Chocolate Cake Smackdown


I am always looking for a better and better chocolate cake. According to the late, great Laurie Colwin, everyone is searching for the “one true chocolate cake.”

But, here is the wierd thing. When I compare my new favorite to my old, scaling the recipes so that they make the same amount of batter, I often find that they are more or less the same recipe! Is the chocolate cake search like dating, where you find yourself subconsiously picking the same type over and over?

I just made Zoe’s recipe for Devil’s Food Cake, and there was something so familiar about the taste and texture. So I compared the recipe to my other favorites.


There was an interesting article in the Post-Gazette a few years ago which contained a recipe for my first favorite recipe for chocolate cake: Hershey’s Black Magic Cake. I first made this cake back in the seventies or eighties and I was blown away by how good it was.  

The Post-Gazette article also has  a recipe for a chocolate cake from Martha Stewart. After reading the online article, I made the Martha Stewart cake. I liked it a whole lot, but out of curiousity, I compared it to the Black Magic Cake. I scaled the Black Magic recipe up by 50 percent, and, lo and behold, it was more or less the same recipe.

The differences? The Martha Stewart recipe has slightly more flour and 33 percent more cooca. The Martha Stewart recipe also advises a slightly longer baking time. The resulting texture is much firmer, almost springy. It is a dream to cut in layers for a fancy frosted layer cake.

Of course, like almost everyone else, I had to try the phenomenally popular recipe at Epicurious for Double Chocolate Layer Cake.  I absolutely loved, loved, loved it. The texture was light and delicate, despite the massive amount of chocolate. Again, out of curiosity, I compared the recipe to the Black Magic Cake (scaled up 50 percent).

Hmm, interesting, I thought. Unlike the Martha Stewart recipe, which added a little flour, Chef Ed Kasky’s recipe uses proportionally ever so slightly less flour than the Black Magic Cake. The cocoa content, on the other hand, was ratcheted up to the same amount in the Martha Stewart recipe (33 percent more). Also, despite the lightness of the cake, the Kasky recipe has about half the baking soda and baking powder of the Black Magic Cake. Less flour, less need for leavening? You would think that addition of 3 ounces of melted chocolate to this recipe (a major difference between the recipes) would weigh it down, but it doesn’t.

Here is a possible reason: Kasky calls for a completely different mixing method than the Martha Stewart recipe or the Black Magic Cake.  In the Double Chocolate Cake recipe, Kasky calls for beating the eggs until they are lightened, and then the liquid ingredients are added in (the chocolate is melted into the hot coffee, and is therefore added at this stage). The dry ingredients (including the sugar) are added next.

In the Black Magic Cake and Martha Stewart recipe, the dry ingredients are mixed, and then the dry ingredients are added. No whipping of the eggs.

Here is difference between the Double Chocolate Cake and the Martha Stewart and Black Magic cakes: Kasky calls for baking the cake at a low 300 degrees for about an hour. I assume this is because the cakes are baked in 10″ round pans, and a lower temperature is better for baking larger cake.  It allow the center to cook through without drying out the outside and it prevents the top from doming from an initial heat that is too high.

So, to finally get to the point, how does Zoe’s cake compare? It has the moist springiness of the Martha Stewart cake. Is it mainly the same, I wondered? The amount of flour is less than the amount called for in the Martha Stewart recipe, but ever so slightly more than the amount for the Black Magic Cake. The amount of cocoa is proportionately the same as for the Black Magic Cake, less than the Martha Stewart recipe and the Double Chocolate Cake. The amount of leavener is reduced slightly, but not as much as it is reduced in the Double Chocolate Cake. The vanilla is increased, the buttermilk is swapped out for regular milk (this could be related to the change in leaveners). Most interestingly, Zoe calls for swapping out some of the hot coffee with rum or brandy. There’s a flavor booster! (I used extra vanilla).

BTW, Zoe’s cake (and the other dump cakes, Black Magic and Martha Stewart’s) are so easy. My son mixed together the ingredients himself. My husband’s verdict: “This cake is so delicious, there are no words . . . .”

Another BTW, if you cut Zoe’s recipe in half, you can make one 8″x3″  round cake (extra deep pan). Instead of using 1 1/2 eggs, I used 2, and it was fine. You can also make 2/3 of the recipe for a 9×13 cake or 2 8″x1/2″ cakes (regular 8″ round cake pans).


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3 Responses to “Chocolate Cake Smackdown”

  1. Horseradish Grill’s Amazing Chocolate Cake « Pragmatic Attic Says:

    […] a whirl: Horseradish Grill’s Chocolate Chocolate Layer Cake (see also here). And yes, it is yet another variation on Hershey’s Black Magic Cake, just like my most recent favorite,  Zoe’s Devil’s Food […]

  2. Gluten Free Chocolate Cupcakes « Pragmatic Attic Says:

    […] I have been reading through Silvana Nardone’s gluten-free cookbook, Cooking for Isaiah.  The book is a product of the author’s quest to create kid-friendly gluten-free food for her son, Isaiah. The book has a chocolate birthday cake and baked-not-fried chocolate-dipped chocolate doughnuts. Both recipes are based off the same basic chocolate cake batter, which is a basic chocolate dump cake. […]

  3. Super Bowl XLV Cake « Pragmatic Attic Says:

    […] I made a batch of Zoe’s chocolate cake in a 9×13 pan. Then, I crumb coated the cake with white frosting and refrigerated it. I gave […]

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