When I make chocolate cake, I almost always make the same one. My go-to recipe is moist, rich, and delicate, pretty much all that a chocolate cake should be. But recently I had a chocolate cake that made me realize that sure, tender delicacy is great — but there's something to be said for a cake of some heft. A cake with a crumb that is moist but a bit sturdier, all the better to support the chunks of chocolate within. And the booze. Did I mention the booze? It's a thing of beauty, though you may not be able to tell from these last-minute cellphone pics (again: the booze).
I first had this cake at a birthday party for my friend Leela (who, of course, made it herself). It's a rich, solid chocolate cake, with the unmistakable-but-not-overpowering whiff of whiskey, studded with chocolate chunks and generously filled and topped with a bittersweet mascarpone frosting. The original recipe was served with a simple dusting of powdered sugar, but it makes for a surprisingly good layer cake. And so when I had the opportunity to bake a cake for a joint birthday party for two lovely ladies, I knew the two-for-one bang of chocolate and booze would be the perfect choice for a double festivity.
I'll probably return to my beloved standard chocolate cake for the next party, with its more traditional sweet and glossy buttercream frosting. But sometimes it's nice to mix it up a bit. Especially on birthdays. Because if there's anything we learn as time marches on, it's that things do change. Often deliciously.
Spiced Chocolate Whiskey Cake
cake adapted from Bottega Restaurant, as told to The New York Times, frosting adapted from Leela Cyd
yields one birthday cake
1 1/2 sticks butter (12 tablespoons), cut into pats
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (85 grams), plus additional for dusting cake pans
1 1/2 cups brewed strong coffee
1/2 cup whiskey
1 cup granulated sugar (200 grams)
1 cup light brown sugar (156 grams)
2 cups flour (240 grams)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup sour cream (optional)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chopped chocolate
8 ounces mascarpone
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1/2 cup sifted cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
hefty pinch salt
squirt corn syrup (optional, to keep it glossy)
1/2 cup cream
1/4—1/2 cup milk, as needed
Preheat your oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease to 9-inch cake pans, and dust them with cocoa powder.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Turn off the heat, and add the cocoa powder, coffee, and whiskey, and stir until dissolved. Add the sugars, and cool completely (seriously make sure it's cool, lest you later cook your eggs/melt your chocolate).
In a large bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, pepper and cloves. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sour cream (if using), and vanilla. Add the chocolate mixture, whisking to combine. Add the dry ingredients, whisk until just combined, then fold in the chocolate chunks.
Quickly pour the batter into your prepared pans, then bake until a tester comes out clean, ~20-25 minutes. Let cool.
To make the frosting, simply mix all of the frosting ingredients together until smooth, adding more milk or cocoa powder as needed for consistency. Turn out the cooled cake and frost, then serve with candles and sprinkles and all sorts of festivities.