Although I have made this recipe my own, I must give credit where it is due. Early in my cake-making days, I purchased Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Cake Bible and used recipes out of it to make the first stages of this cake. I’ve continually changed and evolved the recipe since then, and while I always ultimately preferred to use a Betty Crocker devil’s food cake mix rather than bake the cake from scratch, I have now found THE chocolate cake recipe that I actually prefer over the mix, and I have Mel of My Kitchen Cafe to thank for that.
Let’s talk about the current stage of this cake. The cake itself is light, moist, deeply chocolatey. An excellent crumb. Really, the best texture I’ve ever gotten from a chocolate cake recipe, except for this one. It’s perfect. The cake is enveloped in a buttercream that is deceptively light and almost mousse-like with a great balance of sweet coffee and chocolate flavor. The flavor combined with the velvety smooth texture makes it so good that I have been known to scoop the leftover frosting into a bowl and eat it straight. I chose to press chopped toffee into the sides of the cake because, to me, the flavor of toffee has always been a perfect compliment to chocolate and coffee, and it adds a nice contrast of texture to the bite. Finally, I eventually began smothering the whole finished cake in ganache to make it more visually appealing and to intensify the chocolate flavor. It is an immensely pleasurable treat that can be dangerous because it doesn’t feel fattening when it’s in your mouth and it’s easy to overindulge because it is so light. Do not be decieved! My thighs are a testament to the immense caloric level of each bite.
This cake is time consuming to prepare, but very much worth the effort, especially if you are making it for a birthday. And fear not that the little ones won’t enjoy it. My nephew has been devouring it since he was old enough to be allowed chocolate. And one of the ladies present at a birthday party where it was served told me that her daughter hates chocolate and she ate an enormous piece all by herself. I had to laugh, because that little girl is not the only one who has enjoyed the cake despite their aversions to aspects of it.
My Dad is a dessert hater. Honestly, I don’t know how he could have spawned me, the Dessert Queen, but it doesn’t change the fact that he doesn’t have a sweet tooth. But he loves this cake. My youngest sister is a frosting hater. She scrapes it off the cake. When I make this one she gets excited if I put extra frosting in the middle. And she licks the plate clean, frosting and all. My middle sister is a cake hater, and really just a hater of all things not raw and rich in antioxidants. But she scarfs this cake every time I make it and it is the only cake she will let me make for her birthday. My husband? A coffee hater. An intense coffee hater. And yet he perks up on the rare occasion I make a morning cup of Joe, hoping the smell means I’m making this cake. My Mom likes everything I make, but this is her favorite cake and also the one she prefers on her birthday. And not to toot my own horn or anything, but Michael Jackson left instructions in his will to be buried with three of these cakes. Or at least, I think he would have if he’d ever tried one. :)
A friend recently told me that this cake would be one of the only things she thought she would miss in heaven. Of course she said it to be funny since I doubt we’ll miss anything in heaven, but if were possible to miss something…I think I would miss it too.
THE Mocha Crunch Cake
1 ¼ cups unsweetened cocoa powder
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
2 ½ cups sugar
2 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
1 ¼ cups warm water
1 ¼ cups buttermilk
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ cup Kahlua
1 tablespoon instant coffee crystals
10 oz semisweet chocolate
6 large egg yolks
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup corn syrup
1 lb (4 sticks) unsalted butter
4 oz semisweet chocolate
½ cup heavy cream
1-1 ½ cups toffee bits
2 toffee candy bars (such as Heath)
Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, making sure the baking rack is in the middle of the oven. Prepare two 9” round cake pans by cutting out a piece of parchment or wax paper to line the bottom of them. Grease the pans, place the parchment or wax paper in the bottoms and lightly grease again. Dust the pans with flour (or cocoa powder if you don’t want the white dusting on the finished cakes). Set the pans aside.
Sift together the cocoa, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Add the eggs, yolk, warm water, buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Mix on low speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake the cakes for about 32-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean or with moist crumbs. Do not overbake! Remove the pans from the oven and set the pans on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Gently run a thin knife around the edges of the pans and unmold the cakes, removing the parchment paper liners from the bottom of the cakes. Let them cool completely, top sides ups, on a wire rack. Trim the tops of the cake layers with a long serrated knife to make them level.
Make the buttercream: Put Kahlua in a microwave safe dish and heat until boiling. Remove and add instant coffee. Mixture will immediately boil up high and once it goes back down, gently stir it until the coffee is dissolved. Set aside to come to room temperature. Place the chocolate in a microwave-safe dish and heat for 30 seconds and stir. Continue heating in 15-second intervals, stirring in between, until the chocolate is almost melted. Stir and allow the residual heat to melt it completely. Set aside and allow to come to room temperature.
Beat the egg yolks until light and mixer blades make tracks in them. Spray a 1-cup glass measure with cooking spray and set beside the stove. Combine sugar and corn syrup in a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a full rolling boil. Immediately remove from heat and pour into the prepared measuring cup to stop the cooking. While mixer is running, pour the syrup in a steady stream into the egg yolks, careful not to pour it onto the beaters. Continue beating until mixture is room temperature. Beat the butter in a small bowl until fluffy, then begin adding it to the egg mixture a tablespoon or two at a time, beating until incorporated after each addition. Once the chocolate is cooled, turn the mixer back on and add the chocolate to the buttercream, beating until smooth. Add the cooled Kahlua mixture and beat until uniform & smooth.
Make the ganache: Place the chocolate and cream in a microwave safe dish and heat for a minute; stir. Continue heating in 15-30 second intervals until the chocolate emulsifies and the mixture is shiny, dark, uniform, and smooth. Allow to come to room temperature.
Assemble: Place one cake layer on plate and spread about 1 cup of mocha buttercream over the top. Put second cake layer on top and frost the top and sides with the remaining buttercream. Take handfuls of toffee bits and press them into the sides of the cake. Chop the candy bars into four pieces each and place with a pointed side up around the edge of the cake. Slowly pour the cooled ganache over the top of the cake and use a spatula to spread to the edges so that it will ooze out between the candy bars and down the sides a little. Sprinkle some toffee bits in the middle of the cake. Serve at room temperature.
Veronica’s notes: As many people have had trouble with the cake batter overflowing the pans during baking, I recommend you do what I did and only fill your pans 1/2-2/3 full and use the extra batter for cupcakes.
Recipe by Veronica Miller, with help from this recipe, and The Cake Bible.
And now, a photographic timeline to show the evolution of the Mocha Crunch Cake.
1st stage: three layers of (from scratch) devil’s food cake with mocha frosting and chocolate curls.
Stage 2: same as stage 1, except with toffee on the sides.
Stage 3: using a cake mix and with much shorter layers to make the frosting to cake ratio more equal, as my sister likes it. Mom wasn’t complaining! (On a side note, this is before I learned how to pipe roses and I was holding the tip upside down so the petals are backwards, which makes them look too fluffy–LOL!)
Stage 4: toffee removed and baked in a sheet pan to turn into a baby shower cake.
Stage 5: a ganache drizzle is added.
Stage 6: no more pussyfooting around. I slathered on a whole cup of ganache and embellished with candy bars!
And everyone rejoiced. The end.