The Great Chocolate Cake-Off

It started with a challenge of a co-worker that he could bake a better chocolate cake, and do it without eggs. Of course I made fun of him and compared any cake that he would make without eggs to a tasteless brick. Then, a few more co-workers joined in the challenge, and so on Wednesday we had a great Chocolate Cake Bake-Off.

In the end, the co-worker who started it all failed to even bring in an entry. He offered the excuse that his cake was too hard, which validated the entire premise of the bake-off. His own daughter threw the cake away, pronouncing it inedible. However, the contest did still have 3 entries; two layer cakes and a chocolate cheese cake.

Fanfare please: I submitted the winning cake, which was based upon the first Chris Kimball recipe that I ever made; in 1994. This has been my “go to” cake for the past 18 years. In the 100 times I’ve baked this recipe, it has never fallen below 5-stars.

Rating: 5 stars.
Cost: $5
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 10:00pm. Ready at 1:00 AM.

The Cook’s Illustrated link to the original cake recipe is here. But my modified version is below:

2/3 cup non-alkalized, Hershey’s cocoa
1 tablespoon instant espresso or instant coffee
1-1/2 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1-7/8 cup sugar
18 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt

  1. I usually substitute two double espressos (4 ounces, 1/2 cup) and reduce boiling water to 1 cup. Whatever you use, be sure that the total liquid equal 1-1/2 cups.
  2. Bring a pan with water to a boil. In a small bowl, mix together the powdered cocoa and instant coffee; pour in boiling water (and espresso) and mix until smooth. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before stirring in the vanilla.
  3. Pre-heat your oven to 350°  and set an oven rack to the middle position.
  4. Cut two wax paper inserts to fit inside your two 8”x1-1/2” round cake pans. Rub some butter on pan sides and wax paper; lightly flour and tap out an excess.
  5. If your 2-1/2 sticks of butter are not fully softened, microwave them for 30 seconds.
  6. Beat butter in standing mixer equipped with paddle attachment at medium-high speed for 30 seconds; until it becomes smooth and shiny. With the mixer running, gradually sprinkle in sugar and mix for 3 minutes until it becomes fluffy and almost white in color. On at a time, add eggs and mix for 1 full minute after each addition.
  7. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. With mixer on lowest speed, add about 1/3 of dry ingredients to batter, and immediately add 1/3 of the liquid cocoa mixture. Mix just until the ingredients become nearly incorporated. Repeat flour/cocoa additions twice more.  Turn off mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl using a rubber spatula. Mix on low speed for 15 seconds more; the batter will become smooth like satin.
  8. Evenly pour the batter between the two pans. Use a rubber spatula to work the batter to the sides and to smooth the top. Bake cakes at 350° for 25 minutes; until a toothpick comes out with only one or two crumbs. Transfer pans to wire racks, cool for 10 minutes.
  9. Run plastic knife around perimeter of each pan to loosen. Invert cakes onto wire rack, and allow to cool completely before frosting. Remove the wax paper AFTER the cakes have cooled.
  10. Re-invert cake before frosting.

The chocolate butter icing recipe is here.

6 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup light corn syrup
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Don’t start making icing until 15 minutes after cakes are removed from the oven.
  2. Melt chocolate and butter in a medium bowl over pan of almost-simmering water.
  3. Stir in cup light corn syrup. (or substitute is 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons water, cooked for 2 minutes at full boil)
  4. Set bowl of chocolate mixture over a large bowl of ice water (or refrigerate for 20 to 25 minutes).
  5. Stirring occasionally until the frosting is just thick enough to spread.

I have made this cake perhaps 100 times. I know all the potential issues, which are:

  1. When melting sugar to substitute for corn syrup, be sure to let come to a full boil for 2 minutes. With a partial boil the sugar will appear liquefied, but a granular texture will persist after the icing  cools.
  2. Remove the wax paper after cooling. When the cake is hot, it is more likely to come apart and stick to the wax paper.
  3. If you have leftovers, to prevent the cake from drying out refrigerate after 24 hours.  The texture will change completely in the refrigerator because of all the butter, but it will still be delicious.
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5 Responses to The Great Chocolate Cake-Off

  1. Jean says:

    I’ve actually never made that one…thanks for pointing it out. I do love the Sour Cream Bundt cake made into a layer cake but will try this next time.
    Congrats!

    • I have often heard that adding sour cream helps make a moist cake. I will give it a try. Is there anything else you need to change to make it into a layer cake, or just switch pans?

      Mark

      • Jean says:

        Just change the pans and of course the timing is way less, probably around 20 minutes. I’ve also tried it in a 9*13 but it fell in the middle. The round layers were fine and it’s my go to chocolate layer cake.

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