Triple Decker Chocolate Cake

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…seems simple enough, right? Well, with the help of Samin Nosrat, I’m getting a little more curious about the science behind what makes delicious cake just that.

Whether from a box or from scratch, it’s safe to say most households have made a chocolate cake at least once. Nosrat points out in “Salt Fat Acid Heat” that even boxed cake mixes call for some kind of oil rather than butter. Why might this be, you ask?

According to Nosrat, oil more evenly coats flour particles in comparison to butter. This inhibits gluten development which encourages a more tender, moist crumb. This does, in turn, create a cake that is a little denser when compared to butter’s capacity for aeration.

For a classic chocolate cake, I’ll happily take a dense, moist crumb and save the fluffy stuff for another time. And when I found this recipe for a three layer chocolate cake made with oil, I knew I was in for a decadent treat.

i chose to use canola oil for this cake, but vegetable oil or some other neutral oil would work well too

This cake baking endeavor posed an excellent opportunity to test out my new cake strips, which you can see pictured above as the thick, purple strips of fabric.

If you don’t know what cake strips are, you aren’t alone! I only learned of them recently. The idea is simple: buffer the heat between the temperature of the oven and the outermost ring of cake batter in order to more evenly heat the cake as it bakes. This makes for a more homogenous rise across the surface of the cake, which prevents doming.

To test this, I used two cake strips on two cake pans, and baked the third without.

about 3 cups of batter went into each cake pan

Here’s an aerial shot of both the independent variable (no cake strips) and dependent variable (with cake strips).

can you tell the difference? (l: no cake strips; r: cake strips)

Here you can see the dome from the layer baked without strips:

dennnng, check out that dome

Versus a close up of a layer baked with the strips:

in the background is the hump of the layer baked w/o strips–but you can see the outer rim of the cake pan, unique to those layers baked with the strips

The overall height of the layers of cake strips versus no cake strips was different as well, even though each layer roughly had three cups of batter prior to baking.

no cake strips–dense, tight crumb at the edges
with cake strips–fluffier crumb throughout

What do you think?

I have to admit, I am a new cake strips convert. You can purchase them here, if you are moved by this testimony. (And no, they are not paying me to say this! 🙂

After the exciting reveal of the cake strip experiment, I whipped up some buttercream frosting and layered my cake.

dark chocolate shavings make everything better

I was good and waited until after dinner to dig in to this cake…we’ll see if I can follow suit tomorrow!

a thin layer of frosting on the bottommost layer prevents the cake from sliding away from center on the cake plate, which is helpful if your cake is destined to travel places

Yum!

Basic Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Frosting

Generously serves 12

Cake

  • Butter and all-purpose flour for coating the cake pans
  • 3 c all-purpose flour
  • 3 c sugar
  • 1 ¾ c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbs baking soda
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 ½ c buttermilk
  • 1 ½ c near-boiling water
  • ½ c canola oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three nine-inch cake rounds and dust with flour, tapping out the excess. If using, soak cake strips for 5 minutes and apply to the exterior of the cake pans without ringing out the water. 

Slowly mix dry ingredients in a stand mixer until combined.

Add wet ingredients and beat for two minutes on medium speed, until everything is thoroughly incorporated.

Divide the batter evenly into the three cake pans, just over three cups worth.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Cool for 20 minutes before running a knife around the outer edge of the cake and inverting each layer onto a wire cooling rack. Allow cake to cool completely before frosting.

Frosting

  • 1 ½ c butter (3 sticks), room temperature
  • 3.5-4.5 c powdered sugar (taste as you go and make it as sweet as you like!)
  • ¾ c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 Tbs heavy cream or whole milk
  • Dark chocolate bar for shaving on top

Beat softened butter with an electric mixer until soft and fluffy. 

Add vanilla, cream, and cocoa powder and mix until incorporated. Add powdered sugar in increments, tasting as you go, until frosting is of desired sweetness. Frost in between each layer, the top of the cake, and the sides. 

Shave dark chocolate using a vegetable peeler on top of the freshly-frosted cake. Keeps well plastic wrapped at room temperature or tightly sealed in the fridge. Serve with a glass of your milk of choice.

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This is what I want for my birthday, everyone! Indulgence. Luxury. Decadence. Yes.

Thanks for commenting! That can be arranged. 🙂