Weekend Recipe: Chocolate Layer Cake

Chocolate Layer Cake
Photo courtesy of America's Test Kitchen

A good chocolate cake should be rich and ultrachocolaty; it also must have a moist and tender yet sturdy crumb. This recipe from America's Test Kitchen ensures that perfect texture. 

Swapping Sucanat for the sugar in our traditional recipe produced a decent cake with abundant chocolate flavor. However, this cake was a bit dense: The original recipe called for bread flour to give the cake better structure, but without the tenderizing power of the sugar, the crumb was too heavy. We tested all-purpose and cake flours, but tasters missed the more substantial texture of the cake made with bread flour. Instead, we increased the amount of baking powder to open up the crumb. This cake was lighter, but it was also drier and had muted chocolate flavor. We made cakes using butter and oil and found that oil produced a moister cake than butter. We couldn’t add more chocolate without sacrificing texture, so we turned to coffee since its robust flavor enhances chocolate flavor. A few teaspoons of vinegar helped to activate the leavening power of the baking soda, ensuring a perfect texture.

Chocolate Layer Cake
Serves 12

If you use natural cocoa powder for this recipe, the cake will be lighter in appearance and have a milder chocolate flavor. Our favorite brand of bittersweet chocolate is Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Premium Baking Bar; other brands may contain different amounts of sugar. Do not skip grinding the Sucanat in step 1 or large air pockets will appear inside the cake and on the surface of the cake. If using dark colored cake pans, start checking the cakes for doneness 5 to 10 minutes earlier.


¾ cup plus ⅓ cup (6 ounces) Sucanat
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
⅔  cup (2 ounces) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1½ cups hot brewed coffee
1½ cups (8¼ ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
4 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 recipe Creamy Chocolate Frosting

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1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper, grease parchment, and flour pans. Working in 4 batches, grind Sucanat in spice grinder until fine and powdery, about 1 minute.

2. Place chocolate and cocoa in medium bowl, add hot coffee, and whisk until melted and smooth. Refrigerate mixture until completely cool, about 20 minutes. In separate bowl, whisk ground Sucanat, flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder together.

3. Whisk oil, eggs, vinegar, and vanilla into cooled chocolate mixture until smooth. Add flour mixture and whisk until smooth.

4. Divide batter evenly among prepared cake pans. Bake until cakes are set and center is just firm to touch, 20 to 22 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking. Let cakes cool in pans for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans, discard parchment, and let cool completely on wire rack, about 1 hour. (Cake layers can be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.)

5. Line edges of cake platter with 4 strips of parchment to keep platter clean and place dab of frosting in center to anchor cake. Place 1 cake layer on platter and spread 1 cup frosting evenly over top. Top with second cake layer, press lightly to adhere, then spread 1 cup frosting evenly over top. Spread remaining frosting evenly over sides of cake. To smooth frosting, run edge of offset spatula around cake sides and over top. Carefully remove parchment strips and serve.

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