This is the Cake

September 19, 2010

This is the cake that first made me afraid to make layer cakes.  This is the cake that showed me, in my early baking days, that something can turn out ugly and still taste delicious.  This is the cake that taught me the meaning and importance of a crumb coat.  This is the cake where I learned you can alter directions in a recipe and not get struck by lightning.

This is also the chocolate cake that has been written about by approximately 1 million food bloggers.  It is the cake that, at current count, has 1390 reviews and a four fork rating on Epicurious.

This is the cake I decided to make when our friend Tim invited us to his birthday party and requested a chocolate cake, the richer the better.  It was not an easy decision.  Between my cookbooks and notebooks with magazine cut-outs, I probably have a hundred chocolate cake recipes.  I have my favorites.  There are a few that I made long ago and want to try again (Mocha Ricotta Torte).  There are some that I have never made because they scare me a bit (Chocolate Viennese Cake).  But all of those cakes involved something fancy and not-chocolate component.  The message I got from Tim was that he wanted pure chocolate.

Normally in that case, I would make some kind of flourless chocolate torte.  If just he and his partner were coming for dinner, I would have made this amazing cake called La Bete Noire (black beast).  It is about as rich as they come.  But this was a larger party and called for a larger cake, something with icing and layers, and could be used as a vehicle for candles and a round of “Happy Birthday” (except I forgot the candles).  I looked around a little, knowing all the while I would come back to this cake.

I did hesitate a bit.  The original recipe tells you to make two 10-inch cakes.  If you have successfully made this cake following those directions, can you tell me how you maneuvered said cakes into place?  They are super moist and quite crumbly and I found trying to get them off cooling racks and onto cardboard rounds and stacking them one on top of the other resulted in broken cakes (hence the ugly but delicious).  Somewhere along the way in my baking career, I decided to bake the cakes in three 9-inch pans rather than the 10’s and that works a lot better (hence the learning to alter directions).  It also results in a taller more impressive looking cake.

Now.  After all that, all the times I have made it and tried to love it (the header in the recipe says the cake made the Gourmet editors swoon for pete’s sake), I am done with this cake.  There are cake people and there are frosting people and there, of course, are both.  I am a cake person.  I can take or leave frosting.  If the cake part is nothing special, I don’t care how beautiful the finished product is or how many pounds of chocolate there are in the frosting.  This cake part of this cake is not for me.  It is very moist but it is also too airy for my taste – too many crumbs (hence the necessity for a crumb coat).  I like something denser.  This cake has no butter in it – the fat comes from oil and buttermilk and I guess that just doesn’t do it for me.

But.  It’s a classic.  It is an easy cake.  It can be made in advance.  And it looks pretty darn good too, don’t you think?  The birthday boy was happy and that is the most important thing after all.

One Year Ago: Nutella Pound Cake (the most searched for recipe on my site)
Two Years Ago: Rosemary Aioli

Double Chocolate Layer Cake
Adapted from Gourmet
Serves about 16

When it is time to frost the cake, I find it is best to do the crumb coat while the frosting is a bit runnier than you want.  In the time that the crumb coat sets in the refrigerator, the rest of the frosting will come to the right consistency.

For Cake Layers
3 oz. fine-quality semisweet chocolate
1½ cups hot brewed coffee
3 cups sugar
2½ cups flour
1½ cups unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch process)
2 tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. baking powder
1¼ tsp. salt
3 large eggs
¾ cup vegetable oil
1½ cups well-shaken buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla

For Ganache Frosting
1 pound fine-quality semisweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. light corn syrup
½ stick (¼ cup) unsalted butter

Make Cake Layers
Preheat oven to 300ºF.  Grease three 9-inch cake pans.  Line bottoms with parchment paper rounds.

Finely chop chocolate and combine in a bowl with the hot coffee.  Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

Into a large bowl, sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  In another large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer and 5 minutes by hand).  Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating to combine well.  Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well.  Divide batter between pans and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 45 minutes.

