How to bake the perfect chocolate cake

Published 18 Mar, 2022 10:57am

It's not that complicated, as long as you follow the recipe and remember two important principles of making a great cake.

Photo by Stephan Andrew
Photo by Stephan Andrew

A soft, moist chocolate cake with a tender crumb and rich and decadent chocolate frosting never goes out of style. In fact, if there’s one thing that I learnt working in Pakistani bakeries, it is that Pakistanis love chocolate cake and they can never get enough of it!

Unfortunately, despite having access to hundreds of internet recipes, many people struggle to make a good chocolate cake at home and have problems that range from dry and hard sponge to frosting that just won’t set properly.

It definitely helps to have a good recipe to begin with — and the one I have shared below has been my go-to for many years so I can testify to its veracity — however, there are two important principles that need to be followed to make a great cake.

Respect measurements and temperatures: A lot of people like to think of a recipe as a guideline and, while that may work in cases for baking in particular, it is crucial to make the recipe as written. This is also one of the reasons I write recipes in grams (rather than in cups) as it makes measurements more precise. It’s also essential to bake at the oven temperature mentioned in the recipe. Use a weighing scale and an oven thermometer for best results.

Making the perfect chocolate is not complicated if you follow best baking practices

Use ingredients at room temperature: Baking requires planning, and that means getting your ingredients (eggs and butter in particular) out of the fridge and bringing them to room temperature before you start baking. Cold ingredients don’t mix properly and you won’t get the same result.

Chocolate sponge

50g cocoa powder
240ml boiling hot water or hot coffee
175g flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
115g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
200g caster sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
2 eggs (at room temperature)

Preheat your oven to 180 °C and lightly grease an 8-inch cake tin, then lay a disc of baking paper on the base of the tin and grease again. In a small bowl, stir the cocoa powder with the hot water (or hot coffee) and mix well until smooth. Let it cool to room temperature. In another bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt with a spoon or a whisk.

In the bowl of your electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Add the caster sugar and vanilla essence and beat on medium high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat until fully incorporated. Add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating it with the cocoa mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat only until incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 20-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely (I like to cover the top of the tin with a damp cloth while it is cooling so it doesn’t dry out).

Once the cake is completely cool, invert the tin over a dinner plate or flat round board to remove the cake, then cover the cake in cling wrap and chill in the fridge for 6 hours or, ideally, overnight.

Chocolate Ganache frosting

227g dark chocolate (or a 50/50 mix of dark and milk chocolate)
180g whipping cream
28g unsalted butter

Put the chocolate in a glass bowl and melt it by either putting the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water or microwaving it in short 30 second bursts until completely melted. Combine the cream and butter in a separate sauce or bowl and heat on the stove or in the microwave.

Combine the chocolate with the cream and butter mixture and mix until fully incorporated. Chill the ganache until it is firm enough to frost the cake.

Assemble the cake

Once the cake and ganache are chilled and ready, use a sharp serrated knife to split the cake in half and sandwich the two halves together with a generous dollop of ganache. Next use an offset spatula to frost the top and sides of the cake with the leftover ganache frosting.

Put any remaining ganache into a piping bag fitted with a small star tip and pipe some swirls on the top of your cake. Chill the cake until you are ready to serve it but make sure you bring it to room temperature before serving.

The writer is a professional chef and holds a diploma in pastry from Le Cordon Bleu

Originally published in Dawn, EOS, March 13th, 2022