Spooky Valentine Cake
Ah, Valentines Day. It seems like people either love it or are vehemently against it. I fall more towards that second category because capitalism, but I also wouldn’t want to ruin anyone else’s fun. Let people enjoy things, you know? It’s just never been my thing. I think probably because I love love (and chocolate) every day? I’ve also never been one for over-the-top themes and holidays.
Can we combine Halloween and Valentines Day? They’re sort of two sides of the same coin. Chocolate, specific dressing up rules, rampant capitalism, people divided into love-it-or-hate-it categories. Just a thought...
...a thought turned into a cake! This cake is also a fairly accurate representation of who I am as a person. A few years ago I figured out that my preferred aesthetic is “elegant punk.” Brightly dyed hair + black nails + dramatic lipstick + evening gown = me, feeling most like myself. But on days when evening wear isn’t required (read as: more boring days), I go with some combination of spooky and sweet. Elements of “if you touch me I will end you” and “here, have some glitter!” I want the neighborhood kids to think that maybe I’m a witch, but I probably only use my powers for good. Probably.
So you can see how this cake could be a nice physical metaphor for that. The bitter dark chocolate exterior paired with the fruity ruby chocolate center is a little spooky, a little sweet, and a lot delicious.
It utilizes two ingredients that I don’t work with very often: black cocoa powder and ruby chocolate. I feel like it’s safe to assume those aren’t staples in anyone’s kitchen, so in case you’re hearing about them for the first time, let me break them down for you-
This stuff is magical. It’s just like regular cocoa powder, except that it’s been treated with more alkaline so it’s darker and a little richer. It tastes kind of like Oreo cookies. It’s great if you want to color your food black without using activated charcoal or food coloring. It’ll color a cake, but it won’t stain your mouth or skin. So the cocoa powder color gradient goes natural->dutched->black, which corresponds with how much alkaline solution is used to treat the powder. More alkaline = darker color. You likely have one of the first two in your kitchen right now, but probably not the last one. And it’s not something you can just pop over to the store to pick up. I got mine from King Arthur Flour because it’s a company I’m familiar with and trust, but there are other kinds out there too. If you’re using less than a cup of cocoa powder in a recipe, the types are all pretty much interchangeable. More than that, though, and the chemistry starts to get a little more complicated. I don’t quite have to spoons to explain it well right now, but a “black cocoa powder” google search will point you in the right direction.
This stuff is also magical. It’s chocolate (well, technically in the US, the FDA won’t allow it to be called chocolate because there are Rules, but it’s chocolate to the rest of the world; it’s in the same category as white chocolate). It’s pink. It tastes like whites chocolate covered strawberries. And it’s just naturally like this. There are zero added colors or flavors. Y’all. PINK CHOCOLATE EXISTS AND I ONLY JUST FOUND OUT. It melts beautifully and it’s super easy to work with. It’s another thing that can color your food but won’t stain your mouth or skin. I got mine from Callebaut because they seemed the most legit and offered the best price:quantity ratio.
You can make this cake without using either of those two ingredients, it just won’t turn out with this depth of color and flavor. It’ll still taste great! But honestly, this is just so much fun with these ingredients. If you have the means to get them and you’re even a little bit interested, I say go for it.
This is most definitely a #🥄🥄🥄 project. Each individual component is closer to one spoon, but they add up fast. At some point, I’ll divide these up into their own blog posts, but today is not that day. It took me a couple of days to get this done (not counting the planning it took to acquire the rarer ingredients) with lots of breaks. And listen, there’s a lot of butter here. Like, so much butter. Five sticks of butter total. Not all of that ended up in the final product as there‘s a bunch of leftover frosting, but still. Just didn’t want that to be a shock when you got to the actual recipes. Don’t be afraid of the butter, I promise it’s worth it. You could probably use a butter substitut, but I don’t have much experience with that in this context so I can’t tell you how it’ll turn out.
The exterior frosting calls for black cocoa pudding, so that’s where I started. I made it from scratch, but you could also use a box of instant chocolate pudding. I’m pretty sure you can just add about 1/4 cup of black cocoa per pudding box and it’ll work. If you’re making it from scratch, start by whisking some cornstarch and part of the milk together.
Put all of the rest of the ingredients in a small saucepan and heat on medium, whisking the whole time. To save spoons, pull a chair or stool up to the stovetop and sit while you stir.
Once the chocolate has melted, add the cornstarch mixture and keep whisking until it’s all incorporated. Then reduce the heat to low and trade your whisk for a wooden spoon or spatula. Once the pudding has thickened a bit and started simmering, keep cooking and stirring for another minute or two. Keep in mind that it will continue to thicken and set in the fridge, so don’t panic if it’s a little thin.
