I don’t need to do a lot of explaining today since I sang my chocolate cake praises in my last post. If you missed it, this is the cake recipe that goes with this chocolate frosting that I could eat plain from a bowl. The cake was on the cover of the “All-Time Best Recipes” Collector’s Edition from Cook’s Illustrated. My one piece of advice is that you take the time to follow all of the steps as written. What I’ve found with Cook’s Illustrated is that every minute step and process has a very specific purpose. These people try a recipe 428 different ways in order to get the best result- so I try not to stray too much- especially when it comes to baking! This is just a great, basic, perfectly chocolaty, moist, delicious old-fashioned cake. I say we just get right to it, don’t you? Oh, one tip first: When I’m embarking on a big project like this (not that a cake is a huge project, but it does take time. And lots of dishes.) I often make the cakes one day in advance. When completely cooled, wrap well with plastic wrap and then place in an airtight container. Either store overnight, or pop in the freezer for a few days (or weeks). Totally cuts down on time and dishes the day you will be making and eating your delicious cake!
Alrighty then. Unsweetened chocolate. If you are like me, this will instantly take you back to your childhood when you sneaked into the pantry and assumed it was semi-sweet. Mean Mom, very mean.
Use a small glass or metal bowl to create a double boiler. This pudding-like mixture is one of the tricks to the great texture of the cake. We’ve got the melted chocolate in there, as well as some cocoa powder and hot water.
It will start to thicken, and if you let it- it becomes quite thick.
But then you add some sugar
And it magically becomes soft and smooth and glossy.
I love magic of the chocolate variety.
Set that aside to cool and you’ll whisk up some eggs until they’re nice and frothy. The recipe calls for a stand mixer,
but you can certainly make this with a hand mixer as well.
In goes more sugar, because, well, we’re making a cake here people.
And then that chocolate pudding-ish stuff
And then some very soft butter. Seriously, soft. Not melted, just super duper soft. Apparently I have no pictures of super soft butter, but trust me. It’s in there.
Mix up those dry ingredients
and alternate them with the buttermilk + vanilla. Yes, it’s important to alternate! I have a hunch there’s people who ignore that step in baking, and it definitely affects the outcome.
If you dump everything in at once, you’re just making a big chocolate muffin 🙂
In the batter goes to the pan and then onto the oven. Here’s a trick: When you are inverting a warm cake to a cooling rack, place a paper towel down first. It will still let the air circulate, but it prevents the cake from sticking to the rack.
Once those babies are cooled you can frost. Place your first layer on your serving platter or cake plate and slather some frosting on top.
Place the other layer on top and try to pretend it’s not just a huge whoopie pie wanting to be eaten right then and there.
From there, I don’t try to be pretty, I just start slathering. Place a large amount on top so that you always have something to spread around.
This way you don’t really need a crumb layer.
Try to get everything evenly coated- seriously, doesn’t have to be pretty yet! It’s more important that the frosting is evenly distributed. See? Messy cake.
Once you are to that point, you can use an off-set spatula to gently smooth out the sides. It helps to run the spatula under very hot water first and dry it off before spreading.
For the top, I just use a spatula, or even a spoon, and make sort of a figure eight pattern to swirl it around. We’re going for sort of a casual elegance here. Shabby-Chic. Casual Friday, but with heels. Catch my drift?
Then you can cut into that sucker…
And I will not judge you for making moaning sounds when taking your first bite.
And possibly every bite thereafter.
Old-Fashioned Chocolate Layer Cake
Cooks Illustrated All-Time Best Recipes, David Pazmino
Note: Don’t make the frosting until the cakes are cooled, and use the frosting as soon as it is ready. If the frosting gets too stiff to spread easily, wrap the mixer bowl with a towel soaked in hot water adn mix on low speed until the frosting is creamy and smooth. Refrigerated leftover cake should sit at room temperature before serving until the frosting softens.
12 Tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, very soft, plus extra for greasing pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting pans
4 oz unsweetened chocolate, coarsley chopped
1/4 cup dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 cup hot water
1 3/4 C sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs, plus 2 large egg yolks
Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round by 2 inch high cake pans with butter; dust pans with flour and knock out excess. Combine chocolate, cocoa powder, and hot water in medium heatproof bowl; set bowl over saucepan containing 1 inch of simmering water and stir with rubber spatula until chocolate ins melted, about 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup sugar to chocolate and stir until glossy, 1-2 minutes. Remove bowl from heat and set aside to cool.
Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. Combine buttermilk and vanilla in small bowl. In bowl of stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whisk eggs and yolks on medium-low speed until combined, about 10 seconds. Add remaining 1 1/4 C sugar, increase speed to high, and whis until fluffy and lightened in color, 2-3 minutes. Replace whisk with paddle attachment. Add cooled chocolate mixture to egg/sugar mixture and mix on medium speed until thoroughly incorporated, 30-45 seconds, pausing to scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Add softened butter 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing about 10 seconds after each addition. Add about 1/3 of flour mixture; followed by half of buttermilk mixture mixing until incorporated after each addition (about 15 seconds.) Repeat using half of remaining flour mixture and all of remaining buttermilk mixture (batter may appear separated.) Scrape down sides of bowl and add remaining flour mixture; mix at medium low speed until batter is thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds. Remove bowl from mixer and fold batter once or twice with rubber spatula to incorporate any remaining flour. Divide batter evenly between prepared cake pans; smooth batter to edges of pan with spatula.
Bake cakes until toothpick inserted into center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 25-30minutes. Cool cakes in pans 15 minutes, then invert onto wire rack. Cool cakes to room temperature before frosting, 45-60 minutes.
Frost with: Old-Fashioned Chocolate Frosting
You have me craving chocolate cake so bad now!!! This looks absolutely heavenly!!!!
I have a wonderful sour cream chocolate cake, but will definitely try this one to see if it wins me over. This webpage will answer your questions about the “Science” of cakes, i.e. why alternate flour and liquid, too low or high in the middle, plus other wonderful info: http://www.tablematters.com/index.php/plate/gf/gfcake
I love in the directions “casual elegance here. Shabby-Chic. Casual Friday, but with heels.” I couldn’t stop laughing that was funny. Cake looks AMAZING and will give it a try tonight. Can’t wait!
Hey! this is MY best chocolate cake ever recipe!! Great…now I’ve got nuthin’ on the OBB girls….except maybe a few pounds….
Do you refrigerate the cake because of the cream in the frosting? I’m in Georgia and I have a feeling it would melt at room temperature.
It was so great to meet you at Women’s Conference.
I am serious when you are in Colorado, let me know if you need anything.
I could make you an amazing dinner, I have the best cookbook… oh ya you wrote it.
just love you girls!!!
How did you get the cakes so even and perfect. My cakes always peak in the middle?
You can cut the “peak” off. Then you have a nice flat cake. Besides, you need the chance to “taste test” before serving, right?? 🙂
YUM!!! My birthday is in (not quite) 2 weeks and I think I will be making this for myself! 🙂 I’ve always used the Hershey’s Disappearing Chocolate Cake recipe as my “go-to” chocolate cake but I will most definitely be giving this a try.
That’s so funny – my birthday’s on the 24th, and I was just thinking the same thing! Normally, I like to get out of extra work for my birthday, but the thought of biting into this amazing shabby-chic whoopie pie is making me seriously reconsider this year . . . I’ll just have to make it ahead of time so it’s not extra stress that day.
No way!! MY birthday is on the 24th!! 🙂 I was thinking of buying one of the lemon cakes that are at Costco right now (from Cheesecake Factory – in the freezer section) for my birthday so I didn’t have to make anything, but this is winning out for sure.
wow, there are already lots of questions on this post, but i’m going to add some (because good cake is THAT important).
1. if making for cupcakes, i’m assuming you reduce the cooking time, right?
2. i’ve turned into a cupcake making machine lately, and i like to make ahead, store, and then frost shortly before serving. but i’ve noticed with every batch (usually doctored up box mix) that the tops get condensation-y and sticky if i don’t frost them immediately upon cooling. i always make sure they are completely cooled before putting into an air-tight container. any idea why this is happening and if there is anything i can do?
(sorry if these are rookie questions- i’m a novice baker!)
1. Yes, you’ll have to eyeball the baking time.
2. That’s just a matter of having something moist in an airtight container. There has to be somewhere for the moisture to go. It doesn’t really affect the end product (if anything I think it’s sometimes a good thing- keeps them soft!) so just cover them with frosting 🙂 You can vent your container, but then you run the risk of drying out your cakes.
When my husband is overseas I’ll send him unfrosted cupcakes (frosting sent separately) I always stick a couple paper towels in with them in a sealed container and that has helped with the condensation and keeps the tops of the cupcakes from getting gooey. Might be worth a try!
Great step-by-step photos! I have a massive craving for chocolate cake, now!
Chocolate frosting on a rich chocolate cake is the only way to go!
Also, what size cake pans did you use Sara?
9 inch round
OMG! I’m dying here. Pretty much just drowned in a puddle of my own drool. Must. Make. CAKE! There must be something to celebrate…Heck, chocolate cake does not need a special day…
Maybe I shouldn’t even be asking this question … lol. Would it totally ruin it to make cupcakes with this recipe? Is it just better as a cake? My 3 year wants a chocolate cake for his birthday and I’d love to try this, but when it comes to kids birthdays, I’m more inclined to make cupcakes for the mess factor.
I’m sure it would work fine as cupcakes too 🙂
mmm I am going to make this today!! Looks TASTY!
What brand of dutch-process cocoa did you use?
Guess what- I’ll be totally honest and tell you I cheated and didn’t use dutch-process 🙂 I used Hershey’s Special Dark, and the flavor was great!
