Instagram Instagram

« I love you anyway.* | Main | To the day »

A matter of taste; even more chocolate cake

A sugar-high birthday; taste testing chocolate cakes. In the bottom left photo, the famed Double Layer Chocolate Cake (in cupcake form) sits to the left of Martha Stewart's One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes.

January 16th marked Benjamin's third birthday, a perfect excuse for round two of the chocolate cake battle raging in my recipe file. Our biggest little man had requested "chocolate with chocolate" to celebrate his day, and what sort of Mummy would I be if I refused?

I forget how it was exactly, but I stumbled upon the recipe for Double Chocolate Layer cake, from Chef Ed Kasky (as published in Gourmet magazine, March 1999). I must have been living under a rock this last decade, because this cake has quite a following, with over 1200 (hyperbole-laden) comments on Epicurious. It has also appeared on countless other sites and discussed in detail.

With all of that fanfare, there was no alternative than to try this cake for myself. It might be a bit of retread of covered territory, but I have never been one to deny my curiosity. I had to know what the fuss was about.

With multiple celebrations ahead of us, I followed my same procedure as before, this time with Martha Stewart's One Bowl Cupcakes, as published in her Baking Handbook (Clarkson Potter, 2005), against the lauded Double Layer Chocolate cake. The major difference between the two recipes is that the former is an all-cocoa preparation, whereas the latter includes both cocoa and melted chocolate. It should be noted, as reported in my earlier test, that I substitute some prepared coffee for the water called for in the Stewart cake.

The batters were equally-easy to come prepre, with the Gourmet recipe notably thinner in its consistency. The Stewart batter was more viscous, and was my preference when I surreptitiously licked some from the bowl while cleaning up.

Half of each batter went into cupcakes, with their liners marked to indicate the recipe used. The remaining batter was combined, weighed, divided and baked into layers for a single, staggeringly-tall four-layer cake. It was one of the tallest cakes I have ever made, taller than it was wide, and inspiring an awed reaction from our birthday boy.

Despite the impressive stature of the cake, the cupcakes were of my real interest. Using the same (by weight) of batter for each cup, the Martha Stewart cupcakes baked up ever-so-slightly taller, with a gentle dome and a bit of a rimmed edge. They were pretty, perfectly-formed and slightly cracked on top, an example of what a cupcake should look like. The Gourmet recipe baked up slightly flatter, but beyond that, the texture, colour and overall look of the cupcakes were identical.

So it was down to taste. We tasted the two blindly, cake alone and then with frosting, and it was a unanimous decision.

The Gourmet recipe for Double Chocolate Layer Cake won.

Here's the thing. This cake deserves fanfare. The most fantastic, festive, fanciful fanfare that you can imagine - and more. Deeply flavoured, with a dark and even crumb, the cake is moist and tender but just a bit toothsome. Truthfully, it is similar to the Martha Stewart recipe, boasting just about every quality that had made me declare it the winner over Beatty's Chocolate Cake from Ina Garten last summer. Where the Gourmet cake took an edge was in its subtle fudginess, a bit of (excuse the technical term) squidgy-ness, that made each bite that much more satisfying.

Now I will admit I am tempted to try the One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes with a bit of melted chocolate stirred in, just to see how it would turn out. But for now, I am more than satisfied to say that the Double Layer Chocolate Cake from Gourmet warrants its fame.

Double Chocolate Layer Cake
From Chef Ed Kasky, as published in Gourmet Magazine, March 1999.

The recipe can be found online here.


• Some comments on the Epicurious site report that they have had trouble with the Double-Chocolate Layer Cake overflowing their standard 10" pans. The recipe specifically requires 2" deep pans, which may remedy this problem. I can only comment on the taste of the cake, as I baked mine in four 8" round cake pans, with the remainder used for cupcakes, as pictured.

One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes
From Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook.

The Martha Stewart Recipe from the Baking Handbook is not the same as the One Bowl Cupcakes recipe that has been published on her site online, nor is it the one that was published in Martha Stewart Living for February 2009. The recipe is subject to copyright; however, a quick search does find it published online (you are looking for the recipe that begins with flour as the first ingredient).

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (25)

You know, I have made that cake, as written, several times and have had a lot of trouble with it. Two 10 inch layers are hard to manage and it just ends up looking terrible. I know there are a million comments on how to mess with it so I will try again...

February 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDana Treat

You went to a lot of work to let us know which recipe is best, although by the sounds of it the process wasn't too unbearable! Thanks for the recommendation. Will try the Gourmet recipe very soon.

This is brilliant. Thank you for the detailed tasting notes. I love Martha's recipe b/c it is sooo easy, but will now try Gourmet when I want a more squishy cake! :)

February 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterThe Food Librarian

You know, I'm not usually much of a cake person, but now I'm really tempted to try this recipe. If it has that much of a following, it must be worth a shot, eh?

I was planning on making the Martha recipe this weekend for some Valentine's day cupcakes, but you test has now made me think twice. I might have to have my own chocolate cupcake wars :-)

February 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAllison

I made the gourmet cake before and really liked it. It has big chocolate flavour, which isn't suprising since there's so much cocoa! I was going to make Martha's one bowl cupcakes, but after looking through the recipe, I knew I wouldn't be chocolatey enough

February 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteph

I tried Martha's cupcake recipe last week and was disappointed with the flavor. The best I've ever made were Cook's Illustrated Devil's Food. That has some chocolate flavor.

