When a food critic turns the poison pen on herself

The ultimate chocolate cake January 27, 2009

Filed under: All-occasion cakes,Birthday cakes — crummb @ 11:46 pm


I read in a cookbook that some American auntie has this saying: “A sad cake is a happy cake.”

Say what?

Like how an ugly cake is also a beautiful cake? Or a sunken mess is also a risen sponge? These Americans are crazy.

But I take back my words. Now I fully understand what she meant after I made this cake, taken from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito’s cookbook, Baked: New Frontiers In Baking.

It was meant to be the Salty And Sweet Cake, their signature item in their funky New York bakery. But, I tell you, their recipe for the salty caramel frosting was a complete farce.  Already, I wanted to kick Nick Malgieri’s rotund behind for making me make rock sugar instead of caramel a few weeks ago (read diatribe here). What should I do to these two jokers who told me to make caramel by heating the sugar up to the Hades-like 350 deg Fahrenheit? The caramel was so burnt it smelled of putrified rodents. It’s supposed to be Salty and Sweet, dudes, not Rabid and Radioactive!

But I’m relinquishing my right to shove the vile sludge down their throats: They are saved by their recipe for the chocolate cake layers. I’m not a fan of chocolate, but even I totally swooned when I sank my teeth into the cake. It was moist, it was tender, it was super chocolatey. It was possibly the best chocolate cake I’ve ever made.

But here’s the “sad cake is a happy cake” part. The three layers have to be baked individually, and while each rises to a grand 1-1/2 inches, it sinks by 1/2 inch with 10 minutes to go before it is done.

They emerge with slight ridges around the sides. But still, stacked together, they make a tall, delicious cake with a slight bounce. There was no salty caramel frosting so I piled on some leftover buttercream from the freezer. It worked just as well.

I cut a slice for myself and gave the rest to my husband to share with his colleagues in the office. I am proud to report that, ahem, the cake was a bona fide hit.

Don’t believe me? Read comments below.  (C’mon, people of Discovery Inc, show me some love!)


(Or no more cake for you.)


Moist Chocolate Cake Layers

Adapted from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito’s Baked

3/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder

1-1/4 cups hot water

2/3 cup sour cream

2-2/3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup vegetable shortening

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 325 deg Fahrenheit. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans. Line them with parchment, then butter and sprinkle flour over.

2. Combine cocoa powder, hot water and sour cream in a bowl and set aside to cool.

3. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in another bowl and set aside.

4. In an electric mixer with paddle attachment, beat butter and shortening on medium speed until ribbon-like, about 5 minutes. Add sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then add vanilla and beat until incorporated.

5. Add flour mixture, alternating with cocoa mixture, in three additions, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Do not overmix.

6. Divide the batter between the pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes.


37 Responses to “The ultimate chocolate cake”

  1. crummb Says:

    *tapping table*
    i’m waiting….

  2. Charmaine Says:

    you are hilarious.

    anyway, sorry to disappoint. not an employee of Discovery Inc here. but the cake looks absolutely heavenly from the photo. i wish i could reach into the screen and eat it right now.

    would you be so kind as to share your buttecream recipe? i’ve been hunting for a really good one and am hoping yours could be The One.

    Meanwhile, i wait in anticipation for reviews of the cake too 🙂

  3. crummb Says:

    *HUGE exhale*

    charmaine, you saved my life. I was holding my breath until someone actually writes. THANK YOU! those Discovery people ain’t gettin no crumb from me no more!

    buttercream recipe: sure! i use Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Mousseline Buttercream. i love the taste of it plain, and you can add whatever flavour you want to it too. it holds really well – won’t melt. will type it all out when i get home tonight. hang tight! 🙂

  4. Faridah Says:

    I’m lucky enuf to get to taste that yummy chocolate cake of yours.
    It was awesome!
    So much so I ask you hubby Z to ask you about the recipe & am glad you published it here.
    Thanks so much!

    hey…..having said that, I just love to browse your blog, you expressed all your words with sincerity & honesty.

    Is there any more coming on the way?


  5. wordsmith Says:

    walau. where’s my share?!!!!

  6. cookie Says:

    Hi Crummb Almighty,

    which is better – the mayonnaise cake or this?


  7. crummb Says:

    faridah: hello! i’ve been wanting to say THANK YOU for the chocolate couverture personally! some of it went into this cake! glad you like it. and yes, will send more your way – but only to you cos the others haven’t commented yet 😛

    wordsmith: how about i make this for your wedding cake? 🙂

    cookie: erm, both have the same chocolate intensity. but the choc-mayo has a firmer texture, while this one – which i actually prefer – is softer and “fluffier”. yumm!

  8. Charmaine Says:

    buttercream recipe please 😀
    *still holding my breath for it*

  9. Hana Says:

    now this is one cake i want to bake! now to hijack an oven.
    happy Niu year, Pau Lin – hope you had an awesome one!

