As promised, here are the details of making "the most difficult cake I have ever attempted in my life" otherwise known as Black Tie Chocolate Mousse Cake. Olive Garden devotees will recognize the name from the restaurant's dessert menu. I've heard my sister-in-law Lauren rave about this cake for the past 2 years. So, I found a copy-cat recipe online. After scanning the recipe, I realized this cake was ambitious, but my goal was to win the church Chocolate Festival. I knew Lauren had made one before, and she had told me it was very difficult. But secretly, I figured I would have an easier time of it since I am a little more experienced (read: older) and probably she was so infatuated with her future husband (Cody's brother) at the time that it may have affected her cake-making ability. Sadly, I was wrong.
I began by calling Lauren to get inside information. Here are all the notes I made in the margin of the recipe. All her tips proved to be invaluable, especially a warning about keeping the heat very low on the custard layer.
I began the cake at 5 PM Saturday evening. The first step was to bake a box Devil's Food cake mix in 2 round pans. This, of course, was incredibly simple and gave a false sense of security about the remainder of the steps. I managed step 1 without even breaking a sweat. Step 2 was more tricky. The directions said "make a wax paper collar around one of the cake layers that is at least 4" higher than the cake." Thanks to Lauren, I knew that one layer of wax paper wasn't going to cut it. I folded 2 layers of wax paper in half and stuck one inside the other to make a total of 4 layers! I was feeling proud, until I realized the layers I had cut were about an inch short of fitting around the cake. Darn! Trash those, and start again.
I finally had my super-thick collar around the cake. Lauren had recommended adding a strand of dental floss to strengthen the contraption. I added 2 strands, in keeping with my rationale "If one is good, then 2 must be better." I continue to stick with that line of thought even though it has gotten me in trouble before.
The next step, the chocolate mousse layer, required the whipping of heavy cream. There is, by the way, an entire quart of heavy whipping cream within the many layers of this cake. Feeling ambitious, I decided to whip the cream by hand with a whisk. After about 6 minutes and severe carpel tunnel syndrome, I gave up and poured it all into the mixer.
Next, the chocolate mousse layer must firm in the refrigerator. When the recipe quotes the time required to create this cake, I don't think it figures in the 15 minutes devoted to rearranging the fridge so the cake can fit.
At this point I realized the dreaded custard phase was approaching. I was already an hour or more into the process of making the cake. I decided I needed a little boost to help me get through the rest of this ordeal.
I began the custard layer next. I had never made custard before, and will probably never make it again. The temperature must be kept just right or the entire thing turns into scrambled eggs. I like scrambled eggs. Just not in my chocolate mousse cake. I kept the temperature so low that it took about 10 years for the mixture to get hot enough. I spent what seemed like hours staring at the image below trying to concoct the perfect custard. It did turn out well, and I only had to scrape out a few blobs of scrambled egg-like substance.
However, the entire cake must be placed in the freezer after pouring on the custard layer. Great. And I thought the fridge was full.
The last layer, the chocolate ganache icing, required more whipping cream (with a bit of butter) heated then poured over 18 oz. of chocolate chips. That was easy. Except for the small piece of butter wrapper I found in the icing, I'd say this step was nearly flawless on my part. (I did fish out the wrapper, lest it hurt my chances in the judging.)
While making the icing, I panicked as I realized I did not have enough chocolate chips left over to press into the sides of the cake as the recipe directed. So I grabbed the handful I had and chopped them into smithereens, hoping that the smaller particles would go farther.
I took the cake out of the freezer. To my relief, the custard (which had been very runny) did set up in the freezer. Phew. The icing smoothed on easily. Although, the top of the cake seemed to bulge out a little bit. I wasn't too worried about it until I asked Cody to come in and see what I had done so far. His very first words? "Is the top supposed to stick out like that?" I glared at him and said, "No. It is not. But thank you for noticing. I guess it is so prominent and horribly ugly that you can't think of anything else to mention." The good news? The chopped up chips did cover the sides of the cake.
I added some decoration to the top of the cake, and it was finished. A masterpiece of chocolaty goodness. It probably contained about 100 fat grams per slice. Just the way I like it.
And, as a bonus, I had some icing left over as well as an unused layer of Devil's Food cake. I put those two together quick and ate a huge piece as a reward for finishing.
Not only was that big slice of cake a reward, it also served to take my mind off of my horribly messy kitchen. After making all of those layers, my kitchen looked as if a bomb had exploded.
And last of all, I checked the time on the oven clock to find that the entire process (before clean-up) had taken just short of 5 hours. Remember, I started at 5 PM.
The result was a beautiful and extraordinarily yummy cake that won second place at the church chocolate festival. Sadly, I was beat out by a chocolate chip pound cake. Am I bitter? Well, frankly, yes...a little. There's an upside though. I got to stretch my baking horizons. Jordan Swim, the church's undisputed wonder-chef, sat down at my table and highly praised my cake while asking me about how I had made it. And, I have this fun cake story to tell future generations. In the future, if I ever crave a Black Tie Chocolate Mousse cake, I plan on going to Olive Garden. I won't be making this again for a long time, possibly never.