It’s the frosting, stupid!

Baking a cake from scratch can be pretty easy for the most part. But it’s the frosting that will get you every time.

Some frosting recipes need to be prepared just so, otherwise they can fall flat on their faces, or flat on the cake as it were. Witness the Chocolate Frosting that I made for the recent birthday parties.

By this past weekend, I was completely sick of cake. But the issue of the Fluffy Chocolate Frosting That Wasn’t kept nagging my brain and wouldn’t leave. I thought I had pinpointed what was going wrong with the recipe and wanted to test my hypothesis.

And you can’t make frosting without having something to put it on, right? So I made one last mini-cake on Friday since it was my daughter’s official birthday that day.

In a search for more cake recipes for 6-inch diameter cake pans online, one person suggested that you can just halve a regular cake recipe, and that’s enough for a 6 inch 2 layer cake. Could it be that easy? No complex math involved?

I set out to see if this was the case – whether 1 full cake recipe could be made into two mini-cakes. First, I measured how much batter there is in a full-size cake recipe; it turned out there was about 1 1/2 quarts in the recipe I prepared.

Then I took roughly half of the batter and divided it between two cake pans, which illustrated that you only need to fill the cake pans about 1/4 full for a 2 inch cake pan (this translates to about a 1/2 inch deep of cake batter).

I baked the first cake, let it cool for about 10 minutes, then baked the second cake. (I guess it’s okay for the batter to sit around for a little while. It baked up fine.)

The cake layers turned out a little unevenly sized,

but I countered that by slicing the top off the bigger layer and using that layer for the cake bottom; slicing off the domed part left a nice flat surface on which to put the second layer.

Now, on to the frosting challenge. First, I sifted the powdered sugar.

This removes any lumps that have formed in the stored sugar and provides an even texture. The cookbook talked about the importance of this step and I can cofirm this; in the past when I’ve been too impatient with frosting recipes, I’ve just thrown in the sugar and the final frosting has turned out lumpy.

Then, the recipe called for “waking up” the cocoa powder by pouring boiling water over it. Supposedly, this releases a richer flavor from the cocoa. You stir the cocoa together with the water so that it forms a soft mass. Then you blend room-temperature butter into the moistened cocoa.

The potential problems with this method are two-fold. First, it’s very easy to put too much water in, which can result in general runniness.

And the boiling water leaves the cocoa pretty hot for a while afterward. So if you put the butter in right away, it’s just going to melt. And no amount of mixing afterward can make melted butter turn fluffy.

I think that I ran into both of these problems the first couple of times I made this frosting recipe and that’s what turned it into a glaze rather than a fluffy consistency.

When I made it again on Friday, I was very careful about how much water I poured over the chocolate (WAKE UP COCOA!!!), and then I let it rest for a few minutes (shhh, little cocoa, go back to sleep) before I continued with the recipe.

These small changes were enough to turn the frosting corner. The finished frosting looked completely different than the other times – a thicker texture and lighter color.

FINALLY I had conquered this frosting. It only took me four attempts making the recipe to get it right.– Sigh-

Check out the photos of the finished cakes to see the difference a few tweaks can make. The frosting doesn’t even look like the same recipe, but it is:

First attempt:

Last attempt:

Fluffy Chocolate Frosting
Adapted from the Chocolate Cake Mix Doctor

This recipe makes 1 1/2 cups, enough to frost a 2-layer 6 inch diameter mini-cake.

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 T. boiling water
4 T. (1/2 stick) butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Pour the boiling water over the cocoa powder and stir it together to combine. Let the mixture sit for a couple of minutes to cool down, then add the butter and mix on low speed until it is combined (this takes less than a minute).

Then, add the powdered sugar and vanilla and mix on low speed for another minute so that the powdered sugar is incorporated into the mixture. Turn the speed up to medium and beat the frosting for a couple more minutes until the mixture lightens in color and turns fluffy. The longer you beat it, the lighter it will get.


Well, we had our cake and ate it too,
and that was enough for us to do.

The second cake went into the freezer,

so that I could be a future people pleaser,

And I was keeping it cool, keeping it cool…

Now that I know the tricks
to get my mini-cake fix

I’ll get my kicks
taking licks

At other cake recipes, other cake recipes.

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