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Jan 26, 2014 12:47 PM

Question about Hershey's Black Magic Chocolate cake recipe

This may be one of the more obtuse questions ever asked on here, but please cut me some slack and I'm not a great baker and I know that being exact counts for a lot. This weekend I made the famous Hershey's Black Magic Chocolate cake. The good news is, the texture was terrific -- really moist, nice crumb. The bad news is, it wasn't very chocolatey. I'm not even a death by chocolate dessert kind of gal, but the flavor was a little flat (and I didn't even use Hershey's cocoa, I used Ghiardelli.) My question is, would the chocolate taste intensify a bit if I used more cocoa next time? It calls for 3/4 cup, I was thinking of using a cup. But then I wonder what that does for the texture? Any thoughts or ideas would be greatly appreciated!

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  1. Can you please post the recipe? It'll be easy for me to analyse with it in front of me.

    However, if the flavour was flat, that's typically because of the quality of the chocolate/cocoa used. In that case, more will just exacerbate the flat flavour. Ghirardelli in my opinion isn't bad, but it's quite easy to do better with, e.g. Michel Cluizel (my standard cocoa).

    That said, cocoa powder always yields a flatter, "thinner" flavour to cakes; I would go so far as to say that a distinction should be made between a *chocolate* cake and a *cocoa* cake; the flavour is that different. The classic cocoa cake is Devil's food, although of course there are plenty of others.

    A true chocolate cake should use chocolate instead of cocoa as the main flavour ingredient; it'll lend a depth of flavour you won't get out of cocoa. In addition, your options for quality open up radically. Only a tiny few quality chocolate producers actually make cocoa (Cluizel is an outstanding example); virtually all the cocoa powder you can buy is cheap bulk stuff. But there are many, many quality chocolate manufacturers.

    Back to what increasing the cocoa proportion will do: as you increase the proportion it will make a cake drier and crumblier; with a tendency to break apart into crumbs. You do get more chocolate impact but unless you increase the amount of sugar the effect is usually rather austere; often partly due to the lower quality of cacao generally represented in cocoa powder.

    Using chocolate instead of cocoa meanwhile will require radically retuning the recipe, because it adds all that cocoa butter, which will create a much denser, heavier texture unless you compensate, generally with more eggs. It also reduces the cake's elasticity, making it more fragile and crumbly, rather like cornbread. Unless you're using unsweetened chocolate - which, ironically, reduces your scope for quality generally back down to what it was for cocoa - you'll need to reduce the sugar too, in rationometric proportion, unless using brown sugar, in which case fine adjustments will be called for.

    4 Replies
    1. re: AlexRast

      The recipe is here
      I've made it many times, it seems chocolatey to me. I do make sure I use very strong coffee, that seems to make the chocolate stand out. Last time I used Hershey's "Select Dark" cocoa. This is a popular cake that's been around for a long time.

      1. re: BangorDin

        OK, so this is a high-sugar, low-egg formulation with milk and oil which will produce a fairly high-density cake with a tender crumb. It's using an acid liquid (the sour milk/buttermilk) to create a reaction with the baking soda for leavening, fairly standard practice. The milk will reduce the impact of the cocoa (think about what milk will do to a chocolate bar) and make it milder. I'll note that from my experience sour milk tends to promote a better flavour than buttermilk. Because of the ratios the increase in dryness from additional cocoa would not be severe but it will make it noticeably crumblier.

        Coffee is often used as a "flavour enhancer", to enhance the illusion of greater chocolate flavour. Actually all it does is enhance a dark, "roasty" flavour; if anything it masks the chocolate flavour so what you have is a "mocha cake" rather than a chocolate cake. A lot of people associate a dark, roasty flavour with chocolate because many chocolate manufacturers roast dark to minimise flavour defects in bulk cacao. That's not to say, by the way, that a dark roast is necessarily a poor choice with chocolate, e.g. Pralus does great things with the darkest roast in the industry.

        Hershey's "Special Dark" cocoa - which I think is what you're referring to, given that it's one of 2 mentioned on the Hershey's site, is a partially Dutched (processed with potassium carbonate) cocoa. Dutching reduces the intensity of flavour but also reduces bitterness and tannins, leading to a flavour that's usually milder but less harsh, with ordinary beans. Paradoxically, although the flavour is milder, the colour is much darker (in extreme cases, almost completely black) which lends the illusion that the flavour intensity is greater. "Natural-process" cocoa is much redder and lighter in colour but has stronger flavour. Ghirardelli is a natural-process cocoa. So is Hershey's "regular" cocoa.

