This is the very first chocolate layer cake I've ever made. To me chocolate layer cake is a very "American" cake. The kind of cake grandmothers all over the country have made using family recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation. I imagine that every family has their own version. But my family doesn’t since my parents are immigrants and I am a first generation American. My family has amazing recipes for dumplings, soups, Chinese tamales (zong zi) and New Year's cake (nian gao), but we have nothing for chocolate cake.
I wasn't sure if I was going to like this chocolate cake from Ina Garten's "Barefoot Contessa at Home" since I find most American-style frosted layer cakes too sweet. Well, it's mainly the frosting that I find too sweet. But it looked so good when she made it on her television show that I had to try it myself.
The cake is basically a one bowl chocolate cake. Put all the dry ingredients in a big bowl and mix in all the wet ingredients. Just like Ina says on her show "How easy is that?". The cake is dark and moist with the coffee adding a subtle flavor that really enhances the chocolate. The frosting is a very basic butter frosting. Cream some softened butter in a bowl, add a little bit of powdered sugar, and then add some melted chocolate. I like to use a bittersweet chocolate (like 70-85% cacao) so that the frosting isn’t overly sweet. The frosting is smooth and satiny. It's easy to spread on the cake layers without making a gloppy mess.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the cake and the frosting. In fact, I liked this cake so much that I've made it three times this month - twice as a layer cake and once as cupcakes. This tasted exactly like what I imagine an American chocolate cake should taste like. A co-worker told me that my cake looked so perfect that it couldn't be real. Not perfect as in precise or elegant, but perfect as in exactly how an old fashioned chocolate cake is supposed to look. Now that's the biggest compliment this first generation girl could hope to receive.
(Adapted from Ina Garten's "Barefoot Contessa at Home")
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee (or hot water)
Chocolate Frosting (see recipe below)
Preheat oven to 350F. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.
Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed to combine the ingredients. In another bowl, gently whisk together the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix to combine.
With the mixer still on low speed, add the coffee and stir just to combine. (I like to cover the stand mixer with a large dish towel since the coffee might splash.) Remove bowl from mixer. Scrape the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula to make sure everything is well combined.
Pour batter into prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
Place one layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.
6 ounces semi or bittersweet chocolate (I like using 70-85% cacao)
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon instant coffee or espresso powder
2 teaspoons hot water
Chop the chocolate and place in a heatproof bowl. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and stir chocolate until just melted. Set chocolate aside to cool to room temperature but still melted.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla extract and continue beating for 1 more minute. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the confectioners' sugar. Increase speed to medium and beat until smooth and creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
Dissolve the coffee/espresso powder in the hot water. With the mixer on low speed, add the melted chocolate and dissolved coffee/espresso to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don't whip. Spread immediately on the cooled cake.
(Note: Ina's recipe uses 1 raw egg yolk in the frosting, but I decided to leave it out of my frosting.)