The Best Chocolate Layer Cake

Yes, I am throwing down a bit of a gauntlet here. Yes, I am happy to receive your recipes for your favorite chocolate layer cake. And no, I haven’t finished baking my way through Nigella’s Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame. But to be honest, her layer cakes haven’t thrilled me (though on review, I’ve only made 2 — old fashioned and malteaser, both of which were too sweet and too dry, I thought– so she’s still doing better than most cookbooks). Chocolate Guiness Cake, Chocolate Honey Cake, Chocolate Gingerbread: now those are some fabulous cakes, and I’ll be making them often.

But for a birthday (and we recently celebrated Eli’s), I want a layer cake, and this one is everything chocolatey and chewy and dense that I want in a layer cake. I got the recipe years ago from a friend who xeroxed it out of a magazine, which credited the recipe to The Casual Cafe in Sturbridge, MA. If anyone out there is near the cafe, go find it at the source and report back to me!

I’m giving you the cake recipe as published. However, if you feel, as I do, that there’s no such thing as too much cream cheese frosting, go ahead and double that part of the recipe to get an extra thick filling. I’ve also been known to split each cake layer (with toothpicks and dental floss: looks trickier than it is) and put cream cheese filling between each of four cake layers. Occasionally I even quadruple the cream cheese filling recipe, so that there’s enough to frost the middle, top, and sides of the cake (in this case, obviously, I dispense with the chocolate glaze). You get the idea: I like cream cheese frosting, and so do my boys.
For the cake layers:
2 c all-purpose flour
2 c granulated sugar
1/3 c unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch process; I’ve written that even though I can never remember what that means. Anyone want to refresh my memory?)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
4 large eggs
1 1/2 c vegetable oil
4 medium carrots, coarsely shredded (about 2 cups)

For the cream cheese filling
4 oz cream cheese, softened
2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 tbsp vanilla
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

For chocolate glaze
1/2 c semisweet chocolate chips
3 oz bittersweet chocolate
6 tbsp heavy cream
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 c confectioner’s sugar

Make cake layers:
Preheat oven to 350 and butter and flour two 9×2″ round cake pans, knocking out excess flour.

Whisk or sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, baking powder and soda. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat together eggs and oil on low speed until combined. Add flour mixture and beat until just combined. Stir in carrots and divide batter between pans. Bake cake layers in middle of oven 40 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Cool cake layers in pans on a rack 10 minutes and invert onto rack to cool completely.

Make cream cheese filling:
Beat together cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add vanilla and confectioners’ sugar and beat until creamy.
Spread filling on top of one cooled cake layer and top with other layer.

Make chocolate glaze:
In a small saucepan, combine glaze ingrediants and cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until chocolate is melted and glaze is smooth. Remove from heat, cool glaze slightly, then spread over top of the cake, letting it run down the sides.

One Comment

  1. Spire says:

    Dutch process cocoa is washed with an alkaline substance such as potassium carbonate that reduces harshness and acidity. (The process was invented by Van Houten in The Netherlands in the early 1800s). The result is a smooth, rich and milder flavor than natural cocoa powder.

    Dutching also darkens and reddens the cocoa’s color and smoothes the baked good’s flavor, making it ideal for baking recipes. Dutching also changes the natural acidity of the cocoa bean, raising the cocoa powder’s pH level from 5 to 8. This becomes important when creating recipes or when substituting one cocoa type for another.

    Thank you for sharing the recipe. While I don’t think I’ll try it, it does sound like a chocolate carrot cake.

    If you’re interested in good cakes, you might want to try cake recipes from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours.

    Here is the recipe for the cake on the cover:

    Devil’s Food White-Out Cake
    Makes makes 12 servings

    For the cake

    1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    3/4 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
    1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
    1/2 cup sugar
    3 large eggs, at room temperature
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
    1/2 cup buttermilk or whole milk, at room temperature
    1/2 cup boiling water
    4 ounces semisweet or milk chocolate, finely chopped, or 2/3 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

    For the filling and frosting:
    1/2 cup egg whites (about 4 large)
    1 cup sugar
    3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
    1 cup water
    1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

    GETTING READY: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 8-x-2-inch round cake pans, dust the insides with flour, tap out the excess and line the bottoms with parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

    TO MAKE THE CAKE: Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

    Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugars and continue to beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla; don’t be concerned if the mixture looks curdled. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the melted chocolate. When it is fully incorporated, add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, adding the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the milk in 2 (begin and end with the dry ingredients); scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and mix only until the ingredients disappear into the batter. At this point, the batter will be thick, like frosting. Still working on low speed, mix in the boiling water, which will thin the batter considerably. Switch to a rubber spatula, scrape down the bowl and stir in the chopped chocolate. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops with the rubber spatula.

    Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans at the midway point. When fully baked, the cakes will be springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the centers will come out clean. Don’t worry if the tops have a few small cracks. Transfer the cake pans to a rack and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up. (The cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.)

    When you are ready to fill and frost the cake, inspect the layers. If the cakes have crowned, use a long serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to even them. With the same knife, slice each layer horizontally in half. Set 3 layers aside and crumble the fourth layer; set the crumbs aside.

    TO MAKE THE FILLING AND FROSTING: Put the egg whites in a clean, dry mixer bowl or in another large bowl. Have a candy thermometer at hand.

    Put the sugar, cream of tartar and water in a small saucepan and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, cover the pan and boil for 3 minutes. Uncover and allow the syrup to boil until it reaches 242 degrees F on the candy thermometer. While the syrup is cooking, start beating the egg whites.

    When the syrup is at about 235 degrees F, begin beating the egg whites on medium speed with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer. If the whites form firm, shiny peaks before the syrup reaches temperature, reduce the mixer speed to low and keep mixing the whites until the syrup catches up. With the mixer at medium speed, and standing back slightly, carefully pour in the hot syrup, pouring it between the beater(s) and the side of the bowl. Splatters are inevitable — don’t try to scrape them into the whites, just carry on. Add the vanilla extract and keep beating the whites at medium speed until they reach room temperature, about 5 minutes. You should have a smooth, shiny, marshmallowy frosting. Although you could keep it in the fridge in a pinch, it’s really better to use it right now.

    TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE: Put a bottom layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or on a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Using a long metal icing spatula, cover the layer generously with frosting. Top with a second layer, cut side up, and frost it. Finish with the third layer, cut side down, and frost the sides and top of the cake. Don’t worry about smoothing the frosting — it should be swirly. Now, cover the entire cake with the chocolate cake crumbs, gently pressing the crumbs into the filling with your fingers.

    Refrigerate the cake for about 1 hour before serving. (If it’s more convenient, you can chill the cake for 8 hours or more; cover it loosely and keep it away from foods with strong odors.)

    SERVING: I think the cake is best at room temperature or just cool, but many people prefer it cold (the texture of the cake becomes fudgier after it has been refrigerated). No matter the temperature, the cake is so pretty it should be cut at the table, so bring it out on a platter and cut it into generous wedges using a serrated knife and a sawing motion.

    STORING: The frosted cake can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days; let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving, or longer if you have the time.