My birthday was a few weeks ago, and I always make my own cake. I usually like to make something different and extravagant. Something I don’t generally make during the rest of the year. I am surprisingly not a huge cake fan. I’m a little picky about it. I find that usually cake is kind of overwhelming in some ways. Generally, the frosting is too sweet or rich, and the ratio of frosting to cake is, well, just too much. Although I don’t necessarily enjoy eating cake, I still love to make them. In the past for my birthday, I’ve made desserts that are a little different than the norm. Such as this lemon layer cake. Still one of my favorites.
Despite my lack of enthusiasm toward cakes, I couldn’t wait to make this cake. I eyed it over last year for my birthday, but I wasn’t feeling well around that time, so I didn’t end up making it. This year, however, I couldn’t wait to make it. I purchased the necessary equipment about a month in advance, not-so-patiently waiting for the time to make it. If you recall, I absolutely love churros. I fell in love with them when I was living in Spain for a trimester during high school. So, when I saw this churro cake, my jaw dropped.
Let me talk about this cake for a minute. It is not your ordinary cake, mind you. It doesn’t have frosting (yay!), but nothing lacks from that missing typical component. A cinnamon-sugar cake is the base for chocolate ganache, chopped churros, and homemade vanilla ice cream. The cake may be a mere 6-inches wide, but, boy, does it pack a big punch of flavor. A very small piece is sufficient enough to satisfy your cake needs. This cake making method is something that I plan to make a lot of in the future. Words can’t even express my excitement. And, it’s a very impressive looking cake! I split the process into two days. Party because it was more manageable, and also because I forgot to freeze my ice cream bowl in advance. Whoops! The first day I made the churros, baked the churro crumbles, baked the cake, but left it whole and made the ice cream base and let everything chill over night in the fridge. The following morning, I cut the cake out, churned the ice cream, made the ganache, then assembled the cake. I let it chill all day to be ready to consume that evening. It worked out beautifully! If you have the time, I would suggest doing the same. It makes the process not so overwhelming. And, I have had the cake in the freezer for 5 days, and it is still going strong. Don’t be intimated by the long list of directions, once you break it down, it’s quite simple. Make it, love it.
For the churros and churro crumble
- 2 cups plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar, divided
- 2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 large eggs
- 4 cups canola oil (for frying)
For the cake*
- 115 grams (8 Tablespoons) butter, at room temperature
- 250 grams (1 1/4 cups) cinnamon-sugar (left over from coating churros, above)
- 60 grams (1/4 cup packed) light brown sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 110 grams (1/2 cup) buttermilk
- 75 grams (1/2 cup) grapeseed oil
- 12 grams (1 Tablespoon) vanilla extract
- 185 grams (1 1/2 cups) cake flour
- 4 grams (1 teaspoon) baking powder
- 4 grams (1 teaspoon) kosher salt
For the ice cream
- 1 cup whole milk, divided
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 2 Tablespoons cream cheese, softened
- Pinch of fine sea salt
- 1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons heavy cream
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 Tablespoons light corn syrup
- 1 vanilla bean, split
For the ganache
- 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 4 oz. heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- To make the churros, combine 2 cups of the sugar with the cinnamon in a pie dish and whisk to combine. Set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, salt, butter and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the flour into the pan with the milk and stir well with a wooden spoon until the flour is fully incorporated, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer. Let cool in the bowl for 5 minutes. Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment, and turn on to medium speed. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing each until fully incorporated before adding the next.
- Meanwhile, add the oil to a heavy-bottomed pot, fitted with a candy thermometer and heat to 350ºF. Have ready a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Once the batter is finished mixing and the oil is heated, transfer the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip. Pipe lengths of batter into the hot oil, making sure not to overcrowd the churros. Let cook, turning once with tongs, until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove from the oil with a tongs and transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat process until all the batter is gone. Once the churros have cooled slightly, roll to coat in the cinnamon-sugar mixture. You have will have leftover cinnamon-sugar- do not discard! You need it for the cake and churro crumble.
- To make the churro crumble, heat the oven to 250ºF. Chop 2 cups worth of the cooled churros into 1/2-inch chunks. Toss with 1/3 cup of the leftover cinnamon-sugar mixture. Spread the mixture in an even layer on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Bake for 25 minutes, tossing halfway through the baking time, until they are golden brown and crunchy. Let cool on a wire rack completely.
- To make the cake (*weighing the ingredients ensures the best results), melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Pour the browned butter into the bowl of a stand mixer, and let cool to room temperature. Heat the oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour the edges of a quarter sheet pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Place the bowl on the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix in the cinnamon-sugar and brown sugar in with the browned butter. Beat on medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes, until fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add in the eggs, and mix on medium-high for 2-3 more minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again. With the mixer on low speed, pour in the buttermilk, oil and vanilla extract. Increase the speed to medium-high and mix for 6 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the mixer on low speed, stir in the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix about 1 minute, just until the batter comes together and no dry streaks remain. Spread the batter in the prepared quarter sheet pan.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the pan once halfway through baking, until the cake is puffed and the center is no longer jiggly (the cake should bounce back when lightly poked with your finger.) Transfer to a wire cooling rack and let cool completely.
- To make the ice cream, combine 1 tablespoon of the milk with the cornstarch in small bowl and whisk to create a slurry. In a medium bowl, combine the cream cheese and salt and whisk until smooth. Combine the remaining milk, cream, sugar, corn syrup, the seeds scraped from the vanilla bean and the vanilla pod in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil over medium-high heat and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Return to the heat and bring back to a boil, stirring with a spatula until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Whisk the hot milk mixture into the bowl with the cream cheese until smooth. Transfer the mixture to the refrigerator to chill thoroughly before churning (over night is best).
- Do not churn the ice cream until you are ready to fully assemble the cake. When you are ready, remove the vanilla bean pod from the ice cream mixture. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Meanwhile, make the ganache. Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl. Warm the cream in the microwave or a small saucepan just until bubbling. Pour over the chocolate and let stand 1-2 minutes before whisking into a smooth, thick ganache. Then whisk in the corn syrup, cayenne and cinnamon.
- To assemble the cake, invert the cake from the sheet pan onto a work surface. Use a 6-inch cake ring to cut out 2 circles from the cake (these will be the top two layers.) Wipe off the cake ring and place it in the center of a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or a silpat. Use a strip of acetate to line the inside of the cake ring. Use scraps from the leftover cake to place in the ring and press together in a flat, even layer.
- Spread a third of the ganache in an even layer over the bottom layer of the cake. Sprinkle 1 cup of the churro crumble evenly over the ganache, gently pressing down. Carefully spread half of the ice cream as evenly as possible over the churro crumble. Gently place a second strip of acetate between the cake ring and the top ¼-inch of the first strip of acetate. Set a cake round on top of the ice cream, and repeat the layering process once more (ganache, churro crumble, ice cream.) Place the remaining cake layer onto the ice cream. Cover the top with the remaining ganache and garnish with extra whole churros. (If the second acetate strip doesn't quite go high enough for the final layer like mine didn't, add another strip before assembling the last layer.)
- Transfer the assembled cake to the freezer and freeze for a minimum of 6 hours to set the cake and ice cream. At least 3 hours before you are ready to serve, remove the pan from the freezer, pop the cake out of the cake ring, and peel away the acetate layers. Transfer to a cake board or serving plate. Place back in the freezer for the remaining chill time. When time to serve the cake, remove from the freezer and defrost for about 10-15 minutes before slicing and serving. Store any leftovers, covered, in the freezer.