Years ago, a friend in Virginia sent me a cake from a bakery called Rowena’s. It was a somewhat plain looking heart shaped mini chocolate pound cake, but it came with a sauce to dress it up. The sauce was a nice touch, but I found I liked the cake better plain. In fact, I loved it and decided it was the best chocolate pound cake ever. Over the next few years I hoped that every time I made a chocolate pound cake I’d get a texture similar to Rowena’s. It never happened, then along came this cake.
Chocolate Butter Cake From Alisa Huntsman
My friend Katy, who says everyone should have wardrobe of chocolate cake recipes, says this is her current favorite. It’s adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman, a CIA grad and pastry chef in Nashville.
The original version of this cake is sky high. It’s about 1.3 x this recipe and can be baked in 2 9-inch pans or 3 9 inch pans. For a truly towering cake, you can bake it in 3 8-inch pans. I’m not very good at cutting towering cakes so I reduced the volume and made 2 8-inch layers.
I’m having a hard time describing this cake. I want to say “almost scone-like” but that makes it sound dry and it’s not. So let’s see. “If a chocolate scone wished upon a star to be turned into a soft chocolate cake, it would be this cake.” ??? There must be a German word to express that thought, right? No? The texture of this cake is tight crumbed and dense, but soft and not heavy at all. Instead of being moist in an almost wet sort of way, this cake is moist and velvety. At first I thought it might just be a high proportion of butter, but there’s also a high proportion of sugar and liquid, so I can’t just say “it’s the butter”. And the mixing technique for this cake is different. You put the dry ingredients in a bowl and add the others later. Also, you add the eggs in a way that doesn’t allow them to hold much air.
Okay, enough about the texture. Give it a try! The proportions of this cake are perfect for scaling so you could very easily cut the recipe below in half and serve it as a one-layer 8-inch cake or slice the layer in half and fill it.
One more quick note. If you look at the picture you can see how the cake looks dense and moist near the edges right under the frosting. It looks almost as if the frosting has sunk into the cake, but the cake was completely cool when frosted. The moisture from the frosting might have played a role in the inner-edge density, but I vaguely remember Rowena’s cake having that same characteristic — and it wasn’t frosted.
Chocolate Butter Cake
- 2 cups cake flour (230 grams)
- 2 cups granulated sugar (385 grams)
- 1 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder (80 grams)
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened (230 grams)
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla
- 1 cup freshly brewed coffee cooled to room temperature
Chocolate Buttermilk Frosting
- 1 1/2 oz unsweetened chocolate
- 1 1/2 oz semi-sweet chocolate
- 1 1/2 sticks 6 oz unsalted or salted butter, room temperature (important)
- 3 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
- 3 cups sifted powdered sugar 3 ½ cups unsifted
- 3-4 T.buttermilk or regular milk plus more if needed — room temperature NOT cold
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
- Pinch or two of salt — if using salted butter omit
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray 2 8-inch round cake pans with flour-added cooking spray. Line bottoms with rounds of parchment paper.
- Combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt in mixing bowl and stir very well to combine. Add the soft butter and buttermilk and blend on low (I used a stand mixer with a paddle) until smooth.
- Whisk the eggs, vanilla and cooled coffee together in another bowl and add to the batter in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing until blended. Try not to beat a lot of air into the egg mixture as you add it – just stir well. Scrape bottom of bowl and make sure to mix in all batter.
- Divide the batter among the pans and bake on center rack for 35 to 40 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pans for about 5 minutes, then turn invert onto wire racks to cool completely. Remove parchment when cool.
- Chocolate Frosting: Melt both chocolates in microwave, double boiler or bowl set over barely simmering water; set aside to cool.
- Beat the butter until creamy. Make sure it’s not too cold or it might cause the chocolate to re-solidify. Stir in the cocoa power, about a cup of the powdered sugar, and the cooled melted chocolate. Scrape sides of bowl and beat well; add remaining powdered sugar, then add room temperature milk, vanilla and salt, beating and scraping until you get the consistency you like.
Thanks for the review, Judy! I made this one again the other day as part of a “chocolate cake vs. other chocolate cake” test. The texture is definitely different. If you liked this cake, look into other recipes that use what’s called “The Two Stage Method”.
Wow! I guess I would describe the consistency as velvety. I used an extra egg because my organic ones seemed a little small. Cake rose well and tasted heavenly- I used coconut frosting and will try the chocolate frosting another time. Thanks for this amazing recipe!!
Hi Donna! glad you liked it as much as I did.
Just made this cake over the weekend for our daughter’s 24th birthday and we all agreed the cake and the frosting were the best we have ever tasted. It is getting filed in the family cookbook. Thanks!
I think I’m going to make this for Easter. I plan on making and refrigerating the cakes on Friday. Do you think I could make the frosting on Friday, too, letting it come to room temperature on Sunday before frosting the cake? I’m so bad about making things ahead and what I can and cannot do.