        By the way, don't confuse intensity with bitterness in cocoa or chocolate - the two are not necessarily correlated. A high-quality bean may have almost no bitterness whatsoever yet great intensity of flavour, while low-grade beans often have a lot of bitterness but little flavour.

      2. re: AlexRast

        Though I agree with most of what AlexRast said above, I have added a small amount of melted chocolate to this recipe to bump up the chocolate flavor with no negative impact on the texture (and no need for a massive rework of the recipe). An ounce or so of very dark or unsweetened chocolate (melted, cooled slightly and added to the liquid ingredients) really enhances the flavor.

        In addition, blooming the cocoa powder in some of the liquid will greatly improve the chocolate flavor in the finished product (IMO). When I make this cake, I stir the cocoa into the hot coffee and allow it to sit while I prepare/measure the remaining ingredients. I then add the cocoa and coffee mixture to the other liquids and proceed with the recipe.

        1. re: biondanonima

          Yes, I was referring to a total substitution of chocolate for cocoa powder. Simply adding a bit of chocolate to the same recipe won't cause any noticeable impact, if the amount is quite small. Large additions would be another matter. If you added, e.g. 100g, the effects would start to become apparent.

      3. This is a different recipe, but for my jelly roll cake, if I am to add cocoa, the recipe advises that I reduce the flour by that amount. So, if you increase the cocoa by 1/4 cup, reduce the flour by 1/4 cup.

        There are delightful chocolate desserts that don't use any wheat flour at all, so I don't think the flour is *that* important for the matrix.

        1. Try this epicurious recipe. It's similar but more chocolatey. Also make sure to use coffee, not water.

          If you decide to go w/ more cocoa, reduce the flour but slightly less.

          4 Replies
          1. re: chowser

            I do want to re-emphasise that coffee doesn't make a cake any more chocolatey, quite the reverse; its effect is rather to mask flavour off-notes in poor-quality chocolate and increase the "roasty" flavour. I'd classify both recipes as "mocha" cakes, which is a fine idea, it should be noted.

            But equally it would be quite possible to use either the epicurious or Hershey's recipe to make a cracking plain chocolate cake by using a really top-quality chocolate and cocoa, so to my mind at least, the advice to use coffee, not water, isn't necessary unless the intent from the outset is to have a mocha flavour. A possible real enhancement in chocolatey flavour, though, might be achieved by steeping cacao nibs in hot water or brewing them like ordinary coffee (don't try this, though in a coffee machine of any type! Use a cafetière)

            1. re: AlexRast

              There is no coffee taste/mocha in either cake any more than there is a salt taste to cakes when you add salt. Both enhance the flavor. From King Arthur:


              1. re: chowser

                Possibly different levels of taste sensitivity; I notice coffee and vanilla whenever they're present (and yes, I notice salt too; it's quite easy to spot). Still, I'll remain firm on the point that coffee doesn't enhance the chocolate flavour *as such*, a bit like vanilla doesn't either.

                Adding coffee may give a flavour with a greater intensity of the characteristic that many people *expect* chocolate to taste like, if what they've been exposed to is mostly dark-roasted-style chocolate, but you're tasting the roast there, more than anything else. The additional flavour will remain a prevailingly coffee note.

                I think it might be an interesting experiment to give people 2 unlabelled brown bars, one a chocolate bar, the other a bar made with ultrafine-ground coffee mixed in with cocoa butter. I wonder what the responses would be like?

                1. re: AlexRast

                  Some people think vanilla enhances their chocolate experience, others think it doesn't pair well with chocolate.

                  Didn't Elizabeth David say that vanilla shouldn't exist?

                  I think that coffee, salt, and vanilla all taste good when combined with chocolate.

                  I have noticed that many UK dessert recipes do not include any salt at all. On the US side, in the last several years EXTRA salt has been included in/on many desserts.

                  Just random thoughts.

          2. Funny, I just made it for the first time last night because I was craving chocolate cake and I had the ingredients in the house. It was so simple and easy. I think it's plenty chocolate-y; I made it in two 9-inch layers and filled and frosted with a simple butter-powdered sugar-cocoa-cream icing (again, what I had on hand). I did use Penzey's Dutch-process cocoa and a little extra salt. Don't know if that made a difference. Next time I may take the advice of blooming the cocoa and adding some melted chocolate.