I would like to take a moment to thank all of my friends for having birthdays. They enable my cake-related megalomania, and I love them for it. My friend Sarah likes red wine. She likes chocolate. And she had a birthday last week. These tiny cakes were the result, and they’re fucking magical. Rounds of rich red wine chocolate cake perch on thin discs of solid bittersweet chocolate, topped off with a dusting of powdered sugar and a swirl of cream cheese icing.
That sounds fancy as shit. And it is. But this base cake recipe is very, very forgiving. The equipment used is a reward in and of itself. Through the magic of the holiday season, I received a number of tiny baking implements. And through the magic of this recipe, I got to use them all.
This construction is also really tasty. When I’m putting together a new recipe, I aim for an initial punch of introductory flavor, a mellower but more satisfying mid-taste, and a lingering aftertaste. If my flavors trip all over each other, I haven’t made a dish. I’ve made a mess. This time, I got it right. The bittersweet crunch of the solid chocolate base is followed by the sweet tang of the icing, and rounded out by rich cocoa and red wine cake.
In short, this stuff is incredible. Grab hold of your tiny bakeware and follow me.
There are four parts to this recipe: the chocolate, the cake, the frosting, and the construction. The red wine chocolate cake is from Smitten Kitchen, here. I used a Lego-looking cylinder baking mold from Fat Daddio’s, because I strongly disapprove of cakes that lean out. However, anyone who does not share that particular neurosis can probably just use a mini muffin tin. The recipe gave me 34 tiny cakes, but you might get more out of it if you manage not to destroy a bunch of the components in the assembly process.
Consider cleaning out your freezer first. The hardest part of the chocolate discs was clearing enough space in my freezer to lay the mold down flat.
10 oz bittersweet chocolate chips
Double boiler (or any small pot with a heat-proof bowl to stick on top)
Muffin tin/baking mold
Something with a spout
Pour a little water in the bottom of your double boiler, or your pot. Get that boiling, lower the heat to a simmer, and stick the boiler piece/bowl on. To be honest, I only have a vague understanding of how actual double boilers work. This is what I use.
As long as the top bowl fits in snugly, stays clear of the water on the bottom, and doesn’t let out much steam, your configuration will work just fine. Pour the chocolate chips in and poke them around with the stirring spatula until they’re melted. Get the chocolate from the boiler into the pouring implement of your choice. Anything with a spout will work. I used a lovely cut-glass creamer that my mother gave me as a housewarming present.
Pour a thin layer of melted chocolate into each mold. Aim for a quarter inch thick. Much thicker and the cakes will be difficult to bite into; thinner and you won’t be able to stick the chocolate onto the cake without melting the whole disc. Once the mold is full, lay it flat in the freezer. Wait 10-15 minutes, then pop out each of the chocolate discs. Repeat until you run out of chocolate chips. You’ll have some extra discs, but that’s OK. You’re going to experience some chocolate casualties in the assembly process. Store the discs in the fridge until you’re ready for assembly.
Feel free to use a wine of your choice. My choice was a four dollar shiraz from Trader Joe’s, but you might be higher on the Class-O-Meter than me. The original recipe calls for Dutch-process cocoa, but all I could find was Hershey’s Special Dark. According to the label, the Special Dark cocoa is a “mix of natural and Dutched cocoa.” How much natural? How much Dutched? The world may never know. I’m sure the kind of cocoa powder makes a difference. But to be perfectly honest, I don’t really give a damn. This kind works fine! Other kinds probably work fine too! Have some wine!
6 tbsp unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
One egg and one egg yolk
1 cup red wine
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup and 1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Electric mixer/stand mixer
Two mixing bowls
Baking mold/muffin tin
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, and grease your baking mold/muffin tin. Cream the butter and sugar until it looks fluffy, or at least less like a brick laying on some sand. Add the egg and extra yolk Beat everything together. Pour in the vanilla and wine. Mix until combined.
At this point, everything is going to look incredibly fucking gross.
That’s okay! This next step will help. Swig from the wine bottle. Repeat at regular intervals throughout the rest of the baking process.
Sift together the dry ingredients together into the same bowl as your wet ingredients. If and when little cocoa boulders form in the sifting process, squish them with your finger until they are reminded of their proper places in life.
