Chocolate and orange is a delicious and classic flavor pairing. Rose Brown of Shiny Ball Cakes and Creations spices up this classic recipe with the addition of a rich and creamy cardamom Swiss meringue buttercream and a fun orange fennel brittle. “This recipe is always such a hit with everyone,” notes Rose. “It’s familiar and yet surprising. I think the delicate fennel flavor and the addition of the brittle really kick it up a notch.”
Orange Fennel Brittle – adapted from Gourmet Magazine
- 2/3 c. white sugar
- 1 tablespoon grated orange zest (from 1 large orange)
- 1-½ tablespoons fennel seeds
Cover a small cookie sheet with aluminum foil, spray lightly with cooking spray and set aside.
In a dry skillet, toast the fennel seeds over medium heat until browned and fragrant – make sure that they don’t burn! Remove seeds from skillet, place into a small dish and combine with orange zest. Set aside.
In the same skillet, heat the sugar without stirring until the edges begin to melt. Using a wooden spoon, stir the sugar until it melts and turns a deep caramel color. The deeper the color, the more of a “burnt sugar” taste you will have.
Rose notes: As you stir, the sugar will crystallize and you will be tempted to think it is ruined, but allow it to continue to melt completely, stirring frequently.
Remove the melted sugar from heat, stir in the fennel seeds and orange zest, and pour onto your prepared cookie sheet. Allow to cool completely. Break off some larger pieces of brittle for decoration. Take the remaining brittle, place in a Ziploc bag and crush the brittle into small pieces using the bottom of the skillet, a mallet or rolling pin. Do not pulverize.
Cardamom Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- 8 egg whites
- 2-1/3 cups white sugar
- 5 sticks unsalted butter (1.25 lb), softened
- 4-5 teaspoons ground cardamom
- 1 tablespoon vanilla paste
Do ahead: in a dry skillet, toast the cardamom powder over medium heat until fragrant. Add one stick of butter to the cardamom and melt, reducing the heat a bit to ensure that the butter does not burn. Stir frequently. Once the butter is melted, reduce heat and allow the butter to cook for about a minute with the cardamom, then remove from heat and pour the cardamom butter into a container and allow to cool and firm back up to room temperature. This can be made ahead and refrigerated; the cardamom butter must be allowed to return to room temperature before using.
Rose notes: Using the full 5 teaspoons of cardamom will give the strongest flavor.
Combine egg whites and sugar in a heatproof bowl over a double boiler containing lightly simmering water (not boiling). Stir constantly until sugar is dissolved completely (you can test by rubbing a bit of the mixture between your clean fingers, and if you don’t feel any grains, it’s good to go). If you are concerned about raw egg whites, you can heat this mixture to 140 degrees.
Once the sugar is dissolved, pour the egg white mixture into the mixing bowl of your stand mixer and, using the whip attachment, beat the mixture at high speed until the meringue is glossy, stiff and cooled. If you need to speed up the cooling process, once the meringue has reached a stiff, glossy consistency, you can put the bowl in the refrigerator. The mixture should be at room temperature, the same as the butter in order for it to combine successfully.
Once the meringue is cooled to room temperature, reduce the mixer speed to low and add the cardamom butter and remaining butter in small pieces. Once all the butter is added, increase the mixer speed to medium-high until the mixture comes together into a smooth, frosting consistency. If it looks curdled for a bit, don’t be afraid, just keep beating! If your meringue was too warm to start with, this will take longer. You can help this a bit by wrapping an icy cold water soaked kitchen towel around the bowl.
Once the butter and meringue have come together without any lumps, reduce the speed and add the vanilla paste and salt. I start with ½ t. salt and then taste. Add more salt if the butter taste is too strong or if it tastes too sweet. Mix at medium speed to fully incorporate. At this point, you can switch to the paddle attachment (optional) and mix for another 5-7 minutes or until the frosting is light and fluffy.
Rose notes: because of the cardamom, the texture will be a bit different than other versions of SMBC, but it tastes great!
Moist Dark Chocolate Cake – adapted from Hershey’s Perfect Chocolate Cake
- 2 cups white sugar
- 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup Dark Cocoa
- 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 T instant espresso
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup milk (I use 2%)
- 3 T sour cream
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons vanilla paste
- 1 cup boiling water
This one-bowl cake is quick and easy (and delicious!).
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 2 9” round pans: grease bottom and line with parchment paper. This also works in a 9×13 pan or 8” rounds (I use 3” pans for 2 8” rounds)
Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature before beginning. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl, and whisk well to combine. In another bowl, combine the eggs, milk, sour cream, oil and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and use either a hand mixer or a whisk and beat for 2 minutes. While you’re mixing the batter, microwave your cup of water to boiling. Carefully add the boiling water to the batter and stir until completely combined. Split the batter evenly between the two pans. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean or the tops of the cake springs back when touched – usually 25 to 30 minutes, depending on your oven.
When baking is completed, cool on racks in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out and immediately wrap in a few layers of cling film and put in the freezer to cool completely. They can be left in the freezer overnight.
Assembling the cake
Take one layer of cake onto your cake plate, add a large dollop of frosting and spread evenly over the cake layer. I like to create at least a ¼” of frosting in the middle, but usually more like ½”. Take the crushed brittle and spread it evenly over the frosting and then cover with your second cake layer. Frost the entire outside of the cake with your remaining buttercream and decorate the top with the larger pieces of brittle. You may even want to consider candying some orange peel and adding it to the decoration!
If you will not be serving your cake right away, keep it in the refrigerator and hold off on putting the brittle decoration on the cake until it is going to be served. Allow the cake to come back to room temperature before serving for the best flavor.
Rose Brown is the owner of Shiny Ball Cakes & Creations in Southeastern Massachusetts. A lifelong artist, she recently discovered that her love of baking and passion for the arts could be combined into a career as a cake artist www.shinyballcakes.com.