This decadent cake was made for my cousin who loves, well, anything really. I wanted to surprise him on his birthday last year, so I sought advice from his sisters, and my mother. One of them said Red Velvet, another Chocolate, and another had no idea. Remembering that he "loves everything" I decided to use both as inspiration, because Red Velvet (R.V.) is just a balanced chocolate/vanilla cake. And don't forget the red food coloring!
I chose to do a Yellow Sponge because it classically represents childhood American birthdays. I knew as far as flavors, highlighting the cream cheese frosting traditionally used with R.V. was important. The tangy/tartness of cream cheese combined with a little bit of almond extract (just gave away a secret) is SO good to me. Oh, wow! I love it. Moving on...
Vanilla. Its the salt of the pastry world. You use a little to pull out subtle flavors. It's always there, and we sometimes take it for granted. Like salt, there are so many kinds, and I love using them diversely within my baking. * Note: I have a very interesting way of explaining things, but stay with me. I promise somehow it will all make sense* Back to Vanilla, and this cake. So, the most common kind that we use is Madagascar. Its the sweet flavor that we know and is in everything. I used it in the sponge but in powder form. I really like Oaktown Spice Shop's Madagascar Vanilla Powder, because it has a very rich, dense flavor, unlike liquid. Just enough to give a hint of the flavor, but not stand out. I also chose not to use any as a secondary flavor or "seasoning" in any of the other layers because it has its own.
The Cream Cheese Buttercream is the first non sponge layer. I like it to be first not only because of its density, but the tanginess/almond undertone, next to the bitterness of the Cocoa Nibs in the garnish is crazy good; Placement. Following that is another sponge, and then the heart of the cake. I start with a trim of Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream (V.B.C). I use Madagascar Vanilla, but in liquid form, as I want the flavor to be a bright and familiar.
My favorite brand of baking chocolate is Guittard 74% Bittersweet. I use it in my Chocolate Pastry Cream (aka chocolate pudding), which fills the center. I only used about half in the center and save the rest for my German Buttercream. To that half, I added Ceylon Cinnamon for a bit of sweet heat. Think if Mexican Chocolate. So now, I have chocolate in the bittersweet form, and the truly bitter form with the cocoa nibs. To hit "the buds" with something familiar, I take Feuilletine (think of mini cornflakes),coat them in milk chocolate, and crumble them on top.
The next layer, after another ring of V.B.C, consists of Vanilla-Caramel Pastry Cream. For the cream, I use Mexican Vanilla, which adds a more caramelized flavor. I then fold in salted caramel. I chose to do this vs. making a Salted Caramel Pastry Cream, because I wanted the texture to be very different from the chocolate. Even more importantly, I wanted the salt of the caramel to be bold, and the person eating to notice the difference in the flavor of vanilla. After all of that, I finish with the final cake layer, and do a crumb coat with the V.B.C.
I then take the rest of my chocolate pastry cream, and make my favorite thing ever GERMAN BUTTERCREAM!!! My cakes are always frosted with either Swiss, Italian, or German Buttercream. I don't like desserts that are too sweet, and I find that the American style is just way too much for me. Plus, you're essentially using sugar to create the texture and flavor, where as with the other three forms, you're using other methods (meringue and a pudding). With the V.B.C you have the meringue as the stabilizer, which adds a light texture, while the other using pudding, has a denseness to it. However, it's still light. So now I have a cake coated in this beautifully light and familiar V.B.C covered by opulent G.B.C. The two textures work really well together. I garnish with those cocoa nibs mentioned earlier, white chocolate shavings, more Milk Chocolate Feuilletine, and this cake happened to get some pearls. Whew!