Dulcey Cinnamon Cake with Pomegranate Buttercream by Molly Brodak


It’s as if all the bittersweetness of late summer turning to early fall reduced down into this one little edible point: a super moist, comforting cinnamon cake with a lightly tart pomegranate Italian meringue buttercream and a layer of sweet dulcey ganache. I finished the cake with a hand-painted pattern inspired by folk print fabric using edible paints that compliments the almost pottery-like natural color variations in the dulcey ganache. I wrote this recipe, to be honest, as a way of figuring out what to do with dulcey chocolate, which is such an interesting flavor—far easier to eat than white chocolate with its slightly salty toasted butter notes, more akin to a dulce de leche taste than the caramel flavor one might assume it has from looking at it. It makes one of the most delicious ganaches I’ve ever had, so even if you are just in the mood to make this ganache and pour it into a tart shell and be done with dessert this post will be super useful to you.

Screen Shot 2019-09-15 at 6.01.51 PM.png

But this cake is really special, too.

The texture of this cake is quite different from my velvety white cream cake. This is a rustic, dense, and crazy-moist cinnamon cake organized around the trifecta of moistening ingredients: apple sauce, brown sugar, and sour cream. You can make it a true spice cake by adding whatever spices you’d like, but I love the pure focus of comforting cinnamon here. The very light pomegranate buttercream is easy to make, using store-bought juice, and offers the perfect foil for Valrhona’s sweet and toasty dulcey chocolate.

So let’s start with the buttercream. It seems like in the past year I’ve been completely overtaken with this Italian meringue buttercream recipe, which I used to think was so fussy and not worth it—not anymore. Now it seems so easy to me, and so much more delicious than any other buttercream. I’m not big on sharing recipes that you need to have a stand mixer for, but this is one of the exceptions. My recipe for Italian meringue buttercream (IMBC) is very standard, but my method of putting it together is not. It’s kind of a ‘reverse’ of the traditional (and, in my opinion, problematic) method of adding butter to the meringue which often causes all kinds of problems that make IMBC seem stressful. First of all, there’s a somewhat challenging issue of temperature control, which I have learned from years of experience writing recipes now, is always a sticking point. Ambient conditions are difficult to control in a home kitchen, and judgments about what is ‘room temperature’ and what is ‘cool’ or ‘warm’ are always subjective and can lead to despair. This ‘reverse’ method, hopefully, avoids us some despair.

Screen Shot 2019-09-15 at 5.53.40 PM.png

So this is my basic IMBC recipe, to which you can add any flavors or adjust the sweetness in any way you’d like. Replacing the pomegranate juice with plain water in your sugar syrup will give you a blank canvas to play with. As you can see, I add a bit of powdered sugar to my butter in this recipe, which not everyone does, but I have found that people (especially here in the South) like a sweeter buttercream than standard IMBC and the touch of starch from the powdered sugar adds a bit of density to this otherwise very ethereal frosting that feels comforting and right to my clients. A half of a cup to a cup per pound of butter is just enough before you start to notice any grit in the frosting from the powdered sugar. Adjust to your taste. You can also add more sugar to your syrup to make it sweeter if you prefer.

I’ve written before about how illogical I found the process of IMBC to be in the past, adding a block of solid butter to meringue instead of the other way around, not to mention keeping the meringue in the hot mixer bowl and waiting around forever that way when it would cool almost instantly if you simply removed it. Then there’s that whole distressing ‘soup stage’ that IMBC can go through if your temps aren’t perfect, which is almost all of the time. This ‘reverse’ process should ensure that your buttercream never has to go through that painful soup stage—once the meringue is added to the butter it comes together smoothly and quickly.

I know it seems complex, but with the right tools really with IMBC all you’re doing is monitoring two machines to make sure they’re doing their jobs. You’re watching your thermometer and your mixer—and you don’t even have to watch your thermometer if you have one with an alarm (which I highly highly recommend!) This one is my all time favorite. You can just clip it, walk away, and wait for the beep.

IMBC is a fantastic canvas for any flavor, but does especially well with finely-ground freeze-dried fruit powder, which is an easy and natural way to flavor a frosting. I added a touch of pink food coloring, just FYI, to this batch since the pomegranate juice was not quite strong enough to color the icing pink as I hoped. IMBC is so, so much better for piping since it really holds its shape well and makes glossy, almost translucent flowers so if you wanted to skip the dulcey ganache altogether and just use this baby for the whole cake it wouldn’t be a bad choice at all.


