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Oh my heavens, how could I have just posted Chocolate Coma Cake without its partner in crime? Here you go.

This is the same icing that led to the recent unfortunate icing disaster, but that’s just because I was truly messing with it. Done without fiddling, this icing is foolproof — dark, delicious and easy.
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My other favorite cake in this book — the best basic yellow cake around — makes two restrained layers. If you’re going for chocolate, however, you might as well jump in with both feet: Three hefty layers, tangy with sour cream and rich with chocolate.

This recipe is mine, not Grammy’s. I handwrote it, years ago, when all my recipes fit into a half-size canvas loose-leaf binder. The title of the recipe started as plain “chocolate cake,” but after a few makings, I amended the title with the word “coma.”

When you serve this, you have about twenty minutes after the cake hits plates until your guests develop glassy stares and conversation lapses into sugar-induced silence. The cake is worth it.

Renee's birthday cake from Baking FamilyBesides pure heft, the advantage of a three-layer cake is that you can get fancy with the icing. The last two times I’ve made this, I’ve put a simple dark chocolate frosting between the layers, then topped the whole thing with white buttercream and used the rest of the chocolate icing to decorate. Fun, and not as complicated as it sounds.

(I almost called the dark-chocolate frosting a “ganache.” Then I realized that at least a few of my dear readers would laugh their heads off if I put “ganache” and “simple” in the same sentence.)

The straight-up way to serve this cake? Just wrap that chocolate frosting all around, inside and out. That’ll give you the full “coma” effect. And your guests — or family or co-workers — will love you for it.

Chocolate Coma Cake from Baking Family

Chocolate Coma Cake

Makes one 9-inch three-layer cake

  • 6 ounces (6 squares) unsweetened Baker’s chocolate
  • 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2-1/4 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 cups milk

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter and flour — or butter and line with parchment — three 9-inch cake pans.

Break chocolate into a saucepan and melt over moderate heat; don’t let it boil. Cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add cooled chocolate and vanilla.

In another bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture in three parts, alternating with three parts milk and mixing well after each addition. Pour batter into the pans, and bake for 15-20 minutes, until cakes smell good and are springy to the touch. Set pans on racks to cool, then turn cakes out onto racks to cool completely.

Photos and recipe copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

The ratio of cake to icing is a very important area of focus for bakers. Too heavy on cake, and you may have a Sahara desert. Too much icing . . . well, can there really be too much icing?

My mother makes a killer layer cake by starting with a pound cake and carefully slicing it into seven layers. Given its pound-cake shape — and density — this can be accomplished by turning the cake on its side, taking a big serrated knife, and boldly slicing downward. You adjust a bit for the slight tilt caused by the outward bow of the cake sides. And pound cake is solid enough that spreading on icing will not usually cause the layers to crumble. (I say “usually” because faithful readers know about my solid-icing incident, in which topping and cake fought to the death.)

Slicing round layers into two, and then finishing your cake, takes a bit more thought. Here are three tips, however, that will make your life easier. All of these start with one or more cooled round cakes, out of the pan. (Carrot-cake fans: Never tried this on a carrot cake. Let me know if it works!)

1.   Pick your weapon. If you’re almost comfortable slicing horizontally with a big knife, try adding toothpicks to guide you: Insert toothpicks horizontally into the cake, halfway up, spaced about three inches apart all the way around. Your cake will look like a Tinker Toy piece. Slice above the toothpicks.

If you had a bad bagel-slicing incident in college and have not picked up a big knife since, use dental floss. (I can’t quite believe that I have to specify UNFLAVORED dental floss, but I probably should, right?) Get yourself a nice long piece of floss. Start your slice by cutting into the far side of the cake from where you are standing; plant the middle of the floss in there, wrap the ends around the sides of the cake — halfway up the sides — and cross your ends (so the left end is now in your right hand, and vice versa). Begin a gentle sawing motion, slowly tightening the loop of floss that is working its way through your cake. Make sure you’re pulling out to the sides, not up towards the ceiling. Eventually, the loop will close up on itself and pop out the side of the cake right in front of you.

2.    Make structure work for you. Each new layer has one “finished” side and one “unfinished” side. Either the top or the bottom of the original cakes count as “finished,” while your crumbly sliced side is “unfinished.” The finished sides have more structural integrity: Those are what you ice. That way your spreading knife has something to push onto, and you’re not crumbling…the…cake…with…each…pass. So however you have to flip or flop your layers, do it so the unfinished side is always DOWN.

3.   Go for icing with spreadability, not spackle. Again, you have less structural integrity in your cakes at this point. Any engineer would tell you that the more you drag and pull on the cakes as you spread icing, the more likely you are to create havoc. So if your icing is a bit stiff, thin it down — lemon juice, milk, cream, whatever works with your icing — so that you have a spread that glides on.

I want to hear who’s slicing and icing, and how you up your frosting-to-cake ratio. Which is, of course, always the end goal.

All content copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

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