Although I knew there would be more competitors tonight because of the extra prize of being able to compete at the State Farm Show this coming January, I was hoping not to see any other people bringing their best chocolate cakes in to be judged. When I reached the check-in desk, I got there the same time as a mother carrying a cake, with her two small children excitedly clinging to her skirt. They weren't the only ones there: among the crowds milling about were older women, seasoned veterans of many a fair, young mothers wiping beads of perspiration off their foreheads as they filled out the registration forms, and young children watching with bright eyes as the cakes were ceremoniously carried back to the judges table at the far end of the Agriculture tent (how did cakes ever end up here, I wonder?)
Back to the trio I mentioned before... The little girl got one look at the cake I was holding and the happy smile was wiped off her face. "Look at that, mommy!" she gasped while pointing at my cake. I managed a weak smile, but inwardly cringed. I don't know how my cake fared against the judges expert taste-buds and examining eyes, but I knew that I has just ruined some of the joy the mother and her two children had that day while making and decorating a cake.
Moral of the story... Yes, contests are fun. But, not everyone will win. Maybe the mother didn't know that there was a whole separate section for kids - the cookies/bars Hershey contest. Cooking is supposed to be challenging, educating, and fun. I had to learn new things last year so I could get everything right this year. If I could do things over, I would have offered to give the little girl a slice of my cake, and then taught her how to make it. After all, everyone's a winner until the judges decide who gets to take home the blue ribbon? Right?
Well, win or lose, try this recipe and see if you like it!
¾ cup HERSHEY’S COCOA (unsweetened) plus extra for dusting pans
2 cups white sugar
1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 large eggs (lightly beaten, at room temp.)
1 cup whole milk (room temp.)
2 tbs. vanilla flavoring
1/3 cup sour cream (room temp.)
½ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup boiling water
¼ cup Crisco (for pans)
Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare 2 nine-inch circular cake pans by greasing them with Crisco and then dusting generously with Hershey’s Cocoa. Sift dry ingredients together into a large mixing bowl. Add all other ingredients except the boiling water. Gently stir together using a wire whisk, making sure to break up any clumps of dry ingredients. Carefully pour in the boiling water, stir just to combine. Evenly distribute the batter into the two prepared cake pans and bake for 30-35 minutes. Make sure you check with a toothpick to see that the cakes are fully cooked through the middle. Let cool for 10 minutes – then turn out of pans and cool completely on a rack for 2 hours (minimum).
HERSHEY’S SPECIAL DARK CHOCOLATE Ganache
2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound HERSHEY’S SPECIAL DARK Chocolate broken into chunks
In a medium saucepan, boil heavy cream, confectioners' sugar, and salt. Remove from heat; pour over the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Let the mixture stand, without stirring, for 1 minute. Whisk mixture until combined. Refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until the ganache is spreadable, about 1 hour. About halfway through the cooling process, pour 1 ½ cups of the ganache into a measuring cup and set aside on the counter. There should be about 3 cups left of the ganache – that should remain in the fridge until you are ready to ice the cakes.
Use half of the “cold” ganache to ice the bottom layer. Add the second layer and frost with the rest of the “cold” ganache. Some of it should pour over onto the sides: merely even out the chocolate as a “crumb coat.” Allow that coat to “set” and then pour the reserved ganache over the entire cake and spread evenly on the top and sides. Garnish with fresh berries and mint leaves, if desired. For best results, allow cake to chill before serving.