Saturday, January 22, 2011

Happy Birthday, Baby

My husband loves chocolate and today is his birthday. Years ago I started the custom with him and my boys that I would bake them any cake they wanted for their birthdays. Normally I could steer them toward something in my Hershey's Chocolate Cookbook, something familiar which didn't test my baking skills. Now, I am a very good cook, even if I do say so myself. It's something I really enjoy and have honed my skills and techniques, especially in the last ten years. But a baker I am not. I can do a good job on most cakes, pies and cookies, but I don't like to make pastries or candies. 

I love cookbooks and have way too many, but it is an addiction. About twelve years ago I bought one called Gourmet's Best Desserts. That is Gourmet as in Gourmet Magazine. The photos in this book are fabulous and I just wanted to drool over them and perhaps try some of the less-challenging ones. But my husband found the book, saw the chocolate cake on the cover, looked it up and said, "This is the cake I want for my birthday."
Gourmet's Best Desserts - Chocolate Mousse Cake with Ganache Icing

Isn't it beautiful? Who wouldn't want to try to make this beautiful creation for their loving husband? Well, I tried it that first year and since then, every year, he asks for this cake. Let me tell you, it is a killer. I have made it four times and dread it each time. But this week I decided I had to do it again. I had no good excuse not to. I felt fine, his birthday was Saturday so I couldn't claim I had work to do and I had plenty of time to buy the ingredients. Still, I started today less than enthusiastic about my endeavor. Let me explain why.

First of all, this cake takes up four pages in the cookbook - one page for the ingredients and three for method. There is a two-layer cake with chocolate mousse between layers and on top and then a chocolate ganache on top of the mousse. Each of these is flavored with Grand Marnier (orange liqueur.) It takes twenty-five ounces of semi-sweet chocolate -- eight for the cake, nine for the mousse and another eight for the ganache. There are eight eggs in the cake and six in the mousse, plus butter, sugar and, surprisingly, less than a cup of flour. I don't even want to think about the total calories, but, it is his birthday and he can afford a piece or two. (The rest will be snatched up by his poker buddies tonight.)

Second, for someone who doesn't like to follow recipes, this is a nightmare. I know enough about baking to know that you can't just wing it like you do as a cook. Alton Brown has taught me that baking is chemistry and that measuring and method are critical. This cake's instructions are detailed and delicate and remember, there are three pages of them. I started the cake at 10:00am today and did not get it into the refrigerator to chill until 3:00pm. That is five hours on one cake. To be fair, some of that time was chilling time - the mousse has to chill before and after you put it on the cake and then the ganache has to chill after you pour in on, before you can pipe the buttercream for decoration. 

Third, it has to be decorated. My typical cake decorating consists of swirling the icing around or putting colored sprinkles on top. This cake requires a pastry bag and piping on the cake, something in which I do not excel. But I did my best and here is the result:

As you can see, I skipped all but one of the orange slices in the decoration because, when I tried that before, the juice from the oranges made everything a little messy. I made a noble effort and the bottom line is, Scottie (husband) loves it and it tastes unbelievably good.

So Happy Birthday, Baby. You can have your cake and eat it, too. 

As for me, I'm already thinking about how I can get out of making it again next year.


  1. You could always mail the extra to me (Ben)

  2. That's more work than I can ever imagine putting into a cake, but I have to admit the photos and description are making my mouth water.

    Please tell Scott Happy Birthday from me. He's looking great for such an old guy!

  3. "Happy Belated Birthday" Scott! least you tried to make this cake....I don't think I would have even tried!...but...these days...if it taste's good.....that is what I go for! bunch will eat just about anything!.....but....I know and will vouch for are a pretty good cook!

  4. The cake was the first thing Rodney told me about when he got home. Good job!
    Happy Birthday, Scott!

  5. hmmmmm....I am not sure Scott is worth all that work! But then again.....

    Happy Birthday, Scottie!

  6. The oranges! I can see in the picture that they are candied! I'm a pastry chef, I notice these things. That's why they were too juicey when you put them on last time! Also, it may be a lot easier to freeze your components as you go, but that way, you can break up those five hours to make it a bit easier on yourself. Make the cake, cool it, freeze it. When you go to make your mousse, layer the cake, freeze it. It makes everything a lot more stable. Contrary to what that cookbook tells you, you can make your ganache in the microwave. heat up the cream, add the chocolate..hit it in 30 second intervals until it's melted. good luck!