Celebrating MLK Day (Chocolate Cake with Buttercream Frosting)

January is one of my favorite months.
It’s marked by: 

*New calendars-functional ones & pretty ones
*Goal setting
*The winter days start their swing towards more daylight in our part of the world (These short days are brutal.)
*Sweaters, scarves, layers
*Warm beverages
*Starting a new year- a clean slate (I love marking things off a list, so to mark an entire year off feels pretty great! Especially tough ones like 2016.)
   &

*MLK holiday

I always relish honoring Dr. King and all those who have boldly and sacrificially fought with truth and peace for equity* (see footnote for more on equity) for all people and continue to.
In our home we always seek to celebrate MLK Day with some type of reading/reflecting/commemoration/dreaming. We sometimes listen to/watch the “I Have a Dream” Speech, or watch a racial justice focused film.  If you haven’t watched President Obama’s Farewell Speech, it would be a good pick.  And we always make an “integrated” birthday dessert- usually some combination of chocolate and vanilla. Here are a couple of our past celebrations. 
Here’s a favorite.
It’s Ina Garten’s Beatty’s Chocolate Cake recipe that my friend Jennifer recommended to me. What a
lovely cake.  (It is one of the many chocolate cake recipes from Ina, the Barefoot Contessa). It’s moist, with a nice body. [Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/beattys-chocolate-cake-recipe.html?oc=linkback]

Her recipe is topped with a whipped mocha frosting that is silky and delicious.  I decided for the MLK cake to top it with vanilla almond buttercream frosting instead so that it was white and black.
[I made it with butter and coconut oil.]  If you use Refined Coconut Oil (like the Crisco brand Coconut Oil) it doesn’t taste coconut-y.

And the fun part was making these toppers.
The inspiration for the chocolate flower toppers was from The Great British Baking Show.  They made these on an episode and my girls and I were enamored.  They look so impressive to be so simple to make! You really should try making them.  I haven’t tried other shapes but you could really have some fun with this!
Chocolate Cake:
Butter or cooking spray for coating pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
makes more than enough, but better too much than not enough! 

2 sticks butter, softened (or 1 stick butter & 1/2 cup unrefined coconut oil or crisco for whiter, thicker frosting)
a couple of pinches of salt
(32-oz.) package powdered sugar

to 7 Tbsp. milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract- or I use 1 tsp. vanilla/1 tsp. almond extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Butter and flour (or use Baker’s Joy to coat) 2 or 3 round cake pans -depending on what you have and like
Add the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla.
With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.
Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
Place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal.
For the frosting:
Beat butter and salt at medium speed with an electric mixer 1 to 2 minutes or until creamy.
Gradually add powdered sugar alternately with spoons of milk, beating at low speed until blended and smooth after each addition. 
Stir in extract. Add milk or powdered sugar to arrive at desired thickness and texture. 
(You can make frosting while cake is in the oven.  Keep on counter until cake is cooled- if you refrigerate it will harden and you will need to thaw before frosting cake.)
With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, (if you made a third layer, repeat,) then spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake. 
For chocolate decorations:
Melt a small amount of dipping chocolate (I like Ghirardelli the best) following instructions on the package for melting.  Melt and stir to where it is smooth but not too runny.
using a spatula, spoon it into a plastic zip-top bag.
Lay a piece of waxed paper on the counter.
Use scissors to clip a very small bottom corner off of the bag.
Quickly and gently let it pour in a looping formation. You may have to try it a few times to get the hang of it.  I like to do a loop and then continue across from it and then start a new loop across from that, and so on, making 6 loops total, crossing in the middle to give it strength.
You can also draw on a piece of paper the design you want and place that under the waxed paper as a guide.

Once they solidify, transfer the wax paper to the refrigerator.

[Here’s a little video Lucy and I made for you.]

Hoping you are having a great start to the new year and that you have a peaceful and meaningful (and delicious) MLK weekend.

*footnote: Equity and equality are related but distinct terms.  One day in class, I was speaking about equity and a student asked, “Do you mean equality? Is that the same?” I said, “Well, equality is when people are given the equal amount of something or equal treatment, but equity goes beyond that and seeks to level the playing field- thus making people at a common level, or equal place.  This requires more for some than others!” This graphic is the one I think most simply communicates this.

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