Recipe Review

Why Ina Garten’s Chocolate Cake Is the Only One I’ll Ever Make

updated May 29, 2019
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(Image credit: The Kitchn)

When I was little, my family operated by the principle that when it was your birthday, you could ask for whatever kind of cake you wanted. My dad typically requested carrot cake, my older sister preferred yellow cake with a lot of chocolate frosting, and all my twin sister and I ever wanted was an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen (well, technically we wanted two — one Disney Princess-themed cake for each of us).

That all changed in December 2006, when we gave my mom Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa at Home for Christmas. The first recipe she cooked from the book was called Beatty’s Chocolate Cake, and it has since become the only birthday cake we ever make.

Why Beatty’s Chocolate Cake Is the Best Chocolate Cake

I recently asked my mom why, out of all the fabulous recipes in Ina’s cookbook, this cake in particular stood out to her. She said she knew it would be good as soon as she saw a cup of coffee in the ingredient list.

Let me back up a few years. In 1992, a few weeks after my twin sister and I were born, a neighbor brought my mom a homemade chocolate cake. Although it very well could have been because she was stressed out and sleep-deprived (after all, she suddenly had three kids under the age of 3), my mom says it was the best chocolate cake she’d ever eaten. She claims she ate half the cake in one sitting.

She asked the neighbor for the recipe, and although she has since misplaced it, the one thing she remembers is that it had coffee in it. So when she flipped open Ina’s cookbook to a very similar recipe, she knew it would be a winner.

Ina’s cake is almost too easy to make: Add the wet ingredients to the dry, stir in the freshly brewed hot coffee, pour into two round pans, and bake until a tester comes out clean. Although she includes a recipe for frosting, we always use the chocolate buttercream frosting recipe on the back of the Domino’s powdered sugar box (sometimes cutting the butter with a bit of cream cheese to keep it from being too sweet).

The cake is deeply rich and moist, with an intensified chocolate flavor, thanks to the coffee. It also calls for buttermilk, which contributes to its lightness and tenderness. It bakes up into two thick and fluffy layers, so when spread with swirls of frosting and finished with as many rainbow sprinkles as will stick, it makes it the ultimate special-occasion dessert. It tastes good days after you bake it — which is crucial, because we all know leftover birthday cake is the best part of the whole thing.

We not only make this four times a year for our birthdays, but we’ve also made it for our college graduations, to cap off a week at the beach, and even for my grandpa’s 90th birthday bash. Ina might call it Beatty’s Chocolate Cake, but to me, it’s the Elkus Family Chocolate Cake.