chocolate birthday cake

One awkward summer afternoon last year, I sat across the table from a boy, eating dinner together, and he told me he didn’t like cake. Can you believe that? He didn’t like cake.

He was so bold, in fact, he actually dared me to name a cake that could change his mind and, darn it, I must not have been ready because my mind went totally blank (or maybe I was just confused since the conversation changed topics so many times, without warning, when I’d be mid-sentence, even).

So I didn’t tell him about Swirlz and their magical cupcakes with the most amazing, creamy frosting I’ve ever tasted, nor that he should, on his way home, grab a $2 slice of chocolate cake at Portillo’s, that fast-food chain popular around Chicago, and feel its silky, rich frosting melt on his tongue.

Mostly though, I really regret that I’d never made this one, which, if I’d had to offer in my defense, definitely could have tipped the scales in my favor.

As you may have noticed from the post about truffles, there were two of my coworkers that had birthdays this last month. First was Carrie’s (provoking the celebration with Restaurant Eve’s cake, which you’d swear was a sugar cookie in cake form). Today is Alicia’s, celebrated at work Monday with this—a wonderfully moist and delicious chocolate cake, filled with homemade whipped cream and topped by chocolate buttercream frosting.

assembling the cake

You know, they’ve come a long way, cakes. Originally just sweetened breads, flat and round, made with nuts and honey, cakes didn’t become the confections we now think of until the 17th century, at which time they were only available to the very affluent. Sometime in the last hundred years, cakes became more common, with home cooks taking them on in their own kitchens, like my grandma did with her home catering.

Still, though, cake isn’t exactly a set type or flavor: there are fruit cakes (those hard, brick-like objects people like to give at Christmas), shortcakes (summery, often paired with strawberries), pound cakes, jello cakes, box cakes, made-from-scratch cakes, zuccotto cakes, cakes with nuts, cakes with carrots grated into the batter. With so many different variations—and so many different people making them—it’s no wonder bad experiences happen.

Even birthday cake, traditionally layered, frosted and decorated, covered with candles and sliced into thick slices, isn’t hard to find done wrong. Everyone has their own preferences, but for me, this is what I expect from a good birthday cake (what about you?): moist batter (there’s nothing worse than dry cake), good flavor and a fairly pretty presentation. And this cake? Has all that and more.

I started with a basic Hershey’s recipe for the batter, figuring it made sense to trust the people who know chocolate best. Those of you telling me not to give up on buttercream will be glad to know the frosting is just that, and those of you who find buttercream a little heavy will be relieved that the filling is fluffy, light and whipped, a simple blend made from heavy whipping cream, blended until it was thick enough to dollop on a spatula and sweep over the bottom layer of cake.

Plus, as a bonus, the whipped filling adds moisture to the layers, ensuring this birthday cake will be just as it should be: soft and sweet, velvety chocolate with punches of light cream.

After a bite of this, who couldn’t like cake?

Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Hershey’s and Recipe Zaar

When you’re making the whipped cream, set the bowl of ingredients inside a larger bowl filled with ice, and mix it with a hand mixer, if you have one. It makes the task insanely easy and fast.

2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water
“Perfectly chocolate” chocolate frosting (recipe follows)

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.

Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost between the layers with whipped cream frosting, and frost the top and sides with “perfectly chocolate” chocolate frosting. 10 to 12 servings.

Whipped Cream Frosting:
1 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions: Whip cream, add sugar and vanilla. Beat until thick.

Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Frosting
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions: Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.

Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. meeso

    Well, I already loved cake… but this beauty just made me love it even more!

  2. Adam

    Hershey knows chocolate best?! That is offensive to my palette and just plain wrong.

  3. Shannalee

    Thanks, Meeso!

    Adam – I know it’s not popular to praise Hershey’s chocolate, especially when compared to Valhrona or other upscale brands, but, while it’s ordinary, Hershey’s is also a time-tested, inexpensive option made by the largest chocolate distributor in North America, as well as the oldest. Its classic chocolate bar is an American icon, usually one of the first kinds to be loved by kids.

    That said, by all means, one could use Scharffen Berger or Penzey’s or maybe Ghiradelli cocoa powder in this recipe, and I’m sure the results would only be improved! (Although, you tried the test cupcakes, so you know!) I’d love to hear what other people try.

  4. Hannah

    Hey, all I can afford is Hersey’s! It’s tastes just fine, and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg like the upscale chocolates. I think it’s totally fine for your ordinary chocolate cake.

  5. Carrie

    Holy cow, that looks good! I actually prefer Hersey’s over anything. It’s probably because it is, as you said, “a time-tested, inexpensive option.” If we had plain chocolate in the house when I was growing up, it was most likely Hersey. Sometimes, I’ll bite into a chocolate Santa or Easter egg and expect that taste, and then I’m disappointed, because it’s a generic-tasting chocolate. Although I do love some confections from Fannie May, Hersey is my #1.

  6. The Duo Dishes

    Hmm, who doesn’t like cake? That’s an oddity right there but to each his own.

  7. Jessica

    OMFG I love chocolate cake and yours looks amazing. The pictures make me want to reach in and eat it.

  8. Susan

    I think ice cream cake is my favorite. Your cake does look amazing!

  9. Shannalee

    Hannah and Carrie, thanks for weighing in!

    DD, I know. It’s right up there with people who don’t like chocolate.

    Jessica and Susan – THANK YOU! You guys are too nice.

  10. Sapuche

    The chocolate cake in your close-up photo is, quite simply, impossible to say no to. I don’t care who it is or what their hang-ups are, saying no to a cake like that can only be for effect. I can’t help wondering if the boy you had dinner with has a secret stash of cakes in his room that he privately gobbles down. Thanks for sharing this recipe!

  11. Kate

    I wish I’d had your frosting a couple of days ago, when I didn’t want to make 4 cups of ganache or buttercream for two dozen cupcakes, and had to commit the sin of buying canned. (The recipients all approved anyway.)

  12. Pingback: Birthday Cake. Just Chocolate. « Running for Chocolate

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