Chocolate

Ultimate Chocolate Cake

June  2, 2021
39 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten
Author Notes

I’ve been making cakes and pies in the Food52 offices since 2014, and couldn’t be happier that they asked me to develop a new cake to celebrate their 10th birthday. This cake is chocolate, plus chocolate, with a little chocolate (I don’t use the word ultimate lightly). It’s impressive to look at it - but more importantly, it’s so, so delicious, just like these last 10 years have been. —Erin Jeanne McDowell

Test Kitchen Notes

Bake It Up a Notch is a column by Resident Baking BFF Erin Jeanne McDowell. Each month, she'll help take our baking game to the next level, teaching us all the need-to-know tips and techniques and showing us all the mistakes we might make along the way. Today, a very sweet lesson in all things frostings, icings, and glazes. —The Editors

Watch This Recipe
Ultimate Chocolate Cake
  • Prep time 2 hours
  • Cook time 1 hour
  • Makes one 4-layer, 8-inch cake
Ingredients
  • Devil's food cake
  • 1 1/2 cups (128 g) unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably dark or black cocoa powder, plus more for coating pans
  • 1 cup (242 g) boiling water
  • 1 1/4 cups (285 g) whole milk
  • 9 ounces (255 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups (595 g) granulated sugar
  • 5 (284 g) large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon (15 g) vanilla extract
  • 3 cups (361 g) all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons (8 g) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (6 g) baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon (3 g) fine sea salt
  • Chocolate custard filling
  • 2 1/2 cups (605 g) whole milk
  • 1/2 cup (121 g) heavy cream
  • 4 ounces (113 g) unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
  • 4 ounces (113 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 cup (198 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup (37 g) cornstarch
  • large pinch fine sea salt
  • 2 (42 g) large egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons (28 g) unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons (10 g) vanilla extract
  • Whipped ganache
  • 21 ounces (595 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups (590 g) heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 g) fine sea salt
  • 1 recipe Basic Chocolate Glaze (https://food52.com/recipes...)
  • chocolate sprinkles, as needed for finishing
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two 8 inch cake pans with nonstick spray, then add cocoa powder and tap around until the pan is well coated.
  2. Place the 1 ½ cups (128 g) cocoa powder in a medium, heat-proof bowl. Whisk in the boiling water until fully combined. Stir in the milk and set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-low speed until light and fluffy, 4-5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is fully incorporated before adding the next. Scrape the bowl well. Add the vanilla and mix to combine.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add one third of the mixture to the mixer and mix on low speed to combine. Add half of the cocoa/milk mixture and mix to incorporate. Repeat, alternating between the dry and wet ingredients, until both are fully incorporated and the batter is smooth.
  5. Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pan for 10-15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  6. While the cakes cool, make the filling: in a medium pot, heat the milk, cream, and chocolate over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the chocolate has fully melted. Turn the heat up to medium and bring the mixture until it’s just barely simmering.
  7. Meanwhile, whisk the sugar, cornstarch, and salt together in a medium heatproof bowl. Whisk in the egg yolks until well combined.
  8. When the chocolate mixture has come to a bare simmer, pour about half of it into the egg yolk mixture in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly. Then pour the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan and cook the pudding over low heat, stirring constantly with a spatula until it gets very thick and a few large bubbles break the surface. Stir in the butter and vanilla until well combined.
  9. Pour the mixture onto a sheet tray, or into a shallow bowl or casserole dish. Cover directly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until totally chilled.
  10. Make the whipped ganache: Place the chocolate in a large heat-safe bowl. Place the cream in a medium pot and heat over medium heat until it comes to a boil (be careful - once it starts to simmer, it goes fast and cream is prone to boiling over).
  11. Add the vanilla and pour the simmering cream over the chocolate. Let set for about 20 seconds, then start mixing with a silicone spatula in the center of the bowl in tight circles, then slowly enlarging the circles as the mixture starts to melt and come together.
  12. Continue mixing until the mixture is smooth, then stir in the salt. Cool the mixture to room temperature. As it cools, the chocolate will firm the ganache - the idea is to cool it enough to be set, but still be soft/spreadable. This is best done by gradually cooling at room temperature, rather than trying to rush in the fridge, which can cause it to set too firm/unevenly.
  13. Scoop the cooled (but still soft) ganache into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Whip on medium-high speed until the mixture becomes light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Transfer half of the ganache to a disposable piping bag (or a large zip-top bag). Cut a ½ inch opening in the end, or fit with a large round tip.
  14. Assemble the cake: use a serrated knife to divide each cake evenly into two pieces. Place one half on a cake turntable, cake stand, or platter. Pipe a ring of icing around the outer edge of the cake layer. Scoop 1/3 of the pudding mixture inside (don’t let it rise over the ganache ring around the outside), and spread into an even layer. Place another cake layer on top. Repeat this process until you’ve used all of the pudding and cake layers.
  15. Use the remaining whipped ganache and/or custard to do a thin crumb coat all around the outside of the cake. Chill the assembled cake for 15-30 minutes.
  16. Spoon or pour the glaze all over the top, letting it drip down the sides. After the glaze sets, you can pipe the remaining whipped ganache in dots (or switch to a star tip - whatever!) on the top of the cake, then finish with sprinkles.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Lynn Slater Miller
    Lynn Slater Miller
  • Hina Khan
    Hina Khan
  • AG
    AG
  • Yoli L Juarez Zaragoza
    Yoli L Juarez Zaragoza
  • Kathryn774
    Kathryn774
I always have three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's wrapped in a pastry crust. My newest cookbook, The Book on Pie, is out on November 10th, 2020.

