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Winter Birch Cake

This cake is the perfect winter wonderland dessert. Decadent chocolate cake paired with moist vanilla cake and slathered with rich mocha buttercream is perfectly delicious; it also creates a very pretty cake interior when sliced and served. However, the outside of this cake is what makes it so whimsical.

Birch trees are my favorite tree. In a forest of solid, dark bark, there stand out the birch tree, pale white, peeling bark whirled and dotted with brown and black. I have a few birch trees at my new house; they stand out like little stars in the inky dark scrub. This cake was inspired by my back yard’s winter wonderland; pine trees, snow, deer and birch trees, dusted with falling snow.

Making the bark for this cake is very fun. Get your inner painter raring to go and paint the parchment paper with dark chocolate with your best birch swirl impersonations. The cover that in white chocolate, let it set, and break the bark into shards and paste on the cake. The imperfect chocolate shards will actually help the cake to look more authentically tree-like. 

I did cheat a little with the top decorations; the trees and the deer are inedible plastic. It’s maybe lazy, definitely kitschy, but I love the effect, especially dusted with powdered sugar. Bring this to your next holiday affair; it will be both a dessert and a decoration!

For the chocolate cake:
1/2 cup softened butter
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup hot, strong coffee
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs and 1 egg yolk
1/4 cup sour cream

Simple syrup:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water

For the vanilla cake:
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup sour cream
2 1/12 cup all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Mocha Buttercream:
7 cups of powdered sugar
2 cups softened butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 teaspoons of instant espresso powder

Birch bark:
Dark chocolate candy melts
white candy coating melts
Plastic deer
Plastic pine trees
Cocoa powder
Powdered sugar

For the buttercream: Dissolve the espresso powder in the heavy cream. In a standing mixer fit with a paddle attachment, add the butter and beat until smooth. Add the cocoa powder and espresso heavy cream and beat until well combines. Add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time and beat until lightened, smooth and spreadable. Add the vanilla and beat until well combined. If the frosting is too thick, add heavy cream once tablespoon at a time until spreadable.

Syrup: Bring the water and sugar together in a medium pot to a simmer; stir until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Chocolate cake:
Grease and flour 2 six inch cake pans and line with parchment paper. Set aside. 

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

In another bowl, whisk together the hot coffee and cocoa powder until smooth.  Set aside. 

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light a fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then add the vanilla. Add the sour cream.

Add the flour mixture and coffee mixture to the egg mixture in alternating additions. Divide the batter evenly between the two six inch pans. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted to the center of the cake, 30 to 35 minutes. Untold onto wire racks. While still warm, drizzle generously with simple syrup. Allow the cakes to cool completely.

Vanilla cake:
Grease and flour 2 six inch cake pans and line with parchment paper. Set aside. 

Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric beater until light and fluffy. Add each egg one at a time, beating well after each addition. 

In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder,  and salt.

In a jug combine the vanilla extract, vegetable oil, sour cream and milk. 

Alternately add the flour mixture and milk to the butter mixture, beating on low speed after each addition until just combined, Spread batter evenly into the two pans. 

Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. While the cakes are still warm, drizzle generously with the simple syrup.

Cover a half sheet tray with parchment paper. Melt 4 ounces of dark chocolate candy coating according to package instructions. Using a paint brush, paint the parchment paper with birch tree markings, like dots, circles and lines. Refrigerate the tray for 5 minutes to let the chocolate harden. 

Melt 12 ounces of white candy coating. Let this cool for 10 minutes or so; you want the candy coating still pourable but not so hot that it will melt the dark chocolate your painted. Using an offset spatula, spread the coating all across the pan. This layer will be thin. Place the tray back in the fridge for another 10 minutes to harden. 

Remove the pan from the fridge and break the sheet into large strips of bark. 

Fill and crumb coat the cakes, alternating chocolate and vanilla layers. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes until firm. Remove from the fridge and frost just the sides and the top. For the top of the cake, use an offset spatula to draw rings on the top. Dust with cocoa powder. 

Place the strips of bark on the side of the cake, using extra buttercream to adhere them as needed. 

Top you cake with your plastic deer and trees if using. Dust with powdered sugar very light for a snowy effect. Enjoy your showstopper!


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