It’s that time of year again — the grills are uncovered, fireworks stands [used to] start popping up near busy intersections, and everyone and their mother is digging through cookbooks in search of Fourth of July recipes. This week, kids will be running around with sparklers while mom and dad solidify plans for their annual Independence Day barbecue.
While grilled goodies are usually at the top of everyone’s mind on July 4th, there’s still the all-important matter of dessert. It seems like every year, someone makes the traditional sheet cake that looks like the American flag. You know the style: It’s huge and white with a square of blueberries for the star portion of the flag, and row upon row of strawberries and frosting dollops to make up the stripes. It’s a good cake, one that I’ve eaten and enjoyed countless times. Yes, I said countless. Which means I’m really, really bored with the same old flag cake, which I’ve been eating for 30-something years.
This year I decided to shake it up a little. I eschewed the white cake for something richer (chocolate! ganache!). Since it’s Independence Day I decided to keep the red, white and blue decorations, but I sat down and thought about the best way to go about using these colors without recreating the hackneyed flag design (to you lovers of the flag cake, really, no offense). After a few days of pondering I decided to create a layer cake for a more interesting look, with half of the fruit on the inside of the cake, peeking out the sides.
I think you’ll like the end result: A rich, smokey cake with light, colorful accents of summer fruit and whipped cream. Kids will love the headiness of the chocolate, and adults will appreciate the departure from the norm.
A Tower of Chocolate: The Three-Layer Fourth of July Chocolate Cake
Makes: One really thick 9″ cake, which will be cut into three layers servings
Prep time: 60 minutes, including decorating
Cook time: 50 minutes
While making this cake, I decided to go the lazy route and used a 9-inch cake pan that’s 3-inches deep. I poured all of the batter into one pan and then sliced it into three thinner layers with a cake leveler. There is also a gluten-free version of this Fourth of July cake.
- 2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chopped
- 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
- 6 tablespoons hot coffee
- 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cup sugar, divided
- 4 large egg yolks
- 2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 large egg whites
- 4 cups of whipped cream
- 1 carton fresh strawberries, cleaned, cored, and sliced in half
- 1 handful each of fresh blueberries
- 1 handful each of fresh raspberries
- 1/2 cup chocolate ganache, warmed and ready to pour
To bake the cake:
1. Butter single 3-inch deep, 9-inch cake pan, lining the bottom with a round of parchment or wax paper (trust me, this will make your life much easier). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Over a double boiler, melt both kinds of chocolates together with the 6 tablespoons of coffee. Stir until smooth, then set aside until the chocolate reaches room temperature.
3. With an electric mixer, beat the butter and 1 1/4 cup of the sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. While beating, slowly drizzle in the melted chocolate, following with the egg yolks one at a time.
4. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
5. Mix half of the sifted dry ingredients into the creamed butter, then add the buttermilk and vanilla. Follow with the rest of the dry ingredients.
6. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form.
7. Fold half of the egg whites into the cake batter to lighten it up a bit, then fold in the rest, stopping just when there’s no trace of egg white visible. Do not overbeat or you will flatten the batter.
8. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan with a parchment round in the bottom. Smooth the top of the batter with your finger and bake for about 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
9. Cool cake completely before decorating.
To decorate the cake
Note: If you’re going to slice your cake horizontally, I’d recommend putting it in the refrigerator overnight (or at least a few hours) to firm up before slicing. The firmness of the cake will allow for more effective slicing. I highly recommend the use of a cake leveler, though a serrated knife will work in a pinch.
- Level your cake by removing the rounded top where it rose in the oven. You can either use a long serrated knife or a cake leveler. I use the leveler, because it’s a cheap tool that does the job very well, and it’s a lot easier to make straight layers by walking the leveler in a sawing motion, instead of making crooked layers with a serrated knife.
- If you poured all of your batter into a single 9″ pan, cut it into three layers of equal thickness.
- Place your base layer of cake onto a lazy Susan or other turnable decorating surface. Trust me, this will make your life easier.
- Scoop whipped cream into a pastry bag, and using a large star tip of your choice, pipe a series of swirls around the edge of the cake, with a large swirl in the middle. It should look like this:
- Decorate each dab of whipped cream by adding a piece of fruit into the middle. Do not add any fruit to the large swirl of whipped cream in the middle.
- Using the pastry bag, add a small dab of whipped cream between each larger swirl. Top each dab with a blueberry. When you’re done, it should look something like this:
- If you have three layers, gently place the middle layer of cake on top of the decorated layer, making sure it’s straight. Decorate with whipped cream as you did the first layer, so that they look the same.
- Place final layer of cake on top of decorated layer. Pour 1/2 cup ganache into the center of the cake, and using an icing spatula gently push the ganache to the edges, allowing it to artfully dribble over the sides. NOTE: You don’t want a lot of ganache flowing all over the place. You just want a few drips down the side as an accent.
- Set the cake in the refrigerator for 20 minutes to solidify the ganache.
- Decorate the top of the cake with more whipped cream and fruit, like you did the other layers. You can be as creative as you want here, so go all out! When you’re done, push more fruit into the visible whipped cream between the layers where it needs a little color. You should have something similar to the photo below.
- This cake should be put in the fridge overnight to tighten up the whipped cream, which may droop and run in hot weather. Refrigerator until about an hour before serving. If it’s especially hot that day, leave it in the fridge until just before you cut it.