  10. Charmaine Says:

    hey pau lin its ok! ive bought my very own Cake Bible!!! 😀
    (yeah couldnt wait no more man)

  11. cookie Says:

    thanks m’dam.

    i gonna try out soon… but can you please provide your address so that I can courier the cake to you if it didn’t turn out fluffy for my liking =p


  12. charmaine Says:

    i’m inconsolable.

    i followed the recipe exactly (except that i used natural unsweetened cocoa powder instead of dark cocoa powder cos i really couldn’t find it anywhere!) but the cake turned out dense (but edible. kind of like Sara Lee chocolate cake), and nothing like that in your picture. now i’m wondering where i went wrong. im so sad.
    any clue?

  13. crummb Says:

    charmaine: hey babe, sorry you had to go buy the book yourself. but i honestly think it’s a good investment cos it’s very comprehensive in its range of recipes. i love that it covers almost every type of frosting there is! (even though the photos look damn unglam!)

    oh dear, dense? hmmm… you split it into three pans right? maybe you overmixed? here’s something i learnt from Shirley Corriher’s BakeWise: whenever a recipe called for you to add flour in three batches, alternating with sour cream/water or any liquid, add more flour in the first batch. ie, if you’re adding 100g of flour mixture, add 50g in first batch, then 25g in second, and 25g in third. this is because when flour comes in contact with liquid, it forms gluten (which makes a cake dense). by adding more flour in the first batch, the flour is incorporated into the batter when there is no liquid, and the fats from the butter covers the flour molecules, “locking” them from having any contact with liquid. so this method helps you to expose less flour to liquid, thereby decreasing gluten formation and denseness.

    wanna try again? 🙂

  14. crummb Says:

    cookie: like i always say when a cake doesn’t turn out right: “It’s the book’s fault!” don’t blame me! hee 🙂

  15. Charmaine Says:

    Hey no worries, I was going to get the book sooner or later anyway! But you’re right. The pictures are awfully yesteryear man.

    Ok, I think that is precisely where I may have gone wrong-I’m going to ask a really stupid qn: what do you mean when you say “in three additions, starting and ending with the flour”?
    I was pondering about it for a while before I made the cake, and I interpreted the procedure to be 1. add most of the flour, 2. add all the chocolate. 3. add rest of the flour. The end. (ie each step was one batch)

    I did wonder if one batch= flour+chocolate addition. But I realized then I wouldn’t be able to end off with the flour as the last ingredient per instructions!

    Erm could you provide an idiot proof’s way as to how to precisely add in the flour and choc mixture? Do you beat after each addition or just simply pour it in?

    Sorry i know im really troublesome- I wish I did but I have nothing to offer you in return but eternal love and gratitude 😀

  16. crummb Says:

    awww.. i’ll take the love and gratitude! 😉

    ok dear, yes, you misinterpreted the instructions. to put it simply:

    flour + BP + BS + salt (mix well with a fork) = ‘flour mixture’
    cocoa powder + hot water + sour cream (mix until evenly dissolved) = ‘liquid’

    here’s what you do:
    1) After you’ve creamed the butter, shortening and sugars as instructed, add 50% of the flour mixture into the batter. Using an electric beater, whisk for just a few seconds until the batter is roughly smooth (ie, can still see some streaks of flour).

    2) Add half of the liquid and whisk for a few seconds with electric beater until roughly smooth.

    3) Add 25% of the flour mixture and whisk until roughly smooth.

    4) Add the remaining half of the liquid and whisk until roughly smooth.

    5) Finally, add the final 25% of the flour mixture until batter is JUST smooth (ie no streaks of flour or liquid can be seen).

    That’s it! Then divide the batter pans and bake individually. If you don’t have three pans (like me), just bake one at a time.

    At least you know this is the problem. Can try again! But must lemme know the outcome ok? All the best!! 🙂

  17. Cookie Says:

    May I clarify “If you don’t have three pans (like me), just bake one at a time.” – this means that you make the batter and sit on the counter while you bake 1 at a time?

    I was taught the batter won’t wait… the last time I divided the batter into small portion and started mixing the next one only when the cake was out of the oven. Super troublesome!

    If your method works, will ease my temptation to buy more pans.

  18. crummb Says:

    hi cookie, i make the batter at one go. then i split it into three, bake one pan first, then put the rest of the batter in the FRIDGE! it’s another trick i learnt from a cookbook. it’s so simple it’s almost ridiculous, right? haha!

    unless you’re making a sponge cake, then the batter can’t wait, cos sponge cakes depend on air bubbles to rise. so the minute your batter is ready, pop it straight in the oven.

    but for creamed cakes like this one, which depend on baking powder/soda for volume, the BP/S won’t be activated until it comes in contact with heat. so putting the batter in the fridge will keep it ‘dormant’. this method has worked for me so far! it definitely worked with this recipe 🙂

  19. Cookie Says:

    ahhh…. thanks for the tips!

  20. chris Says:

    Also – ‘natural’ cocoa powder does not act or taste quite the same way as ‘Dutch-processed’. The latter is treated with alkali, which affects its pH. So you can’t really interchange the two without altering the pH of the cake batter….in any case 99% of chocolate cake recipes mean Dutch-processed cocoa even if they just say ‘cocoa powder’.

