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The Best Chocolate Birthday cake?

One of my best friends turns 40 next week. He's asked for the most decadent chocolate cake ever, with the stipulation that it be a "regular" cake, not a flourless one, and that it also have chocolate frosting.

He's not a fancy guy, but he loves food, and I would really like to make him something spectacular for his birthday. I'm a pretty experienced baker, so something that involves multiple steps is fine, but at the same time, I know that candied orange and that sort of thing is wasted on this occasion.

What's your absolute best birthday cake?

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  1. I've made this -- and posted about it before. It is a wonderful, very chocolatey, classic chocolate cake. Nothing fancy, but delicious. If you make it and don't have 10" pans, make sure you don't cook it all in two 9" pans -- they will overflow!


    17 Replies
    1. re: roxlet

      Agreed that this recipe is a winner. Moist and delicious! You can make it with a ganache as indicated or with a buttercream frosting.

      1. re: BigSal

        Chant: DO IT!... DO IT!.... DO IT! ...That EPICURIOUS Double Chocolate Layer cake is killer good! My son gripped my arm and moaned when he first tried it! The reviews are pretty stellar also. It.is.beyond.compare.

        1. re: Val

          My son gripped my arm and moaned when he first tried it!
          Now that's an endorsement I can get behind!

      2. re: roxlet

        Since reading this thread, I have made this cake more than a dozen times. Everyone always loves it, young and old, even the cranky ones melt.

        Val is right, you need to use big enough or several pans. It really is a huge cake so I have stopped baking one batch as one cake. I now split the batter into three and bake two thinner layers in 10" pans, then split the last third of the batter to bake two smaller layers for us to have another day.

        And yeah, you also need a really big mixing bowl. I use a giant salad bowl.

        Other things to know about this cake; I have made a double batch and the batter sits well while first two layers are baking. I have also done these as cupcakes then dipped them in ganache. Stunning. I have also frozen this cake, unfrosted, and it was perfect just left to thaw at room temp then frost before serving. I have also frozen a filled one (whipped cream & raspberries), just for a day (Christmas day, fridge was full). Again, worked fine and turned out perfect. Another time, I left one layer in the oven too long and it shrank from the edges but was still pretty good, it's pretty sturdy! Edges were a bit crispy, like cookies but cake wasn't hard or rubbery from over cooking. It was left in the oven waaay too long, like an extra 40 mins. I fell asleep!

        If you are impatient for the frosting to set to the right consistency, this cake is beautiful served naked with a chocolate sauce (just single cream and more callebaut is nice) to pour over, and /or with whipped cream and berries or cherries. lovely.

        Such a great cake.
        roxlet, thank you so much for introducing me to this cake!

        1. re: hillsbilly

          I'm just catching up with this thread, but you're welcome. Try it with the flour frosting, and you will have a fabulous and sophisticated version of the perfect devil dog. As Val said, people moan when they eat it:
          Flour Frosting

          1/4 cup flour
          1 cup sugar
          1 cup milk (or coconut milk for coconut cake)
          1 cup butter cut in cubes (My butter was cool and firm, but I could still leave an indent when I pressed my finger into it)
          1 tsp vanilla
          pinch of salt

          1. In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the sugar, flour, salt together. Add the milk and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally (I had to whisk constantly or else it started to stick and clump at the bottom) until the mixture has thickened into a paste and slightly bubbly at edges (You probably don't want it boiling because we all know how boiled milk tastes..)

          2. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until cool. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter; beat until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy. If the frosting is too soft, transfer the bowl to the refrigerator to chill slightly: then beat again until it is the proper consistency.

          3. Add the vanilla and continue mixing until combined.

          1. re: roxlet

            Roxlet, have you ever tried beating the butter first, setting it aside, beating the flour mixture, and then incorporating the butter? I find that this makes it easier to incorporate the butter, and makes a lighter frosting. I do this when I make buttercream.

            1. re: souschef

              No, I've never tried that, souschef. I've been very happy with the result, but I'm always glad to try a new method.

              1. re: roxlet

                That does make sense. PS my French friends who are coming to visit this holiday season (bearing beaucoup de chocolat, I hope) said they were still dreaming of the choc cake I made for a Midwestern US dinner we had for them...the Hershey's cocoa can one with vanilla flour frosting. ;-)

                1. re: buttertart

                  I entered that cake last month in our State Fair (just the cake with a basic peanut butter frosting - cuz I love peanut butter). It took a second and came back with the comment that it was too bitter. I followed the recipe to a T - no deviations in percentage of chocolate like I frequently do and no fancy cocoa powder. We adore this cake at home, but the local tastes around here don't go for anything but oversugared sweet chocolate. I had the same problem at the Fair with chocolate ganache tarts. The recipe that I started from insisted you had to use at least 70% chocolate. Again, the comment came back, "Too bitter." Once again, we loved it at home.

