While I do love baking and decorating Christmas cookies, every year I find myself wanting to serve a dramatic dessert for the holidays. Southern Living magazine and Food and Wine magazine both feature showstopper cakes on their December issue covers. This year, I stumbled onto a Nordic Ware Christmas Tree cake pan at an estate sale and took it as a sign it was time to attempt a Bundt cake in a holiday shape.
I found many recipes online created for this specific cake pan, but I mashed them together to create my own. Pudding mix in cake is a trick to dress up cake mixes – made famous by the wonderful Anne Byrn, aka the Cake Doctor – but it works in a homemade cake too, making it more moist.
This recipe is flavor adjustable, so choose whatever flavor is your favorite. For me, raspberries always seem glamorous and luckily are readily available in grocery stores in December in my area.
Christmas Tree Chocolate Miracle Cake
3 cups flour
½ cup cocoa (I use a mix of Dutch and black cocoa)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1 box chocolate pudding mix
1 ½ cups sugar
3 tsp. vanilla
2/3 cup coffee
1 cup canola oil
1 ½ cup hot water
2 Tbsp. Chambord liqueur
¾ cup semisweet or dark chocolate chips, chopped coarsely
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Prepare the Nordic Ware Christmas Tree pan by coating the inside with cooking spray. I am paranoid about the cake coming out in one piece – so I also take a brush, dip it in canola oil and brush all the pan crevices to assure there are no dry spots.
Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk together. You can use any kind of cocoa, but using a little bit of black cocoa will make the cake a more dramatic color. Black cocoa is the kind of cocoa used in Oreos, creating that dark rich color hue. I do not recommend using an entire half- cup of the black cocoa – in my experience, black cocoa makes doughs a bit stiffer and you want this to be a moist cake. If you use black cocoa, a few spoonfuls to one-third of the cocoa mix works well. Mix all the wet ingredients into the dry, whisking until incorporated. It will seem like a watery batter, but it bakes up just fine.
Once the batter is mixed thoroughly, stir in the chocolate chip chunks until distributed evenly. The chocolate chips add an extra chocolate richness and moistness to the cake.
Fill the cake pan with the batter, leaving a little room for the cake to rise. You will have too much batter with this recipe for the Nordic Ware Christmas Tree pan, so plan on some mini cupcakes or putting the rest in a muffin tin…these extra little cakes make a great morning after treat with coffee.
Bake the cake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, but start checking with a cake tester at about 30 minutes. The tester should come out clean when the cake is done with no crumbs attached. If you are making cupcakes or mini cupcakes, watch carefully as they will bake up in 15-20 minutes.
Let the cake sit in the pan, cooling, for at least 15 minutes. When you are ready to flip the cake out onto a serving stand or platter, take a look at the cake in the pan. My cake was a bit uneven and I knew it would be wobbly on a plate, so I took a serrated knife and evened off the bottom so the cake would be level. Then, place the plate or platter on top the cake pan and flip the entire thing over. If the cake pan is still too hot to touch, it is too soon to be doing this step. So say a little prayer and hopefully your Christmas Miracle will come true and this gorgeous tree cake will come out of the pan in one piece.
L-R: This is the cake before the powdered sugar snow arrived. Cake with raspberry chocolate ice cream, chocolate sauce and raspberries. The snowy showstopper.
Even with the sugar, I found the cake not to be super sweet – but that is perfect so you can accompany the cake with a dramatically colored ice cream (I chose raspberry with chocolate flecks) and a little chocolate sauce. You could change the flavor and use an orange liqueur like Grand Mariner instead of Chambord. Many recipes for this cake pan recommend peppermint and while the red and white candies are so very Christmas-y, I do not like minty desserts.
Before you serve the cake, it is time to make it snow! Use a sifter to gently add powdered sugar over the cake, creating a snow effect. Do not do this step more than a couple of hours before serving or the sugar will sink into the cake and disappear.
I hope your Christmas Tree Chocolate Miracle Cake dazzles your family and friends this holiday season. Let me know in the comments if you try it.
New Twist: Black Forest Cake Version
After recently returning from a trip that included a trip to the Black Forest in Germany, I was inspired to make my own tree cake pan version of Black Forest Cake. A recipe in Midwest Living magazine provided me the inspiration to try it in my Nordic Ware pan (Black Forest Cake (midwestliving.com)). The batter in this recipe for three cake pans is just the right amount for the tree pan. My adaptations to their recipe:
Sprayed Pam cooking spray into the pan and then sifted cocoa to prevent the cake from sticking.
Sprinkled mini chocolate chips throughout the batter. I poured about 1/3 of the batter into the tree cake pan, sprinkled on the chips and repeated after the second 1/3 of batter.
When the cake was 2/3 full, I also spooned over a generous amount of cherry preserves. Then I poured the remaining amount of batter to finish filling the cake pan.
In the meantime, I boiled about 1/2 cup of tart cherry juice along with about three ounces of cherry preserves until the volume was half, then set aside to cool.
Prepared half the recipe's whipped cream-cream cheese frosting and added a 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract.
To serve, I placed one "tree" slice on the plate with a giant dollop of whipped cream and drizzled the cherry reduction sauce over the whole thing.
It was delicious and reminded me of the delicious Black Forest Cake we enjoyed on our Viking Cruise in Germany!