  21. chris Says:

    Oh, and great photo Z. Somehow I am led to picture Kate Winslet and Leo standing right on the tip enjoying the breeze…

  22. crummb Says:

    hey chris, thanks for adding on! haha, what a titanic observation! i never thought of that! 🙂

  23. Charmaine Says:

    thanks Crummb and Chris!

    Last question (I promise!)- Where do I get the Dutch-processed cocoa powder for baking? I couldn’t find any a Phoon Huat or the supermarkets so I used the ‘natural’ one. Unless you mean I can use the Dutch cocoa that you use to make hot chocolate?

  24. crummb Says:

    good question, charmaine. i’m wondering too! help, CHRIS!!!

  25. Cookie Says:

    Sorry to kay-poh here, I am not Chris…

    Valrhona is a Dutch-process cocoa (available at Shermay). So is van houten (yes, the one that we normally use to make hot choc drink).
    It has a reddish-brown color & milder flavour as compared to natural cocoa.

    Natural cocoa is hershey and Ghirardelli (avail at Raffles City supermarket).
    This cocoa powder tastes very bitter and gives a deep chocolate flavor to baked goods.

  26. Ah Pei Says:

    Hi Crummb, your pic of the cake look so delicious ! can’t wait to try baking the cake ! thank you for generously sharing the cake recipe ! Hee.. actually me also excitedly waiting for the buttercream recipe. I still can’t get a nice recipe of buttercream. hahha… now i guess i have to go get the book too ! So its in The Cake Bible by by Rose Levy Beranbaum (Author) right ? Good book to buy ? Going to get the Bakewise book next month too !

    Thanks !! did learnt a lot from your blog Crummb !

    ah Pei

  27. crummb Says:

    hey ah pei, you’re welcome! tell you what, why don’t i photocopy the buttercream recipe for you? you can pick it up this sat! 😉

  28. tellaure Says:

    thanks for the headsup on rose’s buttercream. was trying to decide which to make.

    you know you are addicted when you can tell which books the various baking advice/quotes came from ….

    just read your comments and you said something about how heat must applied before the BP/BS takes effect. in the supermarket, bakeking (can’t remember the exact brand name) sells two different version of BP – double acting and normal BP. do you get the former or the latter? (the double acting one is more expensive but because i’m a rose’s fan i always get the double acting one)

    it’s hard to imagine a chocolate cake that’s fluffy tasting good. was it fluffy as in sponge cake fluffy? haha.

    and awesome picture as usual!

  29. crummb Says:

    tellaure: my baking guru Chris told me once to always buy double-baking. cos the powder gets activated before and after it comes in contact with heat (hope i’m not wrong, chris!) so this would ensure good volume in the cake.

    this choc cake is REALLY fluffy! i don’t even know how to describe it. argh, wish i could just give you a slice! 🙂

  30. Ah Pei Says:

    Woo !! Thanks Crummb !!

    Ah Pei

  31. Ah Pei Says:

    Hi Crummb !!

    I forgot to pick up the recipe for buttercream from you on sat ! Wooo… this is the cake you baked for Daphnee right ?! its …its…its… HEAVENLY DELICIOUS !!! Easily one of the Best cakes i’ve eaten !! & the buttercream is …wooo…woo…GORGEOUS ! Very light & melt in the mouth without being too buttery oily. PERFECT ! Haha.. i’m actually scrapping off buttercream from other “on diet” girls !! Can i have the recipe pleeeeaaassseee…..

    & its great to see you in person !
    Ah Pei

  32. crummb Says:

    hey ah pei! ARGHHH!! sorry, i forgot all about passing you the recipe too. it was right on my table!!! i ask ivan to pass to daphne and she can pass to you?
    i’m so happy you like the cake!!! the cake layers were made with the recipe in this post. but the frosting was actually the milk chocolate frosting i wrote about in my previous post (malt ball cake). go check out the recipe there! 🙂
    oh, and THANK YOU for the present! really, you shouldn’t have. it was soooo sweet of you. *hugs!*

  33. daphnechan00 Says:

    me me me me !! LOVE YOUR CAKE !!!!! Perfect cake for my birthday !! thank you so much once again babe !! It is sooooo YUMMY ! So nice I wish everyday is my birthday !!!

  34. vivian Says:

    oh i forgot to leave a comment about this cake in ur blog until i ate the OTHER cake! it was weeks ago i ate this chocolate cake and i still remembered how heavenly the cream is… i love it… yummy yummy yummy!!!

  35. crummb Says:

    ahh, because of you two (and faridah), Discovery is SAVED! more cakes to come!! 🙂

  36. Ange Says:

    Hi Crummb,

    I’m on the search for the perfect buttercream recipe and it seems like many are use Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Mousseline Buttercream. Is it possible for me to request for the recipe?

    Thank you!

  37. Yama Says:

    Then how to make top cream

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