In “Give Me Some Sugar,” Emily Hilliard introduces us to some of the South’s most talented female pastry chefs, courtesy of the Southern Foodways Alliance. These pastry chefs do right by the classics while developing a new canon of their own. Check back every Monday to meet a reason to save room for dessert.
Who: Cheryl Day
Where: Back in the Day Bakery, 2403 Bull Street, Savannah, GA
According to her family, Cheryl Day’s first sentence was, “Are you having a good time?” That says a lot about her personality, but it says just as much about her baking, which for her is about connecting to other people and having fun. “My approach to baking has always been one person baking for another,” she says. “I realized that baking for others would be my path once I starting thinking about what work I could do that I was truly passionate about.”
Day is a self-taught home baker turned bakery owner who opened Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, Georgia, in 2002 with her husband, Griffith. She learned to bake from her Alabamian mother and grandmother at a very early age, and still uses the same techniques that they taught her when she was first starting. Time spent in the kitchen with the women of her family was not just for trying her hand at layer cakes and pies, but also an opportunity to learn about her heritage. “I always looked forward to the time I spent with my mother in the kitchen baking, because she would tell me stories about our family history and of her adventures serving in World War II. Though my mother left her small Alabama town to serve in the the WAAC (Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps), she never lost touch with her Southern roots.”
At Back in the Day Bakery, Day carries on that transmission of personal history and tradition through her food. “I like to use simple ingredients that remind me of spending summers in Alabama when I was young and to give people a sense of what it’s like to live in the South today. I like baking with mace, nutmeg, sorghum, cornmeal, fresh fruits, and handmade jams.” She says that Southern food for her is about using fresh, local ingredients and being resourceful. Clearly she relies on her grandmother’s knowledge as her personal resource, “My desserts look just like the ones my grandmother used to make: handmade and a little rustic.”
Below, Day shares her recipe for Chocolate Heaven Cake. She says, “It’s the very first thing I learned to make with my grandmother, and I think everyone needs it in their repertoire.”
Chocolate Heaven with Chocolate Buttercream
Serves 10 to 12
- 3 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
- 4 cups sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 9 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped (we use Scharffen Berger)
- 2 cups hot freshly brewed coffee
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 cup canola oil
- 1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
- 1 recipe Chocolate Buttercream (recipe follows)
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter three 9-by-2-inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with parchment and butter it as well. Lightly dust the pans with flour, tapping the pans on the counter to shake out the excess.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer), combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Let the mixer run on low speed for 2 to 3 minutes to aerate the flour.
Meanwhile, put the chocolate in a medium bowl and pour in the hot coffee and vanilla. Let stand for about 2 minutes to melt the chocolate, then stir until smooth.
In another medium bowl, whisk the eggs and oil together until thick, satiny, and light in color. Whisk in the sour cream, being careful not to overmix; leave some visible streaks of white. Pour in the melted chocolate mixture and mix until just combined. Add the chocolate–sour cream mixture to the dry ingredients in thirds, mixing on medium speed until well blended.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and, using a rubber spatula, incorporate any ingredients hiding at the bottom of the bowl, making sure the batter is completely mixed.
Divide the batter evenly among the prepared pans and smooth the tops with a spatula. Tap the pans firmly on the countertop to remove any air bubbles from the batter.
Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the center of a cake springs back a little when touched and a cake tester inserted in the center of a cake comes out clean. The cakes will be a deep, dark chocolate brown with slight cracks on top. Let the cakes cool for 20 minutes, then remove from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack.
To assemble the cake: Level the tops of two of the cake layers with a serrated knife so they’re flat. Place one layer cut side down on a flat serving plate (you can keep the edges of the plate clean by sliding strips of parchment under the cake while you frost it). Using an offset spatula, spread the top with a big dollop of frosting. Place the second cake layer cut side down and spread the top with another big dollop of frosting. Place the final layer on top, right side up, and frost the top and sides with the remaining frosting, making big luscious swirls with the spatula. The cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.
Makes about 7 cups
- 9 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
- ¾ pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons whole milk
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 ½ to 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a simmering saucepan of water (do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water) and stir occasionally until the chocolate is completely melted. Set the chocolate aside to cool to room temperature.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a medium mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer), beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add the milk, mixing until completely blended. Add the cooled chocolate and mix until completely incorporated, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. Add the vanilla and beat just until mixed. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add 2 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar and continue beating, adding more sugar as needed, until you reach a creamy, silky frosting consistency. The frosting can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.
Tip: When a recipe calls for unsweetened chocolate, Cheryl recommends using one with 99% cocoa content, such as Scharffen Berger, for its intense flavor and dark color.
Recipe from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook by Cheryl Day and Griffith Day (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2012.
Note: This recipe has not been tested by the Southern Living Test Kitchen.