Mix everything together until smooth. Then spoon the batter out into your baking tin/mold.
Hilary Duff was wrong. This is what dreams are made of.
Bake for 10-13 minutes, or until the cake no longer oozes when stabbed with a fork. They’ll pop out easily right away. Put them on a plate to cool. Repeat, interspersed with wine-drinking and spoon-licking, until the batter is gone.
4 oz butter, room temperature
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Electric mixer or stand mixer with whisk attachment
Gallon sized plastic bag
Cream the butter and cream cheese together. Ideally they will be fluffy looking. Mixed and pliable is an acceptable substitute for fluffy. Pour in the sugar and vanilla, and beat until mixed in. Scrape the icing into the gallon bag, and stick in the fridge until ready for use.
I made the icing with my old electric hand mixer, because I broke the stand mixer’s whisk attachment five minutes after opening the box. That moment of clumsiness brought me face to face with my old foe: creaming butter. On the plus side, it turned out the power was in me all along.
All the shit you just made
Tiny sifter/sugar sprinkler/whatever it’s called
At least one cutting board/other large flat surface
At least one plate
TIME TO DECAPITATE SOME CAKE, Y’ALL.
Use the bread knife to cut the domed bit off the top of the cakes. There are three reasons for doing this. First, the underside of the cake is crazy shiny, and will look better on top. Second, the cut part is much more porous and so will bind better to the chocolate bases. Third, cake top scraps are delicious. Save all the ones you don’t eat during the assembly process. I have plans for them later.
The next step is to melt the chocolate discs on to the bottom of the tiny cakes. In order to do this, I need a quick blast of fairly direct heat. Unfortunately, I am not allowed to own a creme brulee torch. It is a tiny baking implement and I want it, but I would immediately light myself on fire. So I used my hair dryer instead. I recommend this technique as an alternative to self immolation.
Cover your work space/cutting board with parchment or wax paper. There is a clean way and a messy way to do this, but your work space is going to get covered in melted chocolate either way.
The Clean Way: lay out chocolate discs at a distance of a few inches from each other. Have your cake rounds close by. Set the blow dryer to Hot and Low, if those settings are available to you. Blast the rounds one at a time until they look shiny on top and melty around the edges. Press a cake round onto the chocolate disc, lining up the edges as best you can, and move on to the next. The difficulty with this method is that the chocolate will stick to the work surface as strongly as the cake, and may fall off.
The Messy Way: this way works better, but will make you feel like you shook hands with a swamp demon. Turn your cake rounds cut side up on your work surface. Hold a chocolate disc in your non dominant hand. Set the hair dryer to Hot and Low, and blow hot air on one side of the round until it is slippery and difficult to hold on to. Squish the chocolate round onto the cut side of the cake, lining up the edges as best you can and pressing down to make sure it binds on. Wash the chocolate off your hands every so often, or else it will be difficult to tell when the disc in your hand is actually melting.
Once you have stuck 12 cakes together, throw the board in the freezer with all the cakes still on it. After about 5 minutes, the chocolate will be well bonded to the cake. Pick the cakes up, put them on a secondary plate, and put that in the fridge to store while you assemble the rest of them. If any of the cakes separate from the chocolate, don’t worry! You can just remelt and try again.
After all the cake/chocolate bonding is done and you have taken your due tithe as the God of Tiny Cakes, put them all together on a clean cutting board/work surface. Because I cannot make anything level, mine looked like an army of drunk top hats.
Put a little powdered sugar on that sifter thingy, and sift that over top. Congratulations! Your drunk top hats have found their way out into a snowstorm.
Snip a corner off that gallon bag of icing to make it a pastry bag, and squeeze a swirl of icing onto each cake. Or, in my case, two blobs with a spike on top.
This recipe doesn’t require the creation of a Personal Cake, since you can eat as many of those tiny fuckers as you want without anyone being the wiser. On the other hand, you do have all those cake tops and all that icing left. I suggest sandwich cookies.
Keep these in the fridge. I found that the powdered sugar got absorbed into the cake after a day or two, so re-apply as necessary.
The Mess Report
My hair dryer was covered in chocolate too. I didn’t notice this until I tried to get ready the next day. So here’s an addendum to that mess report.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SARAH. NOW COME WASH MY HAIR DRYER.