Early each morning, sometime before the sun rises, our three year old crawls out of his bed and taps his tiny bare feet along the hardwood floors as he finds his way into our bedroom. He climbs into bed between me and my husband, snuggles up under the heavy down comforter, and quietly falls back to sleep. This has been his routine for most of his perfect little life.
As such, on the day of my birthday, he made his way to his space in the bed and snuggled up with his head nuzzled into my back. With his tiny hand, he touched my cheek for just a moment. And then he whispered, Mommy? Is today the day of your birthday? I replied affirmatively. He continued, Mommy? What sweetie? Happy Birthday Mommy. Thank you baby. Go to sleep now. Mommy? What is it buddy? I’m going to make you delicious treats for your birthday. I can’t wait, sweetie. Now, go to sleep.
Then we went back to sleep, at least until my other little guy came charging into the room. He doesn’t tap across the floor; he charges. And he doesn’t snuggle up and go back to sleep; he pounces, giggles, and makes animal noises. But, by this time, the sun had risen and it was time for our day of delicious treats to begin.
If you ask my kids, no birthday of delicious treats is complete without cake. And I have absolutely no problem with baking myself a cake on my birthday. The best part is being able to custom design the cake of your birthday dreams! And on my special day, I decided to make a moist dark chocolate cake, accented with fresh orange zest, filled with chocolate-chip cannoli cream, and smothered with chocolate ganache. Doesn’t that sound dreamy?
I went back to my favorite chocolate cake recipe, which you’ve seen here before. It’s truly fantastic; moist, rich, and delicious. With a few little modifications, I incorporated a hint of orange flavor. The orange in the cake is intended to complement the sweet, delicious candied orange peel I’ll be mixing into the cannoli filling. You can skip the orange completely, in the cake and filling, but it really does add an interesting depth of flavor.
Candied Orange Peel is a cinch to make and stores well at room temperature, in the fridge or freezer. So, make a big batch and save the extras for throwing in brownies, cookies, and breads or simply dipping in dark chocolate for a decadent treat.
Dark Chocolate Orange Cake
(Adapted from Hershey’s Deep Dark Chocolate Cake recipe)
- 2 cups Sugar
- 1-3/4 cups All-purpose Flour
- 3/4 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa or HERSHEY’S SPECIAL DARK Cocoa
- 1-1/2 teaspoons Baking Powder
- 1-1/2 teaspoons Baking Soda
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- 2 Eggs
- 1 cup Milk
- 1/2 cup Vegetable Oil
- 2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
- Zest of 1 Orange
- Juice of 1 Orange (about 1/4 cup)*
- Boiling Water (about 3/4)*
*The combined total of juice and water should be 1 cup.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour two round cake pans.
In a large bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla. Beat for a couple minutes until well combined. Stir in the orange zest. Add the boiling water, orange juice and stir. The batter will be thinner than you might expect. Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake for about 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool completely before filling and frosting.
- 1 15 ounce container Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese, strained*
- 3/4 cup Confectioners Sugar
- Dash of Cinnamon
- 1/3 cup Mini Chocolate Chips
- 2-3 Tbsp Candied Orange Peel, finely diced
* If the ricotta cheese seems even a bit runny, strain it by placing it over a piece of cheesecloth, in a colander set over a bowl, for a few hours in the fridge to remove the excess liquid. This will ensure a thick cannoli filling.
Beat together the ricotta and sugar until smooth. Stir in the cinnamon, chocolate chips and candied orange peel.
- 6 ounces Semisweet Chocolate
- 1/2 cup Heavy Cream
Give the chocolate a coarse chop. Place the chocolate pieces in a bowl. Heat the cream, just to a boil. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir until smooth.
Candied Orange Peel
- 4 Navel Oranges
- 3 cups Sugar
- 1 cup Water
- 1/2 cup Sugar for rolling (optional)
Clean the oranges. Cut off the tops and bottoms of the oranges. Use a knife to remove the orange peel and pith in large chunks. Set the oranges aside for another use. Slice the orange peel into thin strips.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the orange peel and boil for about 2 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.
Bring a fresh pot of water to a boil. Add the orange peel again. Cook for another 2 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.
Combine the 3 cups Sugar with 1 cup Water in a saucepan. Stir to combine. Bring to a simmer. Add the orange peel. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the peels are tender and slightly translucent. Strain. *If desired, you can keep the orange accented syrup for another use.
When the orange peel is cool enough to handle, take a few pieces at a time and roll in sugar to coat. Then, arrange the orange peel onto a drying rack to dry for one to two hours. *If desired, you can skip the sugar-rolling step and simply arrange the peel on the drying rack.
The same procedure can be applied to lemon and lime peel. Dried candied orange peel can be store in an air-tight container at room temperature, refrigerated or frozen.