Cool layers completely in pans on a rack.  Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks.  Carefully remove the parchment paper and cool layers completely.  (Can be made one day ahead.  Wrap well in plastic wrap and leave at room temperature.)

Make Frosting
Finely chop chocolate.  In a 2 quart saucepan, bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved.  Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Cut butter into pieces and add to frosting, whisking until smooth.

Transfer frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable (depending on chocolate used, it may be necessary to chill frosting to spreadable consistency.)  Spread about ½-cup of frosting between cake layers.  Apply a very thin layer of frosting to top and sides of cake.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Spread rest of frosting over cake.  (Cake keeps, covered and chilled, 3 days.  Bring to room temperature before serving.)


  1. Oh, my! Everyone has made it and I have not! Must make! It’s beautiful!

    Comment by Lori @ RecipeGirl — September 19, 2010 @ 4:49 pm

  2. I’ve also seen this cake posted around the web and at Epicurious. Though I have not made it, I have always planned to, so I appreciate your tips/changes!

    Your post also prompts me to ask, Dana….if this is not “the” cake for you, can you share your favorite chocolate cake recipe with us???!! (I’m new to your blog, so if you’ve already posted it, I apologize for the repeat request)

    Comment by LisaA — September 19, 2010 @ 5:24 pm

  3. I’m sorry you didn’t love it Dana! I feel kind of bad since I extolled it so much when I made it. My roommate, who it was for, really loved the fluffiness of it but I can see as how you would want your chocolate cake to be denser. I think the other issue is that she and I are both totally frosting people…and the ganache inside it just kind of blew our minds. it looks gorgeous, nonetheless!

    Comment by Joanne — September 19, 2010 @ 6:06 pm

  4. just beautiful!

    Comment by alison — September 19, 2010 @ 7:01 pm

  5. you didn’t like it? oh no! it came out so perfect though. nice job, seriously.

    Comment by vanillasugar — September 19, 2010 @ 7:55 pm

  6. This curious human wants to try to make this cake, if only to find out why you’re done with this cake. It looks gorgeous, but I’m with you on being a cake person. I want the cake to be able to handle itself on its own. The frosting is just for presentation–yes, it can be good, but it shouldn’t be the only one holding the fort.

    Hmm, this is a likely candidate for my sister-in-law’s birthday cake this week. I’m in charge of the cake again, as usual.

    Comment by Joy — September 19, 2010 @ 8:30 pm

  7. This looks great! But I understand not wanting to do the cake again….chocolate cakes are tricky that way. I often find that the cake doesn’t live up to the hype. I haven’t tried this version, but did try another Gourmet chocolate cake and while it looked beautiful and everyone loved it, to me it was just okay. Maybe the key to a good chocolate cake is a flourless one.

    Comment by kickpleat — September 19, 2010 @ 10:51 pm

  8. Hey, yours looks like mine!Well of course yours looks wayyyy better than mine!

    Comment by Carine — September 20, 2010 @ 8:12 am

  9. Mmmmmm, sounds good to me and I am very, very impressed with the presentation, but I know for a fact I couldn’t make this cake and frost it so beautifully. My effort would definitely be the ugly but delicious version.

    Comment by Jacqueline — September 20, 2010 @ 8:51 am

  10. This looks unbelievable! And thank you for introducing me to the 1390-review cake! Sounds like a winner. I’m still trying to summon up the courage to make a “proper” cake. Honestly, it terrifies me! At least now I know what recipe to follow when I find the guts…

    Comment by Angharad — September 20, 2010 @ 2:12 pm

  11. I’ve made this cake and I love it! I made it in the 10 inch pans. On the advice of another blog I read somewhere, once it cooled I flash froze it which made the layers much easier to work with and made it much easier to frost. It was unthawed and perfectly moist and delicious by the time we ate it. It was great.

