Last week, my friend Connie called about a bridal shower she's hosting. The first-time bride-to-be is SO excited about her upcoming wedding and was looking forward to a very traditional shower. Per the bride's wishes (she is English), I was asked to make chocolate cake with chocolate frosting filled with custard and blueberries. (Custard filling just sounds so British to me! It gave me a great chance to make pastry cream - more on that below.) Connie's only design request was that it be really pretty, which immediately called up this design in my mind.
Isn't that pretty? I think it is simple, beautiful, and elegant - and the best part is, it's a snap to decorate! It requires no fussing to be sure the top and sides are perfectly smooth - just a solid crumb coat to seal everything in and conceal the color of the cake. Then pick a spot on the side of the cake, about an inch from the bottom, and pipe a spiral (starting in the center and making two rounds moving outward) to make your first rose. I'm lefty, so I moved the piping bag about an inch to the left and started my next rose. You'll quickly get the hang of how big you want to make them and how far over to move the pastry tip. If you really don't like how a rose looks, just gently scrape the frosting back into the bowl using a small offset spatula. Once I'd piped all around the cake, I filled in a second row of smaller roses (I only went around 1 1/2 times), and then I piped the top. I made concentric circles starting at the outer edge and ending with a single rose in the center. Any place there was a lot of space between the roses, I piped a little swoosh of frosting in the same direction as the rose. This method, including the crumb coat, takes a double batch of frosting.
I really wanted to cover the cake with roses, so I needed some way to write the congratulatory message on the top. A heart-shaped piece of fondant, brushed like marble with silver, white, and pink luster dust, made a good plaque. I let it harden just enough to hold its shape so it wouldn't sink into the roses. Mazel tov to the couple!
Now let's talk about what was new and different with this cake! I get very few requests for fresh fruit cakes, and they are usually accompanied by whipped cream. Pastry cream is a great alternative; it's a versatile base that can be flavored in pretty much any way you'd imagine (chocolate, fruit purees, whole fruits, alcohol, etc.) but I just stuck with vanilla. I used Zoe Francois's recipe (she of Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day fame) because I know her to be a reliable, thorough resource, and this recipe did not disappoint. It did set up a little thinner than I expected, and I hope the cake doesn't "zlich" too much when they cut it, so it's possible it needed another 30-60 seconds of cook time. Still, the taste was right and should complement the berries nicely. I simply used a little less filling than I would've if it had been thicker, and I also decided against lightening it with whipped cream. (The pastry cream we used to make in the bakery was super thick - nearly solid - until it was whipped again after cooling. I think that's what I expected.)
I also used a new chocolate frosting recipe, which is very unusual for me. I am very particular about the fudginess of chocolate frosting recipes, which is why I tend to prefer those made with melted chocolate rather than cocoa powder. This recipe has both - just a jolt of cocoa powder to amp up the chocolate flavor - and it's thinned with buttermilk, which gives it just a little tang and cuts the sweetness just a bit. I saw it via Tastespotting, paired with a cornmeal yellow cake, and I'd love to try that combo some time!
Here is the pastry cream recipe. I'll post the frosting recipe in a separate post because this is starting to get long-winded.
Zoe's Vanilla Pastry Cream (her original recipe not only has great techniques, but also step-by-step photos!)
Makes about 2 cups
2 cups milk (I used whole)
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar, divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla (or 1/2 vanilla bean - yum!)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 egg yolks
Bring the milk, 1/4 cup of the sugar, butter, salt, and vanilla to a gentle boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat.
While the milk is heating, in a heatproof bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and cornstarch. Add the whole egg and the egg yolks, and whisk into a smooth paste.
In order to add the hot milk to the eggs, you need to temper them; otherwise, you get scrambled eggs. Slowly, a little at a time, pour some milk into the eggs, whisking constantly. Once the egg mixture is warm to the touch, pour it back into the milk in the pan.
Return the pan to the heat and bring it to a boil, whisking constantly, and cook it for 2-3 minutes. (If you have nonstick pans, like I do, invest in a silicone whisk. I'm not sure why I didn't do that a long time ago!) The pastry cream will start to thicken right away, but you need to keep cooking for the 2-3 minutes to cook out the starch. Otherwise, it tastes gritty. When it's finished, the pastry cream will look nice and shiny and smooth.
Immediately strain the pastry cream into a flat dish or bowl. Use a rubber spatula to press it through the fine mesh sieve. Cover with plastic wrap and press the plastic wrap down completely onto the surface - you don't want a skin to form. Place the bowl in the freezer for about 15 minutes to give it a quick cool-down, then move it to the fridge and cool completely. It can stay a few days in the fridge.
Before using, whisk it to remove any lumps. If it is very thick, you can fold in some whipped cream to lighten it. Note that this will taste fabulous but it will make the consistency very light, so if you are using it as a cake filling, it might not be firm enough to hold the layers. I would whip 1/2 cup of whipping cream and add about half of it and see how the consistency and taste are. If you are using it to fill pastry (e.g., eclairs), this lighter consistency may be perfect. Check Zoe's recipe/comments for details on flavoring pastry cream.
Print vanilla pastry cream recipe.