This chocolate cake with hazelnut ganache & vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream is the cake I am making for a friends wedding this month. I am going to make it big enough to serve 80 people and build two tiers. The bride wanted lemon and raspberry flavour but the groom wanted Nutella involved, so I told them they couldn’t have both. They agreed to settle on the latter and so I conceptualized the cake I would make. Having done a delicious Nutella ganache in my second cookbook sweet, I knew I would modify that for the filling. I also wanted to try the Magnolia Bakery Devils Food cake for the sponge component because it’s a spectacular recipe and I’m a long time fan of this cute and iconic bakery in NYC. And because it’s a wedding and the cake was going to be very rich, I decided on a modified Swiss meringue buttercream to cover the outside. It has a silky smooth texture that is a dream to work with, perfect for a wedding cake and is not cloyingly sweet like a buttercream frosting.
This was the trial cake I made and comprises 3 layers of sponge and is the full recipe from the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook. It will also be the top tier of the actual wedding cake. I’m going triple the recipe in total to get me to the final wedding cake. After much Googling and research I have established that this is the size cake that will feed 80 people.
I have no problem with the baking, assembly and icing part of the cake. Even though I have never made such a big cake before, I follow enough cake makers on Instagram to know how it’s all done. Watching cake-icing videos is therapeutic for me and I have all the equipment. What I am very stressed about is transporting such a huge cake in my mini over two hours out of Cape Town in summer. Visions of them toppling over as I ascend up Sir Lowry’s pass have crossed my mind, so I have decided to assemble the cake on-site at the wedding venue. I keep telling myself that I have worked on over 90 TV shoots on location so putting together a cake will actually be child’s play for me. Wish me luck!
I will update the post with all the details and quantities for the bigger cake in case you want to make a wedding cake for someone in the future. Or any celebration for that matter. This cake may seem daunting but when you break it down into the separate components and make it over two days, it’s really very manageable.
I took this cake to the bridal couple for a tasting and they seemed very happy with the outcome. They particularly liked the chopped up roasted hazelnuts I added to the ganache which gives this cake an amazing texture and amplifies the hazelnut flavour.
A few notes on the Swiss meringue buttercream. I find the quantity of butter that goes into a Swiss meringue a little too intense so I lowered the ratio slightly and it is better to use unsalted butter here which MUST be at room temperature or even slightly softer. So room temperature of a warm day. I also found I needed to add a lot of vanilla for the flavour to come through so I added at least a tablespoon of vanilla extract but might even go a little more for the final wedding cake. I used a paste with vanilla beans, as I like the look of the tiny black flecks in the final frosting. You could go all out and use vanilla seeds from a pod, but you will need quite a few.
I always use salted butter in my cakes so I don’t add in additional salt. I still can’t understand cake recipes that always call for expensive unsalted butter then add salt back in. I have baked extensively with both salted and unsalted butter and can’t notice any textural difference and the flavour difference is unnoticeable in most cakes especially chocolate. Salt amplifies sugar so I actually think its an important component in cakes and desserts. I generally do not add additional salt if I’m using salted butter.
Cooks notes 1 – I’ve converted this cake into metric measurements as it’s the only accurate way to bake. Scooping flour into a cup is so risky and the quantities can vary so much so I prefer not to do it. It is the part about most American baking recipes that drives me nuts.
Recipe – makes one large 3-tier cake that will serve 20 – 25 people – adapted from Magnolia Bakery
- 360gm flour (3 cups)
- 1½ tsp baking powder
- 1½ tsp baking soda
- 170gm salted butter (11/2 sticks or ¾ cup) *if you are using unsalted butter then add in ¾ tsp salt
- 380gm sugar (2 cups) – I used half white and half firmly packed dark brown sugar (the original recipe calls for 2 cups light brown sugar)
- 3 large free-range eggs
- 250gm dark chocolate 70% (9 oz)
- 2 cups milk
- 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
Nutella hazelnut ganache
- 250ml cream
- 180gm chocolate – 70%
- ½ cup + ¼ cup Nutella
- 80gm-toasted hazelnuts, chopped
Swiss meringue buttercream
- 3 large free-range egg whites
- 1 cup sugar
- 200gm room temperature butter
- 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
To make the cake
Grease or line 3 x 23cm (9inch) springform cake pans (I always line with baking paper then spray the baking paper with non-stick baking spray).
Melt the chocolate by placing it over a double boiler and then allow to cool to lukewarm, about 5 – 10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Sift the flour and baking powder and baking soda together.
Separate the eggs and add the whites to the bowl of a stand mixer whisk until firm peaks. Remove and set aside in another bowl.
In the same stand mixer bowl, beat the butter for a minute and then add the sugar and beat for about 3 minutes until fluffy.
Add each egg yolk one at a time and ensure the mix is well beaten before adding the next. Continue to beat for another 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and the cooled chocolate and beat until well combined.
With the mixer on slow, add the flour and milk in 3 parts mixing well before adding the next batch. Scrape down the bowl with the spatula and ensure its well combined but do not over mix.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and add the beaten egg whites, gently fold these through until well incorporated.
Divide the mix evenly amongst the 3-lined cake pans and bake for 30 – 35 minutes until the cakes are done. To test whether they are done they will be springy to the touch, have come away from the sides slightly and when a sharp knife is inserted into the middle of the cake it will come out clean.
Allow the cakes to cool in the cake tins for an hour. The remove and allow to cool on a wire rack.
To make the ganache, roast the hazelnuts in the oven at 180C / 350F for about 15 minutes watching closely to ensure they don’t over brown. This can be done in advance. Finely chop the nuts and set aside.
Heat the cream in a microwave proof bowl (not metal) and then add the chocolate. Keep stirring until it is melted. If it doesn’t melt, pop it back into the microwave for a few seconds to heat up. Once it’s melted, add ½ cup of Nutella and stir through until it is smooth. Allow this to cool in the fridge.
When you are ready to assemble the cake, remove the ganache from the fridge (I normally only leave it thin the fridge for about an hour) then whip it up using an electric beater (handheld is easiest) and then add the remaining ¼ cup Nutella. Add the chopped hazelnuts and mix through.
Swiss meringue buttercream
Balance the bowl of your stand mixer over a pot of boiling water ensuring the bottom doesn’t touch the water. Add the egg whites and sugar and stir and heat until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture reaches a temperature of 71C / 160F. You can also check if the sugar has dissolved by rubbing the mixture between your two fingers and there are no granules.
Transfer the bowl back to the stand mixer and using the whisk attachment beat for about 7 minutes until white and fluffy. Switch out the whisk attachment for the paddle attachment (you want to try and take some of the air out now) and slowly add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time ensuring the butter is well mixed before add in the next piece. Once it is thick and fluffy, add the vanilla extract and turn it down to a low speed and mix for a minute or two to get even more of the air out.
To assemble the cake, place the first layer of cake on your serving dish. Divide the ganache in two and put spread half evenly over the first layer. Put the second cake layer and then the remaining half of the ganache. Top this with the third cake layer.
Using a small amount of the Swiss meringue, cover the cake very lightly. This is the crumb coat and the cake should still be visible through the icing. Then put the cake in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to firm up. Then cover the cake with the remaining frosting and evenly spread it around the sides and the top using a spatula or cake scraper. I also find using a cake wheel very useful here. Decorate as you desire.
I decorated this cake with a few wildflower leaves, Penny Gums and babies breathe because I love the look for a wedding. A few thin olive leaves on the branch would also be lovely. For the wedding I’m going to use a few pieces of foliage form the bride’s table arrangement and bouquet so that everything matches.
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