The Biggest Chocolate Cake


4. How did that happen?

I thought it might be time for some sort of fancy homemade cake, like a Scooby-doo cake or a dinosaur cake or something of that ilk. My sister has a policy: to create any kind of cake her kids request. She has made, by hand, large orange T-rex cakes, bat cakes and volcano cakes that actually erupt. Not the kind baked in an expensive cake mold or smoothly iced and topped with teeny marzipan figurines; hacked apart 9″x13″ chocolate slabs fashioned into whatever my niece and nephews can imagine. They never seem to notice that her forte is math (she’s a teacher, and head of math, still not sure how we can be related), and not cake decorating.

But these are the very best kinds of cakes, don’t you think?

So I asked what kind of cake W wanted – Scooby-doo cake? EEEEEWWWW GROSS! Dinosaur cake? EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEWWW DISGUSTING!

All he wanted for his 4th birthday was “the biggest chocolate cake you ever saw, with chocolate icing and sprinkles and fire on it.” By fire he means candles, or sparklers, or something hot he can watch and/or blow out. Sure, I can do that.

Rather than fall back on a chocolate cake recipe I already have I decided to try something new – this is an opportunity, after all, to pursue that elusive ultimate chocolate birthday cake that will remain forever on the birthday roster. I think I’ve found it.

Rather than flip through cookbooks, I consulted one of my favourite food blogs. Turns out she has already done sufficient research on all of our behalves – lucky me. She (and approximately 1291 other bakers, according to Epicurious’ rating system) approved of a Double Chocolate Layer Cake created by chef Ed Kasky, and so I gave it a go. (She even conducted a blind taste test, and it won.)

I tried not to tweak it, I really did. But I could only find one deep cake pan, and it sounded like some bakers struggled with the wide, deep pan size anyway. (The cake is baked in 10″ round by 2″ deep cake pans, at a slow 300°F.) It occurred to me that it might be a perfect quantity of batter to produce one layer cake and some cupcakes to spare – I always worry that I won’t have enough – and even after keeping the guest list to family, kids on the block and a couple friends, we had a dozen kids and as many adults to feed. At a birthday party, you do not want to run out of cake.

I was right – it baked two perfect 9″ layers and a dozen cupcakes, with even a little left for a handful of mini cupcakes for the toddlers. (Although the cake layers would have easily accommodated this extra bit of batter.) Everyone was fed, with a slice left over for my dad, who stopped by after work.

I love that this cake is made with oil – canola oil is what I bake with – and it’s easy to use coffee in a recipe if you keep a jar of instant (I like espresso) on hand. Don’t skip the part where they tell you to line your pans with waxed paper or parchment – the cakes are moist and will otherwise leave some of themselves behind when you flip them out. It’s easy to do – put a pan onto a piece of waxed paper and quickly run a pen around it (it won’t leave ink, only a visual ring), then cut it out and stick it in – the cheapest insurance ever.

I only bothered with the cake part – kids don’t appreciate a good ganache, and W in fact prefers frosting, especially on a cupcake, and while the grown-ups certainly do, I didn’t want to bother with more than one batch. So I made a big bowl of chocolate buttercream – butter, Bernard Callebaut cocoa, icing sugar, vanilla, water – adjusting quantities until I had something fluffy and spreadable. I slathered it on the cake and topped it liberally with coloured nonpareils, then W helped me pipe the same onto the cupcakes. (Tip: freeze your cakes first to prevent them crumbing too much – frost them frozen, and they’ll thaw beautifully by the time you’re ready to sing Happy Birthday.) There was some left over, so I piped a bit around the cake edges too. Everyone raved. Even my Mom, who generally is only tempted by golden cakes, declared this one the Best Ever.

That was this afternoon.

Round two came afterward: my nephew turns 19 tomorrow, and so came at the end of the party and we transitioned into a birthday dinner for him – ribs on the barbecue, all the leftover salads from our hot dog bar at lunch, and his favourite – ice cream cake.

