Tara’s Tutorials: Chocolate chocolate cake

We have another blog category! Let’s keep it fresh, right? 

I am learning how to bake from my baking-expert sister-in-law, Tara.

We started off super easy with a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Tara did all the work while I observed and took notes; the husband took (most of) the pictures.

Next time, I’ll get my hands dirty while she tells me what to do.

That will probably be more fun for her.

This recipe comes from Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Cake. Tara has made it numerous times, making it a great beginning for our Tara’s Tutorial’s with Baking. 

Photo credit: Alan Nudi

Now, clearly we are following a recipe here – linked to above and shown below on the Hershey’s cocoa powder container – so you can easily make your own cake at home. Not unlike my other recipe posts.

Photo credit: Alan Nudi 

The advantage here, is that we have Tara’s helpful tidbits interspersed along the way.

Here’s the first one:

Tara’s Tip #1: Baking is a science. It’s not an exact science.

This is good to know. Takes a little bit of the pressure off. We can do this, people.

Tara started out our cake today by greasing the cake pans, which are either 9 or 10 inches – two pans for two layers.

Photo credit: Alan Nudi

Tara greases the cake pans, but does not flour them; it makes a mess and it doesn’t work.

Spray the pan the first, stick the parchment paper in, and spray again. If you are really paranoid about the cake sticking you can put flour down, but it’s not typically necessary – running a butter knife around the edges should be sufficient enough to get the cake out smoothly.

Tara used a crayon to draw circles around the pans on the parchment paper. It does not have to fit absolutely perfectly in the pan.

Photo credit: Alan Nudi

Tara’s Tip #2: Eggs should be room temperature. 

Room temperature eggs mix in seamlessly with the other ingredients; you won’t have to beat the heck out of them. Tara says over-beating in baking leads to a tougher end product.

Instead of waiting for eggs to come to room temperature, you can stick them in a glass of hot tap water. This gets the job done without actually cooking the eggs.

Photo credit: Alan Nudi

Next, Tara mixed sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in her KitchenAid mixer – you could also use a large bowl.

Tara’s Tip #3: Flour must be scooped into the measuring cup, *then* leveled off.

Packing too tightly makes a difference.

Photo credit: Alan Nudi

Tara used Hershey’s cocoa powder here; she prefers Ghiradelli, but that is more expensive, and Hershey’s certainly gets the job done. It’s also their recipe, so we might as well show some respect. 

Photo credit: Alan Nudi

Eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla are added.

In addition to vanilla extract, she also added just under a half teaspoon of vanilla bean paste.

Photo credit: Alan Nudi

When mixing with the KitchenAid mixer, a towel was placed over it during the first few moments of mixing, when flour tends to enthusiastically shower over you and your counter space.

Photo credit: Alan Nudi
Photo credit: Alan Nudi
Photo credit: Alan Nudi

At the end of mixing, a cup of boiling water is added; this is not normal in cake recipes, but works well here.

The result is a very wet cake batter, ready to be poured into the pans.

Photo credit: Alan Nudi
Photo credit: Alan Nudi

If you’re really concerned about having even layers, the batter can be measured, otherwise just pour on in.

The recipe states to bake for 30 to 35 minutes; Tara set the timer to 25, just to check at first.

We passed the time with some light reading.

Photo credit: Alan Nudi

At 25 minutes, Tara checked the cake layers by turning the oven light on, then just barely cracking the door open to take a look.

Tara believes checking the cakes too often or at the wrong time can result in the middle sinking in – or sometimes the middle will sink in, anyway.

When you push gently onto the cake it should really slowly start to come back.

At 30 minutes, they were ready.

Photo credit: Alan Nudi

 Tara’s Tip #4: A toothpick inserted should not come out completely clean, but with a couple flakes on it.

Cakes are carefully flipped onto wire racks to cool.

Tara’s Tip #5: The cake must be completely cooled before adding frosting.

Otherwise the frosting can melt and slide off.

We waited at least 15 minutes.

Tara says that some people choose to cool their cakes in the fridge, and this is fine, but not necessary. It doesn’t really matter if the cakes are cool or at room temperature, so long as they’re cooled completely before adding frosting.

Tara’s Tip #6: If going for a perfect presentation, double the frosting recipe.

You will need more frosting for piping and doing other fancy things, and you don’t want to run out half way through. In our case though, we were just slapping the frosting on and calling it a day.

This frosting recipe requires melting the butter – Tara explained this is not typical, but it’s nice, because you don’t have to wait for the butter to come to room temperature.

After melting the butter, the cocoa is stirred in. Lumps in the cocoa powder matter more for the frosting than with the cake batter, and so it should be sifted if necessary.

Photo credit: Alan Nudi

Then, powdered sugar and milk are added alternatively.

Tara used heavy cream here, which she prefers if it’s on hand. When substituting heavy cream for milk, she mentions you might need a little bit more than the recipe calls for.

Frosting usually requires more mixing than you thought.

Photo credit: Alan Nudi
Photo credit: Alan Nudi

Finally, with the cakes sufficiently cooled, Tara spread on the frosting and stacked the cake layers.

Photo credit: Alan Nudi
Photo credit: Alan Nudi
Photo credit: Alan Nudi
Photo credit: Alan Nudi

Be careful going around the corners.

Photo credit: Alan Nudi

Of course, sprinkles! 

Photo credit: Alan Nudi

And we have perfectly chocolate cake.

Photo credit: Alan Nudi

Tara’s Tips Recap:

  • Baking is a science. It’s not an exact science.
  • Eggs should be room temperature.
  • Flour must be scooped into the measuring cup, then leveled off.
  • A toothpick inserted should come out not completely clean, but with a couple of flakes on it.
  • The cake must be completely cooled before adding frosting.
  • If going for a perfect presentation, double the frosting.