1/4 c. and 1/4 cup of pomegranate juice, divided

6 oz. and 2 oz. sugar, divided

5 (150 g.) egg whites, cold

pinch cream of tartar

16 oz (453 g.) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 c. to 1 c. powdered sugar

pinch fine sea salt

pinch citric acid (optional, enhances flavor)

2 tsp. vanilla extract

white vinegar for wiping bowl

Degrease metal stand mixer bowl with a small amount of vinegar soaked into a paper towel. Separate eggs carefully and place whites and cream of tartar into bowl. Using whisk attachment, begin whipping eggs on low in a stand mixer.

Add 6 oz. sugar and 1/4 c. juice to small saucepan and place over low heat to melt sugar. Once sugar is mostly melted, increase the heat to med-high and clip on your thermometer.

Once the egg whites look foamy, add 2 oz sugar and increase speed to medium high. Now monitor both: the sugar syrup should reach 240 degrees at the same time your meringue looks glossy and forms stiff peaks. If meringue is ready but syrup is not, simply stop the mixer and wait for sugar to catch up. Conversely, decrease the temp on the sugar if its heating too quickly. Do not allow meringue to over whip and become dry and chunky. Once the syrup and meringue are ready, pour the syrup directly from the saucepan into your running mixer in a thin steady stream, aiming between the whisk and the side of the bowl. Do not attempt to scrape any hardened sugar that has stuck to the sides of the bowl into the meringue. Allow the meringue to whip for another three minutes until fully incorporated. Turn out meringue into a grease-free bowl and place in fridge to chill for 15 minutes. Rinse mixer bowl with cold water to cool down, then dry off and return to stand.

Change mixer attachment from whisk to paddle and add butter, salt, citric acid, vanilla extract, powdered sugar and 1/4 c. pomegranate juice to mixer bowl and whip butter about five minutes until light and fluffy. Test to make sure the meringue is cool, and add to butter in two stages, then mix for another 3-4 minutes until light and fluffy.

Screen Shot 2019-09-15 at 5.54.13 PM.png

Now, the good news is that this ganache is a simple one-step procedure. Place 300 g. of chocolate pieces in a bowl then simply heat 100 mL of heavy cream until it just starts to simmer, then add to the chocolate pieces. Stir until the mixture is smooth and all the chocolate is melted. If you have a lot of unmelted pieces, zap the ganache in the microwave on low power for just 10 seconds at a time to reheat the mixture. Allow ganache to cool for an hour or so, until it loses most of its shine and has an easy to spread, peanut-butter like consistency.

I recommend a heat-safe plastic bowl when making white chocolate ganache. It’s very finicky and temp-sensitive, and can seize easily if overheated. Metal or glass bowls seem to retain too much heat and I have had problems with them. If your ganache does seem to get oily and separated, add a tiny bit of warmed up cream mixed with a drop of corn syrup to bring your ganache back to normal. Works every time.

This will make enough ganache just to cover the cake—feel free to scale up for more. Here is a pic of the chart I keep on my fridge for the perfect cake ganache in chocolate and white (treat Dulcey as white chocolate).

Screen Shot 2019-09-15 at 5.54.28 PM.png

This cake recipe is so easy and so rewarding. You can use really any pan here, even a rectangular one and make an easy sheet cake. Cream cheese buttercream is a fantastic pairing here if you want to go with something super easy. And as I mentioned, feel free to dress up the cake with more spices. I highly recommend a nice strong Vietnamese cinnamon here, like this fantastic one from Penzey’s.


312 g. all-purpose flour

2 tsp. aluminum-free baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

210 g. light brown sugar

230 g. sugar

1 tsp. fine sea salt

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. vanilla extract

4 large eggs, room temperature

1 c. canola or vegetable oil

1/4 c. sour cream

1 c. unsweetened applesauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line bottom of three or four 6” to 8” baking pans with parchment. Mix flour and baking powder and soda in a small bowl with a whisk until well-mixed. Add all of the rest of the ingredients except for the applesauce into a larger bowl and mix with a hand mixer on medium for about three minutes until smooth. Add in apple sauce, mix until smooth, then add the dry ingredients in two batches, mixing it on low just until fully incorporated. Split batter among pans and bake for around 20-35 minutes, depending on size of pan. Cakes are done when fully set in the middle and spring back when lightly pressed.

Screen Shot 2019-09-15 at 6.02.27 PM.png

Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out and wrap loosely in plastic wrap and allow cakes to cool completely before trimming and frosting.

