Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Molly's Easiest Chocolate Layer Cake

Complete with secret ingredient!

To round off our mini adventure into the history of chocolate, we're revisiting my favorite historical period and my favorite way to eat chocolate with a World War II era cake. This one is a little bit different from those I've made in the past, and while it might sound a little strange, I promise, it's actually not weird at all.

Is it just me, or does it seem like most of the recipes I've done this month have come along with that disclaimer?

Now, me making four consecutive recipes featuring chocolate this month was genuinely an accident, or at least just poor planning on my part. Sometimes, I get carried away thinking of fun dessert recipes to try out, even with the occasional chili tossed in.

That being said, I did have some help and inspiration from a certain book I got for Christmas: 

Great Moments in Chocolate History is written by Howard-Yana Shapiro, published by National Geographic, and has an extensive pictorial and written history of chocolate. Shapiro works for Mars, Inc. and anyone who's seen old episodes of Unwrapped might recognize him as the guy talking about Heritage Chocolate, the historic chocolate Mars produces and sells in places like Colonial Williamsburg. I talked about Heritage Chocolate in a post about a drink Felicity might have enjoyed, and brought cupcakes baked with it to Quincy, Massachusetts last year.

This book goes into a lot more detail than that. It starts with the earliest history in Mesoamerica, and continues to the present day, discussing how Mars and other companies are working to make chocolate production more, well, productive and better for both the environment and the people growing it.

Although this book was written by a bigwig at Mars, they do give a few shout outs to other chocolate companies like Hersey's. I was, however, a little disappointed to find out that the only World War II factoids in here had to do with M&Ms being invented as a snack that soldiers could enjoy even in hot weather and candy bars being included in Red Cross care packages to POWs. My favorite chocolate related World War II fact is that the government tasked Hersey with developing an almost unmeltable chocolate bar stuffed with nutrients with a taste that ranked "only slightly better than a potato".

We're going to talk more about D-Ration chocolate bars later. 

Also, these M&M's aren't the right color...

But best of all, the back of the book contains several well written, very informative recipes for a ton of different chocolatey recipes from all over the world, from macarons to Black Forest cake to truffles to mochi. They've even got a recipe for champurrado! Considering how much masa harina I have left, maybe I'll be giving that a try next.

Predictably, the recipe that caught my interest the most was the one titled "Easiest Chocolate Layer Cake", which boasted that it used baking techniques that people turned to during World War II when rationing or shortages made getting your hands on basic ingredients tricky.

This recipe starts off with instructions on how to prep your cake pans. Now, I don't usually do much to my pans beyond greasing them up with butter or spraying them with nonstick cooking spray, but the recipe instructed me to do a little extra this time.

I lined two eight inch cake pans with wax paper, just in the very base of the pan. This wasn't as difficult as I thought it might be, and only had a little bit of issues getting it to fit properly. Next, I rubbed butter along the edges of the cake pans and dusted flour over them. I was very interested to see how well this worked, even though I'm pretty sure it's not going to help me figure out how to safely remove my war cake. I love that recipe to pieces, but sometimes, it's a pain in the butt to get out of the pan.

Most of the recipe is pretty standard. You take two cups of flour, one cup of sugar, two teaspoons of baking powder, 1/4 of a tablespoon of salt, and 1/3 of a cup of natural cocoa powder and sift it together into a bowl. Now, I almost exclusively use dutch processed cocoa powder now (you can learn about the difference in the book!) because it usually makes a better Nutella mug cake in my humble opinion, so I was interested to see where this would take us.

Next comes your wet ingredients. Unlike most other modern cakes, this recipe doesn't have milk, eggs, or oil of any kind. Or, at least, it doesn't in the form you're used to seeing it in!

That's right, this recipe gets its oils and eggy goodness from none other than our good friend mayonnaise. Which, you know, is just oil and eggs essentially, so it's actually not super weird to put something in your cake that generally goes on sandwiches. During the war, people used this when eggs were hard to come by, or when they just needed them for something else and couldn't sacrifice them for a cake. One cup of mayo will give your cake all the moisture it needs to be light and fluffy and delicious.

