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.
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?
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
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.