    Comment by Carmen — September 20, 2010 @ 2:15 pm

  12. Wow! That looks delicious… and sooo professional!

    Comment by Tracey @ TropicalHappiness — September 20, 2010 @ 3:29 pm

  13. I, too, made this cake (6 years ago, maybe?) and it was disastrous. Tasty, but disastrous – I made the 10 inch layers and yes, it was so crumbly that it completely broke when I tried to stack them. I mickey-moused it together with frosting, and it was a lumpy bumpy ugly beast….but it did taste pretty good. ;)

    Comment by Amy — September 20, 2010 @ 3:53 pm

  14. It’s a beauty of a cake! The three layers do look grand, and the smooth frosting and decorations are fantastic. I think I’d like the airy, light texture. I’m weird about chocolate like that.

    Comment by lisaiscooking — September 20, 2010 @ 6:49 pm

  15. dang, fantastic looking chocolate cake!!

    Comment by matt — September 20, 2010 @ 7:00 pm

  16. How phenomenally beautiful….bet it was tasty too.

    Comment by indie.tea — September 21, 2010 @ 4:52 am

  17. The cake was the highlight of my birthday; it was beautiful and delicious! I loved how light and moist the cake was, and I am a frosting boy and there was just enough! Thank you for being part of my special day! Now, I need to exercise this week to work off the extra piece(s) I ate.

    Comment by Tim — September 21, 2010 @ 5:07 am

  18. Yes, That IS the cake.

    Comment by Dana from One Haute Plate — September 22, 2010 @ 1:27 am

  19. Oh Dana, I feel like a wedge has been driven between us and nothing will ever be the same again. How can you not be in love with the Epicurious chocolate cake? ;)

    And how unfair is it that I like it more than you do, but yours looks better than mine does??

    Comment by Hilary — September 22, 2010 @ 7:14 pm

  20. This is so beautiful, Dana! I am absolutely horrible at making layer cakes and frosting them but I do love to eat cake so that’s kind of a problem. Someday I’ll master it!

    Comment by Katie @ goodLife {eats} — September 23, 2010 @ 1:04 am

  21. […] Deb or Dana, both of whom take the birthday cake tradition seriously, whipping up multi-layered, lusciously iced concoctions for their loved ones. Or even like my sister, who made a tasty, if untraditional orange […]

    Pingback by Pear and Maple Syrup Cake – A cooking blog - Kitchenist — September 30, 2010 @ 7:51 am

  22. I’m with you – I prefer denser cakes. But I must say this cake looks completely stunning. What a perfect icing job and I love the way you placed 2 little white balls (don’t know the fancy name for them, dragees?) between the icing.

    Comment by Ashley — October 8, 2010 @ 1:27 am

  23. I came across your blog via Tastespotting and just had to comment – I’m so glad to have found someone else who is similarly less than thrilled with this cake!

    I am also more a “cake” person than a “frosting” person. I actually like this cake’s texture and moisture (haven’t had the crumbling issues you describe).

    I think my biggest gripe with this cake is that the flavor of the cake itself is so lackluster. The ganache really elevates the flavor of the cake, but I just think the cake’s flavor should stand on its own, and this one doesn’t.

    That said, I’ve made it for several occasions and people request it, so I guess I’ll keep making it… for other people. :)

    Comment by Lisa — February 22, 2011 @ 5:55 am

  24. […] Deb or Dana, both of whom take the birthday cake tradition seriously, whipping up multi-layered, lusciously iced concoctions for their loved ones. Or even like my sister, who made a tasty, if untraditional orange […]

    Pingback by Pear and Maple Syrup Cake A cooking blog - Kitchenist - kitchenist — June 23, 2017 @ 1:41 am

  25. […] Deb or Dana, both of whom take the birthday cake tradition seriously, whipping up multi-layered, lusciously iced concoctions for their loved ones. Or even like my sister, who made a tasty, if untraditional orange […]

    Pingback by ginger A cooking blog - Kitchenist - kitchenist — June 23, 2017 @ 1:43 am

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