Cakes,  Desserts,  Recipes

Black Magic Cake Works Its Wizardry

Black Magic Cake: The Platonic ideal of a chocolate cake

Whatever your passion—milk, dark, or super-antioxidant dark—chocolate has a special relationship with your pleasure center. From FudgSicles to Chunky bars to Sky Bars, chocolate melts into happy memories.

There are probably better chocolate delivery systems than cake. Flour and overbaking can mute the flavor. This explains the popularity of molten lava cakes and dense brownie-like cakes. Layer cakes can get dry or wimped out.

For decades we had a reigning chocolate layer cake recipe in our household. We were happy. No complaints. But that was before I experienced my recipephany. I opened The Hershey’s Chocolate Treasury, copyright 1984, which I bought a few years ago at a thrift store. There the Black Magic Cake greeted me, its modest sidebar labeling it as Hershey’s most requested cake recipe. How was I to resist?

Out of the oven came chocolate perfection. Suddenly I had a vision of a sweet old Mrs. Hershey smiling at me, saying “What did I tell you? Isn’t this the best?” And I have never looked at chocolate cake the same way since.

Why it’s different

Moist, intensely chocolatey yet surprisingly light, this cake is truly magic. It’s easy to mix. No sour cream, butter, or transfats. It cools down to perfectly flat layers — what other cake has ever done that? It pours into the pans more like a beverage than a batter. There is twice the baking soda as baking powder, which is unusual. The coffee makes it complex and black. Because it uses cocoa rather than unsweetened baking chocolate, you can make it as chocolatey as you want. And for some reason, I think cocoa makes for more intense flavor than the chocolate squares.

To confirm its magnificence, I Googled “Platonic ideal of a chocolate cake.” First up was a blog introducing this very recipe, ingredient for ingredient, credited to the Barefoot Contessa. No, Contessa, this is not your recipe. You’ll have to answer to the Hershey’s Company for that.

This recipe has become a legend. It is one of the few things I have successfully passed down to my daughter. Time after time, it seems to know exactly what I want. It comforts me, pleases everyone, and is a joy to make.

Black Magic Cake

(also available at Hershey’s site)

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup Hershey’s cocoa (Go ahead, use more. I use almost a cup.)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk or sour milk*
  • 1 cup strong black coffee OR 2 teaspoons powdered instant coffee plus 1 cup boiling water (then cooled — sometimes I add an ice cube or two if I’m in a rush.)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1  teaspoon vanilla extract  (I double this.)

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch (or 8×2-inch) round baking pans or one 13×9×2-inch baking pan. (I line the pan with wax or parchment paper and grease that for easy release.)

2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, buttermilk, coffee, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. (Batter will be thin.) Pour batter evenly into prepared pans.

3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes for round pans, 35 to 40 minutes for rectangular pan or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost as desired. Yields 10 to 12 servings.

* To sour milk: Use 1 tablespoon white vinegar plus milk to equal 1 cup. These days I prefer Saco dried buttermilk powder (1 packet makes 1 cup), which I sprinkle into the dry ingredients. Then I add the cup of water with the wet ingredients.

Cocoa frosting: Melt or soften 3 tablespoons butter, add 1/3 to 1/2 cup cocoa (to taste), 2 cups confectioner’s sugar, 3 teaspoons vanilla, and maybe 3 tablespoons of hot water (one tablespoon at a time), or just enough to make it spreading consistency. Whisk until smooth. You can also use coffee or milk instead of water, whatever you want.

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  • Diane Brody

    Dear C.,

    I’m not sure any more which fats are good and which are bad. But our bodies do need fat, so pick your favorite!

    However, I think the oil in this cake makes it extra-moist yet light at the same time. I’m not sure if it would work with butter.

    Thanks for your comment,

  • c.

    I am disappointed to see pooh-poohing of butter and delight at using oil in cakes. There is nothing good about using vegetable oil. There’s only one oil I know of that’s actually safe to eat: olive oil. The other safe alternatives, coconut and palm oil, are solid at room temperature. If it comes from a seed, it’s bad. If it comes from a fruit, its safe.

    I’d rather have butter, thank-you-very-much.

  • Debby Gabrielson

    A year ago, my cousin Anne served me the best chocolate cake I had ever eaten. She gave me the recipe for “Jamie’s Chocolate Cake” courtesy of her brother-in-law Jamie. I’ve made it several times since. Anyway, I read your blog about Black Magic Cake and when I got to the recipe at the bottom, I was delighted to find that it is virtually identical to Jamie’s! It’s great for all the reasons you listed. I’d like to share my favorite chocolate icing recipe: Melt 12 oz. of chocolate bits in a double boiler or the microwave. Mix in 2/3 cup of sour cream. Spread on cake immediately. It will harden a bit as it cools.