Screen Shot 2019-09-15 at 5.55.02 PM.png

Fill your cooled cakes with your delicious pomegranate buttercream, then use your ganache as you see fit to cover—something rustic is just as nice as a super sharp edge made by ganaching plates. I don’t have a step-by-step tutorial (yet) on the blog for how I do mine, but its essentially the same technique as seen here from Cake Safe.

Screen Shot 2019-09-15 at 5.55.23 PM.png
Screen Shot 2019-09-15 at 6.00.42 PM.png

I then added an easy painted pattern to the ganache using edible paints and added a touch of greenery (from my own backyard!). This cake stayed moist forever and was so easy to eat thanks to the perfectly balanced flavors. I can’t recommend it enough.

Screen Shot 2019-09-15 at 5.59.50 PM.png

Perfect Chocolate Cake by Molly Brodak

Let me just get this out of the way right off the bat: I don't really like chocolate cake. It's always just a little wrong somehow--too dry, not chocolately enough (just, you know, chocolate-colored), too rich, too sweet, too something.

I needed to make my peace with chocolate cake.

There are so many kinds of chocolate cake out there. Americans prefer a sweet, soft, light cake--like the box mix. In fact, box mix seems to be the standard to which all homemade cakes are measured, strangely. It's a texture thing. American cakes have to be light and moist, which is tough for butter-happy homebakers (butter is a huge factor in why homemade cakes are often dry--more on this later).

Australian chocolate cake is mud cake--dense, rich, almost brownie-like to us. And in Europe, most chocolate cake is either a flourless torte or it's dry as a hard sponge--and why it's often soaked in liquor syrup or simply meant to be dunked in tea. There's a place for all of it.

I had a very specific set of criteria for the perfect chocolate cake: it has to be very flavorful, first of all, and it has to be moist but not dense. It has to have a fine, velvety crumb, with a soft but sturdy texture so it can be stacked, carved, and covered in heavy ganache and fondant. Most American chocolate cake recipes are great for cupcakes or sheetcake that does not get torted and carved--it has an open and squiggly crumb that is deliciously soft but terrible for tall, stacked cakes.

I normally trim my cakes but I didn't need to with this one

I normally trim my cakes but I didn't need to with this one

We're going to need cake flour for softness, a bit of sour cream, both cocoa powder and melted chocolate for the best flavor, and mostly oil instead of butter. Butter, while I love it to death, has a higher water content than oil (obviously) and also has those pesky solids--the whey--that harden the cake's sugar-fat-flour bonds. A thousand recipes later, balance was finally achieved.

The recipe starts with the melted-sugar method of which I am such a fan, and to the hot sugar the chocolate is added, so no extra melting step is required, conveniently. I decided to add the sour cream to the whipped cream that gets folded in and the end and it helped to keep the cake light and flavor-balanced.

This is not how most people make cake

This is not how most people make cake

The recipe is dairy and egg heavy, so swapping in some gluten-free flour is going to work just fine, but a non-dairy, egg-less version I believe would not be possible. You also have a good bit of sugar here, so make sure you are using unsweetened chocolate and not semi-sweet as a substitute. The espresso powder is optional but definitely boosts flavor, and I promise does not impart a coffee taste. 

the most velvety, moist crumb EVER

the most velvety, moist crumb EVER

Just to be sure I'd found tough-yet-tender perfection, I made an extra tall cake with custard buttercream and wrapped it in a heavy and dramatic molded fondant design.

Look at this piece! I made a silicone mold of a vintage wooden architectural detail I'd found in my mold-making madness that I knew would be absolutely killer on a cake. Typically fondant molds are little, fussy affairs, made from jewelry findings and meant to be arranged judiciously as appliques. This mold, on the other hand, makes the cake in one fell swoop.

I die

I die

This recipe makes a LOT of cake--about 9 cups of batter, so feel free to halve it if you are only making a small cake. It will fit four 9" pans generously, or--as I have done here with this cake--two 3" deep 6" pans and two regular 4" pans. I can't recommend enough to get yourself some deep cake pans rather than the standard piddly shallow ones. You'll save space in your oven, since more layers can come out of one pan, and they help prevent overcooking/dry cakes. Using a flower nail or heating core in the center of a deep pan will ensure your cakes cook evenly.

This cake takes a syrup soak really well, and I highly recommend it, since all chocolate cake is prone to drying due to the chocolate itself. Just make a simple syrup, add the flavoring or extract or liquor of your choice, and brush or squeeze on before icing.


