The best part of this chocolate cake was not the perfectly swirled frosting success (thank you Erin McDowell for all the lessons), or the very, very, very intense flavor that comes only from regular old Hershey's cocoa, or how good it tasted three days later at 1 AM when we ate some, tipsy, on the couch.
The best part was that I enlisted my sister to sit with me while I finished it. She perched on a bar stool at the kitchen island while I wrangled the layers onto a cake plate and carefully made the frosting in my stand mixer (side story for another time: do not ever try to make a powdered sugar-based frosting after more than 3 cocktails. My kitchen may never be totally clean again.), and told me lots of funny stories while I applied the swirls.
This is easily the best part of my day: She finishes teaching, I walk and meet her in the middle of Central Park, and we sit on benches or wander the neighborhood. It's the one thing that makes living in a city feel more manageable, and more like home, and less overwhelming. And that trumps even this perfect chocolate cake.
Perfect Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Hershey's
For the cake
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa (not Dutch-processed)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup boiling water
For the frosting
1/2 cup butter (at room temperature)
2/3 cup cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk, plus more if needed
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter and flour two 8-inch round cake pans. You can also make this in two 9-inch cake pans -- the layers will just be slightly thinner.
In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add in the boiling water and mix to incorporate.
Pour the batter (it will be very thin -- don't panic!) into the prepared pans. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes (start checking after 30). The cake is ready when it starts to pull away from the edges and a tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes in the pan before turning the cakes out onto a rack to cool.
To make the frosting: Melt the butter, then stir it together with the cocoa in a medium bowl. Add powdered sugar and milk in alternating turns, whisking until your frosting reaches a spreadable consistency (you may need to add a touch more milk). Add the vanilla and mix well.
To assemble your cake: Add a large dollop of frosting to the first layer. Top with the second layer, add a thin crumb coat of frosting around the outside of the cake. Add your final, thicker layer of frosting. (It will help to freeze the layers briefly before frosting.)