When it coats the back of the spoon and drips off like, well, pudding, take it off of the heat and put it in a bowl. Cover it (make sure the plastic wrap is touching the surface of the pudding or else it will form a skin) and refrigerate it for a few hours.
Next, I made the chocolate strawberry buttercream. Melt a cup of ruby chocolate and set it aside to come to room temperature.
Cream butter and sugar until it’s fluffy, scraping down the sides as needed. Then add the vanilla and cream. When they’re nicely mixed in, add the chocolate. Then the strawberry, in a couple of batches. Whisk it on medium high for a couple of minutes, until its the consistency you want. Put it covered in the fridge until you need it. Make sure you take it out a few minutes before you need it so that it can come back, to spreadable room temperature.
And now the other frosting!
Cream that butter and sugar like a pro. Then add the cocoa, then the pudding and vanilla. Add cream and sugar until it’s the right consistency. Cover it and chill it until you need it (same rules apply, take it out early so it’s not a big pile of solid black butter).
FINALLY THE CAKE (are you still with me?).
Prep the chocolate first by putting it into 1/2 cup of hot coffee (I used fancy local coffee, because I am fancy; also please call me Beach Goth from now on). A note to those of you who, like me, are sensitive to caffeine. Caffeine *does not* cook out of baked goods. There isn’t much in this cake, but be aware if that’s an issue for you.
You want the cocoa to dissolve, help it along by whisking it together. You’ll end up with a delicious gelatinous concoction. When you think it’s cool enough that the cream won’t curdle, whisk in the cream and vanilla.
Put the butter, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and mix it until it forms a sort of dough. Then add the eggs, one by one, stirring and scraping down the sides each time.
Pour the coffee mixture into the egg mixture and beat on medium until combined.
Add flour, about 1/2 cup at a time.
Bake at 350° for 20-30 minutes. You wont be able to tell by looking at them if they’re done or not. Because they’re BLACK. So do the toothpick test. Stab the center of each cake with a toothpick. If it comes out clean, it’s done. If it comes out chocolaty, it needs more time.
Let the cakes cool for 15-ish minutes and then transfer them to wire racks to cool completely before decorating.
And there you have it! Whew. Have a lovely, spooky Valentine’s Day!
For the Pudding:
Adapted from Ovenly’s Salted Dark Chocolate Pudding
2 cups milk, divided into 1/4 cup and 1 3/4 cup
2 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar
2 oz bittersweet chocolate
3 tbsp black cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1. Whisk 1/4 cup milk with cornstarch until smooth. Set aside.
2. Combine remaining ingredients in a saucepan. Heat on medium low while whisking until chocolate is melted.
3. Whisk in cornstarch mixture until fully incorporated.
4. Reduce heat to low and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula.
5. When the mixture has thickened and is simmering slightly, continue to cook and stir until the pudding coats the back of the spoon.
6. Transfer to bowl and cover with plastic wrap (making sure it touches the surface so the pudding doesn’t form a skin.
7. Refrigerate for a few hours until set.
For the Frosting:
Adapted from Ovenly’s Dark Chocolate Pudding Buttercream
1 cup (2 sticks) room temperature butter, cut into pieces
3 cups confectioners sugar (plus more if needed)
3/4 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cups Black Cocoa Pudding
1 tsp vanilla
heavy cream as needed
1. Cream butter and sugar.
2. Add cocoa powder.
3. Add pudding and vanilla.
4. Beat on high until mixture is smooth and spreadable.
5. Add sugar and cream as needed to get the consistency you want.
6. Refrigerate until needed.
For the Filling:
1 cup (2 sticks) room temperature butter
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup melted and cooled ruby chocolate
1 cup strawberry purée
1. Melt chocolate and set aside to come to room temperature.
2. Cream butter and sugar.
3. Add vanilla and cream.
4. Add cooled chocolate.
5. Add strawberries in 2-4 batches.
6. Whisk on high for a couple of minutes, until fluffy.
7. Refrigerate until needed.
For the Cake:
🥄🥄; makes 2 8 in. round cakes
1/2 cup warm coffee
3/4 cup black cocoa powder
3/4 cup cream
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup (1 stick) room temperature butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
4 room temperature eggs
2 cups flour (I used King Arthur’s Gluten Free Baking Mix)
1. Preheat oven to 350° and prep two round cake pans.
2. Add cocoa to coffee in a measuring cup and whisk until smooth.
3. Add cream and vanilla to coffee mixture and whisk until combined. 4. Combine butter, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Beat on medium until a soft dough is formed.
5. Add eggs one at a time, making sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl each time.
6. Pour the coffee mixture into the egg mixture and beat on medium until combined.
7. Add flour, about 1/2 cup at a time.
8. Pour evenly into the cake pans and bake for 20-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
9. Cool for about 15 minutes in the pans and then transfer to wire racks to cool completely before assembling the full cake.