Chocolate checkerboard cake

So I actually made this cake for a co-worker’s birthday – her name is Kristina and she is an incredibly kindhearted person and an extremely hardworking sales manager. During the pandemic, when we were extremely understaffed, Kristina literally held down the fort, despite that meaning she had to work 12 hour days for months. Since she’s such an amazing person, I had to make something amazing for her birthday, and that’s where the idea to do this cake came from!

When it comes to Kristina’s tastes, she prefers to not eat fruit in dessert – for me, that’s a bit weird, since fruit is basically the cornerstone of almost every dessert I grew up on, but I can still work without it. Luckily, she loves chocolate desserts, and that just happens to be a specialty of mine. Since she is such a hard worker, I wanted to make sure that this was not just any chocolate cake. It had to be really special. So I thought about doing a chocolate checkerboard cake! Checkerboard cakes are fun because you really get two takes for one, and it comes in that super cute checkerboard pattern!

For the flavors, I just went with two chocolate-coffee sponges, one that used black(also called Dutch-processed or alkalized) cacao for that richer cacao flavor. I did use olive oil in the cake, as olive oil and chocolate just pair so beautifully together with the rich grassiness of olive oil accentuating the bitter notes of the cocoa, which is also enhanced by the addition of the ground coffee. I also made a regular milk soak, so as to not mar the colors of the cake, but to guarantee that the cake stays moist! As this cake uses a genoise sponge, which is made with whole whipped eggs, and therefore can bake a lot dryer, the milk soak is an insurance policy for a moist cake. While I would normally use chiffon cakes for layer cakes, I found that genoise, being a lot denser, is better for things like cutting and shaping, especially when you have so many rings of cake to cut.

For the filling, there is a chantilly cream infused with chocolate liquor that sandwiches the cakes – I opted for a chantilly cream, since these kinds of cakes rely less of the cream or fillings for sturdiness, instead coming from the sheer quantity of cake being used. That, and genoise tend to be denser than a chiffon for spongecakes, so using chantilly over a mousse made more sense to balance it even more. The garnishes, I went with nama chocolate, which is a Japanese truffle made with chilling down a ganache, cutting it into shapes, and dusting with cocoa powder to finish. I also used two kinds of Valrhona chocolate to make garnishes, being Guanaja 70%(a pleasantly dark chocolate that is essentially Valrhona’s standard), and Azelia 35%(a milk chocolate with hazelnut notes, making it the perfect kind of milk chocolate for things like homemade Nutella)!

Overall, you definitely will get an inescapably large amount of chocolate with this cake, with every single component containing it(not counting the soak, of course). It is definitely a lot of fun(and work, and chocolate) to make, but I can guarantee you that the end result if a choco-holic’s dream(and a chocolate hater’s absolute nightmare)! Either way, this was made specifically for Kristina, as a thank you for all of the amazing work she’s done at our workplace!

For the nama chocolate:
1/2 cup Valrhona Guanaja 70%
1/4 cup heavy cream
a pinch of salt
1 tspn chocolate liquor
1 tbsp unsalted butter or olive oil
cocoa powder

Place everything but the cocoa powder into a pot and bring to a simmer on low heat. Stir constantly until everything is combined into a smooth mixture. Pour into nonstick cube or rectangle molds and freeze for at least 1 hour. Cut into smaller pieces and keep frozen until time to assemble.

For the chocolate sponges:
2 eggs
1/3 cup granulated sugar
a pinch of salt
1 tspn vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tspn ground coffee
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted or 2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp cocoa powder(do 1 tbsp black cacao powder and 1 tbsp regular cocoa for the dark sponge)

In a bowl, whip eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla until pale yellow in color, and doubled in volume. Mix the remaining ingredients with the egg mixture. Pour into a lined 6-inch ring mold. Repeat these steps with the ingredients for the dark sponge so that you have two filled 6-inch ring molds of cake. Bake both at 350 degrees F for 35 minutes. A toothpick should come out clean when inserted into the center of the cakes. Cool down completely.

For both cakes, cut them in half along the width(think hamburger bun). Using either a knife and ruler or cookie cutters, cut out rings from each half-round of cake, measuring each ring to be able 1 1/2-inches thick. Re-arrange the rings so that you have four rounds of cake, with each ring in each round being an alternating color – think a target symbol.

For the soak:
1 cup milk
a pinch of salt

Mix and refrigerate.

For the chocolate chantilly:
1 tspn chocolate liquor
2 tspn confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
a pinch of salt
1/4 tspn vanilla extract

Whip to stiff peaks.

Assembly pt. 1:
Start with one round of the cake. Soak with the milk mixture. Spread on a thin layer of the cream on top of the cake, not caring if it overflows to the sides. Place on another round of cake, making sure that the outermost ring of that cake is a different color than the cake underneath it(having every color alternate is how you create the checkerboard effect!). Soak as well, then repeat with all of the cakes, soak, and cream. Smooth off the edges and top first, then transfer to the freezer for at least an hour. After an hour, place on the nama chocolate and dust with the cocoa powder. Keep in the refrigerator at this point, as you want the cream to be a little softer for placing on the shards.

For the tempered chocolate curls:
1/4 cup Valrhona Azelia 35%
a pinch of salt

Heat up the chocolate with salt in a double boiler for at least 2 minutes on low heat. Stir off heat until the chocolate is around your body temperature – feel the outside of the bowl, first while wearing oven mitts, then without once it cools down enough, to get an idea of the temperature. Keep in mind that the bowl will always be warmer than the chocolate inside of it.

Once the chocolate is fully melted and just above body temperature, pour onto a cold marble surface. Allow the chocolate to firm up before scraping with a bench scraper to form your curls.

For the chocolate shards:
1/4 cup Valrhona Azelia 35% and 1/4 cup Guanaja 70%
a pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon grated cocoa butter

Repeat the first step for the chocolate curls. Once the chocolate is fully melted and at body heat, mix in the cocoa butter. Once the cocoa butter is mixed in, pour the chocolates onto acetate sheets. Freeze for at least 10 minutes so that the chocolate can solidify. Crack into smaller pieces.

Assembly pt 2:
Place the shards around the cake, and the curls on top of the cake.

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