A 40th birthday party needs a suitably extravagant cake.
Which is why we turned to pastry chef Laurie Pyle of Cocoa & Fig in Shakopee. Whether she's concentrating on her catering clientele or selling to farmers market shoppers, Pyle focuses on baked flights of fancy: stunning custom cakes for every occasion, a rainbow's array of delicate macaroons, tarts bulging with ripe fruit, clever cupcakes on a stick, beautiful brioche and sneakily addictive cork-shaped brownies, to name just a few temptations in her well-stocked creative arsenal.
"Splurging on something that you can't make at home is our business," said Joe Lin, Pyle's partner.
We asked Pyle to step outside her business plan of impossible-to-replicate-at-home treats and create a birthday cake that Taste readers can prepare in their kitchens. She did not disappoint. Pyle devised an easy-to-make recipe that reflects her indulgent side (wait until you get a taste of its intense chocolate and coffee flavors, super-moist cake and ultra-creamy icing) while remaining within the uncomplicated layer-cake genre. It's going to be our go-to birthday cake for a long, long time.
One detail you'll notice right away is that this is a tall cake. "Home cooks usually make two layers, but we always do three," said Pyle. "Isn't a three-layer cake so much more fabulous?" Absolutely.
Pyle likes to prepare the cake a day in advance ("To let the flavors marry," she said. "It's like grilling meat, and letting it rest before you cut it.") and then stores it in the refrigerator; to serve, bring the cake to room temperature. She prefers to use Valrhona cocoa powder (which she purchases at www.chocolatesource.com), but also recommends the more widely available Ghirardelli cocoa powder. "Buy the best you can afford, because the end product will only be as good as what you put into it," she said.
Next up: The couple -- Pyle and Lin are partners at work and at home -- are eyeballing locations for their first retail outlet ("'Where is your shop?' is the No. 2 question we get, second only to 'How do you stay so thin?' " said Lin with a laugh). In the meantime, look for them on Thursdays at the Nicollet Mall Farmers Market, Saturdays at the Prior Lake Farmers Market, Sundays at the Minneapolis Farmers Market and online at www.cocoaandfig.com.
Now get baking, and celebrating.