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My Favorite Chocolate Cake (and the Chocolate Peanut-butter Cake variation)

From Cook’s Illustrated (#79, March/April 2006)

Once you make this chocolate cake one time, you’ll realize how easy it is to make a fresh, homemade, not from a box delicious chocolate cake that has such good chocolate flavor that… well… you may be ruined like I am and never want to go back to a box again.



12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, very soft
1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup (3/4 ounce) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 cup hot water
1 3/4 cups (12 1/4 ounces) sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs, plus 2 large egg yolks


You will also need:

1 tablespoon butter for greasing pans
1/8 – 1/4 cup flour for dusting pans
Baking pan (1 – 9x13, 2 or 3 9-inch round)
Stand mixer (whisk and paddle attachments needed)
Double boiler set-up (or small sauce pan and heat-proof bowl)
Extra bowls



Preheat oven to 350 F.  Grease pan(s) with butter and dust with flour.

Combine chocolate, cocoa powder and hot water in heat-proof bowl & set over sauce pan containing 1 inch of simmering water.  Stir with rubber spatula until chocolate is melted.  (This mixture will be very thick and dull.)  Add 1/2 cup sugar and stir until a little more fluid and glossy.  Remove bowl from heat and set aside to cool.

Whisk flour, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. 

Combine buttermilk and vanilla in a separate bowl. 

In the bowl of a stand mixer with whisk attachment, whisk eggs and yolks on medium-low speed until combined (about 10 seconds).  Add remaining 1 1/4 cups sugar and increase the speed to high and whisk until fluffy and lightened in color. (Not the same fluffy as when you cream sugar/shortening.  I would describe it as aerated and thick such that you can see the lines that the whisk leaves as it runs.)  Remove whisk and attach paddle.  Add the cooled chocolate mixture to egg/sugar mixture and mix on medium until thoroughly combined, pausing to scrape down the sides of bowl with rubber spatula if needed. 

Add softened butter one tablespoon at a time, mixing about 10 seconds after each addition.  (You will see some very small pieces of butter in the batter.  They will not completely incorporate.)  Add about 1/3 of the flour mixture and 1/2 of the buttermilk mixture, mixing until incorporated.  Repeat using half of remaining flour and all of remaining buttermilk mixture.  Scrape down sides of bowl and add remaining flour mixture; mix at medium-low speed until batter is thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds.  remove bowl from mixer and fold batter once or twice with rubber spatula to incorporate any remaining flour.  Divide batter evenly between prepared cake pans; smooth batter to edges of pan with spatula.

Bake cakes until toothpick inserted into center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 25-30 minutes.  Cool cakes in pans 15 minutes then invert onto wire rack.  Cool cakes to room temperature before frosting and you may even consider freezing for about 30 minutes before frosting.


Suggested uses:

Double Layer Birthday Cake: Decorate using Marshmallow Fondant or other frosting options. 



Chocolate Peanut-butter Cake (as seen on Smitten Kitchen):  Make a 3-layer chocolate cake.  Freeze the layers for 30 minutes – 1 hour before frosting.  Frost using  Peanut-butter Frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake.  Refrigerate at least 30 minutes.  Top with Chocolate/Peanut-butter Glaze by pouring (while warm) on top of cake (while cold) and spreading with off-set spatula so that it drips down the sides.  Refrigerate to set the frosting and glaze well.  Cut while cold and dip knife in water between cuts to keep the glaze from sliding around on you.

Peanut Butter Frosting

10 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter, preferably a commercial brand (because oil doesn’t separate out)

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.  Add peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended.

Chocolate/Peanut-butter Glaze

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup half-and-half

In the top of double boiler or in a heat-proof bowl set over a sauce pan with 1 inch of simmering water (use the same set-up as for the cake), combine the chocolate, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.  (You can always start this process in the microwave by cooking for about 30 seconds to get things started.  Once melted, it will be thick and dull.)  Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth and shiny. Use while still warm.

 chocolate pb cake 2 chocolate pb cake 1

chocolate pb cake 3

(Please excuse the picture quality.  All I had handy was my phone.)