Whether you want to impress your sweetheart or treat the kids this Valentine's Day, you can't go wrong with a sinfully-rich chocolate cake. With or without frosting, a homemade chocolate cake is usually hard to pass up. And, you don't have to slave away in the kitchen to make a bakery-quality dessert.
I talked to Duff Goldman, star of Food Network's "Ace of Cakes" and owner of Charm City Cakes to learn the tricks for making the perfect chocolate cake for Valentine's Day. I wanted to know how you prevent a cake from drying out, what type of chocolate to use, and how to turn any standard chocolate cake recipe into a rich, decadent treat.
Here's what Duff has to say about baking a chocolate cake the recipient will go gaga for:
No-Fail Tips for an Incredible Chocolate Cake
The perfect chocolate cake is moist, has a deep chocolate flavor, and is topped with a gooey, creamy, frosting. To make this happen, Duff says you have to use quality ingredients.
"Use a slow-milled flour like Giusto's or King Arthur; fast-milled flour tends to have gluten already activated so you'll need more protein to make the recipe rise. Otherwise you'll end up with a cake that's chewy, not tender. Organic, free-range eggs do indeed taste better. Most importantly, use a quality chocolate that you like and know what it tastes like. I like a Godiva chocolate with a deep flavor profile." Duff says you could use any type of retail chocolate but these tend to be sweeter than premium brands available wholesale.
If your cakes always tend to turn out too dry, chewy, or crumbly, there's a very simple solution - add more butter and cut back on the sugar.
Duff explains, "Fat will make the cake moist while sugar dries it out. Another trick is to pull the cake out of the oven three to four minutes before it's done." And, you'll want to avoid the fridge at all costs. "I won't go into the science or I'll sound like a total dork, but store your cakes either at room temperature or in the freezer; the fridge will just make it go stale quicker."
You also need an "awesome frosting", says Duff. "This is usually people's favorite part! Yeah, yeah, yeah, cake shmake, blah blah blah, gimme that gooey creamy fudgy frosting dripping with caramel and chocolate savings! This is what is going through everyone's head! Those textures of creamy, gooey, and sticky are SO important for people who love something decadent!"
And what about making the cake really, really rich?
Duff prepared me for this one: "Okay, secret pastry chef knowledge about to be revealed, forever getting me banned from the secret pastry chef conference on world domination…ready? You sure? Here goes my career! Here it is: coffee is to chocolate like salt is to beef. Adding just a smidge of coffee to a chocolate dessert will make that flavor really burst. You don't need MORE chocolate, the acidity, alkalines, and bitterness of the coffee really sets off that huge chocolate flavor; just like salting a protein makes it taste "meatier". It's the same reason why some people love red wine with chocolate, acidity, and astringency."
Ready to make an amazing chocolate cake for your sweetheart? Here's Duff's recommended recipe:
Charm City Chocolate Espresso Cake
Courtesy of Duff Goldman
3 cups flour
3 cups sugar
1 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
1 ¼ teaspoon salt
½ cups brewed coffee (hot)
3 ounces dark chocolate (melted)
3 eggs at room temperature
¾ cup oil
1 ½ cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and sift until consistent. Add buttermilk, coffee, eggs, and melted chocolate. Mix until texture is smooth and consistent. Pour batter into greased and floured half-sheet pan, or two, 8-inch round pans with parchment lining. Place in preheated oven. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, checking and turning after 20 minutes have elapsed. Allow to cool…and enjoy!
For the frosting, Duff shared his classic French buttercream infused with Kahlua - a somewhat ambitious venture for the beginner baker but well worth the effort (recipe below).
You could also frost this cake with your favorite chocolate fudge frosting and caramel sauce, or save time with Duff's very own ready-to-use decadent chocolate icing.
Duff's French Buttercream with Espresso Flavor
Yield: 4 lbs. of buttercream (enough to ice a 3-tier cake so you'll have some left over from the cake recipe above!)
7 egg whites
14 ounces granulated sugar
1 pound of butter at room temperature
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder with one tablespoon boiling water
¼ cup Kahlua
Whip egg white slowly in a 5-quart stand mixer until foamy. Make sure you have a completely clean and dry bowl. Increase the speed of the mixer and slowly start adding the sugar until all sugar is incorporated. Increase speed even further and whip until the mixture is shiny and stiff. You now have a meringue. You know when your meringue is done when you pull out the whip, hold it horizontal, and you have what looks like a "sparrow's beak" on the end of the whip.
Replace the whip, turn the mixture on medium and start adding the butter a bit at a time until it's incorporated. Turn the mixer on high and leave it for a while. Depending on the weather, the buttercream can take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes to form. You'll know when it has formed when you hear the motor of the mixer starts to slow down and whine a bit.
Add the espresso and Kahlua while the mixer is on and whip until completely mixed. The color should be a light brown. Flavor can be enhanced with more espresso powder and Kahlua.
Remove the buttercream from the bowl and place in an airtight container. This can be kept at room temperature for a few days or in the fridge for a week or two.