I used an Epicure Selections barbecue rub that comes in its own stainless steel shaker – doused the raw ribs, put them on a rimmed baking sheet, covered with foil and baked them at 300°F for 3 hours yesterday. You can do this a day or two in advance, and keep them in the fridge – when you’re ready to eat, slather them with bottled barbecue sauce and throw them on the grill to heat through. (This quick finish on the grill also keeps the barbecue sauce from burning.)

The ice cream cake my sister made was small genius – it’s a shame we were already full of cake and an afternoon-long lunch – she crushed Digestive cookies, mixed them with melted butter as for a graham pie crust, pressed it into the bottom of a roasting pan, chilled it, and spread a tub of softened chocolate chip ice cream and chocolate ice cream on top. Froze that, then layered whole cookies in a sort of scalloped pattern on top. Frozen, it cut quite nicely, if you ignored the odd broken cookie.

And who could care about broken cookies with this little treat around? (Only the cutest boy ever –
my nephew, Charlie. Don’t you just want to eat him up?)

One Year Ago: Chocolate Zucchini Cake and Maple Pumpkin Ice Cream


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36 comments on “The Biggest Chocolate Cake

  1. Elaine
    August 5, 2009 at 8:56 am

    Am I allowed to be jealous of a 4-year-old? Because that cake looks incredible.

  2. margo
    August 5, 2009 at 9:43 am

    As a mom of four, now 22, 19, 15 and 9, and coming from the same Hack-apart-or-whatever-it-takes school of cake-making as your sister does, I have a lot of memories (and lessons!) from all those cakes. I admit to having used some Wilton pans, as I used to have access to a store that rented them (yeah?!) but mostly it’s been an inspiration in my head that sets me off and running. Some of my and my kids favorites, have been what I’d call “Scape Cakes” as in landscape, seascape, etc. They are generally created on a sheet cake, with humps and bumps created with inverted cupcakes, ice cream cones etc. and the very best toppers are Playmobil which can be purchased and then become part of the gift for your child. My best ones were a skating / skiing party cake (use a square of parchment paper dusted with coarse sugar for the ice rink); a dirt biking scene (playmobil figures) and a fishing / wildlife scene (blue jello in a wee bowl nestled into the cake for a pond with fish). It helps to have access to a rubbermaid bin full of Playmobil people, trees and stuff! For my daughter, the best was a tea party where the cake was a tea pot (two jumbo cupcakes stuck together with a candy cane curved handle and the straight part of the candy cane making the spout, then cupcakes iced and decorated to look like tea-cups (same handles as the tea pot). Adorable and hugely popular!! One word of caution… it helps immensely to have a willing husband or friend to “assist” when you realize your imagination was bigger than your patience, once into the project!! Also, if you ever have a kid who like my one son went through a stage where cake itself didn’t agree with him, you can substitute of course with ice cream cake, but also Pavlova is great, because it can be heaped into any shape and decorated similarly with whipped cream, pudding and toys. I put two circular Pavs together for a race track cake with Hot Wheels (blue and orange sprinkles, please!!) Yum, yum, yum, and very cool too!!

  3. margo
    August 5, 2009 at 9:49 am

    ohmygosh, what a lot of words I said… pardon me! 🙂

  4. Nancy
    August 5, 2009 at 8:19 am

    Yum yum to it all, and happy 4th to W! I just had my big kid’s 7th, so far 2 celebrations, 1 ice cream watermelon lookalike cake, one pink sparkly cake, and “friend” birthday to come once school starts! I am also from the hack apart a 9×13 cake to make something school – have had much success with it also! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Erica B.
    August 5, 2009 at 8:27 am

    Happy 4th Birthday W!

    (4?! ohmygosh time flies!) I wondered what kind of cake W would ask for. “The Biggest Chocolate Cake, with sprinkles and fire on it” sounded like a 4 year old’s request hehe. I’m glad to hear it all went well and I’m going to have to save the link to both caked for some August birthdays we have coming up 🙂

  6. Anonymous
    August 5, 2009 at 8:48 am

    cake looks soooo yummy. wish it was my birthday.

