Frosting on the Cake

Frosting on the Cake

While not all of us welcome the bigger and brighter blaze of candles on our birthday cakes, we all like the cake. And while many of us rarely bake, there’s nothing like a family member’s or friend’s birthday to get us into the kitchen, buttering pans, breaking eggs, sifting flour and tentatively peeking into the oven as our creation bakes.

Raspberry-Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Ganache

"Happy excess" are two words we associate with this pretty little cake that is crowned with bright red raspberries. Bursting with intense chocolate flavor, just a sliver satisfies most people, and when it’s frosted with a thick, raspberry-spiked ganache, it becomes a virtual chocolate powerhouse. Don’t overbake the cake; it’s meant to be moist. 

For the cake:
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons raspberry (framboise) liqueur, such as Chambord, or 1 teaspoon raspberry extract
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup sugar
3 large eggs
Pinch of salt
¾ cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the ganache:
1/3 cup heavy cream
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon raspberry (framboise) liqueur, such as Chambord, or 1/2 teaspoon raspberry extract
Fresh raspberries, for garnish

To make the cake: Position an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and lightly flour the bottom and sides of an 8-inch round cake pan. Cut a piece of parchment or wax paper to fit in the bottom of the pan. Insert the paper round and butter and lightly flour it.

Put the chocolate in a microwave-safe container and melt, uncovered, in a microwave set on medium power for 2-3 minutes, stirring after 1 minute, or until the chocolate is shiny. (It will not melt to a liquid pool in the microwave. It will liquefy as you stir it. Alternately, melt the chocolate in the top of double boiler set over barely simmering water, stirring until smooth. Take great care that no water or steam gets into the chocolate, or it may stiffen.) Stir in the framboise and vanilla and set the melted chocolate aside and cool to lukewarm.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and well mixed. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each one. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the chocolate. Add the salt and then slowly add the flour and beat just until combined and no white flour shows.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake on the center rack for 20 minutes. At this point, insert a skewer or toothpick into the cake halfway between the rim of the pan and center of the cake comes out clean. The center of the cake should be moist and still pudding-like. If the cake is not done, bake for 5 minutes longer and check again. Do not overbake, as you want the cake to be very moist. During baking the cake may puff up in the center and crack. It will fall during cooling.

Set the pan on a wire rack and cool for 15 minutes in the pan. Lay a cooling rack over the top of the cake pan and invert the cake and rack, holding both securely. Lift the pan off the cake, peel off the paper and let the cake cool completely.

To make the ganache: Heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until very hot but not boiling. Small bubbles will appear around the sides of the pan when the cream is hot enough.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the chopped chocolate and the framboise. Using a wooden spoon, stir until smooth and glossy. Let the ganache cool to room temperature.

Put the rack holding the cake on a baking sheet. Spoon the ganache on the cake and spread it over the top and down the sides of the cake with a metal spatula. Carefully transfer the cake to a plate and refrigerate for about 2 hours, or until the ganache sets. Decorate the cake with raspberries. Let it come to room temperature before cutting into thin slices. Serves 10 to 12; makes one 8-inch single-layer cake.

Beverage recommendations: If it’s a dessert wine that you’re looking for, Bonny Doon Vineyard’s nonvintage Framboise, made from three varieties of raspberries in Washington, is the perfect raspberry-licious foil to the cake’s fruit accents. A Zinfandel Port from, say, California is also an option—they’re big on fruit, and quite rich. On the other hand, have you ever had anything wash down a rich, chocolate cake better than a glass of whole milk?


What follows are three unusual but delicious upscale cakes fit for a birthday party. They stray from the yellow cake with chocolate frosting many of us expect, but they will appeal to the birthday boy or girl lurking in the grownup. Each one is gently spiked with a spirit to make it a decidedly adult dessert, but in none of these cakes is the spirit so pronounced that children in the crowd (recruited, perhaps, to help blow out the astonishing number of candles) won’t eagerly gobble up their slices.

For our chocolate cake, we rely on a little raspberry liqueur, which is also sometimes known as framboise. We used Chambord in the recipe, but you could select another brand with good results. For the orange angel food cake, we flavor the mousse and glaze with Grand Marnier, although triple sec, Cointreau or another orange-flavored liqueur will do just as well. And for the spice cake, we turn to dark rum, a spirit that gloriously marries with cinnamon, cloves, allspice and other spices.

