Saturday, January 16, 2010

Brown-Eyed Susan Cake

Another one of the "Cake People" had their birthday this week: sweet Cassy. (Well, her actual birthday is this weekend, but we start early with Cassy's birthday.) I've only known her for a little over a year, but in that time she's pretty much become one of my favorite people in the world; I know if I ever need anything, Cassy-Cat will be there. So, yeah, she gets a cake for her birthday.

Plus, I've turned her from cool kid into a complete nerd (being partially responsible for her current Battlestar Galactica obsession), so I figured I ought to do something to make it up to her.

Her instructions were a little vague ("Not too huge on chocolate", "Maybe something fruity?"), until she mentioned that her favorite flavor combo in the world was chocolate and orange. That sounded more like something I could work with than her rhubarb idea (??), so I latched onto it.

Digging around, I found mention of a "brown-eyed susan cake." Apparently, it was all the rage in the 50s to make and decorate cakes based on flowers: crysanthemums, dahlias, and the like. The brown-eyed susan cake combined chocolate and orange flavors in both the layers and the frosting, so I decided on that.

Basically, you take a yellow cake batter and divide it in half: half gets flavored with chocolate and then half gets orange zest. You drop it into the cake pans by the spoonful to get kind of a checkerboard effect. Unless you're me, and then your cake layers look more like the symbol for radiation:

...which is kinda cool, actually.

Anyway, you then take a regular vanilla buttercream frosting, and divide it. To about 3/4 of it, you add dark chocolate, and to the rest a little orange juice (or in my case, a lot of orange juice and a little Grand Marnier). The chocolate frosting goes between the layers and on the sides, and the orange frosting goes on top.

I added a tiny bit of yellow food coloring to the orange-flavored frosting, then picked up some fresh brown-eyed susans on the way into work, and voila ... fancy birthday cake for an awesome person.

The things I would do differently? I used my favorite vanilla buttercream frosting that didn't require egg whites, but it's normally for cupcakes. I doubled the recipe, and still barely had enough to frost the cake. I felt this cake really needed piping around the edges to blend in the two frostings but I didn't feel like making another batch to have enough to do that.

Also, I wasn't too precise with the orange frosting. I added a tablespoon of juice to the frosting like the recipe said, but I couldn't taste the orange, so I added juice and Grand Marnier until the frosting was just about to break. Therefore, it looked a little moister and grainier than I'd like...but it tasted good!

It was actually a really great cake, especially for someone who prefers the taste of orange over chocolate. The chocolate held its own, but was very mellow and blended well with the orange. I added extra orange zest and juice to pump up the orange flavor, but overall, it's a great, easy cake.

You'll need your own recipes for yellow cake (or you can use a box; I won't judge) and frosting, but here's the instructions:

Brown-Eyed Susan Cake

1 recipe yellow cake batter
5-8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 teaspoons orange zest (I added a lot more; do this to taste)
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
1 recipe vanilla buttercream frosting

Make the cake batter according to the recipe instructions, and divide it evenly between two bowls. To one bowl, add 2 ounces melted chocolate; add the orange zest to the other bowl. Drop the batter into your prepared pans by large spoonfuls in a loose checkerboard pattern; bake according to the recipe instructions.

After the cakes cool, make the buttercream frosting, and again, divide it into two bowls - this time putting about 3/4 of it in one bowl and 1/4 in the other. To the first bowl add the remain 3-6 ounces chocolate (use the larger amount if you doubled the frosting recipe). Add the juice and Grand Marnier to the second bowl and whip both to mix. (You can add extra juice and liqueur to the orange frosting, but be careful!)

To assemble, place one cake layer on the serving platter, and spread with chocolate frosting. Top with remaining cake layer, and spread the sides with chocolate frosting. If possible, reserve some of the chocolate frosting for piping. Spread the orange frosting on top. Pipe swirls of chocolate frosting to cover the cake's edge, if desired.

Top with fresh brown-eyed susan flowers, or make "brown-eyed susans" out of small pieces of candied orange zest and chocolate chips.

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