February 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterVirginie Meyers

I admire your dedication to a worthy pursuit!
What did you frost those gorgeous cupcakes with? Did you use the Gourmet ganache?

February 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

julian turns 4 tomorrow, and daycare asked if i would be bringing in cupcakes for snack time... needless to say i purchased the last 24 they had at zehrs... why didn't i call you?!


February 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterclinka

The chocolate frosting looks amazing and the pictures are great!

February 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnushruti

ooo it's not even 9 in the morning here and you've mde me hungry!! am thinking this would be the cake for my birthday this year, I'd like a staggeringly tall one I think! YUM!

February 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRachel@fairycakeheaven

I am so trying that recipe now...THANKS!

February 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMy Sweet & Saucy

I appreciate all the chocolate cake smackdowns that you officiate. It means I can just go straight for the "good stuff!" Hope the birthday celebration was lots of fun:)

February 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteronlinepastrychef

I love a comparison and I definitely have to try that Double Layer Chocolate Cake now!

February 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterShari@Whisk: a food blog

i've never heard of this! i must be out of the chocolate cake loop, but you've inspired me to break out the chocolate & mixing bowls this weekend.

February 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnne

Dana Treat, in what way is the cake a mess? Is it hard to handle or does it not bake up well? I would love to hear your thoughts. Best of luck if you try again!

Dallas from Bitchin' Kitchen, I will say that my tasters seemed happy to volunteer for the experiment. It was a great opportunity to see the difference that slight variations in a recipe can make. The cakes, while looking similar, really did have different tastes.

The Food Librarian, Martha's really is a fantastic one-bowl, quick recipe. In fact, I do believe it has its place and use - if I was making cupcakes, I might be inclined to stick with hers as they were better shaped for frosting.

Jessica, you've summed up my thoughts completely. There was no way I could ignore the chatter about this cake.

Allison, please report back if you try either of the recipes!

Steph, you're right. In a way, the Gourmet cake has chocolate flavor while the Martha is deeply cocoa-ey. Both have their charms.

Virginie Meyers, did you try the recipe that is online under the name "One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes" or the one from the book? With more birthdays on the horizon, I just might need to look up that Devil's Food recipe now ...

Karen, thanks so much for saying. The frosting, I must sheepishly admit, was sort of improvisation on my part. It is this bittersweet ganache-based version that is loosely based on a few recipes. Next time I make it, I will try to keep track of quantities for you!

Clinka, I would have considered it an honour to bake for Mr. Julian! xo to you, my dear!

Anushruti, thank you so much for your kindness.

Rachel, it was a rather tall cake; my husband Sean estimated it at somewhere around 8"-9" tall. When sliced, it hardly fit on the dessert plates!

My Sweet & Saucy, you're most welcome! Please let us know how it goes.

onlinepastrychef, thanks so much, it was a wonderful weekend. The term "Cake Smackdowns" made me grin. So many possibilities ....

Shari, it is hard to beat a bit of friendly competition, isn't it?

Anne, up until recently, I was out of the loop with you! I hadn't a clue that this cake had such a following. Glad to hear I'm not the only one!

February 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commentertara

I might just give this recipe a try. I'm still looking for the perfect chocolate cake recipe.

February 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCherie

Oh goodness, this looks perfect--thank you for relaying the recipe and thoughts with such great detail, I think it's definitely one I would like!

February 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

Thank you for visiting my blog. I can't believe we both picked the same random name! Your photography is beautiful, and this cake looks delicious, I may have to try it out!

February 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

I love how your son has already discovered the best accompaniment to chocolate, more chocolate.

that frosting looks so delicious!

February 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commentergastroanthropologist

Cherie, please report back if you do try it out!

Cakespy, it was my (and my tasters) pleasure! I think the combination of melted chocolate with cocoa powder was the kicker.

Amanda, it is a small world of food blogs, that's for sure!

gastroanthropologist, our Benjamin is one smart little man, no?

Thanks to everyone who has sent other suggestions for recipes; I hate to say it, but I do not know if my chocolate cake curiosity will ever be truly sated.

February 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commentertara

wow your photos are so pretty!
and i can't believe martha has so many versions of one bowl chocolate which version is the best??

April 14, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdessertobsessed

I adore the Ed Kasky-Epicurious recipe. I've been making it for years, and woud you believe... I thought this was my 'secret' recipe! Little did I know!

Lovely blog, by the way :)

May 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHilary

Did the Martha batter come out a bit liquidy before you baked it?? Mine did just now and I Don't know if that's how it's supposed to be... :/

July 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commenternomnomgirl

I made this cake for my husband's birthday - it was AMAZING!!! It was actually a practice run for the bid day and I had made another recipe from Magnolia Bakery, the week before, that came out awful & dried out quickly. The Gourmet cake recipe was amazingly moist and delicious. In fact, I made it on a Saturday and on Monday I brought some leftovers into my office ... the girls went crazy for it!! I was impressed with how moist it still was. I made it in 2 layers, using to 9x2 pans and had no problem with overflow - in fact, the cakes were perfect! I then made the chocolate ganache frosting but used it only as a filling. My husband's request was for a chocolate cake with chocolate filling and fresh whipped cream topping. So that's what I did and it was great!! The fresh whipped cream balanced the rich chocolateness of the cake so it wasn't too overwhelming. I am so excited to make the cake again & bring it with us for Thanksgiving dinner (his actualy birthday)...this cake officially makes my book!!

November 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTara G.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>