                  So I can understand how Europeans would love this cake. And well they should. It's awesome. Still, I guess it doesn't appeal to some regional tastes.

                  1. re: rockycat

                    It's funny but, tasting straight chocolate, I find Lindt's 70% too bitter, but Felchlin's Bolivia 68% just right. I wonder if that 2% difference is so significant or if it's a question of brand.

                    1. re: rockycat

                      They found Hershey's Deep, Dark to be "too bitter?" Holy smokes...that's just wrong.

                      1. re: kattyeyes

                        Quite, k-e. But like my one freiend, some people don't like chocolate too chocolaty.

                        1. re: buttertart

                          Let them eat red velvet cake, then! ;P

                        2. re: kattyeyes

                          I either used KA's natural cocoa powder or Ghirardelli's off the supermarket shelf, whichever container I was trying to finish up at the moment. Either way, there was nothing unusual about it. And the chocolate was TJ's semisweet, which I've always assumed was Callebaut's anyway.

                          Like you said, kattyeyes, the reaction was just plain wrong.

            2. re: roxlet

              I just made this cake for my daughter's birthday. Wow! I have found my new, go-to chocolate layer cake. I made it in 2 9-inch pans and made six cupcakes with the additional batter. Next time I use 9-inch pans I'll make 12 cupcakes instead of 6 as the layers were a bit thicker than I would have liked. Still, the cake was totally amazing. Easy to make, too.
              I didn't use the ganache frosting. Instead I filled the layers with a peanut butter filling (at the birthday girl's request) and frosted with a real buttercream. The only person who didn't fall head-over-heels over the cake was one dad who thought I should have soaked the cake in rum syrup and left out the peanut butter. Still, his other suggestion of a ginger buttercream wasn't a bad one, and I might do it one day.
              This cake is a real keeper.

              1. re: roxlet

                I'll be making this next week for my son's birthday celebration. It would not be his birthday without it!

              2. I swear by the chocolate stout cake on Epicurious. It's rich and moist and people rave about it. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                1. This is the only chocolate cake that I make any more. It has great chocolate flavour and is so moist. It's from the Cafe Beaujolais cookbook

                  Amazon Chocolate Cake
                  3 c flour
                  2/3 c unsweetened cocoa
                  2 t b soda
                  2 c sugar
                  1 t salt
                  2 c cold water
                  1/2 c + 2 T corn oil
                  1 T vanilla
                  2 T white vinegar or strained lemon juice
                  Combine dry ingredients and sift into a large bowl.
                  Combine wet ingredients in another bowl and whisk into dry ingredients.
                  Pour the batter through a strainer pushing everything through with a spatula.
                  Stir again and pour into pans. Drop pans onto the counter (or tap them) to get rid of the air bubbles.
                  This will make a 9x13 or 2 9 inch rounds.
                  Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes. A 9x13 will take a little longer.

                  Sorry, can't help you with the frosting, I always go for a mocha buttercream.
                  I hope you try this cake, even if not for your friends birthday. It really is the classic chocolate cake that I grew up with, only tastier!

                  22 Replies
                  1. re: cheesymama

                    i'm intrigued by this recipe. i tried another amazon cake recipe once and wasn't that impressed, but i'm wooed by the ease of it.
                    since the recipe has b soda and lemon juice, i am assuming you can only use regular, not dutched cocoa in this recipe.
                    what kind of cocoa did you use?
                    also, have you made the cake from the back of the hershey's tin? is the amazon cake better than that one? They seem fairly similar and easy, but that one is even easier. I would make this one, though, if it were markedly better.

                    1. re: missmasala

                      I've used Dutch-process cocoa to make Amazon/wacky/crazy cake, and it works just fine. I have never strained the batter, though. Doesn't seem necessary if your cocoa isn't lumpy (I sift to be sure). Isn't the Hershey's cake made with milk and eggs? I

                      1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                        yes, it's one cup milk and one cup water. but i was thinking of their similarities in that they are both 'one bowl" cakes that don't require a mixer etc. tho the straining in the amazon recipe would use a couple of extra kitchen implements--hence my question about whether it was better than the hershey's. i don't want to have more to wash unless i'm getting a better product.

                        1. re: missmasala

                          Yup, both simple oil cakes. I like the Hershey's version that is made with buttermilk and coffee instead of milk and water (that one's called Black Magic). But as I said, I've never strained the batter for the Amazon cake (I haven't used the Cafe Beaujolais Cookbook, but this is a very common recipe), and I just don't see it as necessary. I don't think it's better than the Hershey's version, but it is the ultimate pantry cake, since it doesn't require any fresh ingredients.

