It's been several years now that I've been making this cake for my daughter's birthday. The first time I made it was for a St. Patrick's Day dinner for our neighbors. I was in the mood to cook something new and I'd found several recipes to try. We're not Irish. We don't celebrate St. Patrick's Day as a general rule. But it made a good excuse at the time.
Said birthday girl was working that evening and came home in time to enjoy a slice of the cake and by some strange (at least to me) decision she opted to have one of the imported Irish beers we'd served with dinner - with her cake. She swooned and declared that they were a fabulous pairing. The next declaration was that she wanted this for her next birthday dinner. Thus was born the Irish Cream Chocolate Mousse Birthday Cake with Smithwick (silent "w") beer tradition.
So, she knows that I love her THIS much.
First comes the coffee sponge cake. Fairly straightforward. Whip eggs, sugar and whatnot together until the Kitchenaide smells hot. Then painstakingly sift flour over it and fold in, little by little until you think there's no way to get it all folded in before the batter deflates. Definitely use the sifter for this portion or you'll end up with little flour ball bombs all through the cake.
While that is in the oven remember that you probably should have made the Irish Cream Chocolate Mousse filling the night before. It's only the element for which the cake is named, how important can it be? Just whisk together the sugar and eggs, warm over steam and then beat them for 10 minutes. While that's going, shave the chocolate and melt in a double boiler. Oh, and don't forget to whip Irish cream and whipping cream into stiff peaks in another mixer. Now fold the chocolate into the whipped egg mixture and then fold in the beaten cream. You end up with this heavenly, rich, chocolate mousse! Resist the temptation to grab a spoon and start eating.
By now you are glad that the cake needs to cool while the mousse chills. Blot the perspiration from your brow. Wash dirty bowls, beaters, spoons, and counters down. Now mix up the Irish whiskey syrup for the cake assembly later.
Ok, so everything is chilled? Now you cut that single layer of sponge cake into 3 layers. All it takes is a steady hand, a very long serrated knife, your makeshift spacers stolen from the scrap wood bin in your husbands shop and, in my case, some growling. I think the growling intimidates it into sitting still while I'm awkwardly sawing on it.
Place your first layer on a cheesy, something-mart cake tray (because you need a tight fitting lid when you put it out on the front porch to keep cold). Soak the cake layer (good thing it's sponge cake) with some of that whiskey syrup. (The whiskey is added to the cooled syrup so it's not cooked off in this case).
Then spread a cup or two of chocolate mousse over the whole thing. Another layer of cake, more whiskey syrup, more mousse... I assume you see a pattern.
Eventually you run out of cake layers and you then spread all the remaining mousse over and around the cake. This will not go as smoothly as spreading frosting. It's not frosting. It's heavy. It's very moist. Don't overwork it or it won't be mousse-y. Just get it on there as best you can. It may look something like this:
You aren't done. Put that puppy out on the porch to keep cold. (Good thing it's winter, my fridge is full of eggs!)
Get that double boiler back out. In my case I have this beautiful little pan. It's 60 or so years old. The story I heard was that my father bought it when he and my mother were still kids, married a year or less, and he wanted to make her a cake that required a double-boiler.
I still use it but in this case I opted for the much less attractive but smooth sided "let's stack the copper bottom pan in the little sauce pan if they fit" set-up. And because I use a propane stove, I like a simmer mat to help keep the heat mellow for this. Why all these gyrations? Why, it's time to make the chocolate bands and chocolate curls. No skipping these for the birthday girl.
Get out two large sheets of foil and some waxed paper. Now I'm about to reveal a secret that cake shops don't want you to know. It's actually really easy to make bands of chocolate for wrapping a cake. The strips need to be long enough to wrap around the cake with a little bit of overlap. Lay them on one piece of foil. Somewhere you don't mind making a real mess. Put the other sheet of foil on a tray so you can hustle it out to the front porch with the cake.
Grab a pastry brush and start spreading chocolate over the wax and off the sides. It's going to be messy, like finger painting only tastier. Give them just a moment to cool ever so slightly and then use all four of your hands to grab the corners and lift it onto the clean sheet of foil.
After they cool and are set but still flexible, you wrap one of them around half the cake. Snug it up and tack it on. Stick that out to get colder. When the band is firm you can just pull the wax off the outside. Repeat with second strip.
Time to melt more chocolate if you didn't have the foresight to do enough when you did the bands. Smear it on the back of a baking sheet and... guess where you put it? Yep. Another trip to the porch. Did I mention it's the front porch? And the kitchen is in the back of the house? Through the dining room, living room and office? Yeah.
This is much trickier than the bands but still a supremely better technique than any other I've tried. The trick is to find the moment when the chocolate is soft enough to curl but not yet tacky. Slide a sharp spatula under it and it will curl right up.
Then stick a skewer in and lift it off to a plate while you make more. This was a bit of fun. I felt like a professional once I got the feel for it. I picked this technique up from this website. There are many different chocolate techniques demonstrated there. (And their pictures are nicer than mine.)
Next thing you know, you've got this lovely cake. And don't forget the Smithwick's. (Silent "w", which you would know if you had ever, like someone I know, asked an Irish bartender for smith wicks and been severely reprimanded.)
Ready to dash to the kitchen and whip one up? Here's where I got the recipe.
She's totally worth it.