Article and photography by Samantha Milewicz
Like many, I found myself with a newfound abundance of time during quarantine. As well, like many, I used this time to watch TV, but eventually, I found myself bored by the cycle of episode after episode. As a younger kid, I always wanted to help my mom while she was baking, even if it was something as simple as cookies. I took advantage of this time to return to baking, but now, I would be approaching the recipes myself. My family usually buys our cakes from bakeries, but unfortunately, we were not willing to risk exposure to the virus for the sweets. I took it upon myself to fill this void. I started off simple, but as I gained confidence, I created decadent cakes using professional methods. My love of baking grew, and during this stressful school year, I have been able to use it as an outlet. This Oracle cycle, I wanted to combine my interest in baking with my passion for photography.
Saying my family members are chocoholics would be an understatement. Something we also love is cannolis. I thought there was no better way to combine the two than baking a chocolate cake filled with cannoli cream. After trying many recipes, I came across this recipe for chocolate cake from thestayathomechef.com’s recipe list. I have modified the instructions to result in the richest, most delicious cake possible. As for the cannoli cream, most generic cannoli cream recipes call for mascarpone and ricotta; however, after many trials, I have found that using cream cheese in place of mascarpone makes for a more spreadable cream.
The chocolate cake reminded me exactly of the Matilda scene where the boy is forced to eat the ginormous, delicious, cake– but with a twist. The complement of the cannoli cream provides a break from the chocolate that would otherwise be overwhelming. If executed properly, this recipe will result in a moist cake that will stay fresh for many days– unless your family finishes it first like mine did!
Note: This recipe makes four layers of cake, which is extremely tall. You can divide the ingredients in half for two layers. If you decide to do this, I would recommend also dividing the cannoli cream and buttercream in half.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- 1 ½ cups unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- ½ tablespoon baking powder
- ½ tablespoon salt
- 4 large eggs
- 1 ½ cups buttermilk
- 1 ½ cups warm water
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure you have two racks in your oven.
- Trace four 8 in. pans on parchment paper and cut out the circles. You can either spray these with baking spray or butter the pans– I prefer baking spray because it will reach everywhere and cover the pan evenly.
- In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, mix together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt on a low speed.
- Add in your eggs, buttermilk, warm water, oil, and vanilla and beat on a medium speed until you have a smooth batter.
- Divide your batter evenly among your pans. I find that using a spatula to get the remaining batter off the sides of the bowl is very helpful.
- Depending on your oven and the placement of your cakes, they should bake between 35 and 40 minutes. I recommend checking them after 30 minutes and thereafter in 5 minute increments with a toothpick to ensure they do not burn. If the toothpick comes out clean, they are ready to be taken out of the oven.
- Cool the cakes in their tins on your counter until you are ready to layer them.
Note: This recipe makes more cannoli cream than necessary, but it is nice to have for either decoration or to add to your individual slice of cake after serving. Make sure you make your cannoli cream before buttercream that way the cannoli cream has time to chill and thicken.
- 1 ¼ cup full-fat ricotta cheese
- 2 8 oz. bars of cream cheese
- 3 cups of powdered sugar
- ½ tbsp vanilla extract
- ¾ tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 bag of semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
- In your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together your ricotta and cream cheese on a medium speed until they are well combined. Using a spatula, scrape down the sides of your mixing bowl.
- Add in your powdered sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt and beat until they are well combined. At this point, I would recommend taste testing the cream to ensure it is your desired flavor (See note below).
- Transfer your cream to a different bowl or container and place in the refrigerator to chill.
Note: The measurements of everything in the recipe are very loose. If you are looking for a sweeter flavor, add more powdered sugar. Different people like different amounts of cinnamon, so feel free to add more of this as well. I would not recommend adding more cream cheese as this could mess up the consistency of the cream; however, adding more ricotta will not.
Note: It is extremely important that your butter is softened, not melted. If it is melted, you will not get your desired consistency. You can do this by either leaving the butter out of the fridge to soften for some time or heating it in the microwave until it is softened until it is malleable but not liquidy. Additionally, do not place the buttercream in the fridge once you have made it because it will thicken too much making it very difficult to ice the cake.
- ¾ cups butter, softened
- 4 oz cream cheese, softened
- ¾ cups unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- About ¼ cup milk (as needed)
- Beat together your butter and cream cheese in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.
- Add in your cocoa powder and vanilla until well combined on a medium speed. Start out slow so you do not get your cocoa powder everywhere.
- Beat in your powdered sugar one cup at a time, and alternate with milk when the mixture becomes too dry.
Again, with this recipe, the ingredients are very loose. You can add in more powdered sugar if it is not sweet enough for you, and you can add more milk if it is not mixing well.
If you have access to it, I would recommend using a cake turntable. You can also use a lazy susan if you have one. Otherwise, you can just turn your plate as you ice. I would also recommend using a 12-inch cake board to place your cake on. If not, no worries! A plate will do the same job. A bench scraper can be replaced for a spatula and a baking spatula can be replaced with a regular spatula, spoon, or knife depending on what you are trying to do when it comes to design. You can put your icing in a Ziploc bag and cut one of the corners to create the tip if you do not have a piping bag.
- Remove your cakes from their tins, remove the parchment paper, and place them facing up on a flat surface.
- Take a small dollop of cannoli cream and place it on the center of your cake board. This will ensure your cake does not shift.
- Place your first cake on the cake board. I would recommend using the cakes with the flattest tops on the bottom and the rounder on the top so you do not have to worry about filling in the gaps between the layers. If you feel confident enough, you can level the cakes using a knife or cake leveler, but if you are a novice baker, I would recommend skipping the leveling– it is totally unnecessary.
- Add a few scoops of your buttercream to your piping bag. The easiest way to do this is by putting the bag in a glass, folding the sides of the rim, and then adding your buttercream.
- Create a circle around the edge of your first cake high enough to prevent the cannoli cream from overflowing. Next, scoop in some cannoli cream to the center of the cake and spread it around to the chocolate border using your baking spatula.
6. Take a handful of your chocolate chips and sprinkle them over the cannoli cream. Then, go in to fill the small gaps. Only do a single layer of them otherwise your next layer will not be flush with the first.
7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 until all your layers are stacked. Do not cover the top layer with cannoli cream or chocolate chips.
8. Pipe the rest of your chocolate buttercream from the bag around the sides of the cake. Once your bag runs out, there is no need to refill it. You can just use your baking spatula to scoop it on.
9. Using a combination of your bench scraper and baking spatula, create an even thin layer of buttercream on your cake. This is called the crumb coat and will prevent the cake from crumbling once you ice it.
10. Place the cake in the fridge to chill for around 30 minutes, but no longer, otherwise, your crumb coat will harden.
11. Add the rest of your buttercream onto the cake and fill in the gaps between the cake, especially the base.
12. Spin the cake turner while holding your bench scraper steady to create a smooth, even layer of icing. Repeat this step until you have your desired thickness. You will likely have leftover icing.
13. Go in with your baking spatula to create nice, natural waves of the icing. This creates a textured pattern that will cover any mistakes you may have made.
14. Place your cake in the fridge to chill until you are ready to serve. If you plan on decorating it, I would recommend at least an hour and a half for the icing to be a bit.
15. Congratulations! If you got this far, you have successfully made the cake! Cut a slice and enjoy it. Maybe even hide a few slices before your family eats the rest!
16. If you are lucky enough to have leftovers, place the cake in a cake carrier or transfer to a container and place it in the fridge.
a. If your cake is too tall for anything you have, I recommend covering it with a round container or tin instead.