Test Kitchen: Happy Belly

You might recognize his name from the Man versus Cake blog…or maybe from the season he was a participant on the Food Network’s Spring Baking Championship. If not, just know that Aaron McInnis is skilled in the fine art of crafting sweet treats and to share that gift with the world, he brings us Happy Belly: The Cake Book (Breakwater Books). Get your mixer out and let Chef Aaron guide you on a journey through cakes and cupcakes, from popular candy bars and classic flavour pairings to holiday treats, unconventional flavours, and more.Enjoy this three-part salted caramel cake recipe from the collection, below!


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Chocolate Cake

The search for the ultimate chocolate cake that isn’t dry and crumbly but has a rich chocolate flavour was a tough one. In fact, I never did find one I truly liked. Finally, I came up with this brilliantly moist, rich, dark-chocolate cake. The key ingredient that really makes this cake is coffee! Adding hot coffee to the batter helps enhance the flavour of the chocolate. It’s not enough coffee to make the cake mocha flavoured, just enough to elevate that rich cocoa. Adding the hot liquid also helps dissolve the sugar, making for a smoother, more uniform batter.Ingredients:1  cup oil2 cups sugar2 large eggs4 tsp vanilla1 cup buttermilk1 cup hot coffee2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour3/4 cup cocoa powder2 tsp baking soda1 tsp baking powder1 tsp salt* YIELD two to three 8” round cakes (depending on the additions) or 24 cupcakesInstructions:1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.2. Combine oil, sugar, and eggs in a mixer on medium low until blended3. Add vanilla, buttermilk, and coffee. Mix on low until blended.4. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add to the mixer and mix until just blended.*Do not overmix, as this will result in a dry, tough cake and tunnel-like holes in the baked cake.For cakes: Goop cake tin, pour batter until two-thirds full, bake for 30 to 40 mins, or until toothpick comes out clean.For cupcakes: Line 24 to 30 cupcake cups with paper or foil cupcake liners. Scoop batter into each lined cup using your red scoop. If you are not using a scoop, then fill each cupcake cup about half full. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Meringue-based buttercreams are a little trickier because you use egg whites to create them. I prefer the Swiss method, so here we have Swiss Meringue Buttercream. This buttercream is not as sweet as the traditional American Buttercream. Unlike the American version, it does require constant refrigeration once the cake is prepared.Ingredients:6 1/2 egg whites (approximately 6 large egg whites)8 oz granulated sugar1/4 tsp salt3 1/2 oz shortening1 lb unsalted butter, softened2 tsp vanillaInstructions:1. Place the egg whites, sugar, and salt into the bowl of the mixer. Place the bowl over a double boiler and heat gently while whisking continuously to avoid scrambling the eggs. As the egg mixture warms, place your thumb and index finger in and feel the egg mixture for grit—undissolved sugar.2. Keep whisking until the egg mixture is smooth. Transfer the bowl to a stand mixer with a whisk attachment and turn on medium high.3. Whip the mixture to stiff peaks and until the meringue comes down to room temperature.4. Switch to a paddle attachment. Add the shortening and butter a little at a time until well combined.5. Add the vanilla and beat until smooth.6. The mixture may appear curdled. This is normal; just keep mixing and the buttercream will come together and become smooth and creamy.To complete this cake (or cupcake!) recipe, Happy Belly, which includes the recipe for an oh-so-delicious classic caramel sauce!

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Aaron McInnis owns the custom cake studio Happy Belly Cakery and the blog Man versus Cake. A certified nutritionist, Aaron is also a father of three boys—he believes in deconstructing the idea that men belong under a car or up a ladder and that fancy baking is for women. As a participant in the Food Network’s Spring Baking Championship, Aaron placed fifth out of ten contestants, stretching his imagination and creativity to new dimensions. He competed in Christmas Cookie Challenge (season 2, episode 4) and was crowned winner and Christmas Cookie Champion. He also participated in Winner Cake All. He is an occasional contributor to American Cake Decorating. Aaron is passionate about his work, seeking every opportunity to better the world through cake and to empower cakers, bakers, and sweet-treat makers globally.