Cake baking may not quite be a lost art, but it’s one many of us avoid. These recipes call for dressed-up cakes that can be dressed down and still taste amazing, which should encourage the more timid bakers among us to give them a try. For instance, the Raspberry-Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Ganache could be served without the ganache but instead with scoops of vanilla or coffee ice cream, or dollops of lightly sweetened whipped cream. The Orange Angel Food Cake Filled with Orange Mousse could stand on its own without the mousse or the orange glaze, or with just one or the other. Spiced-Rum Cake with Caramel-Rum Frosting and Candied Walnuts doesn’t need the candied walnuts, although they are easy to make and can be done a day or two ahead of time.

Next time there’s a birthday in your house, make one of these cakes. Make it as fancy or simple as you like, following our suggestions for dressing it up or down. Add some candles, a few gifts and a libation or two. Who wouldn’t enjoy this kind of birthday celebration?

Orange Angel Food Cake Filled with Orange Mousse
When you’re in the mood for a lighter cake, an angel food cake is a good bet. The light orange mousse provides ample rich texture to offset the airy cake. We top the angel food cake with a simple confectioners’ sugar glaze, which can be omitted if the mousse and decorative candied orange zest fulfill your sweetness quotient. Be patient when you beat the egg whites. It takes time for them to reach soft peaks and then a little longer for stiff ones. The cream of tartar stabilizes them. This cake is also wonderful in the summertime, served with whipped cream and fresh berries.

For the candied orange zest:
2 large, thick-skinned oranges
2/3 cup water
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

For the orange mousse:
1 envelope unflavored gelatin (2-1/2 teaspoons)
1/4 cup cold water
1/2 cup boiling water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1-1/4 cups orange juice
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier or triple sec
1 cup heavy cream

For the angel food cake:
1-1/2 cups superfine sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Grand Marnier or triple sec
Finely grated zest of 1 small orange
For the orange glaze:
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
4 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or triple sec
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
To make the candied orange zest: Use a citrus zester or small, sharp knife to remove the colored part of the orange peel in long, thin strips.
In a heavy saucepan, combine the zest with enough water to cover by several inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat slightly and simmer rapidly for 5 minutes. Drain and rinse under cool, running water.
Squeeze one of the oranges for about 1/2 cup of juice (squeeze juice from the other orange if you need more juice). Strain the juice through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any pulp or seeds. Reserve the remaining orange for another use.
In the same saucepan, mix the water, 1 cup of the sugar and orange juice and cook over medium heat for about a minute, stirring occasionally, until the sugar melts. Add the orange zest and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the zest cool in the syrup to room temperature.
Drain the zest and reserve the syrup for another use. Transfer the zest to a small bowl and sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar. Toss to coat and then let the zest stand at room temperature for about 2 hours to give it time to cool and absorb the sugar. Use right away or store in an airtight container for up to 24 hours.
To make the mousse: Fill a large bowl with ice and water and keep it close at hand.
In a saucepan, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and let it sit for about 4 minutes to soften. Add the boiling water and stir until the gelatin dissolves.
Stir in the orange juice, sugar and salt. If the mixture does not taste sweet enough, add a little more sugar. Cook over low heat, stirring, until hot and the sugar dissolves. Do not let the mixture boil.
Stir in the Grand Marnier and set the saucepan over the ice water and chill for 15 to 20 minutes, whisking occasionally, until the mousse cools and sets up just a little.
Whip the cream in a chilled metal bowl until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the jelled mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and for up to 8 hours. You will have about 4 cups of mousse.
To make the cake: Position an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup of the sugar with the flour and salt. In a clean, dry bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a clean, dry wire whip and set at low speed, beat the egg whites until foamy. Sprinkle with cream of tartar, raise the speed to medium, and beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the vanilla, Grand Marnier and orange zest and continue beating the whites.
With the mixer running, add the remaining cup of sugar, a tablespoon or so at a time, until the stiff but not dry peaks form. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Using a rubber spatula, fold the flour-sugar mixture into the whites just until mixed. Do not overmix.
Scrape the batter into an ungreased 10-inch angel food or tube pan and smooth the top. Bake for 50-55 minutes, until the cake springs back when lightly touched.
Invert the cake pan onto its feet to cool completely. When cool, run a dull kitchen knife around the sides of the cake pan to loosen. Invert the cake onto a plate.
To make the glaze: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the confectioners’ sugar, orange juice, Grand Marnier and butter and beat on medium speed until smooth and mixed. Remove from the mixer and, using a rubber spatula, stir in the orange zest.
Spread the glaze over the top of the cake, letting a little dibble down the sides. Spoon mousse into the center of the cake and reserve the rest to pass on the side. Decorate the cake with orange zest and serve. Serves 8 to 10.
Wine recommendations: The cake’s citrusy, honeyed flavors would pair well with a Moscatel, which brings to the table similar notes, but also some fresh, floral ones. We like Julián Chivite’s 2002 Colección 125 Vendimia Tardía Moscatel from Navarra, Spain. Not in the mood to imbibe? Perhaps hot tea with lemon is the way to go.

