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Squid & Birch is a lettering and design shop offering prints, cards, and flair for fans of all things nerdy and cheeky.

The Only Chocolate Cake Recipe You Need

The Only Chocolate Cake Recipe You Need

I have a little confession to make.  Chris and I have never really been into Valentine's Day.  We don't like to go out to restaurants on the busy holidays because you end up paying a lot for less attention from the service staff and what is often an abbreviated menu created for efficiency in the kitchen (I know because I worked the pastry station on Valentine's Day for years.)  We also don't do a whole lot of presents.  We are both minimalists who don't like to accumulate a bunch of stuff.  I realize this probably makes me a party pooper in the eyes of many, but I'm okay with that.  We're perfectly happy with our heartfelt cards and a nice dinner on a night a couple of weeks away from the holiday.

Oh, and one more thing: chocolate.  Other than the love thing, it's the part of Valentine's Day I can dig.

It's not that I necessarily need a reason to make chocolate cake.  I'll make it anytime I have a craving.  But a holiday sure makes for a good excuse.

Today I'm sharing one of my prized recipes, one I've been perfecting over the years.  Yes, it's just a simple chocolate cake recipe.  And yes, it's that good.  This cake is unbelievably moist and flavorful.  It does what virtually no other cake can do since it stays moist for days in the refrigerator.  There's even a good excuse to make it when it isn't Valentine's Day: it's all mixed by hand in one bowl.

My chocolate buttermilk cake is mixed using the one-stage method.  This means that there's no creaming involved, no egg whites to be whipped, and no alternating of separate combinations of ingredients.  The dry ingredients are combined in a bowl, the liquid ingredients are added, and they're all simply stirred together.

So why is it so tasty?  There are a few key ingredients involved.  The first is a high-quality cocoa powder (I use this.)  It's the main flavoring agent in the cake, so make it a good one.  The second is brewed coffee.  The resulting cake doesn't taste like coffee; the coffee simply brings out the depth of the chocolate flavor.  And last, but certainly not least, is buttermilk.  It's the moist maker.

This cake can be spiffed up in so many different ways.  Bake it in round pans for a layer cake with whipped coffee cream and ganache between the layers.  Bake it in a sheet pan and frost it with a simple fudge icing.  Make large cupcakes and pipe raspberry jam into the middle and vanilla buttercream on top.  The bottom line is that this chocolate cake recipe is exactly what the title of this post claims -- the only one you need.

I hosted a play date at my house last week and I whipped up some mini cupcakes using this recipe.  I frosted them with a ganache buttercream, the icing recipe I'm sharing below.  I even added a bit of Valentine's Day flair with a garnish of conversation hearts.  In their little folded parchment liners, they were cute enough to bring out the Valentine's Day lover even in me.

I think I'll start a new tradition this Valentine's Day -- chocolate cupcakes and Netflix!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake

makes 1/2 sheet, 3- 8" round layers, 12 large cupcakes, or 3 dozen mini cupcakes

  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 2/3 cups flour
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons good cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups brewed coffee, cooled
  • 3/4 cup neutral flavored oil (grapeseed, vegetable, etc.)
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk*
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325.  In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Stir with a whisk to combine well.  In a large liquid measure, combine the remaining ingredients and whisk well.  Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients and whisk until thoroughly combined.

Grease and/or parchment-line your chosen pan(s).  Here's a good tutorial if you'd like to make folded parchment cupcake liners.  Bake, rotating pan(s) halfway through the cooking time, until just done.  A cake tester should come out with moist crumbs clinging to it.  Do not over bake.  What follows is a list of approximate baking times in a conventional oven for the pan sizes, but always check the cake(s) for doneness five minutes before the time is up.

  • 1/2 sheet: 30-35 minutes
  • 8" rounds: 20-25 minutes
  • large cupcakes: 15-20 minutes
  • mini cupcakes: 10-15 minutes

Cool cakes in pans 10 minutes before unmolding.  Cake keeps in an airtight container in the fridge for several days.

*A note about buttermilk: I know many people claim you can make your own by adding lemon juice or vinegar to regular milk.  While this works for marinades and salad dressings, I don't think it's the same as the real deal when used in baked goods.  True cultured dairy products provide a moistness that a shortcut just can't achieve.

Chocolate Ganache Buttercream

  • 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate
  • 5 oz. (weight) heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant coffee
  • pinch salt
  • 6 oz. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

Chop the chocolate and place in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Combine the cream, coffee, and salt in a small saucepan and heat until it just begins to simmer around the edges, then pour immediately over the chocolate in the bowl.  Give the bowl a shake to make sure all of the chocolate in submerged.  After a couple of minutes, stir well with a rubber spatula until smooth.  Allow the ganache to cool to room temperature.

Using the whisk attachment, whip the cooled ganache until it lightens in color.  With the mixer running, add the room temperature butter 2 Tablespoons at a time.  Mix until fluffy.

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