Friday, April 22, 2011

Chocolate Easter Cake with Vanilla Malt Buttercream and Bunny Cookies

I love Easter, and always have. Jelly beans, malted eggs, chocolate bunnies—it’s all magic to me. Growing up, my mother would put together elaborate Easter baskets for me and my siblings, complete with solid chocolate bunnies, marshmallow eggs and all the 

trimmings. She’d place the baskets next to our beds sometime in the middle of the night so they’d be there, in all their frivolous glory, when we woke up early Easter morning. After breakfast we’d dress up in our new pastel colored dresses and Easter hats and head off to 

church, dreaming of our goodies at home throughout the interminable service. When we got home, the Easter sweets were a free-fire zone, though my mother gave us frequent warnings about eating too much of them before dinner. Dinner always featured a 

leg of lamb with mint jelly, followed by a dopey-looking lamb-shaped cake, covered with vanilla frosting and sprinkled with coconut, and with jelly beans for eyes. Every time a see a lamb-shaped cake, my childhood memories of Easter come flooding 

back, and I’m filled with happiness.

I don’t have that lamb mold anymore, but I think of that cake every Easter. Yes, I could get a new lamb mold, but it would never be the same--better just to remember it fondly. This year I decided to create a new Easter cake memory, and here’s my offering. Yes, it’s a 

silly looking cake, festooned with malted eggs, jelly beans and bunny-shaped cookies, but that’s the way I like my Easter cakes. And this one also happens to be delicious, which the lamb cake probably never was. Happy Easter everyone!

Chocolate Easter Cake with Vanilla Malt Buttercream and Bunny Cookies

Makes one 9-inch cake, serving 12

Sour Cream Chocolate Cake:
2 2/3 cups (11.3 oz/322 g) all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups (17.5 oz/500 g) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1.4 oz/41 g) natural (non-alkalized) cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup (160 ml) sour cream, at room temperature
1 tablespoon (15 ml) vanilla extract
10 tablespoons (5 oz/142 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2/3 cup (160 ml) safflower or corn oil
1 1/4 cups (300 ml) ice-cold water

Vanilla Malt Buttercream:
1 cup (7 oz/ 200 g) granulated sugar
5 large egg whites
3 tablespoons (45 ml) water
2 cups (4 sticks/1 lb/454 g) unsalted butter, slightly softened
¼ cup malted milk powder dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

8 Bunny Cookies, made with this recipe and decorated with colored sanding sugar and dragees
Malted eggs
Jelly beans
Green-tinted coconut

Make the cake layers:
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom and sides of two 9-inch round cake pans.  Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper, cut to fit. Grease the paper. Dust the paper and sides of the pans with flour and tap out the excess.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine and set aside.
3. In another medium bowl, whisk together the eggs until blended. Whisk in the sour cream and vanilla extract until blended. Set aside.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, mix the melted butter and oil together at low speed. Add the cold water and mix to blend. Add the dry ingredients all at once and mix at medium-low speed for 1 minute. Add the egg mixture and mix for another minute until well blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
5. Bake the cakes for 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean. Set the pans on wire racks and cool the cakes for 15 minutes.
6. Invert the cakes onto the racks, peel off the paper, and cool completely.

Make the buttercream:
7. Pour enough water into a skillet so that it comes 1/2-inch up its sides. Bring the water to a simmer; reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer.
8. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the sugar, egg whites, and water. Place the bowl in the skillet of water and whisk gently until the mixture registers 160°F on an instant-read thermometer.
9. Transfer the bowl to the mixer stand and, using the whisk attachment, beat at medium-high speed until the meringue is cool and forms stiff, shiny peaks, about 5 minutes.
10. Reduce the speed to medium and beat in the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Beat in the dissolved malt powder and vanilla. Beat at high speed until the buttercream is smooth, about 1 minute.

Assemble the cake:
11. Using a long, serrated knife, trim the cake layers so that they are even and slice each one in half horizontally to make 4 layers. Place one layer on a serving plate and frost with a layer of buttercream. Top with another layer and repeat twice. Top with the last cake layer and frost the top and sides of the cake with a thin crumb coat. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
12. Frost the cake with another layer of buttercream, reserving about ½ cup of buttercream for garnish. Pipe the reserved buttercream in rosettes around the top of the cake. Top each rosette with a jelly bean. Spread a ‘nest’ of tinted coconut in the center of the cake, and arrange a few malted eggs on top. Spread more coconut around the base of the cake, and lean the bunny cookies against the side of the cake.