                          1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                            Agree about the Hershey's cocoa cake from the box being the best chocolate cake. I haven't even done the coffee and buttermilk version, I just do the one with the boiling water, and it is still the best chocolate cake. I also use the frosting recipe from the Hershey's cocoa can.

                            1. re: sunflwrsdh

                              It's one of my favs and I sub half the water in that recipe for strong hot coffee.

                              The Black Magic Cake with buttermilk and coffee, and the Perfectly Chocolate Cake are very similar cakes, ingredient wise, with a small flavoring change and leavening adjusts made for the addition of buttermilk.

                              Yes, the icing is good, too.

                              1. re: bushwickgirl

                                Finally made the Hershey's Black Magic cake today rather than the Hershey's Deep, Dark I usually make. Not eating them side by side, they sure taste the same, and are both ultra dark and super moist. Still, I was glad to try this variation, especially since I had extra buttermilk on hand. I used a special dark cocoa rather than Hershey's and frosted with bourbon salted caramel frosting.

                                1. re: kattyeyes

                                  Hi Katty! I found the recipe or the Black Magic Cake (http://www.hersheys.com/recipes/recip...) but can you point me to your frosting recipe? That sounds divine! Thanks!

                                  1. re: Tehama

                                    Hello, fellow cat Tehama!

                                    It's on my blog, but I'm happy to share with you here. Enjoy!

                                    BOURBON SALTED CARAMEL FROSTING

                                    First, make the salted caramel. In a small saucepan, over medium-high heat, whisk together:

                                    1 tablespoon light brown sugar
                                    1 tablespoon heavy cream
                                    1 tablespoon butter
                                    good pinch of salt

                                    Continue to whisk till sugar dissolves, then cook for one more minute. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

                                    Meanwhile, get the rest of the frosting together.

                                    3 oz. cream cheese (I got away with Neufchâtel, so can you), softened
                                    4 tablespoons butter, softened
                                    ½ teaspoon vanilla
                                    2 tablespoons bourbon
                                    1 ½ cups powdered sugar

                                    Cream together butter, cream cheese, bourbon and vanilla. Gradually blend in powdered sugar. Then blend in salted caramel.

                                    This recipe makes enough to frost a 9 x 13 cake.

                                    1. re: kattyeyes

                                      Wow! I have to agree with Tehama: that looks divine. Thanks for sharing your recipe.

                                      1. re: kattyeyes

                                        A Big MEOW! of thanks to you! Holy smokes - that looks amazing! I am going out of town this weekend, but if I'm going to try and pack up some ingredients and take over my friend's kitchen just to try this. If not -- I'm definitely making it as soon as possible. Thank you so much! My mouth is watering!

                                        1. re: Tehama

                                          >>^..^<< My pleasure. Hope you love it!

                                          1. re: kattyeyes

                                            cccuuuutteeeee! (I'm saving that, too!)

                                        2. re: kattyeyes

                                          This sounds so good I'm going to use it for a cake next weekend. Maybe the Epicurious chocolate layer cake, which is essentially the Hershey black magic cake w/ added chocolate.

                                          1. re: kattyeyes

                                            Hi KattyEyes! This week has been a beast and I am just getting a chance to drop you a note and a big shout-out for the recipe for the bourbon salted caramel frosting! I did take over my friend's kitchen last weekend and it was completely awesome! I made it with the Hershey's Black Magic Cake and I'm rather embarrassed as to how much cake we ate. Your frosting absolutely made it - and the cake was luscious, too. THANK YOU!

                                            1. re: Tehama

                                              Hey, Tehama! So happy to hear your feedback! I can claim similar embarrassment as to how much cake I ate when I made it, too. You are most welcome--thanks for brightening my day! :)

                                            2. re: kattyeyes

                                              I have a chocolate apple cake that wound up in freezer. This frosting is going on it next week! Sounds fabulous.

                                              1. re: cheesymama

                                                Ooh, chocolate APPLE cake...I'd like to know more about that when you have a sec, please!

                                                1. re: kattyeyes

                                                  I cut this recipe out of the local paper years ago. It is so much better the day after you bake it. One time I just couldn't wait and cut into the same day, I was so disappointed with the results, fortunately the rest of the cake was fabulous the next day.

