Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Famous Triple Layer Chocolate Cake

One of the best gifts I ever received was The Best Recipe Cookbook from my friend Janell for Christmas oh, so many years ago. If you don't know it, you should; it was compiled by Cooks Illustrated Magazine and they came up with what they think is the best recipe for just about everything. There are also a whole slew of other editions, but the first is still my favorite.
A few years ago I started baking all birthday cakes from scratch because I just couldn't see paying good money for one of those nasty Crisco frosting monsrosities from the grocery store and most bakeries. I found the recipe for the Old Fashioned Chocolate Layer Cake (pg. 476), and it has become the standard for all birthdays and special occasions. I made one for my brother-in-law Dan and his fiancee Linsdsay when they came to visit the other day, and I have had a new wave requests for recipe, so here it is:

Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake

12 tablespoons ( 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, such as Hershey's
2 teaspoons instant espresso or instant coffee
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 recipe of Chocolate Butter Frosting

1. For the Cake: Adjust oven rack to center position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease and flour two 8'' round cake pans.
2. Beat butter in a bowl of electric mixer set at medium-high speed until smooth and shiny, about 30 seconds. Gradually sprinkle in sugar; beat until mixture is fluffy and almost white, 3 to 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating 1 full minute after each addition.
3. Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, cocoa, and instant espresso in medium bowl. Combine milk and vanilla in measuring cup. With mixer on lowest speed, add about one third of the dry ingredients to batter, followed immediately by about one third of milk mixture. Mix until ingredients are are almost incorporated into batter. Repeat process twice more. When batter appears blended, stop mixer and scrape bowl sides with rubber spatula. Return mixer to low speed; beat until batter looks satiny, about 15 seconds longer.
4. Divide batter evenly between pans. With rubber spatula, spread batter to pan sides and smooth top. Bake cakes until they feel firm in the center when lightly pressed and skewer comes out clean or with just a crumb or two adhering, 23 to 30 minutes. Transfer pans to wire racks; cool for 10 minutes. Run knife around the perimeter of each pan, invert cakes onto racks, reinvert onto additional racks and cool completely before frosting.

Chocolate Butter Frosting

1/3 cup butter
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1. In a mixing bowl beat butter until fluffy. Whisk powdered sugar and cocoa together in a separate bowl. Gradually add 2 cups of the powdered sugar mixture to the butter, beating well. Slowly beat in the 1/4 cup of milk and vanilla.
2. Slowly beat in the remaining powdered sugar mixture. Beat in additional milk if needed (you'll need to) to reach spreading consistency. Will frost two 8" cake rounds.

As I mentioned in the title of this post, this is a Triple Layer Chocolate Cake. I started making it three layers rather than two because the cake is pretty dense and doesn't rise that much, so I always thought the ones with just two layers looked a little wimpy. I just make 1 1/2 recipe of both the cake and the frosting to accommodate a third layer. It still tastes as great, no matter how many layers are involved.
The frosting is actually not from The Best Recipe, but rather from the good old Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. That's right, the one everyone gets for their wedding with the red and white checkerboard cover that looks like a picnic tablecloth. In my experience, it can't be beat, except they give you the option to use margarine instead of butter. Oh, please. Isn't this the whole reason to bake a homemade cake, to avoid that slick, chemical aftertaste? Enjoy.