Black and White Chocolate Birthday Cake

Black and White Birthday Cake | The Laughing Table

Birthday cakes are, in my eyes, one of the most important baked goods in the world. They are the ultimate tribute to a loved one and therefore must reflect their tastes as well as your own and that of their friends and family. These variables are compounded by amount of layers, icing flavors, decorative finishes like sprinkles, flourless or gluten-free… the options are dauntingly limitless.

And yet, birthday cakes are fun to bake. Tailor-making a sweet for your sweet someone is an exercise in love.

Black and White Birthday Cake3 | The Laughing Table

So, when my cousin’s 15th birthday came around, I was thrilled to make her a birthday cake. I was 7 when my cousin C was born and 12 when they moved to British Columbia from Toronto. I watched her grow up from a Buddha baby (a charming nickname, I know) into a cherub faced child and now, into an angsty, make-up wearing teenager. It’s a marvelous thing to watch someone you love grow up, particularly when you have had a hand in molding them into the lovely being they have become.

I held C in my arms when she was just one month old and when she fell asleep, her baby perfumed scent sweeter than honey, I knew that I had fallen in love for life. She brings me joy every day and not just in a passive, merely-because-she exists way. No, this girl texts me, draws beautiful pictures for me and tells me, day in and day out, that I am the most beautiful person she has ever met inside and out.

Black and White Birthday Cake2 | The Laughing Table

So, I set about to make a cake that was beautiful inside and out, a symbol of our familial love and the true beauty of my little cousin (she’s 15 so she finds it extremely hard to look at herself in a positive life, do you remember those days?).

A black and white chocolate birthday cake seemed like the perfect idea. Cousin C is pale, blonde and blue eyed, the exact opposite of my ethnically vague, dark looks (a difference that she often bemoans) but we both share the same obsessive love with chocolate in any variation. This cake takes chocolate to the next level. The four tier cake is filled with two layers of Nutella cream cheese icing and one layer of white chocolate goat cheese ganache while the exterior is iced with salted dark chocolate mascarpone. The cake itself is chocolate and studded with mini chocolate chips. Before you think is death by chocolate, the difference in flavors and the light texture of the cake keep it from being a heavy, soggy mess. Instead, it is a rich, beautiful and balanced cake (that perfectly represents my cousin).

Black and White Birthday Cake1 | The Laughing Table

Black and White Chocolate Birthday Cake
A four tier chocolate cake with three different chocolate fillings and a cinnamon, chocolate chip studded cake.
Chocolate Cake
  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 2½ cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ⅔ cup cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoonq cinnamon
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2⅔ cups all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 1 cup canned coconut milk
  • ⅔ mini chocolate chips
Nutella Cream Cheese Icing
  • 1 cup Nutella, at room temperature
  • 1 cup powered sugar
  • 16 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon coconut milk
White Chocolate Goat Cheese Ganache
  • ½ cup white chocolate chips
  • 3 oz goat cheese
  • 2 tablespoons coconut milk
Salted Dark Chocolate Mascarpone
  • 21 oz dark chocolate
  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 2 tablespoons coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. In a large mixing bowl with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together on high for two minutes or until light and fluffy. Then incorporate the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated before adding the vanilla.
  3. In a seperate bowl, sift together the cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt and flour. Add to the wet mixture ⅓ at a time before mixing in the coconut milk. Once the batter is smooth fold in the chocolate chips. Divide evenly into four cake tins (I used 10") prepared with butter and parchment paper. Bake for 15-20 minutes, checking with a tooth pick to see if they are cooked through.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare the nutella cream cheese icing by mixing the ingredients in a clean mixing bowl using the stand mixer or by hand with a whisk (be sure to stir vigorously to incorporate all ingredients).
  5. Set a saucepan filled half way with water on the stove over medium low heat and set a small heatproof bowl on top. Melt the white chocolate in the bowl. Take off heat and stir in coconut milk before quickly incorporating the goat cheese. Place in the refrigerator for at least ten minutes before using to allow it to set.
  6. In a clean heatproof bowl over the same simmering water in the saucepan, melt the dark chocolate. Remove from heat to fold in the coconut milk and sea salt. Vigorously incorporate the mascarpone cheese to the mixture using a whisk, hand beaters or an electric mixer.
  7. To assemble the cake, set the cooled layers in a row and ice two tiers with the Nutella cream cheese icing and a third with the white chocolate goat cheese ganache. Sandwich the white icing layer between the two Nutella ones and place the fourth unfrosted tier on the very top. Smooth the salted dark chocolate mascarpone over the entire cake.
  8. Decorate as you please or as I did with alternating circles of dark and white chocolate chips.


