A Perfect Chocolate Cake

The cover photo of the recipe that caught my eye. Compare this with my final result and judge me for my lack of presentation skills.

The cover photo of the recipe that caught my eye. Compare this with my final result and judge me for my lack of presentation skills.

Last year my dear friend, Midge, asked me to create the perfect chocolate brownie. A fair request since I had been a little bragadocious about my perfect cupcakes. Which, by the way, are still perfect. But the perfect chocolate brownie? That's harder - and not just because I don't love brownies. I mean, I also don't love lamb.

What in the world does lamb have to do with brownies, you ask? It's simple. When I cook lamb, I don't know if it is any good because it tastes to me like lamb. Before you tell me that I just haven't had it cooked right, know that I have eaten lamb at some very good restaurants, including a fine Indian restaurant that braised the lamb in delicious spices of curry and masala with tomatoes and cream. It all still tasted like lamb.

It's the same  with brownies. Whether prepared from scratch, made from a box, or created from a doctored mix - they taste like brownies. And to make matters worse, there are your chewy, fudgy brownies and your cakey brownies, and all textures in between. I have found that there is  a division between folks on the chewy side of the brownie aisle and those on the cakey side, and they like to debate about the proper texture of a brownie. You just can't have your cake and chew it, too. So it seems the perfect brownie is destined to fail.

It's not that I didn't try. I love my friend, I love a challenge, I love to create a sweet, chocolatey treat. I also thought it would be fun to decorate a pan of perfect brownies like a pumpkin patch and give large pieces away on Halloween night. I tested recipes from Bon Appétit,  Food Network, and Sally's Baking Addiction. I tested a deceptively difficult recipe featured in a one-minute internet video. I tested recipes from co-workers, including a legendary caramel brownie that sparked Pavlovian responses when it appeared on the pot luck sign-up sheet. That particular recipe calls for 60 caramels and do you want to know how long it takes to unwrap 60 individual caramels? I was baking late on a school night, breaking a long-standing rule that was totally worth it because these would be perfect. Reviews said they weren't. Good thing, too, because perfection would mean days of unwrapping caramels.

I also bought a gourmet cocoa recommended by Epicurious since perfect brownies demanded perfect ingredients. My plan was to get the texture right and then home in on the flavor. But after multiple tries and giving away the results in exchange for mediocre reviews, the cocoa eventually made it's way into this perfect chocolate cake.

I will go back and try again (I have a King Arthur Flour recipe on deck), but I was distracted by a beautifully glossy chocolate cake that popped up in my news feed - the cake that is the cover photo for this post - so you understand the allure. The recipe was sourced from My Recipes which has never let me down, and it included buttermilk.  I tend to have more success with baking at high altitude when the recipe includes an acid like sour cream or buttermilk. And the cake was a bundt configuration and I had a shiny new Pampered Chef bundt pan begging for attention. So I measured out the last of the Scharffen Berger 100% cacao powder and went for it.

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My husband is my biggest fan and the nicest guy in the world, and that means his food reviews are suspect. I have to tune into his honest responses like leaving half of the food on his plate at the end of a meal or going back for seconds. A reaction like, "This is the best cake you have ever made," gets my attention, and that was his review. A review made even sweeter by the fact that chocolate is not his favorite. And I had to agree, my own mouth full of a bite so moist there was no milk required.  So taking a break from the elusive perfect brownie, I bring you a perfect chocolate cake - adapted from the original recipe which is in the link below. 

A few notes. I went to a Pampered Chef party and was promised that their new bundt pan would kick ass on all other bundt pans. It came with a warning from the hostess to be careful lest the baked confection fly right out of the pan en route from oven to cooling rack. I was sold at Pampered Chef and that pretty blue color. I am not sponsored by Pampered Chef - the company doesn't sponsor anyone. I just think their stuff is really, really good. And while I still used a baking spray on this project, it did indeed slide right out of the pan without leaving a crumb behind. I gave away my old pan.

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Modifications to the recipe are standard altitude mods that I do with most recipes. Reduced quantities of chemical leavening and a slightly hotter oven. I did not bake this on convection, just a 25°F temperature bump did the trick. The finished cake did rise above the rim of the pan a bit, but it did not spill, fall or sink.  Perfect.

The final mod is a lesson learned on good chocolate. While I used a premium cocoa, I think that is optional. But the ganache in the original recipe calls for semi sweet chocolate chips and the quality of your chocolate really matters here. Please don't go for those toll house chocolate chips at the grocery store. Get the best quality semi-sweet chocolate you are willing to pay for. I used Ghirardelli because that's the best I could find in my grocery store and it is pretty good. A trip to the gourmet section of a specialty store wouldn't be the worst idea. I hope you enjoy the recipe, and hopefully your glazing skills are better than mine. If not, nobody will notice. They will think the cake is "perfect."

Perfect Chocolate Bundt Cake

  • 2-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup warm brewed coffee
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (I used Ghirardelli)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon coffee liqueur
  1.  Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Prepare a bundt pan with baking spray.
  2. Sift cocoa into a small bowl to remove lumps. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.
  3. Mix the eggs and sugar in mixing bowl until combined.  Add oil, vanilla and coffee and mix to combine.  Add dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk until fully mixed and homogeneous. Do not overmix. 
  4. Pour batter into prepared bundt pan.  Bake 40-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove to a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes.
  5. Turn cake out onto a plate and let cool completely. Meanwhile, prepare the ganache.
  6. Heat heavy cream to almost boiling. Pour onto chopped chocolate and whisk until smooth. Add liqueur and let cool to room temperature.
  7. Spoon or carefully pour ganache over cooked cake, allowing the glaze to drip down the sides and cover cake completely. For presentation, it Is best to do this on a prep plate, and move to a cake stand or serving plate once the ganache has cooled and set completely.