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Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Best Big Chocolate Cake. Ever.


The first thing you’ve got to know about this cake is that it is a labor of love. That’s not to say it’s difficult to make. It’s just that there are about four major steps to it, some information to keep in mind, and a certain level of experience – but not necessarily skill – in the kitchen. 

You’ve got to be able to lead with your heart in this one and pour as much love as you’ve got into the recipe. Which is what makes this the best, big, chocolate cake for a birthday or any festive occasion. Ever. But, you know, if you lead with your heart in the kitchen, everything comes out better.

The second thing you’ve got to know is that this cake stores best in a refrigerator. And, I’m not kidding when I mean it’s a BIG cake. Four layers. It’s really big enough to feed a small fishing village in Cambodia so unless you are planning to feed the masses – like a big birthday or anniversary or a holiday celebration) make sure you have room in your fridge to store this. 

I don’t know how it freezes. If you try it, let me know.

The third thing to know about this cake is that, like all food, it does best with the freshest ingredients. Don't skimp on quality. It’s got a lot of dairy in it: cream, butter, and buttermilk (which you can make, not to worry. I’ll give you the recipe.). If your flour has been sitting around for months in the bag you bought it in, throw it out and get a new bag. Same thing for the cocoa and baking soda. 

You’ll thank me for it later.

Finally, this recipe was adapted from Ree Drummond, the “Pioneer Woman” who cooks for her husband, the rancher, and growing kids. 

If you have a sedentary job and don’t exercise, or if your cholesterol level or blood pressure are boardline high, or if on your last Annual Physical Exam the doctor gave you some information about diet, exercise, heart condition, stroke, or diabetes, or, if you don’t really, really like chocolate, you may not want to make or eat this. 

Yes, it's all that. Just sayin'. But, you will do what you will do.

Okay, ready? Here we go.

For the cake, you’ll need:

4 sticks of butter, plus more for greasing the pans (See what I mean?)
8 heaping tablespoons cocoa, plus more for dusting
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 cups sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups boiling water
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 whole eggs, beaten

NOTE: I don’t grease my pans with butter. I have found that sometimes it can burn and cause the edges of the cake to burn. I use Pam Spray for baking. I love it. But, you’ll do what you do.

For the frosting, you’ll need:

3 cups heavy cream (See what I mean?)
24 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces (Or, chocolate morsels)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract.


I would bake this cake in the morning if I were planning to serve it that evening or the next evening. The cake frosts best if you cool each layer and then wrap them in clear plastic or wax paper and put them in the fridge. The frosting also has to cool and thicken in the fridge for a couple of hours. It really makes all the difference in frosting a four-layer cake.

You’re welcome. 

PREP: Set the oven at 350 degrees. Get the pans ready – grease or spray them. I only have 2 9-inch pans and this recipe calls for 4 layers. But, since it only takes 20-25 minutes to bake, I put one batch in, let them cool, wash out the pans and then bake the other two layers. You’ll do what you’ll do with what you’ve got.

If you don’t have Buttermilk, you can make your own. Do that now.

Mix together:

1 scant cup milk (whole, 2%, or heavy cream)
1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar

Let it sit for 5-10 minutes. When it is ready, the milk will be slightly thickened and you may see small, curdled bits. Don’t worry about the small, curdled bits. You won’t notice them in your finished recipe. This substitute will not become quite as thick as regular buttermilk which is okay.

Other Buttermilk Substitutes
Yogurt: Mix 3/4 cup plain yogurt with 1/4 cup water to thin. Use as you would buttermilk.
Sour cream: Mix 3/4 cup sour cream with 1/4 cup plain water to thin. Use as you would buttermilk.
Kefir: Thin kefir as needed with milk or plain water until it reaches the consistency of buttermilk. Use as you would buttermilk.
Cream of tartar: Mix 1 cup of milk with 1 3/4 teaspoons cream of tartar. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes until slightly thickened and curdled.

So, to continue: 

Have handy a Very Large mixing bowl, a couple of medium mixing bowls, a medium sauce pan, a couple of spatulas, a few measuring cups and spoons, a hand whisk and electric beaters. 

Here’s the “secret ingredient”: After you tie the back of your apron, call up the face of the person or faces of the people for whom you are baking this cake.   

Think of one or two gifts they have given you over the years – the laughter, the tears, the joy, the challenges, the things you’ve learned from them – and send out a thank you to the cosmos for them. That kind of gratitude and love has a way of finding its way back to you and infusing itself into the cake. 

You’ll see. It’s pretty amazing. And, the taste of love and gratitude is incredible.

So, in a Very Large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. Set aside.

In a saucepan, melt the butter. Add the cocoa. Stir together. Add the boiling water, allow the mixture to boil for 30 seconds - watch it like a hawk - and then turn off the heat.

Pour over the flour mixture and stir lightly to mix well and then let cool.

In a small bowl, beat the four eggs. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the buttermilk, baking soda, vanilla. Add the beaten eggs.

Stir in the buttermilk mixture into the butter/chocolate / flour mixture. It will be on the thin side.

Divide the batter among the prepared cake pans and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Cool completely before icing. Refrigerate the layers after cooling for best results.


Pour the broken pieces (or morsels) of chocolate into a mixing bowl.

Heat the cream until very hot. Watch this carefully. Little bubbles will form along the outside rim of the pan and wisps of steam will rise from the center. If you look away at this point, just like that, the whole thing will boil over into a mess. When you see the bubbles and wisps, remove from heat and use immediately.

Pour the cream over the chocolate and stir until all the chocolate is melted. It takes a good 7-10 minutes of stirring. Even then, you might end up with a very few small clumps. This is okay and makes for an interesting frosting. 

Put the whole bowl into the fridge and let cool until thick like pudding.

Add the vanilla extract and beat with an electric mixer until light and airy.

Frost the cake in between each layer, then on the top and finally around the sides. Don’t be afraid to be generous. This is the BEST chocolate frosting. You’ll make it for other cakes, and/or you’ll cut this entire recipe in half and make it again and again for other, smaller occasions. 

You can get fancy and put some pieces of shaved white and/or  dark chocolate on the top. Or, sprinkle with "jimmies". Or, decorate with a holiday or birthday or anniversary theme. You will do what you will do. But, the cake really is festive enough all on its own to convey whatever message you're trying to give.

Prepare yourself for gasps of wonder and delight as you bring out the cake to be served. It makes a very dramatic presentation. And then, oooh’s and aaah’s over the moistness of the cake and the rich chocolate goodness of the frosting will fill the air and people will corner you in the kitchen ask you for the recipe.

You are entirely welcome.


Matthew said...

OMG Lord have mercy.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Yes, it's all that.

Pat said...

Nice! We have a family recipe similar to this that is called "Mrs. Mills' Chocolate Cake." The heating of the cream that you describe many cooks call "scalding."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Yes, Pat. That's exactly what my grandmother would have called it. Scalding. I don't read that word in too many cook books these days. Thanks for the reminder.

odessamarie said...

That's a beautiful cake, and I love the way you get the love in there.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Love is a beautiful thing.