Thursday, April 15, 2010

CI: Old Fashioned Chocolate Layer Cake

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Simple and unadorned, that's how I like to enjoy my cakes. I made this recipe from before, but had to try it again. You see, I have this problem accepting that something as simple to make Hershey's chocolate cake always comes out so perfectly. Shouldn't the cake that requires 10 different steps and a bunch of messy bowls come out better, not the one where you throw everything into the mixing bowl and whip for 2 minutes?

Whip the eggs and sugar until they become thickened and pale. I'm lazy and hate cleaning the whisk so I just use the paddle.
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Add melted chocolate mixture. Isn't the marbelled effect pretty?

This is going to sound really stupid considering I've been baking for so long, but I finally understand the importance of greasing now that I stopped using nonstick pans. I used to think people went crazy with PAM only because it was fun to use the spray can. It was not easy prying this cake out even though I lined with parchment.
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Was this cake really worth all the extra effort of whipping, melting, more whipping and an extra dirty bowl? Probably not. Although the crumb was slightly more velvety compared to Hershey's perfectly chocolate chocolate cake, the difference is pretty small. When you take into account that this uses butter, chocolate and all the extra steps, I would rather have something lower in fat and easy to make if the cakes are fairly comparable. Don't get me wrong, this was still really delicious and I would never sacrifice taste for ease, ie. microwave cake in a mug... no thanks!

Here is the whole recipe. I only made the cake portion.

Cook's Illustrated Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake

12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), very soft, plus extra for greasing pans
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (8 3/4 ounces), plus extra for dusting pans
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate , coarsely chopped
1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa (3/4 ounce)
1/2 cup hot water 
1 3/4 cups sugar (12 1/4 ounces) ; 1/2 cup, 1 1/4 cup
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda 
1 teaspoon table salt 
1 cup buttermilk 
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
4 large eggs 
2 large egg yolks 


16 ounces semisweet chocolate , finely chopped
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
1/3 cup sugar 
2 tablespoons corn syrup 
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
1/4 teaspoon table salt 
1 1/4 cups heavy cream (cold)

1. FOR THE CAKE: Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch-round by 2-inch-high cake pans with softened butter; dust pans with flour and knock out excess. Combine chocolate, cocoa powder, and hot water in medium heatproof bowl; set bowl over saucepan containing 1 inch of simmering water and stir with rubber spatula until chocolate is melted, about 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup sugar to chocolate mixture and stir until thick and glossy, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove bowl from heat and set aside to cool.

2. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. Combine buttermilk and vanilla in small bowl. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whisk eggs and yolks on medium-low speed until combined, about 10 seconds. Add remaining 1 1/4 cups sugar, increase speed to high, and whisk until fluffy and lightened in color, 2 to 3 minutes. Replace whisk with paddle attachment. Add cooled chocolate mixture to egg/sugar mixture and mix on medium speed until thoroughly incorporated, 30 to 45 seconds, pausing to scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Add softened butter one tablespoon at a time, mixing about 10 seconds after each addition. Add about one-third of flour mixture followed by half of buttermilk mixture, mixing until incorporated after each addition (about 15 seconds). Repeat using half of remaining flour mixture and all of remaining buttermilk mixture (batter may appear separated). Scrape down sides of bowl and add remaining flour mixture; mix at medium-low speed until batter is thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds. Remove bowl from mixer and fold batter once or twice with rubber spatula to incorporate any remaining flour. Divide batter evenly between prepared cake pans; smooth batter to edges of pan with spatula.

3. Bake cakes until toothpick inserted into center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool cakes in pans 15 minutes, then invert onto wire rack. Cool cakes to room temperature before frosting, 45 to 60 minutes.

4. TO MAKE FROSTING: Melt chocolate in heatproof bowl set over saucepan containing 1 inch of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat and set aside. Meanwhile, heat butter in small saucepan over medium-low heat until melted. Increase heat to medium; add sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, and salt and stir with heatproof rubber spatula until sugar is dissolved, 4 to 5 minutes. Add melted chocolate, butter mixture, and cream to clean bowl of standing mixer and stir to thoroughly combine.

5. Place mixer bowl over ice bath and stir mixture constantly with rubber spatula until frosting is thick and just beginning to harden against sides of bowl, 1 to 2 minutes (frosting should be 70 degrees). Place bowl on standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed until frosting is light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir with rubber spatula until completely smooth.

6. TO FROST CAKE: Place one cake layer on serving platter or cardboard round. Spread 1 1/2 cups frosting evenly across top of cake with spatula. Place second cake layer on top, then spread remaining frosting evenly over top and sides of cake. Cut into slices and serve.


  1. Missed you!
    I was honestly just thinking -- isn't the marbled effect pretty? (your photos are always so good).
    I love your honest commentary...I like the Hershey's PCCC and I'm glad it has your seal of approval.

  2. Live and learn, I guess! It's kind of satisfying when a recipe that's much simpler is just as good, if not better.

  3. This sounds great...nothing like a good chocolate cake!

  4. Mmmm chocolate cake - tricky to beat! Love the marbled photo :)

  5. It looks great, well worth the effort. Although I do agree with you, if the cakes are reasonably comparable I'll take the easier one. Heh.

  6. Sometimes it's definitely shocking that a simple Hershey's cake could be better than a gourmet masterpiece. But the tastebuds don't lie. It certainly looks delicious and you'll never know which one is better until you try! I'm always up for taste testing more chocolate cake recipes.

  7. I love that you kept the decorations minimal. That's how I prefer my cakes! And yes, the marbel-effect is very pretty!

  8. i'm all for old fashioned !!!
    Looks moist and delicious. CI has great recipes eh?

  9. oh this cake looks so chocolatey . yummy

  10. Oh, delicious! This looks just lovely and full of chocolate goodness. - mary

  11. Nothing beats the Hershey's Magic chocolate cake!
    The last CI cake I made was dry dry dry :(

  12. Lovely cake...Thanks for visiting my site and nice comment ! I just made a sponge green tea cake the other day using 'sp' which I got from's fantastic to have such a lovely spongy texture !

  13. This looks so rich and chocolatey that frosting would probably be too much. Wait a minute, too much chocolate, how can that be a bad thing?!? Seriously, it looks so delicious and irresistible!

  14. The texture here looks really good. I like having different recipes for the same thing just for the sake of variation.

    As for microwave cakes -- I've been desperate enough for sweet stuff to do this! But it has a rubber texture, it's weird.

  15. "Ah, but that's the price of PERFECTION!!" - Christopher Kimball. Honestly, I have no idea with their recipes. But then again, with chocolate cake, in my book you can do no wrong :)

  16. My gosh - that was a long break - but, gorgeous photos and the cake looks LOVELY! Good for you. YUM YUM YUMMERS!
    (read my visit to The Fat Duck last week - you will love it)

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  18. Hey it's been waaaay too long for your last post!! I hope you'll be back to updating more frequently. =) This cake looks yummy! I do enjoy complicated recipes but also really love when I can just use a bowl and a spatula and that's it.

  19. I'll have to give that Hershey's cake a shot!!



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