Mike turned 40 yesterday, and I threw him a Maryland-themed birthday party, complete with this Chesapeake Bay-inspired cake. Funny difference between Marylanders and Pennsylvanians: most Marylanders have an abundant amount of state pride, while Pennsylvanians seem to be prouder of their local connections. I, for example, am a Pittsburgher first and a Pennsylvanian second. Not so in the Old Line State, where folks fly the Maryland flag outside their homes right alongside the American flag. Mike would probably do that here if I’d let him (which I won’t).
I’m not much of a decorator, so I went with a simple design for this cake. The crab outline came from my crab cookie cutter, and I used a leaf tip to pipe seaweed, a plain tip to pipe sand, then added some flower-shaped sprinkles for shells, rocks, and starfish (as seen in the photo below – I decided after I took the photo above that it needed just a few more fun details). This cake was a big hit at his party last night, along with my steamed crab cookies.
Dark Chocolate Cake
- 3 cups flour
- 6 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons vinegar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 cups water
Vanilla Almond Buttercream
- 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (2 1/2 sticks), at room temperature
- 4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 teaspoon milk
- Blue, green, and brown food coloring
- Miniature chocolate chips for crab eyes
- Flower-shaped sprinkles for shells, rocks, and starfish
For the cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 8-inch round cake pans with baking spray. Line the bottom of each pan with a circle of parchment, and spray a second time.
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Make three wells; place vinegar in one, vanilla in the second, and vegetable oil in the third. Add water and stir very well to combine; the batter will bubble up just slightly as the ingredients come together. Your batter will be fairly thin, but should be mostly lump-free.
Divide batter evenly between the pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Be careful not to over-bake; the sides of these cakes set up pretty quickly and can burn if you let them go too long.
Remove cakes from oven and carefully run a knife around each edge to loosen them from their pans if they’ve stuck at all. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes in the pans, then carefully flip out onto wire racks (removing the parchment for each cake bottom) to cool completely.
For the frosting
Place butter in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1-2 minutes. Add powdered sugar all at once and beat on low until the sugar is completely incorporated into the butter (this will take several minutes).
Scrape down the bowl, then add vanilla, almond extract, and milk and beat for 3 minutes on medium speed, scraping the sides of the bowl a few times.
Reserve about 1 1/2 cups frosting in a small bowl, then tint the remaining frosting light blue.
Remove about 1/4 cup of light blue frosting and tint dark blue for the crab.
Divide the remaining frosting in half and tint one portion green and the other portion a light sand color.
Flip one cake upside-down onto your cake plate; spread a medium-thin layer of frosting on top. Carefully place your second cake on top of the first layer and frost the top, then the sides.
Using a crab cookie cutter, make an indentation in the top of the cake so you have an outline; remove the cutter.
Fit a small piping bag with a small plain tip and fill with dark blue frosting, then pipe the outline of the crab. Switch to a larger tip to fill in the crab body, then use a small offset spatula to smooth out your piping. Add miniature chocolate chip eyes.
Fit a medium piping bag with a leaf tip and fill with green frosting. Pipe seaweed up from the bottom of your cake.
Fit a medium piping bag with a large plain tip and fill with sand-colored frosting. Pipe sand along the base of the cake, covering the bottoms of your seaweed.
Add flower sprinkles for shells, rocks, and starfish; I used white, blue, and orange sprinkles.
Store on a domed cake stand for up to 3 days.
Here’s a photo of the cake with the flower sprinkle additions – I’m very glad I added them, as the cake looked a bit too plain otherwise.