Valentine’s day, eagerly awaited by couples, somewhat dreaded by singles and possibly the most commercial day this side of Christmas. Let’s face it, commercial as it is, what person wouldn’t love to have a delivery of a cute card, flowers, chocolates or better yet, the whole trifecta.
Today Valentine’s day is all about love and romance, but the origins of Valentine’s day is somewhat more bloody. In 269AD Valentine was a Roman priest who secretly married young couples. Not a big deal in today’s terms, but back then the current Roman Emperor just happened to be persecuting the church and had issued a law that strictly forbade young people to marry.
Legend tells us that Valentine was arrested and sentenced to execution. The stories get a bit hazy here as there appear to be multiple priests named Valentine and there are multiple versions of events to be found. One version is that Valentine allegedly created a miracle by healing his jailors daughter. Clearly if this version was true it still wasn’t enough to earn him a “get out of jail free card” as he was allegedly beheaded soon after on 14th February.
Valentine’s day was associated with romantic love in the middle ages where courtly love flourished and was written about in poems and songs. Geoffrey Chaucer the famous author of Canterbury Tales has referred to Valentine’s Day in some of his works.
By the 18th Century the tradition of giving handmade cards was becoming well established which eventually led to the commercial mass produced cards we see today.
Today chocolate forms a big part of the Valentines gift so what better way to celebrate Valentine’s day than with a dark chocolate cake layered with strawberry Italian buttercream…
- 37.5gm (1.3oz) cocoa powder, (Dutch), sifted
- 90ml (3.04floz) hot water
- 90gm (3.17oz) sour cream
- 175gm (6.17oz) unsalted butter, cubed and softened
- 245gm (8.6oz) caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 eggs
- 225gm (7.9oz) plain flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
Strawberry Italian Buttercream:
- 150gm (5.3oz) caster sugar
- 50ml water
- 75gm (2.64oz) egg white (equivalent of the white from 2 lrg eggs)
- 175gm butter (6.17oz) softened
- 1 tablespoon caster sugar, extra
- 75gm (2.64oz) strawberry jam
- 50gm (1.76oz) caster sugar
- 50ml (1.69floz) water
- Alcohol – optional (I used Grand Marnier) Note: the amount depends on your personal taste. Add a very small amount and then add more if required.
Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Spray 3 x 6″ cake pans with oil then line bottom and sides with baking paper.
Place the cocoa in a bowl and pour over the hot water. Whisk until smooth. Add sour cream and whisk again until smooth.
Place the butter, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix until pale and creamy.
Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well between additions.
Add the cocoa mixture and mix to combine.
Add the flour and baking powder. Mix on a low speed until combined. Take the bowl off the mixer and use a spatula to make sure mixture is fully combined.
Divide the mixture into the three pre-prepared 6″ tins. (I weigh the mixture and divide the weight into 3 to get 3 even layers).
Bake for 30-40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean (depending on your oven you may need to bake the cakes in two batches).
While the cakes are cooling make the Italian buttercream.
Note: You will require a sugar thermometer to make this buttercream.
Warning: You will be handling a hot sugar mixture which can burn severely, so take precautions and be extra careful when handling this mixture. I can confirm from experience that a sugar burn is extremely painful.
For the first part of this recipe you will be making the sugar syrup and the meringue base at the same time.
Place the sugar (150gm/ 5.3oz) and water in a medium size saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Keep on heat until temperature reaches 118°C (244.4°F).
At the same time put the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whisk on a medium speed until egg whites are foamy and soft. Add the tablespoon of caster sugar. Continue whisking at a medium speed until the meringue is firm. If the sugar is close to required temperature turn speed up to high.
Tip: Keep checking the temperature of your sugar mixture at the same time as the egg whites are whisking. The idea is to try to have them both ready at the same time.
Once the egg white is firm and the sugar has reached 118°C (244.4°F), take the sugar off the heat. Carefully pour the sugar down the side of the mixing bowl in a slow stream into the egg whites while mixing on a low speed. Note: You want to avoid hitting the whisk with the hot sugar, pouring the mixture down the side of the bowl will avoid this happening.
Once all the sugar has been added, turn mixer up to medium high speed and continue whisking until the meringue has cooled to 28°C (82.4°F).
Once the meringue has reached 28ºC (82.4°F) add the softened butter a bit at a time, mixing in between additions on a medium speed.
Remove mixture from the mixer and add the strawberry jam. Mix until combined. Place in the fridge to firm slightly.
Make the sugar syrup
Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan and simmer until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Add alcohol if you are using it – add a very small amount at a time until you are happy with the flavour.
Cut the domed tops off the chocolate cake.
Place a scraping of buttercream on a 6″ cake board and press the first cake layer on top.
Spray or brush sugar syrup mixture on cake layer then spread with buttercream.
Place the next layer of cake on top of buttercream.
Repeat sugar syrup and buttercream layer.
Place the last cake layer on top making sure that the bottom of the cake faces out giving you a flat smooth surface.
Place cake in fridge for approx. 30 – 40mins to firm before decorating.
Decorate the cake with strawberries. You can also add toffee shards and sugar or fresh flowers (make sure if using fresh that they are clean, free of bugs and safe to put on cake).
See toffee shards recipe and tutorial here.
Dust with icing sugar to finish and serve.
Cake is best eaten the same day it’s made.