Cooking: Decadent Chocolate Cake

The two layers after being de-panned, cooling on rack.

I’ve made a lot of cakes over the years, experimented with many recipes and methods, measuring exact weights and following every direction, working from scratch or using mixes with additions, doing lots of tweaking and playing and adjusting on instinct and in desperation. While I have sometimes been happy enough with the results, I have never been satisfied; until now.

What follows is my recipe for Decadent Chocolate Cake. And, as usual with me, there are lots of notes and caveats.Baking is an art and about personal expression, so you should experiment and make allowances for your oven, your pans, your taste. I suggest you read the entire thing first before thinking about starting.

PRE-FIRST: Preheat oven to 350. Or, if your oven runs hot like mine, 325. Cakes are picky and ovens are all different. It has taken me a while to get used to the oven in this apartment — like it’s taken me time and experimenting to get used to the oven each time I move to a new place. Meaning, don’t try to bake a cake for the first time for a big occasion. Cake baking requires experimentation, luck, intimacy with your equipment, an ability to adjust to the unexpected, and being comfortable with the possibility of floppage, sinking, and having to trash the results: MUCH LIKE GRINDR! But that’s another story. So…

FIRST: You’re going to cut out two rounds of parchment paper to cover the bottoms of your 9 inch round cake pans. Why 9 inch instead of 8? Because my dears, in my life, 9 inches beats 8 every single time. Just trace around the bottom of pan on parchment and then cut INSIDE the line — it will perfectly fit the bottom of the pan. Put those rounds aside. NOW, mix together equal amounts of regular all-purpose flour and natural cocoa powder (not Dutch processed) which we are going to use to flour the two 9 inch round cake pans after we butter them. I use about a cup of each because I am lazy about the flouring process, doing it over the sink, spilling lots, rather than being careful and not wasteful. Cake baking should be FUN. Now, we butter the pans — bottom and sides — with butter we’ve left sitting out overnight so it’s nice and soft. I INSIST on buttering the pans with unsalted real butter, not baking spray. Once the pans are buttered, place the parchment rounds in the bottoms of the pans and BUTTER THE ROUNDS. Okay, now, dump half the flour/cocoa mixture in each pan. Shake and twirl and turn the pans to coat every surface with the flour/cocoa and pound/shake the extra off. No clumps. No lumps. The pans should look dusted with the mixture, not like lumpy butter gooped with chocolate.

NOW: Measure into bowl the following:

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup cake flour

1 and 3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa (not Dutch process)

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

Once you’ve done this, use a whisk to blend all these ingredients together. You COULD sift it all, but, I don’t and my cake is DELICIOUS. I know some of you are wondering why the sugar is being put in with the flour. Well, this cake uses the Two-Stage Method rather than the Creaming Method where the sugar and fat and eggs are beaten to death. I’ll tell you why; the creaming method has so many opportunities for fail based on temperature of ingredients, over or under beating, temperature of bowls or room, etcetera, that I have come to prefer the Two-Stage Method — and it got me this cake, which is my best EVER. So, you’ve done this measuring and whisking; put the bowl aside.

Now listen; you HAVE to use the cake flour — it absorbs moisture better than regular flour and this cake has a lot of moisture — more eggs than usual, more vanilla than usual, and the mayonnaise — all of which are necessary to give it the denseness that makes it so fantastic without being heavy. SO GOOD.

The two layers with a layer of cream cheese-vanilla frosting in the middle. I made a particularly thick and not too sweet icing for this layer because I wanted it sturdy and the boiled icing topping cake is super sweet, so the between layer frosting needed to be less so.

NOW: into the bowl of a stand mixer (I suppose you could use a hand mixer, or beat it yourself with an egg beater and whisk, but, uhm, I use a stand mixer) measure the following:

1 cup buttermilk (it’s cheap, get it, don’t do the milk & lemon thing or dry buttermilk mix)

1/2 cup vegetable oil (I use the store brand and it’s just fine)

3 large eggs AT ROOM TEMPERATURE (I leave mine out overnight)

2 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 tablespoons of mayonnaise

Start the mixer on low so as to avoid the liquids spraying all over the room. Once a blend has begun, you can turn it up a bit, get them well blended, which shouldn’t take long, then return mixer to slow speed and gradually and slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet.

NOW: you are going to add 1 cup really strong, HOT coffee, into which you have mixed one packet of instant coffee (I used Taster’s Choice Nescafe Colombian) — or you could use espresso powder, but I happened to have a lot of packets of Nescafe; I never drink them, never have, just use them for recipes, and for a while I was rather disorganized and could never find them when I went to cook so bought more and now I have MANY.

Finished cake immediately after frosting. Let me just say, the boiled icing took almost 90 minutes to accomplish and I had to throw out my first batch of whipped egg whites because by the time the boiled sugar mixture was approaching readiness, they had died and I couldn’t revive. We shall see what this tastes like.

Okay, now you will have what seems a too-thin batter. It’s NOT. It’s FINE. Divide it evenly between the two 9 inchers. I use a scale to make sure they are even. I’m not super-crazy making them EXACTLY even, but I do try to get reasonably close to equality. We all must do our best to make sure equality is the foundation of all of our behavior.

Gently bang the pans on the counter to get rid of air bubbles. Place in oven on rack in middle or a little lower than middle depending on your oven. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean-ish — it may still be wet, a bit, just not awful. You don’t want to overbake. Make sure center is firm and sides have pulled slightly away from sides of pan.

Place on rack in pan to cool. I wait about fifteen-twenty minutes and then remove cakes from pans and let cool completely on rack.

For today’s cake, which I’m serving to two of my nieces and my sister tomorrow, I made a vanilla cream cheese frosting, rather firm, to make a middle layer, and then I made an old-fashioned boiled icing for the outer layer. I’ve never made boiled icing before so I will let you know how that went when we eat it tomorrow. It seems a little marshmallow-ish to me, but perhaps I did something wrong or chose the wrong recipe of the many I read.

Anyway, the cake is delicious and could be eaten without any frosting. It does LOOK lumpy, but the taste is unbeatable.

So, there’s my Charlie Decadent Chocolate Cake. Enjoy.

Cake after resting for two hours in refrigerator. It is the shiny I was going for, but I’ve a feeling the icing is too sticky, rather than being a thin crust over a soft inside as real, authentic, old-school from the 1930’s and 40’s boiled icing was. I wasn’t there, but I’ve heard many tales of it. My grandmother was legendary for it, but by the time I was born, she was suffering from early onset dementia and no longer cooked. I asked for her help but I’m not sure she came through. We’ll see.



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