Black Hole Black Velvet Cake
RIP Stephen Hawking. You blew minds with your work on black holes and their singularities, influencing what will no doubt be generations upon generations of physicists, mathematicians, astronomers, and, let us not forget, sci-fi nerds.
In honor of Stephen Hawking’s works, I scrapped my planned cake design for this week and designed one around the incredibly humbling phenomenon of the black hole, a site that forms in space when the center of a massive star collapses on itself and creates a "singularity" in which incredible volumes of mass are constantly being squeezed into an infinitely tiny space. This causes such a high gravitational pull that past a certain threshold, called the "event horizon," nothing can escape, not matter, radiation, or even light. Hawking likens reaching this point of no return to going over the edge of the waterfall in a boat—there is no possible way back.
You can read more about Hawking's theories in his impressively approachable book A Brief History of Time, which topped best seller lists for over five years after its release in 1988!
My topper design for this cake, painted with Edible Art Paints, is meant to depict such a black hole, despite the fact that we’ve never quite seen one thanks to their light-swallowing properties. The black circle represents the space beyond the event horizon, and at its very center is the singularity, where matter becomes infinitely dense. Then I took some artistic license and a sprinkle of inspiration from some black metal album art, and painted the light swirling just around the event horizon with a cloud of matter fanning out, slowly being sucked into oblivion.
Seriously, if you’re ever having a bad day—maybe your hair isn’t doing what you want it to or somebody stepped on your foot on the subway and didn’t apologize (aaaaaAAAAAAUGH)—you might need a little perspective to turn that frown upside down.
I suggest reflecting on the fact that somewhere out there, as a star many times larger than our sun dies a spectacular death, its mass is collapsing in upon itself, creating the ultimate destructive force. Slowly but steadily, entire galaxies are being ripped to shreds as they near the singularity, planets, smaller stars, even worlds perhaps stretched and pulled into oblivion in the gaping maw of this unstoppable force.
You may feel especially small. So will your problems.
The choice for the perfect cake to go with a black hole design was obvious: Black Velvet. I’d never heard of such a thing, but that didn’t stop me—I’m a cake decorator, damn it! I eat challenges for breakfast.
Rather than take a White Velvet recipe and pump it full of black food coloring, I decided to make a chocolate velvet cake I’ve been messing with, add some black cocoa, and finish it with just a few squirts of Americolor Super Black coloring to really nail the look.
The galactic buttercream was just Italian Meringue Buttercream with various pinks and blues mixed in, which mingled into a kind of purple as I spread it between my layers of Black Velvet.
The Black Velvet Cake recipe is listed below; it’s a deliciously soft and airy cake with a solid cocoa flavor, an excellent foil for lots and lots of buttercream, which as you may have noticed is very much how I roll.
Black Velvet Cake
339g (3 sticks) unsalted butter at room temp
600g (3 cups packed) dark brown sugar (can replace with light brown)
6 eggs at room temp
1 Tbsp + 2 tsp vanilla extract
600g (5 1/4 cups) cake flour, sifted
70g (1/2 cup) whole milk powder (optional)
2 Tbsp + 2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp fine salt
80g (1 scant cup) cocoa powder, sifted
55g (1/2 cup) black cocoa powder, sifted
480g/ml (2 cups) black coffee
A few squirts of black gel food coloring (I used Americolor Super Black)
Preheat your oven to 350°F and prep four 6” pans.
Place your butter and sugar into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high for about 2-3 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Incorporate the vanilla last.
In a separate bowl, whisk your dry ingredients to combine. With the butter mixture running on medium-low, mix in the dry ingredients in four additions alternating with the coffee. Scrape the sides of the bowl and beat again until the batter is homogeneous.
Divide the batter between pans and bake for 45 minutes. Check for doneness by poking to top with your finger; it should spring back. If it doesn’t, bake for up to 50-60 minutes keeping a close eye on the cakes. Cool in the pan to room temperature.
This cake domes up pretty high, so don’t be alarmed! I cut the domes off and sandwiched them with buttercream to make impromptu “moon pies.” They were pretty rad.
The buttercream for the outside of the cake is Italian Meringue Buttercream colored with Americolor Super Black. It was... not very delicious, sadly, but easy to scrape off. I don’t normally sacrifice edibility for aesthetics like this but I needed a black backdrop for my hand-painted stars! Next time I’ll try black ganache, which is sort of like how I approached making the black cake starting with super dark chocolate and laying just a touch of black on top. Sounds like a tastier alternative.