Monday, February 23, 2009

Not My Grandmother's Chocolate Cake


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.


Chocolate Cake
(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.

Chocolate Frosting

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.)


Peabody said...

That's a good one. I find that most of Ina's stuff isn't too sweet.

Sylvie said...

What a great looking chocolate cake. I'd love a slice with a glass of milk.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

This cake looks beautiful and scrumptious! I love it's moist texture...



Steph said...

That cake looks so moist. The layers are so thick!

LizNoVeggieGirl said...

That's your FIRST layer cake??? You're a pro!!!

Rachel said...

Family hand down recipes have always worked the best for me.

This cake looks gorgeous.

Deeba PAB said...

That looks too easy to be true...gorgeous!

CM said...

yum yum yum!
I've been looking for a good chocolate cake recipe to try out, this may be the one!!
Does Ina's recipe mention why there is a yolk in the frosting? The only reason I can think of is to add gloss...

MªJose-Dit i Fet said...

Es la mejor tarta de chocolate de no abuela que he visto!!! te ha quedado expectacular

Unknown said...

This looks so moist! I just got an Ina book for my birthday, so I'm going to have to check it out soon.

Alpineberry Mary said...

Sweet Charity - I'm not sure why Ina uses an egg yolk. It could be to add gloss (like you mentioned) or maybe it's to make the frosting a bit more creamy and rich.

Anonymous said...

This looks so moist and full of chocolate goodness. I love the tall layers! I'm definitely going to give this one a shot. Beautiful!

Christi said...

i LOVE this recipe and use it all the time!

Not Another Omnivore said...

Chocolate cake is good...but when I think of American I always think of strawberries. Strawberry pie and strawberry grandpa lives on a farm with strawberry fields. I love how everyone has their own perceptions of things like this :)


Emma Nowell said...

My favorite chocolate cake looks like this recipe... I love the low oil content but the coffee and buttermilk flavors! Looks great!

Anonymous said...

We always made our chocolate cake with a white icing that was cooked on the stove, i used to always always ask my mom to make it on my birthday :) the recipe was my grandmothers (very american eh?)

chriesi said...

How gorgeous!

brandin + kari said...

Whenever I see a huge cake with multiple layers it reminds me of the original Pollyanna where they go to the Bazaar with tons of cakes. This looks divine. I think Ina does a really good job with baked goods.

Brittany said...

Oh Gah!! That looks perfect.
I'll take a fat wegde and a frosty glass of milk please.

Aparna Balasubramanian said...

Being Indian, we also have some awesome food, but cakes like these were always something we saw in bakeries or ate at birthday parties.
And I do find the frosting always too sweet too.:)

Bitter-sweet chocolate in the frosting sounds good and the cake looks very good. Should try making it.

steph- whisk/spoon said...

that is a fabulous looking cake! i'll have to try it myself one day soon!

Memória said...

I will have to try that frosting. It looks so smooth and shiny. Do you know why Ina added the egg yolk? I know it can serve as a binding agent, but what does it do to the frosting?

Memória said...

Ooops! Someone else already asked that question, and you addressed it. Never mind!

Farmgirl Susan said...

Oh, YUM!

youfei said...


This cake looks like one recipe I must try having searched high and low for a good, nice moist chocolate cake.

One thing I've noticed about chocolate cakes is that the texture seems great at room temp, but it becomes dense and hard, sometimes dry after refrgieration.

Does this cake remain as good when refrigerated?

You Fei

Alpineberry Mary said...

Youfei - This cake is an oil-based cake so it takes to refrigeration nicely. The frosting is a bit stiff when it first comes out of the refrigerator (because of the butter) but after 30 minutes at room temp it should be fine.

Noraly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Noraly said...

This is the most wonderful moist, dense and soft chocolate cake ever! By accident I used lowfat milk instead of buttermilk (same type of carton, I might need to consider glasses), but the result was still so scrumptiously good... The coffee made the batter very runny and it actually started to leak through the pan (spring cake pan). I just put it in the oven as quickly as I could, and hoped for the best. And the best it was. It reminded me of the massive and rich chocolate cake of Roald Dahl's Mathilda. Am so happy I came across your blog. Thank you Mary.