For my daughter’s woodland creature birthday party, we decided to decorate it to look like a tree stump, with chocolate bark on the outside and a hidden “tree ring” effect on the inside.
For the batter I adapted a basic vanilla cake, and while it was delicious, it didn’t work particularly well for the tree-ring effect because the batter was too thick to spread out into thin rings. That being said, the texture of the cake was fine-grained and smooth– definitely worth making again as a regular cake! And we picked the best of the tree-ring layers for the top of the cake, which we left bare.
I used my favorite chocolate ganache frosting between the layers and as a coating on the sides, then melted some chocolate chips– a combination of milk and dark, swirled together with a few “knotholes” here and there– and spread it out on parchment to let it set in a thin layer. I’d anticipated that I would then break up the chocolate sheet to press into the frosting around the cake, but to my amazement, the chocolate had set into a flexible sheet that I could peel off the parchment and wrap carefully around the cake without too much breakage! The result was just perfect.
I accessorized the cake with meringue mushrooms, which I’d actually never made before but which were pretty easy– the tricky part was using a paring knife to make holes in the bottom of the mushroom caps to let me stick the point of the stems in. Make these the night before so they have time to dry out in the oven!
Buttermilk Striped Cake (adapted from Sweetapolita)
- 3 cups (350g) cake flour
- 2 cups (400g) superfine sugar
- 1 tbsp + 1 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 cup (227g/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 1 1/2 cups (360ml) buttermilk, room temperature
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp pure almond extract
- 5 whole eggs, room temperature
- 2 tbs. cocoa powder
- Preheat the oven to 350℉. Line four 7″ cake pans with parchment and baking spray.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer running on low speed, add the cold butter one piece at a time and beat until all of the butter is incorporated, about 3 minutes. The mixture should have a fine, cornmeal-like texture.
- In a medium measuring cup, combine 1 cup of the buttermilk, the vanilla, and the almond extract. In a separate measuring cup, gently whisk the eggs and remaining buttermilk.
- Increase the mixer speed to medium-low. Gradually add the vanilla mixture and beat for 5 minutes. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the egg mixture in three additions, scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition. Beat until well combined, about 2 minutes.
- Separate 1/3 of the batter and mix in the cocoa powder.
- Using a large spoon, add alternating blobs of batter (larger vanilla blobs, smaller chocolate blobs) to the center of each pan, allowing the batter to spread out as you go, forming rings.
- Bake in the center of the oven until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out with a few crumbs, 20 to 22 minutes. Let the cake layers cool in their pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Carefully turn them out onto wire racks– this cake is very tender and delicate, especially when warm, so be careful! Let cool completely.
- The cake layers will keep wrapped tightly in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days. Otherwise, wrap cooled layers in plastic wrap and then freeze until ready to use.
3 large egg white (90g)
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
3/4 cup plus 2 tbs. (180g) granulated sugar
Melted chocolate for assembly
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and prepare a piping bag with a round tip.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, use the whisk attachment to beat egg whites and cream of tartar on medium-low speed until foamy.
- Increase speed to medium-high and slowly add sugar a spoonful or two at a time, continuing to beat until stiff peaks form.
- If desired, separate out 2/3 of the meringue and color with food coloring.
- Pipe mounds of meringue for mushroom caps, and tall, narrow stems. Don’t go too tall or they’ll fall over in the oven!
- Bake for about 90 minutes, until they release easily from the parchment with no sticky residue. Turn off the oven and leave the pan of meringues in the oven (door ajar) for at least 2 hours or overnight.
8. When ready to assemble, use a paring knife to bore a hole in the underside of each mushroom cap. Dip the tip of each stem into melted chocolate and insert (with a slight twist) into the hole. Chill to set.
9. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use– after more than a day, store in an airtight container to keep them from softening.