Perfect Chocolate Cake

14.2 oz. cake flour (I use White Lily)

16 g. (about 4 tsp) aluminum-free baking powder 

1 oz. (about 1/2 c.) Dutched process cocoa powder (Hershey’s Special Dark or KAF Black Cocoa are great)

3/4 c. heavy cream

1/4 c. sour cream

21 oz. (about 3 c.) granulated sugar

2/3 c. water

2 tsp. instant espresso powder

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped finely

2/3 c. plus 3 Tbsp. canola oil

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened to room temp

1 tsp. salt

1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

6 yolks, room temp

4 eggs, room temp

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare pans. With a hand mixer, mix the flour, baking powder, and cocoa powder thoroughly, until no lumps remain (do not skip this step, it is especially important with cocoa and cake flour which both tend to clump). Rinse beaters and use to whip cream in a cold bowl to soft peaks, add sour cream and whip to firm peaks. Place whipped cream in the fridge. Chop chocolate finely.

In a saucepan, heat sugar, water, and espresso powder over medium heat until most of the sugar is dissolved. Stir frequently or use your hand mixer to speed up the process (be careful that the cord is kept away from the burner). Do not allow mix to boil. Once the sugar is mostly dissolved, pour into a large bowl and add chocolate, mixing until smooth. Add salt, vanilla, oil, and butter and mix until smooth. Sprinkle 1/3 of the flour mix into the wet ingredients and mix well on low, then gradually add the rest but do not overbeat. Set mixer aside and grab a spatula and whisk. At this point, the mixture should be warm but not too hot to touch--If your sugar mixture is still very hot, allow it to cool--you don't want to cook your eggs.

Add the yolks next, two at a time, mixing in by hand with whisk, then the eggs. Don't be tempted to reach for your electric mixer. Just be patient. They incorporate better if they are room temperature instead of cold from the fridge. Then gently fold whip cream into the mixture with a spatula until completely combined. Pour into prepared pans and tap them hard several times on the counter to release large air bubbles. Bake anywhere from 20--45 minutes depending on your pan sizes and depth. Cakes are done when their centers spring back, they no longer jiggle when moved, and the edges just begin to pull away from the sides. I don't recommend poking anything into your cakes to test doneness--just a quick press with your finger in the center will tell you all you need to know. Deep pans will also cause the tops to split (see my photo) which is another good indication of doneness. Cool, level, and split cakes, then soak with simple syrup and frost.

Bird Day Cake + Vanilla Malt Syrup Recipe by Molly Brodak

On the top of the list of the things I cannot handle right now is my birthday cake today. Happy birthday to me! Who hasn't wished for a couple of magic chickadees to help with one's cake decorating?

I mean.

I mean.

The little chickadees are hand painted gumpaste and suspended with a hidden wire behind the dual tone gumpaste ribbons they hold.

Under the dusty blue fondant is insanely good vanilla malt cake and a fudgy chocolate buttercream, my favorite combination.

I've been working on a good vanilla malt cake for a while and I've finally perfected my recipe with this cake. Simply adding malt powder to the mix didn't work--not only did the malt powder tend to clump up, but the malt made the cake drier with a darker crust (as malt encourages browning). So if you can't bake it in the cake, there's only one other logical choice--a soak!

I don't always soak my cakes in syrup because I really love my basic cake recipe and I usually don't think it needs to be any sweeter or moister. But this soak is so, so worth it.

Below is the recipe for the vanilla malt syrup I used to soak this cake, which made enough for both the 6" and the 8" layer. If you've never used a syrup soak on your cakes, don't be shy with this stuff. It might look at first like the cake layer is just getting soggy but it give it a few minutes and the cake will absorb all the syrup and become fantastically moist and delicious. I dab it on with a silicone brush, but another good way to apply it is with a squeeze bottle.

So this is another good use for the dark malt powder I'm sure you bought to make the Salty Malty cookies--the recipe for which, by the way, is going away soon, so be sure to purchase it before the next Recipe of the Month comes along (and I hear it's going to be a recipe for the cheesecake to end all cheesecakes...) This syrup is exactly what you need to make malted milkshakes, so it's great to have on hand.

Vanilla Malt Syrup

1 c. water

1 c. sugar

1/4 c. dark malt extract powder

1 tsp. vanilla extract or 1/2 vanilla bean pod

pinch salt

Heat water and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat or in the microwave until the sugar is dissolved. If using, add 1/2 vanilla bean pod and allow to simmer for a few minutes. Add the malt powder and stir until it is completely dissolved. Cool, and add vanilla extract. Store in the refrigerator once cooled.

I truly cannot even

I truly cannot even

I died

I died