Chocolate Peppermint Layer Cake / by Chelsea Zwieg

Have any of you ever heard of St. Nick? If you're from Wisconsin, I'm sure you have. Or if you're super German. But it wasn't until I was moved out of Wisconsin and faced nothing but blank looks when I mentioned December 6th and candy and stockings that I realized it wasn't a universal thing. And that is so sad! St. Nick is basically a day where kids get stockings (or shoes) filled with candy, nuts, presents and, if you're parents are trying to save your teeth from rotting, a couple pieces of fruit. But if you're me, part of a family full of holiday traditions that (thankfully!) go on forever, you get a St. Nick stocking even when you're 24 and St. Nick (hi, mom) lives across the country. And then you get invited to another St. Nick party with even more family and you get double the fun, double the family time and double the cake. Guys, I love Christmas. 

This was my St. Nick party cake and there really could not be a more Christmasy cake. Rich chocolate cake covered in cool and creamy peppermint buttercream is everything I want going on this time of year. To up the candy cane game, I added crushed candy canes in between the layers to give a little bit of texture and some more candy canes to the top. Plus red and white swirly frosting, because if it doesn't look like a candy cane what is it even doing trying to attend a Christmas party! 

Chocolate Peppermint Layer Cake

Makes a 3 layer 6" cake (Serves 8-10) 

| Ingredients | 

For the cake (adapted from Magnolia Bakery): 

  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  •  1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 2 eggs 
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla 
  • 3/4 cup hot coffee

For the frosting: 

  • 2/3 cup egg whites (about 5 large eggs) 
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 tsp. peppermint extract, or to taste
  • pinch of salt
  • 5-6 candy canes, optional 

| Instructions | 

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour 3 6" cake pans. 

Sift the dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer. Sifting is super important when making chocolate cake to get rid of any cocoa powder or flour lumps. Let the mixer run on low to combine the ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla. Add to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Scrape the bowl and paddle well and add the hot coffee. Mix on low, scraping as needed, until combined and smooth. 

Divide the batter evenly among the three cake pans. Bake 20-25 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pans for 15 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. 

To make the frosting, place egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Make sure the bowl is completely clean and there is no water before adding the egg whites. They don't play well with others and won't whip properly later. Whisk the eggs and sugar to combine and place the bowl over a pot of simmering water. Cook the mixture, whisking often, until it reaches 155 F on a candy thermometer. Return the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on high speed for 8-10 minutes. The whites should hold medium-stiff, glossy peaks and be cooled to room temperature. 

Swap out the whisk for the paddle attachment. With the mixer running on low, add the the butter a few tablespoons at a time letting it incorporate after each addition. The butter needs to be room temperature to incorporate properly.  Once the butter is mixed in, add a pinch of salt and increase the speed to medium. Continue to mix until the frosting is smooth, fluffy and free of air bubbles, about 2-3 minutes. Add the peppermint extract, to taste, and mix until incorporated. 

To assemble the cake, level the layers as necessary using a sharp serrated knife. Fill and stack the layers. If desired, sprinkle crushed candy canes on top of the frosting between the layers. When placing the top layer, flip it upside down so the the bottom is the top of the cake. This will give your cake a nice smooth top and leave it free of crumbs when you are frosting the top. 

Frost the outside however you like. To get the red and white swirled frosting like the cake I made, frost the entire cake in a layer of white frosting. Dye most of the remaining frosting red. Using a spatula, spread smudges of red randomly across the cake. Run a bench scraper around the cake to smooth the frosting. Add more red and white smudges, as necessary, and continue to smooth. Be careful not to smooth it out too many times, or it will all run together and lose the swirls. Pipe any remaining frosting on the top and top with mini candy canes.