Friday, September 17, 2010

Big Chocolate Cake

Best way to follow up a healthy post? A massive, heart stopping chocolate cake.

I was tempted to load up on the chocolate curls, ganache, raspberries and fancy piping, but in the end I decided to make something a little more basic. A big, fat, simple chocolate cake.

Don't feel constrained by my minimalism though. Add-ons like raspberries and whipped ganache would be wonderful upgrades to this moist, fine textured chocolate cake.

SO BIG! Did I mention big?

I do love making tall cakes.

Someone asked me how my cakes always look so well proportioned, like bakery cakes. It's no secret. The smaller the diameter of pan you use, the taller your cake will be. The same amount of batter used in a 10 or 9-inch cake pan will produce layers flatter than in an 8-inch cake pan.  Of course one still needs pans that can contain 10" of batter, which is why I'm always recommend high-sided cake pans.

For some reason 2-inch tall cake pans are everywhere. Sur la Table, William Sonoma and your average housewares stores are filled with them and nothing else. Not only are they short they're really expensive.  Why should I chose a $22 cake pan with "Goldtouch coating" when I can buy a tall $9 pan with a drop in bottom? It's mind boggling. I don't need no fancy coating.

Listen to Ms. Humble's advice here if you like baking cakes or want to get into cake baking... there are good pans out there, tall pans and they're cheaper.  If you lack a bakery supply store in your area, you can find them all over the internet. Look for Ateco, Fat Daddio's, Wilton (decorative preferred line), Hillside, and Parrish to name a few. Most standard pans will be under $10.  I have all of those brands in my kitchen, with the exception of Hillside (no particular reason). The two I use the most: the 8x3-inch for standard cakes and the 6x3 for smaller "mini" cakes.  The removable bottom pans also double as cheesecake pans.

Okay, pan rant over. 

The cake, like last weeks Yellow Butter Cake, is a high ratio cake. The cake is a little different than your average cake; it doesn't use the more commonplace creaming butter and sugar method. Instead you blend all the dry ingredients with the butter and a bit of liquid, then add the wet ingredients. The benefit is that it produces a cake that stays moist a little longer than a creamed cake. The method requires a stand mixer, or at the very least sturdy hand beaters (but a mixer is preferable). Precision is very important in this recipe, so be sure to use the correct ingredients and follow the exact mixing times and speeds when making this cake.

For detailed photos of the cake making process, see the High Ratio Yellow Butter Cake post.   

High Ratio Chocolate Butter Cake
from Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America
yields two 8" cakes

2 3/4 cups (318g) cake flour
3/4 cup (62g) dutch processed cocoa
2 cups (400g) sugar
1 tablespoon (17g) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) (226g) unsalted butter, diced, at room temperature
1 cup whole milk, divided
4 large (200g) eggs
2 large (56g) egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

parchment for the pans
Two 3-inch high sided, 8" round pans (link to the pans I use). The cake will rise well beyond the sides of short cake pans. If you must use shorter pans, you'll need to divide the batter among 3-4 pans and be prepared to lose more cake from trimming multiple tops.
Non-stick cooking spray

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Lightly coat your pans with cooking spray and line the bottoms with circles of parchment.

Cut your butter into small cubes while it still has a slight chill (it's easier to cut), and then allow to stand at room temperature until it softens. It won't take long when the butter is diced.

In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs, egg whites, vanilla extract and half of the milk. Mix until more or less homogeneous and set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, sift together the cake flour*, sugar, cocoa, baking powder and salt. (*Tip for measuring cake flour by volume: Don't scoop. Spoon the cake flour into your measuring cup, directly from the package, and then level your cup with the back of a knife.)

Fit the bowl into your stand mixer and equip the whisk attachment. Add the butter and remaining half cup of whole milk. Beat this mixture on medium speed until smooth (about 4 minutes), scraping down the bowl with a spatula as needed.

The mixture will start out a little rough and then turn pasty and thick. Once beaten, add a third of the egg-milk mixture and mix for two minutes on medium speed. Add another third and beat on medium speed for two minutes, you'll notice the mixture beginning to increase in volume. Add the remaining third of the milk-egg mixture and beat on medium speed for two minutes.

