You sure brightened and warmed a wintry, cold Kentucky day 17 years ago. Dad and I were delighted then and have been every day since. Beth claimed you as her very own live baby doll when first she saw you. Sweet grandmothers and grandfathers and aunts and uncles took you instantly into their hearts. It was a glorious day.
You are one of God’s greatest blessings to us, Will, and it was fun to mark your day with a chocolate cake.
In case you want to make one sometime, here is how you do it:
Prep work: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a stick of butter on the counter to soften. (It goes in the icing later.) Tear off three sheets of wax paper. Lay an 8- or 9-inch cake pan on top of one and trace the bottom of the pan. Cut three circles this size and place the circles in the cake pans. (This will keep your cake from sticking. Much easier to get out of the pan!)
Put 1 & 1/2 sticks butter, 3/4 cup vegetable oil, 1/4 plus 1/8 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not chocolate milk powder – cocoa is found in the baking aisle at the grocery), and 1 cup water into a large saucepan. Turn stovetop on to medium heat, and stir continually until mixture boils. Turn off stove and set pan aside.
In a mixing bowl, measure 3 cups all-purpose flour, 3 cups sugar and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Mix well so that flour and sugar are completely incorporated. This will prevent having lumps of white flour in your cake.
Next, you are supposed to mix buttermilk and baking soda. Since I rarely have buttermilk on hand, I usually use this substitution: Put 3/4 Tablespoon vinegar into a liquid measuring cup. Add enough milk to make 3/4 cup. There you go – homemade buttermilk! Stir in 1 & 1/2 teaspoons baking soda.
Add the buttermilk/soda mixture to the chocolate mixture, along with 3 eggs and 1 & 1/2 teaspoons vanilla and mix with a whisk.
Place four/sugar/salt mixture in mixing bowl. Use the paddle attachment and turn mixer to low. Slowly add the chocolate and beat until well mixed. It will be quite runny. This is as it should be.
Do your best to evenly distribute the cake batter into the three pans. It’s okay if it’s not exact; just eyeball it and do your best.
Bake at 400 degrees, 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. I always touch them. If they feel “springy,” they are ready to remove from the oven. If they cave in at all, they need to cook a little longer.
The cakes need to cool for at least 30 minutes. You want air flow underneath, so set them on a cooling rack or the burners on the stove (if you have a gas stove).
Put the stick of butter you softened earlier into the mixing bowl. Add 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (same thing that’s in the cake) and beat 30 seconds until fluffy and well-mixed. You may have to scrape down the sides with a spatula for this.
Add 3 & 3/4 cups powdered sugar, 2 tsp. vanilla and 3 Tbsp. milk. Turn mixer on low (use wire mixer attachment) and beat slowly until the sugar is mixed. If you turn it on too high too fast, you’ll have a white cloud all around you which makes for a messy clean up.
Increase speed to medium and beat one minute until icing is light and fluffy. Turn off mixer. If the icing feels stiff (like it would tear the cake when you spread it), add another tablespoon of milk and beat again.
Icing dries quickly, so it’s good to cover it with a damp cloth or napkin while you get the cakes ready.
Run a plain knife around the edge of each pan and then use the knife to begin prying the cake out of the pan. Once you get it started, you can invert the pan, and the cake will fall into your hand. Peel off the wax paper very carefully and lay the first layer on your cake plate.
Along the way, you may need to trim off a lop-sided part of a cake so that the layers will stack well.
Spread about 1/2 cup icing on top.
Then remove the second cake and place it over the first. Spread about 1/2 cup icing on top of it.
Remove the third cake and place it on top.
If you have gaps on the side, you can fill in with pieces that you cut off the tops. Icing will seal it and keep the pieces from falling out.
Spread a thin layer of icing all over the top and sides of the cake. This is your “crumb coat.” It is okay if it’s a bit splotchy in some places. This will just hold everything together.
Let that set a few minutes and use the remaining icing to cover the cake.
And there you have a chocolate cake! Enjoy!
Happy birthday, Will!
You are loved much,