Happy Birthday, CrandleCakes! Mocha Chocolate Cake & Cake Balls

Happy Birthday, CrandleCakes!

happy birthdaybirthday candlewhooshToday marks Crandlecakes.com’s one-year anniversary. 52 weeks of moderately consistent blogging, and in internet terms, that’s serious commitment. Here are some delicious items to celebrate the occasion: Mocha Birthday Cake and those pesky Cake Balls that everyone’s still eating.

choco cake above
It’s strange to think that when I started this blag (thanks, Jake), I was trying to cope with a second year of the psychological endurance test that was English grad school. As Crandlecakes spills over into a second year, I’ve left Boston, and I’m settling into life in Waco as a local restaurant afficionado, house warmer, YMCA member (who would have thought?), dinner party thrower, and soon–wife (!).

Wurt. That’s a lot of change.

choco blockochopo chocoIt’s no real surprise that I’ve been thinking a lot about my place in the community, especially as it seems that this new stage of life might not be transitional in the same way that getting into Teach for America, living in Ireland, and moving to Boston were. It’s probably not shocking to my friends that I’ve sent myself into panics about the move here, the culture shock of switching between bookish-nonprofit-museumy Boston and homey, meat-eating, wide-open, football-country Waco. At first, I was afraid that I would forget about all the things I had in Boston, and, on top of that, I was concerned that talking too much about life up in the icy north would alienate me from all the people here, make them think I’m some kind of uppety city person (the horror!).

Then there is the possibility that I might not actually want a “real” job, and that le fiance and I might always be happy in these build-your-own sort of situations, like running a restaurant and never sleeping or getting two days off in a row, but never having to answer to someone higher up (besides the tax man).

mixincontrastWell, now we’re just going to try to take things a bit slower, let ourselves settle in here, and see what happens (by “we” I mean “I,” as I am clearly the spazziest member of this duo). Waco is experiencing some kind of renaissance–everyone says they can feel some kind of cultural momentum building–and, newsflash, you can’t be part of neo-bohemia (lol) if you’re too busy worrying.

spinmocha cake sideThis year, you can expect to see some changes on CrandleCakes, including, but not limited to: feature posts about neat local scenes (I said “scene.”) and neighborhood characters, product reviews, general cooking and hosting schpiels, some talk about the restaurant biz, mayyybe some creative writing, and more recipes and photos, of course.

crumbyrolled upsprinkliesFor now, I’ve finally found the go-to chocolate cake. The boiling water thing is weird (see below), but this is the most moist and delicious chocolate cake I’ve ever made. SO delicious, in fact, that even though my second layer got stuck in the pan and broke, I had to choose to salvage it or keep eating it in fistfuls–I went with cake balls. Thank me later.

overhead line o ballson a blue plate

Last September: Summer Slap Salad

Mocha Birthday Cake and Triple Chocolate Cake Balls
Adapted from The Art of Simple Food, by Alice Waters
Makes Cake and Icing for one 2-layer cake or 1-layer cake and a dozen cake balls

I made very few changes: namely, I cooked the cake at 300 F instead of 350 F and lengthened the cook time in hopes of a flatter, less domed cake. Also, I was out of buttermilk, so I made my own! I mixed 1 cup of whole milk with 1 Tablespoon of white vinegar and let sit for 10 minutes. It curdles, sho nuff.

The cake and icing recipe makes enough for a single-layer mocha cake and a dozen cake balls. If you only want cake, this recipe will give you two layers and enough icing for the whole thing. If you only want cake balls, you will have a ton of cake balls, haha. I caught one of our managers scarfing this over the trashcan like some kind of Dementor on a ripe young muggle soul, so I don’t think consuming them should be a problem.

4 oz. (1 bar, usually) bittersweet baking chocolate
2 cups cake flour (AP works)
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon table salt
6 Tablespoons cocoa powder
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
½ cup buttermilk (I mixed 1 Tablespoon of white vinegar with 1 cup of whole milk and let curdle for ten minutes)
1 ¼ cups boiling water (it seemed weird to me, too)

Oven 300 F

1. Prepare two 8- or 9-inch cake pans: cut parchment paper to fit and place in bottom of pans. Butter and flour sides and bottom (over the parchment), shaking off excess.

