I am food obsessed. I want to know where the recipe originated. What spins do folks put on it to make it their own? What’s the story? The food matters but for me it’s more about the story. But notice I said cooking. I have never been a baker. Well maybe brownies, a pound cake, something simple but I don’t have the steady hand icing requires and am prone to tear a cake to pieces frosting it rather than have it look like gilded sugar. Last year for my 45th birthday I gave myself the gift of attending the fall symposium of the Southern Foodways Alliance. It was outstanding and I’m not being dramatic. It was life changing. I spent 3 days with folks who are as obsessed with food and the stories of the people who grow it and cook it as I am. Enter Cheryl and Griff Day, two bakers I met while there. I immediately feel in love with them feeling like I’d known them a lifetime. Our conversations flowed easily and soon turned to baking and I confessed to Cheryl that I’m actually afraid to bake. She talked me off the ledge and assured me that I too could actually bake. Maybe even a cake. She and her husband own Back In the Day Bakery in Savannah and have authored two cookbooks, Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook and the forthcoming Back in the Day Bakery Made with Love. The Made with Love part is real – they married in their bakery and baking is a passion they both share. Did I mention they’ve been nominated this year for a James Beard award? It was clear that they love what they do and their enthusiasm was infectious. I was emboldened. Maybe I could give this baking thing a go and with their recipe in hand I set out to bake Chocolate Heaven Cake. This cake is beyond belief. I took it to work and my calorie-conscious colleagues kept having “one more little bite.” This cake is phenomenal and easy. I ate a big slice and thought of home, of my mother’s cakes and of sharing food with strangers that made way for sharing this great recipe and calling them friends. Make this cake and sit down and savor it with friends or family. It’s memory on a plate. Thank you Cheryl and Griff for sharing this recipe but also for being kind enough to share with me what you do and why.
What inspired you to become a baker? Every day I bake something, it feels like magic. The fact that you can toss a few simple ingredients in a bowl, and pull out something delicious from the oven still brings me joy. I realized early on that I could spend quality time in the kitchen with my mom and that was priceless. I am passionate about American cookery and heritage baking from scratch. I have always wanted to do my part to make sure I keep these traditions alive.
When you think of your Mom and Grandmother, what baked good memories come to mind? I remember the craft of making pies. The wooden table, a rolling pin and just a few simple fresh ingredients in a bowl. They would tell stories of other women in our family who were great bakers and that would lead to more stories about family history. Laughing and sharing is my most treasured memory.
What do you most enjoy about owning a bakery? I love being able to make connections with people every single day. It makes me feel that I am making a commitment to my community. I secretly like to watch people eating and enjoying the food we make!
Tell me a little bit about the new cookbook. What can we expect?
Here’s the new cookbook trailer. After our first cookbook, we still had so much more to share. The new cookbook is all about living a handmade life just like we do. It’s filled with more than 100 new recipes all based around a day in the life at the bakery from breakfast to celebration cakes, savory items and a great introduction to bread baking. We also have a MIY (make it yourself craft project) following each chapter.
You’re invited to dinner and asked to bring dessert. What would you make and why? I would bring Chocolate Cake because who doesn’t love a slice of chocolate cake. It’s the first recipe I learned to bake with my grandmother and it is still the best thing EVER.
Okay, I’ll admit it, at first glance I thought this recipe was going to take me forever. Surprisingly it comes together quickly. This cake is mind blowing. For real, MAKE THIS. I left it at work since I didn’t want to keep answering the siren song of the cake but seriously considered going to my office last night to get a slice. It’s get out of bed in your pajamas and seek it out good. Enough already, just make it. Trader Joe’s is a good source of cheaper but still delicious chocolate and I also cheated and used 9 oz of chocolate chips for the frosting. Well, okay, I also forgot to bring the butter, eggs and sour cream to room temperature and the cake was still FABULOUS. Do not cheat on the flour though. Cake flour has less gluten so you get a nice, tender cake. Also, my cake was quite pretty but why mess with perfection – thanks to Squire Fox for his gorgeous pic in this post.
Chocolate Heaven with Chocolate Buttercream
“Excerpted from THE BACK IN THE DAY BAKERY COOKBOOK by Cheryl Day and Griffith Day (Artisan Books). Copyright @2012. Photographs by Squire Fox.”
Serves 10 to 12
This cake was the first thing I learned to bake with my grandmother. It was, and still is, the best cake I have ever tasted. The Scharffen Berger chocolate we use at the bakery puts a new spin on a nostalgic cake, and a hint of strong coffee adds another flavor dimension. Topped with a decadent buttercream frosting, this cake is everything you want a chocolate cake to be, and a sweet finale for any occasion.
3 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
4 cups sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
9 ounces unsweetened chocolate (see Tip), finely chopped
2 cups hot freshly brewed coffee
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup canola oil
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 recipe Chocolate Buttercream (recipe follows)
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter three 9-by-2-inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with parchment and butter it as well. Lightly dust the pans with flour, tapping the pans on the counter to shake out the excess.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer), combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Let the mixer run on low speed for 2 to 3 minutes to aerate the flour.
Meanwhile, put the chocolate in a medium bowl and pour in the hot coffee and vanilla. Let stand for about 2 minutes to melt the chocolate, then stir until smooth.
In another medium bowl, whisk the eggs and oil together until thick, satiny, and light in color. Whisk in the sour cream, being careful not to overmix; leave some visible streaks of white. Pour in the melted chocolate mixture and mix until just combined. Add the chocolate–sour cream mixture to the dry ingredients in thirds, mixing on medium speed until well blended.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and, using a rubber spatula, incorporate any ingredients hiding at the bottom of the bowl, making sure the batter is completely mixed.
Divide the batter evenly among the prepared pans and smooth the tops with a spatula. Tap the pans firmly on the countertop to remove any air bubbles from the batter.
Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the center of a cake springs back a little when touched and a cake tester inserted in the center of a cake comes out clean. The cakes will be a deep, dark chocolate brown with slight cracks on top. Let the cakes cool for 20 minutes, then remove from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack.
To assemble the cake: Level the tops of two of the cake layers with a serrated knife so they’re flat. Place one layer cut side down on a flat serving plate (you can keep the edges of the plate clean by sliding strips of parchment under the cake while you frost it). Using an offset spatula, spread the top with a big dollop of frosting. Place the second cake layer cut side down and spread the top with another big dollop of frosting. Place the final layer on top, right side up, and frost the top and sides with the remaining frosting, making big luscious swirls with the spatula. The cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.
Makes about 7 cups
9 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
¾ pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 ½ to 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a simmering saucepan of water (do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water) and stir occasionally until the chocolate is completely melted. Set the chocolate aside to cool to room temperature.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a medium mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer), beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add the milk, mixing until completely blended. Add the cooled chocolate and mix until completely incorporated, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. Add the vanilla and beat just until mixed. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add 2 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar and continue beating, adding more sugar as needed, until you reach a creamy, silky frosting consistency. The frosting can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.
Tip: When a recipe calls for unsweetened chocolate, we recommend using one with 99% cocoa content, such as Scharffen Berger, for its intense flavor and dark color.
Cheryl and Griff will be at Southern Season from 12-2 on April 4th signing their new cookbook and talking baking both sweet and savory.