Cake has a certain intimidation factor associated with it that many other baked goods do not.
Some fear that their cakes might fall or collapse in the oven, developing an unfortunate culinary sinkhole of sorts. Others fear that their cakes might turn out crumbly and dry, or heavy and dense. Sometimes cakes come out of the oven lopsided, making for a wonky finished product. Occasionally a cake gets stuck in the pan when we try to turn it out, breaking apart into a disappointing mess, difficult to repair or salvage. Perhaps this is how cake pops were invented — layer cakes gone terribly, disastrously wrong, leaving only shattered cake and globs of frosting. And speaking of frosting, that's in a category of intimidation all its own.
Now that I have you good and terrified of ever attempting a cake from scratch, let me tell you that this is the only chocolate cake recipe I ever make — Beatty's Chocolate Cake by Ina Garten. I have been making it for years for birthdays and special occasions, and it has never let me down. It's tender and moist, with rich chocolate flavor, bolstered by freshly brewed coffee in the batter. I have never once had trouble getting the layers out of the pans or assembling this cake.
The frosting is excellent, a beautiful milk chocolate color, and not too sweet. But I've also made this chocolate cake recipe with different frostings and fillings throughout the years. Chocolate never goes out of season. A pumpkin cream cheese frosting would be beautiful for October. Try peppermint frosting and crushed candy canes come winter. Or a pure white coconut frosting topped with lofty coconut shavings resembling freshly fallen snow.
By request, I've transformed this cake into cupcakes for my children's classrooms at school as well. I would be hard-pressed to find a reason to ever bake a different chocolate cake recipe.
Beatty's Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Ina Garten
Serves 8; Makes 1 two-layer round cake
For the cake:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
For the frosting:
6 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 cup butter, softened
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans, line each with parchment, then grease and flour both.
To the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Mix on low until combined. In another mixing bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla.
With the mixer on low, gradually add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients until smooth. Slowly pour in the hot coffee, mixing to combine, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. The batter will be thin and glossy. Pour equal amounts of the batter into the two prepared cake pans.
Bake for 35-40 minutes until cooked through in the center. Transfer the cakes to a cooling rack and cool for 30 minutes before turning the cakes out of their pans to cool completely.
Make the frosting: Set a dry, stainless steel or heatproof bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Break up the chocolate and place it into the bowl to melt, stirring often until smooth. Allow to cool to about room temperature. In the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla. Continue beating for another two minutes. Switch the mixer to low speed and gradually add the powdered sugar. Then, add the melted chocolate, mixing at low speed until combined, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.
Assemble the cake: Place the first cake layer on a cake plate. Using an offset spatula, frost the top. Place the other layer firmly on top of the first. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting.
Maya Wilson lives in Kenai and blogs about food at alaskafromscratch.com. Have a food question or recipe request? Email email@example.com and your inquiry may appear in a future column.