I have a problem with chocolate cake.
This problem goes against all my Tenets Of Cake: the best cake is the one that makes the baker happy; shortcuts are awesome; sweat and suffering doesn’t actually make a cake taste better. But as soon as chocolate is involved, all my goodwill goes out the window. People go fucking crazy over anything with chocolate in it. Nobody has to work for chocolate flavor! A bar of Ghirardelli overshadows any citrus chiffon cake, paprika-spiced apples, or spice oil infusion that I can conjure. And it isn’t fair.
I am a whiny pissbaby about chocolate pastries. I’m not proud. That’s just how it is.
But people love their chocolate, and sometimes I am dumb enough to take cake requests. A friend at the comic book shop needed a going-away cake. Another friend had a birthday that same week. They both love chocolate. I conceded and, with no grace at all, decided to make two cakes at once with the most complicated fucking chocolate cake in the Joy of Cooking.
This went beyond pride to straight-up hubris. Hubris is arrogance on steroids, and it never ends well. Think Ariadne declaring that she’s a better weaver than Athena, or Odysseus deciding that he isn’t going to listen to a single goddamn piece of advice anyone gives him on the way home from Troy. When mortals decide they’re on the level of gods, the gods proceed to fuck their shit up. On this blog, I occasionally declare myself a God of Cake. I took it to far. I forgot that I am still subject to the unknowable forces of Oven, Ingredients, and Insufficiently Prepared Pans. I was punished.
Cake One was planned as a big three-layer chocolate cake with bourbon buttercream icing. Cake Two was planned as a single-layer cake with a hidden reservoir of caramel sauce and a coating of caramel, dark chocolate, and crushed pretzels. This did not go as planned.
The cake recipe is Devil’s Food Cake Cockaigne from the Joy of Cooking. My first mistake was picking a devil’s food cake. Angel food cake can hypothetically be eaten by an angel, but doesn’t belong to any particular member of the heavenly host. Devil’s food cake belongs to the devil. It’s right there in the name. I don’t know how fallen angels feel about their food being taken away. But dogs are as close to angels as I’m going to get in this life, and they definitely don’t like it when people fuck around with their food.
The ingredients below make four cake layers. I made them all at once, which produced too much batter for my 4.5 quart stand mixer to hold. Feel free to cut the recipe in half and avoid irritating the powers that be.
6 oz unsweetened baker’s chocolate
1 ½ cups milk, separated into 1 cup and ½ cup
2 cups brown sugar
6 eggs, separated into 2 egg yolks, 4 egg yolks, and 4 egg whites. You will have the whites of two eggs leftover. Make the world’s saddest, healthiest omelette.
4 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
½ cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla
Stand mixer and/or hand mixer
Double boiler or MacGuyvered replacement
9” cake pans (4 if you have them)
Three containers to hold separated eggs
One really, really big bowl to hold the batter
One medium sized mixing bowl
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
The first step is to make a custard. This should have been a big fucking warning sign, but I AM A GOD and custards do not frighten me.
Put your chocolate, 1 cup of the milk, the brown sugar, and 2 egg yolks in the double boiler/equivalent. My double boiler is a stoneware bowl on top of a pot. As long as your top container fits snuggly into your pot and has an inch or two of clearance on the bottom, you’ll be fine. Stir occasionally as everything melts in together. JoC says to remove the custard when it’s thickened. My custard never got thick, so I settled for “everything is melted in together and it’s pretty smooth.” Take the custard off the heat once you reach that stage.
You see here that I used 4 oz of baker’s chocolate and then 2 oz of chocolate chips. I forgot I was doubling the recipe when I was at the grocery store and didn’t buy enough chocolate. HUBRIS.
While the custard is going, sift your cake flour into one of your medium mixing bowls. You’re supposed to sift before measuring, so I sifted straight into the measuring cup. I may have given myself carpal tunnel while sifting four fucking cups of cake flour. I don’t know. I was supposed to sift in the salt and baking soda, but I gave up and stirred them in instead.
The next step as written is to sift the white sugar. I decided that I, the cake god, did not need to read the next sentence in the instructions, and clearly the sugar would go in with the rest of the sifted ingredients. HUBRIS.
The sugar goes in the butter, not in the flour mixture. And you don’t need to sift it. If you aren’t so good with instructions, like Odysseus and me, you can try to repair the situation by carefully scooping off the sugar from the top of the dry ingredients. If in doubt about which granular white thing you are picking up, be cautious—better to have too little sugar in the butter than to accidentally throw in a bunch of flour.
Beat the butter until soft. Add the rescued sugar in gradually. JoC says to beat until very light and creamy. The best I could do was passably fluffy, like a sad sheepdog that never managed to win a blue ribbon. Beat the four egg yolks into the butter-sugar mixture, one at a time if you have the patience.
Mix up the water, the remaining milk, and the vanilla. Then grab that flour mixture and divide it into 3 parts. Add in a third of the dry ingredients, then a third of the liquid ingredients, and stir the batter until smooth. Repeat this three times. Then pour in your chocolate custard and mix until smooth. It’s OK if everything looks spotty and weird.
This was the last step where I was able to use my stand mixer bowl. Transfer the batter to a bigger bowl now.
Whip the 4 egg whites to stiff peaks (Joe Pastry has a tutorial here) in the other medium sized bowl. I like to use a hand mixer to whip egg whites, because it gives me an illusion of control over my life. This illusion was rudely shattered as soon as I plugged my mixer in. No matter how haphazard your storage solutions are, please make sure your mixer is set to the OFF position before you plug it in. I’ll be under my bed if you need me.
Cut the egg whites into four parts, and mix the first fourth into the cake batter by hand. Don’t worry about being super gentle at this stage—the first fourth is to lighten the texture of the batter and make it easier to fold in the rest without destroying all of those beautiful air bubbles. Once the first fourth is in, pour the rest on top and fold it in. This can take the form of actually folding the batter, like a big shirt made out of swamp, or just stirring gently.
There’s your batter. Now: look at your cake pans. Look back at me. Line the bottoms in parchment paper. I understand that this is a giant pain in the ass, and JoC doesn’t actually call for it, and the pans are probably nonstick anyways, but you need to line your fucking pans. I hate doing that, and the recipe didn’t tell me to. So I skipped that step. HUBRIS DISASTER.
Pour your batter into the lined pans and bake for 25 minutes. This is what happens when you don’t line your pans:
I managed to get one intact layer out of this mess. Two were just broken, and one was completely shot. I used the three least-damaged layers for the bourbon layer cake. That final layer became the Rubble Cake. Also, I got to eat the scraps as I went. It was a bit like Odysseus’s visit to Circe’s island. All his men got turned into pigs, but at least he got to have sex with a smoking demigoddess before moving on to fuck up more lives.
On the plus side, those scraps of chocolate cake were fucking incredible, rich and intense with flavor with an airy texture and a delicate crumb. The cake would not have been nearly as delicious if I used a sensible, single-bowl chocolate cake recipe. Because I said so. And if you contradict me, I will feed you to a Cyclops.
The Mess Report:
PENELOPE COME CLEAN UP MY SHIT
To see what became of these layers, check out Hubris Cake Part Two: Bourbon Buttercream Chocolate Cake Disaster and Hubris Cake Part Three: The Rubble Cake, soon to come!