Last week, I was both craving chocolate and feeling the need to procrastinate on an epic scale. What better excuse to bake a chocolate cake? But which recipe should I use? The last time I tried to make chocolate cake, I made an epic disaster by fusing a Mark Bittman recipe with an Aida Mollenkamp pudding frosting. It was all sorts of wrong (although the pudding frosting was quite delicious). Nevertheless, when it comes to these sort of First World problems, I always head to my favorite TV cook: Ina Garten! One of Ina’s top recipes is her famous “Beatty’s Chocolate Cake,” which currently has a five-star rating on Foodnetwork.com with 1,250 reviews. Yes, this is probably Ina’s most popular offering, but I’ve never attempted it before because quite frankly I was scared.
You see, about two years ago, my friend jash attempted Beatty’s Chocolate Cake, and the result was a smoky, messy cake wreck. The batter overflowed in his pans, spilling out all over the oven and wreaking general havoc on his kitchen. This was notable because a) Ina recipes rarely go this wrong, and b) jash is a very accomplished home cook in his own right. He NEVER encounters such catastrophe. Surely if jash couldn’t succeed, what chance did I have? I mean, earlier this summer I left the FLOUR out of a cookie recipe. I made cookies with NO FLOUR. I shouldn’t even say that I made cookies. I made a crumbly MESS. Beatty’s Chocolate Cake would certainly be a risky endeavor.
Pictures of my valiant attempt after the jump…
Things begin with pans. The recipe calls for two 8″ pans, but I only have 9″ pans. Not to worry: some of the online reviewers claim that like jash, they suffered spill-over issues with their lowly 8″ pans. Perhaps this was jash’s demise too. The general consensus online is that there’s a typo and the recipe really requires 9″ pans. This all works out quite well for me.
First I must cut out circular parchment paper rounds to go in the pans. I absent-mindedly trace the lid of the pan, not the base. This leads to awkwardness later.
The circle is too big!!! [shaking fist]
Meanwhile, in an alarming turn of events, I run out of parchment paper. Luckily I’m able to use scraps to fill in the gaps. Crisis lightly, sloppily averted.
The pans and parchment rounds (and scraps) have been buttered and floured. I put them to the side for now.
Holy sift! Time to pass some dry ingredients through the sieve. It’s all the usual suspects: cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Time to assemble the wet ingredients, starting with a cup of fresh brewed coffee, courtesy of my CBTL Kaldi. Please don’t forget that if you want to win a FREE one of these, you just have to participate in the contest here (I’ll extend the deadline another week).
Brewing is for lovers.
Ten months later, I am still clearly fascinated by this process.
Meanwhile, it’s time to mix the other wet ingredients. Here’s a sexy bowl full of buttermilk and canola oil. Looks appetizing, no?
Greetings, eggs and vanilla extract.
The ingredients from the wet bowl go into the dry bowl. We have achieved batter.
I then add the coffee to the batter. Some gentle stirring is required.
As usual, I’ve made a mess.
Next I pour the very soupy batter into my lil’ rounds. So far so good.
Thirty-five minutes later, one of the cake rounds is done. I pull it from the 350° oven and let it cool.
Five minutes later, the second round is done as well. It appears as though I cleared the spill-over hurdle.
Time to get crackin’ on the frosting. I commence chocolate meltage on the stovetop.
Just when you thought you could escape this recipe with no butter…
Steady progress on the melting front. I should note that I used a blend of 4 oz. of Ghirardelli 60% cocoa and 2 oz. of Ghirardelli semisweet chocolate.
Meanwhile, I cream the butter like a BOSS.
Some vanilla and an egg yolk join the party.
Elsewhere in the kitchen, the chocolate, I’m proud to report, has melted.
I then enlist the powdered sugar for service.
Next I must dissolve some very classy instant coffee crystals in water.
As it’s been thirty minutes, I turn the cake rounds out of the pan and let them cool completely. They are very soft and fragile. I fear I may tear one in half by accident.
I add the instant coffee to the frosting bowl. Things become instantly Cruella DeVille-y.
This can only lead to good things.
The chocolate arrives next.
A few swirls with the whisk later, and we have a very promising frosting.
Introducing my brand new cake caddy (which also can double as a cake tray).
I now face my final hurdle: frosting this cake. As some of you know, I don’t always have the most, er, REFINED touch when it comes to frosting cakes (or cupcakes). However, when I was in NYC last week, I asked my friend Mark Randazzo of Mark Joseph Cakes to give me a few tips. Hopefully I’ll do him proud (spoiler: I won’t).
This is the easy part. I don’t have to be fancy for the middle layer.
Okay. Now we begin.
I carefully spend five or ten minutes spreading the remaining frosting on the cake. I use a back-and-forth technique that Mark explained to me. I’m not sure how successful I am, but in the end, this is what I wind up with:
Yeah. Not the best. But no the worst. And Ina always endorses cakes that look homemade. Also, I got the caddy messy because I didn’t have any parchment paper left to place under the cake.
I’m more or less happy with it, visually.
I then place the top on the caddy. I like to pretend this is some sort of sci-fi hibernation pod, and in 250 years from now, the cake will wake up on a space ship that may or may not have Sigourney Weaver on board. Okay, I’m just turning this into Alien.
Well, in the tradition of Ina sharing her food with a gaggle of gays, I brought the cake to my friends at Instinct magazine. I figured this way I could have a slice or two and then be done with the whole thing (rather than have it linger in my fridge for days while I pick away at it and grow a gut). As for the magazine cover in the background, my friend strategically chose it as a backdrop in honor of this very chocolate occasion. I suppose these things are bound to happen when you bring cake to a gay magazine.
Slicing, etc. I have to note that of all the cakes and pies I’ve ever made, this one cut the easiest!
See? A perfect slice!
Some minor cake pride.
A charmingly unflattering photo of me about to enjoy my first piece.
My face seems to register consternation, but it’s actually my reacting to this SUPER TASTY cake. Success indeed!
The Verdict: amazing! Ina Garten means business with this cake. It’s so decadently chocolatey that it’s almost impossible to put down. Of course, it’s also absurdly rich, which means that after one slice, you’re liable to pass out on the nearest piece of furniture.
In terms of texture, Ina receives an A+. The cake is totally moist — about as moist as it can be without being a runny rum cake confection. And, as promised, the coffee in the batter and icing really DOES give the chocolate a real depth of flavor. I really had no complaints about this bad boy. I now know why it’s so popular (and so acclaimed).
However, if you plan on making this recipe, do be warned: use 9″ pans, not 8″. Otherwise you’ll be left with a major mess on your hands (and in your oven).
Check out the recipe here: Beatty’s Chocolate Cake
Have you made this cake? How did it turn out for you?