I feel like the world is made up of cake people and non-cake people, and then within the “cake people” category there are chocolate cake people and… other kinds of cake people? I’m not a huge cake person, nor really a chocolate person, so I certainly can’t claim to be a chocolate cake person. I do, however, aspire to be a good hostess, so when we were having a big family birthday party for my brother-in-law last month and half an hour before people were scheduled to arrive I realized there was no dessert, I sought to rectify the situation. My brother-in-law is very much a cake person, and specifically, very much a chocolate cake person. So I did a quick google search for chocolate cake and this was the first recipe to pop up. Since Ina would never steer me wrong, and since miraculously I had all ingredients on hand, I quickly whipped up the batter, greased and floured two round pans (the fact that I not only had all the ingredients but two matching round cake pans tells me that the chocolate cake gods were really on my side this particular evening), and slid the cake into the oven right as the guests were arriving. And as it turned out, it was a huge hit with cake people and non-cake people alike, which I took to mean that it belongs on B&B (where as I’ve said before, we do things mainly for the accolades).
For some reason, I read the name of the cake that night when I was a bit frazzled and just assumed it was named after Warren Beatty. So for a time I was calling it Warren Beatty’s Chocolate Cake, which makes no sense. As it turns out, in the episode where she introduces the recipe, Ina is making the cake for her friend Michael and is using his grandmother’s recipe – Beatty is Michael’s grandmother’s name. (Pronounced Betty. But you can understand my confusion). I just thought I should share that before we go any further, so that you don’t make the same mistake.
When I made this the first time, I used a vanilla buttercream frosting rather than the chocolate frosting Grandma Beatty uses (if there’s one thing I know about my brother-in-law, it’s that he loves chocolate cake with white frosting). When I made it again for another family birthday last week, I used Grandma Beatty’s version, to compare. Both were delicious, although I will say (as a non-chocolate person), you definitely want some vanilla ice cream with the chocolate/chocolate version (and to be fair, even with the chocolate/vanilla I still wanted ice cream – possibly due to the fact that I’m more of an ice cream person than a cake person). Also, the chocolate frosting calls for a raw egg yolk – you could omit it without sacrificing too much, but if you follow the recipe as is just be mindful when serving to pregnant women or little kids.
Since this is an Ina-approved recipe, it’s basically perfect as written, no need for me to give you any tips. I will say, DO use parchment as instructed – I didn’t the first time and had a hard time getting my cakes out of the pans; I used it the second time and they popped right out and then the parchment peeled right off (shown below, as I was pretty proud of myself). Ina doesn’t have you do a crumb layer, which I did just because I had the time and it always makes me feel like a real baker. If you have time (and freezer space), spread a very thin layer of frosting over the top and sides of the cake and then pop it in the freezer for 20 minutes or so. Then when you finish icing it you won’t have any bothersome crumbs messing up your beautiful frosting job. And along those lines, my final note is to consider investing in an offest spatula – I took a cupcake decorating class at Williams-Sonoma a few years ago and the instructor practically forced us all to buy one, but I’ve used mine probably 100 times since. They really make icing any kind of cake or cupcake (sometimes even cookie) so much easier, and make your final product look so much better. Because like I said, we’re in it for the accolades. And because cake person or not, everyone needs a beautifully-frosted Grandma Beatty’s Chocolate Cake in their repertoire.
For the cake:
Butter, for greasing pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for greasing pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
For the frosting:
6 ounces good semi-sweet chocolate, such as Callebaut
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
To make cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 8″ x 2″ round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
To make frosting:
Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don’t whip!
To assemble cake:
Place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.