Black Cocoa Powder Cake - the worthy indulgence
I am having a moment with Black Cocoa powder. I am using it carelessly and I am using it often. I am abusing it with glee. And I am ignoring all of the hushed tones and stern caveats that accompany the use of Black Cocoa powder (see the Debbie Downer precautions below), because they all seem so drippy and counterproductive (sort of). Black Cocoa powder is fun and I will not have people rain on my Black Cocoa parade.
To understand the beauty of Black Cocoa is to taste it. And if you want to taste it, you should taste it in this cake because this cake is just about the most perfect vessel for this special ingredient. And it is incredibly delicious. I can’t stop eating it.
The original recipe for this cake appears in Alice Medrich’s A Year in Chocolate (chocolate lovers: you should buy this book now), and though it doesn’t specify black cocoa, it nearly begs for it.
Black Cocoa powder is black and looks like this:
Contrast that with the color of my all-time favorite workhorse cocoa powder, Valrhona, which looks like this (best described as reddish/brownish):
I used a mixture of both (literally, half and half) in this recipe, though I wouldn’t be opposed to using 70% black cocoa / 30% Valrhona cocoa. In fact, it might be necessary to retest (i.e. make and eat another cake) for purely scientific reasons. Regardless, I love the way black cocoa turns an ordinary chocolate cake sponge into something deep and dark and inky black…almost sinister looking.
And it looks especially good when slathered with a light and creamy peanut butter filling (or sub for a pure white vanilla bean filling for a visual Oreo-like effect).
The cake is finished with a rather strange, but simple sour cream chocolate frosting. Truth be told, I was a little wary of Alice’s frosting recipe. After all, it is just melted chocolate and sour cream. It seemed odd (will it seize? Will it spread correctly?). Also, every batch I make turns out different than the previous one (I have no idea why this is…though I am guessing it is an ingredient temperature issue), but I am kind of falling in love with this frosting. It is not sweet and the chocolate flavor really shines. Oh, and it hardens up into a thick, fudgy, addictive consistency (uh, sometimes while you are in the middle of frosting, so work quickly) and it cuts beautifully.
And the taste! OMG…I love this cake. The black cocoa flavor is mellow but smoky in just the right way while the peanut butter filling is much more intense than you’d imagine (i.e. it looks rather harmless and light, but it is full of peanut flavor). It’s like a gourmet dark chocolate Reese’s cup.
Notes on Black Cocoa (Debbie Downer precautions) and this cake:
-Black Cocoa is essentially ultra-Dutched cocoa powder. This creates a smooth, non-bitter product that is nearly fat-free. Many people will recommend adding some extra fat back to a recipe if you sub black coca for regular cocoa, but I think that is an unnecessary step (it’s not as if regular cocoa powder is loaded with fat) and could end up causing havoc with a perfectly good recipe. Instead, just sub some black cocoa in place of your regular Dutched cocoa (I always go for half and half) and you shouldn’t have any issues.
-And many people try to overcomplicate ratios of baking soda to baking powder to account for the lack of acid in the black cocoa (i.e. black cocoa won’t react with baking soda). Again, this is unnecessary for most recipes (brownies, cookies, frostings, etc…) but if you must toy with a delicate cake recipe, you might want to add some extra baking powder back to the recipe.
-The original cake recipe calls for sour cream in the cake sponge, all I had on hand at the time was Greek yogurt and it worked beautifully. Also, the original frosting recipe seemed to come up really short for me (not for nothing, I like my frosting and wanted more than a super thin layer) so I increased it by about one-third.
-Finally, some of my friends thought the peanut filling was too pronounced. I didn’t, but I love peanut butter. If you feel this way, you can absolutely fill it with the sour cream chocolate frosting (make a little extra) or a quick vanilla filling. Enjoy.
Black Cocoa Cake with Peanut Butter Filling adapted from Alice Medrich’s Chocolate Sour Cream Coffee Cake via her amazing book A Year in Chocolate
Black Cocoa Cake
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
⅓ cup black cocoa
⅓ cup Dutch process cocoa (I used Valrhona)
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup plain Greek yogurt, room temperature
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 ¼ cups sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
Position rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.
Butter 2, 8 inch cake rounds with butter, line the bottom with parchment, and butter the parchment.
Sift the flour, cocoa powders, baking powder, baking soda and salt together 3 times. Set aside.
Combine the yogurt with quarter cup of lukewarm water and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Turn the mixer to low and stream in the sugar. Once all the sugar is in, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until mixture is light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
Meanwhile, break the eggs into a measuring cup, add the vanilla and whisk to combine. Again, with the mixer on low, stream in the eggs slowly. Once all of the eggs have been added, increase to medium speed and beat until everything is completely incorporated. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and add one third of the flour. Beat on low speed only until no flour is visible. Stop the mixer and add half of the yogurt mixture. Beat only until blended. Repeat with half of the remaining flour mixture, then all of the remaining yogurt, and finally the remaining flour. Stop the mixer each time you add ingredients, then beat on low speed only enough to incorporate the ingredients. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and spread evenly.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a rack for about 15 minutes, then unmold and remove the parchment liners. Cool completely.
Peanut Butter Frosting
⅔ cup natural smooth peanut butter
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
⅓ cup powdered sugar
2 ounces/4 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened
Beat the peanut butter, vanilla, powdered sugar, and butter just until blended and smooth. Spread the peanut butter mixture evenly over the cake. Top with the second cake sponge, press down gently and set aside.
Sour Cream Chocolate Frosting
1 cup sour cream (I used full fat)
8 ounces dark chocolate (at least 70% or more), cut into small pieces
Place the chocolate in a small bowl and set the bowl over a pan of water (bain-marie style), stirring frequently until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and scrape the sour cream on top of the chocolate. Stir to combine. Do not continue to stir after the mixture is combined. Use immediately. If the frosting becomes too stiff or loses its gloss, set the bowl of frosting over hot water for a few seconds. Spread over the top and sides of the cake. Allow to set (about 5-10 minutes). Cake will keep at room temperature, in a cake keeper, for up to 3 days.