  7. Charmian Christie
    August 5, 2009 at 9:17 am

    When we were kids the cake WAS the birthday. I don’t remember very many of the presents I got over the years, but I remember the cakes!

    I’m sure your 4-year-old will remember this one.

  8. Mama JJ
    August 5, 2009 at 9:18 am

    I’m jealous of your cake stand!

    Oh, and happy Birth Day to YOU!

  9. JulieVR
    August 5, 2009 at 9:28 am

    Thanks! got it at a going-out-of-business restaurant supply sale, and spray painted the base red!

  10. robin
    August 5, 2009 at 9:32 am

    i love the simplicity of cupcakes dressed in only icing with sprinkles. so pretty…. and they look delicious!

  11. Cheryl Arkison
    August 5, 2009 at 9:53 am

    That sounds fantastic – the party and the cake. Happy Birthday big guy!

  12. JulieVR
    August 5, 2009 at 10:27 am

    Ooooh – good ideas Margo! Love the idea to put Playmobil figures on top – he got Playmobil pirates and a whale and shark… he loves that stuff!

  13. anita
    August 5, 2009 at 11:22 am

    Do you have a secret buttercream recipe that you would like to share?

  14. Avery
    August 5, 2009 at 11:53 am

    That Charlie is an awesome kid. I had my cupcake this afternoon with coffee… soo good!

  15. Donna
    August 5, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Wow. Where did the last year go?
    Happy Birthday W !
    Great looking cake – and lots of good ideas.

  16. JulieVR
    August 5, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    Anita – I don’t, actually! I totally wing it – start with butter and some icing sugar, and cocoa if it’s chocolate, and a little water/milk/coffee – and beat it, adding a little of this or that, until it’s the right consistency! one of these days I’ll sit down and measure…

  17. Aimee
    August 5, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Happy Birthday W!!
    Cake looks AWESOME!
    I have no idea what I’m going to do for Noah’s upcoming 4th, but chocolate has already been requested.

  18. pauline
    August 5, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    Happy Birthday W. That cakes looks sooooooo good. I am having a sweet attack. I feel I have to go and find something in the cupboard, but I don’t think anything is going to do but a piece if that cake. Sounds like a really fun day.

  19. christina
    August 5, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    Thank you. Your post about this cake comes at the perfect time. I wanted to make two 9-inch cakes and a dozen cupcakes, but wasn’t sure if the recipe would yield enough batter.

  20. Tara
    August 5, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    Happy happy day to your W! The years do fly, don’t they?

    What a wonderful cake to celebrate, and I adore the red of your stand. So glad that I could be of any sort of help and thanks so much for the mention.

  21. Carolyn
    August 5, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    Oh good we’re not the only crazy family. My sisters -in-law and I have made all kinds of crazy cakes also with no limits. This year my 3 year old wanted a horse on a motorcycle with orange icing and that’s what he got!

  22. Amy Green - Simply Sugar & Gluten-Free
    August 5, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    My mom always made us such special birthday cakes. Some parents so everything store-bought and it makes me sad, just because I have so many wonderful memories of the excitement as the cake baked and then trying to steal some icing while she decorated it. I’m sure you know this, but you’re building wonderful traditions that your kids will carry on when they have their own families.

    And, 4th Happy B-day W!!

  23. Joy the Baker
    August 5, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    I think the best part of that cake is that the ENTIRE top is covered with sprinkles. Just adorable. And Charlie is.. yes.. the cutest boy ever.

  24. la-la-lisa
    August 6, 2009 at 4:15 am

    Oh yes! that cake is wonderful. I made it for a friend’s birthday last year — complete with ganache frosting — and my friend’s husband still talks about it. He raves actually. It is that good. Really people.

