Chocolate Peppermint Cake

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I'm not a big frosting person and neither is anyone in my family because we don't like the sugary graininess that most frostings have.   But this frosting is different. This frosting has been my favorite way to make frosting for a long time now and if you like a creamy type of frosting, you will like this version.  It's super smooth and not over-the-top sweet.  
This frosting is what is called a swiss meringue frosting and it is a technique that is worth learning.  It is not at all hard and a lot of swiss meringue frosting recipes complicate things a little more than they should be. This version is easy. Instead of just whipping together butter and sugar as in a usual buttercream frosting, the sugar is first warmed over the stove along with egg whites until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Then the egg whites are whipped into a meringue and only then is the butter whipped in, along with any flavorings.  Because the sugar is dissolved, there is no graininess in the frosting.  And the meringue makes the frosting super creamy and light
using pre-crushed peppermint bits from Williams Sonoma saves time

A lot of recipes for swiss meringue frostings require the use of a thermometer and heating the egg whites until a certain temperature.  You don't really have to do that - as long as you heat the egg whites until all the sugar is dissolved, you will be fine.  It only takes a few minutes and I've never had any trouble by not using a thermometer.  
The chocolate cake is a version that is one of my favorites because it's a no hassle recipe - it doesn't use butter or chocolate, so there's nothing to melt.  It uses oil and cocoa powder - just a little easier.  It's moist and delicious and it just might become your go-to chocolate cake recipe.
Chocolate Cake with Peppermint Frosting
*if you want to make just a vanilla frosting, just swap out vanilla extract for the peppermint
Ingredients:
for the cake:
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoons espresso powder (I omitted this)
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water 
for the frosting:
  • 1¼ cups sugar (I always use superfine Baker's Sugar)
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract (double this is you want a really strong peppermint flavor)
  • 1¼ cups unsalted butter (2¼ sticks), cut into slices and at room temperature
for the topping:
  • 1/3 cup crushed peppermint bits
  • chocolate shavings  (I just scrape a vegetable peeler over a semi-sweet chocolate bar)

Instructions:
Make the cake:
Preheat oven to 350ยบ F. Prepare two 9-inch cake pans by spraying with baking spray or buttering and lightly flouring.

Add flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and espresso powder to a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk through to combine or, using your paddle attachment, stir through flour mixture until combined well.

Add milk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla to flour mixture and mix together on medium speed until well combined. Reduce speed and carefully add boiling water to the cake batter. Beat on high speed for about 1 minute to add air to the batter.

Distribute cake batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Bake for 25- 30 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, remove from the pan and cool completely.
use a long, serrated knife to slice the layers in two

Make the frosting:
Bring a medium pot of water to simmer on the stove. In a medium sized heatproof bowl (I use my KitchenAid Stand Mixer Bowl), add the egg whites, sugar and salt and whisk together.  Place over the simmering water (don't let the bottom of the bowl come into contact with the water).  Keep the water at a gentle simmer and cook the mixture, whisking every once in a while, until the sugar completely dissolves, about 5 to 6 minutes.  The mixture should be very warm.
Remove the bowl and set it in your stand mixer and add the peppermint extract. With the wire whisk attachment, whisk the egg white mixture at medium high speed for about 8 to 9  minutes, until the mixture is glossy and stiff.  At this point, the mixture should be cooled down and the bowl should not feel hot. Lower the mixer to medium speed and start adding the butter, a few pieces at a time.  Beat until all the butter is added and the frosting is completely smooth. 
Assembly:
After the cake layers have cooled, take a long bread knife and horizontally slice each layer into two layers.
Dab a little frosting onto your cake plate, place the first layer of cake (I place all my layers crumb side down) and spread a layer of frosting on that.  Sprinkle some peppermint bits on the frosting. Repeat until the final layer. garnish with more peppermint bits on top and chocolate shavings.