Hi guys! Today we’re handing you over to the very capable hands of my friend, Alyson! We worked together briefly this past winter but have had the most wonderful time corresponding via Facebook since then. She wanted to contribute a blog post and I’m so glad that she did. This will be the next cake I make! -Jessica
I love a dinner party. Hell, I’m from the South – I even love to just plan a weeknight dinner. But it is my true joy in life to obsessively plan, shop for and prepare a special evening for friends and family. I make lists and sub lists. I make ahead and freeze. I buy new table linens. I plan an outfit. I arrange to have the following day free for cleaning, rest, and grooming down at the nail salon. A dinner party is an epic journey, a heroic quest, a culinary crusade. Until three months ago.
My daughter Caroline was born three months ago, and now my strategy for entertaining is a little different. See, Caroline only drinks milk. She is not the least bit interested in helping prepare entire menus from Bon Appetit. She, in fact, has not a single kitchen skill whatsoever. Also! She is only interested in her needs. Shameful, but true.
Due to my unwilling and unable sous chef, I have changed my entertaining ways. Now my menus rely heavily on things that can be bought or minimally prepared, with one, homemade, show-stopping course. So far, I am able to keep entertaining and still tend to Caroline’s frequent and absorbing needs.
A few weekends ago we had some dear old friends come to visit, and I served takeout pizza (hey, it was a novelty for them to have New York pizza!) and a salad. And this chocolate cake for dessert. It really was the star. The cake is basically an Ina Garten recipe. Due to my brain fog from being a new mom, we had run out of vegetable oil without my realizing it, so I substituted olive oil. I’m doing that from now on. It made the cake just a tiny bit savory, which made it just a tiny bit sophisticated. It’s as easy as a cake mix and obviously much better.
The frosting is the true delight of the meal, though. It’s my Grandma’s recipe, and I had a long argument with myself about whether to share it. I have never seen another one like it, and neither had my grandma. It just isn’t your average buttercream or seven minute or cream cheese frosting. It is silky and chocolatey and special. It is the frosting that bridges the gap between rich, bitter chocolate frostings for adults, and sweet, sweet milk chocolate frostings for kids. You absolutely have to sift your flour and whisk it constantly. There cannot be lumps. Are you surprised that there’s flour in it? Me too. I told you it’s a strange recipe. You basically make a milk sauce with cocoa and then whip it with butter and melted chocolate. Who knows why it works, but it does. It’s really not hard, but it must be done right. Try it. Please try it. You won’t even believe how good it can be.
When you serve it, be sure to save an extra piece for yourself for that special, pre-manicure breakfast the next morning. You deserve it.
chocolate cake with fudge frosting
cake (very slightly adapted from The Barefoot Contessa’s Beatty’s Chocolate Cake):
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
¾ cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
½ cup olive oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With the mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake 35-40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
note: I never follow the instructions for the size of cake pans or cooling, but it’s important here. There are a lot of reviews for this cake on the Food Network website claiming trouble with the cakes falling in the middle and not coming out of the pan. I had neither of those problems, and suspect it is because I followed instructions. It’s a moist cake, though, so be wise and follow directions!
fudge frosting (adapted not at all from a very stained 5×8 index card that my grandma sent me when I moved to New York):
makes 3 cups
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup milk
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
4 ounces semisweet chocolate melted and cooled
1 tablespoon vanilla
In a 2-quart pan, with wire whisk, mix sugar, flour, and cocoa. Slowly whisk in milk until smooth. Cook milk mixture over medium heat until mixture thickens and boils, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and cool completely. In large bowl, with mixer at medium speed, beat butter until creamy. Gradually beat in cooled milk mixture, melted chocolate, and vanilla until evenly blended and a creamy spreading consistency.
note: My grandma always used Baker’s chocolate and Hershey’s cocoa. I use Ghirardelli chocolate and Scharffen Berger cocoa. To each her own. Use what you like best. All will be delicious.