A Crowd-Pleasing Chocolate Cake (Truly, truly)

From all the recipes I have blogged, and without meaning to deter the value of any, this chocolate cake recipe is truly the winner. It’s a wonderful feeling to know you have a recipe that pleases all (or at least avids’ of chocolate cake). I have baked this cake about six times so far and I am now starting to understand the concept of joy that deters from baking for friends and family. It is unlike anything else—it’s a unique feeling coupled with an air of coolness and self-assurance.

But what is it that makes this cake special? I’ll tell you.

Think of two ingredients in the world that both, when presented together, have a power as great as the Roman Empire and Babylonia—combined. Similar to these ancient empires, these ingredients are both delicate, yet strong. Both have great invasions and influence, and together they maintain control over nearly half of the population. They both come in large amounts, and as their production continues to pile on from the earliest time of civilization to their devoted dynasty of modern day, we notice their profound social and cultural influence imposed internationally. They are recognized nearly by all, but are very distinctive by name, region, and country. These ingredients are the most pervasive in their historical period, but are positioned right in the center of our hearts – why? Because  they both signal the essence of pleasure and time.

…cacao seeds (chocolate) and coffee beans.

Perfecting this chocolate cake recipe is as close a feeling as though the gates of culinary heavens opened—and at the entrance, Julia Child, with a pleased expression on her face, greets you in.

A Crowd Pleasing Chocolate Cake Recipe

Total time: 2 hours (baking and chilling time included)

Serving Size: 6

Ingredients for the cake

  • 1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup hot strong good-quality brewed coffee

Process: Cake

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease two 8-inch (1.2 L) round cake pans and line bottoms with parchment paper. Grease parchment paper; dust inside of pans with flour and set aside.
  2. In bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, add flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt; mix together on low speed until combined.
  3. In medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla.
  4. With the mixer on medium-low, gradually add in the buttermilk mixture to flour mixture until just combined, scraping down side of bowl with rubber spatula.
  5. Reduce speed to low; gradually pour in hot coffee and mix until just combined.
  6. Spoon mixture equally into prepared cake pans. Bake in center of oven for about 35 to 40 minutes or until tester inserted in center comes out clean.
  7. Cool cakes in pans for 30 minutes or more. Turn out onto wire racks to cool completely; peel off parchment paper.

Ingredients for the icing

  • 1 ¼ cup 70% good quality dark chocolate couverture
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp instant espresso powder dissolved in water, hot

Process: icing

  1. Place dark chocolate couverture in a small microwaveable bowl. Heat on HIGH for 1 to 1½ minutes, stirring every 30 seconds, or until melted; set aside to cool.
  2. In bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter on medium-high speed until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla extract for 1 minute.
  4. Reduce speed to low; gradually beat in icing sugar until combined and smooth, scraping down side of bowl with rubber spatula.
  5. Increase speed to medium; beat in cooled couverture until combined.
  6. Dissolve instant espresso in 2 tsp (10 mL) hot water; immediately add to icing, beating on medium speed until combined.
  7. Place one cake upside down on cake plate. Spread top and sides with half of icing. Place second cake upside down on top of first cake. Spread the top and sides with remaining icing. Chill and repeat.

Lessons Learned: I have truly never failed making this cake. However, I believe that investing in good quality 70% chocolate and excellent cocoa will make all the difference in this cake. It is not as dark as though it might be bitter, no, in fact, it is moist, rich, chocolatey, and could turn any non-chocolate-cake lover (do they exist?) into one instantly. I used Becel butter in this and it turned out absolutely fine. Sometimes I find that using real butter has, previously in the past, sort of ruined my recipes?! If that makes any sense. Perhaps my accustomed habit of using Becel butter has turned my mind into believing it to be as so. I also make sure that the process of this cake is followed thoroughly, step by step. Other than that, it is a wonderful recipe that is simplistic but packed with good quality ingredients (both chocolate and coffee).

In terms of baking, baking time, baking pans, baking a levelled cake, and decorating a cake, I always find some difficulty perfecting the science behind all this, particularly the baking time and baking an even, levelled cake. As an English teacher, you might instantly guess that my way with words is stronger than my calculating skills. I am always standing with crossed fingers over my oven, not helping the situation much. yet I have learned the technique of buttering, flouring, inserting parchment paper, and oil spraying your pan- perfectly. However, I always opt for the ‘buttering my pan, flouring it, then spraying it with canola oil right before I pour my batter in’. I skip the parchment paper. So far, this has worked. And in terms of cake pans, mine aren’t that great, to be frank. But I use what I have.

Now, baking a levelled cake. Ah. This is where it’s always a hit or miss for me. Although I have made a DIY project out of my kitchen towels in order to wrap strips around my cake pans (if you’re not sure what I mean, check this blogger out who created a wonderfully insightful post on how to bake a levelled cake: http://www.thepancakeprincess.com/2013/03/15/how-to-bake-level-cake-layers-diy-cake-strips/– I still sometimes bake uneven pans. This is probably due to many reasons (width of strips, making sure they are very cold before placing them on, or just needing to buy real ones from Michaels, or something!.

And lastly, decorating this cake. I always place my icing in the fridge before I use it. I find that the texture is less droopy, and it maintains a nice firm stand on the cake. I also ice my cake twice, chilling my cake for about 10-20 minutes before each round to achieve that great frosted look. Since I am no artist, following a Pinterest picture for this helped me a lot (see link below!)

I used fresh (inedible) flowers and blueberry and raspberry fruit! …but apparently there’s a way to put fresh flowers on your cake thats healthier for your guests (requires dipping them in something first) …that I still need to look up.

If you try this out, let me know! And I hope you do 🙂 Also, if you have any cake baking tips for me, I would great appreciate them!

Enjoy 🙂

A piece of this cake with coffee..ahh, the joys of life can indeed prove to be as simplistic as this.