Remember the post I wrote about those adorable little girls who live on our street? For the past couple of years I have donated the promise of a chocolate layer cake at an annual auction to benefit their school.
This is no ordinary chocolate layer cake. It's the one I used to bake at Watershed and as far as I know, it's still on the menu as I write this. It's the brainchild of the legendary Scott Peacock and it surpasses any chocolate cake you will ever encounter. It's worth every calorie and every gram of fat. And this comes from me, the salt addict!
This year's auction winner called me recently to claim her cake. As it turned out, we were invited to dinner with friends around the same time and as usual, I had volunteered to supply dessert. "Great," I said to myself, "I'll make two cakes and kill two birds with one stone."
Oy veh, I sound like Henry with his cliches, don't I?
I proceeded to make two chocolate layer cakes. At the end of the day, this proved to be a brilliant move.
That's because one of the layers split as I transferred it to the turntable to frost it. "Hmmm," I thought, "I'll just glue it together with frosting and no one will know the difference."
So, I did. It looked pretty good, in spite of the fault line lurking below. The layers for the second cake (fortunately) stayed in their place and I assembled and frosted them also. I now had two stunningly gorgeous chocolate layer cakes.
For about two hours.
And then my "earthquake cake" suddenly looked like this:
Enter good friends. I toted this (embarassing) wreck to the dinner party and we all had a great laugh. We pretty much wiped it out too, despite its appearance. My friend Jon couldn't resist taking pictures of the damn thing, but I'm glad he did, so I could share it here.
Here is the recipe. It's not complicated, but it is. The frosting is temperamental and so is the cake. Reap the benefits of my experience with both.
VERY GOOD CHOCOLATE CAKE (From "The Gift of Southern Cooking" by Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis)
For the cake:
2 cups granulated sugar
1 ½ cups cake flour
½ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup hot double-strength brewed coffee
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 eggs at room temperature
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup sour cream at room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325-degrees. Sift together the sugar, flour, salt and baking soda into a large bowl. Set aside.
In a small bowl, pour the hot coffee over the chocolate and allow chocolate to melt completely, stirring occasionally.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and vegetable oil until well blended, then whisk in the sour cream, vanilla and chocolate mixture. When blended together, stir this mixture into the dry ingredients by thirds, stirring well after each addition until completely blended.
Divide the batter evenly between 2 buttered and floured 9-inch round cake pans which have been lined with parchment paper. Drop each cake pan once onto the counter from a height of 3-inches to remove any large air pockets. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes until the cake springs back slightly in center and a cake tester comes out clean. Remove to cooling racks and let cool 5 minutes. Run a flat-edged knife or spatula between the cake layers and the sides of the pans. Turn pans face down onto the cooling rack and carefully lift them off. Allow the cakes to cool completely before peeling off the parchment and before frosting.
For the frosting:
1 cup heavy cream
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 pound semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
¼ cup hot double-strength brewed coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Heat the cream, butter, sugar and salt in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until butter is melted. Add the chocolate and cook over very low heat, stirring constantly, just until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Make sure chocolate is completely melted – this may take a few minutes. Remove from heat and add coffee and vanilla.
Transfer the mixture to a large bowl or shallow pan and let cool, stirring occasionally, until it reaches spreading consistency. This can take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours, depending upon the temperature in your house. Do not refrigerate or chill over ice water. Chocolate and butter solidify at different temperatures so chilling could cause the frosting to separate and turn grainy.
To assemble the cake:
When frosting is of a spreading consistency and cake layers are completely cooled, put a small amount of frosting on a serving platter (to help stabilize cake) then place one cake layer on top, bottom (flat) side up. Frost the surface thickly the top with other layer, bottom (flat) side down. Frost top and sides of cake. Allow cake to sit in a cool place (not a hot kitchen) for at least 2 hours before slicing.
Store cake covered, at room temperature.
Yield: 12 – 16 servings
Now, here’s what I have to say about this cake:
• These cake layers are extremely moist, making them a little difficult to work with (as the picture above shows). Before transferring to a cake plate to frost, make sure they are completely cool. Also, use utmost care when moving them to the plate as they will want to come apart on you.
• Although the recipe calls for 9-inch cake pans, I find that I have better success using 8-inch pans. This results in slightly thicker layers, making them easier to handle and producing a cake which is higher (which I prefer). If using 8-inch pans, you may need to add 5 minutes or more to the baking time.
• The frosting recipe as written is perfectly adequate, but I have an irrational fear of not having enough so I usually increase it by half. If you’re not crazy like I am, then you can use the quantities as written but if you do, you will not have any left over for the baker!
• Do yourself a favor and taste the frosting both before and after adding the coffee and vanilla. The difference is subtle, but stunning.
So there you have it. I hope you won’t be afraid to try this recipe, because it is possibly the most delicious chocolate layer cake on the face of this earth. Even if it does end up as an “Earthquake Cake!”