I’m not sure at what age it becomes socially inappropriate to bake oneself a big birthday mocha cake, slather it in mocha cream cheese frosting, and then smother crushed chocolate covered espresso beans all over the top, but I sincerely hope 29 isn’t it.
I also hope it remains appropriate to have a slice of said mocha cake for breakfast, accompanied by the free Starbucks birthday coffee (a mocha to match). Overkill? On birthdays, no such limits apply.
In sitting down to write this post, I’m trying to decide whether or not I feel 29. The answer is yes. And no. I love my late 20s for the sense of deeper comfort with myself they’ve given me. I’m more settled and happy with the no-hips nerd I’ve always been but would have wished away 10 years ago. I’m a gloriously awful dancer, still love 90s music, and could probably wear the same button down chambray shirt every day for the rest of my life. I’ve also been immeasurably blessed to have traveled many incredible places and to now live in my own home, doing what I love every day. Hey world, I’m 29.
At the same time, 29 scares me a little. Yes, I’ve visited faraway places and achieved things of which I am proud, but my list of goals and hopes for the future is a lengthy one, and it changes more often than I like admitting. Ten years ago, if you had asked me where I would be right now, I would have definitely answered home with three kids. Now, nothing seems that definitive at all. Sure, I’m a homeowner, but I’m still insisting on birthday cake smothered in candy and licking the frosting right out of the bowl. I’m 29, and I feel young and old at the same time. It’s completely trite and completely true.
Perhaps I was channeling my own sentiments of age ambiguity when I baked this mocha cake, because it’s the dessert representation of grown up-tastes meeting childhood favorites. The cake itself is majestically moist and decadent, and I can best describe it as a melt-in-your-mouth brownie sponge cake. It’s my vision of the perfect chocolate cake, one that I imagine tastes like the cake that Bruce Bogtrotter devours in Matilda, one of my favorite childhood books, but with a grown-up hit of espresso.
Though I’m sure a simple dusting of powdered sugar would be sufficient for this mocha cake, it is my birthday wish that you slather it liberally with mocha cream cheese frosting. I’m not usually a big frosting fan as I find most too sweet, but this lightly tangy, richly chocolaty, and coffee-spiked icing is good enough to stand as a dessert all its own. Try it dipped with salty pretzels or graham crackers—just be sure you frost the mocha cake first, or you may wonder why you suddenly don’t have enough to cover its backside…
The final touch is a sprinkle of a grown-up candy, dark chocolate-covered espresso beans. The beans provide the mocha cake’s most pronounced coffee flavor, so if you aren’t a die-hard coffee lover, feel free to omit them or use chopped regular dark chocolate instead.
This mocha cake recipe will yield enough batter to bake one eight-inch round cake or a half-size, six-cup bundt cake (I use and love this half-size bundt cake pan). If you’d like to bake a full sized, two-layer cake or 10-cup bundt, simply double the batter. For the larger bundt, you likely will need to adjust the baking time as well.
Although I do not know everything this year or the ones to follow have in store, for today, I am finding respite in one solid, comforting fact: I will never ever be too old for chocolate cake.
For the Cake:
- Butter — for greasing the pan
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour — plus 2 tablespoons
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder — plus 2 tablespoons, plus extra for the pan
- 2 teaspoons espresso powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup low fat buttermilk
- 1/4 cup coconut oil, — melted and cooloed
- 1 large egg — at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
For the Frosting:
- 4 ounces reduced fat cream cheese — at room temperature
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter — at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon brewed coffee — at room temperature or cold
- 1 teaspoon espresso powder
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- Chopped chocolate covered espresso beans — for decorating
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and lightly dust with cocoa powder a 6-cup bundt pan or a 8-inch x 2-inch round cake pan, tapping out the excess. If using a round cake pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, then butter and dush with cocoa again.
Into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a large mixing bowl, briskly whisk together the all purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt until well combined and no lumps remain.
In a separate bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla until well blended. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Then, keeping the mixer running on low, pour in the coffee and mix gently, just until combined. Scrape the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula to ensure all ingredients are blended.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean (either of the two pans will bake in this amount of time). Remove from the oven, place the pan on a wire rack, then let the cake cool in the pan for 30 minutes. Carefully invert onto a serving plate.
Prepare the frosting: in a large mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese and butter on medium speed until light and fluffy.
In a small bowl, stir together the coffee, espresso powder, and vanilla extract so that the espresso powder dissolves, then add the mixture to the bowl with the cream cheese and butter and beat until combined. In a separate bowl, sift together the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the powdered sugar mixture to the cream cheese. Mix until well blended. Add a little more liquid coffee or powdered sugar as needed to reach the desired consistency. Spread over the cooled cake. Sprinkle immediately with chopped chocolate covered espresso beans. Dive in!
Did you try this recipe? I want to see! Follow Well Plated on Instagram, snap a photo, and tag it #wellplated. I love to know what you are making!
Cakes of birthdays past:
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