Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cherry Coke Birthday Cake

I may have gone a bit overboard with this cake....  Both cake AND cupcakes?  But one is allowed that luxury on her birthday, right?

Some people find it strange that I like to make my own birthday cake.  It's an excuse for me to make whatever kind of cake I want without necessarily worrying about if other people will like it (not that I ever intend to eat the entire cake myself).  It is also a great opportunity to try out new recipes/formulas/flavor combinations.

Case in point, this cherry coke cake.

We took a fast day trip to Austin, TX at the end of June.  We needed to exchange some duplicate wedding gifts & visit some stores (i.e. mainly Ikea) we do not have access to where we live.  While at Williams Sonoma, I picked up a copy of "Edible Austin."  In that amazing publication, there was a recipe for a chocolate root beer cake.  Somehow, my brain jumped from root beer to cherry coke, and I was inspired to create a similar cake with a little less of the chocolate component & more of the soda flavor. And I wanted to incorporate homemade preserves.

Unlike many of my favorite food items, cherry coke and I do not have a long history together,  I didn't grow up drinking soda (or "pop" as we call it in the Midwest) and it wasn't until I went to college that I really developed a soda habit (Mountain Dew, unfortunately), particularly during finals seasons or stressful times.  After moving to South Carolina, my now-husband introduced me to the glorious cherry coke, which has now become one of my (many) weaknesses.

Cherry Coke is one of the things that helped me get through last years particularly strenuous school year of developing and teaching and overloaded schedule of college courses coupled with wedding planning.  It also is one of the first things I turn to when I feel a migraine beginning (something about the caffeine, plus the sugar, plus the bubbles).  But I try not to become too attached to it and currently I try to save it for "special occasions." Though, finding a restaurant with fountain cherry coke (or better yet, coke with grenadine) is a "special occasion" all its' own.

Since this is my "anything goes" birthday cake, I also allowed myself to experiment with a completely new-to-me icing formula.  Usually, I'm a fan of the swiss meringue buttercream (as I used on these cupcakes).  I like how fool-proof it is to make. I like how easy it is to use.  And I like how it tastes.  Unfortunately, my husband does not like how swiss meringue buttercream tastes....  And since I did not intend to eat this entire cake all by myself, I knew I needed to try something else.  At the same time, I didn't really want to use regular American buttercream.  Time for something new!

Over the past couple of years, I have occasionally heard (though, not seen or tasted) about icing that includes flour.  Flour?  In icing? Really?  A friend of mine once told me that the bakery where she worked, they used this "genre" of icing on many of their most popular cakes.  I started searching for "frosting with flour"& finally found a recipe from the Tasty Kitchen that looked like a winner!  Of course there would be some adjustments to make to the formula :)

Aside from accidentally miscalculating the sugar amount in the icing, having to adjust by doubling all the other ingredients, and having to make an emergency run to the store for more butter, I really like this icing.  It isn't as sweet or rich as other icings.  It was easy to work with when I assembled, iced & decorated the cake.  And my husband loved it!

For those of you not crazy about cherry coke or cola in general, this cake does not taste like drinking a cherry coke.  Despite all my attempts to add the flavors of cherry and cola into each component of the cake, it is mostly the cherry flavor that shines the brightest.  And I have found that the leftover cake, straight from the refrigerator, has more of the flavor I was initially trying to find than when I first tasted the cake.

One of the biggest compliments, I think, that can be bestowed upon anyone in the food production industry is a clean plate.  My husband's plate was completely clean after we finished eating cake on my birthday.  The following day, he brought the cupcake version of this cake to his office.  He returned home that evening with a completely empty cupcake container.  Good signs, indeed!  Now, when do I begin brainstorming for next years cake?

Cherry Coke Cake
makes two 8" cake layers (or approximately 24 cupcakes)
(note: if you want to make this cake more than 2 layers, I suggest portioning the cake batter into multiple pans & adjusting the baking time.  I'm not sure these cake layers would torte very well...) 

8 oz Unsalted Butter, plus additional for preparing the pan
0.60 oz Cocoa Powder
12 oz Cherry Coke (1 can)
11.30 oz AP Flour, plus additional for preparing the pan
11 oz Granulated Sugar
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Fine Grain Sea Salt
2 eggs
8 fl oz Buttermilk
1 tsp Cola Syrup (optional)
1 tsp Grenadine
1.  In a heavy sauce pan, heat the butter, cocoa powder and cherry coke until the butter melts & the mixture simmers.  Set aside to cool.