87 Reviews

DENIS June 4, 2021
I just finished this wonderful cake. May I tell you that my once beautiful kitchen is a glorious mess. My hands are kinda crippled which makes baking let's say, umm interesting. The cake wanted to crumble. The pudding is perfect. The whipped icing never hardened enough to pipe... soooo. I have a large footed parfait that needed using. So, punt!!! I have this this incredible dessert ready for the evening with a delicious raspberry (spiked) sauce. Thank you so very much for the inspiration. I have a retired Home Ec teacher as a participant this evening. I betcha I get an A+ ... Cordially, Denis
 
Helen May 7, 2021
Hi Erin:
I loved the cake. I had no problem making the cake, cutting it into layers. The pudding was easy and it tasted great.
My problem was with the ganache icing. I weight and measured everything, following the recipe. When it was cool, I whipped it until light and fluffy. I managed to get one layer done and then it started to stiffen and it was difficult to pipe. I kneaded the icing to warm it up and got the other layer dams in, but it was too stiff to try to coat the side or top of the cake. I know my house is only around 68 when I tried to ice it. Do you have any suggestions to get this to work in a cooler house?

 
Lynn S. March 31, 2021
Hi Erin, I used only the chocolate cake part of this recipe. I was looking for a reliable basic chocolate cake. The batter tasted great and I love that you bloom the cocoa before adding it to the batter. However, you do not state to refrigerate the cocoa, water milk mixture to cool it before adding to the batter. Mine was cooled but still a bit warm when I added it causing the batter to curdle. Another problem arose when filling the pans. I used the batter to fill 12 jumbo ice cream cones (for cone cupcakes) and poured the remainder into 2 8" pans. It was way too much batter for 8" pans. even after filling the cupcake cones! If using 8" pans that are 3" deep, it might work, but my 8" x 2" pans were overflowing by the time they were finished baking. Everything is still usable, but you should specify a deeper pan or move to a 9" pan instead.
 
Cuirelegateau March 21, 2021
Hi Erin,
I made this cake for a birthday. Baking was no problem, pudding no problem, ganache no problem. I stirred it together like you did, same magic happened. I chilled it in the fridge overnight. Now the problems started: the cakes had a little dome, the whipped ganache was too stiff to pipe with my old reusable pipe bag - at least it was broken. Drove to the store - new ones. Thought to fix the ganache with a drip of cream. Wrong. the ganache split - butter? Ok I had enough of the pudding. The cake was a little wonky after assembling. I liked to stay on track, but I decided to coat the hole cake, cause I couldn't fill the cracks with the pudding properly. I never coated a cake in my live before, my offset spatula was to big for this type of - for me new - job. Now to the dripping ganache - I made this at the day of assembling. For me it was too stiff, but I was afraid to warm it up, cause of the split ganache experience from the whipped ganache. Now the big spatula did his job on the top very well. During the piping - 5 roses worked very well - the tip was clogged from a non melted peace of chocolate... At least all my little white chocolate hearts fell out of the mould (on their faces) and they was smeared with ganache while turning them over... I decided after a lot of laughter to run a fork thru all of the coating and piping. Made it all messed up to hide the mess from tried it doing well - if that makes sense.
With a nice red candle in the middle the cake looked like a big log with a candle on the top. Only the hight and the width looked like your cake, but it tasted great. At first I was afraid of this 3 cups of sugar, but it was not too sweet.
I never listend to my own advice - don't prepare a dish to a special occasion you never made before - where is the excitement and the danger? It was very funny, I laughed a lot of myself, and I experienced how to fix it all, that at least there is a presentable birthday cake.
 
