My sister often talks about a batch of cookies I made when I was in high school. We were out of many of the ingredients that most cookie recipes call for, so I found an unconventional recipe that utilized what we did have and improvised the rest.
"Mmm, what's in these?" she asked.
"Well, we didn't have a lot of ingredients...," I said.
I still have no idea what went into those cookies. This cake is the result of a similar impulse and problem - I wanted a chocolate cake but didn't have any chocolate.
Luckily I had lots of cocoa, the key ingredient in the Everyday Cocoa Cake from the February 2003 issue of Gourmet, found at Epicurious.com. It has a deeper, darker flavor than your normal chocolate cake with a dense, moist crumb. I added some instant coffee and a tablespoon of orange flower water because I was afraid the cake would be a little one-note. I also added a lot more vanilla than is normally called for, because I thought it would be interesting to have a chocolate cake with a strong background of vanilla and because I accidentally poured way too much into the batter (I have changed the recipe to reflect this because the result was delicious).
The original recipe calls for a light dusting of powdered sugar, but because it's just barely sweet the cake lends itself to frosting. I used a variation of Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" frosting (the variation being a bit of instant coffee and not using Hershey's cocoa - I used Ghirardelli, but only because that's what was in the pantry).
I've been wanting to use my new 8-inch double-height cake pan with removable bottom, so I halved the recipe and poured all of the batter into the pan at once. I was afraid the edges would dry out before the middle cooked, but to my surprise the cake was perfectly moist from edge to center. So here you have it: a chocolate cake recipe using ingredients that you probably have in the house and two bowls that can be thrown into a pan, baked and frosted in no time at all.
Adapted from Gourmet/Epicurious.com
+ 2 cups all-purpose flour
+ 3/4 cup good-quality unsweetened cocoa powder
+ 1 tablespooon instant coffee or espresso
+ 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
+ 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
+ 3/4 cup softened unsalted butter
+ 1 3/4 cups light brown sugar, packed
+ 2 large eggs
+ 1 tablespoon vanilla
+ 1 1/3 cups water
+ 1 tablespoon orange flower water (optional; can be found at middle eastern grocery stores)
+ cocoa frosting (see recipe at bottom)
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Butter the pan of your choice - from the comments on Epicurious.com it seems that almost any pan works, from the tall 8" that I used to the regular 9" x 2" that the recipe calls for to a 13" x 9" x 2" sheet pan. Dust the buttered pan with flour.
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, instant coffee, baking soda and salt.
In the bowl of your electric mixer (or use a handheld) beat the softened butter and brown sugar together until the mixture is pale and fluffy. On low speed, add the eggs 1 at a time, beating until fully incorporated after each addition. Add the vanilla and orange flower water, if using.
Pour your batter into the prepared pan and bake in the center of the oven until a tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. For a 13" x 9" x 2" rectangular sheet pan check it after 30 minutes and for a 9" x 2" check after 50 minutes. My 8" cake pan took about 65 minutes.
Cool the cake to room temperature. Frost with the cocoa frosting (recipe follows) and serve.
Adapted from Hershey's
+ 1/2 cup unsalted butter
+ 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
+ 3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
+ 1/2 tablespoon instant coffee or espresso
+ 1/3 cup milk (I used skim)
+ 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Melt the butter in a medium bowl. Stir in the cocoa and instant coffee. Add the powdered sugar and milk in alternating batches, using a whisk or electric mixer to fully incorporate. Beat the frosting until it is the desired consistency. You can add small amounts of additional milk to thin the frosting, if necessary.
makes about 2 cups