The 5-Layer 5-Hour Cake

Tomorrow is my sister Lucy’s 25th birthday. M&D are hosting a family party for her and I’ve agreed to bring (make) the cake. For 5 hours this morning, Jonathan and Violet and I ran around town like chickens collecting all of Ina Garten’s elusive ingredients for her 5-Layer Mocha Chocolate Icebox Cake.

When Violet and I first saw this segment on The Barefoot Contessa, our minds were blown. Ina says at least twice, “It’s really delicious” and even goes so far as to say that it’s her favorite dessert. How could we not try Ina Garten’s favorite dessert?

Of course, it’s never a good idea to make a recipe for the first time for company, however I’ve discounted my family as company for the purposes of this cause.

Earlier in the week, Jonathan was kind enough to track down an 8-inch springform pan, which, believe it or not, was the easiest of all the players. Mascarpone cheese, coffee liqueur and semi-sweet chocolate took some telepathic searching and multiple stops in 4 different towns. (We’re not in Kansas, er– NYC anymore; there isn’t a specialty food store on every corner. Ina lives in the Hamptons and is personal friends with every specialty foodshop owner/chef, hence why she asks “How hard can that be?” repeatedly on her show.)

As it turned out, expresso powder was the toughest ingredient to find. Different from expresso and coffee extract, expresso powder is a very finely ground and—I learned after thorough research—very concentrated substance, used specifically in baking to enhance the flavor of chocolate. It took several phone calls and about 20 miles of treasure hunting to procure this delicacy.

Ina suggests crunchy chocolate chip cookies for the layering, however as a throwback to NY (and because they’re amazing), I’ve decided to instead use Montauks, a soft milk chocolate, chocolate chip cookie. Pepperidge Farm isn’t exactly generous on proportions so I had to buy 6 packages of these bad boys.

Violet complained for the bulk of the morning’s excursions, hurling threats and ultimatums from the back seat. “If you go to one more store, I’m going to scrape this car into little bits!” And “Go home right now or I’ll never clean the lint out of the dryer again!” When she gets mad, Violet resembles Rumpelstiltskin self-combusting after the miller’s daughter guesses his name. She furrows her brow, clenches her fists and tries to think up the most horrible punishments imaginable.

Amidst writing this, I had to take a nap (exhausted from the morning!) and rush out for a second trip to the kitchen store before it closed for the long weekend. Stores here in the North Country tend to close at 5pm, unlike the City That Never Sleeps (think Barnes & Noble, any block NYC, open until 10pm), and sometimes even close on weekends.

Lucy’s birthday surprise is two-fold. What she doesn’t know is that she will get to keep the glass cake dome housing the cake. I haven’t even started on the actual baking yet, but it is clear that this cake has taken on a life of its own. More than that, it has become an obsession.

Endearingly, it is an obsession that Violet shares. “Let’s make the cake NOW Mommy!” she has been saying all day.

“We can’t make it until the day before Auntie Lucy’s party or it won’t be fresh!”
“I can’t wait any more! We have to make it NOW!”
“It will taste like the fridge if we make it too far in advance.”
“I like the fridge taste!”
“Then we’ll have to make a whole new one and we only have enough ingredients to make one.”
“We can get more ingredients!” Violet begs.
“Honey, it took us 5 hours to find the ingredients for this one.”

At this point Jonathan chimes in that he wouldn’t mind having a trial run of the cake to “test” ahead of time.

Violet, of course, thinks this is an inspired idea.

How will it all turn out? If the title of my next post is “The 5-Layer Flop” you’ll know what happened.

Sand & soil & expresso powder,

Iris

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