The days and week are beginning to blend together, which can only mean that December has officially arrived, right? I’m sure you’re feeling the same way I am right now; outfitted with a to-do list that’s ten things too long, working at a pace that just isn’t doable for most days, and juggling a calendar that’s chock-a-block full of a mix of both fun and obligation.
I’m finishing up the last of my big work assignments before the holidays, but I’m also helping out at the catering company more than usual for the next three weeks, so really I’m just trading one type of work for another. I have thank you cards and gifts to deliver, books to ship out to B.C, and a brand new baby niece to visit, because my sister just had her third little girl (yes, we’ve been pregnant at the same time, which has been fun).
But somehow in the midst of it all, I woke up on Sunday morning determined to decorate a homemade cake with Christmas trees. We had a lot of little kids join us for Family Supper Sunday this week, and I knew a festive-looking cake was in order, and what could be more seasonal than to find one on the table covered in edible Christmas trees? I had some coloured candy melts hanging out on the counter, leftover from last week’s work project, so I melted them down, and piped misshapen trees onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Jackson informed that they looked okay, but he thought they could use some decorations, so we rustled up a package of silver dragees and scattered them over the chocolate before it hardened.
The cake I whipped up was a one-bowl chocolate kind and the filling and frosting came from the fabulous new baking book What to Bake & How to Bake It by Jane Hornby. Packed with reliable recipes and more than 500 step-by-step photos, I can’t stop looking at this book; it’s wonderful.
On the weekend, Rob told me that I am often my own worst enemy, and at a time when I have no free time to speak of, this is what I make in the morning for our dinner’s dessert. But sometimes a new project actually helps me relax, so I don’t regret it in the slightest. I just wish the cake had been bigger so there were some leftovers to enjoy throughout the week.
Chocolate Hazelnut Cake with Chocolate Christmas Trees
For the cake:
- 2 cups packed brown sugar
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup boiling water
For the filling and frosting:
- 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 7oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
- 7 oz. Nutella
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the trees and decorations:
- 1 cup dark green candy melts
- 1 cup light green candy melts
- 1 cup white chocolate candy melts
- Silver dragees
- Icing sugar, for dusting
1. To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans and set aside.
2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed with a handheld or electric mixer for 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water and pour batter (which will be thin) into prepared pans.
3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes, then transfer to a cool rack. Cool completely before icing.
4. To make the filling: Heat 1 1/4 cups of the cream in a pot until it begins to bubble around the edges. Take off the heat and add the chocolate, Nutella, and vanilla to the saucepan. Let it melt until smooth, then set aside until it has cooled. Stir well.
5. Pour the rest of the cream into a bowl and add about 1/2 cup of the chocolate ganache , whisking until very thick but not stiff (the consistency of whipped cream).
6. Place one cake layer on a plate or cake board and cover it with a generous heaping of the hazelnut cream mixture, spreading it out to within one-inch of the sides of the cake. Don't use too much filling - if you look carefully you can see mine is kind of oozing out the side of the cake. Top with the second layer, pressing down gently, then spread the remaining ganache over the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate for a minimum of one hour.
7. To make the trees: melt the chocolates (use a different bowl for each colour) in the microwave, in 20-second intervals, or in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth and glossy. Allow to cool until it's barely warm, then transfer it to zip top baggie.
8. Cut the corner into a small hole and pipe freeform trees onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. These do not need to be perfect - and clearly mine weren't - nor do they need to be the same size. In fact, make some taller than others in order to create some visual interest. Regardless of the size, ensure there is a long tree trunk at the bottom of each tree, as this is what you'll insert into the cake. Decorate the trees with the silver dragees and allow the chocolate to harden completely.
9. Remove the cake from the fridge and dust the top with powdered sugar. Insert the trees into the surface of the cake, and serve.