                                                  Chocolate Apple Cake

                                                  1 1/2 c ap flour
                                                  1/2 c cocoa powder
                                                  1 1/2 tsp baking powder
                                                  1/2 tsp baking soda
                                                  1/2 tsp salt
                                                  1/2 c butter, melted
                                                  1/2 c buttermilk
                                                  1 1/4 c sugar
                                                  2 eggs
                                                  1 tbsp vanilla
                                                  1/2 c semisweet chocolate chips
                                                  2 c peeled, coarsely chopped tart apples, about 2

                                                  Sift flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl.
                                                  In a medium bowl, whisk together butter, buttermilk and sugar until smooth. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Pour over flour mixture and stir until thoroughly combined. Stir in chocolate and apples.
                                                  Pour into a greased 8 inch square pan. Bake at 350F for 50-55 minutes.


                                                  1. re: cheesymama

                                                    Another recipe to try when I buy buttermilk again, while we're still in apple season. Thanks! :)

                                                    1. re: cheesymama

                                                      You know I haven't seen this recipe since the middle '70s, it was a Bay Area friend's specialty. Darn good too.

                                2. re: missmasala

                                  I use Fry's, which I believe is dutch processed. I haven't made the one on the Hershey's tin. As for cleaning the strainer, I use it first to sift the dry ingredients and then to strain the batter. I do find that there are a few small clumps in the batter even though all the dry ingredients are sifted first. I think the results of this recipe justify the extra minute required to wash the strainer.
                                  I hope you try this recipe, it really does result in a moist cake. BTW, I keep meaning to sub in coffee (room temp or cold) for the water in this recipe.

                              2. This triple chocolate celebration cake from epicurious.com.


                                I can't tell you how many chocolate cakes I've made and still make but if I'm looking for a special cake, this is the one I make.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: chowser

                                  chowser, that IS very beautiful...but for someone who may not be able to buy those pricey transfers and deal with the intricacies of that recipe, it might be a little out of reach...not to denegrate the capabilities of OP lulubelle--she may be totally up to the challenge and I HAVE had this cake twice in my office...it is a wonder to behold (but I love the Epicurious Double Chocolate Layer Cake flavor MORE, so there!)

                                  1. re: Val

                                    I actually love that kind of challenge, however I live in a place where the transfers are not available, and shipping is not really an option. (It might be fun to try it sometime though, maybe I'll pick up the transfers when I am in the States this summer.)

                                    1. re: lulubelle

                                      I have never sprung for transfer paper. As I said to Val, you can use floral paper (the clear plastic that wraps around flowers when you buy them professionally). And, you could also use a transparency. You don't get that pretty design on the outside but it's still pretty.

                                    2. re: Val

                                      Lulubelle said she's an experienced baker so I suggested it. I've never felt the need to post easier recipes here on this board because I thought a recipe was too difficult, and hope others don't, either. I thought the double chocolate layer cake was okay but like the richness the egg yolks and sour cream add to this recipe. It is a much denser cake than the double chocolate layer cake and that's a matter of preference.

                                      You can use floral paper, instead of the cake transfer. I ask for it at Safeway and they usually give it to me for free. And, I've not left off that part altogether and just frosting the whole cake w/ the chocolate ganache. I rarely follow recipes/instructions to the T, but think of them as guidelines. I've used the chocolate mousse w/ this recipe w/ other desserts, used a nutella mousse w/ this one, etc.

                                  2. Oh my gosh, so many fabulous looking cakes! Thank you to all who responded. I am making the cake for a party on Thursday, so i will let you know which one I ended up with.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: lulubelle

                                      Just to make things more difficult (or better!), I recommend you look at this recent-ish thread, "Please share your favorite chocolate cake recipe": http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/688001

                                    2. I make the hersheys recipe ALOT, just made it last week in cupcakes for a 40th and made a double batch of it into mini cupcakes for a communion (150 mini cupcakes!)

                                      it's a great recipe, loved by everyone who eats it. the one thing i change and it's been a HUGE improvement is i use the dutch process high-fat cocoa powder from Penzey's spices. I am lucky to have a penzeys store fairly close by but you could order it from them if you don't.

                                      1. I ended up making components from three of the recommended cakes and combining them. I made the Black Magic cake, mostly because it was the smallest of the cakes. The dinner party was for 10, and as much as I wanted to make that Celebration Cake, it serves 30. Now, I'm not one to turn down leftover cake, but it seemed excessive. I did use really good cocoa from The Spice House, and the resulting cake was beautiful, although moist to the point of almost being wet.

                                        I split the layers and filled them with a 1/2 batch of the mousse from the celebration cake. I used a little Gale Gand trick and steeped a tablespoon of fresh ground coffee in the hot cream and then strained it out before adding it to the chocolate. I also added a couple of tablespoons of Kahlua, so that I ended up with a dark chocolate-mocha mousse. Then I frosted the whole thing with the ganache frosting from the double chocolate layer cake.

