[Note: In 2007, I made this for my MIL’s birthday. Who’d have thunk I’d make it again 10 years later for my son’s 8th birthday? In 2017, I streamlined the recipe a bit; it’s now almost one-bowl, but as good as ever. I also, because he asked so nicely, gave it a Harry Potter theme, details at the end.]
Last week, when it was 95 hateful, humid degrees outside and the 13-block walk home had entirely sucked what traces of motivation remained out of me, I had what I still consider The Best Dinner Idea Ever: chocolate cake with chocolate icing and watermelon.
I’ll give you a moment to absorb my utter genius.
Let’s just be honest here: when you were of single-digit age and night after night your dinner plate was filled with, ecch, vegetables and protein and your glass with what seemed like a gallon of milk, did you not swear that one day, no, One Day With the Capital Letters and the Chest-Thumping Conviction of Grownups that you would eat cake and watermelon for dinner and Nobody would be able to stop you.
Well, I called in that promise on Tuesday and night, and this boy, this suddenly and inconveniently acting-like-a-grownup person I married did not share in my enthusiasm. And despite my thpbbblt-ing and threats to tell the whole internet how Not Fun he is, he was not swayed and we had a 33 minute meal instead.
But chocolate cake with chocolate icing can only be put in the corner for so long, and in this case, that was just over 48-hours when the excuse to eat cake and watermelon reemerged with my mother-in-law’s birthday barbeque on Saturday. And let me just tell you that if I had known that the chocolate layer cake recipe I had in mind–and it’s ganache frosting–would be this transcendent, there would have been no chili. No beans. And no excuse to tell my husband how wrong he was.
Because chocolate layer cake this good needs to be made immediately. It needs to be matted in your Top Honors Cookbook for every chocolate-lovers birthday to come, for all time. The cake, it’s so moist, it’s not so much a solid baked good but gigantic dewy crumbs loosely aligned in a disc-like format. With the slightest pressure from a fork, they’ll bend and scatter about, only to be gathered back together with a frosting-tipped spoon. The cake is so perfect in every way, frosting and filling are afterthoughts–I can personally vouch that the cake alone is a perfectly decadent late-evening snack. But with split layers oozing with raspberry sauce and coated with bittersweet, shiny ganache and decked out with lavender and yellow flowers, it’s fit for the grandest of parties.
That is, if you are willing to share. Because this cake doesn’t make it easy to bestow generosity on others. I kind of wanted to swat people off with a spoon. I’m not sure that chocolate cake with chocolate icing served with wedges of cut fruit brings out my maturity and I’m not sure that when I’m finally sinking my teeth into it that I really care. But I have a feeling you’re better than that. More mature, perhaps more rational in the face of chocolate desserts, and when you make it, everyone will have a grand old time; even more so if you don’t invite terrible people like me.
Double Chocolate Layer Cake
In 2018, I freshened this recipe up with almost one-bowl instructions that I find easier. If you’re loyal the the original directions, you can view them at the Gourmet link above.
- 1 1/2 cups (355 ml) very hot brewed coffee
- 3 ounces (85 grams) semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 3 cups (600 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 1/4 teaspoons fine sea or table salt
- 3/4 cup (175 ml) vegetable or another neutral oil
- 1 1/2 cups (355 ml) well-shaken buttermilk
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla
- 3 large eggs
- 2 1/2 cups (315 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups (aprox. 130 grams; weights vary between brands) unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
- 2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon (4 grams) baking powder
- 1 pound (455 grams) semisweet chocolate
- 1 cup (235 ml) heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons (25 grams) sugar
- 2 tablespoons (40 grams) light corn syrup
- 1/2 stick (1/4 cup or 55 grams) unsalted butter
Ganache frosting and filling
Place chopped chocolate in large bowl and pour hot coffee over it. Let sit together for 4 to 5 minutes, then whisk until chocolate is smooth. Whisk in sugar, salt, oil, buttermilk, and vanilla until combined. Whisk in eggs, one at a time.
Sift flour, cocoa, baking soda, and baking powder into a second large bowl, or, if you can pull it off, right onto the top of your batter. Whisk until smooth. It always looks like the lumps will remain, but I always find that they smooth out, so don’t fret.
Bake cake layers: Divide batter between two pans. (Batter for one cake layer weights about 1008 grams.) Bake cake layers for in middle of oven until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.
[Oh wait, you only have one 10-inch cake pan? Of course you do. It’s fine. Just pour half the batter in, bake the cake layer, flip it out onto a cooling rack as soon as you can, wipe out the pan and re-grease it for the second cake layer. I’ve done this every time I make it and the batter has been forgiving of sitting around for 80 minutes.]
The original instructions for this recipe has you cool layers completely in pans on racks. This is fine if you have two matching pans, but since I don’t, I hurry it along, removing the cakes from the pans after only 5 to 10 minutes cooling.
Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove paper paper and cool layers completely.
Make frosting and filling: Finely chop chocolate. In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Cut butter into pieces and add to frosting, whisking until smooth.
Transfer frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable. I found that stirring this over a bowl of ice water did a great job of cooling it off quickly and evenly.
Spread frosting between cake layers and over top and sides.
Do ahead: Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature. They can be kept for longer (weeks, even) in the freezer. Frosted cake keeps, covered and chilled, 3 days. Bring cake to room temperature before serving.
For the Harry Potter fanatics:
If you want professional instructions on how to put a picture on a cake, run far from here. This is just my hack, and I also used it earlier in the year when a certain 2 year-old required an Elmo + Pals cake. First, chill your cake in the fridge until the top frosting is firm. Second, find a linear, clip-art-like picture of what you want to trace on. Print it to a size you want on your cake. Cut it out. Use a toothpick to gently trace the exterior shape onto the cake. Remove the image and then start cutting it apart as needed along its interior lines, but make sure you can put it back together again. Lay each puzzle piece individually within the outside shape and trace it, too, then get rid of it. Eventually you’ll have a lo-fi sketch of the shapes you want to fill in. Mix some frosting colors to match the colors you need and use a small round tip to begin outlining and filling in the shapes.