Best Chocolate Cake - Sweet and Savory Kitchens

Margaux says…

I can’t believe I haven’t posted about this cake yet. I have made this cake more than any other…well, besides the old family stand-by. But this cake is SO GOOD. It has a really nice cocoa flavor, not super deep-rich chocolate, so it’s great for all palates. And the frosting is so fluffy and buttery, it just melts in your mouth. I’ve made this cake for numerous birthdays, get-togethers, and just because we want cake. It’s not super difficult, as far as cake recipes go. If you’re looking for a good, old-fashioned, super moist and chocolatey cake recipe, this is IT.

World's Best Chocolate Cake - Sweet and Savory Kitchens

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My mom gave me the recipe several years ago, in an article cut out of her local newspaper. It was literally called the “World’s Best Chocolate Cake” (I did not give it this ridiculous name). I don’t remember the specifics of the article…someone won a cake contest, or a cake connoisseur happened upon it at a dinner at a friend’s, or something along those lines. I tried to find the original article, to no avail, so I can’t tell you the real story. All I can remember is that the writer thought this cake was the best he had ever had, and I had to see for myself. It’s pretty darn good.

Best Chocolate Cake - Sweet and Savory Kitchens

World's Best Chocolate Cake - Sweet and Savory Kitchens

TIPS AND TRICKS:

There’s a few things that I’ve learned after making this cake numerous times.
flour and cocoa

For one, and this goes for most cakes I make, when sifting the dry ingredients, I use the following method: I cut two pieces of waxed paper, and set them side by side on the counter. I first sift the flour onto the first piece of paper, then put the sifter on the other paper and measure out the flour, putting it back into the sifter. Then I place the rest of the dry ingredients in the sifter with the flour and sift them all together onto the second piece of waxed paper. Then I just set that aside until I need to add it to the batter. It’s pretty easy to add it, just carefully picking up the paper at each edge, creating kind of a funnel, and slowly pour it into the mixer. Save your waxed paper for later…you can use one to sift your powdered sugar onto, and the other for my trick below.

batter

chocolate cake batter

Secondly, don’t be alarmed when the batter looks curdled after you add the water and vanilla. It will smooth back out after the addition of flour and buttermilk. No worries.

preparing to frost

Third. When preparing to frost the cake, cut up one of the pieces of waxed paper and slide them under the first layer. It takes four strips, make sure the plate is completely covered. Then when you’re frosting the cake, the frosting isn’t getting on your serving plate. When you’re done frosting, carefully slide the strips out from under the cake and voila! Clean plate.

World’s Best Chocolate Cake

The Cake:

Have all your ingredients at room temperature. Line two 9″ round cake pans with parchment paper and spray with baking spray with flour (or butter and flour the pans). Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup butter
1 3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup water
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup buttermilk

Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cocoa and salt, and set aside. Cream the butter in a bowl with an electric mixer (or use a stand mixer-my recommendation). Gradually add the sugar, and beat at medium speed for one minute, until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for one minute after each egg. Gradually add the water and vanilla on low speed, and then beat on medium for one minute more. With the mixer on low speed, add one third of the flour mixture, and beat on low until completely combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add half of the buttermilk, beat on low, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and then beat on low until completely combined again. Alternate the flour and buttermilk in this fashion, ending with the last third of flour mixture. Pour into pans, and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool on racks for 10 minutes, then remove from the pans and cool on rack until completely cooled.

The frosting:

1 six oz. package high quality semisweet chocolate chips, or semisweet chocolate chopped up (3/4 cup)
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 cup butter
2 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar
Bowl of ice

Combine chocolate chips, whipping cream and butter in double boiler over barely simmering water, stirring constantly until smooth (I use a large mixing bowl set on top of a medium saucepan…less to clean up). Remove from heat and add powdered sugar. Set the bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice, and using an electric hand mixer, beat on high speed until the frosting holds its shape, about 10 minutes. Make sure you take it out of the bowl of ice immediately, so that the bottom of the frosting doesn’t freeze.

add powdered sugar to frosting

making frosting

chocolate frosting

World's Best Chocolate Cake

Chocolate-Espresso Snowballs

December 27, 2011

Aunt Suzy says . . . 

I love the pecan shortbread cookies that go by various names, and when I saw this variation with two of my favorite flavors, I knew I had to make them!  I followed the recipe with a couple of minor adaptations.  Instead of using instant espresso powder, I used Starbucks new Via instant coffee, Vienna Roast.  It was perfect – each little packet is one teaspoon and it is plenty flavorful without dominating.  At first I thought the cookies were a little dry, but the next day they were superb!  I made these and the traditional ones, Grandma’s Butter Balls, on the same day and it’s hard to decide which I like better!  Many taste tests have ensued, with inconclusive results, making me think that more taste tests are required :-). One thing we can say is that both are outstanding with a cup of coffee or tea.

Yield:  2 1/2 to 3 dozen cookies, depending on size

2 sticks softened unsalted butter

1/2 cup powdered sugar

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups finely chopped pecans (I use the low-tech nut grinder shown in the Grandma’s Butter Ball post)

Confectioners’ sugar, for coating

Preheat the oven to 325°.

In a large bowl, mix the butter, sugar and vanilla until smooth. Stir in the flour, cocoa, espresso powder and salt until thoroughly blended. Mix in the pecans – I do this with my hands to make sure they are evenly incorporated.

Working in batches, roll the dough into balls about the size of walnuts and place on 2 cookie sheets – about 2 inches apart.  Bake one batch at a time on the center oven rack for 15-20 minutes, until the tops are dry and the cookies are slightly firm to the touch.  Let the cookies cool on the sheets for 10 minutes, then transfer to a rack.  Roll in confectioners’ sugar to coat and place on a serving plate.  I recommend rolling in confectioner’s sugar a second time about an hour later to completely coat them.

Spritz Cookies

December 24, 2011

Spritz maker

Margaux says…

A very fond Christmas memory for me is helping my Granny make spritz cookies. She is the one who taught me to bake when I was very young…we baked cookies pretty often, and she let me do a lot of the work. But spritz was my favorite! I loved twisting the top of the spritz-maker, squeezing out dough in cute little shapes. She let me pick the shapes, and most of them turned out being either too fat or too skinny. But the point was that she let ME do it, and I felt so proud! And then we got to decorate them with colored sugars and silver baubles, making them into perfect little Christmas treats.

I actually didn’t much like eating spritz cookies when I was a kid (I was more of a thumbprint cookie lover); I didn’t get a full appreciation for them until I was an adult.  But now they’re one of my favorites…little butter-citrus bites that are the perfect size.  I always make citrus-flavored (because that’s what Granny always made), but you can do all sorts of variations on them, which I will give instructions for below.  I got these recipes out of last year’s Martha Stewart Living December issue…it is very similar to, if not the same as Granny’s.

Lemony Spritz Cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Beat butter and granulated sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in egg, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt until fully combined, about one minute. Add flour, and beat on low speed until just combined (do not overbeat). If tinting the dough, divide it into separate bowls and mix in the food dyes. Just make sure you’re not overworking the dough so that it doesn’t make tough cookies.

If you want to make vanilla cookies:
Replace citrus zest and juice with 2 tsp pure vanilla extract.

If you want to make chocolate cookies:
Replace 1/3 cup flour with 1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder, and citrus zest and juice with 2 tsp vanilla extract.

If you want to make spice cookies: (I think I’m going to try this next year-sounds good!)
Add 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground allspice, and 1/3 tsp freshly ground pepper when you add the flour mixture. Replace citrus zest and juice with 2 tsp vanilla.

To bake the cookies:

Knead dough briefly to soften. Fill a cookie press with dough and fit with disk to make shapes (Mirro made a great cookie press, you can find lots of them on Ebay). Squeeze cookies directly onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle with sanding sugar (optional). Bake at 350 degrees until firm, 12-14 minutes. Let cool completely on cooling rack before glazing (also optional…last year I glazed because I had time, this year I didn’t. I think they’re just as good without glaze. Granny never glazed. 🙂 ).

Vanilla and Citrus Glazes

For citrus glaze:
3 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp citrus juice
3 tsp finely grated citrus zest
3 tbsp light corn syrup

For vanilla glaze:
3 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp whole milk
3 tbsp light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Dip tops of cookies in glaze, decorate with sanding sugars or small candies while glaze is still wet. Let set on wire rack.

Margaux says…

I’m not big on semi-homemade, at all, ever. Except for these cookies, so I guess I can’t say ever. But one taste, and you’ll agree. It’s one of those no-bake, super easy, make in minutes recipes like everyone seems to make around the holidays. And I usually steer clear of those. But I simply cannot stop eating these when they’re in front of me, and I have to have them once a year. It’s fudgy-peanut butter-crispy goodness. They’re one of my Aunt Gigi’s specialties, who is the original expert/ amateur baker in the family, and she always makes them for Christmas, along with several other perfect cookies, some of which I will post soon.

Scotcharoos

Butter a 9×13 pan.

1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
6 cups Special K cereal

2 cups (one 12 oz. bag) semi sweet chocolate chips
2 cups butterscotch chips

Heat the syrup and sugar just until it starts boil around the edges. Add the peanut butter and mix well. Add the Special K and spread the mixture into the prepared pan. Melt the chocolate and butterscotch chips together and spread over the Special K mixture. Let cool and cut into squares.

