Sunday, August 5, 2012

Technique of the Week: Scratch-Made Chocolate Cake

Where do you all find your recipes? Blogs like this? Internet search? Pinterest/Tumblr? Family and friends? Old cookbooks with dog-eared pages, worn at the binding from years of flipping through?

For me, it's all of the above! I love drawing inspiration for cooking and baking from everything I see. If I'm online and I stumble across a recipe that looks interesting, beautiful, or challenging, I book mark it for future use. I currently have a folder around 350 links of recipes I've found and/or tried.

Before a few years ago, one place I never thought to look for recipes was on the packaging of food ingredients themselves, which is where today's chocolate cake recipe comes from. A couple of years back, I searched, and searched, and searched some more for the perfect chocolate cake recipe for my father's 43rd birthday. I'm the baker of the family, so birthday treats tend to fall to me (like I mind!) After finding 30 recipes that all contradicted each other, I went to the store to settle on a boxed cake mix instead. Browsing through the aisles, I picked up a container of Hershey's cocoa powder, flipped it over, and lo-and-behold the simplest, most delicious sounding chocolate cake recipe ever appeared in my vision. The best part? Aside from the cocoa powder itself, I had every single ingredient I needed in my pantry at home PLUS everything to make the accompanying frosting (also featured on the canister.) You had better believe I high-tailed it out of there and ran home to make it!

This recipe is so very easy and you can take all the credit when you serve it to your family and friends. It takes only minutes more than a typical boxed cake mix to assemble. Boxed cake mixes are WONDERFUL in a pinch, but nothing compares to a fresh-made, melt-in-your-mouth slice of homemade chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Pair it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and watch out...pure Heaven.

(A note: If you are strapped for time, make the frosting the day before. It will hold beautifully in the fridge for a day or two...just be sure to let it come up to room temperature before you frost the cake!)

"Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cake 
(adapted from the Hershey's baking website)

(Photo credit to my sister, Newlywed Nichole)

Serves 10-12

You will need:

·         2 cups granulated sugar
·         1 3-4 cups white flour
·         3/4 cup Hershey's (or other brand) unsweetened cocoa powder
·         1 1/2 tsp baking soda
·         1 1/2 tsp baking powder
·         1 teaspoon salt
·         2 eggs
·         1 cup milk
·         1/2 cup vegetable oil
·         2 teaspoons vanilla
·         1 cup boiling water


·         2, 9-inch cake pans
·         Microwave to melt butter and boil water (stove-top works just as well)
·         Sifter (optional, but helps make the texture even more amazing)
·         Stand mixer, or hand mixer (optional as well, but will make your life infinitely easier!)

1. Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, grease your cake pans with butter and flour, or cooking spray.

2. Over a large bowl, sift together flour, white sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. If you do not own a sifter, than just mix the 6 ingredients together until well combined. 

3. Add the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla and stir. 

4. Gradually add the 1 cup boiling water and combine until you have a relatively thin batter. Do not worry as this is how it's supposed to look! 

5. Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans.

6. Gently drop (from less than 1 inch high) each pan on a counter (gently!) to release any air bubbles and distribute the batter.

7. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick in the center comes clean. (A note: My oven cooks super fast so it only took me 22 minutes for my cakes to be set. Make sure you set a time for half the suggested time, check the cakes, then proceed from there!)

8. Remove the cakes from the oven, and allow to cool for at least one hour before removing from the pans. 

9. Frost with "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Frosting (recipe follows)

10. Enjoy with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or a generous dollop of fresh whipped cream!

For the frosting (can be prepared up to two days in advance):
Make 2 cups and will frost 2, 9-inch round cakes

You will need:

·         1 stick butter
·         2/3 cup Hershey's (or other brand) unsweetened cocoa powder
·         3 cups powdered sugar*
·         1/3 cup milk (plus more in case you need to thin it out later)
·         1 tsp vanilla

*Make sure to taste your frosting in between intervals. Three cups of powdered sugar proved to be extremely sweet for my family's tastes so I normally start with 1 1/2 cups and increase from there. This is purely preference though!

1. In a microwave safe bowl, microwave the butter in 15-second intervals until melted.

2.  Add the cocoa powder to the melted butter and stir until well blended.

3. Alternately add the powdered sugar and milk, beating to a spreading consistency. 

4. Add a small amount of additional milk, if needed. 

5. Stir in vanilla extract.

6. At this step, you can put the frosting away until ready to use. Be sure to allow it to come back to room temperature and stir before applying it to the cake.

Once you're ready to assemble:

To release the cakes, run a knife along the edges of the pan, then with a clean plate or piece of cakeboard covering the top, gently turn the cake over. Do not shake or jostle the cake if it doesn't immediately come free, instead gently knock on the bottom of the pan and allow to rest for several minutes, and attempt to release again.

To frost, place one layer on the cake (bottom-side down) on a clean plate or piece of cakeboard, gently spread a thin layer of frosting on the top portion of the cake, then top with the second cake. Frost the sides while turning the plate until well-coated and even. Frost the top, then adorn with any decorations such as candies, letters, or chocolate shavings.

Questions? Comments? Drop me a note below!



Quick and dirty Q&A

1. Is there a way to turn this cake into cupcakes? 

·         Yes! Simply skip the step for greasing and line your cake pan with the liners of your choice before baking. This recipe will make around 30 cupcakes. You will want to decrease the baking time to 12-14 minutes (checking at 6 minutes for your oven.) 

2. Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting is too decadent for me. Have you any other variations for the frosting?

·         Absolutely! To make cream cheese frosting, simply omit the cocoa powder and replace it with 8oz softened cream cheese. For orange cream cheese frosting, swap out the vanilla for orange extract and the milk for orange juice. For a standard buttercream frosting, simply combine the butter, milk, powdered sugar, and vanilla as listed above, just omitting the cocoa. You could also make a peanut butter frosting for this by omitting the cocoa and adding half a cup of creamy peanut butter (or a few tablespoons of PB2) to taste. The possibilities are endless!

3. How do I grease the pan with butter? Should it be melted?

·         No. DO NOT MELT THE BUTTER. You want room temperature butter for this. You can also use cold butter but the spreading consistency isn't great and it's dicey whether or not the flour will stick. On a paper towel, place a 1/2tablespoon of butter, and gently rub along the inside of the cake pan, paying special attention to the inside rims. These are the spots that are most prone to sticking later on. Next, take a tablespoon of flour and swish it around the pan until all sides, bottom, and rims are coated. Discard excess flour into the sink or trash can. There are numerous cooking sprays with flour in it for baking purposes like these, but good old fat and flour is the method I have found to work best over the years. 

4. If I make the frosting ahead of time, why do I need to refrigerate it? And why does it need to come to room temperature first?

·         In a nutshell, butter spoils. If you leave this frosting on the counter for a prolonged period of time, you run the risk of the frosting turning sour, and the possibility of making yourself or your family sick. You need to refrigerate the frosting, and then bring it to room temperature when you're ready to frost. Because of the butter in this, the frosting will harden when cold, and hard frosting will turn delicate cakes into delicate crumbs.