For the uninitiated, Fernet-Branca is a digestif (that means alcohol that makes your stomach feel less crappy) that tastes roughly like ass and anise if you try to drink it alone. Imagine a strip of black licorice that’s been dragged under a semi for a few miles and then squeezed into a tiny cordial glass; that’s about what straight Fernet tastes like.
Which begs the question: why would anyone put it in a cake? Well, despite it’s more tire-like qualities it plays pretty nice with a glass of coke, and even better with chocolate. In other words, it’s the liquor equivalent of the curmudgeonly old man down the street who spends the day yelling at kids, but forms a special relationship with that one boy who reads him the paper because he’s blind. Insert your favorite hallmark original movie about an old person with a heart of gold or whatever; it works.
So when you take some classic coke, a ton of cocoa powder, and a bit of that bitter Fernet, tell them all to hold hands and get along in the stand mixer. You’ll get a real, real tasty game of ring-around-the-rosie happening in your kitchen, trust me. —Fresh Beats, Fresh Eats
(+2 tbsp) Coca-Cola (don't come to me with that diet zero nonsense, get the regular stuff)
cocoa powder (make these slightly bigger than a tablespoon, but not heaping)
Put the flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda in a stand mixer and whisk them together.
Get a medium saucepan and put in the Coke, canola oil, cocoa powder, and butter.
Turn up your heat to medium and stir that all together until the butter's melted and mixed in. Bring it to a boil, then immediately take it off the burner and let it cool for a few seconds.
Pour the chocolatey goodness into the stand mixer with the flour mixture, then beat it on medium low for a minute.
Mix in the eggs one at a time, then mix in the buttermilk and vanilla. Once that's all mixed in, give it another minute on medium-low.
Spray a 9x13 pan with non-stick, then pour the batter in and cram it into the oven for about 35 minutes. When it passes the toothpick test, you're in good shape.
RIGHT after the cake comes out, start making the frosting. I know this runs counter to all of the cake-making lore I've lovingly presented to you on this site, but for some reason that melty, slightly-grainy texture just works with this one.
Get out the saucepan again and stir together the butter, cocoa powder, and half & half over medium heat.
Once again, bring it up to a boil and take it off heat the second you see bubbles.
Whisk in the powdered sugar, vanilla, and Fernet-Branca, then pour it all over the cake and smooth the top with a spatula.
Let it cool to room temperature, then cut yourself a melty slice and put the rest in the fridge.