It’s a holiday birthday cake!
One of my dearest friends and future bridesmaids (!) had her birthday over Thanksgiving a few weeks ago. As hallmates in law school, we bonded over a mutual love for Waffle House and thick-skinned potstickers. Instead of heated civil rights debates, we discussed the finer points of chicken versus pork ramen broths. (Best law students ever.) Then we both came to New York for work! We ended up just one serendipitous floor apart in the same building. She was one of the first “real life” people I ever told about this little space of mine, and somehow she never gets tired of discussing what I should make next or when I should post what. (Our work situation also means she’s usually the one who gets leftovers from blog shoots on Mondays — I hand them off to her in our shared elevator bank like hot potatoes or illicit contraband and then we run into our separate elevators like be cool, man, be cool!)
Katie might just be the biggest fan of Christmas I know — I count on her to let me know how many days until it’s appropriate to start playing holiday music and when the red cups are back — so when sundry work and travel things got in the way of a timely celebration, we made up for it this past weekend with this Christmas’ed-out birthday cake. It’s a moist, rich olive oil cake (miniature, of course) studded with subtle bits of rosemary (yes, I’m officially obsessed) and not-so-subtle chunks of dark chocolate, topped with a dark chocolate ganache, heaps of peppermint no-churn ice cream, and because more is more, bits of Australian red licorice, in honor of her favorite actress. (This was my first time eating Australian licorice, by the way, and let me just say that Mindy knows what’s up.)
The no-churn peppermint ice cream — let me repeat, no churn! — deserves a few words of its own. I’ve been meaning to make one of Sarah’s no-churn ice creams for over a year now (especially since our ice cream machine makes an ungodly racket that drives me to churn ice cream in the bathroom) and now that I have, I may have to toss our machine. The mixture whips up in no time flat, and the resulting ice cream is so smooth, creamy, and all-around delicious that you’d never be able to tell that it wasn’t slow-churned with rock salt and racket. It melts a little faster than the machine version, but that’s a peril I’m willing to face for magical, easy, beyond-wonderful ice cream.
All in all, there’s a lot going on in this cake-sundae, but it works — rosemary and peppermint play well together, the olive oil threads an understated, savory unity through it all, and of course, dark chocolate goes with anything. I froze the cake here into an impromptu ice cream cake, but I think this is best the way I ended up serving it last weekend — with the olive oil cake still warm from the oven, drizzled with plenty of chocolate ganache, and eaten as the ice cream melts into the crags of the cake. I think it took us most of the evening to recover from it, but that’s what Christmas and birthdays and Christmas-birthdays are for, right?
Happy, happy birthday, Katie! I’d have to make a million more of these before it equaled how awesome you are!
This makes one generous portion for a birthday or a reasonable dessert for two. If you prefer, you can easily omit the rosemary, and the olive oil can also be swapped out for the same amount of a neutral vegetable oil. For a vegan and dairy-free option, use almond milk and soy yogurt in the cake, almond milk or coconut milk in the ganache, and serve with vegan ice cream of your choice.
- 7 tbsp (55 g) all-purpose flour (if you don't have a kitchen scale, I would use 6 tbsp, fluffed, lightly scooped, and leveled; see Notes)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- pinch salt
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp white, apple cider, or rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp plus 2 tsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp milk
- 1 tbsp Greek or plain yogurt
- 1/2 tsp finely chopped rosemary
- 2 tbsp finely chopped dark chocolate or dark chocolate chips (ideally 60% cacao)
- for the ganache:
- 2 oz (about 5 tbsp) dark chocolate
- 2 tbsp (1 oz) heavy cream
- for topping:
- 2 generous scoops peppermint no-churn ice cream (see Notes below for slight alterations)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. For a layer cake, line three 4-ounce or 2 6-ounce porcelain ramekins with parchment paper. For one layer, use a 4-inch cake pan or a 4x4-inch glass dish, if you have one.
- In a small bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda, and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together vinegar, olive oil, milk, yogurt, and rosemary. Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry until just barely incorporated, then gently fold in the chocolate in a few strokes.
- Divide batter evenly between the ramekins and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until domes have set and bounce back when touched, and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. If using a single pan, bake for about 25 minutes and test starting around 23 minutes.
- Let cakes cool briefly, then run a sharp knife around the edges of the ramekin or cake pan and invert. The layers should slide out easily.
- To make the ganache, simply combine the chocolate and heavy cream in a small microwave-safe bowl and microwave at 20-second increments, stirring well after each increment, until it becomes a thick chocolate sauce. You can also heat the heavy cream until it just barely simmers, pour it over the chocolate, and let sit for 3 minutes, then stir, as per this recipe, or use a double boiler. Also, if the ganache is too thick, adjust by adding more cream and reheating; if too thin, add more chocolate and reheat. Once it's smooth and to your liking, pour immediately over the cake.
- Serve immediately with peppermint ice cream or ice cream of your choice.
Measuring flour by tablespoons can be a bit finicky weight-wise. When scooping by tablespoons instead of scooping into a cup and leveling, 6 tablespoons can add up to 1/2 cup of flour by weight (63 g) fairly easily, and will result in a denser cake, more like pound cake in texture, that stays pale even when fully baked. The amount above (55g) should be golden brown on top once baked, and is light and more delicate. Happily, both are delicious, just in different ways.
For the ice cream, I ended up adding half the candy cane into the sweetened condensed milk before folding in the whipped cream by accident, but after a second test, I thought that that infused the ice cream with a stronger candy cane flavor and kind of preferred it. (Plus, it turns the ice cream such a pretty pink!) I also used the full 2 teaspoons of peppermint extract for a stronger mint flavor.