremely delicious cake for a special occasion, this one is well worth the labor. I adhered pretty closely to the original recipe(s), but did some rewording here and there. Oh, and the original recipe calls for splitting the layers, so you have six thin layers in all, but I didn't think that was necessary, and just used three unsplit layers for mine.

Chocolate Mousse Cake

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Because the fluffy mousse needs to chill for about four hours before it can be used, feel free to prepare it first, before you bake the cake.

To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease three 9" round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with parchment cut to fit. Grease the parchment, then flour the bottom and sides of each pan, tapping out the excess flour.

2 cups All-Purpose flour (I used unbleached)
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder (I used natural cocoa)
1 and 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 and 1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup milk (I used 2 percent)
1 cup strong brewed coffee
3/4 cup vegetable oil (I used canola)
2 eggs, large

In the large bowl of your mixer, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. All at once, add in the milk, coffee, oil, and eggs. Beat this mixture at medium speed just until smooth. The batter will be very thin. Pour it evenly into the three prepared pans. Bake the cakes for about 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when very lightly touched. Cool the cakes in their pans, on racks, for 10 to 15 minutes. Carefully invert the cakes to remove them from their pans, then invert them again so they can finish cooling on racks right side up.

To make the mousse:

Makes approximately 4 and 1/2 cups (which is a lot--you'll have some leftover!)

1 envelope unflavored gelatin
3 Tbsp. cold water
1/4 cup boiling water
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (use natural, or Dutch process, or a combo; I did the latter)
3 cups heavy cream

In a little bowl, soften the gelatin in the cold water, letting it stand undisturbed for two minutes. Add in the boiling water, and stir it slowly until the gelatin completely dissolves and no lumps are apparent. Set this aside.

In another small bowl, combine the sugar and the cocoa well, with a fork or whisk.
In a medium size mixer bowl, on medium speed, beat the heavy cream until it's quite foamy. Into this, gradually pour the sugar mixture and beat until it holds stiff peaks.

Then, stir in the dissolved gelatin by hand, folding it in evenly (if you don't distribute the gelatin evenly through careful stirring and folding, the mousse will be thicker and firmer in some spots, and too soft in others). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill it in the fridge for at least four hours.

To make the chocolate icing:

Makes approximately 3 cups (I had about 1/2 a cup of this leftover)

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
5 (1 oz. each) squares unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup and 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter (doesn't have to be softened)
1 cup confectioner's sugar

Combine the granulated sugar and the cream in a medium size heavy-bottomed saucepan. Carefully bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, then keep it on a low simmer for 6 minutes. Stir it often and watch it closely so it doesn't come to a full boil again. Taking the pan off the heat, add in the butter and chocolate, stirring until it's all completely melted and the mixture is perfectly smooth; let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Using a whisk, incorporate all of the confectioner's sugar. Let the icing cool until it reaches a spreadable consistency.

To prepare the grated chocolate, and chocolate curls, for the outside of the cake:

You'll want to have at least 3/4 of a cup of grated chocolate available to cover the cake. If you can find chocolate that comes in big chunks, that is the easiest form in which to hold it for grating. I use Callebaut, a very good brand, which can be purchased in pieces by the pound. I use a combo of dark bittersweet chocolate and milk chocolate, which works well because the milk chocolate is softer and sweeter, while the dark chocolate is a bit drier and moderates the sweetness. Have the grated chocolate in a bowl close at hand before you are ready to coat the sides of the cake. Place a baking sheet with shallow sides on your work surface right near the bowl.

Using a vegetable peeler, peel some larger curls from the chocolate chunks and set them aside on a plate (or put them in the fridge if they're quite soft; they're always extremely fragile and often break when touched). It seems easier to make nice curls from milk chocolate since it tends to be softer and more flexible.

To assemble the cake:

Using a cardboard cake-round (if at all possible, or something that can function in the same capacity), place the first cake layer on it. Using an offset spatula, ice the top of the layer thickly with the chilled mouse. Place the second layer atop this, and cover it as well with a thick layer of the mousse. Place the third and final cake layer on top. If at this point the mousse seems very soft, put the whole cake into the fridge for about half an hour, or into the freezer for 15 minutes.