Divide the batter between your two pans (it will be roughly 680-690 grams per pan).

Level the batter with an offset spatula and bake for 40 minutes. They will be done when the cake springs back slightly when lightly touched in the center. If you touch the cake and it feels under-baked, feel free to give it another 5 minutes in the oven to set.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely in the pans on a wire wrack. The cake should pull away from the sides as it cools. If it doesn't, slip a knife around the side to release. Once cool, remove the cake from the pan and peel off the layer of parchment.

When they're cool and you're ready to frost, level the tops of your layers with a sharp serrated knife. (The cakes shouldn't hump much if baked in light colored aluminum pans.)

Dark Chocolate Mascarpone Frosting
adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook
frosts a 8-inch two or three layer cake
1 pound semisweet chocolate, finelly chopped
6 tablespoons dutch-processed cocoa powder
6 tablespoons boiling water
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups or 339g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup mascarpone cheese (or in a pinch, cream cheese)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
pinch salt

Combine the boiling water and dutch processed cocoa. Mix well to remove any lumps and then set aside to cool.

Melt the chocolate over a double-boiler and then set aside to cool. Allow the melted chocolate to come to room temperature before using (otherwise it will melt your butter and that's bad), this should take 25-30 minutes.

Once the chocolate is cool, beat the butter and powdered sugar in your stand mixer with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy (roughly 4 minutes).  While it is mixing, combine the mascarpone cheese with the cocoa powder slurry.

Once the butter is light and fluffy, add the cooled melted chocolate to the butter and beat until uniform, scraping down the sides as needed.  Then add the mascarpone cocoa mixer and beat until well combined.  The frosting should be ready to use, however if it seems too soft you can place it in the refrigerator for 10 minutes and it will firm up.

Enjoy the big chocolate cake and your weekend!


  1. To a huge chocolate lover like me (or should I say addict?), it looks super tempting!!!

  2. Bwah....... I want that!

    And thanks for reminding me to buy more pans :)

  3. oh, wow! that looks dangerously good:o)

  4. Beautiful and it looks so, so tasty! How in the world do you slice it so cleanly? Is there a technique?

  5. Nope. No technique, just nice knives.

    A Global bread knife cut this cake.

  6. With a cup of whole milk and a cup of butter, there is no way this cake can't taste delicious! The frosting sounds amazing too, nicely done!

  7. Yep. That's what I like to see. My husband has dreams of the kind of chocolate cake you see on movies, the kind where someone opens up the fridge at night and cuts a slice of cake and drinks a cold glass of milk with it. This looks like such a cake.

  8. I think you need to post a photo of post-chocolate-cake little Humble! I can just imagine the ear to ear chocolate grin!

  9. She spent the day running through the kitchen yelling: Cake! Chocolate! Please! Cake!

    I'm going to bake a vegetable into my next cake, since I lost the showdown over broccoli at lunch today.

  10. Oh, that looks positively heavenly.

    Thank you for sharing the cake pan tips. For the last cake I made, I made two extra (flat) layers so I could have a tall cake, and that seemed a little silly.

  11. I love layer cakes. They look so comforting and familar and American. I picture your big chocolate cake on the diner counter with a big dome covering it. Looks delightful and delicious. Hey, what do you think of that Martha Stewart chocolate icing recipe? I have yet to find a chocolate icing recipe that I like that also looks appetizing. Yours has a nice gloss to it. Plenty of my chocolate icings have been good but they set into a semisoft fudge that has a really dull appearance. Not very pretty. I don't often have mascarpone around but I always have cream cheese. Do you think that would be just as tasty? I have some cupcakes to make this weekend and the person is requesting chocolate icing. Maybe I will have to try this one.

    You need to put some more photos of the little one up on your blog. I love seeing those pics!

  12. The frosting stays glossy, unless it is chilled. When chilled it will have that fudge-like look. However if you allow the cake to warm to room temperature the gloss will return.