Spiced-Rum Cake with Caramel-Rum Frosting and Candied Walnuts
This rich, full-flavored spice cake requires some fuss but is more than worth the effort. We love the nut-filled cake, with its blend of heady, warm spices, its almost achingly sweet frosting, and its hint of dark rum in every bite. The candied walnuts are delicious on the cake and on their own—make a batch for snacking, topping ice cream or to decorate other desserts. The frosting is based on classic caramel sauce and, as such, you should exercise caution when working with the hot sugar—get out the long-handled wooden spoon and thick potholders.

For the candied walnuts:
1-1/2 cups walnut halves (about 6 ounces)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar
Pinch of salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 teaspoons dark rum

For the cake:
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 cup milk
1/4 cup dark rum
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup chopped walnuts (about 4 ounces)

For the caramel frosting:
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons dark rum
To make the candied walnuts: Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a mixing bowl, toss the walnut halves with both sugars and the salt. Spread in a single layer in a shallow roasting pan just large enough to hold them. Scatter the pieces of butter over the nuts and sprinkle with the rum. Roast for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown, stirring the nuts and shaking the pan 2 or 3 times during roasting. For darker nuts, roast for an additional 2 or 3 minutes. Spread the nuts on a cool plate or tray to cool and use right away, or store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.
To make the cake: Position an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and lightly flour the bottom and sides of two 9-inch round cake pans. Cut a piece of parchment or wax paper to fit in the bottoms of the pans. Insert the paper rounds and butter and lightly flour them.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, cloves, nutmeg, baking powder, salt, ginger and allspice. In a separate glass measuring cup or bowl, stir together the milk and rum.
In the bowl of an electric mixer that is fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and both sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one. Reduce the mixer to medium-low and add some of the milk mixture, alternating with some of the flour mixture, until well combined. Stir in the chopped walnuts.
With a rubber spatula, scrape the batter into the prepared pans, dividing it evenly between them. Smooth the surface of the pans and bake them for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean and the cakes spring back when gently pressed and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Let the cakes cool on wire racks for 10 minutes. Turn them out onto the racks and let cool completely.
To make the frosting: Fill a large bowl with ice cubes and water. Set aside.
In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, water and lemon juice and cook over medium-high heat for 8-10 minutes or until the mixture turns amber. Stir this mixture for the first 2 minutes with a wooden spoon but once the sugar melts, stop stirring and only tilt the pan to insure even cooking. Take care; the sugar is very hot. (If the sugar burns, turns dark and smells acrid, discard it and start again.)
Remove the pan from the heat and slowly and carefully pour 1/2 cup of the cream into the pan. It will bubble and foam. Stir with a long-handled wooden spoon until the bubbling subsides and it’s smooth and well blended. Add the rum and stir well.
Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat for about 5 minutes or until the caramel lightens in color and thickens further. Scrape into a small bowl and set aside.
In a clean bowl of the electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and set on medium-high speed, beat the remaining 1-1/2 cups of cream until stiff. Add the reserved caramel to the cream and whip just until blended and the frosting is spreadable. The caramel will deflate the whipped cream but it will hold its body. Do not overbeat or the frosting will separate. Refrigerate for up to 30 minutes until needed.
Meanwhile, in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process about two-thirds of the candied walnuts until coarsely ground. Reserve the best looking, largest walnuts to decorate the cake.
Trim the cake layers with a long, serrated knife to insure they are even. Put one layer on a cake plate and spread frosting over the top of the cake layer. Sprinkle with about a third of the walnuts and using the back of a spoon or a rubber spatula, gently press the nuts into the frosting.
Top with the other cake layer. Using a long, metal spatula, spread the rest of the frosting over the top and down the sides of the cake. Decorate the top and sides of the cake with the rest of the chopped walnuts and then with the reserved whole walnuts halves. Serves 8 to 10; makes one 9-inch, 2-layer cake.
Wine recommendations: Words like "walnut" and "spice," which we use to describe this cake, also apply to some of its better wine matches. Tawny Port—whether from Australia, Portugal or elsewhere—is a good bet. We like Porto Poças’s 20 Year Tawny Port and Yalumba’s nonvintage Antique Tawny from Barossa Valley. A Pedro Ximénez Sherry would also do the trick. Or why not try a hot coffee-based cocktail for after-dinner enjoyment? Both a Café Amore (coffee, plus amaretto and brandy) and a Jamaican coffee (coffee, rum, Tia Maria) would complement this cake.

Published on February 1, 2006

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