This cake is delicious. You are right, great texture. I made it yesterday for NYE and my family loved it. I used Hershey’s “Special Dark” cocoa, which made the cake almost black in color. It wasn’t too dark in my opinion, maybe because the 2 cups of sugar. I used the recipe on the back of the package for the frosting – “Extra Dark frosting.” Really good and matched the black color of the cake. Thanks for a great recipe. Will be sure to make again!
Thanks for the feedback! I’m especially glad to hear you liked the icing recipe :). It’s my favorite these days.
I made this cake and it was like a fluffy pound cake type. The chocolate taste was very good and the icing was one of the best buttercream type icings I have had. This one is a must try.
I am so happy you tried it and loved it! Thanks for the cake report. Glad to hear the soymilk substitution worked.
This cake was phenomenal! I don’t do cow milk, and I was able to use soymilk plus a little fresh lemon juice for the buttermilk. In the absence of cake flour, I used all purpose, and it made the cakes a little dense but still super delicious. Thank you for sharing this great recipe!
So this cake uses reverse creaming?
Thank you so much for the advice….I will conquer it (someday)!!
Christy, I have some Texas Sheet Cake making experts in my family so I’ll see if I can get some tips for you since I have not made it in a while. I know exactly the texture you are going for and I have had the same problem getting it just right myself. Off the top of my head, my suggestion is that you might try using a heavier saucepan to boil the milk, butter, and cocoa mixture. Maybe it’s getting too hot when you boil it (resulting in hard icing) or not quite hot enough when you don’t (unset). Also, make sure you’re using just a pound of confectioners sugar (1 box). Some recipes call for 4 cups, but I think it should be 4 cups sifted, which is equal to one pound.
I loved your description of the cake….and the cake looked sooooo good. Thanks for the recipe! I’ll put it in my “Anna” stack.
i know you’ll get a lot of replies on this gem. i want that cookbook so much–it has the perfect cake recipes in it. i love a good choco pound cake
How do I love you?
Unrelated question, other than it being chocolate cake. Anna can you please give me advice on making frosting for Texas Sheetcake? I have basically given up on making the frosting after so many failed attempts. Either it doesn’t set up or it gets to hard & crumbly! I love the “gritty” factor a cooked frosting has & I hope I can figure out what I’m doing wrong! Thank you!!
This cake has the exact same proportions of my go-to recipe for chocolate cake, the only 2 differences are that instead of butter I use oil and instead of the buttermilk and 2 eggs, the recipe calls for 5 eggs. The rest is the same, but I’m sure those 2 differences will make really different cakes. Mine is great but this might be even better!
Wow, that looks delicious.
“There must be a German word to express that thought, right?”
Schadenfreude? Nope. Gestalt? No.
Hmm.. that’s all of my German, besides counting to five. (And I took a year of German in high school, yikes!)
That cake looks delicious! I’m dying to make it. I’m also on a diet. Quandry. (That’s not German, is it, LOL?)
Your description of the cake is perfect. While the photo makes it look dense, I understand your using the word velvety. It looks pretty darn high just the way you made it!
It really is a divine cake.
The way you describe this cake makes me want to try it ASAP!
That cake looks really moist, anything with butter and chocolate is ok in my book 🙂
Several years ago I won a sweep from Rowena’s. Got 5 pound cakes in different flavors.
In addition to cakes they have wonderful curds.
I think the link is http://www.rowenas.com
This really sounds delicious and looks ver good! A different take on the usual chocolate cake and frosting. I plan on trying this sometime since I am a chocolate addict!!!
Happy Birthday, Cindy! I’m guessing you made your own birthday cake. Been there ;).
Karen, the texture is what makes it special but it also has a good flavor. The cocoa I’ve been using is a natural style put out by my grocery store, H.E.B.So it’s a storebrand cocoa powder, but our store is known for having good house brands. The buttermilk tastes great in the frosting. Obviousy, you want to make sure it’s fresh buttermilk since you don’t cook it. But it gives it that little kick of flavor that goes well with the buttermilk in the cake.
One thing I forgot to mention is that while I likened it to Rowena’s pound cake, it is a cake that goes well with frosting. Even though it’s dense, rich and tight-crumbed, it needs an icing/frosting to finish it off. Also, the cake cracks a bit as it bakes. Or at least mine did.
I’m so glad you like this cake. You did a great job describing the flavor and texture. Thanks for spreading the love!
That looks gorgeous, I love the texture.
What cocoa did you use?
Can you taste the buttermilk in the frosting?
Chocolate cake just the way I like it! Thanks for the virtual birthday cake. I’m printing the recipe to make for real next year (already have one for today).
MM I could go for a rich chocolate cake like that one. Looks out of this world delicious.
This cake looks and sounds like a real winner! I like the adjective velvety to describe it.