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Graham Cracker Cake

I used to think you could never get enough chocolate, but after making about a dozen different chocolate cakes, I've revised that notion. I'm more interested in making cakes these days that are augmented by chocolate, rather than cakes that are simply a delivery vehicle for chocolate. Here's one from Great Cakes by Carole Walter that fits the augmentation category.

This is not a cake for first-timers, or people without time to kill. It's supposed to be a four-layer cake, but I've not mastered the "slice a layer-horizontally-in-half trick," so mine is double-layered. If you go for four layers, make sure to double the mocha whipped cream recipe.

Here's a hint: Get quality graham crackers. And use at least a medium-sized food processor.

25 double graham crackers, broken

1/2 cup shredded, dried unsweetened coconut

2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1.2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

4 large egg yolks (save the whites!)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup whole milk

4 large egg whites (and that's why!)

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350. Butter (or spray) or cut parchment paper to line two 9-inch pans. (If you use parchment, butter that, too.)

In the food processor (fitted with steel blades), put the graham cracker crumbs and coconut. Process until very fine. Add baking powder and pulse 6 to 8 times to blend. Set aside.

Cut butter into 1-inch pieces and cream on medium to high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes.

Add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, taking 6 to 8 minutes to blend in well. Yes, it seems very persnickety, but sometimes a good cake is a persnickety cake. Scrape sides of bowl occasionally.

Add egg yolks, 2 at a time, in 1-minute intervals. Scrape sides of bowl. Beat 1 extra minute. Blend in vanilla.

Reduce mixer speed to low. Add the crumb mixture alternating with the milk, 3 parts dry to 2 parts wet. Scrape sides of bowl and mix 10 more seconds. Set batter aside in larger bowl.

If you don't have two sets of beaters, or a balloon whisk attachment (Kitchen Aid mixers have them and boy, they are great!) wash and thoroughly dry your beaters. Thoroughly. Any hint of foreign material and the next step won't work too well.

Put the egg whites in a separate bowl and beat them on medium speed until they are frothy (like the foam on a nice glass of Bass Ale). Add the cream of tartar and kick the mixer up to medium-high. Beat until your froth becomes firm, moist peaks, and stop. Do not overbeat. Fold 1/4 of the whites into batter, taking about 20 turns. Fold in the remaining whites, about 20 turns.

Spoon batter into the prepared pans, smoothing the surface with the back of a tablespoon. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 or 30 minutes, or until cake begins to come away from the sides of the pan and is springy to the touch.

Let pans cool for 10 minutes, then invert pans onto cake racks sprayed with nonstick spray. Gently remove pans and peel off parchment paper (if you used it). Once cake is completely cool, it's time for the filling and the frosting. But while you're waiting …

Yes, there is more!

You'll need a pastry bag, or improvise with a zip-lock bag with one corner tip sliced off. The pastry bag works better, though.

Mocha Whipped Cream Filling

1 1/4 cups heavy cream, well chilled

1/2 teaspoon coffee zest (coffee zest is made with 3 parts instant coffee crystals to 1 part boiling water; I didn't want to fool with that, so I just set aside a teaspoon of regular coffee from my morning brew)

1/6 cup confectioner's sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa

1 tablespoons Kahlua

1/4 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa, for garnish

Raspberries, for garnish, optional

Chill mixing bowl and whisk or beaters (I toss them into the freezer for 5 minutes).

Pour cream into chilled bowl and whip for a minute or two. Stir in the confectioner's sugar and cocoa, then beat on medium speed until cream begins to thicken. Add the coffee zest and the Kahlua. Continue whipping until cream reaches the soft peak state, then remove from mixer. Whisk by hand until cream is thick, but not grainy. Refrigerate.

Set first layer of cake on plate, top side down. Fit pastry bag with No. 5 plain tube and fill bag 1/3 full with mocha whipped cream. Starting 1/2 inch from edge of cake, pipe a circle of cream around the layer. Fill center with additional cream, smoothing surface with large metal spatula.

Carefully place second layer on top of frosted bottom layer. Empty the remaining cream into the pastry bag. Pipe 1/2-inch dots on the top layer, beginning at the outer edge. Each dot should touch the preceding one, forming a ring. Continue working toward the center of the cake until the entire surface is covered.

Put the 1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa in a fine strainer, and gently tap it to sprinkle the cocoa across the top of the cake. Add raspberries, if desired. Refrigerate, but remove from the refrigerator at least 1 hour before serving.

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