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Operation Birthday: Chocolate Malted Milk Ball Cake

Why heeeello there, Elphie! (Don’t ask; I don’t even get it…) It’s been rawther a while, yes, but I’ve been busy adjusting to single-bloggerdom and trying to get my snazzy new camera to take photos–a total failure so far, but more on that later.  In addition to the aforementioned tasks and, you know, WORK, I’ve also been pumping out a broad array of baked goods and cocktail nibbles for all and sundry for what seems like a very busy few months.  And I’ve not written about ANY of them. I am a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad blogger–particularly since some of this stuff has been goooooood.

This birthday cake in particular. Made for a dear friend fresh off a grueling summer of Arabic study in Damascus, she was in dire need of friends, booze, and cake–all things slightly hard to come by in Syria.  I was more than happy to oblige on all counts. Though, it must be said that Charles Shaw and I are no longer on speaking terms… that perfidious bastard. ANYWAY, the cake. Super, super delicious if I do say so myself.  And I do.

The cake: chocolate stout cake–richly chocolate with a moist, open crumb and a subtle depth from the stout. There’s a reason this is one of epicurious’ most-searched recipes. The filling: my go-to white chocolate cream cheese frosting, spiked with malt and crushed milk balls–first crunchy, then gooey, it’s good no matter when you eat it. The frosting: Rose‘s awesome milk chocolate buttercream. It’s fabulous on it’s own, but with a little malt, amazing. And since it doesn’t have a sugar syrup like most buttercreams, it’s pretty easy too.

The secret ingredient: Asian-spec Ovaltine. The “plain malt” version of U.S. Ovaltine isn’t right–too diluted with other crap (sugar, questionable chocolate, ech…). We just want the malt here, please. The unadulterated kind can be found most easily in larger Asian markets. I got mine at HMart. It’s not diluted with cocoa or anything, packs a powerful malty punch on its own, and adds an authentically Malteaser-y flavor to both the filling and the frosting.

Malted Milk Ball Birthday Cake
Yield: ~20 servings

Cake
1/2 a recipe of the (Internet) famous chocolate stout cake

The recipe as written makes an absolutely demented amount of batter. Fortunately, the amounts are easy to halve–even I haven’t managed to mess up that math…

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut a sheet of parchment paper to fit a 9×13″ pan, leaving a few inches overhang on each of the long sides (~13×14″ sheet). Butter the pan, line with the parchment, and butter the top of the parchment. Dust lightly with flour and set aside.  Pour the prepared batter into the pan and smooth with a spatula. Rap smartly against the counter to eliminate any large air bubbles. Bake on center rack of oven ~45-55 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. (Test early and often; while this is a moist, forgiving cake, it really doesn’t do to overcook it too much.)

When done, cool in the pan on a rack for 15-20 min. Then, after loosening the short sides of the cake, use the overhanging parchment (and an extra pair of hands if you’ve got them) to lift the cake out of the pan and cool completely on the rack.  Once completely cool, wrap well with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator overnight. In a pinch, it can go–wrapped–into the freezer for a few hours. A well-chilled cake is vital as you’ll be splitting it horizontally.

Filling:
9 oz white chocolate
12 oz cream cheese, softened
6 0z unsalted butter, softened
2 tbs malt powder
1 tbs whole milk
2 c malted milk balls

Make sure the cream cheese and butter are softened! And, if the butter gets TOO soft–melty instead of slightly waxy–put in back in the refrigerator for 5 minutes or so.

Gently melt the white chocolate over a double boiler or very carefully in the microwave, zapping in short bursts and stirring frequently. Pull from double boiler or microwave before completely melted and stir to finish it off using residual heat. Set aside to cool slightly.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese till perfectly smooth, ~3 minutes. (PERFECTLY. If there are any lumps now, they will be impossible to get out of the completed frosting.) Scrape down the bowl. With the mixer on medium, gradually beat in the cooled chocolate. Scrape down the bowl and beater, getting down to the bottom of the bowl.

In a small bowl, combine the malt powder and the milk. Beat into the filling. If not using within a few hours, cover and refrigerate. Return to room temperature and rebeat to ensure smoothness before frosting.

Frosting
10 oz bittersweet chocolate (60%)
1 lb unsalted butter, slightly softened
4 large egg whites, room temperature
1 c sugar
2 tbs malt powder
1 tbs whole milk

(These are not the RLB directions; this is how I fudge it. ) Chop the chocolate finely and melt in the microwave using 15 second bursts and stirring every time. Remove from microwave before fully melted and stir, allowing residual heat to finish the job. Set chocolate aside to cool to room temperature.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the (not really very softened at all) butter till light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Butter should be cool to touch, but soft and light. Remove bowl and paddle attachment and set both aside.

In another, scrupulously clean mixing bowl, beat the egg whites with the whisk attachment until soft peaks form. With the mixer running, gradually add the sugar and beat until stiff peaks form when the beater is raised slowly. Swap in the paddle attachment and beat in the butter 1 tbs at a time at medium speed. If mixture starts to curdle, increase speed a little and beat until smooth before adding more butter. (Generally, it WILL curdle and you’ll have to beat the bejezus out of it to get everything to come together again. C’est la vie.) Once butter is all incorporated, add melted and cooled chocolate all at once and beat until smoothly incorporated and uniform in color, scraping down the bowl as necessary.

In a small bowl, combine the malt powder and the milk, whisking until smooth.  Beat into the frosting.

Remove about 2 1/2 c of the filling to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip. Set aside.

Put the malted milk balls in a large zip-top bag and whack into small pieces.  Fold into the remaining filling. Set aside.

Assembly
Remove cake from refrigerator and place on a cutting board. Using a long serrated knife, trim edges flush and even out top of cake. Split the cake in half horizontally. There are several ways to do this; freehand, marking the desired split line all the way around the cake with toothpicks and then cutting, or using a length of floss and spacers that will keep the floss at the cake’s midpoint. This latter way is by far the best–particularly when splitting a cake this large–but does necessitate finding to items half as high as your cake and you can use to ensure your floss cuts evenly. It’s worth the rummaging, trust me.

Carefully, using broad spatulas or the backs of your hands, transfer one half of the cake to your serving platter. Brush off any crumbs.  Mound between 2/3 and 3/4 of the filling on top of the cake and spread to within 1cm of the edges. (You’ll have a bit extra, how much depends on how decadent you happen to be feeling at the time.)  Smooth out the filling and put the cake in the freezer for 5 min or so to set the filling a bit.  Carefully place the second layer on top of the filling–again, the backs of your hands or a broad pancake turner work well here.

Mound a good 3 or 4 cups of the milk chocolate frosting on top of the cake and spread smoothly to the sides of the cake. Excess and be pushed over the edge and give you a head start on the sides. Frost the sides with additional frosting.

Once the top and sides of the cake are covered to your satisfaction, take the  piping bag filled with the reserved white chocolate malt filling and pipe a star or shell border around the top and bottom edges of the cake. Pipe stars at the corners and top them with reserved malted milk balls.  If you’ve got an inscription to make, swap in a small round tip (I like a #3 or #4 for cakes this size) and write away.

Put the finished cake back in the freezer or refrigerator briefly to firm the frosting before wrapping up. Bring back to room temperature before serving with great fanfare and the appropriate number of candles.

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