The best part about hanging out with my 2 1/2-year-old niece, Laney, is that everything is new and magical to her. She can spend an afternoon opening and closing an umbrella and be perfectly happy.
Sprinkles? Sprinkles put her over the moon.
But one of Laney’s favorite things on earth is cake. CAKE! A few weeks ago, we were all at Mom’s for lunch, and Laney started pointing at the cake on the counter. I cut a small slice for her to eat at her little table, surrounded by her toy tea set and crayons, and I took my piece to the couch. Before I’d sat down, she’d hopped onto the seat next to me, waving her Dora fork in the air.
“Share cake, right, Bec?”
I probably shouldn’t have let her eat all the icing with her fingers, but figuring out a new world all day every day must be exhausting. She’s still working out why she can’t pee in the yard like her brothers. (Does Disney make a pink funnel with the Princesses on it?) But I have faith in this kid. When she aced potty-training but didn’t want to give up her Disney Princess pull-ups, she started wearing them as hats.
Diaper turbans, y’all. That’s magical thinking.
Last Thursday, we took a family trip to the Nashville Zoo to see the new dinosaur exhibit. As we got close to the life-size Tyrannosaurus Rex, one little boy had a total meltdown and froze in front of the seven-foot rope bridge. Another buried his face in his mother’s neck and wailed as the dinosaur roared. But not Laney. She looked that T. Rex in the eye and smiled.
I’d love to take credit for teaching her the lessons she’s learned, but I’m just here to take notes:
Find the magic in everyday things.
Don’t give up the things you love.
Don’t be scared of things that aren’t real.
And always share your cake.
Chocolate Heaven Cake
Slightly adapted from Cheryl Day and Griffith Day’s “The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook”
Makes 1 triple-layer 9-inch cake; serves 10 to 12
- 3 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
- 4 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 9 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped (recommended: Scharffen Berger Unsweetened 99% Cacao Baking Chocolate Bar)
- 2 cups hot freshly brewed coffee
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 cup canola oil
- 1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
- 1 recipe Chocolate Buttercream (recipe follows)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter three 9-by-2-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper, then butter and lightly flour the pans.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Mix on low speed for 2 to 3 minutes to beat air into the flour.
- Meanwhile, put the chocolate into a medium bowl, and pour in the hot coffee and vanilla. Let stand for about 2 minutes to melt the chocolate, then stir until smooth.
- In another medium bowl, whisk the eggs and oil together. Whisk in the sour cream, being careful not to overmix. (You should still see some streaks of white.) Add the melted chocolate mixture, and mix until just combined.
- With the mixer on medium speed, add the chocolate-sour cream mixture to the dry ingredients in thirds. Mix until well blended.
- Remove the bowl from the mixer and, using a rubber spatula, scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to make sure the batter is completely mixed.
- Divide the batter evenly among the prepared pans, and smooth the tops with a spatula. Tap the pans on the countertop to remove any air bubbles.
- Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the center of a cake springs back a little when touched and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Let the cakes cool for 20 minutes, then remove from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack.
- To Assemble the Cake: Level the tops of the cake layers with a serrated knife. Place one layer cut-side down on a flat serving plate (you can keep the edges of the plate clean by sliding strips of parchment under the cake while you frost it). Using an offset spatula, spread the top with a big dollop of frosting.
- Place the second cake layer cut-side down, and spread the top with another big dollop of frosting.
- Place the final cake layer on top, right-side up, and frost the top and sides with the remaining frosting, making big luscious swirls with the spatula.
STORAGE: The cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.
Makes about 7 cups
- 9 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons whole milk
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 1/2 to 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a simmering saucepan of water (don’t let the bottom of the bowl touch the water), and stir occasionally until the chocolate is completely melted. Set chocolate aside to cool to room temperature.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a medium mixing bowl using a handheld mixer), beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy.
- Add the milk, mixing until completely blended.
- Add the cooled chocolate, and mix until completely incorporated, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary.
- Add the vanilla, and beat just until mixed.
- With the mixer on low speed, gradually add 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar and continue beating, adding more sugar as needed, until the frosting is creamy and silky.
STORAGE: Frosting can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.