So I’ll just come right out and say it… I don’t have a single picture of this cake. My husband and parents got together to get me a brand spanking new camera for Christmas, but a) this cake was served on Christmas Eve, and b) the actual camera still hasn’t arrived – my husband is an obsessive researcher and sort of waited until Wednesday to order it.
But I had to write a quick post about it anyway because it was the best chocolate cake ever.
You see, Christmas is a very special day for my family. My mom was born on Christmas Day, so not only do we celebrate with Santa Claus and Baby Jesus, we also celebrate with her. We specifically give her separate Christmas and birthday gifts (at separate times), wrap her gifts in the birthday-est birthday paper imagineable (okay, I do… My dad doesn’t always FIND the birthday paper, but that’s because he’s got a Y chromosome), and make a big deal of having a birthday cake.
I’m usually in charge of the birthday cake.
But for some reason, no matter how many beautiful cakes I make over the course of the previous year, something strange happens to her cake. Four years ago, I baked her a beautiful vanilla bean masterpiece. I’d baked it twice before for other occasions. It came out of the oven perfectly spongey and crumbly, puffed up supremely, and tasted great. But somehow in the intervening several hours, it transformed into a tasteless, heavy block. I still can’t figure it out.
Two years ago, I used a chocolate cake recipe from Better Homes and Gardens. I have to admit, this is still my standby recipe source – my mom uses it, both my grandmas use(d) it, and overall it’s got some well-tested recipes. Sadly, though, this one tasted more like dishwater than chocolate. I’m not entirely sure what the problem was – perhaps I mis-measured, or the cocoa was old… But it was truly a disappointment.
Last year, we were all sick up until the day before Christmas, so we bought a cake from the grocery store, which of course had no real problems (except for cloyingly sweet frosting).
Enter this year. My mom and I were talking on Wednesday morning about what I should bring to my grandmother’s Christmas Eve dinner. I did almost all the cooking for Thanksgiving, and my grandma wanted me to have the evening off. But I could, my mom suggested, bring the cake.
I have to admit, I had a moment of panic. But I fought it down and asked her what kind she wanted.
But I knew. Chocolate of course.
I toyed with the idea of using my Nutella cupcake recipe, and I actually did use a half batch of the frosting as filling between the cake layers. But I needed something so spectacularly chocolate it would never come close to being dishwater.
All I can say is that Smitten Kitchen never lets me down.
I made this Double Chocolate Layer Cake. And it was divine. Truly, transportingly, amazing. My uncle – who is very picky about his food, in a “I like gourmet” sort of way (not in a “I don’t like food” sort of way), had seconds. SECONDS! My cousin – who doesn’t cook – asked for the recipe. My mom was in heaven. And my birthday cake curse was broken!
Now, I have to add a few of my own notes. First of all, I like alcohol in cake. I think it really helps the cake retain moisture. Plus it tastes yummy. So I substituted 1/2 cup of kahlua for 1/2 cup of the coffee in the recipe. You can’t taste kahlua in the cake, or even coffee, but it’s gorgeously moist, even several days after baking.
Secondly, this cake doesn’t puff much in the oven. I don’t know if it was something I did (like adding the kahlua) or the recipe itself (it seemed like a decent amount of baking soda to me, and I wonder if a higher proportion of baking powder, or even just cutting out some of the leavener all together, would help), but I did end up with cake craters. It doesn’t really matter once you get the final cake stacked and filled and frosted, and it’s still light and fluffy, but for some reason it’s definitely not a cake that rises in the middle.
Third, because this cake is so rich and the flavor is so deeply chocolate, I was a little weary of adding more chocolate in the form of icing. So I made a basic cream cheese frosting (this one was from Better Homes and Gardens – 1 stick each of butter and cream cheese, with 2 cups of powdered sugar and some flavoring, beaten until very smooth) to go on the outside. The result was a perfect balance of sweet and rich and chocolatey. Sort of like the flavor profile of a super high-end Oreo cookie. Yeah, like that.
I think this will probably become my mom’s yearly birthday cake tradition. She was in heaven!