Hina K. March 6, 2021
Hi Erin! I need some help here. I baked the cake and stuck to the recipe. It turned out wonderful. Structurally it was a problem. It just did not hold itself and slide off like anything, once two slices were cut off it! The pudding was great and so was the ganache. Thank you for an amazing recipe but how do I prevent it from sliding?
 
bethiegail February 28, 2021
hi Erin it's so nice to meet you. i needed to tell you , i received 2 of your cookbooks today. they are just wonderful. you have started the fire to get baking again. thank you so very much. bethiegail
 
Kknopick February 26, 2021
I made this cake today. The cake turned out great. It was the whipped ganache. It wasn’t as dark and wasn’t fluffy. It was stiff. What did I do wrong?
 
Willard January 16, 2021
What did I.miss? Live the video and the site. Everyone is loving Iyar=t. Mine is a flop and I am an experienced maker. Beautiful batter. 2 8” cake pans full to the top Estes was the first warning sign. Re-read and saw I had followed the instructions and measurements. Took 65 minutes to bake and almost overflowed. Now I have teo very dry and crumbly layers that did not want to come out of the greased. And dusted pans. After reading all these reviews I’m feeling really stupid!
 
AG December 25, 2020
Hands down this is the BEST chocolate cake I have ever made. Erin Jeanne McDowell is amazing and a delight to watch. Give this woman a raise!!! Fantastic cake, I can't fault it!! Thank you
 
Yoli L. December 14, 2020
I made this for my mother in law with a few adjustments added simple syrup to try and keep the cake more moist. But I found it to be still a bit too dense. The taste was amazing, but would like it to be more moist.. any suggestions?
 
Catherine W. December 27, 2020
I would try sour cream or yogurt in place of the whole milk. I rarely used milk in my recipes and hands down works better and you can reduce the sugar by no more than 1/2 a cup. Don't use buttermilk --will make it more heavy in place of the milk it gives it a nice texture.
 
Catherine W. December 27, 2020
..also reduce your salt to 1/2 tsp.
 
Catherine W. December 27, 2020
My apologies, unable to edit original reply.. sour cream to replace milk would need a lesser amount..3/4 of a cup.
 
Lani November 14, 2020
I saw Erin make this cake on YouTube! I made this for my granddaughter's 4th birthday because, she said I want a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and chocolate filling and more chocolate on top!
This filled the bill! Everyone loved it! 4 Gold stars for you Erin! Love watching you on youtube!
 
Monika November 1, 2020
We just had some of the cake, and it was fantastic.

A few notes:

-Because I didn't read the recipe carefully enough, I did not notice I was supposed to use 8" pans, and just automatically used by 9" springforms, which worked great. (Although thank you for the tip about using cake strips to avoid a dome!)

- I used black cocoa because it was was in the recipe -- I used 2/3rds black cocoa, and 1/3rd Pernigotti cocoa -- it was amazing!!!

- I used store brand bittersweet chocolate for the pudding, and found it to be too aggressive a flavour, so I added a number of pinches of Maldon salt as well as a teaspoon or two of a flavourful rhum -- everyone LOVED the pudding.

- I had a problem with the whipped ganache: it was thick and stiff before I put it in the fridge. It was very difficult to aerate. I have no clue what I did wrong... was it my chocolate? This time I used Callebaut bittersweet 70% chocolate, which was excellent (and so far superior to the store brand). It was also extremely difficult to pipe.

- My son the chocoholic (at whose behest I made the cake) actually told me that I could skip the glaze, which was a blessing.

- The cake needs something like raspberries, something with a bright acidity to offset all the chocolate.

- The 4 of us only managed to eat 1/6th of the cake -- the cake is so rich that tiny slivers are really all that you can eat.

- The black cocoa cake is truly extraordinary, and can be matched with many fillings -- some kind of whipped cream frosting maybe -- and is definitely a keeper.

- Everyone loved the cake, and will make it again, but would love to understand what happened with the whipped ganache -- I have made it before, and it never stiffened up on me like this before.
 
Hrose October 29, 2020
I tried this recipe using 9 inch cake pans. I had two problems.
First, dusting the edges of the cake pan never works for me. I watched the video multiple times, did it exactly how she did, and it just doesn’t work. One of my layers fell apart (I was prepared for this, though, because I knew it wouldn’t work), but it was still good with only two layers.
Second, the pudding filling. I don’t know what I did wrong, I followed the recipe and the video exactly, but that filling was hard as a rock after coming out of the fridge. It was completely unusable and I had to scrap it.
Otherwise, the cake tasted great. Everyone loved it and I plan on trying it again.
 
Hrose October 29, 2020
I misspoke, it was the ganache I had trouble with, not the filling. Even when I added extra liquid it was hard as a rock.
 
