Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Tricks & Treats - a Chocolate-Orange Cake Story

It must be Halloween because I began my morning being tricked. In my sleepy stupor I could have sworn I heard my husband walking through water. Snuggling myself further under the glorious down comforter to fight off consciousness, much the way I protected myself from the monsters in the shadows as a child I couldn't help but think, "please. For the love of all that is good and right in the world... please... please... don't let the storage room be flooded."

We are incredibly fortunate to live in the apartment we have. Like most major cities well established before 1850, Boston, and the North End in particular, is notorious for expensive, tiny apartments. Ours isn't large by any means but is well laid out (and a bargain! Shh... don't tell the neighbors). We have two rooms on two floors on a gently sloping hill. Our front door is street level and opens into a one room living-kitchen combo. Down a set of steep stairs is our bedroom with access to the alley and our patio. The rest of the space off the bedroom contains the heating units and hot water heaters for the building. Four apartments - four sets of water heaters and furnaces. The trade-off to being the only apartment with a patio and a storage room is that whenever a neighbor has an issue with either the heat or hot water we have to be around to let the plumber in and traipse through our bedroom. This morning we discovered that apartment #2's hot water heater had ruptured in the night.

Picture it - after shutting off the water valve and calling the landlord - husband and wife, in silence and resignation to the task at hand, bailing out over twenty gallons of water. Removing soaked cardboard boxes and checking the contents for salvage. Standing on towels to soak up the water that had made it into the bedroom and was making the carpet unpleasantly squishy under our toes. Wringing out dripping wet rag after dripping wet rag. The shop vac was so heavy with water my husband, the man with the gorgeous shoulders and biceps, couldn't even lift it and had to bail it out with a bucket to empty it. Somewhere Garfield was screeching out a feline laugh at our Monday morning plight.

This cannot be how this day ends. So, while I wait for the plumber to return (he's already been and will likely have to remove our hot water heater to get at the neighbors - joy) I decided we needed a treat to balance out this trick. And really, is there any better treat than chocolate cake?  I should preface this recipe by saying that I am not a good cake decorator. This cake is much tastier than my picture is pretty. Oh well, we can't all be good at everything! (I'll just have to keep making chocolate cakes to practice my decorating skills. Mmmm... cake!)

Chocolate Cake with Orange Buttercream
2 cups AP flour, sifted
1.75 cups granulated sugar
.75 cup dark brown sugar (not packed)
1 cup cocoa powder
.75 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup brewed coffee
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt

Super Basic Orange Buttercream
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioner's sugar
2T orange liquor
zest of one orange
orange food coloring - optional

preheat oven to 350ยบ F. Butter and flour two 9" cake pans or prep with Baker's Joy.

In a saucepan over low heat melt the butter. Add the cocoa powder and whisk well to combine. Add the vanilla, evaporated milk, vegetable oil, and coffee. Whisk well and set aside to cool.

Sift together in a large bowl the flour, white and brown sugars, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Stir to combine slightly.

Add the eggs to the cocoa mixture and beat well to combine. Add the cocoa mixture to the dry ingredients and fold together. At the end give the mix 2-3 good turns with a whisk to ensure an even batter, but don't over-mix or the batter will get tough.

Divide evenly into the two prepared cake tins and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool completely before turning out onto a cake rack.

Once cake is completely cool you may wish to even out the cake before frosting it by carefully slicing through the top with a long knife. If you've never done this before you may want to review this video (which isn't fantastic, but gives the right idea).  If you have any little Halloween monsters running around the house you can give them some of these cake bits as a tasty little preview of what is to come. I usually put my cake scraps in a freezer baggie and use them later crumbled in trifle. Just make sure to label the date on the bag - the cake generally still tastes good up to one month later.

For the buttercream, beat together the softened butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the orange liquor, zest, and food coloring and beat until uniform.

Frost cake as you normally would (I added a cocoa powder Jack-o-Lantern face to mine). Slice and enjoy with your plumber loved ones. After all... everyone loves Cake!

Happy Halloween!


  1. Oh no, I'm so sorry about the mess! I hope you didn't get too much damage...
    The cake looks absolutely delicious, and I love the pumpkin face in the frosting! :)

  2. sorry about the mess at your appartemen,I've been to Boston once last summer,I love the city :)
    the cake sound delicious I can smell the orange zest on the cake,YuM,,,

  3. Bummer about the mess! At least you are a wonderful baker and could make up for some of it with a cake! The frosting job looks good to me, and I think I could eat a quarter of it in one sitting ;)!

  4. Oh no! That really sucks about your apartment. Your cake looks great, though!

  5. Dang - sorry about the mess. The cake looks delicious, tho! Here's wishing the rest of your Halloween goes smoothly!

  6. Cake looks delish! orange and chocolate is such a divine combination! xx

  7. I really love chocolate cake and that pumpkin face :) Look so yummy!

  8. Wow, not a fun way to wake up! Bad bad trick! But, it appears your day was redeemed by that beautiful cake! Baking makes everything better, doesn't it?


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