To celebrate Valentine’s Day and my birthday, Brandon and I spent a wonderful weekend in a little cottage I rented in the mountains a few hours away. It was such a fun getaway: we did some hiking, we drove around and got lost and we spent a lot of time soaking in the hot tub. When we got back home on Sunday afternoon, I wanted to make myself a birthday cake but after such a relaxing weekend I didn’t want to deal with complicated recipes or put time into making something that didn’t turn out great. That’s why I love the internet and recipe sites with reviews like Epicurious. I mean, if you can find a cake that has 1,400+ mostly raving reviews, that has to be a good cake, right?
I am very glad to have found this recipe because those reviewers were right: I now have my ultimate chocolate cake. I honestly can’t imagine another cake being able to surpass it. It’s made with coffee and oil which result in an extremely moist and soft, but dense cake. I’m pretty picky about my chocolate and I found the flavor to be perfect: not too dark or strong but not too sweet, either. I’m sure the coffee helps with the flavor, too.
The original recipe had a ganache frosting that didn’t really appeal to me, though; I wanted a fluffy buttercream! After a little more searching, I found this Chocolate-Orange Buttercream. All the reviews raved about the frosting but not about the cake with it, so it seemed a perfect match for a recipe where everyone was raving about the cake but not the frosting.
Brandon seems to think that chocolate and orange is not a good flavor combination, but I love it. And the orange in this frosting is really subtle. The only way I can think to describe it, is that it makes the chocolate taste extra fresh. Like imagine if there was a kind of chocolate that grew on a tree and you could just pluck it off a branch and bite in? This is how that chocolate would taste. It’s still chocolate, but it has an extra zing to it. But hey, if you’re like Brandon and chocolate/orange don’t sound like a good combo to you, just leave out the zest and orange extract; you still get a rich, chocolately (it’s made with melted chocolate and cocoa!) frosting.
Now you may be wondering about the round things on top? See, I kind of messed up. The cake is supposed to be made in two 10″ pans, but I only had 9″ pans. The cake is so moist and heavy that while it was baking the center started collapsing, so I wound up with some really droopy layers. All I had to do was slice off the excess to make them flat, but that left me with lots of extra cake. It tasted so good that I couldn’t bare to throw any away, so I put it all in a bowl and added in some leftover frosting and made some of those cake balls that I’ve been hearing about for years. I coated them in melted chocolate flavored with a little orange extract. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but they turned out to be really rich and quite good!
I put some on top of my cake because, well, why not? I’m not a professional cake decorator and I wasn’t making this for anyone other than myself, so I just had fun with it. I even used my cake decorating tips for the first time. (Obviously, I need more practice, ha!) However it looks, it tastes damn good and that’s all that really matters!
1. For both recipes, use the best quality chocolate and cocoa that you can find. I promise it’s worth the price! I used Scharffen Berger Semisweet chocolate and Ghirardelli cocoa for the cake and Ghirardelli Bittersweet chocolate and cocoa for the frosting.
3. This recipe makes two 10″ layers. If you want to have enough cake leftover to make cake balls, use 9″ layer pans instead, filled only halfway. Don’t try to fill them higher than that or they will be saggy in the middle. Make remaining batter in cupcake tins. You can crumble the cupcakes and combine them with trimmings from the two layers to use for the cake balls. (Recipe at the bottom.)
Ultimate Chocolate Cake
adapted from Gourmet, March 1999 via Epicurious
Dessert | Servings: 10″ layer cake
Prep time: 20 min | Cook time: 1 hour 10 min | Total time: 1 hour 30 min
- 3 oz. good-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
- 3 cups sugar
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
- 2 tsp. baking soda
- 3/4 tsp. baking powder
- 1 1/4 tsp. salt
- 3 large eggs
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
- 3/4 tsp. vanilla
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees (F). Grease two 10″ cake pans. Line bottoms with rounds of wax or parchment paper. (See this great tip for making perfect circles.) Grease paper.
- Combine hot coffee and the chopped chocolate in a bowl and let stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
- In a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
- In a mixer bowl beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer).
- Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well.
- Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until combined.
- Divide batter between pans. A great way to ensure even layers is to weigh each pan on a kitchen scale and add or subtract batter until they are the same. Bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.
- Cool layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove wax paper before frosting.
This is a very moist cake, to make it easier to frost, wrap the layers in plastic and place in freezer for 1 to 3 hours. Cake layers can be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.
Chocolate-Orange Buttercream Frosting
adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2004 via Epicurious
Dessert | Servings: about 3 cups
Prep time: 10 min | Total time: 20 min
- 8 oz. good-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 7 tbsp. – 10 (or more) tbsp. water
- 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 3 1/3 cups – 4 cups powdered sugar, divided (see instructions for details)
- 1 tbsp. grated orange peel
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 1/4 tsp. orange extract
- 1/2 tsp. coarse kosher salt
- Stir 8 oz. chopped chocolate in a double broiler or pan over low heat until smooth. Cool until barely lukewarm but still pourable.
- While chocolate is cooling, mix cocoa powder and 7-10 tablespoons water in heavy small saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until smooth and thick but still pourable, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if necessary. Cool.
- Beat butter, 1/3 cup powdered sugar and orange peel in large bowl to blend.
- Beat in melted chocolate, vanilla, orange extract and salt until smooth.
- Beat in cocoa mixture.
- Gradually add remaining 3 to 3 2/3 cups* powdered sugar and beat until frosting is smooth.
- Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread frosting over top of cake. Top with second cake layer. Spread more frosting over top and sides of cake, swirling decoratively.
*Note: I actually ran out of sugar after about 3 cups and the frosting tasted more than sweet enough to me (and I have a major sweet tooth), so I’m not sure the extra 2/3 cup is absolutely necessary.
Don’t use up all your frosting if you want to make cake balls, you’ll need about 1/2 cup or more depending on how much cake you have leftover.
Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and refrigerate. Let cake stand at room temperature 2 hours before serving.
Chocolate-Orange Cake Balls
from Back to the Cutting Board
Dessert | Servings: about 2 dozen
Total time: 30 min
- Leftover cake, crumbled
- At least 1/2 cup leftover frosting
- 8 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 4 oz. white chocolate, chopped
- 1/2 tsp. – 3/4 tsp. orange extract (to taste)
- Crumble cupcakes and cake trimmings in a large bowl.
- Add in the leftover frosting, a little at time, stirring until everything comes together.
- Scoop out a heaping tablespoon at a time and roll into balls. Space evenly on a cookie sheet.
- Place the cookie sheet into the freezer for 10-15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, melt the chopped chocolates in a small pan over low heat, stirring until smooth.
- Remove from heat and stir in orange extract. Cool slightly.
- Using a toothpick, dip frozen cake balls into chocolate, making sure to cover well. Tap gently over the pan to remove excess chocolate. Place back on cookie sheet to let harden. Since the balls are frozen it will happen pretty fast. Pipe more frosting on top for decoration, if desired.
Note: If you have a lot of cake balls you may want to work in batches, to make sure the cake stays frozen and the chocolate stays melted. Gently reheat the chocolate if it starts getting too hard.