                                        WOW! That was a good cake! Thanks for all of the recommendations!

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: lulubelle

                                          Well, that's sounds very wonderful. Thanks for the Gale Gand trick tip, very nice for mousse, and probably a better flavor than instant espresso powder.

                                        2. I found this thread because I wanted to make a really good chocolate cake for my best friend's birthday last friday. I ended up making the Epicurious double chocolate layer cake Only thing I changes was I filled the cake with vanilla whipped cream and a layer of fresh raspberries so when you sliced it was very pretty.

                                          It was so amazingly good. Sigh. I can't describe.

                                          My bestfriend had come to my house for celebration dinner so I happily had a lot of cake leftover ( I packed her some to take home but she lives solo!). There are five of us so it was all gone by the end of the weekend. On Monday I made another one.

                                          It's not really a twice a week kinda cake but just this once...

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: hillsbilly

                                            Just this once? Well, it was grandma's 91st birthday and the French relatives were here so now we've had it three times this month...

                                            It really is a very good cake.

                                            [So weird, all this extra padding has just come from nowhere.]

                                          2. here's the recipe i always use:
                                            I increase the cocoa to 1 cup. And i sift the dry ingredients. It's really good, very simple to make, and (most importantly to me) the texture is moist and fluffy and awesome.
                                            I don't have a chocolate frosting recipe to go with it because I'm almost always covering it in white butter cream and fondant. But i know it would be great with a decadent chocolate frosting. Maybe even a fluffy chocolate and mascarpone frosting for something REALLY special?

                                            1. Hi everyone!

                                              I came to Chowhound today for this very same mission - to find the best chocolate birthday cake.

                                              Looks like the consensus is the Double Chocolate Layer Cake on Epicurious? It seems to use A LOT of chocolate (yes, I know I am looking for a chocolate cake recipe!). Is this really the best chocolate cake out there for a special occasion (birthday)?

                                              I also do not have 10" cake pans --- if I do make it, how should I make allowances for the 10" vs. 9" (what I believe I have - though they may be 8" ???)

                                              I'm glad for any more recommendations -- thank you guys so much!

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: Tehama

                                                I have made that Double Chocolate Layer Cake recipe what, now maybe 6 or 7 times? Floors people EVERY time...I also don't own 10" pans...you MUST use three 8" or 9" pans, do you hear me??? This is a GINORMOUS cake...a big-ass cake...it makes a TON of batter...that is all. Hope you enjoy it!

                                                1. re: Tehama

                                                  You can bake the double chocolate layer cake in three 9-inch pans instead of two 10-inch. If you only want a two-layer cake, you can freeze the third for later.

                                                  1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                    Ladies - thank you so much! Val.... you made me literally LOL! That was awesome.

                                                    The other Chow favorite seems to be the Stout cake on Epicurious --- you think, though, that this would be better for a birthday cake? BTW, I love to bake, but I am more of a pound cake / caramel cake / coconut cake / other "white-type" cake girl and can't remember the last time I made (or had anyone ask for) a chocolate cake. Thanks so much for your prompt feedback; I appreciate it mucho!

                                                2. I heard over the weekend about Betty Crocker cookbook having a very good chocolate cake that is impossible to mess up and is always perfect. It's made in the pan you bake it in but I can't find it in my BC cookbook. Anyone know what this recipe is?

                                                  1. This is the ultimate chocolate birthday cake, that I came up with years ago, when I had little girls having birthday parties:

                                                    oven, 350. line pans with greased and floured parchment paper. Two 9" rounds, 30-40 minutes. 13X9, 35-40 minutes.

                                                    Whisk together:
                                                    1-3/4 c. flour
                                                    2 t. baking soda
                                                    1 t. baking powder
                                                    1 t. salt
                                                    1/4 c. black cocoa (see King Arthur Flour catalog)
                                                    1/2 c. Hersheys cocoa
                                                    2 c. white sugar

                                                    Beat in 2 eggs, 1 c. buttermilk or soured milk, 1/2 c. vegetable oil, 1 t. vanilla, and 1 c. warm water. Bake as above.

                                                    1. I could kick myself for not taking pictures, but the Blackberry Red Wine Chocolate Cake I made yesterday turned out amazingly moist with an exploding chocolate boost and it was so very pretty. I topped with white-chocolate dipped strawberries, but otherwise it looked like the photo on the recipe's page. Really amazing flavor profile, and I'll definitely make again. I took it for a birthday party and it was completely devoured - the only thing I came home with was my cake plate.