Is there ever a wrong time for chocolate cake? We don’t think so. It fulfills all the requirements to start your day off right. Milk, eggs, espresso, and most importantly: chocolate. Add in the frosting, and you’ve got a serving of cream cheese to boot. It’s also ready to eat, no preparation necessary, and dare we say it? Satisfying.
We’re not here to malign boxed cake mixes. On the contrary, cake mixes give exact directions with consistent and delicious results. It’s no wonder that Wilton doesn’t include scratch cake directions on their cake pans and instead just lists how many boxes of cake mix you will need for a particular cake pan. But there is something to be said for a scratch cake that not only meets your expectations of a cake mix, but actually exceeds it by leaps and bounds. This is such a cake.
By making this cake from scratch, we have control over all the ingredients, and most importantly, we have control over the quality of those ingredients. The most important ingredient, as stated above, is the chocolate. We’re steering clear of inexpensive cocoa powder and setting our sights clearly on the good stuff: Guittard Cocoa Rouge unsweetened cocoa powder or Ghirardelli 100% unsweetened cocoa powder. The cake pictured above, and the frosting atop it, are both made with Ghirardelli cocoa powder.
This cake is made in what appears to be backwards order. The dry ingredients are incorporated, the butter is cut in next and the oil follows. You end up with a mixture that resembles sand. The wet ingredients are added last. Scratch cakes are usually put together by creaming the fats and sugars together first, adding the remaining liquid ingredients and finally incorporating the flour so as to mix it the least amount of time to keep the gluten development to a minimum. But fear not. This cake has braved the crucible of reverse mixing order and emerged victorious.
This cake makes a 10-inch by 3-inch round, single layer cake. If you’d like your cake in layers, simply slice the single layer cake into as many layers as you prefer using a thin serrated bread knife and a guide to keep your layers level. If you’ve ever baked a cake, you know that the center of the cake tends to rise higher than the edges. The outside sets quickly in the heat of the oven before the inside has a chance to heat up. Using cake shields, double thick strips of cloth soaked in water and wrapped around the outside of the cake pan, slows the heat entering the sides of the cake. Every time we use the shields, the cake comes out of the oven perfectly flat on top. Use a 10-inch circle of parchment paper in the bottom of the cake pan to ensure that the cake releases completely so the bottom is perfectly flat as well.
The cake can either be frosted after it has completely cooled, or it can be wrapped in plastic wrap after it has cooled and frozen overnight. This reduces the amount of crumbs the cake will make when it’s frosted, and it’s easier to frost because it’s solid. If you choose to freeze the cake, allow it to thaw for a few hours before you attempt to serve it.
Chocolate cake. It’s quite possibly the world’s best breakfast food.
Moist Chocolate Cake
- 2 cups unbleached cake flour, such as King Arthur
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon very finely ground kosher salt
- ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, such as Ghirardelli 100% Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
- 1¾ cups granulated sugar
- ½ cup butter, very soft, but not melted
- ⅓ cup canola oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup whole milk
- ½ cup cooled espresso
- 4 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Do NOT use the convection fan. Soak the cake shields for at least 15 minutes before using. Coat a 10-inch by 3-inch cake pan with non-stick cooking spray. Place the parchment paper circle in the bottom and then spray that with the cooking spray as well.
In the mixing bowl of a heavy duty stand mixer, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, kosher salt, cocoa powder and sugar. Stir the butter into the dry ingredients by hand, using the paddle attachment. Place the mixing bowl on the mixer and using the paddle attachment, slowly drizzle in the oil with the mixer on low until the mixture resembles sand.
Mix the milk, espresso and vanilla together and pour into the mixing bowl with the mixer on very low. Mix on low (speed 2 of 10) for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the mixer on low (speed 2). Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating each egg fully before adding the next. Mix for an additional 2 minutes on medium-low, speed 3.
Pour the batter in the prepared pan. Squeeze out the excess water from the cake shields and secure them around the outside of the cake pan. Bake the cake for 55-65 minutes. A toothpick inserted near the center should come out clean.
Immediately depan to a cooling wrack. Frost the cake or freeze it once it’s completely cooled.
Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
- 8 ounces cream cheese, very soft
- 1/4 cup butter, very soft
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Cream the butter and cream cheese until fluffy in a mixing bowl of a heavy duty stand mixer. Add the sugar, one cup at a time until it is all combined, scraping the sides between each addition. Add the cocoa powder. Mix on low until everything is incorporated. Then mix on medium-high until the frosting is light and fluffy. This should take about 3-4 minutes.
Frost the cake as desired.