As a ratio baker, I use weights and ratios to bake, so you’ll find weights listed for most of the ingredients instead of cups. It’s preferable to look at this as more of a how-to guide.
When I was a kid, my mom was the baker in the family (but she taught me everything I know and then allowed me free use of her kitchen, as long as I cleaned up after myself). One day she decided to make a chocolate cake. But not just any chocolate cake. It also had chocolate frosting and chocolate in a third place I don’t remember. There was so much chocolate and it was so sweet that we couldn’t actually eat it. It looked pretty, though.
Once in a while, we would all tease each other about that chocolate cake. It was a joke we always brought up whenever someone mentioned chocolate cake. Sometimes I wish I knew what the recipe was, but odds are my mom has forgotten by now. But, whenever I think of chocolate cake, I think of that one.
Now, with Valentine’s Day coming up, my mind is stuck in the chocolate gutter. Of course, I love Valentine’s Day for more than the chocolate, but, seriously, chocolate. Chocolate. Anyways, I was asking my daughter a few weeks ago if we should make chocolate chocolate chip cookies or chocolate cake.
My little girl is 3, but already a chocolate lover. I’m definitely doing something right (though her dentist probably disagrees, but…chocolate). She was very adamant about the chocolate cake. Once it was stuck in her head, it was stuck. She can be stubborn like that. Chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. Definitely not the triple chocolate cake my mom made, but still delicious.
My little girl also has a very short attention span, so I opted to keep the cake as simple as possible so it could be made as quickly as possible. From start to finish, this only took 2 hours. The problem was making her wait until after she’d had lunch to have a slice of cake. Telling her the frosting needed to set only worked for so long…
How to Make a Simple Chocolate Cake…
There are a lot of different kinds of cake, but my favorite is the High Ratio Cake. These are more in line with the kind of cakes you’re likely to find in a bakery, though the ratio still leaves something lacking since it tends towards dry. The ratio for this kind of cake is 2:2:1:1:1 (2 parts flour to 2 parts sugar to 1 part fat to 1 part egg to 1 part liquid). I promise, it’s much simpler than it actually looks.
Start with the eggs. Seriously. It’s easier. Two large eggs weigh about the same as 1 stick of butter, so 1 large egg weighs about the same as half of a stick of butter. Here, I used 2 large eggs.
The fat (I used butter) should weigh about the same as the eggs. So, if you’re using 2 eggs, you’ll need 1 stick of butter (about 113 grams). It doesn’t have to be exact; just close enough.
Next, it’s easiest to work with the liquid since it should weigh about the same as the eggs (meaning it’ll also weigh about the same as he fat). Many cakes use milk and buttermilk, but hot water also works well, especially with chocolate cake.
Move on to the flour and cocoa powder. The flour should weigh twice as much as the eggs (or fat or liquid; just pick one). So, if you’re using 113 grams of butter, you’ll need a combined weight of flour and cocoa powder to equal 226 grams. The ratio of flour and cocoa powder is really up to you, but, the more cocoa powder, the more bitter it’ll be. I prefer 40-50 grams of cocoa powder.
Lastly, the sugar should weigh about the same as the flour + cocoa powder. Or about 226 grams if you’re using 113 grams of butter.
Easy, but a bit time consuming at first. Once you have everything measured out, though, the rest is basically just dump and mix, dump and mix.
Cream the butter and sugar until pale yellow and fluffy. Then add the eggs and some vanilla extract. Mix in the flour + cocoa powder and add in a bit of baking powder and/or baking soda and a bit of salt. Lastly, carefully pour in the liquid. The batter should be like a thick soup, neither too thick nor thin at all.
…With Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Buttercream frosting is insanely easy. I’ve used recipes, but they’ve always been either too heavy on the butter or the powdered sugar. Fortunately, buttercream frosting also has a ratio! I’ve only used it a few times, but it’s always turned out a perfectly balanced buttercream.
The ratio is 2:1 (2 parts powdered sugar to 1 part butter). In other words, the powdered sugar should weigh about twice as much as the butter. In this case, since we’re making chocolate buttercream, some of the powdered sugar should be replaced by some cocoa powder. How much depends on the sweetness and chocolate level you’re looking for. I preferred a lighter chocolate flavor, so only used about 20-30 grams of cocoa powder.
First, cream the butter all by itself. Be patient. Wait until it’s light and fluffy. Then slowly add the powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Mix well, stopping periodically to scrape down the sides and to add some vanilla extract, or any kind of flavoring you’d like, and a bit of milk or water. Mix until it appears uniform and has the right taste and feel you’re looking for.
Note: Since this cake needs to be refrigerated because of the buttercream frosting, it might be a little dry. To help keep the moistness, consider liberally brushing the cakes with a simple syrup of equal parts sugar and water.
For an 8-inch 2-layer cake:
- 45 grams cocoa powder
- 181 grams flour
- 226 grams granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 stick of butter
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 113 grams hot water
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees and prepare two baking pans with parchment paper greased liberally, or greased and with a dusting of cocoa powder.
- Weigh the flour + cocoa powder, sugar, and water.
- Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Then add the eggs and vanilla extract and mix well.
- To the flour and cocoa powder mixture, add the baking soda, baking powder, and salt and mix. Then add this mixture to the butter and sugar mixture. Mix well until combined.
- Add the hot water and mix until the water is fully mixed in.
- Divide the batter between the pans. To fill the pans completely, lightly drop them on a hard surface a couple of times and give them a good spin. If using parchment paper, trying to spread it out will likely move the paper around too much.
- Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Let cool in pans about 10 minutes and then turn out onto cooling racks to finish cooling.
- 2 sticks of butter, softened
- 452 grams powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract (or other flavoring)
- 1-2 tbsp milk
- Cream the butter until light and fluffy. This is fastest when using a mixer set to high.
- Gradually add the powdered sugar, scraping bowl often.
- Add the vanilla extract and mix well.
- Add the milk a tablespoon at a time as needed.
- Taste and adjust as necessary. It should not be too stiff and be just soft enough to spread on the cakes.
- Optional: Level both cakes. I prefer to simply invert the top layer so it’s bottom up since I can’t cut anything straight. It just results in a little less frosting right in the middle.
- Place the bottom layer on a flat surface (i.e. a serving plate, cake carrier, etc.) and spread about a third of the frosting on it. Or more if you prefer a thicker filling and less frosting on the sides and top.
- Place the second layer on top.
- Frost the top and sides with the remaining frosting.
- Refrigerate until the frosting is set.