Sunday, August 21, 2011

Recipe: Killer Chocolate Cake

School started last Thursday, so I've been up to my eyeballs and haven't had much time for the blog.  Still, why should this be your problem?  So to make up for my silence, here's a really easy and really delicious chocolate cake recipe.

It started this way (have you noticed that there's always a way it starts?):  Elizabeth observed that most chocolate cakes don't taste very chocolately, and they tend to have a powdery, dry texture.  I observe that often when I really like a homemade cake, it turns out to be from a mix, which frankly drives me crazy.  I mean, shouldn't I be able to make a cake from scratch that's as good as or better than one from a box?  (Of course, I think those box people cheat:  they put stuff in there that you would never use at home--stuff that comes from a factory where people are covered in sterile outfits from head to toe and use robotic arms to handle the products--you get the idea.)  So my mission impossible ("your mission, should you choose to accept it...") was to come up with a delicious, moist chocolate cake.  I've got a couple of contenders; I'll share the first of them here.

This one's incredibly easy.  You just throw a bunch of stuff in a bowl, mix it up, and bake it.   And the not-so-secret ingredient gives the cake an interesting depth of flavor.

Two hints about chocolate:

1.  Dutch-processed cocoa reacts differently with the leavening.  It also yields a darker result with a more intense chocolate flavor.  Definitely use it in this cake, which will come out jet-black.

2.  To be palatable, chocolate needs at least some sweetening, but the sweetener tends to deaden the flavor of the chocolate.  So something that bumps up the bitterness quotient will yield a more intense chocolate sensation.  Julia Child (where I learned this trick) recommends using coffee along with chocolate, and I do that almost routinely.  In this cake, the secret ingredient serves that function.  If you object to alcohol, use some strong coffee in place of the secret ingredient.  If you object to alcohol AND coffee, you can make a really good version of this cake with hot water, but it won't be quite as intense.

A further hint:  you can use melted butter in this recipe if you want, but I find that salad oil yields a moister-seeming cake.  It probably has to do with the melting point of the fat.  In a cake like this, the flavor of butter would be pretty well masked anyhow, so don't worry about the cake being bland if you use oil.

The secret ingredient?  Stout!  If you don't have stout, any dark beer or ale will do.

Here goes.

(click here for a printer-friendly version of the recipe)


1 cup stout or other dark beer—it’s better if it’s flat and at room temperature (or you can substitute hot coffee or hot water)
1 cup salad oil
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream or yogurt


1.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
2.  Thoroughly grease a Bundt pan, and sprinkle the pan very lightly with some cocoa.
3.  Combine the stout, oil, and cocoa.  Whisk thoroughly to blend.
4.  If you’re using something hot like coffee or hot water, allow it to cool a bit.  Then whisk the eggs, add the sour cream and whisk, and finally add the cocoa mixture.
5.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, sugar, soda, and salt.  Then pour in the liquid and stir it quickly to combine.
6.  Immediately pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and set it in the middle of the preheated oven.  Bake for 50 – 60 minutes, or until baked through.  The cake will fall a little on the top (which is good—it’ll sit nicely on a plate that way).
7.  After removing the cake from the oven, let it cool slightly (about 10 minutes) before unmolding it carefully on a wire rack to cool completely.
8.  To serve, dust the top with powdered sugar, or drizzle it lightly with ganache:  use about 3 ounces of bittersweet or semisweet chocolate and 1/3 cup of whipping cream.  Break up the chocolate into a small bowl, heat the cream until it is just boiling, and pour the hot cream over the chocolate.  Stir to melt and combine the chocolate.  You could add a tablespoon of rum, brandy, or other liqueur to flavor it slightly, but that isn’t really necessary.  When the cake is cool, drizzle this over the top—the ganache can still be quite warm when you decorate the cake.

I have to say, I really like this cake and think it is a match for any box cake.  Elizabeth, on the other hand, finally came to the conclusion that she doesn't love chocolate cake all that much.  She'd rather have a white cake with chocolate frosting (I'm happy to oblige) or better yet, a carrot cake.  Why not?

And even if I didn't win Elizabeth over, I got to eat a lot of really good chocolate cake this summer.  What could be bad?

1 comment:

  1. My mom sent this suggestion in an email: "For those who object to coffee and alcohol, may I suggest orange juice? Grandma Schildkret always used orange juice in her chocolate cakes and they were very good."

    Now I'm intrigued. Gotta try that. After all, it's got the approval of a whole string of grandmas.