Did You Know? At the time Marie Antoinette uttered the infamous quotation "let them eat cake," the word "cake" did not refer to the familiar dessert item that the modern-day French call le gateau. The operative term was brioche, a flour-and-water paste that was "caked" onto the interiors of the ovens and baking pans of the professional boulangers of the era. At the end of the day, the baker would scrape the leavings from his pans and ovens and set them outside the door for the benefit of beggars and scavengers. Thus, the lady in question was simply giving practical, if somewhat flippant, advice to her poor subjects: If one cannot afford the bourgeois bread, he can avail himself of the poor man's "cake."
After a ridiculous conversation about boxed cake versus homemade, I decided to put the argument to rest, and convince my skeptical sister that homemade is the only way to go. We often joke about how off her taste buds are, prefering all the cheap, artficial foods over a nice, healhy meal. She says if she knows one thing, it's chocolate cake (something about an entire Entenmann's?). And she was positive the boxed cake was superior to anything I could bake from scratch (she's kind like that). From that statement on, I was on a mad hunt for the ultimate chocolate cake recipe.
High on the list when Googling "chocolate cake," this particular recipe had it's devoted followers. Originally featured in Gourmet, this cake must have been replicated at least a thousand times since. Declared as Deb's favorite, the layered masterpiece I was about to recreate had my approval. And since I had a skeptic on my hands, I had to buy only the finest quality ingredients. So off to Whole Foods I went. Two pounds of Callebaut later, and thirty dollars lighter (well I guess I wasn't thirty dollars lighter - thanks Mom), I was in my kitchen, and ready to conquer the chocolate cake.
I was surprised at the amount of hot coffee the recipe called for. I definitely didn't want a mocha-flavored cake, so that made me nervous. I couldn't have been more wrong. The coffee brought out a depth of flavor from the chocolate that I had never tasted before. And that chocolate. I will never go back to Ghirardelli again. The original called for semisweet. But I could only find bitter and milk, so I bought both and combined the two. The end result was truly amazing. Moist, tender crumbs, sandwiched by a rich chocolate ganache. The flavors were beyond complex. And the debate we had on our hands? Long forgotten.
Adapted from Epicurious via Gourmet, March 1999
3 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate (I used milk chocolate Callebaut)
1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
3 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 pound fine-quality semisweet chocolate (I used a combo of milk and bittersweet Callebaut)
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
Make Cake Layers
Preheat oven to 300°F, and grease two 10-inch round cake pans. Line bottoms with rounds of wax paper and grease paper.
Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well. Divide batter between pans and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.
Cool layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove wax paper and cool layers completely. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.
Finely chop chocolate. In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Cut butter into pieces and add to frosting, whisking until smooth.
Transfer frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable (depending on chocolate used, it may be necessary to chill frosting to spreadable consistency).
Spread frosting between cake layers and over top and sides. Cake keeps, covered and chilled, 3 days. Bring cake to room temperature before serving.