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Wendy DeBord

Finding the Best Chocolate Cake Recipe (Part 1)

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kthull   

Ok, so my daughter just sprung this on me: she wants to bring cupcakes to school in 2 days for her birthday. Wendy, have you ever done this recipe as cupcakes? I have 36 in the oven as I type this and will start testing for doneness at 20 minutes (still hanging around the 275 mark as close as my oven will let me).

Alongside that is an 8x3 that will serve as a cake topper to my niece's communion cake for this weekend. Same question: have you baked cakes this deep with this recipe?

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KarenS   

Wendy, Sure, I'll try baking your recipe! I love new things to try. I have been searching for the "perfect" vanilla cake for years! :smile:

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KarenS   

I have a few comments. Technique is very important in making a cake. Letting the mixer run will create tunneling. After adding a hot liquid to a batter with baking soda, it must be put instantly in the oven (Wendy, the hot liquid is to activate your levening). How you add your dry and wet ingredients can toughen the cake. A too hot oven will make your cake dome. Average cocoa will make an average cake. Cheap vegetable oil will make a heavy cake. Low protein flour will make a more tender cake.

This is very similar to what we did in the "Baker's Dozen" group that I belong to. While the book was being made we would all take one recipe and bring in the results. ALL were different. (I can't remember how many differences we had in 1c of brown sugar- it was astounding).

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kthull   

As far as times went, cupcakes were done at 24 minutes. The 8x3 round went a full hour and a half. I'm guessing that one is a goner. :shock:

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Karen, I was planning on tackling white/vanila cake next. I've yet to find that "perfect" recipe (I've got one thats decent, but not perfect). It's alot more illlusive! I wanted to work out the bugs of how to do this testing and group consenses on line first, before we get into white-which will be alot more technical. Do want to lead/start that testing thread? I think your experience with the bakers dozen would be very valueable to everyone. I'd love to learn more about what you learned in that experience and I'm most curious how we can use that knowledge right now as we're testing? Any advice?

I still want to keep this thread on track. Has anyone else baked my base recipe and if so will you rank it 1-5? Please, only offer up a recipe after you've baked the base recipe and you KNOW that yours IS better. Common you guys we need to find "THE BEST", I'd love to find a recipe better then what I posted, if you've got it please anti-up?

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OK, I baked up Wendy's recipe yesterday morning. Actually, I baked two half batches as I wanted to test a different mixing method. Here are the notes:

First batch made following the recipe and directions as closely as possible:

- cocoa: Hershie's non-dutched

- butter: Plugra

- hot water instead of coffee

- measured using cups and spoons

- the finished batter was creamy, but liquid enough to pour

- used 1 8"x2" round aluminum pan, no spray or butter, just round of parchment on bottom

- baked at 300 F (though I lost my oven thermometer, so I can't verify, and this is the first thing I've baked in the unfamiliar oven in my new apartment)

- took 55 minutes to fully bake, so I think my oven runs a bit cool

- the cake actualy rose quite a bit (about 1/3 the height of batter) and was almost too much batter for the pan

- top was domed a bit and cracked, but leveled some as is cooled.

- let cool exactly 5 minutes before unmolding and wrapping in plastic

- when cool, I cut the cake in two and froze half

Second batch exactly the same as the first, but using mixing method similar to Rose Levy Berenbaum's in "The Cake Bible"

- mix cocoa with boiling water and let cool

- mix 1/4 cocoa mixture with eggs and vanilla

- put all dry ingredients in bowl of mixer and add butter, oil, and buttermilk

- mix for a couple minutes to develop structure

- add egg mixture

- This batter was a bit thicker than the first batch

- didn't rise and much in the oven and the finished cake texture was much more dense and fudgy

- greatly preferred first cake following recipe

- I baked a little bit of this batter in some silicone mini savarin molds that I was using previously to test chocolate cake recipes (I was looking for one that was moist and would hold the shape of the pan well). This recipe came out the prettier by far than the ones I tried before.

Tasting notes:

Very moist with soft, fine, but still open crumb. Lighter and "spongier" than fudgy. Good dark chocolate flavor and not too sweet (most likely even better with a higher grade of cocoa and a little bit of espresso powder). Far superior to any mix cake I've had. Tends to crumb a bit when cut, but would perform better frosted, I'm sure. Like I said, half of the cake was frozen overnight. After defrosting this morning I honestly could detect no difference in texture or flavor from the half that sat at room temp.

Overall I'd give this cake a 4.5, since I still think there might be room for improvement in the texture - I would like a cake with slightly more structure and less crumby.

I just baked up a test of my previous favorite recipe - the chocolate fudge cake from the "Cake Bible" - so when that cools I'll be able to say if this recipe is superior.


Edited by nightscotsman (log)

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lorea   

Hey Wendy....can you try out the cake I posted from the Cake Bible? see how it compares to the Woolley cake? It's posted above, and I also put it in RecipeGullet.

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The next several days will be pretty intense for me at work- Preparing for my second Mothers Day at the second club.....so I won't be able to test out the RLB recipe until later. Hopefully Neil will cover that.

Whats your opinion Lorea?

I know I'll get boo's and hisses.........but I've not warmed up to most of RLB'S recipes (WITH A FEW EXCEPTIONS!). I think she's a genious scientist, don't get me wrong-I wish I had her talents!.....but I only have 1 recipe from her I use regularly.

Also it's time for anyone who thinks that their opinion or skills aren't as good as some of us that make a living baking-STOP IT RIGHT NOW! We are all equals in this testing journey, we all have valuable opinions and insights! Some of the best baking recipes aren't published in professional pastry books and I've tasted some lousy pastries from people that called themselves professionals.

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Tepee   

I know I'll get boo's and hisses.........but I've not warmed up to most of RLB'S recipes (WITH A FEW EXCEPTIONS!). I think she's a genious scientist, don't get me wrong-I wish I had her talents!.....but I only have 1 recipe from her I use regularly.

Also it's time for anyone who thinks that their opinion or skills aren't as good as some of us that make a living baking-STOP IT RIGHT NOW! We are all equals in this testing journey, we all have valuable opinions and insights! Some of the best baking recipes aren't published in professional pastry books and I've tasted some lousy pastries from people that called themselves professionals.

DITTO on the RLB comment.

And, about the second, thanks, Wendy. I, for one, needed that. In fact, it's taken me a loooooong time to gather up courage to post here.

I'll try the recipe again tomorrow; this time with the right raising agent!!

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Oh my gosh..............if theres anyone else lirking and not posting, PLEASE please please don't be shy! We are all at different levels, even among the people that are pro's, seriously- everyone is welcome to join in to ANY conversation/thread!

More then once I've cut into a thread I didn't understand to ask for help following along. They've always stopped and explained with-out making me feel dumb.

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Samaki   

Hi Wendy, I'm hoping to make the cake tonight and will report back. I'm looking forward to it.

Just a note, for when you get to the white cake, I've found that by subbing cornstarch for about 1/4 of the flour you get a much better texture.

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kthull   

Incidendtally, this cake makes THE BEST cupcakes. And I think I finally got my IMBC method down last night. My wife liked the combo and she's my toughest critic. I think I'll try a white chocolate IMBC next. On the sheet cake test, I also tried out a white chocolate whipped cream frosting that really surprised me when matched to this. Tasting the frosting alone seemed too heavy on the white chocolate (used RLB's recipe) but when on top of the cake, somehow that white chocolate overkill was wiped out. Nice, but I don't think it would be sturdy enough for the real cake I'll be making this weekend.

Perfect timing on the thread! And I'll also throw my 2¢ in about non-pros posting: since I'm not a pro, how else would I learn everything?! This place is so newbie/non-pro friendly. If you want to be afraid, try posting on a webmaster forum! They can be down right mean.

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IMBC? :huh:

OK, in a side by side tasting with Rose Levy Berenbaum's chocolate fudge cake against Wendy's fudge brownie cake, it's Wendy's on every count: taste, texture, and moistness. I will try the "All American Chocolate Butter Cake" from the Cake Bible sometime in the next week, but I'll be very surprised if it's better than this recipe.

I've got a new favorite chocolate cake - thanks Wendy! :smile:

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kthull   

Sorry, IMBC = Italian Meringue Buttercream :smile:

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Tepee   
Just a note, for when you get to the white cake, I've found that by subbing cornstarch for about 1/4 of the flour you get a much better texture.

For the flour, would that be AP Flour or Cake Flour, because the white cake recipe I use asks for cake flour, and I understand there's already cornstarch in it?

This place is so newbie/non-pro friendly. If you want to be afraid, try posting on a webmaster forum! They can be down right mean.

You can say that again! Came across that site while I was working on developing mine. Shudder, shudder.

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I just want to say something quickly. It's not MY recipe at all, it's Scott Wooley Clarks completely (and by the way his whole book is excellent on gum paste and decorating PLUS even though I've yet to try them I've read good things about his other recipes). I found out about this recipe from someone else on line who shared the tip of this good recipe to me. This is the coolest thing about the net, sharing info.!!! You find people that you trust online and network with them.....you always get back more then you give.

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JanKK   

Damn. No I suppose I have to admit I'm lurking over here ;)

I just always like to get the lay of the land before I make a fool of myself. So I do appreciate you're making me feel welcome here, Wendy (and all!)

And the chocolate cakes are cooling on my countertop as I write this. The smell is heavenly. And I'm actually very impressed with the way they look. I know doming and cracking was noted as a potential downful, but both of mine turned out almost perfectly level.........slight cracks, but nothing monumental.

Made one 10" round and one 7x11 rectangle. Will give y'all the taste-testing results tomorrow! (of course, I have to admit it's more than likely there will at least be a corner missing from one by then ...who cares if it's still warm?;)

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Samaki   

OK, here's my report. This is a fabulous cake. It came out beautifully, no doming or cracking, with a delectable, moist crumb. It's a bit on the delicate side. I wouldn't want to try to split it without partially freezing it first, but for eating purposes the texture is perfect.

There is some room for improvement in the flavor, though I'm pretty certain this is an effect of the cocoa powder I used. The cocoa is a German brand that my in-laws bring me when they visit. It's nice and rich, and even though it's NOT dutched, lacks the bitterness that many natural cocoa has. Well, usually lacks the bitterness. In this cake it did come out rather bitter. I think either a dutched or a lighter natural cocoa powder would have worked better.

Final report: texture 5, flavor 3.

It's so hard for me to envision the perfect chocolate cake, though, because there are so many types. For it's class, an ultra dark, moist cake, I don't think this recipe can be improved upon. However, there are some applications where I don't want such an assertive cake. For those occasions I'll still go with Mary Bergen's recipe. Yes, technically it's a chiffon, but it's texture is much more versatile than your average chiffon cake.

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RMR   

Wendy, I made this delicious cake last night. It has a deep chocolate flavor and is dense but delicate. Two outstanding characteristics: it is not too sweet and the butter/oil combination provides flavor plus moistness. Took not quite 45 min at 300° and domed slightly but flattened.

I made the recipe as posted with hot water, using GM AP flour, King Arthur natural cocoa (Merckens), liquid buttermilk, not dry and LOL unsalted butter, not ultra.

My only change was to cool one layer in the pan before freezing. I just couldn’t put a hot cake in plastic wrap. I left the second layer out for a later comparison. That’s not quite true, we had forks at the ready for a piece. I whipped cream left from making ganache and both were perfect with it. Later today I will compare the freezer layer with what’s left of the one left out.

Future modification. I would use Dutch processed cocoa for a bit smoother taste.

P. S. home baker, not a pro.

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Samaki, at one time used to make that chiffon cake as my all purpose chocolate cake. But it was too dense and sunken, it's density didn't work well in tortes or sheet cake form. Your correction on that going down to 1/2 c. oil makes it identical to how she does it in a cake roll, right? Well, that makes alot of sense because I liked this cake recipe in a roll, but not baked in round pans...........when I was doing the 3/4 c. oil.

So thats a good tip! I would definately need to do a side by side taste of these two Clarks and Bergens.....my gut tells me a cross between the two would be perfect. If we could have the crumb of Clarks and the richness of Bergens it would be ideal.

I have to run to work now........but maybe we should disuss how to combine both?

P.S. Jan, I'm glad you desided to post! Welcome!! Anyone else hiding, come on out and join us.


Edited by Sinclair (log)

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RMR   
... because the white cake recipe I use asks for cake flour, and I understand there's already cornstarch in it?

AP flour with cornstarch would be a substitution for cake flour. Actual cake flour is milled from soft wheat and naturally lower in protein.

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Samaki   
... because the white cake recipe I use asks for cake flour, and I understand there's already cornstarch in it?

AP flour with cornstarch would be a substitution for cake flour. Actual cake flour is milled from soft wheat and naturally lower in protein.

Yes, it is. In my attempts to make a more tender white cake, though, I've actually subbed cornstarch for cake flour.

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JanKK   

Ok ..had the taste testing of the Fudge Brownie Cake.

I tend to shy away from chocolate cakes that use only cocoa powder. They just don't seem to be as good as the ones made with melted chocolate. That being said, I decided to put aside that notion and expand my horizons ..and was pleasantly surprised. On the 1-5 scale, I think I would give this one a "4". I used a combination of Ghiradelli Cocoa and Scharfen-Berger. Nice crumb and decent flavor. But as others have noted, it does seem a little delicate to slice and fill.

So ....I know we're probably got too many recipes out here, but I'm going to give you my favorite. I made it again last night so I could do a side-by-side comparison, and I still like this one better.

The recipe was originally my Mom's and I have no idea where she got it from. I've played with a bit over the years and made a couple more modifications last night when I baked it. Based on the Fudge Brownie Cake recipe, I decided to try lowering the oven temp to see what that would do ..and I do think it makes for a better crumb, strange as it seems. So anyway ...here's the recipe as I last made it. If anybody tries this, let me know what you think :)

Feathery Fudge Cake

1 cup butter, softened

2 cups sugar

3 eggs

2 tsp vanilla

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

3 1/2 cups cake flour

2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups ice water

1 Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

2 Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat well. Blend in cooled chocolate.

3 Sift together the flour, soda, and salt. Add to creamed mixture alternately with ice water, beginning and ending with flour.

4. Pour into pans and bake at 325 degrees until done.

(this will make enough for 2 -10" cakes. I did one 10"x3" and then one 8" square. Square took about 30 minutes, 10" round took about 45-50 minutes)


Edited by JanKK (log)

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Great JanKK! That's the whole point, finding the best.......we needed someone to offer up a tested recipe they believe is better. O.k. testers time to check out JanKK's recipe.

Anyone else have a TRIED recipe they can offer up thats better then the Wooley recipe?

Also, if we could post photos of our work I think that would be very helpful as we compare.

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RMR   

Part II – Wendy, I thawed the second layer to compare with the first layer (not frozen).

Even though it was wrapped and frozen when slightly warm not hot (as noted in first report) the technique does result in a slightly fudgier texture. However the original layer baked Friday night was still moist on Sun night. Even unfrosted it didn’t dry out (ganache was kept separate). Following your instructions, I was careful not to bake it a second too long so perhaps this accounts for it remaining moist.

In all a first rate cake, I’d give it a 4.5. Thanks for starting this experiment.

The name is a bit misleading as is a definitely a cake not a brownie.

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