    For my son’s birthday, I opted for the Hershey’s Black Magic cake recipe. It’s just about as good. It’s very good too actually. I made the poor woman’s ganache (store bought chocolate chips & cream). If only I had thought to use sprinkles. Little guys love those things. It must be the colors because heaven knows, it’s not the taste.

  25. Jen C
    August 6, 2009 at 5:10 am

    Happy 4th Birthday to W! Your whole post looks amazing from the cake, to the ribs to the ice-cream-cake-concoction….it’s 7am right now and I’m fully prepared to sacrifice breakfast and lunch to dive into that! haaaa. I also love Margo’s ideas, especially the blue jello in the middle for water. I will have to remember that.

  26. Christina
    August 6, 2009 at 8:29 am

    Hey just wanted to mention your blog was mentioned in the Calgary Herald yesterday!! It was listed as one of the best 10 food blogs (I believe it was on page E8 (Real Life). YAY!
    Everything looks amazing! I would love to be locked in a room alone with that chocolate cake!!! LOL

  27. Barb
    August 6, 2009 at 8:50 am

    What a great day!

  28. Beverley
    August 6, 2009 at 8:56 am

    I really must stop reading your blog at any time in the morning. I think just after lunch when I’m full would be a better time. So now here it is, not quite 10:00 am and I’m craving chocolate cake!

    So we did end up going to Tofino last weekend! I tried the crispy cod club and it was quite good, although I don’t think I’ll be driving the 4 hours back there just for that any time soon 😉 My husband had the fish tacos from Tacofino and I stole a bite and YUM. I would have traded lunches with him I think if he’d have let me 🙂

    If anyone else is planning a trip to Tofino, bring a coat. It’s COLD in the morning, and I left mine at home because we were in the middle of a heat wave and I didn’t think of it!

  29. Morgan
    August 6, 2009 at 9:33 am

    Throughout the last couple months of my pregnancy I have been CRAVING sweet baked goods. When I saw your title for this one I drooled at the words alone! I feel like I could eat that whole cake to myself right now! LOL! Now I want chocolate cake with chocolate icing…yum! (I’m 5 days overdue and hoping this baby will come soon so the cravings stop! lol)

  30. Cathryn
    August 6, 2009 at 9:39 am

    happy cake day, Willem!!
    would you be my mum for a day?! lol

  31. Avery
    August 6, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    (Off topic) Just wanted to say I was on the Calgary’s Child Website, rather randomly, and came across a really good-sounding recipe for a berry crumb cake that I was going to cut & paste into a file on my computer, when I scrolled down to the bottom and realized you wrote the article! See? Why bother going anywhere else…

  32. Kristen
    August 6, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    I would want to turn 4 over and over and over again if it meant a cake like that. YUM!

  33. Stella
    August 7, 2009 at 8:51 am

    Years ago I took a cake decorating class.. and the buttercream icing recipe is one that I’ve stuck with!
    1/2 cup butter [not margerine]
    1/2 cup shortening
    4 cups icing sugar
    bit of vanilla or desired flavoring
    add milk a bit at a time until you get the desired consistency.. and whip like crazy for 5 minutes!

    By using the half & half butter/shortening, you get icing that isn’t quite so rich… and no one leaves that extra icing on the plate!!

  34. JulieVR
    August 7, 2009 at 8:52 am

    Thanks Stella!!

    Although I’m the person who goes around eating the scraped-off icing roses off everyone’s plates…!

  35. Mrs. M
    August 9, 2009 at 7:02 am

    Happy 4th W! What a scrumptious cake…and the request is perfect. Lovely, easy to please boy you have!
    Our W turned 4 this week too & our cake was interesting. After picking many styles he went with a monster truck cake and I attempted to create a Chocolate Almond (sugar free, gluten free, dairy free) cake…doesn’t that sound delish! Ha! It was interesting. I haven’t posted on my blog about it yet. I would much rather go with the best chocolate cake ever!

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