Birthday Cake

Because apparently I’m a decent enough baker in the eyes of my friends and family, I was commanded to bake a birthday cake for one of my father’s friends. I wasn’t sure what to do, mainly because the majority of the people attending were from West Africa and I was afraid that if I didn’t do something familiar, it’ll go down in flames. This is not an unfounded fear – when I lived abroad in a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, most of my “American as Apple Pie” creations were dubbed as interesting, but when I made a “tarte banane” or something that was culturally local, the reviews were more of the rave variety.

Well thank jeebus I was told they like chocolate. (because even on my tiny island, they liked chocolate.)

I of course hunted online for recipes, but then realized that I had perfectly good falling apart cookbooks to turn to for a simple chocolate cake, filling and frosting. The actual cake had the following components: Basic Chocolate Cake, Dark chocolate ganache, Mocha Buttercream Frosting.

The recipes for the cake and the buttercream I modified from The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Book of Desserts, which has really nice standard recipes for cakes and frostings.

Basic Chocolate Cake (adapted from from The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Book of Desserts recipe)


3/4 cup Valhorna cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting
2 cups cake flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups milk
3/4 cup shortening
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans, line the bottom with parchment paper and grease parchment paper; dust pans with extra cocoa powder.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Next, in your mixer cream together the shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Then add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl in intervals to incorporate the ingredients. Add the vanilla and mix well.

Alternately add the dry ingredients with the milk to the egg/shortening mixture. I like to add it in thirds of each. Remember to scrape down the sides of your bowl so that all the ingredients are incorporated.

Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans. You might need a spatula to spread the batter if it's a little thick. To remove air bubbles, tap the pans on the counter a few times. This also lets the batter settle more evenly in the pan for a uniform rise.

Bake for 30 to 35 mins until toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center of the cake.

Let cool completely before frosting or decorating.

The frosting I used was a simple Mocha Buttercream, and what made it extra special I think was using my leftover French-pressed coffee from the morning’s brew. Now, I am sure any kind of coffee would work, but I think brewed versus instant will work better flavor-wise.

Recipe for Mocha Frosting (adapted from from The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Book of Desserts recipe)

1 16 ounce package of confectioner's sugar
6 TBSP butter, softened
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa (I used Valhorna here as well)
1/3 cup cold, fresh brewed coffee
1 tsp vanilla


In your mixer bowl, on medium speed, mix together the powdered sugar, cocoa powder and butter until well incorporated. Add the vanilla and coffee until the mixture is smooth and creamy.

I like to beat the frosting for a few extra minutes to make it fluffier. My brothers claim that it tastes like the filling from the Dunkin Donuts® Chocolate Cream Filled Donut.

As for the ganache filling, I used a regular recipe that called for a 1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1 cup of just boiling heavy cream poured on it, followed with a teaspoon of vanilla. All whisked until smooth and then set aside to cool.

Maybe because this cake was for a festive occasion, I tried my hand at decorating…and ended up with this.

It’s not Ben Israel, but my cake-eaters loved it.
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