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One-Bowl Chocolate Cake

I have a thing against cake mixes. Sure, commercial mixes produce very consistent results—they use food additives and stabilizers exactly calibrated for the other ingredients in the cake mix—but even for a quick birthday cake, you can make a truly homemade one that actually tastes like chocolate without much more work.


Note:

Cakes are commonly made using a two-stage method, in which dry ingredients are weighed out and whisked in one bowl, wet ingredients are whisked in a second bowl, and then the two are combined. In the streamline method, all ingredients are mixed in the same bowl: first dry (to make sure the baking powder is thoroughly blended), then wet, then eggs.


In a large bowl or the large bowl of a mixer, measure out:

2 ¼ cups (450g) sugar

2 cups (240g) pastry or cake flour (all-purpose flour is okay, too)

¾ cup (70g) cocoa powder (unsweetened)

2 teaspoons (10g) baking soda

½ teaspoon (2g) salt

Whisk together the dry ingredients, then add to the same bowl and whisk to combine thoroughly (about a minute):

1 ½ cups (360g) buttermilk

1 cup (218g) canola oil

1 teaspoon (5g) vanilla extract

Add eggs and whisk to combine:

3 large (180g) eggs

Prepare two 9″ / 22 cm or three 8″ / 20 cm round cake pans by lining the bottom with parchment paper. Yes, you really need to do this; otherwise, the cakes will stick and tear when you try to remove them. Spray the paper and pan sides with nonstick spray or coat with butter, and then dust with either flour or cocoa powder.


Note:

The parchment paper doesn’t need to cover every last square millimeter of the bottom of the cake pan. Cut a square of parchment paper, and fold it in half, then in quarters, and then in eighths. Snip the top off the folded paper, unfold your octagon, and place it in the pan.


Divide the batter into the cake pans. Try using a scale to keep the weights of the pans the same; this way the cakes will all be roughly the same height.

Bake in an oven preheated to 350°F / 175°C until a toothpick comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Allow to cool before turning out and frosting. If your cakes sink in the middle, your oven is probably too cold.


Note:

Even professional bakers use toothpicks to check doneness. For brownies, check that a toothpick inserted 1″ / 2.5 cm deep comes out clean; for cakes, push the toothpick in all the way.


Notes

  • When placing the cake pans in the oven, put them on a wire rack in the middle of the oven. If you keep a pizza or baking stone in your oven (which is recommended), don’t set the cakes directly on the stone; put them on a rack above the stone.

  • Like buttermilk, baking cocoa powder is acidic! Dutch process cocoa powder, however, is alkalinized—that is, it has had its pH level adjusted, changing it from a pH of around 5.5 to a pH between 6.0 and 8.0, depending upon the manufacturer. Don’t just blindly substitute Dutch process cocoa powder for straight-up cocoa powder; some of the baking soda will need to be switched out for baking powder.

  • You can sometimes make a buttermilk substitute by adding 1 tablespoon (15g) of vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup (240g) of milk. This will adjust the pH to be roughly the same as that of a cup of buttermilk, but it will not create the same texture or thickness, so don’t use that substitute for this recipe. If you don’t have buttermilk, use regular milk and substitute baking powder for half of the baking soda.

  • Note the baking temperature of 350°F / 175°C, sugar doesn’t begin to noticeably brown until above this temperature. You can tell a lot about what kind of baked good you’ll end up with just by looking at the baking temperature.

Simple Chocolate Ganache Frosting

In a saucepan over medium heat, heat 1 cup (240g) of heavy cream until it just begins to boil. Remove from heat and add 2 tablespoons (30g) of butter and 11½ oz (325g) of finely chopped bittersweet chocolate. (You can use semi-sweet chocolate if you prefer your cakes on the sweeter side. Most chocolate chips are semi-sweet; try using those.) Allow to rest until the chocolate and butter have melted, about five minutes. Add a pinch of salt and whisk to thoroughly combine.

To frost the cake, you can just pour the still-warm ganache over the top, allowing it to run down the sides. (This can get messy—which can serve as an excuse for eating half the ganache while frosting.) Or, to create a more traditional frosting, allow the ganache to set in the fridge, about 30 minutes, and then use an electric beater or mixer to beat it until it’s light and fluffy. Coat the top of each layer of the cake with the whipped ganache and stack them, leaving the sides exposed.

Notes

  • Try spiking the frosting with a tablespoon of espresso or liquor such as rum, port, or Grand Marnier. For a tangier frosting, substitute buttermilk for half of the heavy cream. If you really want to push the boundaries, trying using anything you think would work in a truffle. Cinnamon is easy to imagine, but why not cayenne pepper or lavender? Or infuse the cream with Earl Grey tea.

  • Make sure your cake is cool before frosting; otherwise, the heat will melt the ganache.

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