The experience of eating an otherwise forgettable dinner in a fancy restaurant in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan was marred by the very memorable dessert they served: a chocolate cake that wasn’t trying to be anything else. SOOO many restaurants – especially fancy ones – try to pimp up what should already be standard fare: simple chocolate cake that tastes like chocolate and that doesn’t rely on some gimmicky addition of liquor (have a cocktail, dammit!) or cinnamon (I love Mexico but please don’t expect me to eat anything involving chocolate and cinnamon in the same bite) or something like quinoa or who-the-hell knows what morbid, affected morsel of trendiness one can imagine being tossed into an otherwise perfectly serviceable chocolate cake batter? (I think that was supposed to be a question).
See, for me, when it comes to classic chocolate cake: DO NOT mess with that shit. Whip up your batter, bake it, frost it, and get the hell out of the way. Well, this otherwise forgettable restaurant clearly did precisely that: they served me a piece of chocolate cake that was a simple, unaffected slice of, well, chocolate cake. And it was sublime (a word I don’t toss around casually). According to the server, the cake was not supplied by an outside baker (which is often the case at restaurants) but baked right there in their kitchen. After one bite I knew I had reached Chocolate Cake Nirvana. I vowed to stop settling for ordinary chocolate cake – there’s a lot of that going around, and it’s usually good enough to shut me up – and was instead inspired to get in my own little kitchen to land on a reliable recipe for this standard of all standards – a superior, no-frills, extra-chocolatey, chocolate cake* that makes you grateful for whom-so-ever invented tastebuds. I had already researched the offerings of a certain Ms. Stewart as well as those of other lifestyle mavens, and even the plain and simple recipe that can be found on the back of the Hershey’s Cocoa box. Influences from all are in evidence here (so I take zero credit for this result – except for a little tweaking to the process and quantities here and there).
The Chocolaty-est Chocolate-on-Chocolate Cake
For the Cake:
- 3 cups of all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons of baking soda
- 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups of unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 cups of boiling water
- 3/4 cup of full-fat milk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 3 sticks of room-temperature, unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup of vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
- 1 1/2 cups white sugar
- 4 eggs
For the Frosting:
- 1, 8-oz package of softened cream cheese
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- 1 tablespoon of vanilla
- 1 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
- 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
For the Cake:
- In a deep bowl combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl whisk the cocoa powder and boiling water until the mixture is smooth and glossy, then whisk in the milk and vanilla.
- Using a stand or hand mixer beat the butter, oil, brown sugar and white sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy (about 5 minutes).
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating each for about 10 seconds before adding the next.
- On low speed, add the flour mixture in three batches and the cocoa mixture in two, alternating flour-cocoa-flour-cocoa-flour.
- Divide the batter in two nine-inch baking pans that have been coated with vegetable oil and dusted with flour (do not use cocoa for dusting – I found that it does not do as good a job as flour does).
- In an oven preheated to 350 degrees, bake 25-27 minutes. A clean toothpick will tell you when your cake is done (keep an eye on it starting around the 25-minute mark – do not over-bake.)
- Allow the layers to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from pans and allow to completely cool before frosting.
For the Frosting:
- In a large bowl, using a hand or a stand mixer, whip the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla until smooth.
- Add the cocoa and then the powdered sugar, one cup at a time.
- Whip on medium speed until smooth. At this point, if it feels too thick, add milk – a tablespoon or so should do it – to get it to a nice, glossy consistency.
*Yes, I did just do a chocolate cake post – but that was Beautiful Black and White Cake – a very different confection – since it’s all about the ying and yang of chocolate against vanilla. This month’s cake is a pure chocolate-lover’s chocolate-on-chocolate affair – so it is definitely worthy of it’s own attention here.
Let me know how it turns out in the Contact section. And make sure to FOLLOW me! (form at the bottom of this page).
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