One of my absolute favorite things to do is celebrate special occasions with a beautiful, delicious and decadent chocolate layer cake! This tradition continued when we lived in Italy. Most Italians don't make what they call "pan di Spagna" or a type of layered sponge cake very often. This is why when I started baking and bringing these to my friend's birthday parties, it was a bit of a fun surprise, and maybe even an exotic sort of dessert for people to enjoy.
I remember baking one of these cakes starting at 11 pm on special request from my friend Giulia for a birthday party she was hosting. I adore Giulia and would do anything for her...including baking a chocolate cake until after midnight. The next day, I carefully decorated it and remember warning Vincenzo to go slower around the curves in the car as we were traveling to her house for the party. The cake was a big hit that day and during many other occasions. Probably the most special occasion was when Emma and I made this cake for the Mother's day cake contest in San Gusme one year and won!
I had tried on at least two other occasions to submit a cake for the annual mother's day contest in San Gusme. My cake was always enjoyed and loved by participants, but never chosen as the winner. Secretly, I knew that everyone thought Vincenzo had made the cake instead of me. I heard the rumors whispered by the ladies. I was not sure how to get around this, so I thought perhaps if Emma entered our cake in the contest, no one would be suspicious.
Emma and I baked and planned; tasted and decorated for two days before the contest. Finally, the day of the contest arrived and I sent Emma out early with our cake to get it entered in the contest. Mother's day that year was a perfect Spring day with lots of sunshine for the outdoor event which was held out in the main square. People from all around the region came to attend. Tables were decorated with red tablecloths and beautiful roses. Tea and coffee was served by the men of the village. The cakes are all set up with numbers next to them, and if you purchased a ticket, you could have a taste of up to 5 of the different cakes. At the end, each person voted for their favorite cake.
This was a very special year as Emma was named the winner of the contest. I will always remember how excited she was to tell me we had won! She had received a special plate and a rose as the winner. We were both so excited. I love this memory, especially because I also treasured the fact that I had become a second mom to Emma. It's one of my favorite memories of me and Emma baking together.
Here are a few photos of the cake at different celebrations, with various ways of decorating it. The recipe is featured on page 356 of the book. Happy Mother's Day everyone. Hope you love making the cake too!
Chocolate Mother’s Day Cake
For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water (you can also use a combination ½ cup hot water and ½ cup strong coffee to add flavor)
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces
1 cup buttermilk (if you don’t have buttermilk, add 1 tablespoon lemon juice to
whole milk and stir well)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
For the filling:
16 - 18 ounces of seedless raspberry or black currant preserves
2 tablespoons Chambord liquor
¾ cup fresh strawberries (thinly sliced) or raspberries (cut in half)
For the ganache frosting:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar
5 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (60-70 percent)
¾ tsp. sea salt
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with 2-inch-high sides with nonstick spray. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper rounds. Spray parchment paper with nonstick spray. Dust pan with flour, tapping out any excess.
Mix together 2 cups flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl.
Add the cocoa powder to separate medium bowl. Pour 1 cup boiling water over cocoa; whisk to blend.
Using hand or stand mixer, beat sugar and eggs in large bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add butter to egg mixture and beat until blended. Beat in cocoa mixture. Add buttermilk and vanilla; mix to blend. Add dry ingredients and beat on low just to blend. Transfer cake batter to prepared cake pans.
Bake cake for about 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on rack.
I like to make the cakes one day in advance so that they are nice and cool when I assemble the cake.
Warm 16-18 ounces of seedless raspberry or black currant preserves over medium heat in a saucepan. Optional: Add 2 tablespoons of Chambord liquor and mix well.
Remove the cake from the pans and place one of the cakes flat side up on a serving plate. Spread the warm preserves over the top. Place ¾ cup thin slices of fresh strawberries or sliced raspberries over the top.
Place the second cake flat side down on top of the filling. Press lightly.
Make the chocolate ganache by warming the heavy cream, butter, and sugar over low to medium heat in a small saucepan. When the cream starts to bubble, remove from heat and add the dark chocolate. Stir well. When the chocolate is melted, add the vanilla and sea salt and mix well. Set the ganache aside to cool for 10-15 minutes.
After the ganache has cooled, top the cake with chocolate ganache frosting and decorate with strawberry slices, raspberries, and blueberries. Cool well in the refrigerator prior to serving.
Recipe note: This cake is stunning decorated with white chocolate curls placed all over the top and sides as well. The contrast between the black and white is beautiful. To make the curls, use a larger bar of white chocolate that is room temperature. Use a potato peeler to gently peel off thin sections of the chocolate.