When it comes to celebration cakes, chocolate is my go-to. It’s rich, goes with so many flavors, and is a favorite of most (sane) people. I love the slightly more controversial combination of chocolate and fruity flavors, especially orange, strawberry, or raspberry. For this one, I settled on a subtle orange flavor added to the dark chocolate ganache. The cake is so rich and dark, and the orange adds a welcome lightness. Using a ganache as a filling usually yields a more stable cake, since it sets pretty solid.
As I was making this cake for my grandpa’s birthday, I had to work with a few requests– chocolate was an easy agree, but I was hesitant on the suggestion of adding nuts. I am generally not a fan of the way they disrupt texture and taste. My compromise was to try praline for the first time, as most things improve when coated in caramel. The praline recipe I used made enough for the cake and several days of snacking, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If you don’t want extra, halving the recipe will still make plenty.
The last decision I made was to use traditional American buttercream frosting. This doesn’t sound like a bold move, but I am generally not a fan of American buttercream. I find it very sugary, and attempts to cut back on the sugar end up with me practically eating butter. I chose buttercream in this case for the presentation appeal. It makes a sturdier, more smoothly decorated cake than my usual half-melted “improvised” frostings. Using chocolate buttercream allowed me to replace some of the sugar with cocoa powder for a less sweet (still VERY sweet) and richer chocolate frosting that tasted almost exactly like hot chocolate. I also omitted the vanilla (accidentally) and was happy with the result. Click the link in the ingredients for the original, more traditional recipe.
- Walnut Praline (adapted from Bakepedia)
- 2 2/3 cups unsalted & un-roasted walnuts, chopped
- ~1T unsalted butter, for greasing
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- salt, to taste
- Chocolate Cake (Sugar and Sparrow)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
- 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- pinch salt
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup boiling water
- Chocolate-Orange Ganache (original)
- 1 cup (8 fl oz) heavy cream
- orange peel
- 12 oz 75% dark chocolate, chopped (4 3oz bars)
- 2T unsalted butter
- small dash orange extract
- Chocolate Buttercream Frosting (adapted from Add a Pinch)
- 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
- 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
- 4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- ~1/2 cup milk (add gradually until desired consistency)
- pinch salt
- First, make the praline. Toast the walnuts lightly in a 350° oven for about 5 minutes, checking frequently to make sure they don’t burn. Let them cool a bit. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, and butter lightly.
- In a large saucepan over medium heat, add the water. Sprinkle in the cream of tartar. Pour the sugar in to form a mound in the center of the pan (no sugar should touch the sides above the water). DO NOT STIR.
- Cover and cook until sugar is dissolved, then uncover and cook until the syrup colors slightly. Test on a white plate until amber-colored.
- Add the nuts and gently stir to incorporate. Cook until the syrup is a deeper amber color, then immediately transfer to the baking sheet. Spread evenly.
- Break the praline and paper into large pieces while warm, and transfer to a sealed ziploc bag.
- Next, make the cakes. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare two 6″ baking pans with baking spray, and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the dry ingredients. Then, add the oil, eggs, vanilla, and milk, and mix on low until combined. Slowly add the boiling water with the mixer on low, then beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, until smooth. This will make a thin batter.
- Pour into prepared cake pans (only fill pans 1/2 full). Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cover remaining batter.
- Cool in pans for 10-20 minutes, then invert onto a wire cooling rack.
- While the cakes cool, make the ganache. Chop the chocolate into small pieces, and place in a heatproof bowl.
- Heat the cream over low (“simmer”) heat with the orange peels to infuse. Once the cream shows signs of bubbling, remove peels and pour the cream over the chocolate. Let sit for 1 minute.
- Stir the ganache until smooth and fully combined. Then, stir in the butter and orange extract. Cover and chill in the fridge until needed.
- The frosting should be made immediately prior to assembling the cake. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter with a paddle attachment until soft. Add the cocoa powder and beat until fluffy and creamy, several minutes.
- Gradually SIFT in the powdered sugar, beating until fully combined. Add salt, and mix.
- Finish the praline just before assembling. Crush some of the praline in the ziploc bag– you want small chunks but not powder. Leave some praline in larger pieces for snacking.
- Finally, assemble the cake. Use a large, serrated knife (like a bread knife) to carefully cut each cooled cake into 2 even layers.
- Starting with one layer on the cake stand, spread a layer of ganache. Then, pipe a ring of the ganache around the edges of the cake. Sprinkle the praline on top of the ganache and slightly flatten the ring. Add the next layer, and press down gently to secure. Repeat the stacking until the top layer is placed. You should have 3 layers of filling with a plain cake layer on top.
- Crumb coat the cake with a thin layer of the frosting, smoothing it out across the top and sides. Chill covered in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Apply a thicker final coat of frosting, smoothing carefully with an offset spatula or other tool. If desired, add a decorative piped border (I used an open star tip). Sprinkle crushed praline on top for garnish.