If you close your eyes, can you imagine the sound that chocolate cake makes? I can. It’s one of my favorite sounds in the world. And it’s very specific. Nothing makes a sound quite like chocolate cake.
I'm talking about the sound of cutting a chocolate cake. Rich, audible decadence. Soft and squishy. I especially love the muffled, chocolatey knock of the knife hitting the plate. So deep and promising. My mouth waters just thinking about it.
This week I was overwhelmed by the urge to bake a chocolate cake. Not for the taste but for the sound. It’s the weather. Snow plus wind plus ice means I stay indoors and keep snuggly with my favorite cozy things like books, tea, cakes, Gus in that maroon sweater, and a few comforting movies I’ve seen a hundred times. The movie I want to watch now is Sounder, the 1972 film about an African-American family and their dog in Depression-era South. And Sounder reminds me of chocolate cake.
I’m sure there are many important lessons I am meant to learn by watching Sounder (or maybe I should consider reading the book), but really it’s the scenes where Cicely Tyson bakes a cake for her imprisoned husband that really get me. First she goes to the general store to buy provisions. Oh lord! The sound of the provisions. Ooh. Not to mention the endless fascination of a Depression-era food store. I can still remember the subtle noises of her grabbing a bag of flour and the man behind the counter wrapping her eggs in paper. Luscious. Then she makes a simple but perfect looking chocolate cake that her son takes to the prison. The guard, having to make sure that nothing illegal is baked inside, uses a knife to poke holes in the cake. (Oh that I were a knife upon that cake. That I might touch that chocolate.) The sound is utterly gorgeous. As he wiggles the knife the frosting buckles and it just sounds like the most delicious, decadent, gooey chocolate cake that ever was. I know I completely missed the entire point of the movie. But I like my memories as they are. Yum.
The sound engineers on Sounder deserve a million trillion Oscars according to me. Forty plus years and that chocolate cake still makes me swoon. So much so that I had to recreate that magic at home, just for the cozy, warming sound of it.
This one here is a classic, over-the-top, dark chocolate cake. The malted milk powder wooed me at the grocery store the other day and I figured this was the perfect place to use it. Just a little something extra to take your chocolate cake to another level. This cake is dedicated with love to my father-in-law John. John is the only person I know whose sweet teeth rival mine, and I'm sure that he would enjoy it heartily. I look forward to sharing it with him, that is, after I’ve cut it into a million pieces and gotten my fill of that heavenly sound.
Dark Chocolate Malt Layer Cake
For the cake:
1 1/4 cup unsweetened, Dutch process cocoa powder
3/4 cup boiling water
2 cups cake flour
1 3/4 cups plain malted milk powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup coffee, cooled slightly
For the frosting:
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup plain malted milk powder
3/4 pound semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1. Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350°. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with parchment. Butter parchment. In a small bowl, whisk together cocoa powder and boiling water until smooth. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, malted milk powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating in between each. In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream and coffee. Add flour mixture, alternating with additions of the sour cream mixture, and beat just until combined. Stir in cocoa powder mixture.
2. Divide batter between pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 40 minutes. Transfer pans to a rack to cool slightly. Remove cakes from pans and transfer to rack to cool completely.
3. Make the frosting: In a small saucepan, whisk together heavy cream and malted milk powder and bring to a simmer over medium-high. Pour cream mixture over chocolate and let stand 1 minute. Whisk the chocolate mixture until smooth. Whisk in butter and salt.
4. Pop the frosting mixture into the freezer for 15-minutes at a time, stirring in between, until it is smooth and spreadable. Transfer one cake layer, flat side up, to a serving plate. Spread some frosting on top. Top with second cake layer, flat side up, and cover cake with remaining frosting.