It's Darkest Before the Dawn: Horseradish Grill's Chocolate Chocolate Cake

The dinner party Tom and I hosted earlier this month really was a collection of culinary fails; there were the olive sablés and smoked cheese cocktail cookies that never got served, as well as the salted caramel ding dong cake that I served even though it was not presentable in any way. But the baking misery didn't end there.

It so happened that I needed to make another cake during the day of our dinner party, so that I could take it into the office the following day for a birthday. Last year, the birthday girl requested something chocolate, so I figured that I should make a chocolate layer cake. I already had salted caramel and chocolate on my mind (from the ding dong cake), so I decided to make a Chocolate Cake with Fleur de sel Caramel Filling from It's a four layer chocolate cake filled the chocolate ganache and salted caramel, decorated with toasted almonds.

I baked the chocolate cake, following the directions exactly. As soon as I took the cake out of the oven, I could tell that something was wrong with it. The tops of the cakes were strangely wrinkly and the cakes and did not rise much; I knew they were not going to be tall enough for me to split into the four layers I needed to assemble the cake. Before I tossed the cakes into the compost bin, I broke one open, and it had a distinctive vertical grain that looked (as Tom put it) like the gills of a mushroom. There is a steamed rice cake dessert in Asia that has exactly the same grain. I've never seen it before in a butter cake, and I have no idea what went wrong. But given all of the other baking I had to do, I didn't want to take another chance on the recipe, and I decided to substitute the chocolate cake from the Baked Elements Oopsy Daisy Cake instead.

I baked the oopsy daisy chocolate cake without incident before the dinner party. After the party was over and I had cleaned up, I made the caramel and chocolate ganache, split the cakes to create four layers, assembled the cake on a rotating cake stand, and put it in the fridge to firm up before applying the final coating of ganache on the top and sides of the cake. I went to retrieve the cake from the fridge about an hour later, only to find complete disaster. The top two layers of the cake had completely slid off and were crammed between the cake turntable and the refrigerator shelf; the third layer was well on its way to following suit. I suppressed the urge to scream and Tom helped me clean up the mess. I wish I'd thought to take a picture of the cake committing seppuku, because I'm sure it would be would have been hilarious. In retrospect, that is.

It was too late for me to start another cake, so I went to bed with another two chocolate cakes tallied in the "fail" column and I had to show up empty handed at work the next day. I didn't have a chance to bake a make-up cake until a couple of days later and I thought I should just start fresh: I decided to try "The Horseradish Grill's Chocolate Chocolate Cake" from Nick Malgieri's Chocolate. Malgieri says that he got the recipe from the chef after trying the cake at Horseradish Grill in Atlanta.

This cake has only two components: chocolate cake and chocolate frosting. To make the cake, you whisk together eggs, oil, vanilla, and sour cream, and then incorporate unsweetened chocolate that has been melted by pouring hot coffee over it (the recipe calls for "double-strength" brewed coffee, which is basically the way Tom brews coffee all the time). You fold in the dry ingredients (sugar, flour, salt, baking soda) in three portions, divide the batter between two pans, and bake. I was a little concerned when I took the cakes out of the oven, because the cakes had not risen much. But since I didn't need to split the layers, I decided to proceed with the rest of the recipe.

To make the chocolate frosting, you bring cream, butter, sugar, and salt to a simmer, add chocolate, and then whisk in coffee and vanilla. You need to chill the frosting until it's spreading consistency. When I assembled and frosted the cake, I was planning on just making a decorative border around the top perimeter, but I had a lot of frosting left and the cake was a bit short, since the layers did not rise very much in the oven. So I just went ahead and covered the entire top surface of the cake with tall stars.  I left the cake covered at cool room temperature overnight.

The frosting has the wonderful quality of being able to keep the sharp clean impressions from a decorative tip while also being completely creamy and soft to the touch. This cake is the bomb. The cake is reddish-brown in color, heavy and moist, and unbelievably chocolatey. You can't really make out a distinct coffee flavor in either the cake or the frosting, but the coffee just enhances and magnifies the chocolate flavor in both.

The frosting is absurdly good. Luscious and smooth, it is simply chocolate heaven, and there is plenty of it. There is nothing subtle or nuanced about this cake. But if you like chocolate, and a lot of it, then this is the cake for you. It might have actually have been worth the heartbreak of needing to trash two other chocolate cakes first if the end result was to lead me to this recipe.

Recipe: "The Horseradish Grill's Chocolate Chocolate Cake" from Chocolate, by Nick Malgieri.


Louise said…
Wow, you really had a bunch of baking disasters. I think you need a break. How does this cake compare to "One-in-a-Hundred Fudge Cake"?
Louise, this cake is a bit heavier in texture and flavor than the One-in-a-Hundred cake, and the frosting is beyond compare. That said, I love the One-in-a-Hundred cake and I will definitely keep making it. But this one is great for a special occasion!