This birthday cake (and barbecue and potluck and dinner party cake) goes back three generations in my family—for the full story, head here. For the chocolate frosting, here are three I recommend: This one, adapted from Hershey’s Perfect Chocolate Cake, is excellent and the closest facsimile to canned frosting. This one from Food52er EmilyC is similar, but whips in cream cheese, for a richer, well-balanced milk chocolatey experience. Or if you really don’t want to take out the mixer bowl again, you can go with a ganache like this, though the deep chocolate flavor is almost too much for a homey cake like this. Recipe adapted from the Fudge Ribbon Cake and Pribble Cake on online-cookbook.com. —Genius Recipes
Watch This Recipe
Susan Miglore's Fudgy Cream Cheese Chocolate Cake
8 or more
For the chocolate cake:
1 1/2 cups (300g) sugar
1/2 cup (60g) unsweetened natural cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup (113g) butter, softened
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (125g) milk
2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup (235g) boiling water
1 tablespoon instant espresso, optional for a deeper chocolate flavor (or substitute coffee for the water above)
1 teaspoon vanilla
For the cream cheese ribbon & frosting:
6 tablespoons (85g) butter, softened
12 ounces (340g) cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup (150g) sugar
3 tablespoons (27g) cornstarch
3 large eggs
1/3 cup (80g) milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
Chocolate frosting of your choice (see note above for recommended recipes)
In This Recipe
Heat oven to 350° F. Butter the bottom but not the sides of a 9x13-inch cake pan.
To make the chocolate cake batter: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend the sugar, cocoa, baking soda, butter, and eggs until smooth and well-combined.
On low speed, blend the milk into the sugar mixture, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula, then beat on high till smooth.
With the mixer on low, slowly add in the flour and salt until just combined. Blend in the boiling water, espresso powder (if using), and vanilla until well-combined, scraping down the sides and bottom to make sure it’s well-mixed. The batter will be runny.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Wash and dry the bowl and paddle (or pull out a second stand mixer bowl—they’re handy!).
To make the cream cheese ribbon batter: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, cream cheese, sugar, and cornstarch until light and fluffy (start on low speed then increase to medium-high once the cornstarch is all moistened).
Add the eggs, milk, and vanilla and beat till smooth, scraping the sides and bottom as needed. This batter will be runny, too.
Using a large spoon, gently spoon the cream cheese mixture over the chocolate cake mixture and spread it to the edges. Swirl the two batters together gently (Here’s how my mom does it: Working down the 13-inch length of the cake pan, drag a table knife through the batter from edge to edge in a zigzag pattern, with zigzags spaced about 2 inches apart at the widest part.) You may not see any trace of mixing on the surface but that's okay—it will have secretly swirled underneath.
Bake at 350° F until a toothpick poked in a few places comes out clean or with just crumbs clinging—start checking at 30 minutes, but it may take up to an hour to bake. It will poof in the oven, then settle as it cools. The layers swirl a little differently every time and it might look a little lumpy on top, but that’s what the frosting is for.
While the cake is cooling, make the frosting of your choice (see the note above for recommended recipes).
Once the cake has fully cooled, frost generously in swoops. Serve squares directly from the pan with glasses of cold milk.
Genius recipes surprise us and make us rethink cooking tropes. They're handed down by luminaries of the food world and become their legacy. They get us talking and change the way we cook. And, once we've folded them into our repertoires, they make us feel pretty genius too. Watch for new Genius Recipes every Wednesday morning on our blog, dug up by Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore.