Most of my holiday memories revolve around fiercely fought games of dreidel played atop our glass coffee table, lying about how many of my great aunt's chocolate chip meringues I ate on Christmas day, and laughing at my grandfather's Christmas pants (think loud plaid). But one of my most remarkable holiday remembrances is is a little more. . . unconventional. It was Christmas Eve, and we were driving home from a long night at my grandparents' house. Somewhere between tracking Santa on Radio Disney, eating candy canes out of the treat bags my Grandma packed us for the ride home, and watching the wind whip its reign of terror across the highway, we ran out of gas. There we were. Miles from home. On the dark snowy side of the road. On Christmas Eve.
I wish I could say I had some spectacular tale to tell. But we weren't rescued by a kind stranger bearing an uncanny resemblance to Santa Clause, no guardian angel descended from the heavens to escort us home, and nary a Christmas Miracle caused our car to suddenly sputter back to life. (Triple-A brought us more gas, and we went on our way.) The memorable part is that to this day, when anyone brings up the Great Gas Incident of Christmas 1990 (or so--no one can remember the actual year) we all devolve into hysterical, uncontrollable, can't-believe-that-actually-happened laughter. It wasn't perfect. It wasn't pretty. But I promise that none of us will ever forget the Christmas Eve we ran out of gas on the way home from Grandma's. Besides, we had treat-bags full of candy canes to distract us from the cold so how bad could it have been?
This candy cane cake was the centerpiece of the holiday party I threw last weekend, and I knew I had to get the leftovers out of the house when I caught myself reaching for a piece for breakfast on Monday morning. The cake is dense and chocolatey, and the frosting is sweet, creamy, and packs a punch of peppermint. It may just be the best buttercream I've ever made. Hopefully your holiday travels won't leave you stranded by the side of the highway, but because you never know where the night may lead, you should probably have some chocolate candy cane cake with you just to be on the safe side. Merry Christmas.
Chocolate Candy Cane Cake
For the Chocolate Cake Layers
Adapted from Martha Stewart
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 cup warm water
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
Preheat the oven to 350 and line three 9 inch round cake pans with parchment paper. Whisk the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the eggs, buttermilk, vegetable oil, water, and peppermint extract and whisk or beat in the bowl of a stand mixer on low speed until smooth. Divide batter evenly between prepared cake pans, and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of one of the layers comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, and then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling completely.
For the Candy Cane Buttercream
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract, or more to taste
red food coloring (optional)
9 candy canes
Process 6 of the candy canes in a food processor until finely crushed. Transfer the candy canes to a bowl, and pulse the remaining candy canes in the food processor a few times to chop them into coarser but still relatively small pieces. Beat the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add the salt, milk, peppermint extract and a drop or two of red food coloring, if desired. Taste the buttercream, and add more peppermint extract to taste. Add the crushed candy canes and mix on low speed to combine.
To Assemble the Cake
Place one of the cake layers on a cardboard cake round. Spread buttercream over the top, top with the second cake layer, and repeat. Top with the third cake layer. Using an offset spatula, spread a very thin layer of buttercream over the top and sides of the cake. Don't use all of the frosting. This is your crumb coating, which will catch any dark cake crumbs and keep them from showing up in the finished product. Pop the cake into the freezer for about 20 minutes to allow the buttercream to firm up. Remove the cake form the freezer, and spread the rest of the icing over the cake. Decorate with the remaining chopped candy canes.