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 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. It seems to know exactly what I want, time after time. 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.