Triple Chocolate Cake with Coconut Caramel Jam

Caramel jam for triple chocolate cakeIt was my dad's birthday the other day. He would have been 66 but he wouldn't have looked it. I have never met, nor expect to meet, someone as vital as my father. When I was young I thought he was something magic, a shape shifter, a wizard maybe, something elemental and impossible to tame. When he came to visit he was a force and I was pulled into his orbit without any resistance despite my mother's reasonable warnings. And when he left, he was completely gone. He left nothing behind and sent no word from whatever realm he resided in. Triple chocolate coconut jam layerLooking back on it, I may seem silly, overly fanciful. And I was, I still am. But the idea that my father was somehow otherworldly nicely encapsulated his effect on my life. I saw him infrequently, not at all until I was five and then maybe once a year after that for a brief handful of days each time. Between visitations, always supervised by my mother or a trusted companion, there was silence. I learned early on not to trust him, he often made plans and reneged on them, told stories that seemed gloriously true spoken fresh from his lips but turned ashen when held up to a microscope days later. He was self-centered and immature, hard to love and heartbreaking. But what magical creatures aren't? caramel jam layer of triple chocolate cakeHe was also endlessly fascinating, shimmering with creativity and soft spoken with wisdom that applied so deeply to others but so ineffectively with him. We played intricate games of pretend as black panthers on rock beaches and I rode on his thickly muscled shoulders like a queen, drumming my little hands on his bald brown head. Triple Chocolate Mourning Cake full shotI was 19 when he died. He had been sick for a long time but it was hard to tell under the layers of youth healthy living had blessed him with and it wasn't until mid exam period during my first year in university that I realized how truly sick he was. Triple Chocolate Mourning Cake and platesMy sister Grace and I rushed down to Oregon where he was in a private hospital, supposedly on his death bed. But when we arrived, though he looked more like Gandhi and less like a warrior, I was lulled into a false sense of security. He was still magic; making us laugh at silly anecdotes and going for walks in the pretty hospital garden each day, doing push ups against a bench. I remember thinking, as we left a few days later, that the doctor's didn't know who they were dealing with. He was far less ill than they imagined. Triple Chocolate Mourning Cake and plates 2A little over a month later, he was dead. Though I had known, of course, that he was sick, the news came as a devastating shock. It seemed impossible to me that he was gone, locked away in his magical realm where I could never find him again. It seemed heinous that just as I was entering a time in my life where I could be independent, see him more, really get to know him on my own terms, he was gone. Each year on the anniversary of his death and on his birthday, my sisters and I fall into a deep sense of melancholy, not only because our father has passed away but because so too has the opportunity to really know him. There isn't really anything that can make the day pass smoothly but chocolate does help. Every time he came to visit, he brought me two things. A bar of the darkest chocolate and a mango. And every anniversary, I eat these things and think about him. Triple Chocolate cake standThis recipe for triple chocolate cake is one that I often make for birthday's but its deep, decadent flavors are exactly something my father would have loved so I've dedicated it to him. There are many different flavors in this cake but one of my favorite components is the dentelle, which is similar to a thin chocolate nut bark that gives the cake great textural contrast. It takes a while to make the cake, the caramel jam is itself a long process but totally worth it as it lends the cake a moist sweetness. You will love it too, especially if you pair it with a big serving of coffee Haagan Daas ice cream like my dad would have done. The dentelle and caramel jam recipes are adapted from the Bouchon Bakery book and the chocolate cake is adapted from the Rebar Cookbook.
Triple Chocolate Mourning Cake with coconut caramel jam
Triple Chocolate Layer Cake
  • 1½ cups light brown sugar
  • 1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup espresso
  • ¼ cup espresso (or unflavored) balsamic vinegar
  • ¾ cups buttermilk
  • ⅓ cup high quality olive oil
  • 2 eggs (1 whole + 1 egg yolk)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
Coconut Icing
  • ½ cup coconut flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened canned coconut milk
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ⅓ cup shredded coconut
Caramel Jam
  • 1¾ cups granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup heavy cream, warm
  • ½ cup canned coconut milk
  • 6 ounces semi sweet chocolate
  • ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
Chocolate Dentelle
  • ¼ cup skinned toasted hazelnuts
  • ¼ + 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon canned coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F and prepare two 8 inch cake pans with buttered parchment paper lining.
  2. In a stand mixer, combine the dry ingredients until they are smooth and then incorporate the wet ingredients. Mix together on medium speed until the batter is loose and easy to pour into the two prepared cake pans. Bake for 15 minutes and let them cool completely before removing the layers.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare the caramel jam. Bring ½ of the granulated sugar to a boil in a saucepan without stirring. Over medium high heat, slowly add the rest of the sugar, stirring gently to combine, until the mixture is a deep bubbling caramel color. Add the butter, and stir until it has dissolved before slowly pouring in the heavy cream. Continue to cook, mixing continuously to avoid burning it, for another ten minutes until the jam is thick and golden. Refrigerate for half an hour before using.
  4. In a medium bowl with a whisk or in a stand mixer beat together the ingredients for the coconut icing. It will be thick and fluffy after beating it thoroughly for two minutes. Assemble the layers on a cake plate or tray and smooth the coconut icing over the top of the bottom layer. Next, spread the caramel jam over the icing. It may drip down the sides of the cake but that is okay. Place the top layer over the filling and put in the firdge to firm up for 10 to 15 minutes.
  5. While the cake is chilling, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F for the dentelle and crush the hazelnuts in a plastic bag with a heavy implement until they are in small pieces. In a saucepan over medium high heat, dissolve the sugar, butter, and coconut milk until they are mixed well and bubbling. Pour the combination on a parchment lined baking sheet, tilting the tray so that the chocolate is evenly distributed. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes or until the mixture is covered in small bubbles and you can smell the chocolate, nutty scent. Remove from the oven and let cool for five minutes before either cutting it into a shape or breaking it into pieces to garnish the cake.
  6. For the ganache, simmer a saucepan of water on the stove with a heatproof bowl resting just over the water line. Add the chocolate and coconut milk to the bowl and allow to melt together. Stir until incorporated and then remove from heat to cool slightly before pouring it over the assembled cake. Smooth the chocolate around the sides of the cake and then refrigerate until the ganache is set. Finish by topping the cake with the dentelle.