Haunted by the luscious taste of my chef grandmother Viola’s dark chocolate cake that only chocoholic dreams are made of, I’ve spent many years testing chocolate cake recipes with varying results. I’ve come close but not exact. Then by a streak of fate I found it scribbled faintly on the back of an obscure recipe card…this was the same cake that was a favorite of Governor Warren Green of South Dakota where she presided over the kitchen in the early 1930’s. This cake is beautifully dense, moist and bakes more evenly in a slow oven. This recipe has become a standard, go-to for me.
Before you begin, preheat the oven to 300° (275° if using convection). Prepare your pans with butter/cooking spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
Makes two 8×3-inch baking pans or one 12×3-inch round or square pan.
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
2/3 cup water
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup vanilla
2 1/3 cups sugar
1 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
12 ounces dark chocolate* (65% to 85% cocoa), pieces or batons
*The original recipe calls for unsweetened chocolate. I prefer a slightly sweeter taste. Use your discretion.
Sift the flour and baking soda together in a bowl and set aside. Put the chocolate pieces/batons in a microwavable bowl and heat on high for 15 second spurts, stirring briefly between each time until thoroughly melted. Set aside.
In a small saucepan bring the water to a boil and pour into a bowl on the counter. Add the cocoa powder and vanilla, whisking swiftly until it is smooth with no lumps. Set aside to cool.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, add the butter and mix on medium speed for approximately 3 minutes. Add the sugar and mix until the batter is fluffy, about 3 minutes more. Now add the eggs one at a time. Scrape down the sides at least once.
Add the bowl of melted chocolate pieces/batons and continue mixing for 1 minute to incorporate. Reduce the speed to low and alternate adding the flour and cocoa mixtures. When completely combined, pour into the prepared pans.
Bake the 8-inch pans for 60-70 minutes; 12-inch pan up to two hours. To test when ready, the top of the cake will spring back when touched or insert a toothpick which should come out free of batter or crumbs. (FYI, top cracks and pulling away from the side both indicate doneness. Beware of over-baking.)
THE GANACHE FROSTING/FILLING:
12 ounces (340 g) heavy cream
1 lb (454 g) semisweet or bittersweet dark pieces/batons
1 tablespoon glucose (or corn syrup)
Pour the chocolate pieces/batons into a metal bowl and set aside. Add the heavy cream to a saucepan and bring to scalding. (You can microwave instead in 15 second spurts, stirring briefly between each time until scalding.) Pour this over the chocolate and let rest for 30 seconds. Now stir thoughtfully until fully blended. (Stirring quickly or whisking will add air, creating an abundance of bubbles which you do not want.) Stir in the glucose (for shine). This is where you can add alcohol-to-taste such as rum, grand marnier, bourbon, Cointreau, kirsch, etc. Keeping stirring the liquid for a few minutes to thicken slightly. You can then pour this over the prepared cake (glacé) or cover with plastic and let rest on the counter until thick enough for spreading (filling and frosting). This will take several hours.
Hack: To speed up the process, place bowl into a larger bowl of ice (an ice bath) and continue stirring. The chocolate ganache will start to solidify much faster. Do this several times until a smooth, spreadable consistency is reached. Note: If it becomes too thick, microwave for 10 second spurts on high until smooth. Be careful not to overmelt. This is where I like to turn my ganache into a whipped ganache by simply whisking vigorously till it turns to a light shade of chocolate and becomes fluffy. Fill the cake. You can then frost the cake with this OR for a chocolate glacé outside, pour a just-blended ganache over the top of a filled cake which is resting on a cookie rack on top of a plastic-lined baking tray.
TIP: No need to refrigerate ganache for several days since the milk has been sterilized.
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