    As for the recipe, it's good. It's rich and chocolatey, my addition of the mascarpone to the recipe keeps it from being overwhelming. Cream cheese will have a similar effect, but give it an additional tang. You can also omit the cheese entirely and it will taste more like a traditional butter-based frosting.

  13. Oh my goodness this cake. :D So very yummy.

  14. Also, I should note that the gloss comes with some drawbacks. The frosting can be very soft at warm temperatures. If you put it into a 80° room it might even melt off the sides of the cake. The frosting doesn't dry out and set, like a simple buttercream or those fudge like frostings so climate should be a consideration. Nor would I use a piping tip that is supposed to impart a lot of fine details.

    However, the frosting is perfectly stable in the 60s and even into the low 70s. Otherwise just keep the cake/cupcakes chilled and then allow to come to room temperature before serving.

    I do need to take some more photos of the Little Humble, all I've taken this week is photos of her sticking her hand into my shots trying to grab the food.

  15. this is choc full of chocolate! pardon the pun... but mmm, would love a slice of this like, NOW

  16. cake & frosting look great.

    i am getting an error to the link for your cake pans :(

  17. That looks awesome, I love the look of the frosting! And the pictures are great! I'll have to check out those pans, my cakes always seem to be kind of short.

  18. Holy COW, this is one amazing looking chocolate cake!! These pictures are perfect!!!

  19. Made it last night and it is as good as it looks! YUM!

  20. ohhh god this looks so good! youre cakes always look so stunning! I admire you really (: you inspire me a loot!


  21. That is a gorgeous cake, looks amazing!

  22. This cake looks awesome, but since I live in the tropics the frosting is a no-go. :( I will have to buttercream it.

  23. thanks for the tips on the pans, how tragic when the batter creeps over the edge and ends up on the bottom of the oven...not to mention a waste of good cake batter, I'm just sayin'.

  24. I always wondered why my cakes would dome out of control. And I think I am finally ready to shell out the dough (ha) for cake pans in various sizes. I have stuck with my 'chef's secret' 9-inch non-stick pans and been unhappy with the result for far too long!

    Your cake looks fab!!

  25. I made this over the weekend. It was good - although I think the Frosting is the star. The cake itself, I'll try again, but I was underwhelmed with it. It's possible I did something wrong though.

  26. This came out overly dense and quite dry for me. Any suggestions on what I may have done wrong? The frosting was fab though.

  27. Your cake is gorgeous! Can the cake layers be made in advance and frozen? If so, how long will they keep? Thanks!

  28. I've made this twice already with great reviews. I love how simply it goes together. I have noticed it tends to be on the dry side. I used a simple syrup to add a little moisture on both cakes. Also, on the second cake, I used 5 eggs instead of 4 whole and two whites. I am making another today and I think I will use 4 whole eggs and two yolks to see if that helps retain more moisture.

  29. There are a few possible reasons for this.

    Cakes can seem dry when the ratio of fats to flour/cocoa is off. So be extra careful about how you measure the dry ingredients (spooning into the cup, not scooping).

    It can also be dry when baked too long, so mind it carefully towards the end and pull it out promptly when done. Unfortunately, if pull it out too soon and your cake collapses, too late and it is dry. I know, I know. Frustrating. Baking isn't always easy on the nerves.

    (Side note, dark metal pans have a tendency to overcook the outer ring of the cake to a dry mess before the center sets. They also cause humping. Dark cake pans = evil. Light aluminum is best for cake. Bad for pies but great for cake.)

    Less likely but also possible, is that the mixture is over beaten or too much leavening was used.

    Fixes, mind the measuring, increase the amount of butter by just a touch and pull it out of the oven before it overcooks and dries out.

  30. I just made this cake and am waiting for it to cool to frost it. It looks and smells so good and I can't wait! However,out of curiosity, I entered all the ingredients into one of those calorie tracker websites and it comes up as 890 calories for 1/12 of the cake. Do you think it could be? Or is the calorie counter WAY off? Most other chocolate cake entries are around 350-400 per slice.

  31. Perfect huge chocolate Cake!! Love it!!



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