If the grocery store isn't your favorite place, it should be. We're sleuthing for the best back-of-the-box recipes and each week we'll share our latest find.
Today: The perfect chocolate cake recipe has been sitting in your pantry all along, patiently waiting for you to discover it.
Today feels like the right time to confess that I’ve never been able to bake a good chocolate cake.
I’m a pretty persistent person -- some would say bordering on a perfectionist -- and I’m a very confident baker. Despite all that, chocolate cake has stymied me for years. Mine are either too moist, taste only vaguely of cocoa, or fall apart when I try to frost them.
I want a serious chocolate cake. I want a sturdy crumb, like a 1-2-3-4 cake, but with an intense wallop of chocolate. I want you to be able to close your eyes and think, "Dark and rich." I want it to be tender yet still firm enough to slice and frost. I want it to be just moderately sweet so that it can pair well with Swiss meringue or caramel glaze or coffee buttercream. Oh, and I want to be able to make it in one bowl without needing any fancy, expensive chocolate.
I had gone on a lot of chocolate cake recipe first dates, so to speak, and had yet to enter a serious, move-in-with-me relationship with one -- until I met the perfect chocolate cake from the back of the Hershey’s cocoa box. I think it’s the one! And it was right in front of me all these years.
This dead-simple recipe yields a fantastically rich chocolate cake. It highlights the subtle alchemy of baking, taking a handful of very basic ingredients and turning them into something worthy of celebration. You don’t need any chocolate other than cocoa. There’s no buttermilk, no hot coffee, and no sour cream. Can I get a hallelujah? I've dialed down the liquid slightly from the original recipe to make the cake a little more sturdy, which helps when constructing (and eating) the layers.
You don’t need the frosting -- the cake is very good plain. But when offered frosting, I usually say yes. Just to be polite. If you’re looking to dress it up differently, I’d suggest a topping of crème fraîche, boiled icing with cacao nibs, or dulce de leche frosting.
Adapted from Hershey's
Makes one 8-inch double layer cake
For the cake:
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup boiling water
For the frosting:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2/3 cup cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Do you have a favorite back of the box recipe, or have you heard about a great one? Leave any suggestions in the comments, and I'll try them out and share them here!
Photos by Posie Harwood