Recipe Review

Ina Garten Has a Clever Trick for Making the Best Chocolate Cake Ever

published Feb 12, 2020
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Design: The Kitchn

I’ve been a loyal fan of Ina Garten for several years now. The first time I watched Barefoot Contessa on Food Network, I fell in love with her laid-back cooking style, and I appreciate how she always has a twist or trick up her sleeve for turning the mundane into something exciting.

When it came time to pick contenders for our chocolate cake celebrity recipe showdown, I knew I wanted to include Ina’s. Not only is it one of the most searched for chocolate cake recipes on the Internet, but Kitchn’s Deputy Food Director Grace personally vouched for it. She loves it so much she’s written about it for the site! Needless to say, I had high hopes for this cake — and I was eager to see what all the fuss was about.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Design: The Kitchn

How to Make Ina Garten’s Chocolate Cake

You’ll begin by sifting flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt directly into the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix it up with the paddle attachment, then combine buttermilk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla extract in a separate bowl. Add the wet to the dry and mix on low speed until the batter is smooth and thick. With the mixer running, add hot coffee to thin out the batter. (The batter will be pretty loose at this point, but it’s supposed to be!) Pour it into two cake pans that have been buttered, floured, and lined with parchment paper. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, then cool the cakes in their pans for 30 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

While the cakes are cooling, it’s time to make the frosting. You’ll start by melting high-quality chocolate (such as Callebaut — Ina’s recommendation) in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Once melted, remove it from the heat and let it cool while you prep the other ingredients.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter until light and fluffy, then beat in an egg yolk and a splash of good vanilla extract. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add powdered sugar. In a separate small bowl, dissolve instant coffee granules in hot tap water and add that to the frosting. (This is to prevent any undissolved granules of instant coffee from ending up in the frosting.) With the mixer still running, slowly add the cooled melted chocolate. Once your cakes have completely cooled, you’re ready to assemble and frost!

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

My Honest Review of Ina’s Chocolate Cake

This cake was absolutely delicious. It was an elevated take on a simple, unfussy chocolate cake. The cake itself was rich and moist, yet light, and the salt level was perfect (it used an entire teaspoon!). My favorite part, however, was how intensely chocolate-y it tasted compared to the other cakes, and that’s because the bitterness of the coffee helped bring out the chocolate flavor. Using coffee in place of boiling water, the liquid most commonly found in chocolate cakes, proved to be a total game-changer, and it led this cake to victory in our showdown.

The frosting was also incredible. It was smooth, light, and easy to work with. I’ve never made a frosting that called for an uncooked egg yolk before, and it seriously improved the texture. Just as egg yolks are used as emulsifiers in salad dressings, the yolk here helped bring this frosting together into one fluffy, homogenous mixture. The instant coffee was also nice and gave the frosting a more complex flavor. This will absolutely be my new go-to cake recipe for birthdays and celebrations.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

If You’re Making Ina’s Chocolate Cake, a Few Tips

1. Use a nice, strong coffee to make the batter: The coffee is what made this cake so delicious, so make sure you’re using coffee you would actually drink. It helps elevate the chocolate flavor and adds a pleasant bitterness.

2. Don’t be afraid of the uncooked egg yolk in the frosting: If you’re worried about consuming uncooked egg, you can use a pasteurized egg to make the frosting. This frosting was the fluffiest, smoothest, and most luxurious frosting of all the recipes I tested, and I think the egg yolk played a big part.

3. Don’t forget to dissolve the instant coffee in tap water before adding it to the frosting: Although the ingredient list for the frosting does not call for water, the directions have you dissolve the instant coffee in tap water before adding it to the frosting. The first time I made the cake I overlooked this step and added it straight to the frosting. Although it tasted great, you could see the small pieces of undissolved coffee.

Rating: 10/10

Have you ever made Ina’s chocolate cake? Tell us what you thought!

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Design: The Kitchn