Using an offset spatula, spread the chocolate icing on the top and sides of the cake. It should be spread on fairly evenly, but it's not critical that you try to make it incredibly smooth, since it will be covered with grated chocolate, and you can gently pat down any uneven areas. While the icing is still quite soft, pick up the iced cake from beneath the cake-board (slide a thin metal spatula beneath it to help you lift it onto your hand). Holding the cake carefully on your non-dominant hand, sprinkle the sides of the cake with the grated chocolate, patting it on gently. Do this while holding the cake above the baking sheet so it can catch the falling chocolate crumbs and you can scoop them up again. Turn the cake as needed until the whole thing is completely covered. Carefully slide/sprinkle the chocolate curls onto the top of the cake. Place your cake on its serving dish. Keep the cake in the refrigerator until shortly before you'll cut it. Because the filling and the icing are rich with dairy products, you should store any leftover cake in the fridge as well.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below!)


Mags @ the Other Side of 50 said...

What a perfectly beautiful cake for your "almost" grown up young man.

My baby turned 21 this past Monday and I'm still fighting back the tears.

Susi's Kochen und Backen said...

Jane, this cake does sound dreamy! I certainly would love a piece of this one. My kids all put a lot of thought into their birthday cakes and absolutely love having me make them even though my baking abilities don't even come close to yours!

Anonymous said...

Your son has great taste! We have a Chocolate Mousse tart on most birthdays. Yours looks delicious!

Taylor said...

Wow he sure does have good taste for a 14 year old! This cake looks I just need an occasion to make it!

Kathy - Panini Happy said...

The cake came out beautifully! Happy Birthday to Nathan!

kitchen flavours said...

It's a perfect birthday cake. Beautiful and looks yummy too. There is no cocoa powder in the cake, only coffee? I must imagine the aroma when this cake is being baked! Perfectly done, Jane!

Jane said...

Dear Kitchen Flavours,
Can't tell you how thankful I am that you caught that glaring oomission in the cake recipe!! (Yes, there is supposed to be cocoa in it!) I just fixed the recipe,both in the post and in the printable version. I must have been in a big hurry last night when I was finishing this post. But what a crucial ingredient to leave out! Yikes! :0
Thanks so much for commenting on this!
Jane :)

Pam said...

What a gorgeous cake and I bet it is delicious! Your son definitely knows a good thing! I'm a new follower and happy to find your blog with it's great recipes! Looking forward to more!

Anonymous said...

hi pls can you tell me how much is one envelope of gelatin for i live in europe & would like to try out this cake:)

Kathy Walker said...

I hope I do not have to wait for a birthday to enjoy this! All of our birthdays are in the winter. I think a back to school cake is in order.

Beautiful cake!!

Keith said...

Wow- that mousse cake looks fabulous! I can't wait to try the recipe.

sara @ CaffeIna said...

This cake is mind blowing! I want a slice!

Stella said...

Happy Birthday, Nathan! Ooh, I would love to be 14 again-that would be awesome...!
Hey Jane, this is a beautiful cake, and I must say Nathan has very refined taste for such a young man (smile). I'm glad it's not in the room with me though. I have a feeling I would ravenously devour a chocolate based cake that looks this good.
So nice as always, Jane!

Tessa said...

Wow!! This cake looks brilliant. Can you come over for my birthday?

Amanda said...

Wow, looks beautiful. The mousse filling looks to die for!

Aaron John said...

My jaw just dropped at how great this looks!! YUM!!

Anne said...

Oh Jane this cake is stunning! I might have to make it tonight! Love the beautiful photos as usual! :)

faithy said...

What a gorgeous looking cake and looks delicious, light and fave!

Jane said...

Hi Clemence (aka Anonymous),

In answer to your question, in the U.S. one standard size packet of unflavored gelatin is 7.6 grams, or almost exactly 2 and 1/4 teaspoons. Hope that's of some help to you.

Thanks very much for visiting,
Jane :)

Paula said...

This cake is beautiful and your instructions are great! I'm doing a cake soon that will have chopped hazelnuts all around the sides so your tips on doing that with the chopped chocolate will be quite helpful.
Happy belated birthday to your son. I'm sure you are as proud of him as he was of his Mom for making such a beautiful and delicious cake for him.

Becki D said...

oh my goodness, this looks amazing!!

the twins said...

yum! i would love to have this for my birthday too =)

HanaĆ¢ said...