    • Diane Brody

      Debby, this is so true! I don’t know how many people have told me the same thing—that their favorite chocolate cake is pretty much the same. Thanks for writing and confirming this yet again. I’ve never heard of a frosting like this, though–and it sounds impossible! But there you go—it must be easy and great. Do you have to refrigerate it?

  • Anne Alis

    Although a little different on the ingredients list, the favorite of Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a cake very similar to this. If you have never read the story of the nation’s birthday balls to celebrate his birthday and raise money for Infantile Paralysis, it is a fasinating look (including interesting pictures and posters) into our country’s history. I did not live in his era, but enjoy reading about it. Secondly — waxed paper is a wonderful release. My mom was a home economics teacher and I spent hours cutting out waxed paper cake rounds, etc. for her baking. Great memories.

  • Janice Clement

    Hi Diane,
    So glad you have this recipe on your blog, since many years ago i called Nestle to get it and it had apparently gone by the wayside. The oldest employee at Nestle (had been working there for like 50 years) had a copy of it at home and actually dug it up for me and called me the next day (awesome). I scribbled it on a piece of scratch paper. Well, needless to say, that scratch paper is getting old and withered and the ink is running. I’m making this recipe as cupcakes as I write this, I’m sure it will turn out great (and even better as I added the extra cocoa). Can’t wait to try your frosting recipe. Thanks!

  • Mara

    Andris, lover of all things chocolate approved of this last time I made it, and I just made it today again for my mom’s birthday. The good, strong coffee and I believe the buttermilk are key. Thanks Diane!

  • Raegan

    As this may be Andrew’s favorite food of all time, I’m going to have to try this recipe someday. I do have a question though – you mention using wax paper for easy release, but do you mean parchment? I was under the impression that you’re not supposed to bake wax paper.

    Thanks for the recipe!

    • Diane Brody

      Good to hear from you! As I understand it, wax paper is fine (and recommended for this kind of thing) as long as it is covered by batter. Apparently, it can burn when exposed directly to the heat, such as when you’re baking cookies. Parchment paper would probably work as well, but I’ve never tried it for anything but roasting veggies. Thanks!

  • Bobbie

    This sounds great. As someone who’s never been a huge fan of cake, I’ll be grateful to try this one the next time I need to produce a cake, knowing that I’m making something even better than special!

  • Lynn Osborn

    All last weekend Willy kept asking if I had made the Chocolate cake yet, and I kept telling him I wasn’t going to make it just for the two of us. So this weekend, we have our kids coming up, have laid in the ingrediants, and can’t wait to see how it turns out. This is a great idea for a blog, Diane, and creative idea/name.

  • Christine Fogarty

    Hi, I’m Janice’s sister, Chris. Yes, my daughter and I did help make this fabulous cake. It is now my absolute favorite chocolate cake! My daughter is 12 years old and loves to bake; so it was alot of fun teaching her how to make a cake from scratch. The “tempering” of the eggs was key; or as you now suggest, to cool it down.

    I look forward to trying some other recipes; as I have added you to my “favorites”.

  • Diane Brody

    Thanks, Janice, and thanks Janice’s sister! Glad you enjoyed it. And thanks for the boiling liquid note. So I added “then cooled” in the recipe, as I usually add it cooled down. I’m glad to know that adding it hot slowly also works, in the event I don’t want to wait.

  • Janice Richards

    I have been asked by my family not to cook – so it must have truly been Black Magic at work when I made this cake and it came out brilliantly! Of course it could have been that my sister and neice worked the magic. My sister pointed out that it’s important to add the hot liquid (coffee or instant w/boiling water) slowly so that the egg mixture doesn’t cook. (I would have ended up with scambled eggs, so I share this lesson learned.)
    With frosting on top, Janice

  • Meri Cayem

    Since I’m not ashamed to admit being a huge admirer of the Hershey Bar (no wincing, Godiva fans), baking some Black Magic just went to the top of my priority list! Thanks, Diane

  • Claire Discenza

    My friend S. had a birthday the other day, and I made the Black Magic cake for him. Came out really good apparently, because that was Thursday and today is Sunday and it is almost gone. He, his roommate and all of his roommate’s male friends have been eating it, and apparently they are “all in love with me” because of it.
    This was said in jest, of course, but what they didn’t realize was that they were in love with vanilla, coffee, vinegar, and COCOA.

  • Sheila Brody

    Love the blog!

    Looking forward to the next installment and to contributing when I get one of those Recipephanies!!

    PS. Will pass your blog along….

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