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Penultimate chocolate cake (because the quest for the ultimate chocolate cake will never be over)

This is a lot of work, with a lot of steps and an unusual ingredient. You can substitute ingredients, leave some ingredients out, measure by volume instead of weight, or skip some of the steps, but the result will not be this cake. If you want to use gmo-free sugar substitute, fair-trade stone ground oat flour, and vegan cage-free non-dairy buttermilk and bake it in a loaf pan, you’re on your own: too much science for me to attempt those kinds of suggestions. Or maybe just make another cake. If you have a digital scale, it’s likely just as easy to measure your ingredients in grams as ounces.

This is adapted from ChefSteps Ultimate Chocolate Cake and makes three big layers. ChefSteps says to use 3 springform pans, but I don’t have 3 springform pans because I don’t like cheesecake, so I used my Nordicware layer cake pans (mine aren’t non-stick, because I don’t trust non-stick cake pans, and this cake is way too much work to have it stick to the pans) which worked great because they have straight, tall sides and are heavy. Out of all of my many cake pans, these are my favorite. I got mine off the shelf at Walmart, for about half the price they are on Amazon.

ChefSteps also gives a specific weight of batter for each pan, which leaves some batter left over. But I evenly divided all the batter (by weight) between the 3 pans, and the layers came out tall and just about perfect. Just be sure to adequately prepare the pans, and use parchment paper as described below. Not a bit of the cake stuck to the pans.

For a quick and easy chocolate cake, with almost no dishes to wash, try Wacky Cake.
Go to the recipe.

Preheat oven.

oven temp-5016

Prepare the pans.


Measure (weigh) the ingredients.


Including this stuff, with the dry ingredients.

GMS-5022dry unmixed-5024

Whisk all the dry ingredients together.

dry mixed-5028

Then sift the dry ingredients into another bowl. I have a very nice flour sifter, but this method is faster. You will be washing a lot of dishes.

dry sifted-5030

Add all the wet ingredients (except the boiling water) to the mixer bowl.

wet unmixed-5036

Mix on low until it’s a uniform color.

wet mixing-5042

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients one large spoonful at a time, mixing on low. Then slowly pour the boiling water into the wet ingredients, with the mixer still on low.

pouring water-5052

Divide the batter into the three pans and place on middle rack of oven.

in oven-5057

While the cake is baking, make the syrup. Mix up the sugar and water, then microwave until boiling. When It’s room temperature, add the alcohol.


Back to the cake. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, when the layers measure 205°. This is quite a load for a home oven, so they might not all be done at the same time.

Whack the layers on the counter. The layers don’t fall (they came out of the oven like this), it just helps release any air pockets. That small hole near the middle is from the thermometer.


After the layers have completely cooled, take the layers out of the pans and remove the parchment paper. The cake is very soft, so be gentle.

out of pan-5069

Brush the layers with the by-now room-temperature syrup.

w syrup-5076

This was a test run, and dinner was about ready, so I had to hurry to get the cake frosted – no time for more pictures. If I’d had more time, I would have brushed on the syrup, then wrapped each layer with plastic wrap and frozen them for about a day before frosting. Much easier and way less messier to frost frozen cake, and it gives the cake a chance to settle into itself for a richer flavor.

In general I’m not a fan of chocolate frosting on chocolate cake, so this is buttercream. Childhood issues have left me incapable of leaving frosting white, and while choosing a color I realized I had yet to open the teal coloring, hence:

Choc cake slice-5100

Penultimate Chocolate Cake
Recipe type: cake
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: lots and lots
Deep, rich, moist, big. A proper chocolate cake.
Dry stuff
  • 620 grams sugar
  • 420 grams cake flour
  • 130 grams Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 10 grams salt
  • 15 grams baking soda
  • 11 grams glycerol monostearate (mine came from Amazon), optional, but makes a difference (it acts as an emulsifier)

Wet stuff:
  • 340 grams buttermilk
  • 340 grams canola oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 25 grams vanilla extract
and (but don't mix with other wet ingredients yet)
  • 340 grams boiling water
  • 200 grams sugar
  • 100 grams water
  • 50 grams vodka, or any other alcohol you prefer (or, if you must, water)
Prepare the pans
  1. Grease and flour the pans, or spray with Baker's Joy or the equivalent.
  2. Cut parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pans.
  3. Grease and flour, or spray, the parchment paper in the bottom of the pans.
Dry stuff
  1. Whisk the dry ingredients in a large bowl
  2. Sift those whisked-together dry ingredients into another bowl.
Wet stuff
  1. Combine all the wet ingredients, except the water, in the mixer bowl.
  2. Mix the wet ingredients on low speed until they reach a consistent, uniform color.
Mix it all together
  1. With mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients a handful (big spoon) at a time.
  2. Mix just until the ingredients are combined and the batter is a uniform color.
  3. Boil the water.
  4. With mixer on low, slowly pour the boiling water (so you don't cook the batter) into the mixer bowl. The final batter will be thin.
Fill the pans
  1. Weigh the batter, divide by three, then pour equal amounts into the prepared pans. Or, if your spatial intelligence is better than mine, eyeball it.
Bake the layers
Most ovens will probably be too small to bake all three layers at once.
  1. Place pans on center rack of preheated oven and bake for about 40 minutes. ChefSteps says the cakes are done when they reach an internal temperature of 205°. I use a thermometer, but a toothpick that comes out clean is a reliable test.
While the cakes are baking, make the syrup
  1. Bring the sugar and water to a boil.
  2. After it's boiled, let it sit on the counter until the cake layers are ready.
  3. When the syrup is room temperature, stir in the alcohol (if you add when the syrup is hot, the alcohol will cook out, and we certainly don't want that).
When the cakes are done
  1. Remove from oven and slam on the counter to get rid of air bubbles in the cake. Don't be afraid.
  2. Allow cakes to cool completely before removing from pan.
  3. Working one layer at a time, flip the layer onto a plate or cardboard cake round.
  4. Remove the parchment paper stuck to the layer.
  5. Brush the layer with the syrup.
  6. Frost the layer with whatever frosting you want.
  7. Start over with the next layer, until all three layers are stacked on top of each other.
  8. Finish frosting the cake.

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