I have baked dozens and dozens of birthday cakes over the years. Because they are at the whim of the celebrant they are varied — carrot cake (not sure why this one is so popular but I come to bake not to judge), strawberry cream, lemon (my own choice. Yes, I often bake my own birthday cake), old school yellow with vanilla icing, pineapple upside-down cake, german chocolate, etc. You tell me what you like I will whip it up and throw it in my trusty Tupperware Cake Taker and deliver it to you.
But sometimes the heart cries out for something more basic. Something evocative of childhood and innocence. Something that satisfies in a deep and uncomplicated way: an old-fashioned, no-nonsense, chocolate layer cake with chocolate frosting. Innovation in baking is great but I’m not always in the mood for browned butter or stout or sriracha or whatever else people are throwing into chocolate cake to add something new to the conversation.
This is the cake for those times. Double Chocolate Layer Cake from the March 1999 edition of Gourmet.
I have been making this one for years and I’m not alone. You will see almost 1500 reviews on Epicurious, the vast majority awarding 4-stars. (I don’t wanted to get started on inane online comments but for the few people who gave it less than stellar reviews one said it was “too chocolaty” and one gave it 2 stars and said she wished she could give it 5). Although the recipe calls for 10″ pans I didn’t notice that until I was done baking and used 9″ pans with no ill effects. In fact, mine was done in 1 hour vs. the 1 hour 10 minutes in the recipe. There were one or two people who complained that the cake sunk but that is most definitely user error (check the expiration date on your baking powder if you have this problem).
I’d like to talk about the ganache but. I can’t even. It’s nothing less than perfect. It’s the stuff I imagine angels and cherubs and Dorie Greenspan eat all day long. It is also insanely easy to work with. Once you get it to the proper consistency (I put mine in the fridge for 30-40 minutes) you should be able to achieve a professional looking smooth-as-glass finish (and if you don’t, plaster it with sprinkles or toasted almond slices. Don’t be a hero).
This is a lot of cake in every way. The batter is dense and voluminous. The ingredients are many (and you are guaranteed to distribute chocolate all over your counter top, apron and hands as you reduce, in total, 1-1/4 lbs of the stuff into finely chopped pieces), big big flavor, and an end product that will test the strength and endurance of your cake-taker and the elasticity of the garments you are wearing.
But it was the perfect cake to make for my daughter, who turns 18 today. Happy birthday Bunny-bunster. You are my sunshine.