There are certain things every good cook should know. A culinary artillery belt, of sorts. For example:
- How to perfectly sear a steak so that the outer layer is crusty and the interior is pink and juicy.
- Where to buy the freshest produce.
- How to hand-whisk fluffy whipped cream and glossy meringue (although you'd rather use a mixer!)
- How to work a knife.
- How to make chocolate chip cookies that still taste incredible three days after baking.
- The earth-shattering importance of salt and pepper.
- How to prepare a basic cream sauce, wine sauce, and bolognese
- The makings of a good chocolate cake.
Every good cook should have a reliable recipe for an unforgettable chocolate cake, don't you think? You never know when you are going to need it! Friends coming over for movie night and pizza? Chocolate Cake! Asked to bring a dessert to a party or shower? Chocolate cake! Chocolate cake is the answer to many of life's dilemmas.
We all have our ideas about what makes a good chocolate cake. Think about yours. Is it light and airy, or dense and fudgy? Is it extra-sweet, or just barely sweetened? Is it teddy bear brown or the color of dark soil? One solid slab, or layers? How many layers??? And the icing...the most important consideration of all. Drizzled with chocolate glaze, covered in thick, rich ganache, or slathered with buttery chocolate frosting?
When I close my eyes and think about the perfect chocolate cake, MY rendition is light and moist, NOT dense, not too sweet and dark in color. There are layers...lots of layers. The icing is the only conundrum! Forget the glaze, but I love both classic chocolate frosting and chocolate ganache...EQUALLY! Chocolate frosting is nostalgic. When I taste it, blissful memories of childhood birthday parties and church picnics flood my mind. Ganache on the other hand is...well? There's nothing like ganache! It melts into warm pools of molten chocolate the moment it touches your tongue--how can you beat that? I guess my chocolate cake needs to have BOTH!
The recipe that I've adapted as "my" chocolate cake started as the Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cake recipe on the back of the Hershey's cocoa tub. Don't snub the Hershey's recipe before you've tried it! Hershey's pays BIG MONEY to a large team of chefs, for developing the most classic and delicious chocolate cake recipe to represent their product. It's GOT to be good!
I made two alterations to the cake. 1. I substituted buttermilk for regular milk--to give it a twangy quality that balances out the richness of the ganache. 2. I substituted 1 cup of scolding hot coffee instead of boiling water. Other than that, it's the same cake. The buttermilk and coffee give this cake serious depth, but leave the light, moist texture just as it was meant to be.
My cake has both ganache and frosting...I couldn't choose. I made a 2 layer cake, then cut each layer into 2 thin disks to make a cake with 4 thin layers. More layers means more room for ganache! Then I frosted the outside with buttery chocolate frosting--also from the Hershey's tub. I added coffee to the frosting to enhance the flavor. The result? My idea of what chocolate cake should be. Moist, tall, RICH, dark, creamy. Maybe more accurately described as a mocha cake. Mmmmm!
Warnings- This cake MUST be consumed with vanilla ice cream OR a cold glass of milk! And NE-VER, under any circumstances, give this to your children after 4 pm. They will be up 'til midnight! Trust me!
I am NOT a pastry chef. In fact, the only cake training I have, came from a cake decorating class I took at the community center when I was ten! Still, it's fun to play with a piping bag and tips every now-and-again. It's a good idea to practice on a piece of wax paper, if you're a little rusty. Then don't be too hard on yourself--taste racks up higher points than appearance!
Once you've frosted the cake, leave in sitting out at room temperature so the frozen layers can thaw. Generally, cake tastes best at room temperature so that the ganache and frosting are soft! If you plan to serve it the next day, cover and refrigerate until morning, then sit it out on the counter. It takes several hours for the interior temperature to rise.
The Quintessential Chocolate Cake
2 cups sugar
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup scolding hot coffee
12 oz. heavy cream (about 1 ½ cups)
12 oz. baking chocolate ( I use Ghirardelli dark chips)
2 Tb. butter
2 Tb. sugar
1 stick butter, melted (1/2 cup)
2/3 cup cocoa powder
3+ cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup cream (or milk)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. instant coffee
For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350*. Grease and flour 2- 8-9” round cake pans. Sift (or whisk) all dry ingredients in a bowl.
Beat together the eggs, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Slowly mix in the dry ingredients, and beat for two minutes. Once well combined pour in the hot coffee and mix well. Pour into the cake pans and tap each pan on the counter a few times to remove any large bubbles.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Allow the cakes to cool for 10 minutes, then use the edge of the pan as a guide to cut of the round top. This makes a great mid-cake-baking snack!
Run a knife around the edges and flip out onto a cooling rack. I like to “slam” the cakes out of pan to (hopefully) insure they come out in one piece! Once totally cooled, carefully slice through the middle to make 4 thin round disks. Stack with wax paper in between, then wrap in plastic wrap. Freeze, until ready to assemble. Frozen cakes are SO much easier to handle while frosting. It also helps to keep the frosting from getting crumby!
For the ganache: Place the chocolate chips in a glass bowl.
Heat the cream, butter and sugar in a small pan. Once the cream is just barely simmering, pour it over the chocolate and allow it to sit for 5 minutes.
Then whisk until perfectly smooth. Allow the ganache to cool another 10-15 minutes before assembling layers.
For the frosting: Heat the cream in the microwave until hot to the touch, then add the instant coffee to it and mix. Place the cream in the freezer for a few minutes to cool rapidly. Using an electric mixer, mix the melted butter, vanilla and cocoa powder until well combined. Alternate, adding the cooled coffee-cream and powdered sugar until smooth. Add a little more cream or powdered sugar until desired consistency is reached.
To assemble: Take the cakes out of the freezer. Slather 1/3 of the ganache in between each layer, until all four layers are stacked.
Press the top of the cake to level it. Using a large spreader, smooth the frosting around the sides. Then frost the top and re-smooth the edges.
Use a damp paper towel to clean up the edges of the cake stand. Place the last bit of the frosting in a piping bag to “fancy-up” the edges, if you want!
Leave the cake out, at room temperature so the insides can thaw. Cake taste better when the frosting and filling are room temperature and soft!
What's your idea of the perfect chocolate cake???