One 12-oz. box of Special K makes two recipes of bars.

Aunt Suzy says . . .

When my guy Tatum told me he was making a pie for Pi Day (today, March 14) to take to his workplace, I thought he meant Pie Day.  I had never heard that there was a day set aside for ∏!!  And to think it’s also Albert Einstein’s birthday, making this a true day for smarties.  Then he told me he was making his famous chocolate cream refrigerator pie which is made with a surprise ingredient – tofu!  I had never had this pie and I had my doubts, but it is super-chocolaty and delicious. Lucky co-workers!

Margaux says…

This pie is sooo delicious!  It’s very rich and tasty…it almost makes me think of chocolate cheesecake more than a traditional pudding pie.  If you want to make it vegan, just substitute agave syrup for the honey.  I made it with my own granola recipe, and the slightly-saltiness of the granola really paired perfectly with the super sweet and rich filling.  This is a great pie to make when you want something sweet but don’t want to have the oven on for more than 30 minutes!

Granola Crust

1 1/2 cups granola, without dried fruit (he used one with orange flavor this time – great contrast to the chocolate!)

1/3 cup melted butter or canola oil

1 tablespoon honey

Process the granola for 15 seconds in a food processor or with a stick blender.  Add the melted butter or canola oil and the honey.  Press into a 9-inch pie plate.  Bake at 400° for 5–7 minutes.  Keep an eye out so it doesn’t burn.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool while making the filling.

Creamy Chocolate Filling

1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips or discs

3 tablespoons honey

2- 10 1/2-ounce packages silken firm tofu

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler until smooth.  Stir in the honey and blend thoroughly.  Process the tofu in a food processor or with a stick blender until smooth.  (Note:  some tofu is sold in 12-ounce packages.  In this case just use 21 ounces.)  Add the melted chocolate mixture and beat by hand till smooth and creamy.  Pour the filling into the reserved crust.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  Be judicious with serving size – this is a very rich pie!

Spiced Chocolate Torte

January 30, 2011

Margaux says…

It’s my birthday!! My husband asked me if I wanted him to get me a cake, or if I wanted to make it myself. I’m a total cake snob, and have yet to really find a bakery in Chicago that has cake as good as homemade. I’ve found decent ones, but still not good enough, so I usually make my own cake. This year was no exception, and I’ve been really wanting to make the cake that was featured on the December cover of Bon Appetit…it looks heavenly!! Maybe a little labor-intensive, even when not making the white chocolate and milk chocolate ribbons to wrap it up in, but hey, it’s my birthday!  Totally worth the work.

The cake part is actually pretty straightforward and easy.  The batter was a little weird before you put in the egg whites…it was more like cookie dough.  But once you put in the egg whites, it’s much more what I’m used to for cake batter.

The buttercream was another story.  I’ve always wanted to make a real French buttercream, but always put it off because it seems too tedious.  It took me two tries, but the second time around I had the hang of it, and it actually turned out pretty perfectly.  I don’t have any photos of the process because you really have to buckle down and stay focused on the task, but if you follow the instructions carefully, it’s actually not that hard.  I added one note to the recipe…the first time around, I used my stand mixer, and I definitely advise against that.  I was pouring the cooked sugar mixture into the eggs with the mixer running, like you should, but because the syrup hardens immediately as it cools, it was splattering into hard crystals on the sides of the bowl.  It was pretty, and looked like spun sugar, but almost half of the syrup didn’t end up in the eggs like it should have!  So the second time around, I used a hand mixer, which was more labor intensive but did the trick.


The glaze was very easy.  The only thing is that I don’t think I stirred it enough to thicken it, so a lot more than I wanted slid off the cake.  So make sure you follow the instructions, and not get too antsy to eat the cake.  🙂


Spiced Chocolate Torte
(without the chocolate ribbons)
from Bon Appetit, Dec 2010 issue

I made this as a 6″ cake, since I wasn’t serving 12-14 people like the original recipe states.  You can halve any recipe for a 9″ cake to make a 6″ cake.  Some of the division is a little tricky, so you’ll have to use a calculator or conversion chart on the internet.