First, happy belated birthday to your baby :o) That cake looks sooooo good! It look very moist and you decorated it so nicely. Very professional looking. Great job as always, Jane :o)

Kerry said...

This looks so good it should be illegal... I love anything with shaved chocolate on top. It's a beautiful cake & your pictures are amazing! Glad I stumbled onto your blog.

Unknown said...

Belated Happy Birthday to Nathan!! That looks like a cake that made his day. I love a nice rich chocolate cake, can't wait to try this one out!

Anonymous said...

Is there anyway to get the measurements by weight? I find volumetric measurements to be a pain in the butt when baking.

Jane said...

Hi Anonymous,
Sorry, but I don't have the weight measurements for this recipe. I've always measured primarily by volume whenever I've made it.

Sarah B.V. said...

I just made this cake for my mother's birthday! It was fantastic. My dad said he could eat the whole thing. The cake was very moist and the mousse was not to sweet! But you were right about mixing in the gelatin. I did have some trouble making sure that it was completely smooth when gently mixing it in the cream.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jane, my oven is not so big to be able to bake 3 9" cake pan. Is it possible to reduce the recipe or can bake 1 cake pan by 1 cake pan but I'm worried the last 2 pans will not raise properly by the time I put them in the oven. I'm planning to bake this cake this friday.
Thank u.

Jane said...

Hi Anonymous,

In answer to your question, you probably have a couple of options. You can always decrease the recipe ingredients by one third and just make two layers instead of three. Or, you could try baking the three layers in a couple of batches; if you do that, put any filled pans into the fridge while they're waiting for their turn to go into the oven. The only problem might be that those layers won't rise quite as well as the others, but I'd bet they will still turn out fine if you work without delay. I hope all goes well for you with this recipe! I'd love to hear how it works out for you, whatever you decide to do. (It really is a delicious cake!)
Thanks very much,
Jane :)

Varsha said...

Hi Jane,

I came across your cake looking for a "specific" chocolate cake for my mother, and let me tell you - the picture just took my breath away.
My mother & I once ate a layer cake with mousse which looked almost exactly like yours.

I have just one concern though, does the cake taste of coffee? Also, I hope halving the recipe won't create any problems...:)

Many thanks.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Found this recipe this week and had to make it today! What an outstanding cake!!! I cut the recipe in half since its just two of us at home - still came out perfectly.

Mindy T said...

I made this today for my birthday, and it is fabulous! I didn't realize the icing called for unsweetened chocolate, so mine was a bit too sweet. Otherwise, the cake and the mousse were both rich and light at the same time. I could eat a ton!! I made a half batch with 6" pans, and it was perfect. I went ahead and split the layers, and the amounts for mousse and icing were right on. Thanks for the inspiration!!

Jane said...

Hi Mindy T,
That's great to hear! I'm so glad you liked it. I have made this cake at least three times, and it's always been a big hit. Like you, I could eat "a ton" of it! Thanks so much for letting me know of your success with this one!
Jane :)

Sarah said...

Yum this looks sinfully delicious! I must try this!

sharon said...

I am glad i tried it but ran into some problems...The mousse warmed and made the cake tip..the icing didnt really thicken up very well...Taste great looks like , well not the prettiest cake i have ever made. I should have tried it before i made it for my husbands birthday..oh well . thanks for posting it :)

Unknown said...

Beautiful cake Jane thank you so much for this recipe I twisted it to my own celebration cake and my husband loved it so so much. I have posted the recipe on my blog and given credits to you hope you are happy :)


Anonymous said...

Hi, I don't have 3 9" pans so my question is if I can bake the cake in one pan and cut it into 3 afterwards

Anonymous said...

hello there!! I have the same "problem", just one pan. My mom always says, work with what you have, so I make just one pan, it took me about 40 min to be ready. About the layers i don't know yet, I just take it out of the oven, but it looks enough tall to do 3 layers :)


Anonymous said...

I made this cake for my husband's birthday since chocolate is his favorite flavor of cake. Since I didn't have more chocolate to coat the cake I just halved the icing recipe and poured it on top of the cake and let it drizzle down the sides. My husband loved it and made sure it found a permanent spot in our fave recipe book. Definitely a cake I will make again! So moist and all the flavors came together perfectly. Thank you very much!