2.  Prepare two 8" cake pans by buttering them (I like to use the leftover butter wrappers from step 1), lining the bottom with a circle of parchment, and flouring the pans.  Preheat oven to 350 F.

3.  In a large bowl, whisk together the AP flour, sugar, soda, and salt.  In a separate bowl, combine the eggs and buttermilk.  Once the butter/cocoa/coke mixture cools, add the optional cola syrup & grenadine.

4.  In the dry ingredient bowl, make a well in the center of the ingredients.  Pour in the cherry coke mixture & whisk to combine.  Add the buttermilk/egg mixture & stir everything together until just incorporated.

5.  Evenly divide the batter between the two cake pans & bake for 35 minutes (or until a cake tester comes out clean).  Cool on a rack.

Cherry Coke Soaking Syrup 
12 oz Cherry Coke
Coke Syrup

1.  Pour the soda into a sauce pan, heat over medium high heat & allow it to reduce by half.  Don't forget about it or you'll have quite the mess!

2.  Cool completely. Add additional grenadine & coke syrup to taste.

Cherry Coke Icing 
adapted from the Tasty Kitchen

2.7 oz AP Flour
8 fl oz Milk
8 fl oz Cherry Coke
16 oz butter, softened but still cool
14 oz Granulated sugar (NOT confectioners)
4 oz Grenadine (plus more to taste)

1.  In a saucepan, whisk the flour together with the milk and cherry coke.  Cook the mixture, whisking constantly, until it thickens.  The mixture should resemble thick gravy.  Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

2.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the sugar and butter on high speed until the sugar dissolves and the mixture lightens in color and increases in volume.  This process does take a while, so have patience!

3.  Add the completely cooled milk/flour/coke mixture to the creamed butter.  Beat until it resembles whipped cream.  The mixture may look curdled, but keep beating!  Add the grenadine.

4.  Taste the icing & determine if it has enough cherry flavor for your liking.  If it doesn't, add additional grenadine.

5.  Reserve at room temperature until ready to assemble the cake.

Cake Assembly
Cherry Coke Cake
Cherry Coke Soaking Syrup
Cherry Coke Icing
No-Recipe Cherry Jam from David Lebovitz made with sweet cherries (or a good store-bought cherry jam, like this one)

1.  Place one of the cake layers on a cardboard cake round on a cake turntable.  Use a toothpick (or cake tester) to gently poke holes into the cake.  Soak the top surface with the cherry coke soaking syrup.

2.  Spoon cherry jam into the cake and with a small offset spatula, spread the jam out to roughly 1/2 " of the edge of the cake.  Place some of the icing into a pastry bag (no tip is necessary) & pipe a dam around the jam to ensure that the jam does not later leak into the icing as the sides are iced.

3.  Gently spread a thin layer of icing over the top of the jam.  Be careful not to spread the jam onto the edge icing!

4.  Top with the second cake layer.  Repeat the poking & soaking process from step 1.

5.  Ice the top and sides of the cake, crumb coating, if you want.  Refrigerate if the icing starts to become soft.

6.  Transfer the cake to the serving pedestal. Using a pastry bag with a small round tip, pipe a dot boarder around the base of the cake.  Arrange 12 fresh cherries (with stems) over the surface of the cake.

7.  Serve the cake as close to room temperature as possible.  Leftover cake may be kept covered at room temperature for up to 24 hours, provided the room temperature isn't too warm!  

Cupcake Assembly
1.  Use a knife to cut out the center of the cupcakes.

2.  Brush the top & interior with the soaking syrup.

3.  Spoon cherry preserves into the center.

4.  Place the icing into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip & pipe a rosette of icing on the cupcake.  (I started in the center and ended on the outer edge.

5.  Garnish with a fresh cherry.


  1. So beautiful! What a wonderful idea. Happy Birthday dear Laura, Happy Birthday to you!

  2. Yum, cherry coke! It looks so PERFECT! Our bookstore on campus carried DIET cherry Dr. Pepper! You know how I love me some DDP. It's what got me through grad school. I wonder if I could make this cake with that? Would it work?

  3. @ the Devil's Food Advocate: Thanks Donna :)

    @ Amanda You could try it with DDP? I do get a little concerned about how the artificial sweetener changes when heated.... I'd try it with the regular Dr. Pepper perhaps, though, I know it does not have the same flavor.

  4. This looks so good! I may make a Coke cake for my birthday coming up. (It won't be nearly as pretty though.)

  5. I have been checking out a few of your stories and i can state pretty good stuff. I will definitely bookmark your blog cakes to order