The Good Chocolate Cake (just pretend you don’t see the mediocre icing)

This is a really, really, really good chocolate cake recipe.

I am generally of the belief that cake exists to keep people like me from embarrassing ourselves by eating frosting straight out of the bowl (or tub).  You know, the “cake is fine and all but it’s no frosting” camp.

This cake is the exception.  I’d eat it plain, alone, on its own.  And not think twice about frosting.

The second of three weeks of baking recipes from Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, this layer cake is deep, immensely chocolatey and just sweet enough.

Of course it is.  Ms. Nosrat describes it her holy grail of cake: moist yet flavorful.

The secret ingredient?  Oil is used as the fat.  I actually learned about this when I took a baking course a few years ago.  The liquid viscosity of oil allows it to surround the protein molecules, keeping water out and preventing the formation of gluten.  The result is a tender rather than chewy crumb.

As if we needed any more proof that a gentle huge can lead to love and tenderness.

The type of oil matters.  The recipe calls for a neutral tasting oil.  This means olive and peanut are out (though chocolate and peanut…hmmm).  I like grape seed oil though a fresh vegetable oil could also be used.

This recipe does have a singular flaw: it only makes two layers.  This is perfectly acceptable, but three would be better.  Luckily this can be overcome: make the recipe twice.  You’ll get a three layer cake and then have another super secret layer to squirrel away for your own purposes.

I think that’s called having your cake and eating it too.

A note on the frosting; it did not come from Samin Nosrat.  It was an Italian buttercream recipe I thought I’d made several times and liked.  Even with the addition of fresh cherries, it was flavorless, clammy and quite honestly an offense to the cake.  You are far better off with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar. Or, as Ms. Nosrat suggests, a fluffy blanket of fresh whipped cream.

Lori’s Chocolate Midnight Cake

from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat; Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking  by Samin Nosrat

makes two 8-inch cakes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 C (2 ounces) Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 C (10 1/2 ounces) caster sugar
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  •  1 3/4 C (9 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 C neutral tasting oil (TMH note: I prefer grape seed for baking)
  • 1 1/2 C freshly brewed strong coffee (okay, water is offered as an option in this recipe…but you don’t really want to do that)
  • 2 large eggs at room temp, lightly whisked

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, grease and line with parchment two 8-inch cake pans.  Grease parchment, sprinkle generously with cocoa (or flour), tap out excess and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cocoa, sugar, salt, flour and baking soda.  Sift into a large bowl.
  3. In a medium bowl (wipe out the one you just used to save some dishes), stir together the vanilla and oil.  Brew the coffee.  Then brew yourself a cup.  Add coffee to the oil and vanilla mixture.
  4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients (flour mixture) and gradually whisk in the water-oil mixture until incorporated.  Gradually whisk in the eggs and stir until smooth.  The batter will be thin (like you’ll think you’ve done something wrong…but you haven’t).
  5. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.  Drop each pan onto the counter from a couple of inches a couple of times to release any air bubbles (this is a supremely satisfying step).
  6. Bake bowl cakes in the upper-third of the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the cakes spring back from the touch and just pull away from the edges of the pan.
  7. Cool the cakes completely on a wire rack before turning them out.  Don’t forget to peel off the parchment paper.  Ice, frost as desired (or eat as is).
  8. These cakes will keep in the freezer (double wrap in plastic and then in freezer bags) for up to three months.

Some ideas for topping the cakes that are better than what’s in the pictures:

White Chocolate Buttercream

Marshmallow Frosting

Best Ganache Ever