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Saturday, July 14, 2012

checkerboard vanilla cake with ganache frosting.

This cake is one of the cakes I'm most proud of in my cake-making history. I accomplished two techniques I've always wanted to use- the checkerboard pattern and basket-weave piping technique. It's almost tiring to say but these two methods are really effortless while being seriously impressive. Even if the checks aren't aligned or you didn't pipe in a straight line, the whole ensemble is dazzling enough to cover up the little flaws. Best of all, you don't need a checkerboard cake pan to make this cake!

Even though this is only my first time employing the use of the checkerboard design, I have some very useful tips that you might want to take notice of.

Firstly, ensuring that the horizontal layers of cake stick together is not enough. It is crucial that the inner layers within each horizontal layer adhere to one another too. Otherwise, the checks would just start to fall apart. This requires a little patience in applying the jam in the awkward hard-to-reach places but taking a bit more time to ensure that the layers are stable is better than watching your cake crumble into cubes right?

Secondly, preferably choose a recipe that does not having baking soda in it. Baking soda reacts with liquid so once you mix up a cake batter with baking soda in it, it is important that you get it in the oven asap or risk losing some height in the cake. I can personally attest to this. I only have one 6 inch pan and I had no choice but to bake each layer one after the other. For me, one layer took about 20 minutes plus 5 minutes cooling time. So 25 minutes would have lapsed before my second layer began baking. For the third layer, 50 minutes would have passed. I noticed a gradual decrease in height and increase in density of the cake.

In my haste to bake the third layer off, I accidentally underbaked my pink layer. Half of it was still a little raw and mushy after cooling and needless to say, I freaked. After the last layer was done, I rushed the pink one to the oven for an extra 7 minutes of baking but the damage was done. At least it wasn't as mushy as before. But I find the squidgy texture strangely delicious...

Thirdly, choose a recipe that you love love love to death.You're going to be eating a lot more cake than frosting, especially since you would want the cake have at least 3 layers for maximum visual effect. You wouldn't want to tire of the cake halfway through.

That having said, I baked a new recipe I've not tried before, from Whisk Kid. The use of milk powder in the batter intrigued me and I wanted to give it a go. It's not quite a vanilla cake, but it's not a yellow cake either. It's somewhere in between. Not very vanilla-y, not quite eggy. I think it tastes mild and subtle because of the milk powder. Nevertheless, it's an enjoyable cake.

Lastly, a not-too-fluffy is key for easier trimming of the cake. Perhaps it is not extremely crucial but it would be much easier if a denser cake was used so that crumbs can be minimized. Especially when there is a lot of cutting of circles involved in this cake. A way to beat the crumbs is maybe, to partially freeze the cake before stamping out the circles.

The basket-weave is really easy to do and I would definitely use the piping technique to decorate my cakes in future. The border at the bottom is the one I'm not quite pleased with though. I tried to use the ganache while it was still firm and my piping ended up forced and sloppy. But then again, I'm not that great at piping shell borders yet. Practice practice practice!

Checkerboard Cake with Ganache Frosting 
For instructions on making the checkerboard pattern, click here. You can use jam to "glue" the layers together.

For the cake:

This quantity here would yield 4 layers of cake. I used 3/4 of the recipe for my 3 layers. I feel that the sugar can be reduced by 3/4, to 3/4 cup, if you do not have such a sweet tooth. I also lowered the baking temperature to 300F so that the cakes bake up flat and even.

2 cups + 1 tbsp cake flour
1/4 cup powdered milk
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg + 2 egg yolks
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature

colouring, as needed

Preheat oven to 300F. Prepare as many 6 inch pans as you need depending on the number of different colored layers you plan to bake.

Whisk together the flour, milk powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Cream the butter and sugar for about 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat in the vanilla. Scrape down the sides again and beat in the eggs until combined. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, mixing just to combine, then add half of the buttermilk. Continue adding the dry and wet ingredients in this fashion, ending with the dry.

Divide the batter depending on how many colours you intend to make and mix in the food colouring. Pour the batter into the pans and bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out mostly clean and the sides start to pull away from the edges of the pan. For 1/4 of the recipe's worth of batter, it took me about 22 minutes.

Let the cakes cool before assembling. You can refrigerate them and let them firm up for easier handling.

For the chocolate ganache:

This makes 2 3/4 cup~ 3 cups worth of ganache. I used only 2 cups and a bit more for frosting my cake.

340g bittersweet or milk chocolate, depending on your preference
1 2/3 cup heavy cream

Finely chop the chocolate and place in a large bowl.

Heat the cream to a simmer and pour it over the chopped chocolate. Let it stand for 1 minute before stirring to melt the chocolate completely. Incorporate as little air as possible.

Let the ganache cool to frosting consistency before using. To speed up this process, cool it in the fridge, stirring every 20 to 30 minutes. It won't take very long so keep an eye on it or you will have to wait for the ganache to soften to use it.


  1. That's a gorgeous looking checkboard cake!

  2. Hi there. I recommend the use of the checkerboard pan, the cake looks great, and it's very easy. Cheers....