Birthday chocolate cake

On my way to my daughter’s school there is a park with pine trees. I love that part of the road because it is comforting to be away from all the concrete and steel buildings,to see the changing of the seasons. I have been taking that road for almost three years now and I became rather fond of the trees I see along the side of the road. Towards the end of the last school year, I noticed that the branches of one of the trees was turning brown at an alarming rate, the dying brown branches were slowly creeping up the tree week after week, replacing that beautiful green color with sad decaying shades of brown.  What caught my attention was the fact that from one side the tree seemed healthy and vibrant while it was hiding a serious problem on the other side that was eating it alive. I watched week after week as the tree seemed to struggle with that unseen enemy and I dearly hoped it would triumph and survive.

The school year ended and I don’t use that road except to get to my daughter’s school. So for months,I thought about my tree and her struggle thinking how many of us have to face challenges, illnesses, trials that push us to the verge of losing everything. We try hard to maintain a facing of health and strength while we go through those struggles and only those with a watchful eye, the ones who know us well enough, or care enough to pay attention will know what we are going through.

When the school started again this year and I was driving my daughter to her first day of the third grade. My eyes were racing down the side of the road wondering what came to be of my tree friend. Just before the end  of the park road, there she was, standing proud and tall. . The tree grew quite a bit since the last time I saw her. New branches, green and full of life put a big smile on my heart and on my face.Sure the brown branches were still there, but it was obvious that whatever the problem was, the little tree triumphed and made it through. The brown branches were now no more than a scar, a memory of hard times that are no more. For the rest of the road to school and for that matter, for the rest of the day I was humming Barry Manilow’s I made it through the rain

My Birthday was on the first of October, and for a change this year I decided to make my own birthday cake. Inspired by the wonderfully talented Korena. As Korena pointed out. At first it might seem sad for someone to bake their own birthday cake but those who love to bake will understand that it is such an enjoyable and comforting activity. Besides, getting to choose  the exact cake you want without stepping on anyone’s toes is always a plus if you ask me 🙂

I went for a simple cake,I keep the fondant and fancy decorations for the kids birthdays. For me there was only one choice, the best chocolate cake I know. It is simple and quick and reading the ingredients you would never believe that this would be the moist, chocolaty heaven that it turns out to be. I have tried MANY chocolate cake recipes over the years and I always come back to this one. The cake recipe will give you a cake and a sauce to drizzle it with, sort of a 2 in 1 recipe.You can dress it up with ganache or your favorite icing or you can simply drizzle it with the sauce , either way it will be amazing.

Chocolate birthday cake

This recipe is enough for a loaf pan, to make my birthday cake in an 8 inch round pan, I doubled the recipe
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup evaporated milk (you can replace that with 1 cup water + 4 tablespoons powdered milk)
4 tablespoons good quailty cocoa powder
1 teaspoon instant coffee (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1/4 teaspoon cardamom (optional)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

For the chocolate ganache

200 grams chocolate (I used 100 gm semi sweet and 100 grams milk chocolate)
200 ml cream

To make the chocolate cake

Preheat the oven to 180 C and place the rack in the middle
Oil and flour your baking pan
In the food processor or blender add the sugar, oil, evaporated milk, cocoa powder, instant coffee, cinnamon and cardamom and blend till the sugar dissolves and the mix is homogeneous.
Set aside 3/4 of a cup of this mix.
To the remaining part of the mix, add the eggs and vanilla and blend for 2-3 minutes
Next add the flour and baking powder and mix (make sure you do not over mix the batter after adding the flour)
Pour the batter in your prepared pan
and bake for 30- 40 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean
Take the cake out of the oven and allow it to cool for 10 minutes then take it out of the pan and cool it on a wire rack.
While the cake cools take the 3/4 cups of cocoa mix you set aside and pour them into a pan and bring them to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes (the mix will thicken in consistency). Take it off the heat and allow it to cool.
I usually just pour that thickened chocolate mix on top of the cake while it  is some what warm, the cake absorbs the mix and becomes extra moist and chocolaty
Today I decided to cut the cake into two layers and I used that chocolate mix on the bottom layer and then filled and iced the cake with chocolate ganache.

To make the chocolate ganache

chop the chocolate
warm the cream in the microwave or on the stove top but don’t allow it to come to a boil
pour the cream over the chocolate and leave it for 3-5 minutes
Using a whisk, whisk the chocolate and cream till the chocolate dissolves completely
at first you will thick there is too much cream but as you keep whisking you will see it is not
Allow the ganache to cool down then place it in the fridge to set
Ideally you should leave it over night but 2-3 hours is fine
Take the ganache out of the fridge and either allow it to warm up at room temperature or microwave it for 30 seconds and whisk it till it gets to spreadable consistency
Use it to fill and ice your cake

Chocolate cake decoration

To decorate the cake I used wafers for the sides that I cut into different lengths but you can use wafers that are the same length, I personally love that shabby chic look  🙂
After you frost the sides of the cake arrange the wafers using the ganache as a glue and then tie them with a ribbon and place them in the fridge to set. You can remove the ribbon afterwards or keep it for decoration
For the top I used candied hazelnuts
to make them place 1 cup sugar and 1-2 teaspoons lemon juice in a pan on a low flame till  the sugar melts completely and turns light amber in color
Add the toasted hazelnuts and toss to coat completely with melted sugar then pour the mix on an oiled metal surface (a metal tray or plate if you have one or on a piece of aluminum foil that you have oiled well ) and allow it to cool completely (it will become solid hard)
break it up into pieces and use it to decorate the top of the cake
It is easier to make the cake than what the instructions make it seem 🙂
The instant coffee brings out the chocolate flavor even more. The cinnamon and cardamom give a hint of pleasant spice  but no one will know they are there.
If you want the cake to be richer and moister use 1 cup of oil instead of 1/2 cup but as I was going to fill it and ice it with ganache I reduced the amount of oil a little