cake
1 1/2 cups butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
8 eggs, separated, room temperature
10 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), melted, lukewarm
1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/3 cups unbleached all purpose flour, sifted (measured, then sifted)
pinch of salt
pinch of cream of tartar

buttercream
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
4 jumbo egg yolks
1 1/2 cups butter, cut into small pieces, room temperature
6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), melted and cooled (but still pourable)
1/4 cup dark rum
pinch salt

glaze
12 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate(do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
2 tbsp honey
3/4 tsp instant espresso powder or instant coffee powder

cake
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Butter three 9″ cake pans with 1 1/2″ high sides. Line bottom of each cake pan with parchment paper.
Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter. Gradually beat in sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks one at a time. Blend in melted chocolate. Slowly mix in pecans, vanilla and spices. Gently fold in flour in 4 batches (batter will be very thick and dense).
Using an electric hand mixer, beat egg whites with salt and cream of tartar in another large bowl until medium peaks form. Gently fold 1/4 of the whites into batter to lighten, then fold in remaining. whites. Divide batter among prepared pans, spreading evenly. Bake until tooth pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Run knife around sides of each cake. Let stand 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto racks. Cool to room temperature. (Cakes can be made up to 2 weeks ahead. Wrap tightly and freeze.)

buttercream
Stir sugar and corn syrup in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil 1 minute. Meanwhile, using electric mixer, beat egg yolks in medium bowl until pale and thick. Gradually beat in hot sugar syrup; continue beating until mixture is completely cool, about 5 minutes. (I used a hand mixer for this because with a stand mixer, when adding the syrup mixture half of it ended up on the sides of the bowl like spun sugar. I had to scrap a batch and start over.) Beat in butter one piece at a time, incorporating each piece completely before adding next. Blend in melted chocolate, then rum. (If buttercream looks broken or curdled, place bowl with buttercream over medium heat on stove burner and whisk 5 to 10 seconds to warm mixture slightly, then remove from heat and beat mixture again on medium speed. Repeat warming and beating as many times as needed until buttercream is smooth.) Chill buttercream for 30 minutes to firm it up before spreading it on the cake layers.
Reserve 1/2 cup buttercream. Set 1 cake layer, flat side up, on rack; spread top with half the remaining buttercream. Top with second cake layer; spread with remaining buttercream. Top with third cake layer; use reserved 1/2 cup buttercream to fill in seam where cake layers meet. Freeze cake until buttercream is firm, about 2 hours (I wrapped it tightly in plastic wrap so that it wouldn’t dry out).

glaze
Place strips of waxed paper under the sides of the cake to catch extra glaze when it runs down the sides.
Stir all ingredients in top of double boiler over gently simmering water until mixture is smooth. Remove from over water. Stir until glaze is thickened, about 5 minutes (do not allow glaze to set). Pour 3/4 of the glaze over the top of cake. Carefully and quickly tilt cake back and forth so glaze coats sides; smooth sides with spatula, adding some of remaining glaze where necessary. Chill cake until glaze is set. Remove pieces of waxed paper.

Cake can be prepared up to 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring cake to room temperature before serving.

Margaux says

This is a recipe from my “3 Aunts and a Mom” cookbook from Aunt Suzy, submitted by Aunt Judy.  It’s a take on the classic French clafoutis, with chocolate added (yum!).  I’ve been itching for cherry season to arrive so that I could make it, and once it finally got here, every time we’ve had cherries in the house a certain little boy eats them all before I can even blink.  This time I had a plan…bribe him with a popsicle while I pitted the cherries.  Well, the minute I got out the dark ruby little treats, the popsicle was forgotten (who wants frozen grape juice when you can eat these sweet, juicy little guys??).  So it took me twice as long to pit the three cups…

I had to give the cherry monster one for every two I pitted.  Note the cherry-juice chin.

Apparently, purists bake their cherry clafoutis with un-pitted cherries, because the pit releases added flavor to the dish.  I just think that dealing with pits when you’re trying to savor a dessert is not worth it…maybe I’ll try it that way sometime just to see.   But it would have made this quick dessert even quicker, that’s for sure!

I love this dessert because it’s not to sweet…it kind of reminds me of cherry crepes, if you were just to pour the crepe batter over the cherries and bake it all together, or even flan, because of the egg and cinnamon flavors.  It also makes a good brunch treat…I’ve had it for breakfast 2 days in a row now.  🙂

Cherry-Chocolate Clafoutis
recipe from my Aunt Judy Major

2 tbsp melted butter
3 cups fresh dark cherries, or 2 cans, well-drained (although I wouldn’t recommend canned)
1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Grease 10″ iron skillet with 1 tbsp butter. Spread cherries and chips in the pan.

Mix together dry ingredients in a medium bowl.

Place liquids in a blender. Add mixture of dry ingredients and remaining 1 tbsp butter. Blend until smooth.

Pour batter over cherries and chips.

Bake 55 to 60 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool 15 minutes before serving.

Be sure its a 10″ skillet. The batter will puff up and fill the skillet during baking, though it falls soon after it comes out of the oven. Serve warm with powdered sugar dusted over the top. (I served with vanilla ice cream…it was perfect).