Tonight’s dessert is dedicated to Ali. Ali at the Helpdesk who saved me from utterly losing my schmidt when the VPN connection wouldn’t work on the new laptop. Ali, who went off script when he realized how upset I was, cracked a few jokes, and when all was resolved and I was gushing thanks and offered to make him a cake, he reminded me he was in India, but that I should make the cake anyway. He didn’t care for Nutella, thank you, plain chocolate would be fine.
I happen to make a chocolate cake that is by no means plain. It comes from the Feb 2009 edition of Martha Stewart Living, “Cupcakes for All Occasions,” which had a stunning cover photograph:
So it’s a cupcake recipe but I almost always make it as a sheet cake. This is the cake the kids take into school on their birthdays. This is the cake I make when I get the sudden impulse, “Hmm, I think I’ll make a cake.” I’ve made it so many times that page 148 of the magazine is crumpled and sticky with translucent fingerprints. I don’t know why I take the recipe out – I can make it in my sleep. I love this cake and this cake loves me. You will love it too. If you don’t love it, send it to me, I will love it and it will love me back.
Ali’s Chocolate Cake à la Helpdesk
Preheat oven to 350 and spray a 9×13 baking dish with Pam (or prep your cupcake tin)
Get one (1) big mixing bowl out. (The white one pictured below, by the way, was my mother’s, the mixing bowl of my childhood, and I will keep it forever and give it to Pandagirl or Redman. If they don’t want it, please bury me with it. You read it here.)
Get a liquid measuring cup, this will be your holding tank: measure 3/4 cup buttermilk. (If you don’t have buttermilk, regular milk is fine or regular milk with a little plain yogurt or sour cream mixed in; I’ve made it with all these things, it’s fine).
Throw 2 tablespoons safflower oil into the measuring cup. (The original recipe does say safflower oil; I have used canola or whatever vegetable oil I had to hand and it’s all fine, but I make this cake so often now that I did go out and buy safflower oil especially for it.)
Crack 2 eggs into the measuring cup
Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla into the measuring cup. Put measuring cup aside and proceed.
Put a strainer over a mixing bowl. Measure in:
3/4 cup cocoa powder*
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt.
*[Editors note – Thou shalt use Hershey Special Dark cocoa powder. It will be thy cocoa powder and thou shalt have no other cocoa powders before it.]
Sift all dry ingrdients down into the mixing bowl. Make a little well in the center of your dry ingredients and start whisking in the contents of the measuring cup. Take the cup over to the sink, measure 3/4 cup warm water, whisk that in too until combined. There will be lumps.
Pour into baking dish or fill cups 2/3 full. Bake cupcakes 20 minutes. Bake full cake for 30-35 minutes. The top should be springy and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes if you can hold back the masses.
If you use the Special Dark cocoa powder (stern look) it will be a dark brown that is nearly black. In fact if you put the cake down on your black granite countertops it will practically (audience lets out collective ooh) disappear (audience lets out collective ahh).
This cake needs nothing. But if you are so inclined, a generous blob of whipped cream is lovely. In fact this combination is what Hostess cakes wish they could taste like if only they weren’t filled with things no one can pronounce. But they have to have those things so they can stay for 6 months on the shelf until somebody buys them whereas a child can make this cake fresh in less than an hour.
Powdered sugar sprinkled on top of the cake is a nice touch but make sure it’s completely cooled otherwise the sugar will melt and turn brown. If you are craft-oriented and feeling especially creative you can do something Martha Stewartesque like punch different-size holes in a piece of paper, lay the paper on top of the cake before sifting powdered sugar thereupon, and when you remove the paper you have lovely powdered sugar circles on your cake and everyone will go “ooooohaaaaah…”
But really, I like it best plain with a glass of milk…at around 3 in the morning.