Grandma’s Chocolate Cakes


This kind of chocolate cake you  want about when you’re pouring yourself a glass of milk. Donald developed this cake recipe two decades ago when he was the pastry chef for the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills.  As he tells it, “Every hotel pastry chef gets beat up over three things: muffins for the morning breakfast, American-style cookies, and a classic chocolate cake. Sean Loeffel, the food and beverage director at the hotel, had a clear idea of the chocolate cake he wanted me to make. For two months, I made chocolate cakes—every kind of chocolate cake you can imagine but none of them worked for Sean. Finally, he brought in a cake that his mother had made, and I understood immediately what he wanted (and wished he’d brought in her cake two months earlier).

Pastry chef friends from other hotels would call me, complaining about their own chocolate cake trauma, and I would e-mail them this recipe (telling them not to say where they’d gotten it). Without fail, I’d get an e-mail back a few days later singing the praises of this cake.”

It’s not overstating it to say Donald has made this cake thousands and thousands of times. If you love chocolate cake, this recipe is the one you’ll be passing down to your own grandchildren—if they’re lucky.

Chef Wressel’s Tips:
  • Let the cake batter rest for 30 minutes before baking. This allows the leavening to settle down and prevents the fast rise and then fall of the center of the cake in the oven.
  • Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Place the cooled cake layers on these baking sheets and place them in the refrigerator. The sugar prevents the cake from sticking.
  • A “crumb coat,” which uses only half of the buttercream, assures that your final frosting will be smooth with no chocolate crumbs showing through.


Yield: one 8” two-layer cake

  • 7.1 liq oz/210 ml water
  • 1.9 oz/55 g Guittard Cocoa Rouge (Dutch-processed unsweetened cocoa powder)
  • 7.7 oz/220 g all-purpose flour
  • 12.3 oz/350 g granulated sugar
  • 1¼ tsp salt
  • 1 Tbs baking soda
  • 7.1 liq oz/210 ml full-fat buttermilk
  • 5 liq oz/150 ml vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter two 8” round cake pans.
  2. In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil, turn off the heat, and add the cocoa powder. Whisk until smooth, then set aside to cool.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda. With a hand mixer, beat in the buttermilk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the cocoa mixture and blend until combined, about 30 seconds. Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans and let rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
  4. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes.
  5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle lightly with sugar.
  6. Using a knife, loosen the sides of the cake. Invert a wire rack over the top of the cake pan, and using both hands, carefully flip the rack and pan together so the pan is upside down on top of the wire rack. Gently shake the pan until the cake falls out, and set the pan aside. Invert a second wire rack on the bottom of the cake and flip back over so it is right-side up. Repeat with the remaining cake layer, and let the cakes cool for about 1 hour. Place the cakes on the prepared baking sheet and refrigerate until the cakes are completely cold, about 1 hour.

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