2. Roughly chop the chocolate and melt over a double boiler. (Double Boiler Technique: Boil 1 or 2 inches of water in a saucepan with a glass/heatproof bowl over the top–chocolate will heat gradually, as bowl should not touch the surface of the water, but slowly heat through contact with the steam). Watch for steam while handling the bowl. Stir chocolate until just melted and remove from heat. Set aside to cool.

3. Dry ingredients: Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa together. Set aside.

4. Beat butter until smooth. Add sugar and vanilla and beat until combined. Scrape down sides. When mixture is fluffy, add eggs one at a time. Then, beat until mixture becomes light in color. My pastry chef aunt taught me that letting it chemically change at this stage and become something different is crucial to a successful pudding, or cake, as they say on this side of the pond. You’ll notice the change–it should seem to grow slightly, become smoother, and lighten in color. In my stand mixer, it only takes 2-3 minutes.

5. Add melted, cooled chocolate to egg mixture and beat just until combined. Add half the dry ingredients and stir just till combined. Add buttermilk and stir. Add remaining dry ingredients. Do not over mix unless you want a tough cake. Finally! Pour boiling water into the batter and stir just till combined.

6. Pour into prepared cake pans and plunk down on the counter several times (don’t get too caveman here) to release any bubbles. Bake in 300 F oven for 35-50 minutes (varies wildly based on ovens and pans!), testing for doneness by inserting a toothpick in the middle. It should come out clean or with just a few crumbs. Let sit in pan over a wire rack until completely cool. I put mine straight into the freezer uncovered because I had designs of leveling the tops, and cakes are much easier to handle frozen. In the end, you can just leave them on the counter and wait if you’re patient enough.

Mocha Buttercream Icing

4-5 cups powdered sugar (you should probably sift it, but I didn’t, and the world didn’t end)
1 stick softened butter
¼ cup prepared coffee (save your coffee from the morning pot)
4 oz. semisweet baking chocolate, melted in double boiler and cooled

1. Melt chocolate in double boiler (as above), or gently in the microwave, stirring often. Add coffee to chocolate and mix together. Let cool.

2. Whisk butter until smooth and gradually add 3 cups of powdered sugar. I went a little crazy with this stage (look, the cake smelled really good) and ended up with powdered sugar carnage. There was sugar in crannies I didn’t know the kitchen had. It was too much for the dog to even lick up off the floor. TMI?

3. Gradually add in chocolate and remaining sugar, tasting to test for your preference in sweetness and/or testing the texture. I wanted a very thick icing, as meltage is a problem in Tejas.

Assembling the Cake and Cake Balls
Single-Layer Mocha Birthday Cake

1 layer of the cake (½ cake recipe)
About ½ the icing (1 ½ cups)
Sprinkles of your choosing

1. Remove cake from oven and flash freeze on a cooling rack. Gently remove from pan (use a knife to scrape along the sides) and arrange on serving platter. For me this process requires two large dinner plates–I turn it out onto one plate, then flip it back over onto the over plate, so that it ends up domed side up. Sliding pieces of parchment or wax paper under the edges can make it easier to clean up the plate after icing (crumbs go everywhere).

2. Put a huge pile of icing on the top and go to town. I use a huge icing spreader, but you can make do with a butter knife or rubber spatula if you have to.

3. Sprinkle with sprinkles!

Triple Chocolate Cake Balls

1 layer cake (½ the cake recipe)
About ½ the icing (1 ½ cups)

1. Crumble into crumbles with your fingers and/or a fork. Mix in 1 ½ cups icing (or to your taste) until homogeneous. Roll balls to desired size (I used 2 Tablespoons of cake-icing per ball, since I like them to be more than one bitesized). On a sheetpan lined with parchment paper, flash freeze balls for easier handling.

2. Meanwhile, melt 12 oz. bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate in a double boiler (as above).

3. Use two forks to roll each ball in chocolate. Set immediately on wire rack (over parchment paper, for easy cleanup). Sprinkle with desired toppings. Sprinkles of all colors were good, but some were into the coarse sea salt I added to a few. Let sit until chocolate coating hardens completely.

4. Put a candle in it, even it’s not your birthday?

balls really close


  1. Some Squirrel · · Reply

    Looks delicious! But quit posting beautiful desserts that I want to make and eat right now at my workdesk! Anyway, happy birthday to Crandlecakes & looking forward to more posts :o) Great pics too!

    1. Hey, thanks a million! Distracting you at work is kinda my job, though. 🙂 These are worth making, though. They disappeared quickly…

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