Maja C. October 30, 2020
If you put your ganache in the fridge for too long, it will turn into a solid. If you want to bring it back to life, you have to warm it up for few seconds, or simply leave it on the counter for few hours.
 
Keeks21 October 6, 2020
I used 2 8x3” tin and the batter did not overflow. However, it took me 50 mins for the cake to be cooked.
 
Kathryn774 October 6, 2020
Wise move! I'm wondering if that is because of the 'overflow' comment. The recipe does not specify 8x3", which is not a conventional depth. And yes, the bake takes a lot longer that indicated. It is a good cake. I am annoyed that the directions are sorely lacking in the 'baking' stage. Thanks for your comment!
 
Kathryn774 October 3, 2020
I wish I had read the reviews before I made the cake. I watched the video and thought I was home free. The batter was way too much for the 8" pans! It overflowed and I can now smell burnt chocolate batter, not quite the aroma that encourages me to take this to a party tonight. Three 8" pans would probably work well. Since so many folks had the same issue, I'm extremely disappointed that Food52 did not address this. After spending all that money on ingredients and investing the time, I'm hoping it's a tasty cake for my grandson's birthday.
 
Rosalia86 October 4, 2020
It will definitely be tasty. I think I will use 3 pans from now on too. When I made this cake it almost overflowed.
 
Kathryn774 October 4, 2020
ThANKS for the validation. I'm also thinking the parchment paper on the bottom of the cake tins is great advice. This cake is so rich, I decided to go with vanilla ice cream instead of more chocolate. Not everyone wants to eat 'death by chocolate'. I will say the overall texture of the cake is lovely.
 
Mary E. September 27, 2020
Can I use Dutch cocoa powder for this recipe?
 
Monika November 1, 2020
The recipe actually specifies a dark cocoa powder, which is another description of dutched cocoa powder. It says "dark or black", and so I used a combination of both, which was incredibly delicious -- one of the best chocolate cakes I have ever made.
 
Rosalia86 September 21, 2020
Made the cake section only on this recipe. I needed to find a great tasting chocolate cake recipe and this is definitely it. My son wanted buttercream only on his birthday cake this weekend. This cake help up perfectly for later building and is was moist and perfect. Thank you Erin for this delicious recipe. This will be my go to chocolate cake from now on. 💕💕💕
 
Rosalia86 September 21, 2020
*held up - not help up 😬
 
Mary E. September 27, 2020
Did you use natural cocoa powder or dutch process cocoa powder?
 
Rosalia86 October 4, 2020
I used natural cocoa powder.
 
Mary E. October 13, 2020
Thank you!
 
dalzien September 5, 2020
We made this cake this afternoon, and it was very simple to do. I do not understand how the others failed to produce the same cake. The batter for the cake came together beautifully, we used Erin's recommendation of hot coffee instead of boiling water...perfection! We did go with weight vs volume and did not have any problems with the cake spilling over in the oven (my pans are the Fat Daddio's 8"x3" quality aluminum pans). We used a quality French bittersweet chocolate for the pudding, ganache, and glaze. The only thing that we did differently was used parchment paper, and we did not grease or cocoa powder the sides. I have never greased/floured my pans, only used parchment, and all of my cakes have come out easily.
 
diana September 5, 2020
totally agree with you!!
 
Taurus11 September 11, 2020
Hey did u add any other chocolate in the ganache, pudding and glaze except the bittersweet one? Wasn't it bittery?
 
diana September 11, 2020
just as the recipe! it was perfect match with the cake!
 
Mary E. September 27, 2020
did you use natural cocoa powder or dutch process cocoa? Im am not sure which one to use because the recipe uses both baking powder and baking soda.
 
Monika November 1, 2020
Natural cocoa powder is quite light in comparison to dutched cocoa powder, and requires an acid in the recipe -- a spoon of vinegar or some buttermilk, which this recipe does not have. So by specifying "dark" cocoa powder, the recipe is de facto saying to use dutched cocoa powder.
 
Leslie V. August 30, 2020
Could this be made and baked in a sheet pan? At my altitude I use a lovely clear glass baking pan Marinex from Brazil 9x13 but 2.5" deep and holds 4 qts for home made and boxed cakes, etc. ...and not fill but frost with the ganache ?
 
Leslie V. November 15, 2020
Hoping the author will reply to my question. Higher altitude is often a puzzle..and any help is appreciated. Baking in a deep layer pan would help the often rising and overflow. Please anyone :)
 
Jessicajane July 21, 2020
Not sure why Brandon A had such a hard time with this cake, because I’ve made it twice (ganache, custard and all) and it’s turned out brilliantly both times. I love Erin’s tutorial video and hope to see some more of her cake creations on this site! Amazing!