Orange-Chocolate Velvet Cake

This past weekend was my boyfriend's 30th birthday (what an old man! hehe) and I baked him a special Orange-Chocolate Velvet Cake to celebrate. 

His absolute favorite flavor combination is orange and chocolate. To illustrate...for Valentine's day, I found a recipe for orange-flavored Milano cookies (his fave) and baked them for him in the shape of hearts. I also made a huge breakfast, which included heart-shaped (of course!), orange-chocolate chip muffins, which are absolutely delectable, if I do say so myself ;)

Even more so, Billy's obsessed with just chocolate, in general, especially dark chocolate (a man after my own heart!). So, how could I not keep with the trend and make an orange-chocolate cake :) 

Anyway, for a while now, I've been trying to come up with, what I consider, the perfect texture of cake. I prefer butter-based cakes over oil (which is generally what's used with a box mix) because I find oil-based cakes too light; I feel like I'm not really eating anything because there's just no physical satisfaction from a mouthful of airy, substance-lacking cake. With a butter-based cake, however, you get a nice thick, dense bite of cake. The problem, though, is they tend to feel more dry, so I always end up soaking my layers with some kind of liquid to add moisture. Now, sometimes I like to add liquid anyway, for flavor, but I prefer not to need extra liquid to make up for a drier cake. 

So...I decided to take a chance on Billy's birthday cake and experiment. Thank goodness...it was a success! All I had to do was take a butter-based recipe and cut the butter, replacing half of it with vegetable oil. The result was a dense but super moist cake. Now, that seems like an obvious, easy fix, but baking takes chemistry; remove a certain ingredient and the entire thing may fail. For instance, replacing half the butter with oil caused the cake to rise less. It turned out to be the perfect size for this particular party, but if I'd needed twice as much cake, it would have been a major problem. I'm glad to finally have my perfect base cake recipe, though :) 

Orange-Chocolate Velvet Cake

Cake (based on my own personal recipe)

  • 2 cups sugar 
  • 1 stick butter, room temperature 
  • 2 eggs 
  • zest of 1/2 to 1 orange (depending on your flavor preference)
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder 
  • 1 cup cake flour 
  • 1 cup all purpose flour 
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 1 cup milk (you may also substitute milk with orange juice or add a combination of the two, but zest will flavor the batter far more than juice ever will
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda 
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter with 1 cup of the sugar, beating until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Zest your orange directly into the bowl; zest only half the orange for a more subtle flavor and the whole orange for a more powerful flavor. You can experiment with how zest affects flavor and alter it to your liking!

Sift together the flours, cocoa, remaining cup of sugar, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture alternately with milk (in 3 batches), vanilla, and oil. In a small bowl, combine the baking soda and vinegar, immediately adding them to the batter (you'll get a chemical reaction like a science fair volcano). Baking soda reacts with liquid, so you don't want to add it until the very end, right before the batter goes in the oven. Quickly mix the batter once more, ensuring everything is incorporated and immediately pour it into two (9-inch) round, greased and floured pans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pans to cool on a wire rack; always cool completely before frosting.

*Note: When baking something new, for a special occasion, I always pour a little batter into a greased ramekin that I bake with the actual dessert. Then, I can taste the cake before I serve it and know whether or not it's a flop! Just remember to check the sample before your timer goes off because it won't take nearly as long to bake as the large layers.

Chocolate Buttercream (based on a recipe by Julia Child)
Beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt to soft peaks; then, turn the machine to slow while you prepare the syrup.

For the syrup, boil the sugar and water to the thread stage. Beating the egg whites at moderate speed, slowly dribble in the syrup, increasing the speed to moderately fast and continually beating until the meringue is cool and forms stiff, shining peaks. Your mixing bowl is going to be very hot because of the syrup, so be careful touching it. Use its temperature as a basis for knowing when your meringue has likely cooled. Obviously, a warm bowl means a warm filling. If it doesn't cool enough, it will begin to liquidize.

I could, literally, eat this by the spoonful.
In a separate bowl, cream the butter until light and fluffy (using a paddle-attachment); then, add 2 to 3 cups of meringue. Once incorporated, add the vanilla and the melted chocolate. Now, you can play with the amounts of meringue/chocolate, depending on what you want the frosting to taste like! If you want it to taste more like marshmallow, add more meringue. If you want it to taste really chocolatey, add more chocolate. Just realize that your texture is going to change depending on your ingredient; for instance, the more chocolate you add, the stiffer the frosting will be. Now, this frosting is naturally incredibly, incredibly light, airy, and creamy. It's absolutely amazing and so easy to pipe, so I wouldn't worry too much about extra chocolate.

If you don't plan to use the buttercream right away, put it in an airtight container and refrigerate it. You'll need to remove it an hour or so before using it, though, because it will completely set in the fridge; you'll barely be able to scoop it out, let alone spread it. I haven't done this, so I don't know the actual amount of time it needs to soften, but I promise it will soften because I did keep slices of leftover cake in the fridge and let them come to room temperature before eating.

Also, this version of buttercream holds up very well in humidity, so it's a great choice for outdoor parties in the summer! 

This particular cake is only two layers, but you can cut more, if you like. I wasn't satisfied with the amount of orange flavor (I used the lesser amount of zest), so I brushed orange juice onto both layers; this not only adds a little extra flavor, but makes the cake more moist, which it didn't need, but simply made it that much more satisfying!

Spread buttercream on the first layer, top it with the second, and cover the rest of the cake, leaving enough buttercream for piping (if desired). I can't give you specific amounts because I tend to simply "eyeball" everything. My motto is that people should add as much as they like; so, if you're a frosting person, lay it on thick; if not, put a thin layer all around. Just keep in mind how much frosting you actually have on hand, so you don't end up with too little to finish the cake; appearance can be nearly as important as taste! Because I planned to pipe the entire top, I simply put a thin enough layer to mask that part of the cake.

Next, I pressed bits of candied orange peel into the sides of the cake...this was a terrible idea considering how light the frosting is because the peel pushed the frosting aside so easily, I had to be incredibly careful! I even started pressing them in one-by-one, which was, obviously, also a nightmare. It took forever and it was so, so messy handling that super sticky peel; I just don't recommend it, at least with this frosting.

Lastly, I filled a pastry bag (with tip) and began carefully piping the entire top of the cake. Unfortunately, I'm not very educated in the art of decoration, so I have no idea what that tip is called, but just use whatever you think looks good :) After the top, I put a finishing line of piping all around the bottom of the cake.

If you don't plan to serve this cake until the next day, there's no need to refrigerate. A lot of people believe that frosting needs to be refrigerated because of the dairy, but that's simply not true. The fact is, you can leave butter out all night long if you want and nothing will happen. Just make sure it's covered well.

And remember, if you do refrigerate it (because you're nervous about leaving it out, plan to store it for several days, or have leftovers), pull the cake out a couple hours ahead of time to ensure the frosting is the consistency it should be.

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