Inside a glittery exterior, rich chocolate cake layers are filled with a whipped white chocolate peppermint ganache before being frosting in a luscious vanilla bean buttercream.
Snowflakes, waltzing flowers, Spanish chocolate, and a mouse king all enter a bar… Okay, so I’ve never been very good with jokes. If you don’t already know what these things have in common, let me tell you. I’m talking about The Nutcracker!
Within hearing the first few bars of the overture in Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, I am instantly flooded with all the feels. After dancing The Nutcracker a half-dozen times and having seen it performed more times than I can count, I can sing along to the entire score. The music is as truly magical as the costumes, sets and, of course, the choreography. Ranking in my Top 3 of Christmas traditions is The Nutcracker. My mom and I are going on Thursday and I can hardly wait!
I was lucky to grow up with an amazing ballet company in my hometown and the opportunity to see live performances regularly. The Nutcracker is always a favorite among children, myself included. Like most companies, The Sacramento Ballet casts hundreds of children to participate in their annual production. It really is quite an amazing tradition. Each winter, we would get dressed-up and head down to Downtown Sacramento to check out the Christmas decorations at the Capital and see the ballet. I would later join the cast of the Sacramento Ballet’s The Nutcracker as an angel when I was in high school, but it was when I was about 10 years old that I danced in my first Nutcracker. It was magical.
The first time I danced in The Nutcracker I was part of the chorus during the Waltz of the Flowers. I believe I was in the 5th grade. Earlier that fall, I switched community dance studios to one where they put on their own production of The Nutcracker. It wasn’t the huge, professional production that I was used to seeing, but for what it was, it was pretty good. I sewed ribbons on my shoes (or rather my mom did) and donned my purple tulle skirt in anticipation. Over the next few years, I would later dance the rolls of “Party Girl,” “Marzipan,” “Ribbon Candy,” “Spanish Chocolate,” and my very favorite, “Snowflake.”
As a kid, the Divertissements was always my favorite part. Spanish chocolate, Arabian coffee, Chinese tea, The Russian Trepak, Dance of the Reed-Pipes (marzipan), and Mother Ginger (and her children) would each perform in their respective styles, music, and costuming. I think it was every kid’s favorite. And the Sugar Plum Fairy, of course. As I grew older, my taste began to change. I began to appreciate the different pieces of music. Where when I was younger the battle scene was my least favorite, but the quick allegro became intriguing and fascinating to me as an adult. Today, the snow scene is by far my favorite. I’m not even talking about the pretty Snow Queen. I mean the flurry that is the snowflakes.
The snowflakes of a Nutcracker performance show just how strong the corps de ballet can be. Of course the principal dancers have skill and grace above nearly every other human on this planet, but let us not overlook the strength, talent, and dedication it takes to be a part of the chorus. In this scene in particular, they are required to perform effortlessly and uniformly at what seems like 386 different tempos. Their waltzes across the dance floor create snowflake-like patterns on the stage as the music builds and builds into a full-own snowstorm. And in most cases, it will even snow on stage! Meaning, these incredible athletes are performing with lightening-speed footwork in point shoes on top of fake snow. Seriously people!!! It’s an incredible sight. At the end of each snow scene I am usually teary-eyed not only because it is the close of Act 1 (meaning the whole thing is almost over), but also because of the pure artistry, talent, and athleticism of the dancers.
Speaking of snow, what about this cake?!?! At first glance, the crystal-like sanding sugar glitters about in its own gorgeous way. Inside, rich chocolate cake layers are filled with a whipped white chocolate peppermint ganache before being frosting in a vanilla bean buttercream. Seriously, guys. How amazing does that sound?!?! This chocolate mint cake can be found in my book, Layered. I’ve always been a fan of mint and chocolate together, and I thrilled that others have been equally excited about the combination.
Today, I will be sharing the recipe straight from the book in partnership with Rodelle. I’ve been using their products for years, including the time I spent recipe testing for the book. Their premium cocoa powders are so lush and rich. I can truly taste the difference in my chocolate cake recipes! Real vanilla bean is a game changer, and their beans and extracts bring my baking to a new level. I’ve used several of their products in this cake alone, and now you can to! Enter to win a signed copy of Layered as well as baking bundle from Rodelle today!
Head down to the bottom of the post for rules and entry.
Winter Chocolate Mint Cake
From Layered cookbook
Whipped Fresh Mint White Chocolate Ganache
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup lightly packed fresh mint
7 ounces (by weight) white chocolate, chopped
¼ to ½ teaspoon pure peppermint extract (optional)
In a saucepan, slowly bring the cream to a simmer over medium heat. Meanwhile, gently muddle the mint. Remove the pan from the heat and add the mint.
Let it steep for about 10 minutes. Keeping the mint with the cream, transfer the mixture to a container and refrigerate for about 2 hours.
Strain the cream through a mesh sieve and discard the mint. Measure out 90 ml (3 liquid ounces) cream and place it back in the saucepan. Slowly bring the cream back up to a simmer.
Meanwhile, place the white chocolate in a heat-safe bowl.
Once the cream is hot, pour over the chocolate. Let stand for 30 seconds, then whisk until smooth. Set aside for about 2 hours until completely cool and thickened.
In the bowl of a stand mixed fitter with the whisk attachement (or using an hand-mixer), whip the ganche until light, fluffy, and pale in color. Add the peppermint extract and whisk to combine.
Do not over-mix or the ganache may split or become grainy.
Classic Chocolate Cake
1 ¾ cup + 2 tabelspoons all-purpose flour
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup grapeseed or canola oil
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs
¾ cup buttermilk
1 cup hot coffee (may sub hot water)
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 6-inch baking pans and set aside.
Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the oil and sugar. While mixing on medium-low speed, add in the extracts and eggs, one at a time.
In alternating batches start and ending with the dry ingredients, gradually mix in the dry ingredients and the buttermilk. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
With the mixer on low, stream in the hot coffee and mix just until combined.
Evenly distribute the batter between the prepared pans and bake for 25 to 28 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cool on a wire rack 10 to 20 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans.
Vanilla Mint Buttercream
1 small recipe Swiss meringue buttercream
seeds of ½ vanilla bean
¾ teaspoon peppermint extract, or to taste
Add in the vanilla bean and peppermint. Mix until smooth.
1 cup white sanding sugar
Fresh rosemary (optional)