It'll Be Huge!: Giant Chocolate Cake

This year we again celebrated our friend Jim's birthday with a weekend trip to Shenandoah. I had a cake recipe all lined up. It goes without saying that Jim gets some sort of chocolate cake on his birthday. And I had been waiting for an excuse to make Ruth Reichl's Giant Chocolate Cake since I saw the recipe in The New York Times a few months ago.

Each year I make detailed lists of all of the ingredients and equipment that I need to take out with us to Shenandoah, and this is the first time that I've forgotten to bring something important. Namely, after I started making the cake, I realized I had forgotten to pack the vanilla. I also realized that I had accidentally brought light brown sugar instead of dark brown sugar -- but I thought that was a relatively minor oversight in comparison.

I just went ahead without the vanilla. I creamed softened butter with sugar and the light brown sugar; added in eggs one at a time; and alternately added in the sifted dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, and salt) and liquid ingredients (cocoa powder dissolved in boiling water, mixed with milk). I could definitely tell that this was enough batter for a "giant cake" -- I had brought a five-quart mixing bowl and hand mixer with me, and the batter was so high in the bowl that I had to be quite careful not to splash batter out of the bowl. I really missed the capacity and power of my seven-quart Kitchenaid stand mixer. I divided the batter between two parchment-lined 9-inch by 13-inch pans and baked the cakes until a tester came out clean.
The frosting for this cake is a mixture of butter, whipped cream cheese, melted unsweetened chocolate, salt, and powdered sugar (and, in an ideal world, vanilla). I leveled the cake layers before assembling the cake, and I had just enough frosting to fill and cover the cake, with a little left over to pipe a decorative border around the bottom edge. The frosting set up pretty quickly and took on a dull sheen that I didn't like very much. Still, it was a large and impressive cake.

I delegated the task of birthday candle placement to Jim's oldest daughter McKenna and her friend Sadie. I don't have any pictures of the cake after it was sliced -- it's difficult to get a decent photo of chocolate cake with chocolate frosting under florescent light. But the chocolate cake was dark, springy, and moist, with lots of chocolate flavor. The frosting was not too sweet, light, and lusciously smooth. I was delighted that the missing vanilla in both the cake and frosting didn't leave either lacking for flavor.

This was a fantastic cake, and a group of eight adults and six kids couldn't finish even half of it after dinner. Fortunately, the leftovers tasted terrific the next day, and I was amused to see the kids going in with their bare hands to nibble away on the remainder. I call this giant cake a huge success.

Recipe: "Ruth Reichl's Giant Chocolate Cake" from The New York Times.

Previous Birthday Cakes for Jim: