I have an incredibly high tolerance for rich chocolate. I may have eaten two lava cakes in one sitting before, but who’s keeping track?
When we first moved back to San Diego, my friend Nikki brought us a homemade chocolate ganache cake and it was PERFECTION. I immediately called and begged for the recipe, ’cause that’s what I do.
I finally got around to making the cake myself a few weeks ago, for Nate’s birthday. I love this recipe. It worked really well and the ganache was really easy to work with (as long as you follow Nikki’s detailed directions below).
But here’s the thing with this cake – it seriously might kill you. Remember me? The one who can eat any amount of rich chocolate she wants? Even this cake stops me in my tracks. It is SO RICH. But it is SO GOOD. The cake itself has great texture and the ganache is smooth and wonderful.
Quick update as of April 2016: I’ve made this cake a few times and each time I read the recipe I think, “It’s not that hard!” And then each time I make it I go, “Oh yeah, this is a labor of love.” But it is absolutely 100% worth it. It’s not that any one step is all that difficult, and Nikki and I have spelled out each step in great detail to set you up for success. But it does take a little time and patience to get it right. But I know you can do it, and you’ll be happy you did.
- 1 pound semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped (for ganache)
- 1 pound bittersweet chocolate, very finely chopped (for ganache)
- 4 cups heavy cream (for ganache)
- ¼ cup good-quality honey (for ganache)
- ½ teaspoon coarse salt (for ganache)
- 1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise, or 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (for ganache)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1⅓ cups good-quality unsweetened cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting
- 2⅔ cups granulated sugar
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- 2½ teaspoons baking soda
- ½ teaspoon coarse salt
- 4 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 11 tablespoons (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
- 1⅓ cups buttermilk
- 1⅓ cups brewed American coffee (If you don't drink coffee, get a Tall 12-ounce black coffee at Starbucks)
- To make the ganache: Place all the chopped chocolate in a large heatproof bowl (1 pound semisweet, 1 pound bittersweet); set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, honey, and salt. Scrape the tiny black seeds from the vanilla bean pod, if using, into the cream, and add the pod. Bring the cream to a boil, pour over the chocolate, and let stand for 5 minutes to melt the chocolate. Whisk until smooth. Strain through a fine strainer into a bowl. Discard the vanilla bean. Stir in the vanilla extract, if using instead of the vanilla bean. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until the ganache stiffens, at least 6 hours or overnight. Alternatively, place in the refrigerator and chill, stirring every 20 to 30 minutes, until the ganache stiffens. (IMPORTANT NOTE FROM JANE AND NIKKI: Nikki said that the ganache never gets hard enough if you just leave it at room temperature. She recommended making the ganache the day before and refrigerating overnight. This is what I did and it worked perfectly. I refrigerated overnight and then took the ganache out a couple hours before I was going to assemble the cake. It was the PERFECT consistency for spreading at that point and super easy to work with.)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter two 9 by 2-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms with a round of parchment paper and dust with a little bit of cocoa powder, tapping out any excess. (JANE NOTE: I buttered the pan, placed the parchment round and then buttered again. Then I dusted with flour instead of cocoa because it's easier to work with.) (JANE AND NIKKI NOTE: Nikki uses three 8-inch pans and does a 3-layer cake and this works really well. I didn't have 3 8-inch pans, so I did 2 9-inch pans and split them as directed for a 4-layer cake. BE WARNED: The batter will overflow when the cake bakes, it's just a bit too much batter for 2 9-inch pans, so make sure you cook it on a baking sheet as directed in the recipe.)
- To make the cake: In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, sift in the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix on low speed to combine.
- Add the eggs, vanilla, melted butter, buttermilk, and coffee. Mix on low speed until fully combined. (JANE AND NIKKI NOTE: I mixed the eggs, vanilla, melted butter, buttermilk and coffee together BEFORE adding to the flour mixture. Also, Nikki said that if you mix just until combined, the cake sometimes falls when baking. She has found the cake doesn't fall when she mixes the batter a bit longer than is called for. I followed her advice and the cake rose beautifully when baking. So, mix until fully combined and then a little bit longer than that.)
- Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans. Bake on a baking sheet until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Then carefully remove the cakes onto the rack and let cool completely.
- Jane note: Freeze your cakes at this point. This will make the cutting and frosting much easier.
- Using a long serrated knife, slice the top ⅛ to ¼ inch off each cake to level it, if necessary. Discard the top pieces. (JANE NOTE: If you use cake strips, you won't need to do this!)
- Splice each cake horizontally into two layers for a total of four layers. (Jane note: If you use 3 8-inch pans, you will skip the splicing step.) Place the bottom layer on a 9-inch cake round, a turntable, or a platter, and using an offset spatula, spread thickly with about 1½ cups of the ganache. Repeat with the second and third layers, spreading another 1½ cups ganache over each layer. (Jane: Use a bit more for each level if only doing three layers.)
- Add the final cake layer and spread it with a very thin layer of ganache (this is your crumb layer). Place the cake in the refrigerator until the crumb layer is set, about 30 minutes.
- Original recipe: Remove the cake from the refrigerator and place it on a wire rack set over a sheet pan. In the top of a double boiler set over simmering water, heat the reserved ganache just until liquid. Pour the ganache over the top of the cake, allowing it to run down the sides. Using a large offset spatula, help spread the ganache from the center to the edges so the cake is completely covered. Smooth the top and sides. Refrigerate to set, about 30 minutes.
- What I did: Instead of melting the ganache and pouring it over the cake, I spread the ganache with an offset spatula on the tops and sides. As I mentioned earlier, the ganache was a fabulous consistency and really easy to work with. It was no problem spreading it on the cake and making it look beautiful!
- Serve at room temperature.
- Technique tip: When cutting a cake into horizontal layers, be sure to use a twelve-inch serrated bread knife. To achieve even layers, keep the knife perpendicular to your body, cutting back and forth while rotating the cake plate.