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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Simple Pleasures Are the Best

At heart I'm a simple girl.  Sure, I love the occasional fancy dessert although I must admit that I've never climbed on the chocolate lava cake bandwagon.  I just don't "get" the whole gooey center thing.  But that's just me.  As far as I am concerned, there's just nothing better than a classic big swirly chocolate cake.  Nothing.

I have a theory about desserts.  The fancier and more elaborate they look, the less delicious they taste.  My most recent test of this this theory was at the Whole Foods bakery counter.  They had these adorable cupcakes with lots of fluffy pink icing and little candied flowers on them.  I bought one for Kate.  Long story short, she didn't eat it so I had a little nibble.  It should have been delicious.  It looked delicious.  It was not.  It was dry and the icing was so sugary that my teeth almost fell out.  This happens all the time with desserts.  They look so much prettier than they end up tasting.

As an adult I have been able to indulge my love of classic chocolate cake.  I have made dozens of different variations on the theme but my absolute favorite is a Martha Stewart recipe I've had for years.  It's never let me down and always makes a show stopping entrance, not in a glamorous supermodel way but show stopping nonetheless.  This is a nice tall layer cake with tons of big, frothy chocolate icing.  And we all know that icing is the key.  This is icing to die for.

This is the perfect special occasion cake (we've had it for countless birthdays around here) but it's also nice just because.  Anyway, who needs a special occasion to enjoy a nice piece of cake?  I think we all deserve a little something special just because.

Recipe:  Martha Stewart's Ultimate Chocolate Cake

*  Note:  Use the highest quality chocolate you can find.  It really makes a difference.


1 cup Valrhona cocoa, plus more for dusting
3/4 cup strong coffee, boiling
1 cup milk, room temperature
2 3/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, room temperature
Ultimate Chocolate Frosting


Place rack in middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-by-2-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper. Butter the parchment, and dust with cocoa powder; tap out excess. Sift cocoa; whisk in boiling coffee and milk. Let cool. Sift together cake flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Using a rubber spatula, mix the butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add sugar and vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Pour in the cooled cocoa mixture. Mix until fully incorporated.

Add the sifted dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture, stirring until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pans (about 4 cups in each pan). Bake for 20 minutes, rotate the pans, and bake for an additional 15 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the center.

Remove the cakes from the oven, and allow to cool in pans for 15 minutes on a cooling rack. Carefully run a small offset spatula around the edge of the cakes to loosen them from the pan. Remove cakes from pans, and invert onto a wire rack. Let cool completely, about 1 hour.

To assemble, using a serrated knife, level the top surface of each cake layer. Place four strips of parchment paper around the perimeter of the cake stand. Spread with 3/4 cup of frosting. Top with the remaining layer, bottom side up. Using a swirling motion, cover the outside of cake with the remaining frosting. Remove parchment-paper strips.

Recipe:  Martha Stewart's Ultimate Chocolate Frosting

*  Note:  I use my stand mixer when making this and whip the frosting until it is light and airy.



3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup Valrhona cocoa powder
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup milk, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract


In a small bowl, sift together the confectioners' sugar and cocoa powder. Add butter, milk, and vanilla; stir until smooth and free of lumps.  You can also whip on medium high until the frosting is light and airy and free of lumps.

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