Dark chocolate cake is a dessert staple. It can be hard to go wrong with cocoa, butter, and sugar, but finding the exact right recipe is the real trick.
I’m a big fan of mixing things up, adding little touches to make something irregular. I’ve made beet chocolate cake, rosemary apple pie — heck, I’ve tossed turmeric in with pancake mix, to add some colour and spice. I was originally planning on making a lavender chocolate cake for my birthday (gorgeous recipe from Butter and Brioche). After reevaluating how expensive buying lavender in November would be, I opted for a classic dark chocolate cake. Don’t worry, though, I also mixed up some lavender gin and tonics to pair with the cake.
I still followed Butter and Brioche‘s recipe, minus the lavender, and it was absolutely delicious. Get the dark chocolate cake recipe, along with a how-to for lavender gin and tonics, below.
- 200 g dark chocolate
- 280 g unsalted butter, softened
- 200 g icing sugar
- 60 g cocoa powder
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla bean extract
- 4 tbsp. whipping cream
Preheat your oven to 350 F. You’ll need one–three 15-cm or 6-inch cake pans. I used one and simply divided my batter evenly, one spoonful at a time, between the pan and two bowls. Make sure you grease the pan with some softened butter. I also lined mine with some parchment paper; although the sides of the cake ended up a little more “ruffled” and wavy, this made for far easier removal, and any imperfections are easily covered with thick layers of buttercream frosting.
In a large bowl, mix together your flour, cocoa, baking powder, and baking soda. Next, add the sugar, butter, eggs, and milk. I don’t have an electric mixer, so I just mixed with a spoon and then got in there with my (thoroughly washed) hands — it’s good enough for kneading bread, after all! Pour in your boiling water, and then mix (this time with a spoon) so your batter is even and well-combined.
As I mentioned, I distributed the batter evenly between my pan and two bowls. This helps to ensure your cakes will turn out roughly the same height; when you pull one cake out of the pan, just use a rubber spatula to fill the pan back up with batter from your bowl.
Bake for 30–35 minutes — my cakes were in for exactly 35 minutes — until you can stick a toothpick into the centre and it comes out clean. Let the cakes cool thoroughly before you slice off any domed tops. They should be very cool to the touch before you do any frosting of the cakes.
For the frosting, melt your dark chocolate either in a double boiler or in the microwave in a microwave-safe bowl. I like to melt chocolate in the microwave in 30-second intervals, mixing when I check the chocolate, until it’s thoroughly melted with no lumps. Once melted, set to the side and let cool to room temp.
Beat (or “knead”) your softened butter in a separate bowl. Add your icing sugar and cocoa, mixing thoroughly. Add in your melted chocolate and vanilla extract. Finally, add the whipping cream and mix until the frosting is smooth.
I watched a lot of videos before attempting to frost the dark chocolate cake, and I highly recommend doing so as well. Some tips that I definitely depended on:
- A cake stand (preferably one that’s a “lazy Susan,” i.e. that spins) makes it much easier to frost.
- Get an off-set spatula. Just do it. I got an adorable little one for cheap from Cook Culture. It seems like something you could just as easily do with a butter knife, but an off-set spatula is perfectly level, and the off-set angle means you won’t accidentally nudge the cake while you’re frosting.
- Two pieces of parchment paper should be underneath your cake. It looks silly, but mistakes happen and your presentation will look much better if it isn’t marred with smears and smudges of chocolate buttercream.
- Be generous with the frosting. Many people recommend doing a “crumb coat” or “dirty icing” your cake — I was also planning to, to ensure a cleaner end product. I ended up not having to, because I just did a generous plop of frosting at every opportunity, and smoothed off any excess.
- Don’t expect it to look perfect right away. This was my first time really frosting a cake, so it did not look perfect to start. Do a layer of frosting, then take a step back and let it sit. I found that this first layer of frosting made for a better second layer.
- If all else fails, cake decorations save the day. Last Christmas, I royally screwed up my beet chocolate cake, dropping one of the layers while I was pulling it out of the oven and thoroughly smashing it. I won’t profess to fixing it perfectly — it admittedly still looked horrid — but at least sprinkles and homemade star cake toppers add a touch of whimsy. Because this cake didn’t look quite so horrendous, I got away with just shavings of dark chocolate on and around it.
I unfortunately didn’t get any photos of the lavender gin and tonics the night of my birthday, but here’s a quick and tasty recipe nonetheless! Pairs nicely with chocolate cake, and would be lovely from spring through August (especially in the summer when lavender is in bloom). I mixed them individually, so this will be for single servings of G&Ts.
- One to two shots of gin
- Lavender simple syrup
- Lavender bitters
- Lemon, sliced thin into rounds
- Soda or tonic water (really, does it make that much of a difference? Just get whatever you can)
In a cocktail shaker — or mason jar, for a simple sub — pour ice, gin, simple syrup, and bitters. Seal up tight, and shake thoroughly, like a polaroid picture. Once you’ve shaken well, fill the rest of the glass with soda or tonic water, and pop in a slice of lemon. Cheers, dolly! Enjoy.