If you want to order some really high quality spices and baking ingredients, try penzeys.com! Or, see if they have a retail outlet near you. I order from them about 2-3 times a year and stock up on stuff like cocoa powder, cinnamon, whole nutmegs, garam masala, and a bunch of other things. Their Dutch process cocoa is amazing in baking.
lol Sara, that’s what I’ve always used but I am curious what difference the dutch-process cocoa makes… Jen, thanks for the link!
Hershey’s Special Dark is a mixture of natural and Dutch-processed cocoa so Sara didn’t completely cheat. I have made many CI recipes that called for Dutch-processed cocoa, and mine always turned out great just using the Dutch-processed cocoa that is available in the bulk bins at Winco.
I miss Winco!! Wasn’t into baking that much when I lived near IF but I do remember buying big ol’ bags of those chocolate chips in the bulk section…. :9
I’m having guests for dinner tomorrow. This would be perfect! By the way, what size round pans did you use Sara?
Thank for posting this!
What if I made moaning sounds while looking at the pictures? Is that too weird?
No! I did it too! 🙂
Looks like heaven! I’ll be making this very soon.
Any advice on cake pans? What kind do you think are best or does it even matter?
I don’t use anything fancy- I have Wilton baking pans and they work great 🙂
I always have trouble making a from scratch cake because of altitude. Do I need to change anything for my cake to look like yours when I make it in Denver?
What is the trick to not getting a cake to fall? I have never been able to make a cake that didn’t fall- not even the box kind with the high altitude directions. Any ideas? I do live in Utah, so I’m at a high altitude. But, I think my cakes fell in Texas, too.
One thing I can think of is don’t open the oven within the first 20 minutes of baking – or really, at all, if possible, until you are close to the end of the baking time. When cooler air hits the part that is not done (usually the middle), it causes it to deflate. You may also want to try turning your oven off for the last 10 minutes or so of baking and letting it cool down slowly. That is totally off the top of my head, so you may want to double check it with the great encyclopedia of google :).
You must never open the oven door during the critical baking time. That will cause a cake to fall EVERY time. Only open the oven door to perform the toothpick check at the END of the baking time. Hope this helps:)
That looks and sounds SO delicious!!!
Yum! Thanks for sharing!!
This looks divine…I will definitely be making it for a group of friends that we get together with every weekend. Question, though. Do you have any tricks to getting a cake out of the pan in one piece? I usually spray my pans with Pam and then dust with flour, and I still sometimes have trouble. Does butter work better than Pam?
I’m totally cheap and not fancy at all, but I’ve found that buying some parchment paper and taking the time to cut out a circle (trace the pan) and put it in the bottom (I usually put some spray down, then the paper…it helps it stick, plus it’s extra lube, which can’t hurt) is worth the effort and money. That way you can run a knife around the sides before you turn it out and have extra insurance that the top (bottom?) won’t stick. Double non-stick insurance!
A trick I learned from a friend who bakes cakes professionally…and I’ve NEVER had a problem since… mix together equal parts vegetable or canola oil, flour, and regular Crisco in an airtight container. Use a pastry brush to apply to the bottom and sides of any cake pan, bread pan, or brownie pan before adding the batter or dough. With cakes, you can also add the parchment circle on the bottom, if you’d like. Store in a cool, dry place. (Pantry) No need to refrigerate. It’s like baking magic!
Yes Jen- generally butter and flour work a lot better than cooking spray and flour, or cooking spray alone. I also really like the cooking spray with flour in it- I use “Bakers Joy” and it works awesome.
I use Pam For Baking and it works great. No need to flour or anything as it’s supposed to have flour in it. I have used it several times for cake and it is awesome and sooooo much easier!
well usually what i do is just take the butter wrapper, n just wipe off the extra butter on the package itself onto the cake container.works fine
Can’t beat a classic chocolate cake. Looks great!
Looks divine! I’m super curious to learn more about the alternating dry and wet ingredients. I see that in all sorts of recipes and I’ll admit I don’t often follow the rule. It all gets mixed together anyway. Why do you really need to alternate? . . . texture, taste- I don’t have a clue what the end result difference would be. Can you explain in more detail sometime?! Thanks!
Yes Daisha, there’s a reason to alternate and it does in fact affect the texture of the finished product. That’s why in cakes you alternate and in muffins and quick breads you don’t. Always follow the directions in a recipe for best results!
I came here looking for this (cause I remembered you said you would post it today).
I might have to make it this weekend! I’m drooling just thinking about it!
Um. Wow. My husband is a HUGE chocolate cake fan, especially that huge chocolate cake you get at Costco? Yeah, we have those often for birthdays around here. I may have to surprise the heck out of him and make THIS one for his birthday instead this year!
Am I really the first comment? cRazY! This cake looks sooo good. My hubs only like chocolate cake and I’m always on the look out for a out-of-this-world chocolate cake. Can’t wait to try it out!