Recipe from Cook's Illustrated Notes:
For Gabriel's (second) 2nd birthday celebration in Toronto, Dr. S and I decided to make a cake featuring his favourite Sesame Street character, Elmo. Ideas for themed parties featuring this furry red monster abound, but we wanted something without any food colouring, fondant, royal icing, etc. Using other photos as inspiration (and also as ideas for what not to do), we made a chocolate layer cake, then decorated the top with fresh fruit.
The first step in the cake is to make a paste of melted chocolate, cocoa powder and water. It turns out, that if left to sit, the paste will solidify. I needed to gently microwave it to get it spreadable and mixable again. The rest of the batter is straightforward, just be sure to follow the instructions carefully. To divide the batter evenly, I used identical 9-inch cake pans weighed on a scale.
Unless you are using chocolate coins or wafers, finely chopping sixteen ounces of chocolate from a slab takes a long, long time. After making the frosting (which is loaded with chocolate, butter and heavy cream), the step to cool it down in an ice bath happens very quickly. You need to keep an eye on it, so that it doesn't harden completely. The frosting is then whipped to lighten its texture.
We sliced the domed tops off the cake, and then spread frosting over the layers and all over the top. While the frosting was still spreadable and soft, we affixed pieces of fruit all over the top. We used whole strawberries for the face, blackberries for his mouth and pupils, mango for his nose, and apples for his eyes. While it turned out pretty well, we would try using raspberries next time, for a less "fanged" appearance.
As our party was outside, we transported our creation in a cake dome to the park. Unfortunately, although the temperature was about 24°C, the sun contributed to melting our frosting, causing the outside fruit pieces to slowly slide off the edge of the cake. This didn't diminish the taste of this chocolate cake though: light, fluffy layers that packs a great chocolate punch, combined with a melt-in-your-mouth frosting.
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