About six weeks ago, around 9 p.m. on a day I had consumed mostly air and maybe a slice of toast because I couldn’t for the life of me imagine how food had ever tasted good, without any warning, I wanted a slice of chocolate cake with swirls of chocolate frosting and probably some sprinkles and the sprinkles, so help them, better be rainbow. Except the word “wanted” doesn’t accurately describe the craving; it was suddenly everything. I needed a piece of chocolate cake so badly that I began to regret every cupcake shop I’d ever walked past and not gone in during the height of the mid-aughts cupcake craze. I regretted not licking every beater of chocolate buttercream that had ever crossed my path when I worked at a bakery in high school. And I regretted that when I asked my husband why we didn’t have any chocolate cake, he said “because you haven’t made any?” He was correct — I’d made them dinner, instead — and the great unraveling of all that had once been right and good but failed to lead me to chocolate cake continued.
I recently warned (threatened?) that I might have to exclusively dedicate this space for a while to a few currently acceptable categories, those that involve butter, bread, peanut butter or chocolate. And while I’m happy to tell you that my interest in most foods (except for chicken, sweet potatoes and soup, they know what they did) has returned, my devotion to these categories hasn’t waned in the slightest. So, here is the promised Oh My God, Is That Chocolate Cake? Give It To Me Right Now Cake. Or The Nothing Is Ever Going To Be Okay Again If I Don’t Have Chocolate Cake Cake. Or The I Want Chocolate Cake Cake. Really, I tried to come up with a less cumbersome title, but “chocolate cake with chocolate frosting” doesn’t connote the central urgency here.
And hey, if you are someone who doesn’t occasionally have a need for rainbow-confetti-ed and chocolate buttercream-ed chocolate cake that is so loud, it drowns out everything else, please step away from my cake. But if you’ve been there, you’ve felt this, this is for you. I mean, us. I mean, you can have a slice but after that you have to go home and make your own. It’s really easy, a mostly one-bowl cake and frosting. Think of it as my New York Sheet Cake, intense (the impact of cocoa and unsweetened chocolate should not be underestimated), rich (butter, in all of it), tiny (one-eighth of a sheet, to be particular) and quick to make, so you can just because you want it but not have it stay long enough to cause any permanent damage.
One year ago: Morning Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel (you should totally make it this weekend)
Two years ago: French Onion Tart
Three years ago: Fried Egg Sandwich with Bacon and Blue Cheese
Four years ago: Pina Colada Cake
Five years ago: Thick Chewy Granola Bars and Arroz Con Leche (Rice Pudding)
Six years ago: Soft Pretzel Refresh and Meatball Sliders
Seven years ago: Escarole and Orzo Soup with Meatballs
Eight years ago: Baked Tomato Sauce
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Strawberries and Cream with Graham Crumbles
1.5 Years Ago: Key Lime Popsicles (still a favorite!)
2.5 Years Ago: Leek Chard and Corn Flatbread
3.5 Years Ago: Naked Tomato Sauce
The ‘I Want Chocolate Cake’ Cake
I regret to tell you that this cake is nothing exactly new, and it’s not because I’m out of ideas (I hope not, at least! One should never taunt the idea faeries, of course.) but because when I found my perfect one-bowl chocolate cake (which we’ve made as an everyday loaf, then riffed as a fudgy layered sheet cake and red wine chocolate wonder, I promise, I can stop anytime) and ridiculously easy fudgy chocolate buttercream, there was no need to keep looking. Here, I’ve slimmed the base and dropped a little sugar to make a thin chocolate cake layer and topped it with an unholy, unapologetic amount of frosting. Because when you really need chocolate cake, I vote for doing it properly.
Yield: 1 generously frosted 8×8-inch cake, which we cut into 16 small squares.
Could also yield: 1 generously frosted 8-inch or 9-inch round cake, 12 very generously frosted cupcakes, or it could be doubled and baked in a 9×13-inch pan. Could also be scaled and stacked as a birthday cake.
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (145 grams) firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup (175 ml) buttermilk (see Notes for other options)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1/2 cup (41 grams) Dutch cocoa powder
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table or fine sea salt
2 ounces (55 grams) unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1 1/2 cups (180 grams) powdered sugar (sifted if lumpy)
1/2 cup (4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Pinch of fine sea salt (optional)
1 tablespoons cream or whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Make the cake: Heat oven to 350°F (175°c). Line the bottom of an 8-inch square cake pan with parchment paper, and either butter the parchment and exposed sides of the pan, or spray the interior with a nonstick spray. In a large bowl, use a hand or stand mixer to beat the butter and sugars until fluffy; scrape down bowl. Add the egg, yolk and vanilla and beat until combined, then the buttermilk and mix again. Scrape the bowl down well and don’t worry if the batter looks uneven. Place your flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a sifter (I find this step necessary because my cocoa is very lumpy) and shake it over the batter bowl. Stir on low until just combined; scrape down bowl a final time. Scoop batter into prepared pan and smooth flat. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes in cake pan on cooling rack, then flip out onto rack or serving plate to completely finish cooling before frosting. Speed this up by placing it outside for 10 minutes (thanks, winter!).
Make the frosting: Place frosting ingredients in a food processor and run machine to to mix. Scrape down bowl then process for another 1 to 2 minutes, until smooth and somewhat fluffed. [Don’t have a food processor? Beat butter, powdered sugar and salt, if using, in a large bowl with an electric mixer until fluffy. Pour in chocolate and milk, beat until combined, then one more minute to whip it further.] Scoop the frosting onto the cooled chocolate cake and swirl it around. Finish with rainbow sprinkles; don’t even fight it. Cut into squares and prepare for your family/roommates to completely freak out when they spy it on the counter. (But only share if they offer to do dishes.)
Cake keeps at room temperature for a day or two, or in the fridge up to a week, or so I’ve heard but never tested out.
Red wine chocolate cake, mocha chocolate cake: You could replace the buttermilk in full with yogurt or sour cream thinned with a little milk or water, with red wine or replace 1/2 cup of it with strong coffee. (Keep 1/4 cup buttermilk so you’ll have an acidic ingredient to wake up the baking soda.)
I don’t have Dutched cocoa: Dutch-process cocoa (generally speaking, it’s the standard in European brands) differs from natural cocoa (what you have if your cocoa isn’t labeled Dutch, or if it’s an American brand) in that its acidity has been neutralized to form a darker, nuttier cocoa that I prefer. That said, if you don’t have Dutched but only a regular or natural cocoa, I haven’t tested this cake with it but suspect that you’ll be just fine, although the cake may be less dark in color.
How I like to swirl frosting: I always use a small offset spatula (have I convinced you to buy one yet? Seriously, $ 4. Do it.) and I think the secret is to always push the frosting from the center out, not pull it back. So, push and then make an S-swirl, push and S-swirl, repeat and always quit while you’re ahead (hard, because it’s so fun).
Confetti sprinkles: I got mine from New York Cake on 22nd Street but, of course, Amazon sells them as well.