Well, with a little help from one cup of cold, non dark roast coffee. As we all know thanks to Food Network, coffee and chocolate pair really well together, and the coffee doesn't totally distract from the  You mix the two together thoroughly, and then add it to your dry ingredients.

Mix it all together, add in a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and you're ready to get the batter into your pans. I used a ice cream scoop to help get them as even as possible, because I am a dork.

I was a little worried that this cake wouldn't be very dark because the batter was a very light brown, and again, it's been a while since I've baked with regular cocoa powder. But I popped them into the oven for 25 minutes at 350 degrees.

Once again, my cakes didn't totally bake through in the time the recipe said. I'm not allowed to state my concerns about the oven being broken though. My mom had enough of a hassle trying to fix our old one when it broke last year!

I guess it could be the batter, too. It was pretty wet! One of the cakes seemed okay after an extra twenty minutes in the oven, but one of them got quite a bit of a sinkhole after I finally gave up and decided they'd been in long enough. 

On the plus side, both of them came right out of the pan with minimal fussing. I just ran a butter knife around the edge and gently tapped them both out. Peeling off the wax paper was a breeze, too, even on the slightly soggy cake!

And like all cakes you plan to frost, you need to make sure these things cool completely before slapping your buttercream on top.

The book fortunately provides a really easy chocolate buttercream to go with your layer cake. You take 2 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, 2/3 of a cup of cocoa powder, six tablespoons of room temperature butter, 1/4 of a cup of heavy cream and a teaspoon of vanilla extract and beat it all together in a bowl until it's smooth. I still had some lumpy chunks of butter in mine, but I'll admit, that's because I got impatient and just wanted to get frosting!

This was the first time in a while that I'd frosted a cake, too. I totally underestimated how much frosting I could use to hold the top layer on while still having enough to totally frost the sides. Oh well, lesson learned. Or relearned.

Still, it came out looking pretty okay, if I do say so myself.

Now, I don't think I'd be winning Star Baker if I was on the Great British Bake Off - the bottom layer definitely had patches of sogginess and the frosting in the middle was scant at best - but the overall taste was pretty lovely. The coffee wasn't overly present, but did add a nice extra something, as it always does, and the cake itself wasn't too sweet. The frosting helped compliment it instead of overwhelming it, and I had a couple taste testers say this was the best thing I've made in a while. Pretty high praise for a relatively basic cake that didn't take too much time or effort to make!

This doesn't make a huge cake, but it's enough to happily feed eight or so people, which is generally the amount of people I see on an average Sunday, so that worked out very nicely. The recipe says you can make this up to a day in advance and keep it overnight in the fridge, but we stored our scant leftovers for a few days and it kept just fine.

So, that's the end of our January chocolate adventure! Hopefully you enjoyed learning just a little about the history of chocolate. If you'd like to learn more, Great Moments in Chocolate History is definitely a good place to start. We've got one last post planned for the end of the month, but it's kind of a detox from all this delicious dessert I'd rolled out over the course of the month. Give us a bit of a break before I decide to tackle some other delicious flavor or ingredient for an impromptu spotlight.

There's a few new things on the blog: we now have an updated about page, and a dossier of all the characters who host posts. Both pages can be accessed on the top tool bar of the blog from any other page. I also now have an Instagram! If you're interested in blog updates, sneak previews and random pictures I snap, follow me @apeekintothepantry.

That's all for now! Stay tuned for more peeks into the pantry

While I help Molly finish off that slice of cake...


  1. My dad's favorite cake of all time was a chocolate mayonnaise cake! We made it for him for every birthday.

    1. He had excellent taste, I'm already wishing we had more!

  2. Have you thought of getting an oven thermometer? You hang it off of an oven rack, and it gives you a more accurate reading of how hot your oven is. Before I got one, by cookies were pretty dry and my husband's always burned.

    1. I've thought about it, but honestly I'm more concerned about the oven itself right now. We've had a lot of issues with our appliances over the last year and a half and I'd rather just have something that works. :\